Music is a fantastic way to creatively express yourself and connect with the people around you. But most people start learning an instrument essentially by themselves; you may have an instructor and/or a couple of classmates, but you aren’t part of a band, nor do you have a gateway to a network of existing musicians. Accordingly, if you want to start playing gigs, you may not know where to start.
Why Play Gigs?
Even if you’re not immediately attracted to the idea of playing publicly, there are several good reasons to consider it:
- Exposure and popularity. Many people try to play publicly in an attempt to increase their own popularity. They want their music to reach more ears, and want a chance to become famous—or at least widely recognized in their own city.
- Networking and experience. For others, playing gigs is more of a social opportunity. They like to hear other musicians play, and want to talk to them about the craft. This is a great way to develop more robust music-playing experience, and the perfect chance to meet other people who are just as passionate about music as you are.
- Goals and self-improvement. Lots of runners sign up for a marathon because it gives them something to train for; with a set date in the future, they know they need to be faster or tougher. For musicians, gigs often serve this function; if you know you’re playing a set publicly next month, you’ll be much more inclined to rehearse and improve yourself.
Assess Your Skill Level
Before you start looking for a gig to play, take an honest assessment of your current skills. You certainly don’t need to be a virtuoso to play publicly, but you should feel confident about your ability to get through a set. Consider performing for a friend or family member, and ask for their honest thoughts. They may notice something about your set that you don’t quite hear; for example, they may notice that your guitar is slightly out of tune, or that every song you played tended to speed up. This is a good chance to identify your weaknesses and perfect your approach.
Come Up With a Brand
Next, you’ll need to decide how you want to present yourself. Are you going to play with a band or an accompaniment? Are you simply going to perform by yourself? Either way, what are you going to call yourself? Will you go with your real name or work up a stage name? You’ll also want to think about your image. For example, you can make a bold impression if you go onstage with a colored wig, or a set of custom gold teeth. Think about the style of music you’re playing and the type of image you want to convey; it could follow you for quite some time.
Choose a Prospective Environment
After that, think about the type of environment where your music could feel “at home.” For example, if you’re a solo singer-songwriter with a single acoustic guitar, a lazy afternoon at a café might be the perfect environment for you. If you’re part of a punk band, you might want to look around for bars that cater to rougher crowds.
Invest in Equipment
From there, you’ll want to invest in good equipment. Depending on where you’ve decided to play, you might be able to get by with a small gig amp and a decent microphone, or you may need to invest in a half-stack or full-stack amp. In any case, try to buy the best quality you can afford, and test it out well before the gig.
Ask About Open Mic Nights
Your best shot to get stage time is an open mic night, so ask around. You might be surprised to learn which venues and locations in your city offer open mic nights at least one day a week. Sign up for one when you’re ready, and start preparing for your first performance.
Get to Know People
When looking for and attending your first open mic night, talk to as many other musicians as possible. Let them know you’re new to the scene, and be open with them; as long as you’re friendly and sincere, you’ll likely be welcomed into the community. Eventually, those connections could help you form a new band, find a new place to play gigs, or improve your own abilities.
From there, you can expand your musical brand and start finding more gigs to play as you see fit. This may not be an easy path, and not everyone will find much success beyond local coffee shops and bars, but if you’re passionate about music, you’ll enjoy every gig you play, regardless of scale.