A couple of years ago, I managed an indie-folk band. They were at the beginning of the music biz adventure. They were looking for someone to free them of all the admin, so they could concentrate on making music.
One of the vital things they needed my help with was securing live performance opportunities. I’m not a professional, but I dived into those deep waters head first. And one thing I can say for sure is this, I love live music and get a kick out of supporting new talent. But I honestly doubt any manager in the world enjoys the whole gig booking process.
That’s why we need platforms like Muso.
The hard yakka of gig booking
If you’ve ever had anything to do with booking or organising gigs at any level, you know it’s a lengthy, mundane and frustrating process that will test even the most patient person’s nerves. And I’m not only talking about the performer’s perspective.
It’s equally challenging for venues that are frequently understaffed or forced to turn down lesser-known bands, even if they truly like them.
There is, obviously, a solution to this pickle. But not everyone can afford it.
You can always hire a booking agent. This is a professional who finds suitable gig opportunities and venues for musicians and handles all terms of the contract, dates, fees, etc. related to the performance. But an up-and-coming artist would rarely have one.
Firstly, because it might be an unnecessary cost at the start. And secondly (and more importantly), because there will not be much to book yet.
Even though there are heaps of venues supportive of emerging talent, they have to make money at the end of the day. If you can’t guarantee bums on seats and, indirectly, solid bar sales, the chances you’ll get booked are pretty slim, unfortunately.
So every new act needs to play a fair share of either unpaid, charity or very low-key gigs at their friends’ events to get their name out first.
When the time is finally right to start looking for gigging opportunities, it’s no small feat, either. Getting through to venues is a nightmare already. Emails get lost, phone numbers are outdated, managers are busy or the only available dates are Monday evenings.
If you’re lucky, though, and you score a gig, my least favourite part starts.
You need to agree (preferably on paper) on the fee, set length, equipment, promotion and any other benefits (like getting a snack or free bevvy at the bar). It can be an overwhelming process because not every musician (or their manager) is a born negotiator.
Putting a price tag on music is the least objective thing to do, trust me. You try to be realistic, represent your artist’s interests, not come across as an ignorant beginner, but also not overshoot or come short of your target, all at the same time.
Thankfully, savvy music entrepreneurs understand how difficult it might be for emerging artists and are happy to help take some of this load off their shoulders. Most of the time, it will happen through technology.
How Muso fits in
I know of at least two platforms that streamline booking live performances in Europe (Gigmit and Art Synergy). So Muso is not the first of this kind in the world. But it’s a pioneering startup Down Under.
All three of its co-founders know a thing or two about gig booking. Jeremiah Siemianow has a sales background, having previously dealt with agents. Alan Jin is a musician. And Brandon Crimmins used to work in venue management.
Already in 2018, they noticed a persisting problem in the business. “(…) There was a real disconnect between musicians and venues on a local level. Many venues struggle to find musicians and DJs, while musicians end up wasting time and energy securing gigs and chasing payments”. So they decided to do something about it. Fortunately, their idea spoke to more people, too.
Muso dubs itself the “next-generation booking platform connecting musicians and venues” and it has already raised $3M from investors. Amongst them is the Unified Music Group.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the platform was born in Melbourne. The Victorian capital is one of the live music Meccas of the world. But the company already operates Australia-wide, with primary operations in Sydney and Brisbane, too.
Additionally, it has already secured cooperation with some of Australia’s biggest music events. In 2019, a competition was launched with a chance for one emerging artist to play at the Beyond The Valley festival. Nevertheless, Muso assures that it doesn’t neglect regional and rural areas.
The future aspiration is, naturally, to take the app globally. And it looks like they’ve started that expansion in the UK already.
What I dig about Muso is that it emphasises human interaction. It was created to encourage people to leave their homes and enjoy “real life” again. It’s especially welcome in a post-pandemic Australia where the live performance industry still hasn’t got back on its feet.
The app is designed for both performers and places that host them. On the one hand, it pledges to “help artists find more gigs to create more revenue opportunities”. And on the other, it aims to work with venues to “create better live entertainment experiences”.
Muso’s bold ambition is for every venue in Oz to be a live one someday. They want to go beyond the traditional understanding of the concept, normally linked with pubs, clubs or bars. That way more artists will have a chance to perform live as well.
The platform is more than just a match-making booking tool, though. It presents quite a few advantages for both parties. So here’s a brief overview of the ones I find particularly beneficial.
