As an independent jazz musician, it’s not easy to know how to reach festival and club promoters and – when you do – to know exactly what they are looking for.
As always, the best way to get some more insight into this is to ask the promoters themselves!
So, I recently put together a super short survey which 40+ promoters around the world were kind enough to take part in and I just wanted to share the results in this article, along with some actionable tips which we can pull out of them…
IT’S JAZZ, NOT SCIENCE…
OK, one thing before we get started…
Obviously 40-50 promoters doesn’t make up a huge proportion of the jazz festivals and clubs out there, and the UK is probably a little over-represented given my nationality!
But the survey does include input from jazz bookers in Asia, US & Europe and the results are very representative of what I experience on a day-to-day basis and from the 1-to-1 interviews I’ve hosted on this site.
If you’re reading this as a promoter and have another point of view to add, please feel free to post in the comments section at the bottom of this page. And for the musician readers, use these results to challenge where you are right now, but also look around your personal network for extra insight and tips.
Where are promoters booking jazz gigs?
Whilst there are loads of ways we could categorise the promoters taking part in this survey, the difference between festivals and clubs is probably the biggest. So just to give a little insight into who these people are, I asked them what sort of gigs they book…
Almost half (47%) of promoters who took part in this survey are involved with booking bands for both a jazz festival and a venue.
Promoters who only do jazz festival bookings make up the smallest group (19%) which is probably as expected, given that there are usually multiple venues per area but generally only one or two festivals (with the exception of the capital cities like New York, London, Chicago, Paris etc).
A lot of promoters run both festivals AND venues. So, if you can’t get booked for the festival right away, a smaller club gig might be a feasible goal and a good way to try and show the promoter how well-received your performance is with his or her local audience.
Alternatively, if you get booked at a festival and the show goes great, you should think about following up with a show in the venue 12-18 months later. It’s rare to get rebooked on a festival within 2-3 years of the last performance, but a club is a different matter.
Approximately what percentage of artists you book DON’T have a booking agent?
The #1 thing I hear from musicians who are struggling to book gigs for their project is that the solution would be to get a booking agent.
I have my suspicions (hence the “How To Get More Jazz Gigs” course) but I wanted to know what the promoters’ experience of this was.
Did they work exclusively with agencies, or were they happy to deal directly with musicians whose music and profile fitted with their festival or gig?
You might be surprised, but on average, the promoters in this survey said they booked more than 50% of the artists at their venue or festival directly.
NONE of them said they only worked with agents.
48% of promoters said that 2/3’s (or more) of their bookings were done directly with artists.
Now obviously as an agent, I’m not trying to say that it’s not good to have representation. It’s a fact that if you have an agent who is connected in the jazz world, they can make sure that your music gets considered by promoters who might not otherwise check it in as much detail.
But what this result hopefully does change is the belief that most festivals and venues are out of reach until you have an agent.
So for sure keep in touch with possible agents and send them your news to get them interested. But put the majority of your efforts into actually reaching out directly to promoters.
(But not all promoters. The promoters whose programmes you’ve checked so that you know they book the sort of music you’re making, at the sort of level you’re at).
How are jazz promoters discovering new artists?
For me as a booking agent – and you as an independent jazz musician – it helps to know how promoters are discovering new music. Because if you know that, you can try and improve the way you are represented in those areas.
For this question, the promoters could choose as many of the answers as they wanted, to give the fullest possible overview of how they discover emerging jazz projects.
Almost 80% of promoters said they put a lot of value on personal ‘industry’ recommendations. It makes sense: if you are bombarded with 100’s of emails and calls a week, on top of your own research, you need to have some outside references to speed up the process. Talking with journalists, agents, record labels and other promoters who you know personally (and whose artistic taste you trust) is very valuable.
It’s a bit like you asking a friend with great taste in movies what to see at the cinema. It might not always result in something 100% to your taste, but it’s much more likely to be relevant than just reading reviews and watching trailers.
In a similar vein, promoters also put a lot of trust in their own taste, with 72% of them saying they liked to discover bands live – either at festivals or showcases. It also goes back to that very important point that we’ve heard many times in the Jazzfuel interview series about how crucial it is to perform brilliantly, as well as play brilliant. It’s a subtle difference, but one that becomes super clear when you see a band which captures an audiences’ attention from the start to the end of the show.
