Just when we start to lose hope in this current pandemic situation, we’re now seeing some events slowly coming back up. For artists and musicians, this means finally getting booked and doing gigs. However, as we move into the post-pandemic period, it helps not to deny that some things are not the way they were. Tara Brueske, a recording artist and founder of The Engaging Voice podcast, joins Bree Noble to share with us some post-pandemic gigs and booking strategies that will help us navigate this new environment. Opportunities are starting to pop up. It’s time to seize them and keep yourself top of mind. Follow along this episode to learn some ways how.
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Gigs And Booking Strategies In The Post-Pandemic World With Tara Brueske
I am excited to be here with Tara Brueske. I’ve been working with her for years. I’ve helped her promote her course. I brought her on as an academy coach. I trust what she has to say about gigs, performing and the state of booking. It’s an important topic. We’re moving into that post-pandemic period where we’re starting to see some events come back. We’re starting to be able to book things, even if we’ve been doing gigs along the way in different circumstances, maybe online. She’s been doing gigs this whole time. They’ve looked a little bit different but it’s been so inspiring to see that she’s been able to continue doing a lot of gigs. I wanted to bring her on. I’ve had her on my show multiple times. I wanted to talk about what it’s going to look like that we’re moving into that period of post-pandemic or opening up. How are things going to change and how we’re going to have to adapt to the new way of doing gigs? Why don’t you do a roundup on yourself as a musician and how you ended up teaching booking?
Thanks, Bree. It’s always good to be back on here. For those of you who know me, even if you don’t, I’ve been booking since I was fifteen, which sounds crazy because I’m in my 50s. I’m not afraid to own it. With booking, that’s changed over the years. The reason I partly started teaching it is because I’ve been doing it for so long. Even as I was going to create something years ago, that was the direction that I decided to do. Bree helped me in that promotion of it. It has been years too. I’ve been wanting to help musicians, especially in 2020, as we’ve had to transition so much. That’s still where we are.
I still think booking gigs is huge because if you want to perform, you have to have gigs to do that. That’s where I’m at. I know we’re going to be talking more about it. It’s a huge part of our music biz. It’s not just something out there. It’s one of the harder parts. It’s a difficult thing to do because it requires the ability to contact people over and over. You can fear rejection. That can be part of it, but I’m telling you that there are some great things even ahead, even as I’m fighting booking through 2020. I’m excited about it and excited for those of you who are going to continue that journey or get back into it.
For those of you that have entirely stopped, I always say that booking is a muscle. If you’re out of practice, it’s going to feel super uncomfortable and a little bit painful at first. Tara is good at helping with everything, especially mindset-wise of being able to book. I know I had you on the show. How were you able to continue booking during this period? How did you change up what you were doing? How do you think that is going to shift that things are opening up a little bit?
When the pandemic first hit or when we went into lockdown, that’s when gigs started getting canceled. Let me preface it with how many gigs I ended up having, 45 gigs canceled. I usually book about 115 a year. We started getting canceled in March 2020. These gigs I had booked, I booked in the first two months of 2020. Also, the idea of ones that I would have booked later on in 2020 a lot of those did not happen either. What I had in my mind when we started getting things canceled in March 2020 was I know there are ways to do gigs online. I had done Facebook Lives. I knew there was YouTube. I hadn’t done Instagram lives yet. The point is I knew there was a way to pivot. I just wasn’t sure of all the features of that.
My first step in contacting people was saying, “For those that I had already booked.” These were booked gigs that hadn’t been canceled yet. I would ask them where they were at, how they were doing. I would say, “Are you even open to the thought of a virtual gig? Here’s the way that I could provide it for you.” That was where I started. I kept on that way. The biggest thing I want to say is that I kept contacting people throughout the time but that doesn’t mean I called them every week. It might mean that I called them once a month, once every two months. I would check-in. This building relationship is a key part. I’ve always thought that but even more through 2020. Sometimes checking in would be like you’re checking in with the friend and saying, “How is it going? How’s your business doing? How is this going for you? Do you have to adjust yourself? Can you even see music as part of what you’re doing?” It was trying to keep a relationship with people as we’re walking through that. That was where I was going. I would first offer that virtual to see if they were even able to do that.
