The Hip-Hop Artist’s Guide to Shows & Touring

Mike Walbert
Posted by Mike Walbert on Jan 15

An artist must be knowledgeable about all aspects of the music business. Many artists lack the tools and resources necessary to elevate their careers to the next level.

The Artist’s Essential Guide to Hip-Hop provides crucial information about artist development, marketing, promotion, and other tips for maneuvering through this rapidly evolving industry.

Need more advice? Read other chapters of our Artist Guide here.  

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Every musician work towards having a great live show. Being able to book shows and accompany other artists on tour is not only a great way to increase your fanbase, but it is also one of the best ways to make money in today’s music industry.

One of the most popular questions we get is, “How do I get on more show?” Well, we'll be addressing that question and more.

In this post, we’ll cover:

  • The importance of a great live show
  • The MCs vs Bands Theory
  • 5 things you should try to do at every show
  • 3 steps to booking your own show
  • Open mic nights and pay to play
  • 3 things to do before you go on tour
  • A few good hip-hop booking agencies
  • Pro Tips

  

The importance of a great live show

The live show is where the rubber meets the road. 

Too many artists don’t spend the time and resources necessary to have a great live show, even though a live performance is where you can make the most impactful connection with your fans. You’re able to connect with fans and attendees (aka potential fans) in ways that you can’t online. Don’t take this opportunity for granted.

If you’re able to gain the reputation as a great live performer, you’ll undoubtedly be booked on more shows, increase your fanbase and will likely be able to extend the life of your career… not to mention make more money.

With so many artists and so much noise online, the live show can be your differentiator.

Tips for putting on a great hip-hop show 

  • Do NOT perform over your tracks. Your audio engineer should create a showmix for any song you want to perform. A showmix usually has the lead vocals removed, but you can get creative with the showmix depending on how you want to perform the song.
  • Build a relationship with a DJ so that you’re completely in sync. A great performance DJ can make the difference between a good show and a great show.
  • Depending on your music, you may want to consider adding a hype man. A great hype man can bring a lot of energy to a performance.
  • If you’re music features a lot of live instrumentation, try and incorporate members of a band or create your own band. If you want to perform with a live band, you need to practice a LOT. You may want to start with 1-2 instruments on stage and see how the crowd reacts.
  • Be yourself. Your stage show should be an amplification of your brand. Think about what you want people to take away from a show and bring those elements to your performance.
  • Think about what you’re wearing and possibly consider a stylist if that’s not your thing. Don’t just roll out of bed and perform. You don’t want to lose the crowd before you start. Also, don’t wear shorts unless you live in California or Florida... or is that just us?? 
  • Consider investing in creative production, lighting or design elements to enhance the show. Even a small investment in production elements can make your show stand out from the pack. 
  • Be memorable. Do something unique, interesting or surprising at your shows. Give the audience something to talk about with their friends. But be careful, because there is a thin line between gimmicky and awesome.
  • Interact with the audience but don’t demand too much from them. An audience is there to watch you and be entertained so don’t ask them to participate too much.
  • If developing a great live show isn’t your strength, you may want to consider bringing in a creative director to help develop your show.
  • Practice! This seems fairly basic, but not enough artists actually practice their live shows.  

The MCs vs Bands Theory

MCs and bands typically have a different origin stories and it often influences their live shows and recorded music. 

Most Hip-Hop artists are born in a home studio after writing and recording music. Sometimes artists record for years before actually performing on stage.

In contrast, most rock bands are born in a garage/basement - or on stage - trying to perfect their sound, and only when their sound is on point do they actually record anything.

Because of this MCs need to focus more attention on their live show. Performing often isn’t as developed or instinctive as it is for bands. Hip-Hop artists need practice performing their music and it takes time, effort and creativity. MCs shouldn’t expect to walk on stage, hand the house DJ a flash drive, grab a mic and put on a great show. It doesn’t work like that. 