Whilst 60% may seem low for the amount of promoters who regularly discover potential bookings via emails, it’s actually pretty encouraging: 3 out of every 5 emails you send are going to festivals and clubs who are completely open to being introduced to your music this way. As long as you have done your research and follow the advice at the end of this article!
Similarly, 60% of promoters are regularly digesting magazines and blogs to find great jazz projects for their club or festival. If you are looking to get into a specific territory, engaging a publicist is a good way to ensure that they are seeing you in these places. Or, in your home country, you might already have enough contacts to do this yourself. Either way, putting in consistent effort on getting your name out there pays off in the long term.
Whilst Youtube/Spotify (42%) and Social Media (40%) came in last on this list, there are still enough promoters checking these places to make it worth your while dedicating some time each week to taking care of these areas.
Firstly, with 40% of promoters selecting even the least popular answer here, it’s worth using the 6 choices as a checklist rather than an ‘either/or’ option here. Most artists or bands out there who are building a sustainable career are covering all of these and so should you:
Playing (and filming) great live shows so that industry people talk and journalists write about you. Then sharing this excitement via social media and in the emails you’re sending out. Just like that, all 6 boxes ticked!
But aside from stating the obvious, I think it’s worth really thinking about that top result:
People within the industry are constantly talking and sharing ideas and news. The more people you are connected with, the more chance you have of getting your music heard. Whilst building your network is not something you can do overnight, you can take steps to speed it up by actively doing two things:
- Keeping in touch with the people you who already know (and, if you take a piece of paper and start writing down names, I guarantee it’ll be a larger list than you’d first think)
- Pro-actively seeking out introductions and connections to people who you feel would like what you do (but DON’T immediately ask them for something or you’ll scare them off!)
Where do jazz promoters go FIRST to check out a new jazz project?
It’s not easy being a musician, right? Aside from actually practicing and performing (and possibly teaching), there’s a whole bunch of admin that needs taking care of to make progress with building your career and getting gigs.
So I thought it would be good to know the FIRST places that promoters go when they hear about a new project, so you can make sure that you are nailing these at least.
Almost half of promoters said that Youtube was their go-to place when checking out bands. It certainly is mine. Being able to see and hear a project lets a promoter know much quicker than audio or text whether it would work for their venue or festival. The quality of it also gives some idea of the tools that are available (or not!) to promote a show, if they book it…
It’s also interesting that, despite the popularity of social media and Spotify for checking out music, an artist website is still the 2nd most popular place. I’ve written in detail before about what makes a great jazz musician website but the key thing is this: make it a simple hub to all your best content. You can get a free checklist here too.
If you don’t have convincing, high quality video content online, you’re missing the chance to impress a huge amount of promoters. Not only that, this content needs to be showing up top on Youtube when someone searches for your name. So, as a super quick test:
- Go to Youtube.com
- Type in your name or your band name
- See what the 1st three results are
If you’re happy with what shows up, congrats!
If not, you need to do some work here! There are two main ways to control what is showing up on Youtube:
- Deleting content on your own account which is not good enough quality (or representative of your current project)
- Improving the SEO of your best videos so they show up higher in the search results.
How important is PROFESSIONAL video content in getting gigs?
I’ve got to be honest: I sort of expected the Youtube result to be top (or close to it) when I asked that last question.
From personal experience as a booking agent, a great video has opened up so many great gigs to artists I work with.
But, to be sure, I wanted to also see how important the promoters who took this survey felt the quality of these videos was when it came to booking bands.
So, a very simple question: on a scale of 1 to 5, how important is the quality of the video to getting booked?
60% of jazz promoters in this survey said that a high quality video was very important (4 or 5 stars) for a musician or band who were trying to get more jazz gigs.
The only surprise to me (and maybe you?) was that the number was not higher! Several of those who gave 3 stars noted that they also liked to see ‘live footage’ (regardless of quality) to get an authentic idea of how the band played live, but I think the result is emphatic enough that you should be in no doubt: in order to reach the largest possible number of promoters with your music, you need to have a professional quality video.
