From Small Talk to Big Gigs: Unconventional Booking Advice

Who’d have thought that talking to a festival director about boats, football, or early Wayne Shorter records would lead to booking more shows than a rave album review, a list of past tour dates, and a neatly worded description of the musical style?

But that’s exactly what I’ve found and – as I’ll explain in this article – it all comes back to a quote from an author born in 1888:

“You can make more friends in 2 months by being interested in people than in 2 years trying to make them interested in you” – best-selling author Dale Carnegie

I read a lot of musician pitching emails, either those coming directly to me or those I’m helping to improve their gig booking.

More often than not, the email opens with something like this:

bad gig-pitching email example

It makes sense: you want to play their festival, so you’re telling them that.

The problem is, everyone who writes to them wants the same thing.

So it doesn’t matter if you say it straight away or not. What all these emails miss is what the promoter wants.

What do THEY want?

An important question to consider before any industry pitch.

On a practical level, a jazz promoter probably wants some or all of the following:

  • Music their audience will love
  • Projects that will generate enough ticket sales and/or attention to support the festival/series
  • Artists that they can afford to bring
  • Ideas for the specific period they are working on right now

On a slightly deeper level, they probably also:

  • Get way too many emails to manage
  • Need to deal with constantly saying ‘no’
  • Are proud of their club/festival programme
  • Love a specific style or genre(s) of jazz
  • Are under-appreciated by artists and agents, especially the majority of whom they can’t book
  • Have other interests, hobbies, things in their life

Making Genuine Connections

Of course, you need to address the practical topics, which is easily done through how you phrase your pitch and the content you send them.

(We’ve covered that topic in detail already, as you can find here)

But why not first warm them up and make a genuine connection?

  • Comment on a recent or upcoming show
  • Ask them what period they’re working on right now
  • Check out recent press coverage of their gigs
  • Mention something you heard them say in an interview
  • Compliment them on a specific part of the venue or festival
  • Find out if now is a good time to be contacting them

Small Talk At Scale

Of course, doing this with one promoter is easy. Doing it at scale, long-term, less so.

But you don’t need a brilliant memory for this, just a system.

A database where you store all your contacts and conversations is ideal, but a notebook or spreadsheet works too.

Here are the basics:

  1. Do a little research before contacting someone like a promoter or journalist who is potentially a valuable connection. Google their name, check their socials, look at their website…
  2. Make a note of anything interesting, wherever you store your contacts.
  3. Reach out to them and try to make that initial connection.
  4. Once they reply, update your notes with any additional info.

Why Being Interested Beats Being Interesting – Examples

When I started as a booking agent, it was 90% phone calls.

Compared to email, it’s much further outside the comfort zone for most people (myself included), but it also led to more immediate insight into each person.

Wayne Shorter Small Talk

One Norwegian promoter I called told me they’d just had Wayne Shorter play.

As an ex-saxophone player, I was able to share some experiences with seeing him live and, eventually, the promoter told me, “he’s my favourite jazz musician of all time.”

Immediately, I noted it down.

Every time after that when I needed to call or email this promoter, I’d check any latest news about Wayne Shorter, in case it fitted naturally into the conversation.

On its own, it doesn’t lead immediately to gigs, but it opens the door to friendly, constructive conversations and puts you ahead of 90% of other musicians and agents spamming them with copy-paste emails.

Sports Small Talk

Another Danish promoter I met at Jazzahead told me they were a big fan of a second-division English football team.

As a big football fan myself, it wasn’t just useful to be able to chat about that on future calls, but more interesting for me too!

And yet, the result: I managed to book shows with that promoter because I was able to have a conversation with them.

And, lastly, I get to see it from the other side…

Keeping In Touch

One musician years ago asked if he could stop by the office, buy me a coffee and ask a few questions about the European jazz scene.

It stood out from the usual requests of “will you be our booking agent” so I said yes.

We had a short, interesting conversation and the artist kept in touch from time to time with personal updates.

A few months later, a promoter in Spain asked me for suggestions of a band to book. None of my roster was available or suitable, so I recommended this musician and they got a 3-date tour in Spain.


Probably not.

But assuming they are doing that regularly, with everyone they try to connect with, it’s going to add up really fast…

Conclusion: The Power of Authentic Relationships

It’s a great quote, and one worth repeating (edited for today’s jazz musician):

“You can book more gigs in 2 months by being interested in promoters, than in 2 years trying to make them interested in you”

Navigating the jazz industry isn’t just about talent or track record; it’s about the relationships you build along the way. And, let’s not forget, relationships are a two-way street.

Of course, a promoter needs to become interested in your music to book you, but it’s often not the best starting point.

So the next time you’re crafting that pitch email, remember: you’re not just selling your music, you’re initiating a relationship. How can you make it a meaningful one?

Take the time to understand the promoter’s needs and interests, and weave that into your pitch.

The extra effort might not just be a catalyst for a single gig; it could be the starting point of a long-term relationship.

In an industry where there is no shortage of killer music, being authentically human could be your greatest asset and help you stand out in any inbox.

It will most likely (as in the example of my football friend) make the task of ‘gig pitching’ more enjoyable for you too.

Did this idea resonate with you?

The quote from Dale Carnegie is from his 1936 book How to Win Friends and Influence People. Don’t be fooled by the date: the stories and ideas included are just as relavant today as they were almost 90 years ago and it’s a highly recommended read for anyone looking to form better connections.

In terms of practical application, getting together a database of some sort would be very helpful. As mentioned, a simple spreadsheet can work fine. If, however, you are looking to utilse technology’s help, I use and highly recommend the free version of the CRM tool Hubspot.

Members of Jazzfuel Manager PRO community have access to a step-by-step set up guide for that, with feedback available from yours truly when needed. Drop me an email for more info on that.

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