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FEATURE: DIY music pt. 2: Pitching and performing – feat. advice from Ainslie Wills, Jade Imagine & Maja

Writing by Molly McKew // In the second of our two-part series on how to make your own music, we look at how to pitch your music to venues and perform your original material. The dreaming and writing was the fun part – and now it’s time to contact venues and get on stage! Featuring advice from the wonderful Maja, brilliant songwriter Ainslie Wills and dream-pop babe Jade Imagine.

Writing by Molly McKew

In the second of our two part series on how to make your own music, we look at how to pitch your music to venues and perform your original material. The dreaming and writing was the fun part – and now it’s time to contact venues, get on stage, and maybe bomb once or twice (eek!). Once again, we have advice from the wonderful Maja, brilliant songwriter Ainslie Wills and dream-pop babe Jade Imagine.


So, last week we came up with some advice on creativity and songwriting. What do you do once you have a suite of songs and you’re ready to perform? You should aim to have a 30 min to 60 min set before you start trying to get gigs. While you’re working towards this, hit up some local open mic nights to refine your performing skills. These usually allow you a 15 minute slot, and if you’re lucky you will be paid with 1x drink. These are great opportunities to perform your music with a supportive audience who totally understand if you are nervous – and you could make some good contacts too. Try to do open mics in venues that host and care about original live music – and don’t be afraid to ask about getting gigs there!

Something else to consider is whether you want to perform solo or in a band. There are, obviously, pros and cons. The right band can enhance your songs in the most amazing way and open your mind to a myriad of creative possibilities. The downside of being in a band is having to work around limited availability, finding the right rehearsal spaces (and perhaps finding the $$ to pay for them!), getting to and from gigs with all your equipment, and of course the interpersonal complexities of making sure everyone is happy and has the same expectations and aspirations for the project.

So… give it a think! Think about what you want from your sound, and how you like to work with other people. Write a list of pros and cons. You can meet potential collaborators at open mic nights, on online forums or at gigs. Don’t be afraid to tell friends and acquaintances what you’re looking for in case they know someone who is looking for a musical outlet. It is important that you click as people and have a similar creative vision. As Ainslie says “there needs to be 100% trust and a feeling of connectivity with the people you are playing with for the music to flow”.

To approach venues, you should contact the venue and ask to be put in contact with the venue booker, or check on their website to see if there’s a specific email/enquiry form for music bookings. Some venues prefer you to organise a lineup of bands and put on your own night at the venue, whereas some curate the line up themselves. To find people to play with, you can try browsing local gig guides and checking out local bands online, look at triple j unearthed (if in Australia), or connect with other artists on Facebook groups/online forums. If you’re having trouble landing gigs yourself, you can hit up bands and ask if they need a support.

When approaching venues, include a link to good quality recordings, a bio, and high resolution photo or band artwork that can be used for web or social media if you do land a gig. You should aim to have a strong ‘brand’ – even when starting out. As Maja says, “it’s important to recognise your music as a business, not just art”. Fake it till you make it and discard imposter syndrome!!

And if you don’t hear from the venue in a couple of weeks, totally follow up.

My panel provided some solid advice on finding collaborators, dealing with nerves, and pitching your music – GOOD LUCK!


Molly: How do you go about finding a band? What kind of things should you look for when playing with others?

Jade: For me, it was important to play music with people who I felt comfortable around and who I could let my guard down with. These people are the people who are going to hear your songs first and help you to build up your music and make it better. Look for people who understand the concept of “putting the song first”; bandmates who can put their wanky solo aside because it doesn’t fit the song, and instead play the thing that fits way better and contributes to the overall song. I guess it’s just about looking for people who you can be honest with and who get your ideas.

Ainslie: Your band members should feel like your family members, there needs to be 100% trust and a feeling of connectivity with the people you are playing with for the music to flow. Work with people who are passionate about the same things that you are, musically and otherwise. Also, remember that these people are assisting you with building your ‘dream’ :), treat them accordingly, pay them well (when you have means to do that) and if you can’t do that, feed them, show them that you appreciate their time and talent.

Maja: I think the first thing is making sure you get along as people and that there is mutual respect. Like in most relationships, if you don’t respect each other then it’s hard to stay together.  Being in a band is like being in a romantic relationship or with your family because you know each other so intimately and you see each other all the time. So I think the first thing is liking each other haha! I’ve learnt that it’s not just about any people, it’s about the right people. And it’s vulnerable and hard. I also look for reliability, commitment and understanding the expectations of playing music like being on time for gigs and just being professional in general. I think that’s the difference between a great band and mediocre band.

