I’m a musician and songwriter with a background in booking and a driving wanderlust that hangs on like the glorious after affects of a straight pint of Irish Whiskey.
Currently, I’m backpacking across Europe and staying in hostels, and most of them, I’m lucky enough to be an Artist-In-Residence and I barter my music for a free room for a few days. This helps me financially travel further and longer. This new trend is called “Play-to-Stay” and is basically a cultural and musical exchange program that you can take advantage of, and use to travel the world! IF you meet a few basic requirements.
- You play and and sing music, your own, top 40, a mix of both, whatever.
- You travel with your own instrument and are self-contained.
- You’re flexible and up for anything
If you’re all of these things, then read on!
Lots of people have been asking me how to book the hostel gig, how I went about booking these gigs for myself, and I’m about to spill my secrets. Yes, I have a history in booking and freelance book American indie artists on the side, so yes, I have booked tours before, I know how to write a good promo letter and put together a stunning EPK BUT all of that is basically easy to a social media-savvy millennial, and you can easily fake it til you make it. You’re a better artist if you learn to be self-sufficient on the business side, anyways!
So, without further ado, 7 Ways to Book the Hostel Gig
- Research which hostels are more likely to love the idea. As this idea is a bit new, it’s helpful to pitch the idea yourself as well as apply to already-existing artist programs. I stayed at big hostel chains that already offered a #PlaytoStay program (Urban House, Clink78, Eurohostels) and some that had never done anything like it before, but really enjoyed the music and were very friendly and accommodating. Some of the latter were the best, as I am now working with the hostel event staff to help them put together a package deal for artists in the future. I’m working on a comprehensive list of European Hostels that actively search out artists, but you can do your own research and cold-email hostels, that’s how I started. The worst you can get is a no, thank you! A great starting point is Hostelworld.com. I found all of the places I stayed there, and would follow the links to the hostel’s actual website to contact them. You want to look at each hostel and make sure they have a “Venue” for you. If they don’t have a stage, (or if you’re acoustic, a bar or a coffeeshop) then move along.
- Write a great introduction email. Basically an EPK, but more friendly and personable. Remember this isn’t a staunchy-unimpressed booking agent who is reading your email, it’s an events coordinator or part-time front desk chick. Be professional, but a normal human. Introduce yourself, why you’re traveling through (are you playing other gigs in the city and just looking to save on accomodation? In Brussels, I stayed 4 days free and didn’t even play at the hostel, they just called themselves an “artist safe house” so you never know) let them know what your music style is. “I play calming and soothing jazz standards” is great at upscale hotels in more expensive countries like Switzerland. “I play party music and my performance style creates a fun and light singalong atmosphere” works better at younger, hipper places in party cities like Budapest and Amsterdam.
- Make sure your links work. Send links in your email to your website, your music Facebook page, your blog, iTunes Store, hopefully all of the above. It really helps to have a good video of you doing your thing, via youtube or Vimeo. No attachments, no dropbox links, all live and working accessible links online.
- Include the exact specific dates you are looking to stay, and be flexible with your offer. I always say “I’m happy to play music and provide live entertainment in the bar in exchange for a bed for a night or two” because it sounds more chill, different hostels have different availabilities and different play-to-stay offers, you don’t want to sound demanding. I stayed free for a week in a hostel, I’ve stayed free for a night. Be absolutely gracious for everything you are offered. Also, be willing to change your dates. Plan far enough in advance that if the venue is booked one weekend, you can play the next. Don’t completely change your plans for one gig, but do keep yourself open.
- Be willing and up to play anywhere. I’ve played regular stages in bars, but I’ve also set up in the lobby of a hostel sitting cross-legged on a cushion on the floor, playing acoustically in a small circle for 12 people who were completely silent for an hour, but very friendly and super supportive. Be ready for anything culturally, and be able to adapt your show to the venue you’re placed at a moment’s notice.
- When you book the gig, make sure to be extremely grateful and also to make it worth the hostel’s time. As they will probably be promoting you as a musician on their social media, be sure to respond. Promote your gig on social media, do a write-up on the hostel on your blog, tag them in everything. After all, they’re trying to get more travelers, you’re trying to get more listeners. This is a symbiotic relationship and you can mutually use each other for marketing and promotion.
- Have the time of your life! Playing-to-Stay is literally one of my favourite things I’ve ever done, and it helped me make so many friends, foster artistic and personal relationships, grow culturally, and furthered my career as a booking agent, artist and writer. I’ve made connections with booking agents and professional venues in cities I’d love to bring my band back through, so it can only go up from here! Being a musician is all about expanding your community, making your planet smaller and your audience larger.
Solo travel is lonely sometimes, but every audience I performed for was a big group of new friends, and I always went out to explore in the city with awesome people after gigs. People in hostels are there for the experience, they’re there for adventure, they’re mostly staying in rooms with 10+ other people and they’re mostly extroverted and very friendly. You’ll make friends, you’ll grow artistically and personally, and you’ll have an amazing time. Get started planning your adventure today!!