They’re hurting too. It’s hard for us. This is messing with their business, whether they are a venue. They can’t have any people. I know you do a lot of senior homes and stuff. They were dealing with lots of COVID issues. Their people were isolated. They were dealing with a lot of issues. I’m sure they appreciated you checking in on them. Some of them you’ve developed long-term relationships with.If you are an instrumentalist, this might be your time right now to get in there and be sharing. Click To Tweet
First of all, I’d offer the virtual. Some of them didn’t even realize that was an option. That was wonderful to be able to tell them about it. Some of those gigs did then have me. They had me virtually. I created a link for them and they were able to watch it. Others weren’t able to do that. They didn’t have things set up where they could go live, have something broadcast to their residents if it was senior places. It was learning how to say, “Could we think of other ways?” I live in Minnesota for those of you who don’t know. We have four seasons. We have winter. The only time that’s great for outdoor gigs is the summer. That’s where we can be sure of nicer weather.
As we got to summer, that is one thing that I was offering as an option of, “Could we do outdoor gigs?” I did a few. Some brought their residents out when it was senior gigs. They space them out. I was far away from them and it worked. There was that option. I tried to get as creative as possible in the process. In some places, even online, I could cross-post to a page. For instance, like for the libraries, sometimes they wanted people to go live. I could go live from my page and then cross-post to their page. It was the gig for them as well. It worked. I’m saying there were a lot of different ways of finding to be able to have concerts for people.
Education is so important. Letting them know that, “There is a way we can do this if you want to or if you want this.” Some of them wanted their people to have some entertainment. They needed something. It’s so much isolation. They couldn’t even see their families. Sometimes you went through a lot of trouble explaining to them, “This is how you could watch a YouTube live. This is how you could get on Zoom,” and things like that. It does sometimes take education on our part in these strange times. I’m curious. Are there any adaptive things that you used in these concerts like plexiglass, a Singer’s Mask or things like that you see being useful going forward as we’re not quite to the point where we have herd immunity and we can open everything up?
I do. The ways that I’ve done things, it’s not just me but it’s been the people I’ve been booking with. They’ve been creative too. One is plexiglass. The place has purchased it. I have not purchased plexiglass myself but some places do. It’s possible but that’s not my first choice. It is something that some of the places were willing to invest in. That’s one way. Another thing is I thought was one of the most creative. It was in September 2020. Our weather was starting to get colder. I was supposed to do an outside gig but this place couldn’t have me come inside. It was too cold to do an outside. They had me in their entryway. They opened the door so that I could put my speaker in the entryway and the people could see me through the window. The point is you talk about creative. It worked. That was another way.
Another thing was with the Singer’s Mask. There’s what they call Singer’s Mask. It’s a type of mask that’s bigger and have more protection in the material but also more space. You can breathe a little bit better. Not a lot but a little bit. I had some places now, even still, that are having me come in as long as I’m wearing that and singing with that. Another option that I’ve found is particularly to senior places but it could be event centers too, where I’m going to the actual place and singing into their camera but they can broadcast from their system into people’s rooms without having to go over the internet or having to do it from a link. It’s another option. I’m finding, and this is for all of you, that as you are booking, every creative option you can think of, you need to think of. Present it to them as you’re trying to. You never know which one is going to stick and it’s going to work for them.
One thing that I thought of that I ended up doing in May 2020 or June 2020. I sang at a funeral. It was an entirely online funeral. We prerecorded it. I was there but we were all on Zoom. It worked out well. We ended up doing a trio from three different people in three different places. We recorded over each other. It was cool. I feel like even going forward, people realize that they can do a funeral online, they might start doing that. It’s hard to get everybody to go to a place. “Grandma lives in the East Coast and she dies. Nobody can come.”
They’re all living all over the place. You could do a local and virtual funeral. I feel like there might be openings for musicians to be able to perform at things like that might continue to be online. I know you perform at churches sometimes. I have done that where the churches are going virtual to their people. We went to the church to perform because there could be a certain number of people socially distanced. Did you get an experience with that? Do you see churches doing that? Are they setting up plexiglass and stuff?
Yes, in the big churches, the ones that have a lot of space. I did a senior gig at a big church here in the Metro where I was in a huge room. They had me way far apart from people. They had people around the room way spread out, but because it was big enough, they could do that. They had the sound system that worked for it. I just think of every option. With the funerals, even to be able to videotape, record yourself on video and then that could be played later at the funeral, that’s amazing. Funerals, especially with people all over, traveling can be hard. Some of these things are going to stay with us. Can I make one other thought too?
This is something I’ve noticed. This is for those of you who are instrumentalists because places are not all opening up to singers. If you are an instrumentalist or you are an instrumentalist as well as a vocalist like I am where I play piano in addition to singing, I’ve been hired already for two piano gigs. I have two more coming up. They still can’t have me singing but they want music and they can have musicians. If you are an instrumentalist, my point is, this might be your time to get in there and to be sharing because you can. It’s not singing. I think of a harpist, a guitarist or whatever instrument you play. It might be a great time for you. With singing, there are still a lot of places you’re holding off on.
