How Can You Get Gigs?

There was a question on the Barbershop Quartet Group site that asked; "how do you get gigs?" Now some may say that that is a silly question, but to quote Paul McCartney, " isn't silly at all!" In fact it can be rather serious and complex.

I've been a member of three registered quartets over the past 15 plus years, and have found this to be a very perplexing situation: How to get gigs and then once you start getting them, keeping them under control.

The first suggestion for a fledgling quartet, that is thinking about singing out (in public), is that they consider how they sound. What does that have to do with getting gigs? If you don't put your sound first, everyone will likely put you last. Record yourself, listen and ask - would I want to listen to this? Sing for your Chapter, or the closest Chapter to where you all live. Go to the Chapter Meeting and sing during break or afterwards. Solicit feedback from the members, if they don't freely give it. Ask what you can do to improve how you sound.

The next thing is to consider how you look. When you first get together, and if you get lucky enough to have someone ask you to sing for them, you could wear Chorus stuff, but don't do it too long. Reach into your collective pockets and shell out a couple of bucks and buy something that makes you look like a Foursome and not necessarily a Chapter foursome. Wear it to Barbershop events (like Chapter events, Divisional and District Conventions) so that people associate the four of you as a quartet.

Third, make up a business card. You can do your own on a PC these days, just make sure it looks like something that would cause people to think "these guys are on the ball."

Now sing, and sing, and sing, every chance you get. As I said, sing at Chapter meetings, yours and others. Participate in Quartet Contests, (don't fall into the trap that my Quartet and I do, thinking that you will rock the world each time you compete - and there are times when they are not that helpful to judge how you sing - but use the judges to gain insights on how you could sound better). Go to Barbershop "Bean Feeds," picnics, Shows, Conventions, and Training Sessions (watch your District's calendar) and sing at the Afterglows and in the hallways. All of these are ways to get exposure - oh and don't be aloof and exclusive. Hopefully, people will gather around you while you sing (if they don't, go back to one). When they do, have them step in and do a song, at least a tag. Be friendly and inclusive.

Still seems like I've not given much advice on how to get gigs. Well I'll tell you, my current quartet sings three times a month on average, and most of the gigs come from other gigs that came because a Barbershopper (or direct friend) recommended us for another gig first. The more we sing and engage people, handing out our cards, the more gig offers we get. In fact, now it's hard to keep them from becoming overwhelming. When that happens, be ready to pass opportunities to another quartet.

Lastly, if none of these work. Take your decent sounding, decent looking selves out to Street Fairs, Swap-meets, and other such open venues and ask the folks if they would mind if you sang a song. If they say, "Yes" be ready to 'blow and go.' Don't spend time figuring it out after you've asked - be ready. When people gather around pass out your card (if they don't, go back to one).

Hopefully, you will have decided what to charge. A good starting point is what the local Chapters charge for Singing Valentines. (Oh and there is a good way to get gigs. Volunteer, as a foursome, to do Singing Valentines - be sure to have both Chapter and Quartet Cards at the ready).

So now, what if none of that works? Your fellow Barbershoppers tell you that you sound good, you've got your "matching socks," but you are still in search of venues in which to perform. Consider offering yourselves to some of the following:

That brings us back to money. As I said, you need to have a collective idea (that means all four of you agree and tell people the same thing) on what you charge. 50 bucks for two songs, $150 for 15-20 min., or whatever - but what about doing it for free? Everybody likes free stuff (and you can "claim" the free ones as a donation). Once you are in, the paid gigs will come from the free ones.

Once you start brining in paid performances, you will have a new set of issues that you will have to answer, ones that have even less clear answers and lower BHS support. "How do we, as a foursome, deal with the money? How do we handle it? How do we report it? What do we do about those places that want us to fill out a W2 or whatever tax form, and what Tax ID do we use? When is it worth it to incorporate ourselves so that we can have our own bank account and stuff like that? What is, and where do we get copies of, the Society's Tax Exempt Status Letter?"

Hopefully this will give you an idea of where to start, of course you have to be adventurous, courageous, relentless, and lastly lucky. Sometimes it's a matter of timing and/or circumstances, but it always ends up with preparation and perseverance. So keep your eyes, ears, and hearts open, and be ready. When the first one comes, expect the next to be on its heels. For as I've said - once you get started the hard part will become controlling them so you don't get overwhelmed.

Al Wolter, FWD Bachelor of Harmony
Tenor, Tune Struck Quartet
Frank Thorne, Chapter at Large