One of the things performers are most anxious about when booking gigs is getting paid.
I sympathise with this fear. When I managed that band I mentioned at the beginning, I had to chase a pretty famous and well-established venue for over a month before the money was finally transferred to the artists. It took way too many emails, text messages and phone calls. I’m not saying that the venue was not going to pay up, but it should not have taken that long for sure.
Muso deals with payments on artists’ behalf. You set up a kind of wallet on their platform. And the money’s automatically transferred to you when the venue pays. While Muso cannot control when the funds are sent, good practice in the business is on the Friday after the gig. And if that doesn’t happen, they’ll chase the payment for you. I would have loved to have that peace of mind in the past.
Another thing that musos often dread talking about is performance fees.
When you start, you probably don’t know what the going rates are. You don’t want to come across as greedy or uninformed, but you should also know your worth.
To help with those problematic estimates, Muso has set a threshold. No venue can intend to book an act for less than AUD 75/hour. And the platform also suggests that most payments are higher than that, in the region of AUD 100/hour. Plus, it’s all agreed upon at the beginning and there’s a record of it on the platform. So there’s no need to lose sleep over it.
To see what the booking process looks like from an artist’s perspective, visit this part of the Muso website.
Venues are often hesitant to book new bands because they can’t be sure of their “readiness” to play live.
That’s a valid point. A lot of emerging bands might sound okay at a friend’s BBQ, but it’s a completely different story to play a proper concert hall. Some acts don’t even have a rider at the beginning, which is a list of all the gear in the venue needed to plug the band’s instruments, for instance.
Muso takes that pressure off the venues by assessing acts registered on the platform on experience, stage presence and quality of content. Since they have music industry professionals in their team, I’m pretty sure they know what they’re doing.
Venues notoriously struggle to find new talent.
And it’s not because they don’t want to. It might sound a little harsh (since their primary operation is live music), but venue managers have a hospitality business to run as well. They often have millions of other things to take care of (like staff rosters, stocking up on loo rolls or ordering drinks for the bar) before they can turn their attention to looking for new acts.
Luckily, Muso also scouts new artists, from all genres, thanks to their connections in the business itself. And they might even do the match-making in advance. So the only thing venues have to do is see if they like the suggested artists.
To see what the booking process looks like from a venue perspective, visit this part of the Muso website.
Here’s the most important thing about Muso: it’s free to register for both sides.
So you can create your profile without any membership fees. The only time they take any percentage of your money is when a gig is booked through the app. It sounds like a fair deal to me.
Booking is a two-way street and Muso facilitates it for both sides.
The way booking normally happens is when an artist pitches their performance to the venue. But in the case of Muso, it can be the other way around, too. So organisers can submit their events hoping to find interesting performers.
Additionally, Muso “rewards” acts that take their presence on the platform seriously.
They explain it like this, “If your profile is full of content and you have proven ability to play live, our team of artist scouts will select you to join the gig feed”.
The gig feed is a higher echelon of participation. Chosen acts get access to a list of gigs happening in the local area that they can apply for. And who knows, maybe that way they can score a support slot before a more famous performer?
Other Muso resources
Aside from the technicalities, you can tell that the Muso team value networking and real-life examples, so to speak. Go to their “Resources” to see what I mean.
The first one is the blog, full of practical tips for both venues and musicians. From promotion and marketing topics, to “The Psychology of Influence” and pairing music with food.
Secondly, there’s the podcast. Although it hasn’t been updated since June 2021, I’ve found a few interesting chats with people I follow in the biz. For instance, check out the episode about perseverance with Pixie Weyand who ran an iconic venue in Brisbane, The Zoo.
And thirdly, it’s good to know how others “do it”. So a big part of the Muso platform is the Community. This is where you get to interact with like-minded people, hear their stories and learn from one another.
The app supports or organises heaps of other initiatives. Check them all out here.
Muso boasts that 26,854 (and counting) of the gigs arranged through their platform have five-star reviews. So you can only imagine how many successful booking matches must have been made so far.
Based on that, I reckon the future looks bright for this Aussie live music marketplace. So if you’re an emerging musician looking for more gigs or a venue interested in featuring new talent, you should definitely become a part of Muso. If I was still managing a band, I’d definitely jump on board as well.
*If not referenced otherwise, all info has been taken from the Muso website.
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