The music business explained (and lots of tips & tricks)

Artist Page

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18 November 2015

15 May 2015
The Magic of the Lake of Stars

09 February 2015
Who does what?

30 January 2015
Malawi Organization for Career Guidance

30 January 2015

14 November 2014
Let's save Africa

Overseas Overseas
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Bookings Bookings


How to get gigs

When you make music, you probably want to perform. This can be at your local church, youth club, your school or football club, or music festivals or venues. You can try to do your own bookings; it is not that difficult. You need perseverance and have an ability to sell.

Don’t forget there are many (many!) other artists with similar ambitions, so you should stand out. It is important that you send it to the correct person, because if it ends up between other emails in the info-inbox, your mail will never be read and ends up in the trash. First find the right person to address. Some pop venues receive more than 300 requests to play per week! You can imagine these people do not have a lot of time to read long biographies or watch 20 minute videos. KISS: Keep It Short and Simple.

Try to put yourself in the shoes of the promoter; why should he or she book you? What makes you special? Do you have a big fanbase; will they be able to sell enough tickets to (at least) break even? Will you be able to attract a crowd? They have to cover costs (electricity, bar staff, maybe security, cleaning after the gig and maybe they have to hire equipment and a sound engineer) and probably also want to earn a little bit. So you have to convince them that your performance will sell enough tickets for the venue to at least break even.

-   Know whom you are contacting! Do not just send an email to info@ but try to find out who the person who makes the decisions who to book. Make it personal!

-   Keep the email short and simple. Some promoters receive 300 requests per week..

-   Include a short movie; it should be short (max 1 minute), live (so they can see you can sing live and what you look like on stage), without an intro (some promoters only listen 20 seconds, make sure the first 20 seconds are great!).

-   Also include links to more material, for example on Soundcloud or YouTube.

-   A lot of promoters will check your Facebook fanpage; more fans on Facebook and more followers on Twitter can help you get a booking. They want to know how many people they can expect to buy tickets for your show.

-   Make sure you have a story to tell; why would (online) magazines write bout you?

-   Have some high-resolution pictures at hand for websites and print. Make sure they are rights free and do not forget to mention the photographer.

-   Write a biography. It does not have to be your full life story, but write about your music (what genre), who inspired you, what makes you and/or your music special?

-   Remember there are thousands of musicians and bands out there who also want to play –

-   Unknown bands do not attract a big audience; collaborate with famous (local) artists to draw in a crowd.


Thinking before doing

I am a typical ‘do-er'; quick, not very strategic, and full of ideas that I want to implement NOW. It gives me a lot of extra work, because I like planning ahead which means that very often I have to redo everything because I have prepared work but the circumstances have changed and I have to start all over..

Or I do stuff without thinking first. The amount of times I regret sending messages or that I wish I could turn back time because I said or did something that I could have done better, are plenty. It suits my personality and it took me far, but it can be a burden.

Luckily I’m open to learning new ways and I understand that I cannot always do what I like or want to do, so I’m improving and make less mistakes. I’m even more lucky that I work with someone like Jorien, who is very strategic and good at taking a step back to get an overview and look at the mission/vision and objectives.

I wanted a newsletter; wrote a message with 10 items and sent it to Jorien. “Good idea”, she wrote back, “but shouldn’t we think about a strategy first?”. Of course we should; that is what I teach my students!!! Your promotion is part of a marketing mix which comes from the marketing strategy that is inspired by the mission. Always ask what the goal is; why do we want to send a newsletter, what do we hope to achieve, to whom do we send it, how often, and what should be the content (to reach the goals). Jorien also wrote that a newsletter should have not have more than 3 items… so back to the drawing board, think of some good SMART objectives and try again. The ‘do-er’ in me could not resist to design a newsletter in Mailchimp though. I couldn’t stop myself, but thanks to Jorien, I wrote down the main objectives first and only included 3 items. And I sent it to Jorien to get feedback before sending it to the world.

What also might have been wasted time, is that I designed an online crowd funding project. It would be really good to get some extra money for our projects, but again I did start without desk research or thinking about a strategy. I’m sure I will get comments and feedback. I might even have to delete it if it does not suit our vision. Even I know I should take a step back and think about the what, why, how an whom! I can’t help it..

