It’s sort of like looking up a very steep hill – there’s a venue you’re hoping to play at, but they have no idea who you are. How do you get their attention?
Having been a venue operator “back in the day,” I’ve received numerous “cold” contacts. Some of them got me to respond positively, and some didn’t. If you condense everything into the most concentrated form, the folks that had a chance of a positive response were the ones who took the time to establish a real, individual relationship. The ones who didn’t make the effort were either politely declined, or ignored completely, depending upon the severity of their conduct.
So…what does all that mean, exactly? Well, speaking for myself:
1) From a marketing standpoint, a cold-contact is you selling me (the booker) a relatively expensive product that I’m not sure I want. The key thing there is “I.” What might sell someone else on your gig is not guaranteed to convince me that it’s a good idea. You need to have some idea of what the individual venue wants. This means that you have to do your homework in some way. If there’s a web resource with booking information, make sure to read through that info, being careful to pay attention to anything that deals with the business side of the show.
2) The initial contact should come from someone who cares intimately about the specific show you’re trying to do. For a lot of independent musicians, this means you, the musician. Lots of emails, social-media messages, and phone calls get ignored. They get ignored even harder when they come from some nameless, faceless person at a booking agency or label. The prime reason for that rejection is because the nameless-faceless doesn’t care enough about your show to do the homework on the venue. They just “shotgun” a whole pile of messages to a whole pile of places after minimal research – and it’s obvious that they’re doing so.
As a booker, I got lots of emails from the nameless-faceless crowd that were clearly all from the same “Los Angeles Pop-Punk-Metal-Crossover Band Generator” template, and that blatantly ignored booking information that was publicly available. For a while, I answered those emails, only to get into crushingly tiresome conversations where the nameless-faceless tried to negotiate on various aspects of the (again) publicly available information. I eventually realized what a waste of time it was, and just deleted the emails.
3) Related to the above, be sure that however you make the initial contact, make clear that the venue’s business needs, as they’ve outlined, are understood by you. Failing to make this clear can cause you to be de-prioritized, especially if the venue does have booking information available You want to avoid creating a request that requires the information to be spoon-fed to you. The entire point of putting those whys and wherefores in a public place was so that it wouldn’t have to be endlessly discussed in a million emails and phone calls.
(Now, of course, if the venue doesn’t have that information available, you’ll probably have to ask them about it during the initial contact. There’s nothing wrong with that – just make sure that you ask BEFORE pitching anything.)
4) When making your pitch, focus intently upon what is truly actionable in terms of creating a profitable event for the venue. This is something of a ruthless process, because a lot of standard sales-pitch elements simply don’t apply. For example:
Who you’ve shared the stage with doesn’t matter. Plenty of bands who had no business being on stage with anyone else have talked their way onto shows with decent acts. I’ve been witness to it. Besides, the general public doesn’t care that you’ve been on deck with [someone they may or may not care about]. They (and the venue) do care about whether they like you, and are willing to come out and see YOU.
Where you’ve played doesn’t matter. It matters even less than who you’ve played with. It’s not a measure of meaningful exposure at all. You might have played a 1000 seat auditorium, but only 50 people were in attendance. And again, the show-going public doesn’t give a hoot. The biggest, hottest promoter in town could run giant ads through all the local media outlets, proclaiming that [Your Band] has played [Somewhere Else], and the reaction from the public will be “Who?” and “So?”
The number of Insta-Face-Twitter-Verbnation followers you have is almost completely irrelevant. How many of those people are local? How many will buy a ticket to your show, on the night in question, at that venue? How many are actually engaged?
An example of what IS actionable is evidence of people clamoring for you to do a show in their town. If you can show a venue some sort of real proof that you have an engaged, dedicated audience in their area that can at least half-fill the room, that’s a powerful tool.
Another example of what’s actionable is you being friends with some local bands that have a track-record of doing well at that venue, or at places similar to it. That leads into the “Zen” approach…
…which is “cold contacting” a venue without cold contacting them at all. Rather, you make friends with a band that has a good relationship with the room. They are the ones who are known as being a money-maker for the place, and as cool people. They get booked, they get you on the bill by leveraging their reputation, and then (very crucially), you come in, treat everybody beautifully, and help increase the size of the crowd. Everybody wins, and the venue gets to know you.
The point is that you have to create a relationship with someone, somehow. It involves time and effort, but the potential payoff can certainly be worth it.