Playing the piano for weddings and special events is, quite frankly, a pretty sweet gig.
Honestly, when I show up at a gorgeous venue, get free valet parking, then sit down at a shiny black Steinway and put my hands on the keys, I think to myself, “I am so lucky … I get to one of my favorite things to do in life since I was ten years old, and people pay me good money to do it!”
Whether you play the piano or a different instrument, you might be interested in playing for weddings, parties, and corporate events, but have no idea how to get started, who to talk to, or how to advertise yourself. Or maybe you already are a wedding musician, but you’re just in search of more ways — and less expensive ways — to find more gigs. And not just more gigs, but the best gigs.
When I was first starting out several years ago, I honestly had no idea how people got hired to play at events. (Unfortunately, that was one of the many things they didn’t teach us in college.) And frankly, I had a hard time finding a good answer One person suggested I bring business cards to the local bridal shop. A book I read suggested sending press releases to the local papers. I did both these things and, other then getting some bragging rights for social media when my photo was in a tiny local paper, it did no good at all.
Thankfully, I was not quite desperate enough to advertise in one of the wedding or country club magazines that have contacted me over the years. That would have cost me a pretty penny or two, and I’m very, very sure that it would have led to nothing as well.
Now it’s years later, and not only do I have no problem getting regular gigs, but they’re also good, well-paying gigs in amazing venues with customers who are a job to work with.
What are the Best Ways to Get Wedding Gigs?
Almost without exception, there have been two ways I’ve been able to book those wedding gigs:
1) My website
2) Networking with other wedding professiona;s
My post today is going to focus on networking — what to do and what not to do.
Attend Networking Mixers
One of the best ways to get wedding gigs is through referrals from local wedding professionals. (Planners and DJs are the usual ones who refer me.) Not only that, but it’s also nice to know other people in the business you’re in. You can learn a lot, for one, and it’s nice to play for a wedding where you actually know a couple of the people there.
The good news is that it isn’t hard to find these people. Start by looking up your local chapters of the National Association for Catering and Events (NACE), the International Live Events Association (ILEA), and the Wedding Industry Professionals Association (WIPA). Then google terms like “wedding professional luncheon” or “wedding professional mixer” with the name of your city. You’ll probably find at least a couple events over the next month that you can attend.
The bad news is that networking requires … well, actually leaving the house and talking to strangers, which can strike varying degrees of terror in many hearts.
It’s especially difficult when you haven’t actually played anywhere yet, because it’s easy to feel like you’re masquerading as a wedding professional and you’re sure to be “found out” quickly. (Well, that’s how I felt, anyway. I still remember someone asking me what my favorite wedding venue was, and I tried to sound as confident and knowledgeable as I could as I answered with … the only venue I had been to.)
The best way to survive networking mixers — especially as a newbie — is to practice some conversation openers. This way, rather than fielding questions—and risk divulging your newbie status—you’ll be the one asking them. (Clever, huh?)
I know you may feel foolish practicing what to say, but this is really important, especially if you haven’t played any weddings yet.
For example, it’s easy to tell someone you’re a wedding musician, but if you don’t feel like you’re one, at this stage it’s just as easy to add something ridiculous like: “Well, I mean, I’m not really a wedding musician. I mean, I’m a musician, but I haven’t played for any weddings yet. But I can! Well, I’m pretty sure I can, anyway. I mean, I’d really really like to if someone would just give me a chance.”
That’s not exactly the greatest first impression one can make.
A good opener is a question like, “What venues have you been to recently?” Then you can follow-up with, “Oh, I’ve never been there. What’s it like?” (This is not only good for making conversation, but you’ll hopefully learn some worthwhile info.)
pickup line conversation starter is, “How did you get started as a wedding planner/photographer/risque cards designer?” Everyone loves to tell their story. (And yes, I really did meet a woman at a mixer whose business was designing and selling rique cards for bachelorette parties.)
It’s also a good idea to go in with a game plan which usually includes some research and a few goals. In this day and age it’s super easy to snoop. Try to find out who’s attending the event and make sure you know who’s hosting it. If your spy skills are itching to get some use, identify key individuals, what they look like, and learn a little bit about them. I’ve never been organized enough to have goals for events, but some people set targets for new leads, introductions, making contact with the movers and shakers, or whatever. Walking into one of these things for the first time can be scary, but your wedding and events biz colleagues won’t bite They can teach you a lot, it’s fun and interesting to see what other people are up to, and getting to know them makes you feel like you’re part of the industry and not completely on your own. Plus, after a while it’s really nice to show up somewhere and have a photographer or venue owner greet you by name. It’s even better to get a call from an event planner who wants to book you for a wedding.