I’m thinking of some of the people in our academy. We have a harpist, a violinist, a cellist and a fiddler, all those things. There are lots of people that play the piano and the guitar. I feel like sometimes in the past, instrumentalists have been relegated to background music. It’s your time to shine. You’re maybe the kind of musician they can have in there.
What I found too is that I was thinking with playing piano because I did a gig on piano. I thought maybe people wouldn’t be as engaged. I am telling you, because people are so starved for live music, they were so happy. I did play a lot of songs that they knew. What was cool is that when I played, the woman emailed me later. She wants me again, same thing. You don’t know what’s possible out there. If for some reason you have instrumental skills but maybe you’re not exactly where you wish you were, this might be the time to pour into lessons and up your game so that you have these opportunities. I don’t think that’s going to go away either. I still think that’s going to be a big part of the next months to a year.
You had a bunch of things that you wanted to cover. I want to let you go on any way that we haven’t already touched on.
One thing I want to encourage people about this but also to let them know that as people are booking, what I’m finding differently from past years, I’m talking more like 2019 and before, is that they are booking more cautiously. It’s not that they’re not booking at all. Don’t assume that. I find musicians oftentimes assuming that, “If nothing’s opening up yet, I shouldn’t call them yet.” Even if nothing’s opening up yet, does not mean that they’re not planning. I also know that as I’ve booked with people, it’s not necessarily that they’re saying, “We’re going to book you for ten gigs. It’s going to be all the way through the end of 2021.” It might be in March 2021 but it might be that they’re going to book me for April, May and June of 2021. They might only look that far. The good part of it is if I’m on their list, if I’m contacting them, I’m on their radar. I get a gig now and I can get more gigs later.
It’s important to be top of mind. You were one that would already be booked out a bunch of gigs for Christmas. That’s not happening. What we’ve learned is that we have no idea what the state of the world is going to be like. Don’t be discouraged. If you’re used to having your gigs booked out that far and it’s not happening, it’s not you. It’s the uncertainty of everything.
It is funny. I do have two December 2021 gigs booked. Normally by this time, I’ve got a whole lot of gigs booked for the summer already and fall. That’s why I’m saying it is different. Don’t be discouraged and don’t give up. If they book you for something even two months down the road, don’t think that’s going to be the only thing they’ll book you for. It might be that you do that gig and then they’re going to book you for quite a few more. They’ll know more than too of where the state of the world is.
It’s important to keep touching base. Not to be a pest but like, “Just checking in, wanting to see how things are shaping up for your calendar.”
To encourage you, this just happened to me where I called the lady and I left a message for her. She emailed back and said, “I’m so glad you called because we are opening up for gigs. I want to get you.” I’m going to be singing there with a mask, but it’s a gig. The factor is knowing that booking might be cautious, knowing that there are these other options of instruments as part of that whole thing of being versatile and new possibilities. All those things Bree and I were already talking about with the ways, singing with a mask, singing with plexiglass, singing outdoors, singing virtually, broadcasting from a space or prerecorded. All these are options for us. I don’t think they’re going to go away. The more options we have, the better that we’re going to be ready for people to book us.
I talked to someone on Clubhouse that did her first gig since this whole thing. It was outside. It was on the street. People were so excited. Many people showed up that she didn’t even know were going to show up because they wanted to hear live music. I would not wait. I would jump in and get going on your booking. Anything about online booking? How is that going to change? We were overwhelmed by the amount of Facebook Lives and things that happened because that was all we had. What do you think is going to change about online stuff?
In some fashion, there may be less of it because as things open outside where people can come in person, they’re going to want that community feel that in-person feeling that you get, even for people attending concerts is what I’m thinking. However, they’re still going to be people that might not be as comfortable to go outdoors or to be meeting in concerts in person. I’m not even saying the artist. I’m talking about the fans themselves. I also think that live is still going to be happening. This is where it is happening heavily. I’m going to name a couple of these. It’s Sessions Live, Twitch, StreetJelly, YouNow. The ones we’re more familiar with, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Zoom.
What I do want to say though about these live shows that I’ve found too that maybe they won’t be as often but even as you go live, for instance, on Facebook or Instagram, it’s about creating a memorable experience. It’s not getting on there and singing songs. That too has been something we’ve had to maybe pivot as artists. What happens is when you are coming into someone’s home and they are seeing you on a screen, it’s magnified. Everything is magnified, your faces and your sound. It’s more about how you are relating with that person. Does it feel personal to them? However, you can do your online event where it feels personable, that you’re talking to them, you’re asking them questions, you’re engaging with them and asking them to be a part of your experience. that is going to still be key for the online gigs that happen. If you think that you’re going to go online, play songs and expect people to watch, I don’t think that’s going to work well.
