Playing for real live people is a key part of building a music career as an artist. Yet I see many people going out and playing with little intentionality. So I want to help you think about your public performances in a more systematic way to make sure you're doing the right thing – specifically, gigs vs shows. So what's the difference between a GIG and a SHOW? Let's discuss.
What is a GIG?
A gig can be just about anything. It could be you setting up in the corner of a bar/restaurant during happy hour. It could be playing on the patio at a winery. It could be a wedding. It could be entertainment at a company party because it pays stupidly well and you get dinner. You might honestly be more of the event/venue background music aside from your friends and family.
If you're paying attention, you'll notice these are the less glamorous types of engagements. They give you an opportunity to meet new people in a casual setting or let you work on how the songs translate to a live context. Gigs are great for getting NEW fans into your orbit because they happened to be at that random bar that night and you hung out, etc.
When you're done or taking a break, you go out and socialize with the crowd. Network. Get them to follow you on social media. Learn people's names so they feel compelled to become a fan.
Gigs don't always need to pencil financially out at the start of your career. Refining your live set, building confidence as you're preparing for shows, or networking is huge. (But obviously, if you can get a few hundred bucks between the venue and your tip jar or merch sales, that's always nice.)
You don't need to promote every little gig until you're blue in the face – especially if it's mainly for you to polish your set. Save your big pushes for the cool gigs or SHOWS…
What is a SHOW?
A show is a very INTENTIONAL set you play where you are trying to provide an EXPERIENCE for the audience. They are there to watch YOU. You have a setlist, know when you're doing verbal moments, thinking about the journey the audience will take, etc. You rehearse not just the songs but the experience. You think about the sound, lights, promotion, etc.
99% of the time, SHOWS should pencil out for you financially (between ticket sales, venue guarantees, merch sales, etc) – unless you have a VERY specific reason to take a loss on it.
Shows are designed for your existing fans (but you'll get new fans from whoever else you share a bill with PLUS level up casual fans into true fans and super fans.) Well, and to impress VIPs if needed.
Comparing Gigs vs Shows
Whenever you take on a new live engagement, ask yourself “is this a gig or a show?” There is time for both.
Generally as a rule of thumb, early in your career, you'll be playing more gigs than shows. As you gain a following, you should obviously focus more on shows – both from a financial and sanity standpoint.
This same transition from a majority of gigs to a majority of shows applies when you start trying to build a following in new markets. The first time you play in the market 5 hours away will probably be disappointing. That's ok. You're going there to shake hands and kiss babies. (One time when I was on tour many years ago with The Talbott Brothers, we played a really sick show in Portland with a great turnout, but just 3 hours north in Seattle the next night probably only had 30 people there. That's ok! It was a new market!)
TLDR on Gigs vs Shows
- Done just for the money or practice
- A beta test of your set/songs/show
- Great for networking/getting established in a market
- Don't alway need to be publisized if you have more important asks for your fans and want to avoid fatigue.
- A special event
- Intentionally planned
- Something you aim to make money from
- Mostly for your exisitng fans
- Soemthing you should pull out all the stops to promote
David Ryan Olson
Hey I'm David. I'm a mix engineer and I run Evergreen Records. Thanks for reading this article and feel free to contact us with any questions about persuing music that you have.