Why are you gigging? Public musical performances provide experiences for the audience. The more fame an artist achieves, the more people attend his/her concert to hear that artist and those songs. In this type of situation, the identity of the artists is heavily connected to the experience. On the other end of the musical entertainment spectrum are audiences who have attended an event for some other reason (to eat or drink, to meet with friends, a carnival/festival) and you are providing additional side entertainment. This type of audience is not interested in your music. They would be more entertained by hearing something that they know and can sing along to. In some cases, they may not even want to hear the music too loud (just in the background), especially if they are trying to talk with their friends/family.
Therefore, as a beginning artist you have to answer the question, “Why am I gigging?” If the answer is to make money, then you should be prepared to provide a musical experience that the audience will enjoy. That may sometimes mean playing cover songs or turning the music down. This can be very bruising to a singer/songwriter’s ego, but it is often the only way to make money gigging in this harsh industry.
If your reason for gigging is to promote yourself and your music, then you should continue to perform original songs. However, you should realize that not every gig will be appropriate for you, and you may not make as much money at first. You have to be willing to turn down gigs that you feel would compromise the integrity of your music. You must also strive to build a solid fan base. The more people there are who are willing to come out and hear you, the more gigs you will be able to book that specifically promote your music.