Articles - 1st November 2019

How to stand up for yourself as a musician

Words by Holly Patrick
Illustration by Jon McCormack

So you’ve made the jump – you’re a freelance musician! We all know how great freelancing is but, as with any career, it’s not without its fair share of hurdles. You’re probably no doubt raring to get on stage but first, let’s explore what you could be up against when it comes to performing – in particular, venues.


Approaching venues

One of the biggest difficulties any freelancer faces is finding people to work with. And when you’re a musician, that’ll most likely be a venue.

If you’ve decided to contact a venue, make sure you’re fully prepared with materials. “The best way to approach venues is by asking for an event organiser, and to have material ready at hand,” says Ayman Sinada, a drummer, bassist and guitarist. “It’s a lot easier to land gigs when they have something to expect.”

One issue that comes up across many different industries is forming contacts. While many parts of the music industry are indeed about knowing the right people, if you’re not in that position, building up a list of clients can seem like an impossible task. And like other professions, going out and meeting people in person is one of the best ways of starting from scratch, especially if you’re searching for venues to play at.

Charles Vaughan is a DJ and producer and works on multiple projects in the music industry.

He knows how important it is to get to know the venues you want to play, and the nights they put on in order to build a contacts list. “One of the best ways to start out is honestly to go out partying and meet them. Go to a night you like and try and get in touch with whoever’s running the night” he says. Though simply turning up to venues sounds easy in itself, be prepared for late nights – after all, it can be the nature of the job. “Sometimes you’ll have to go to nights you don’t particularly want to go to, but it’s sort of a necessary evil and it’ll pay off.”



Promoters are another thing to think about. “There’s a saying that promoters are the first to get blamed and the last to get paid,” says Charles. They’ve got a lot going on – getting people into the venue, booking talent, booking the venue, amongst other tasks. Once you start going to events and getting to know people, it’s often through mutual friends or performers that you start to get to know promoters. You might even get to know them through word of mouth about your music.

Often, forming a good relationship with a promoter is just down to being a nice person – being friendly and polite goes a long way. “It is not acceptable to be an amazing musician and a nightmare to work with, or someone who is not kind,” says musician and actress Marysia Trembecka. “Your behaviour as a human being will ultimately sell more tickets than being a virtuoso musician if you can’t be polite and organised. Managers and promoters will remember how you behaved forever.”



It sort of goes without saying but many people often assume that the venue will have all the equipment they need to do their job. Sometimes they won’t, or they may tell you they’ll have a piece of equipment but it’s not there on the night. “Every venue has different equipment, and as a drummer, there sometimes is and sometimes isn’t a drum kit available at hand, which means I have to bring various parts on the tube with me to gigs,” says Ayman. 

It’s important to keep everyone in the loop before a gig, whether you’re working on your own or as part of a band. Letting the venue know of any changes you need or problems you encounter will only serve to solidify your reputation – you’re a professional at the end of the day. “I think people need to be aware of the level of professionalism that goes into sustaining relationships and building contacts to further yourself,” says guitarist James Thorpe. “It’s a pretty cut-throat industry and I think without the right attitude from the get-go it’s pretty easy to get lost in the mix of it all.”



How you behave after the gig is equally as important as during the performance itself. Take some time to thank the venue and promoter – even if you don’t think the performance went as well as it could have, gratitude goes a long way. They may appreciate your attitude and put you in touch with someone who could get you your next gig. “Keep good rapport and let them know of other upcoming work you have,” says flautist and multi-instrumental teacher Lauren Eva Ward. “Even if the venue or promoter were not a good fit, it helps to have a good relationship with them as they may even help you in securing future gigs with any partner venues.”

Another important thing to remember post-performance is to take care of yourself. Inevitably, the life of a musician is filled with late nights and erratic sleeping patterns. Be aware of this and take the necessary steps to incorporate a self-care routine. It can often be very disorientating, going from the adrenaline rush of a performance to nothing at all in seconds after it ends. You may find it helpful to come up with a relaxing routine. “I always download a TV episode or listen to ambient music after a gig so I can concentrate on something and relax,” says Charles. “Then I’m not too inward-focused about whether the gig went well or not. You can get really in your head and you start going through every little thing that’s happened on the night, playing them out over and over in your head.”

But ultimately, the best thing to do after a performance is to be proactive and look ahead to the next one.  Use a great gig to push yourself into another one.


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