The Key to Networking is The Follow-up!
The most important thing to do after a networking event is the follow–up. It’s what sets you on the path to good business relationships. Without it, a networking event is nothing more than a slightly nerve-wracking evening where you got some good food and made small talk with some people you’ll never see again. If that’s all you get out of it—and you’re an introvert—it won’t be long before you give up and stay home next time to watch Sherlock in your pajamas with a bowl of cookie dough ice cream.
It goes without saying—but I’ll say it anyway—you can’t do the follow-up unless you have names and contact details. These days, as a rule, I always ask for a business card when I meet someone at an event. That way I can follow-up with the person later, and it gives me an excuse to offer my card in return. When I get home I go through the business cards. I make a mental note of the name and face and then I scribble a few details on the back.
For example, if I met a photographer my notes on her card might be something like this: hip female photographer, works with animals. If you’re feeling really super-duper awesome you’ll make a spreadsheet—I recommend in Google Drive— or database. It’s not the most fun thing to do, but I promise there will be a moment down the road when you’ll be thanking me. The note about the person in my spreadsheet would be more detailed, perhaps something like this: short, dark-haired photographer, sat to the right of me at the WIPA Awards Dinner 2016, recently did an engagement photo shoot involving the couple’s pet bunny. I try to have columns for all the possible relevant info, but at the very least I have columns for the person’s name, profession, type of contact (i.e., professional colleague, potential client, venue, etc.), email address, snail mail address, when and where we met, and the date and nature of my follow-ups. Everything else goes in a general notes section. Then, a few times a year I drop everyone on the spreadsheet a short, friendly note just to say hi. But back to the all-important follow-up. . . . The next day I send anUnforgettablePostcard (see the next section) to every new snail mail address I gathered. If I only have an email address I’ll send an email like this:
Hello Phoebe Photographer,
I enjoyed meeting you at dinner last night. That bunny sure sounded like it was cute! I took a peek at your website and particularly loved the photos you took at last month’s wedding at Lake Lanier. Hopefully we’ll cross paths again sometime in the future.
Jennifer McCoy Blaske
Atlanta Wedding Pianist
Depending on the conversation I had with someone, I might also like their business page on Facebook. If you’re into Twitter or LinkedIn, you might want to connect there as well.
Send an “Unforgettable Postcard”
This is a clever and easy trick I learned from Stephanie and Jeff Padovani at Book More Brides. You need to click that link, sign up for their mailing list, and read and watch everything they ever send you. They always have awesome things to say — and also, Jeff is pretty cute. (That’s not an affiliate link, by the way.)
The Unforgettable Postcard is a photo postcard of you with your name and business on the back, but also plenty of room for a handwritten note.with a handwritten note. I usually write that I enjoyed meeting the person at whatever event, and I try to comment on our discussion or mention something about their website. When you send an Unforgettable Postcard, not only are the recipients impressed—because you’re probably the only person from the event who did this—they’re going to hang the postcard somewhere and be reminded of your friendly, happy self for a few days at least, if not longer. I know from experience, sending an Unforgettable Postcard really does help people remember you. To create an Unforgettable Postcard you’ll need to get professional, or professional-ish, photos of yourself. It’s best to look friendly, happy, and approachable.
If you want to be really awesome, when you get the cards printed—from somewhere like VistaPrint or Moo—you can use a few different photos with various designs. I really like the idea of seasonal cards, i.e., one for springtime and something more wintry, but I haven’t done that myself. My postcard-sending is more sporadic than I’d like it to be. But, I always send handwritten photo postcards when I meet another wedding professional. I think it’s a nice personal touch, and I like the feeling of having connected with somebody just a little bit.
Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for a networking mixer to meet people, make connections, and possibly get referrals. You can always contact people yourself and try to arrange lunch meetings. The trick is being a giver, not a taker. So offer to buy them lunch in return for their time and advice.
Sounds scary, right? Well, it is . . . and it isn’t.
