Building your gig portfolio without open mics

Open mics are a fantastic way to practice a song or a set, and meet other musicians.  Use them to practice the live version of your single that you’ll release online.  Many musicians do this and it’s a great way to iron out the kinks and rid you of any nerves.  Seasoned comedians even jump on the open mic circuit to hone their skills too.


Once you’ve practised your heart out during open mic night, what do you do now you have a solid live set?  It’s time to get paid gigs my friend.  How do you get paid gigs?  Covers.  Have a covers set lightly sprinkled with originals.  Many establishments are looking for live music for 1 hour to 3 hour sets, or more – and they pay!  While we’re on the subject of pay – check out what to avoid as an unsigned artist.


Now that you have a live set ready – walk into every local live music establishment in your neighbourhood.  If you don’t have any in your neighbourhood, look for them in the next suburb or city.  Go in during daylight hours and ask to set up a live audition – five minutes is usually enough.  You can play a couple of songs for them to make a decision about bringing you onboard.  For the ultimate ‘foot in the door’, take an instrument with you when you first walk in to enquire.  If the manager happens to be on shift, it will be easier to offer a live demo there and then.  Keep doing this until you have a gig and from there you can negotiate a consistent gig schedule with the same venue once you have proven yourself from the first appearance.  When you have one venue paying you to play, you can use it as leverage to find another.



Not every contact with a live venue needs to be in person – although we do suggest that it is more effective that way. You may opt to send a link to your music on Spotify or on Soundcloud.  Remember that well known cover songs should be part of a digital demo when you are first on the live gig scene.


Do you lose yourself playing covers? Not at all. Think of it as a way to access an audience who recognise the songs you play.  It’s easy to sing along when you know the words!  Build a rapport by playing the songs they want to hear – and then they will be open to listening to originals.


Also think about expanding your audience by filming gigs. You’ve worked hard to have a tight set so why not share it?  Live covers gigs translate well as online content, so why not think about setting up a live stream with MusicNow.  People naturally love to fill in time with entertainment, and a live stream can do just that.


After you get a few venues under your belt, it’s time to go for support gigs. What singers or bands do you want to be on the same bill with?  Get in touch with the venues and send your live gig showreel.  Keep doing this until you book a gig. Yes, it is often the venues that decide who goes on the bill.  If not, then reach out to the musicians themselves or their managers.

Break a leg!


For more advice on playing live, download our independent artist’s guide to playing live