Featured Blog Want Better Gigs? It’s Not About You

By Dave Ruch
I often have a hard time describing what I do to other musicians. This sounds kind of strange, I know. I’m a musician myself!
And yet,when I think about it, I don’t seem to have any trouble describing what I do to the venues I work for (or would like to be working for). Why would this be the case?
Well, for one, I do some pretty oddball things, like teaching people to play the spoons,and singing songs from 500 years ago at 8:50am in elementary school libraries and cafetoriums. (Yes, that’s cafeteria-meets-auditorium.) That can be hard to explain to just about anyone other than the people I do it for!
But I think the bigger issue here is that over the last twenty years, without really thinking too much about it, I’ve been slowly but surely structuring everything I do to be as useful as possible to the end user.
Actually, to two end users – – the audience, and the person who books me. I’ve almost forgotten how to describe it in musician terms.
The Conversation
Now, when another performer asks me what I do, it might not even occur to me to mention the instruments I play (guitar, mandolin, banjo, etc) or the kind of music I do (old time, traditional folk stuff, some swing, historical music, etc.).
Instead, it often goes something like this:
ME  “Well, I do a lot of work in schools, and….”
FELLOW MUSICIAN  “(blank stare…) Oh, you’re a teacher?”
ME  “Well no, I go into schools and do performances for kids on history topics.”
FM  “Oh. Cool. (scratching head….)”
ME  “I also have a band!”
FM  “Oh, awesome. Where do you guys play?”
ME  “Um, well, we don’t really play in bars or clubs too much. We do concerts for sit-down audiences at places like museums and regional concert series and folk music events.”
FM  “Oh. Huh. OK, good talking to you…”
It seems that I’ve gotten very used to thinking about what I do in terms of who it’s for and what its function is, rather than what it is.
In other words, my work has gradually become less about me, and more about them. What do the places I’m working for need? How can I help them be super happy? Interestingly,my income and opportunities have steadily increased over this same period of time. And this makes perfect sense!
Our audiences and the people who hire us don’t really care about us. They care about themselves, first and foremost. In our careers as performing artists, we can all benefit from keeping this universal human truth in mind as we think about ways to market ourselves, how we structure our performances, and how we approach our interactions with our audience.
Mad Men Knew How To Get Gigs! (and sell detergent)
None of what I’m saying is new. The advertising and marketing worlds have been applying this principle for a long time.
Let’s say we’re being considered for a booking somewhere. Does the venue really want to know who we’ve opened for, or what award we got in 2011,or even what our latest CD sounds like? Not so much.
Those are the features – they’re all about us, and are (mostly) boring.
The benefits of what we do, on the other hand, are about them – what do they get out of it?This is precisely what’s important to our end user.
I love the way Dale Carnegie put it:
“I know and you know people who blunder through life trying to wigwag other people into becoming interested in them. Of course, it doesn’t work. People are not interested in you. They are not interested in me. They are interested in themselves – morning, noon and after dinner.”
That person considering you for a booking cares not about your latest video or who your influences are, but about doing their job well and making their audience happy.
So, instead of blathering on endlessly about ourselves and what we do, let’s show them (through testimonials) and tell them, in our own words, what will happen when we’re there. How does it serve their audience and their needs?
We might even consider creating some new programs, concerts, or productions around the needs of our venues and audiences – imagine how popular those would be.

Getting From Features to Benefits
Here’s a simple method from Brian Clark at Copy blogger for turning each of your features into benefits (from the article Does Your Copy Pass the “Forehead Slap” Test?).
I’ve tailored it just a bit for our purposes.

  • Make a list of every feature of what you do(how long you’ve been performing, awards you’ve won, where you’ve been booked,etc.)
  • Ask yourself why each feature is included in the first place.
  • Take the “why” and ask “how” does this connect with the desires of the person who hires you?

Get to the absolute root of what’s in itfor that person based on their needs.
Figuring Out What They Need
So if we’ve got two end users – our audiences and the venues that hire us – we’re going to have two different sets of needs. Let’s look at both.
What does the person who hires you need?
First and foremost, if they haven’t had the pleasure of hosting you before, they need toknow you do a great job, and that you’re easy to work with.
Show them very clearly how thrilled other venues and audiences have been with your performances through the use of social proof.
Ask them about what else they’ve done – who have they booked, and what have their audiences responded to?
Get to know what their goals are so you can partner to help accomplish them. Do they want to be bringing in more families? Can you gear your performance to a multi-generational crowd? Do they like performances to be interactive?
Be super reliable and efficient in your communications with them – they’re busy.
And then,once the show is booked:

  • help them promote it
  • be timely with communication
  • make their audience really happy!

What are your audience’s needs?
That depends a lot on the types of gigs you do, but if they’re like most audiences, they want to feel something. They want to be entertained. They probably enjoy learning something new. They like to laugh, and they may wish to interact with the performance in some way, or with you afterwards.
The more wec an be mindful of these things as we design our shows – and in real time while we’re performing – the happier our audiences will be.
And the happier our audience is, the happier our client, booker, or venue will be.
And so it goes.


Sinceleaving a white-collar marketing job in 1992, Dave Ruch has been educating andentertaining full-time in schools, historical societies and museums, folk musicand concert venues, libraries, and online via distance learning programs.
Along theway, he’s learned a great deal about supporting a family of four as a musician.
He writes the Educate and Entertain blog, whichprovides articles, tips, encouragements, and how-to’s for regional performers(in any region) interested in making a great full-time living in the arts.. Check out his website to learn more.