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Playing Your First Gig

Tips for rocking your first live show

· Performing,Music Business

This article is an excerpt from How To Get Started As A Singer-Songwriter, which is now available on Amazon (paperback and kindle).

So you’ve just booked your first gig. The venue has responded. You’re officially on the calendar. IT’S DONE. You've made it...right? Not exactly.

Once the gig is booked, you’ll need to communicate with the venue to make sure you’re on the same page. And THEN you'll need to get busy practicing and making sure everything is ready for the big day.

Get details. Confirm. Confirm again.

When you’re communicating with venues before the gig, you need to make sure you cover all your bases. Some venues will be really clear about their expectations and walk you through the process, but most of them tend to drop all communication once the gig is booked.


Make sure you ask the venue what time you’re playing, how long you need to play for, and what time you need to be there. I’d recommend getting there at least an hour early to set up. I’ve played for venues that wanted me there even earlier, so make sure you discuss it with them so you’re on the same page.


I like to send a confirmation email a week out, then again the morning of the gig. Double booking happens. Sometimes bookers will forget to put you on the calendar. Sometimes the owner will shut down the venue and forget to tell you. And you’ll end up awkwardly showing up to a coffee shop that doesn’t exist anymore. (…true story.)

TIP: Make sure you respond to every email, even if it doesn’t seem like it requires a response. I once got a email from a venue that said “Great, that date is confirmed.” I didn’t respond, and it turns out, they didn’t book me for that date after all. I can only assume he was waiting for my response to mark it on the calendar. Just sending a simple thank you to let them know you got their email can go a long way.


Figure out ahead of time how you’re going to get paid and who’s going to pay you. Sometimes it’ll be a percentage of the bar sales, sometimes it’ll be a flat rate, and sometimes they’re expecting you to play for tips. Just don’t be afraid to ask ahead of time so you know what to expect!

So now that we’ve gotten all the messy stuff out of the way, let’s focus on the gig itself.

Start preparing your set list ahead of time and practice, practice, practice! If you (or a friend) has the equipment, try practicing singing into a mic and listening to yourself while you sing. The goal is to simulate the actual gig as closely as possible when you practice.

Set Length

Make sure you time your set to see how long it is – there’s nothing worse than finishing your entire set with 30 minutes left to go. Then you’re left winging it: audience requests…improvisation…maybe a little comedy routine?


It’s a good idea to prepare short intros to your songs. I have this horrible tendency to freeze on stage before I introduce my songs and all my introductions turn into some variation of “So um, this is a song I wrote, and…here it is.”

The crazy thing is, people actually LOVE to hear the back story of how you wrote the song or why the song has meaning to you. It makes them more interested in hearing the song once you start to play it.

Audience Interaction

Don’t be afraid to talk to the audience, either! (This one’s my greatest downfall…) There is no 4th wall when you’re playing a gig, don’t feel like you have to be “in character” and super serious all the time. The audience wants to know you’re a real person and they’ll be able to relate to you much better if you show them that human side of you!

That's it, folks! I hope this gave you a little more confidence about performing your first gig and gave you some clarity on how you need to prepare for it.

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