Molly: How did you first pitch your music to venues and get gigs?

Jade: I contacted bands who I wanted to play with and asked if they were playing any shows coming up that my band could join the lineup for… that seemed to work for me?!

Ainslie: I sent multiple emails to venues asking to be put on support spots and then eventually I curated my own line-up of bands and took that to the venues so they didn’t have to lift a finger so to speak. The more organised you appear the better your chances of getting those spots, are. Also, triple j unearthed helped me find other like minded bands to play with. If people are knocking you back, know that that doesn’t mean you don’t keep going, it just means you might have to find a different approach to getting gigs, house concerts are a good way to go in the beginning.

Maja: When I first started, I would call the venue. Now I email and try to send my best work (you want to make it as easy as possible for them to hear your music), and follow up!! I think people underestimate the importance of following up. If I can’t get a hold of anyone via email, then I call the venue. People are busy, it’s not personal!

Molly: Is it important to have profesh recordings and photos for promo before you try to get gigs? What comes first?

Jade: I was talking with my friend about this last week – we came to the conclusion that as long as the photos and recordings have a good feel, and represent you how you want to represent yourself, then I don’t think there’s any problem with getting them out there! Sometimes people react very positively to demos and simple photos you’ve taken yourself or with a friend. You don’t need money to make good art!!! Don’t know what comes first though… I’d say just try to start playing as early on as you can because the more practice you get, the better. I wouldn’t worry about what comes first. Just do it in an order that you feel works for you.

Ainslie: The most important thing is making sure that the recordings/photos you have are as good quality as you can make them with your current resources. You have to feel good about putting the content out in the world, put your best foot forward so to speak.

Maja: Yes, incredibly important. It’s important to recognise your music as a business, not just art. That’s the hard part to distinguish. I think you can still get gigs without having everything, but if you want better opportunities – it helps having profesh recordings and photos. And it’s really a time thing too. I have much better content now than when I started out. Like I said before, you want to make it as easy as possible for the booker/venue and you’re competing with a lot of people so the better it is,  the better your chances.

Molly: How do you deal with nerves/performance anxiety?

Jade: Just know that the audience is on your side. They want you to play well and to have fun, because that makes a show more enjoyable. They want to share in the joy. So take the pressure off and focus on having fun playing those songs.

Ainslie: Perform more! Focus on the audience not yourself. As I’ve gotten a little older I realise that my job is to first and foremost connect to myself and then it’s really about communicating to the audience, taking them with you. Embracing the feeling of nerves will also help, if you are nervous, it just means that you care! That is a good thing.

Maja: Haha I used to get really nervous the more I started caring about doing well. Now I just try to trust in my practice. If I know that if I have done the work and if I have practiced, everything will be fine. And it normally is. The last show I had in Brisbane, I was really nervous about it but I used those nerves and ended up improvising a lot of the banter because I felt comfortable in that space and with those people and it went MUCH better than I could have planned.  So I think nerves can be good sometimes! You just have to control them and not let them control you.

Molly: Do you think it is possible to make a living from playing music? How can musicians support themselves financially?

Jade: It can be hard to make a living. Playing live shows seems to be a good method of making income. Also, getting your recordings registered with APRA is a great move, so that you can start earning royalties for radio play. I have had to supplement my income a bit thus far, working in jobs, but hopefully that won’t last forever! Just try to keep things in perspective. Money will come in and go out but always make sure to keep your focus on making good art.

Ainslie: Yes I do but not in the first 5 years or more! It takes a lot of work to do what you want to do. Having a job that helps pay rent etc is very common for musicians, especially in Australia as there isn’t a big enough market to support the music that is being made.

Maja: Yes, but I think as Liz Gilbert says, you shouldn’t rely on your art to support you. I think a lot of creative people have side jobs and work part time in order to fund their art. I find that when I’m busier and out in the world, it can be really good as long as I still have enough time to practice and write.  It’s really about finding the balance and being disciplined. I think if you want to just make a living from music, you can too though. You might just have to go to the drawing board and look at your budget and ask yourself the hard and practical questions. Nothing is impossible!



Music Victoria “Tips for musicians”  Great tips on approaching venues and playing shows.

Fotor Great for making posters & editing pics

Molly Mckew

Molly Mckew is a writer and musician from Melbourne. In 2019 she completed a history PhD on the countercultures of the 1960s and 1970s in Melbourne and she has been published in Overland, The Conversation, and Archer magazines.

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