- I am who I am;

– I have been succesful in my career with my method of doing-before-thinking;

– And yes, many professionals in the creative industry do not always have a written mission, measurable objectives or a marketing strategy but are doing well;

BUT thinking about your strategy makes your business more efficient, more effective, less stressful (time), less overspending of budgets (is more profit), more visitors (again more profit) and happier customers :) So even though I do what I teach (preach) most of the time, I am still learning too and loving it! <3

In 5 years...

About SMART objectives and long term goals

… MYA has 21 paid bloggers from Malawi, The Netherlands and South Africa writing about the music & event management on and musicians and event professionals from all over the world will be reading the blogs and interact with other members of
For the short term: all future blogs from MYA will be posted on If you want to get a free membership, please feel in our survey on


Yesterday Jorien and I had a meeting with Mr. & Grrrl about a long-term vision. It quickly became clear that it is important to set goals. It gives direction to everything you do; what work to accept, when to say no, whom to talk to and what to say to this person, how you use social media, and what you need to do to get where you want to be.

Without clear objectives, you might keep busy and able to pay the bills, but there is no growth and chances are you get stuck at the same level for a long time. With MYA we have seen that happen with some of the artists we worked with. Three tours in The Netherlands, all good fun and interesting, but no progress made. In year 3 the bands still play the same venues and get similar pay, or in many cases even less. Every year it is the same struggle to get shows booked and to break even. Where we made profit in year one, we lost quite a lot in the third year.

The bands get a nice trip out of it, meeting new people, strengthening friendships overseas and performing in another country. No money, but a great experience. But someone is losing money; someone paid the airfare; someone has guests staying in his or her house for a couple of weeks which is not for free because water and electricity bills will go up; someone paid for visa, insurance, letters with formal stamps from the municipality to get the visa, etc. It’s not all about money, as I have invested and lost money, but I do feel rich. The experience, the new friends, the whole journey has enriched my life in a way that money never can. So I am not complaining; I feel privileged and do believe I am one of the luckiest women in the world being able to do what I like best.

But I do want more. More for MYA’s artists and I would love to be able to earn a salary with what I like best (don’t get me wrong: I love teaching and hope I can always combine MYA with part-time lecturing). MYA has been thinking about her own goals in the past year, and we decided to make some changes. We never meant to be a booking agency, but we ended up doing bookings for bands that we believed in and for people we love. We called, mailed and attended conferences to get gigs booked for our artists. We did get bookings, but there was no growth – we got stuck and saw fees decrease instead of increase. Nowadays we are more an agent: we put the right team together to reach the short and long-term goals of the artists.

That’s where it starts: we sit down with our artists and talk about the goals. What does the artist want for next year, but more important, where does (s)he want to be in 5 or 10 years? We help with developing SMART objectives as the goals need to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. And when the goals are set, we can start to plan. We can try to find the best booking agent in your genre, someone who knows exactly what venues and festivals you fit in. We might want to hire someone for promotion; a person who knows exaclty how to tap into your specific market. This person might get your music played on radio, get critics to review your music in (online) magazines, get free publicity in newspapers, or even arange a performance on TV. Maybe it is smart to find a distributor or record label in a certain territory. Or a manager who suits your needs and can take your career further.

There is a lot you can do yourself. MYA advocates DIY management: it is great to be able to manage your own business. If you have a big network, have a talent for organising, and know how to reach your goals, there is no need for an agent or a manager. Perhaps you can do it all in your own region, but in another territory it is good to get help. To be able to get shows, you need to be known and to get known, you need your music on the radio, your story in (online) magazines and people should be talking about you. You need to fill the venues, sell enough tickets for a venue to make it worth opening their doors and competition is steep wherever you go. There are thousands of musicians who are happy to fill your spot. And they are local, they will bring family and friends, and the travel expenses will be much lower. So you need a team that can find your market, get your name out and know what is needed for peoplle to buy tickets for your show. For the team to do a good job, they need to know your goals.