5 things you should do at every show 

If you can do at least 1 of the following at every show than it can be considered a success.

1) Make money

 This is fairly obvious, but somewhat difficult when starting out. You have to pay your dues and generate a fan base before you’re going to get paid to perform.

You can take a financial risk on yourself and become the promoter and performer. This is a great way to get started in your city. 

However, even if you aren’t making money on the performance you can make money at the show. Bring some swag to EVERY show and try to sell merch after your performance.

2) Turn attendees into fans

If you are on a lineup with other performers, you should be trying to steal their fans. There’s a great chance not everyone in the venue knows who you are. You should try and convert some new fans. You can do this simply by leaving a positive and memorable impression on and off stage.

3) Turn fans into super fans

If you have fans in the room, you should be trying to make them even bigger fans. Live shows are the best place to make a personal connection with your audience. Use the time wisely and do your best to turn casual fans into super fans. Try and be personable and take time to interact with the audience. Take pictures, give away promo material and most importantly give them something to talk about.

4) Make new connections

You never know who is in the room. Try to meet new people and make some meaningful connections. A show is the best place to link with other artists, DJs, producers, promoters, managers, A&Rs, etc. Don’t be too cool to start the conversation.

5) Create and share content

Every show is an opportunity to create compelling content for your social media. A dope videographer and photographer are invaluable on every team, but if you don’t have the funds, make sure a friend or someone on your team is taking high quality photos and capturing great content to share with your fan base through social media.  

3 Steps to booking your own show

If you’re just starting your career or simply aren’t getting booked in your own market don’t wait around for someone to book you, be proactive and book your own show. It can seem overwhelming but there are only a few important steps to booking your own show, and we’re going to break them down.

If you can successfully book, promote and headline your own show, this will raise your profile in the market and prove to promoters that you bring value to a lineup. 

If done right, it will ultimately help you book more shows.

Step 1) Book a venue

Please don’t overlook this step. If you book the wrong venue the show could be doomed. You want to work with a professional venue with high quality A/V and a great staff. You also want a decent location where people often attend in an area not too far from your target audience. Ideally there are a couple venue options in a good location. 

You should look for a capacity between 150 - 300. Do NOT book a large venue. Even if you think you can get way more people to your show, it’s always better to sell out a smaller venue than to perform in front of a poorly attended larger venue. 

If it’s a good venue and you don’t have a relationship or proven track record, it might be hard to get a weekend date. It’s ok, you don’t need a weekend date. A weekday might actually be better depending on your audience. There are more events on the weekend, so if you get a weekend date you’ll have more competition.

Call the venues, you like, tell them you’re interested in booking a show and ask if you can discuss in person. It’s important to discuss all the details and finances of the show before locking in a venue.

There isn’t a standard deal structure and every venue is different, but you’ll likely pay a small production fee to cover the venue’s staffing costs. You should retain all of the revenue from tickets sold, because the venue will get all of the bar sales. Depending on the market, you can expect to pay between $150 - $500. However, if you’re throwing an all ages event you’ll pay more.

Lastly, secure the venue at least a month in advance to give yourself time to book the lineup, create the promo materials and promote the show. 

Step 2) Book the lineup

The show should be between 3-5 hours.

Ideally, you can get other MCs and DJs in your circle to perform with you for free, but you might also want to consider spending some some money to bring in a dope local DJ with a draw. Regardless, you’ll need a house DJ to spin before and between performances and it will make a big difference if they’re dope.

You shouldn’t have more than 8 total performers. If you have too many performers it just feels like a showcase and you’ll be lost in the sauce. Ideally you’ll have between 2-5 other MCs performing.

It’s hard to book the MCs before you have a venue and a date, but as soon as you have venue and a date you’ll want to lock in the lineup asap so that you can begin promoting.

Make sure the artists are excited and invested in the success of the show. Give them custom marketing material, a few free tickets and make sure their helping promote across theirs social media.

