The summer season is upon us and with it, warmer weather, summer rains, and for most of us the summer financial slump. Without the promise of orchestral work and religious holiday services on the schedule most freelancing musicians must find work through self-motivated means. For lack of a better term the summer can be best called “wedding season” for most of the country (which ended for me in Miami about a month ago… trust me… you DO NOT want to play a July outdoor noontime wedding in Miami…). But where do these gigs coming from? How can the bride or groom who has always dreamed of having a harpist at their wedding find you, the local harpist, in order to make their dreams come true?
The Wedding Monster:
No. I’m not referring to bridezilla, although we have all certainly dealt with a fair few of these in our time as freelancing harpists, but rather the giant machine that is the wedding world. Weddings don’t exist in the same world as other gigs. Orchestral gigs generally come from the relationships that you build with other musicians in your area, and most private events are usually booked through relationships with former clients (referrals). In my experience wedding work is generally based on self-motivated searching by the interested party (bride/groom/family member) rather than a referral from a related party. When I am contacted by a client interested in hiring me for a wedding I always ask:
“How did you find me?” Which is almost always answered with: “I came across your website while searching for a harpist in your area.”
This fact is not to be disregarded!!
Connecting with your audience:
So if the wedding work is seeking you out it is in your benefit to make yourself easy to find!! The MOST important tool you have in your arsenal is a personal website. If you don’t have a website currently or are a student who is about to enter the professional world, I suggest getting this done as soon as possible! If the idea of building your own website seems out of reach fear not!! There are extremely easy to use services such as Dynamod, WordPress, or Squarespace, that create a website for you based on the information that you input. Each of the three harpists listed below chose to use one of these website builders, to great results!
Making your money work for you:
As the saying goes: you have to spend money to make money. Another resource for booking more gigs and making yourself generally more visible to potential clients are paid booking websites. On these sites you create a profile that is connected to a larger booking database. A client has only to input their wedding location and desired entertainment for a multitude of options to pop onto their screen. The results of these websites is directly related to how much effort you are putting into your interactions with your profile. Clients put in requests for multiple musicians through one of these sites in order to gain a variety of options, and more often than not (unless your fees are far outside of their budget) the first person to respond is the person who books the gig. As with much of this world, punctuality is everything.
- GigSalad – This was the first service that I signed up for upon arrival in Miami. It is the most affordable, with options that range from Free for a basic profile to $39.99/month for a featured profile. I originally signed up for a semi-pro account which didn’t provide me with enough gigging traffic to justify the cost. I plan to bump up my membership to Featured for a few months to see if I get better results and will report back!
- GigMasters – A little more pricey than the last option; I currently have a Professional membership with this booking website. Billed on a 3-month cycle (rather than month to month) it requires a little more up front commitment to sign up for this service, but it has certainly paid off for me. I have booked a fair few gigs through this service, and plan to continue my membership for the foreseeable future.
- WeddingWire – Prices go up as we move into the world of commercial wedding websites. I currently have a free profile on this page but am considering upgrading to see if this page has any potential. Something to keep in mind in using this website: you sign up for 12 months at a time, and it doesn’t seem like you can cancel before that time ends. That means the lowest package would cost $480 for the full year. Anyone have any experience with this site to share? Please comment below.
- PartyPop – Honestly I don’t actually remember signing up for this site. I have only heard a reference to this site once from a client… but that one client was worth the 5 minutes it took me to fill out the basic profile. My one complaint regarding this company is that their sales reps are pretty insistent. There was a time not so long ago that they were calling about twice a week in an effort to sell me a featured profile package.
- Bridal Shows: gird your loins, because these events are pure craziness. There is a lot of overhead Bridal Expo table example involved with bridal shows (give-aways, table decorations, printouts, booth fees, etc.) but they are an invaluable resource for meeting brides face-to-face. I have played one bridal show since moving to Miami 2 years ago, and from that one show have booked upwards of 13 weddings. Keep a smile on your face, have some memorable give-aways (I gave away music-note shaped stress balls with my contact info printed on them, and ring-pops) and make eye contact with as many people as you can. Engage, engage, engage! You will be exhausted after one of these events, but your calendar for the coming 18 months will thank you!
- The best way to secure a booth at a bridal show is to get in contact with the event planner. If you search for bridal shows in your area look for the company (in South Florida we have “Perfect Wedding Guide”) and visit all of their social media pages. Follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. This will keep you up to date about who is running these shows, and where they will be held in the coming months. If you can, go to a bridal show run by one of these companies after initial contact and find the person who you emailed even if they haven’t gotten back to you. The wedding world is very competitive and the only way to be known is to make yourself known.
- Local booking agencies: These are hit-and-miss in my experience. Although it can be really nice to have another person deal with all of the details of an event, there are many variables that can come into play in these types of events. That wedding you were booked for, they also booked a violinist… who also wasn’t aware that you would be there… make music, GO! I once played air harp (literally) for a cocktail hour at the Ritz Carlton in Key Biscayne when a booking agent failed to tell me that a violinist with background tracks had also been hired to play with me (what exactly was I supposed to do with that??). My best advice in dealing with these types of companies is send 5 times as many emails asking questions and clarify specifics as you normally would and always contract. Contracts keep people honest, and make sure that at the end of the day you get paid.
What tools do you use to help up your booking in the summer months? Do you have any experiences with any of the websites mentioned? Please comment below!!