Touring overseas

Most artists love to travel

Most musicians dream of performing in an other country; playing on a stage abroad! There is a lot you can do yourself, but that probably means that you have to pay for your own flights, visa & insurance and accommodation. Even then it is a challenge to get bookings, because you are an unknown artist in the other country and there will be many local aspiring musicians who are aiming for that same spot. You might be number 1 in your region, but it is a real possibility that no-one ever heard of you in the other country. You need to get an agent to get bookings.

You need media attention; you want your music being played on the radio, get press to write about you and you need to build a fanbase in the country you will visit. Storytelling is important; what is the story about you that will attract the attention of the media? You can use the advantage that you are foreign; it might help telling a story, get special attention in the media or you might fit in with a festival, celebration or theme night that has a budget for international artists. But if nobody knows you, never heard your name and if you don’t have people liking you on Facebook from that country, chances are small that you can fill a venue on your own. So how will take the risk to invest in you?

The agent will help you, but needs to be paid; you might have to hire someone for promotion to get airplay and media attention; and venues have to (at least) break even. An agent is not the same as a tour manager. Who does what in the music industry will be one of the next uploads on this website. In the meantime, check or

Touring overseas will not make you a rich person as in money, but it will enrich your life. You will meet like-minded people with a different background, you will see the real life in the other country (and not just the images the media show), you will work with people with the same dreams & ambitions and find out that life in that other country might not be as different form yours as you expected. Go for the cultural exchange and do not expect to come back with lots of money in your pocket; you will have the time of the life and carry the valuable experience with you always.

If you are investing in traveling overseas, keep in mind that going to another continent can cost up to €1.500 per person (that is almost 2.000U$, £1.200 GBP, 800.000 Malawian kwacha or 21.000 South African rand). Maybe you are being invited and the host will cover all expenses, that makes a big difference but unfortunately that doesn't happen very often. If you are being invited, please check if you have an exclusive contract, whether you are allowed to play elsewhere. You can try to find more places to perform to earn some extra money. A lot of festivals and venues might not want you to play in the same area when they have paid for all expenses. Your agent will know and can advice you.

-      Traveling overseas can be very costly; you have to cover

   all flights (book early, check special offers, choose flights with stopovers/transfers to make it cheaper);

   insurance (you might not get a visa without travel health insurance. AXA offers cheap Schengen medical insurance for approx. €2,50 per day. A cheap insurance does not cover visiting a doctor, hospital treatment or an emergency dental treatmenet. Please check what insurance you need. Just the minimum to get your visa, or do you want to be covered for medical treatement as well?)

   visa (and this might include having proof of accommodation, an invitation letter, letter of guarantee and sometimes more.. check the website of the embassy)

   accommodation (try , or hostels for cheap accommodation. Some cities can be very expensive, like €50-100 per room per night or even more)

   food and drink (per diem, allowance or sejours; you need to eat and drink when you are abroad),

   transport (how do you get to the gigs. Do you need to rent a van; hire a driver? Or take public transport? And how do you get around when you are there? Look into discount cards, multi-day travel passes, etc.)

   communication; try to get a local SIM card for your phone if you stay longer than a couple of weeks. A lot of libraries have computers with free internet access.

-      Why would a promoter want to book you? What do you have that a local artist doesn’t? Your agent might be able to help. Consider investing in a company that can help you with promotion.

-      Also think about workshops, storytelling or other ventures to earn some extra cash abroad. Workshops in community centres, schools or prisons can be rewarding. And don’t forget you are coming from elsewhere, so your personal stories might be very interesting to your peers in the other country.

-      Bring lots of merchandise; people might want to buy a souvenir after your show, or buy your album simply to support you. If you have CDs with your latest music for sale, you can make extra money. T-shirts sell well; for Europe, have girly shirts (tight fit with V-neck, size S, M, L) as well as (black) male shirts. In South Africa people prefer white shirts because the artist can sign it. All depends on your music genre, where you are going and what kind of people your fans are. Do some research!

-      The more people in your band, the more it will cost and the more you have to earn to break even. Who is paying for the flights? If you invest yourself, consider traveling with less band members or even perform with tape/CD.

MYA will post more about budgets, visa, merchandise, funding applications and roles within the music business soon.