Step 3) Promotion 

Your mission for this show is to pack the house. Ideally you’ll make money, but even if you lose a little money you can chalk it up to an investment in your future. This show is about developing yourself and increasing your value in the market.

You need a compelling flyer, so get a dope local design to create the flyer. You can look through IG or ask around. Do NOT promote the event with a bad flyer.

Be your own street team! Print 100+ posters (11x17) and hit high traffic areas, colleges, coffee shops, boutiques and other locations you think your audience might attend. 

Be very proactive on promotion and pull out all of your favors. Ask your network to post and support on social. Don’t be obnoxious, but don’t worry too much about over promoting. You’re goal is for everyone to know about the show, and there is a LOT of noise on the internet. 

Be creative! Make the event feel special. There are so many shows happening all of the time. Think of something to make your event stand out.

Invite local influencers, media and music industry. Give away 20-33% of your tickets to people that you want at the show. Contact them directly and make them feel special.

Depending on your local market you should charge between $10 - $15 presale and $15 - $20 at the door. You should also anticipate getting a decent amount sales at the door, because people procrastinate and hate to commit to things.

10 Tips on Promoting your Gig via Sonicbids

Open mic nights and pay to play

Do NOT pay a promoter to perform on a show. Plain and simple, paying for time isn’t a good investment.  Don’t play yourself.

Even if the invest seems nominal, you’d be better off investing in digital marketing or promoting your own show.

You need to get to a place in your career where you are earning your performances, and paying for time on a stage isn’t a fast lane to success. 

Shaun Eating of MusicThinkTank elaborates, “The majority of places that ask you to pay to get on stage, most likely don’t have the biggest audience themselves. If they did, they would be making money from that audience, and wouldn’t require you to give up money for stage time.”

With that said, open mic nights can offer artists the opportunity to practice a few songs in front of an audience of strangers. You can gauge the reaction of certain songs and begin to focus your set on songs that receive the most excitement. This is a good way to develop a show when you’re starting out. 

You can also use open mic nights to connect with local artists, promoters and others in the music industry.

If you are just starting out, open mic nights might be the perfect place to hone your craft and develop a network. There are plenty of artists that have gotten their start at open mics. You have to start somewhere, right? 

Note: If the open mic nights are charging to perform, you may want to think twice.

3 things to do before you go on tour

Before taking the steps to book a tour, you should ask yourself the question, “Am I ready to go on tour?"

Before you think about booking a tour, you must first establish a strong following in your local market. You should also have a great live show worthy of a tour and fans in other markets. 

Before you’ve decided to book a tour take these 3 steps to see if you’re ready to hit the road:

Step 1) Do some research and let the data talk

You have access to so much data through streaming services and social media. Use the data to figure out if you have fans in other markets and where they live. If you have a lot of streams and followers, but they live in Japan, a tour might not be feasible.

Spotify for Artists and AMP Pandora allow artists to access their streaming data to explore valuable information on their fans.

Facebook & Twitter also have easily accessible data on your fanbase.

You should have considerable following in several other (nearby) markets before considering a tour.

Lastly, ask your fans on social media and let them help you figure out where to go. If you get a huge response from a city, you might want to consider going there.

Step 2) Picking artists on the tour

There are a lot of factors you can use to decide which artists to go on tour with, but here are a few things to consider.

  • Don’t tour with artists that you don’t like, because you’ll be spending a lot of time with them
  • Find artists that complement your sound and have similar but unique fans
  • Maybe find someone you’ve collaborated with because it helps create excitement for your fans
  • Make sure they have a draw in the same markets
  • Make sure they have a great live show
  • Make sure you agree on everything before you go on tour. You’ll want to have the marketing, order of performance, billing and financial splits confirmed so that there is no confusion or misunderstanding along the way.
  • Try and share a tour DJ if possible, it saves money

2-4 artists is a good number for a tour. Don’t try and stack the bill. You should also try and book some local talent on each stop to help with awareness.