The good news is that it’s easier in some ways than being in a noisy, crowded room trying to talk to someone. The bad news is that cold contacting people is always scary. However, people enjoy being asked for their advice. It shows you trust their professional opinion and it is rather flattering. And then there’s the fact that you should never underestimate the power of a free lunch. They do exist! Anyway, the worst that can happen is that someone says no and you still have the lunch budget. The next step is making your contact list. Ten is a good number to shoot for, or more if you’re feeling really gung-ho. So who goes on the list? Start with people you heard speak at recent mixers and people you met who you’d enjoy talking to again one-on-one. Then it’s time for google-fu. You want to find out about the people you’ve already decided to contact, but it’s also a good idea to contact others in the industry. DJs are great people for musicians to meet and there are always thousands around. Find a few in your area who have good websites and look like they know what they’re doing. Add them to the list. Next, look up a few venues that you’d like to play at (you want to find out if they have a preferred vendor list and how you can get on it). While you’re at it, add the venue owner to the contact list . . . especially if the venue actually has a piano and you’re a pianist like me. Now it’s time to compose your marketing masterpiece email. Rule 1: spell their name correctly! Rule 2: be friendly and real. Open the email by introducing yourself, tell them when you met or how you found them, give them a sincere compliment (about their blog, recordings, testimonials, whatever), and tell them why you contacted them specifically. You don’t want them to think that you’re sending the same message to 200names from some list. It’s important to remind them who you are if you’ve actually met, and to show that you’re genuinely interested in doing business. And then mention that free lunch …
Hello Phoebe Photographer,
My name is Jennifer McCoy Blaske and I’m a pianist in the Atlanta area. I’m hoping to speak to one of the best wedding photographers in town. When I did a Google search I was very impressed with your site’s highranking—and your first-page listing on Wedding Wire and The Knot! I noticed that you specialize in more traditional weddings. And, as I’m sure you know, couples who want more traditional weddings often want live wedding ceremony music.
May I invite you to lunch some day next week, you choose the day and restaurant? I’d really appreciate the chance to learn more about your business and what makes you so successful. I look forward to hearing from you, Phoebe.
Jennifer McCoy Blaske
Atlanta Wedding Pianist
Some people suggest that a phone call is best for this sort of cold contact because it’s more personal and shows that you’re willing to invest the time. Those are valid points. BUT, I feel that people these days are under pressure to answer their phones at any time or place—including while they’re driving or having lunch with someone else. As far as I’m concerned, no one should be endangered, or have their lunch interrupted, just so I can invite them to a lunch that will benefit me more than them. And frankly, I’d be annoyed if a total stranger called me at an inconvenient time to tell me something I didn’t need to know that minute. Yes, it would kind of be partially my own fault for picking up the phone to begin with, but I also have to respect the needs of my potential clients by being available. Nonetheless, an email lets the person you’re contacting figure out if they even want to bother talking to you. It also gives them time to check their calendar and get back to you whenever it’s convenient for them. Don’t be surprised or hurt if a lot of people don’t respond to you. There are some people, like me, who would be thrilled to receive an email like this. Free lunch and have my ego stroked? Yes, please! But others will have their own reasons for not responding. For all you know the email could’ve just been overlooked or put in the spam folder that’s emptied automatically. Maybe someone’s just too busy, or they meant to respond and then forgot all about it, or maybe they’re really shy and don’t feel comfortable talking to strangers. Don’t worry about it. All you need is one or two good contacts to get your business rolling. Just move on. When you finally get that lunch meeting, be gracious. Free lunch or not, someone is doing you a favor. Start by asking about them: How did you get started? What kinds of couples do you work with? Is there something you like most about your job? What do you think makes you and your service different from the other 451 wedding photographers in town? Only after you do that can you start subtly moving the conversation to things that can help you. For example, you might ask things like: What’s one of the biggest mistakes you’ve made in your business? What’s been your best source of clients? What would be your biggest piece of advice to someone starting out?
You’re there to talk business, but the absolute last thing you want to do is outright ask them for something—like referrals or favors. If they like you the conversation will probably find its way there naturally. Otherwise, just make a good impression, listen, and enjoy lunch!
Want to Learn More?
Make sure you check out my post about How much to pay a wedding ceremony musician.
Also, if you found this post helpful, you would probably enjoy Giggin’ for a Livin’: How to Make Money as a Musician Playing for Weddings and Special Events. It’s available in both ebook and paperback.
Giggin’ for a Livin’: How to Make Money Playing for Weddings and Special Events
What readers have to say:
“Grab a copy if wedding gigs are in your future. The book is generous, well-written, and full of great tips.” — Robin Meloy Goldsby, Steinway Artist and Author of Piano Girl
“Jennifer has paid her dues, and learned the ropes. Now she shares what she’s learned with the rest of us…Read her book and incorporate some of her ideas. It will make you more efficient and look more professional. And who knows, it may just help you land some really great gigs!” — Frank Baxter, webmaster for PianoWorld.com