Obviously there are exceptions to every rule but, as an agent, I can’t imagine taking on an artist who wasn’t able to give a good snapshot of their project via high quality video. It still amazes me when people reach out with videos shot on a shaky iPhone with distorted audio. It’s just too affordable and easy to do high quality video these days, that anything less just looks amateur.
An easy one: if you don’t have professional quality footage of your project and you want to be getting gigs nationally and internationally, you need to make plans to sort it out!
It doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated, but it does have to be done (and uploaded to Youtube).
Also worth noting that new videos can generate almost as much attention as a single or album release used to, so it’s not just something to get done to send out to festivals. It can also be used pretty effectively to generate more news and buzz around your project.
The last question was an open-ended one: advice from the promoters directly to you, about what you can do to improve your chances of getting gigs (aside from playing great, of course…)
Big thanks to all the promoters who answered. I couldn’t fit all of them in here but below are a selection which nicely sum up the things we already looked at in this article.
“Find your target and do you homework. Instead of mass pitching to all the bookers in the world, find out who would be the most potential ones for your project and try to reach them. Be interested in what they do, and don’t just “sell” blindly. Figure out why they should book you and tell them that. Give it time, and don’t be too pushy. The best contacts develop on a personal level and those develop over many years” – Matti Nives / We Jazz (Finland)
“Learn about the industry and build relationships with programmers as programmers will not be able to programme all artists that apply (for example we receive about 400 applications/enquiries a year but we only select about 8-9 for the festival) and having a relationship will help in the long run” – Penang island Jazz Festival (Malaysia)
“Arrange showcases when we are around’ Umbria Jazz (Italy)
“Be politely persistent” – THSH Jazzlines (UK)
“Create a strong narrative, a compelling identity, a good press pack and a well maintained digital presence. Get influencers to your gigs and solicit testimonials from them to further validate your concepts” – Kenneth Killeen, Improvised Music Company (Ireland)
“When you can, come and see us, and talk to us at our gigs or festivals. If you are playing in our region tell us so we can come and see you. Nothing works better than talking directly to artists and seeing their performance” Steve Crocker, Seven Jazz Leeds (UK)
“Good recording on a relevant label. Original and interesting music. Diversity and freshness in approach” – Pancevo Jazz Festival & Belgrade Jazz Festival (Serbia)
“Be as concise in your opening email as possible and don’t send too many links, just one or two that will get a promoter right to the heart of your music. Be sure to take a look at what projects the promoter works with, target promoters who may actually book your music, don’t just email every promoter you get an address for hoping for the best. Stay positive!” – Wesley Stephenson, Newcastle Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music (UK)
“Be sure you have enough up to date live content. The video quality doesn’t have to be brilliant, in fact I always search low quality clips of which I can easily tell the band’s ability to be on stage and hear how it grooves. The same goes with the audio quality of the video. BUT in order to promo the band I need decent quality video” – April Jazz Festival (Finland)
For festivals, timing your approach is crucial and increasingly festivals are starting their programming earlier. Find out when is a good time to contact them, and definitely don’t ask for a gig during the festival or in the immediate lead-up to it! – Cheltenham Jazz Festival (UK)
Big thanks to all the promoters who took time to read my email and to share their insight. I know only too well how many messages they are getting a day, so it’s no small thing that there was so much feedback for this survey. Some of them were answered anonymously, but from those I know, I wanted to shout out to them. Please check out their gigs, follow them on social media and take all of their advice on board before considering whether you should email them or not!
Ronnie Scott’s, Spice of Life, Newcastle Festival of Jazz & Improvised Music, Jazz North East, Philippine International Jazz Festival, April Jazz Festival, Southport Jazz Festival, We Jazz, Cully Jazz Festival, Jazzlines, Lublin Jazz Festival, Umbria Jazz Festival, bee-flat im PROGR, Jazz Fola Aix, Ribble Valley Jazz & Blues Festival, Turner Sims Concert Hall, Cankarjev Dom, Ljubljana Jazz Festival, Fougou Music, Pancevo Jazz Festival, Jazz at the Lescar, Belgrade Jazz Festival.
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