Step 3) Run the numbers and figure out your route

Tours are expensive! Open up an excel spreadsheet and decide if the tour makes financial sense.

Try and map out a few different routes depending on where your fans are located. 

Make sure you take all expenses into consideration before going on tour:

  1. Are you renting a van or bus?
  2. Cars need gas!
  3. Where are you going to sleep?
  4. You gotta eat!
  5. Do you need to pay a tour manager to help with logistics and managing the merch?
  6. Are you bringing a DJ or any other performers?
  7. Are you bringing a photographer or videographer?
  8. Are you spending money on marketing and promotion?

Once you’ve done these three steps and you’re ready to book at tour, the hard part starts. You have to finance the tour, contact venues, book dates, promote the shows and execute the plan.

A few good booking agencies

Before you have a booking agent you have to create a demand for your shows. When you do that here are a few booking agencies to check out:

It’s all about finding the right agent that believes in you and your music. If you don’t have an agent that is fighting for you than there isn’t much a booking agency is going do for you.

Pro Tips

  • Be a professional on tour

Every show won’t be perfect and there are often things that go wrong for a variety of reasons, but successful artists know how to keep their composure.

A good relationship with promoters is important to building your career. You do not want to burn any bridges with venues, promoters or artists. It’s a much smaller world than you think, and relationships are important. It’s very tempting to act like a rock star on tour, but always be professional and treat everyone with respect.

Yusuf Muhammad (A3C Program Director) says, “All parties involved must be honest. Usually this starts with the booking agents or artist managers. Many agents and managers are important to the overall energy between parties. If they are rude, pushy or outright disrespectful towards those who are working to provide a platform for their clients it immediately inserts negative energy. Promoters are not perfect and mistakes happen. It is best to have clear and respectful communication. At the end of the day we all have a goal here and it's to have productive shows/relationships.”  With both sides being satisfied with their situation, it leads to a better performance for the fans, which everyone should believe is the ultimate objective. 

  • Established a fan base

The best way to get more shows and go on tour is getting more fans. Shows cost money, time and investment from promotes and venues. Promoters need ticket sales to cover the cost of the show. Fans buy tickets. If you aren’t able to bring fans to a show, there isn’t a lot of value you can offer a promoter.

  • Don’t purchase followers or plays on social media sites

Buying followers on social media is a trend that has been going on for awhile, and it may fool some people, but it’s likely to backfire. Savvy promoters won’t be fooled, and are even turned off by a large but inactive social following.

  • Increase your active social media presence

This should seem obvious, but you can never say it enough. There isn’t an equation (X followers = Y Ticket Sales), but promoters like to see a large and active social media following.  Think about ways to get new followers at shows but converting attendees into fans… on social media.

  • Collect contact information

Get old school and collect emails at your shows. Put out a signup sheet for anyone interested in music, merchandise, etc. This is a great way to convert casual fans into loyal fans.

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Shows and touring should be one of the most enjoyable aspects of being an artist. You get to meet your fans and see the impact your music has made. Have fun, enjoy the experience and do your best to maximize the opportunities that a live performance provides. We hope this article has helped in some way.

Need more advice? Read other chapters of our Artist Guide here.   

Sign Up for Artist Guide

The Artist's Essential Guide to Hip-Hop is presented by Squarespace, the simplest way to register a domain and create a beautiful website.

Start your free trial today by visiting squarespace.com/A3C. When you’re ready to go live, use offer code A3C17 to save 10% on your first purchase.

Mike Walbert

Written by Mike Walbert

Mike Walbert is the Executive Director of the A3C Festival & Conference. As as partner in the business Mike oversees various aspects of the business, including: Business Development, Sponsorship, Branding and Marketing. Mike officially joined A3C in 2009 as the Artist Director. Since 2010 Mike has managed the strategy and team that have grown A3C from a regional showcase to an internationally recognized institution in hip-hop culture.

Topics: Artist Advice

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