For many years I ran a booking agency dedicated to helping smaller acts increase their annual pay while filling up some of the ‘free time’ associated with touring. Yes I know ‘free time’ is a myth for any self-employed person, however in the case of touring performers that time between gigs while you’re on the road, stuck in a hotel room, is essentially ‘free time.’
In addition to helping performers, the secondary purpose of my agency was to promote cultural and educational entertainment to underserved communities throughout the United States. One of the best ways to reach those communities was through the public library system. ‘Wait, what do you mean?’ you ask. ‘I thought libraries were just about books…?’
In fact, public libraries provide a myriad of services such as: traditional book lending, public concerts, classes, story-time for toddlers, historical interpreters, songwriting workshops etc. If you haven’t checked out your public library lately, you really should. The library is a wonderful resource for the community, and an invaluable tool for the self-employed, and small business owners.
As it happens, in addition to providing these services to the general public, many libraries hire performers, educators, and entertainers to give one to two hour presentations to their patrons. And in many cases, they are willing to pay for those services.
This book discusses the basics of touring, and booking gigs at libraries. It is intended as a resource for musicians, storytellers, puppeteers, authors and other ‘living wage’ entertainers. Living wage entertainers are those who make their primary living performing but have not yet been ‘discovered’ by a big name company that will take over promoting and scheduling their appearances. If you fall into this category of performer, this book is for you, to aid in finding new markets, new fans, and new ways of making your living.
We start out with the specifics of libraries, and then move to the basics of touring. I have included blank pages at the end of most chapters as a place for you to take notes and record your thoughts. As a note, I use the words presentation, show and performance interchangeably throughout. Chapters are organized by topic.
As always, I wish you the best in your art.
Why libraries? Are you and libraries right for each other?
There are many good reasons to perform at libraries from the altruistic to the mercenary. On the altruistic side – you are providing music, education, culture, or learning experiences to the general population, at no cost to them. The library pays for it, not the attendees. On the mercenary side – you get paid well to perform in a smoke free environment for friendly people, many of whom will join your mailing list and buy your CD’s or other products. Even if the audience doesn’t show up, you still get paid. You will know your schedule months in advance, and it is quite possible to make a living performing just at libraries and schools as long as you don’t have excessive expenses (like a mortgage).
On the facing page are statistics for you – not too many, I promise. This is a list of the top fifteen libraries in the United States based on the number of programs that they put on or host per year. (Note: this list does not differentiate on types of programs – some are put on by the librarians such as story time, or early childhood literacy programs, some are paid performers.) This information was collected from the Institute of Museum and Library Services 2012 Public Libraries Survey.
[chart available in print and ebook copy]
Are you and libraries right for each other?
There’s no point in selling mice to an elephant. If after answering a few quick questions you determine that performing at libraries is not a good fit, then move on. Time is, as they say, money; don’t waste your money or the librarian’s time (or vice versa).
I assume (dangerous I know) that each performer in the group would like to make between $75 and $100 per performance (or more) at a show, and that there are between one and three people in your group. If your assumptions are different, please adjust accordingly.
Listed below are a few questions to determine if your program will be generally of interest to libraries before spending a great deal of time talking to librarians.
How many people are required to present your program?
How large is your band, dance troupe, or presentation crew? If a presentation requires more than four to five people then it is likely that working at libraries will not be cost effective. Large groups will quickly be priced out of the library market except for special events.
What is your minimum fee?
Realistically speaking, will your group work for $250 for an hour presentation? $200? $50? If your minimum fee is $600+ per show, then working in the library market on a regular basis will prove challenging. If you can comfortably perform for $300 a show, then continue reading. We will take a more in-depth look at pricing and pricing options later.
Is your performance family friendly?
If your performance were a movie, what would it be rated? G to PG13 is usually okay. R rated performances are a tough sell. Highly political or religious presentations, be they music, storytelling, or art are also a tough sell. However, if you offer educational programs on hot topics – then you may have more luck in your efforts. Librarians like education and culture as well as entertainment. Remember – their goal is to bring more people to the library and increase those numbers I showed you earlier. Will your program do that?
Can you perform in small spaces?
For the purposes of this question a small space is defined as an eight-foot by four-foot space. That is the smallest performance space that I personally witnessed at a library. (Yes that’s a tight space, and for some libraries, that’s all they have available. Luckily that’s an extreme example.) If your act requires a great deal of space it is, at the very least, important that you let the librarian know that ahead of time.
If you were able to answer all of these questions successfully, then it is likely that your presentation is compatible with a library. Librarians like to provide a wide range of programs that expose their patrons to new ideas, new music, new performance styles, and new experiences, all while being fun and entertaining. As you work your way through this book, keep this in mind and craft ways to describe your program to fit those needs.