Filling up a room can be one of hardest parts of growing a band, and far too often artists rely on venues or promoters to boost attendance at their shows, with poor results. Here we look at how adopting a DIY mentality can provide better results.
Booking a sold-out, or at least near-capacity, show is a major milestone for any band. Doing that every time with every show is how you know you’re on the fast track to success. Yet, when I asked bands their number-one struggle, overwhelmingly the response was this very thing.
I find that a lot of the time, bands rely too heavily on the venue, the promoter, the other artists, their manager, or their booking agent — basically, everyone but themselves, to create success for them. But I also find that most bands have everything they need to be successful already, they just need to harness it, hit the pavement, work harder than everyone else, and stay true to themselves, and they’ll get there eventually.
I gathered a mix of artists and industry professionals who are on top of the game when it comes to bringing audiences together and creating meaningful concert experiences. They shared their tips on how to spend your energy putting together great concert events and how to Do It Better Yourself.
Start with an Eye-Catching Promotional Poster
As you might expect, much of the legwork that goes into creating a successful show happens before fans ever set foot inside the venue. There’s a lot of prep work involved, but it’s this prep work that holds the key to success. Don’t rely solely on your promoter; try to use your contacts and your own ingenuity to create colorful, exciting poster designs for your show that fit the identity of your band.
“Having a great poster design is key,” explains Great Highway’s Sarah Morgan. “Something colorful and eye-catching that looks professionally done and actually represents the sound and the vibe of the gig.
“A few years ago, Great Highway started designing our own posters for every gig we booked. We made sure our posters were minimalist, colorful, and striking in order to capture the indie-electronic feel of our music.
“Once we took control over how our brand was being presented, we started seeing an uptick in show attendance. Plus, if you have a badass poster, your friends and fans are more likely to share it with their networks!”
And that points to a greater aspect of the conversation here: Try to give people as many reasons as possible to feel excited about your event.
It doesn’t stop at posters, physically or digital, either. If it’s a big enough occasion, a record-release party, for example, go ahead and make a small investment in printing flyers, fabricating buttons, or preparing an extra piece of exclusive merch.
In Soundfly’s popular, free course, Touring on a Shoestring, instructor and DIY touring enthusiast Jeremy Young talks about how important artwork can be both to get people in the door and create lasting memories of the event for years to come. Check out his tips in the video below!
Get Picky About Who’s on the Bill with You
Here’s Sarah Morgan again:
“When you’re putting together a bill, it’s really tempting to book the first band that you can find that is available on the gig date. But our best gigs have been the ones where we took great care to craft a bill with bands that, one, were a good genre fit, two, we knew would put on a good show, and three, would definitely bring a crowd.
“If you pick bands that fit well with your genre and draw a good crowd, you’re more likely to gain some new fans out of their audience. And you won’t be risking that dreaded phenomenon where a third of the crowd leaves between each set!”
Spot. On. Too many bands just throw together their bill with no real thought. They either jump on the first show they can find, figuring “something is better than nothing” (not true), or they bring on bands that either make no sense genre wise or have no real local pull. It’s fine to have an opening band that’s newer, and, in fact, I’d encourage giving that opportunity to an emerging band in your scene, but you need to make sure the remaining bands on the bill have a strong draw.
If you fill your show with bands no one really knows, or that don’t mesh with your genre, you’re really doing a disservice to everyone involved, including, and especially, the fans.
Make Each Show an Experience to Remember
This is one I’ve harped on before, but for good reason! There are so many bands out there making great music and, depending on your city, many of them are putting on shows the same night as you, so there has to be a reason to come to your show and not someone else’s.
Part of this is creating a reputation for always giving your fans an experience. This means not just getting onstage, playing your set, and leaving. Sure, the music might be great, but if it’s boring to watch, you can bet I’ll be spending my time and money elsewhere next time.
According to James M. Davis, of Cade Michaels Management, you should “have a shtick for each show. Come up with themes, giveaways, hire a clown, have another musician sit in on your set, or debut some new music. Give us a reason to be engaged with your marketing and your show.”
One of the best shows I’ve ever been to was a themed Halloween show by Abbot Kinney, Travis Hayes and the Young Daze, and Vanwave, where costumes were encouraged (and worn by the bands), a fog machine was running, and a projector between sets told the story of the venue’s haunted past and all the souls still trapped inside. They even hired actors to scare guests. It was amazing! That was years ago, and I still remember it as the best show ever.
Every show doesn’t have to be a big production (but at least a couple per year should be), but every show does have to offer a unique, one-of-a-kind experience to everyone there.
Promote, Promote, Promote
Seems obvious, right? But when I say promote, I don’t mean just post it on your Facebook and Twitter once or twice and call it a day. I mean seriously get out there and promote it hard. Your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email list, your local blogs, every single event calendar for your area that you can find, your Soundcloud bio, absolutely everywhere.
You simply don’t know where your audience will be or when they’ll land on a particular page. The truth is that sometimes people need to see something five times to actually feel the hype and be inclined to go.
Another key part of hitting the pavement? Actually getting out there and talking to people. I know, this is a radical idea in the age of the internet, and we’ll get to the power of social media later, but the reality is that in-person networking is still the most important thing you can do for your career — show or no show.
“Many bands think that just posting on social media is enough to promote the show,” shares Barbara Wahli of booking agency Barb Rocks. “Few take the time to go to other shows with flyers in hand to network and promote their upcoming show. They forget that you need to go out and meet people to get new people interested in their band and attend shows.”
Think about how many event invites you ignore on Facebook and how easily you gloss over the “new show next week!”-style posts as you go through your newsfeed. We are so overwhelmed with information that we’ve become really good at tuning it out. So you have to promote anywhere and everywhere and do it multiple times. It’s up to you and only you.
No slacking! A hard-working band is a successful band.
Angela Mastrogiacomo is a pop-punk enthusiast and the founder and CEO of Muddy Paw PR and Infectious Magazine. She’s also an industry coach that specializes in helping artists and entrepreneurs overcome their doubts and make their mark on the world. You can find hanging out with her dog, eating sweets, and curled up with a good book.
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