The way that we consume live streams has changed. Once we started having to go to church online every week, we figured out how to hook up the laptop to the TV so we could watch it on the TV. It’s going to be magnified. If we’re watching it on our TV, which is a 50 something screen size TV, we’re not watching it on our phone anymore. It is almost like we’re watching it on a stage or watching it on a screen if we’re at one of those concerts where they have screens. Think about that. The way people are consuming online has changed. It’s gotten a little savvier in that way. It’s like, “If I’m going to watch an online show, I’m going to get my popcorn. I’m going to sit on my couch in front of my TV and watch it. Not just watch it on my phone in the corner.” That’s one thing.
We’ve both talked about release parties and how we think you should have live ones and online ones. The online ones are going to get even bigger because people are used to the online consuming. Throughout 2020, if you’ve been going online, you’ve been developing a fan base that’s not local. You do a release. You got to give them a release party too because they’ve been following you. They’ve been with you through this journey. They want to celebrate that you’re coming out with music. That was something that came up for me. The virtual release party is going to be even more of a bigger part of the strategy.
I was talking to a fellow musician who has done a lot of Sessions Live. She created a fan base on there that is from all around the world. It’s that thing where if you are releasing, you’re going to have to do it online to be with those fans. Not just you’re going to have to. It’s the way you get to.
It’s going to be fun. You’ve got a bigger fan base online. Don’t forget the local. I do think that still can be done. I have a student in Australia where it wasn’t as locked down there. She was able to do a release show where she split it up into two shows and had a 50-person capacity or something at them. It was super fun, successful and also profitable.This might be the time to pour into lessons and just up your game so that you have these opportunities. Click To Tweet
Musicians by nature are known as creatives. All I’ve been thinking is how we can be creative in this booking process and in the shows? We have to change. We’ve been asked to change. We know that now. Change doesn’t always have to be bad either. Since we have these opportunities, we can find what works best for us. I’m not telling you when I say even all these online things. Don’t pursue every one of them. It’s overwhelming. There might be one online way that you choose that is going to work for you to continue to serve your fans and sing.
I’m so excited that artists are going to be able to get back out there and start performing. I hope all of you that are reading are ready to flip that mindset of it’s not possible to book things back into that mindset of, “This is what I do and it can be done.” As a final question, have you found any mindset things going on with musicians that have been difficult to turn around? You’re still doing this stuff. Everybody out there is saying, “It can’t be done.” You’re like, “But I’m doing it.”
With groups that I’m in, in Facebook especially, I’ve noticed a sense of that, “This is impossible. Nobody’s hiring. Nobody’s doing this.” I’ve never found that to be true anyway. I do think sometimes it’s harder to find places. You have to do more research. You may have to do a little bit more work to find gigs that are happening but it’s not impossible. When someone is trying to be on the negative side, I understand 2020 has been a hard year.
I’ve had the same thing. I told you how many gigs I lost in 2020. It was not easy but it doesn’t mean that it’s not worthwhile to keep trying to find ways. The more that you do, you’re going to become more hopeful. Here’s what I find. The gigs that I’ve been able to do in person are so much joy because I hadn’t been able to do it for a while. It’s motivating me to go, “I want more of these.” You’re going to find that too. If you even get one gig in person, it’s going to motivate you to keep on doing this business that you love.
When we’re isolated, we forget why we loved it. It’s like when you don’t go outside for a week or you don’t exercise for a week, and then you’re like, “I don’t think I even liked that anyway.” When you finally go back, it’s like, “I missed this but I didn’t realize it.” I want to encourage all of you to get out there, get started, at least get one gig, even if it’s for free on the corner. Get out there and perform. It will get you into, “I can start booking paid gigs again.”
You will be surprised how fun it is to hear clapping. It’s a great moment.
Not just the mic on and off thing like on Clubhouse. It’s not as satisfying. Thank you, Tara. This has been so inspiring. I appreciate you sharing all this wisdom with us, all of your experience in 2020 and how we can transition into this new time. It’s so hopeful. I cannot wait to see what musicians are doing in 2021.
You’re welcome. I’m excited too.
About Tara Brueske
Tara B has been a FT musician for 25+ years, averaging 150 shows per year as well as helping indie musicians be pros at singing and booking so they get paid gigs . She also is a recording artist and founder of The Engaging Voice Podcast.