This is target marketing, pure and simple. Assume you have only three arrows in your quiver, and one’s gotta land a gig. A one-out-of-three success rate is pretty phenomenal, but go for it. Just aim at the right bullseye.
How to identify the right one? It’s not hard to figure out. Who presents the type of music you play? A loud bar? A coffee house? Who tries to support young new artists? Draw a big circle on a map, the distance you’re willing to drive at night after a gig, and start looking.
The temptation might be to try to oversell yourself, and aim at the upper tier of there small venues. Looks can be deceiving. The small church concert series might be perfect, or they might be the sort that books Grammy winners. I know this will sound depressing, but don’t reach for the stars: YET. Pay your dues. You’re wasting everyone’s time if you pick the wrong venues.
Check the venue’s website to see if there is a protocol for submission for consideration. Follow that. Do NOT circumvent. It only angers the people who make the decisions.
It’s all in the research and not wasting your or anyone else’s time. Start with small venues that are open all week, and looking for mid-week slots to fill. Work on your game. Don’t get dismayed if people aren’t paying attention to the music. Look for cues. Even if they’re playing pool or talking, are they moving their heads or feet to the beat? Are they somewhat there? If not, it’s a cue for you; work on improving your presentation. Remember that you’re an entertainer, using music to connect. Be visually interesting. Have between-song patter.
Play tunes with hooks. Pop music sells because it has lots of hooks. The best of the alternative string bands, from Crooked Still to Driftwood combine killer skills with great hooks. If you can’t get people moving, it’s not hooks.
Play in places where you have no friends. You need feedback, either verbal or visual, as to whether or not you’re connecting. Friends aren’t good at that. Do NOT use your mother as an agent. Do NOT use a friend as an agent. Use yourself. You need to learn to sell yourself. It’s all part of the musical M.B.A. that you’ll be working on for the next 10 years.