For an up-and-coming band every gig is a vital step toward your success. Your shows are where you get the chance to prove yourself. They are your opportunity to do what you do best. A good gig can also have a ripple effect, securing you a loyal fan base and ensuring good crowds at future shows. So when you land a gig, the key is to make it count. Hours of practice and rehearsal won’t matter unless you have a decent crowd that can go back and tell their friends how great you are. Your mission is not only to kick ass on stage—but to convince other people to come and see you. Sure, it would be nice to be able to just focus on your music and let someone else handle the promotions, but few unsigned bands have those kinds of resources. It’s up to you to get people in the door.
With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of ways you can make sure you have a full house at your next gig.
1. Start early.
Don’t wait until a week before your gig to start advertising. As soon as you have a booking, sit down with the band and come up with a strategy for marketing the show to the public. Remember, you’re competing with about a million other things someone can choose to do on a Saturday night—movies, other bands’ shows, parties, sporting events. You want to get yourself on the calendar as soon as humanly possible, and give yourself plenty of time to remind people a few times before the show date.
2. Posters, flyers, and cards.
You have to have them. There’s no excuse these days not to have cards, flyers, and posters. With the online digital printing websites you can upload your own art, or use their existing art to create marketing materials that are professional and eye-catching. Remember, you’re competing with professional bands which have marketing departments and public relations people, so put some thought into it.
One way you can get some great art done for little money is checking out high school and junior college art departments. Some of these young artists would love the chance to do your design work and earn a little cash—and they’ll charge you a mere fraction of the amount that a professional graphic designer would.
However, even if you can only go the old-fashioned route of hand-drawing a flyer and photocopying it on eye-catching colored paper, do it.
Make sure everyone in the band has stacks and that they’re giving them out, hanging them up, and making them available. Leave them at the record store hang them on community bulletin boards at schools, coffee shops, bookstores and libraries.
3. Get your family and friends involved.
These people can be your best allies as you start your career. People that love you are your cheerleaders. They are going to promote the hell out of your band even if they aren’t particularly interested in your style of music. Maybe grandma won’t come to a show, but she knows a lot of people and can help spread the word. She’s just the type of person who would relentlessly hand out your flyers to everyone and anyone, just because she loves you. Take a stack of flyers to each of your friends and family, tell them how important it is for you to get people to your show, and ask them to spread the word. Unless they still haven’t forgiven you for breaking their favorite crystal vase when you were eight-years-old, chances are they’ll be happy to be part of your success.
4. Use Myspace, Facebook, and other online social networking tools.
Technology is one of the most powerful tools you have. If you are one of the last five people on earth without a MySpace or Facebook account, get one NOW. Make sure you regularly update the pages with news and show dates, upload MP3’s or videos of your songs, and respond when people leave you a message. Look for bands on MySpace with a similar style to yours and go through their “friends” lists—and invite those people to be your friends. You can generate so much interest in your band with regular “farming” of these sites, even people who live in other cities and states can become fans and your impact can quickly go from being local to you having a national presence.
5. Create a press release.
This sounds more complicated than it is. Not just big names can create and circulate a press release. Basically, it is a formal description of something current—like a show or a new CD release—that you can give to different media outlets. Sending a press release doesn’t ensure that you will get publicity, but it will definitely get you noticed and the media folks in your town are going to pay attention to your professionalism. Send your press release to entertainment papers; corporate, public, and college radio stations; bloggers and online communities that feature local events.
Check out this site for a description of how to write a professional press release: http://www.publicityinsider.com/release.asp
6. Tell everyone you know—and don’t know.
This is not the time to be shy. If you can get up in front of a crowd and pour your blood, sweat, and tears into your performance, you can strike up a conversation when you’re out getting coffee and tell people about your show. Think of yourself as a really cool Jehovah’s Witness. Have flyers in your pocket and be ready to hand them out any time any place. A personal connection with someone, even for a couple minutes, is more compelling than a thousand flyers stuck to the side of a building.
7. Go to other shows and network.
Get out there and see other shows. Hang out before and after and talk to people about your music. The people you meet at a show are people you know are interested in seeing live performances. Again, making a single personal connection is one of the most effective ways you can generate interest in your music. You can be cool and still be friendly. This is not the time to be stand-offish. In the beginning you can’t just rely on your music to attract people, because in the beginning, no one has heard your music. They’re going to come to see you.
8. Offer to play a couple songs unplugged at an event to warm up the crowd.
In every city there are about a thousand things going on any given weekend. There are plenty of opportunities to warm up the crowd at a charity, a school play, an art show, or any other number of events. You don’t need to drag all the equipment out. Go and play a couple songs acoustic. Give away a couple CDs in a raffle at the event. Ask if you can leave some flyers on the registration table so that when people come in they can grab one with their name tag or program. There are endless possibilities for getting yourself in front of people and giving them a little taste of your music—plus, you might just get to support a worthwhile organization or event.
9. Advertise a giveaway at the show.
People love free stuff. It’s just a fact of life. It doesn’t even have to be good free stuff, but if you advertise that you are giving something away, there is a much higher likelihood that more people will show up. Give away a couple discs, a couple t-shirts. If you have the cash, give away an iPod Shuffle ($49) or some gift certificates. It is a small investment that will pay off in spades. Make sure you let everyone know—on flyers, on MySpace, and by word of mouth—what you’re giving away and when.
10. Open for an established band a couple weeks before the gig.
Be a part of your indie community. Make friends and allies with other bands. If you can open for another band a couple weeks before your gig, you are going to give people a chance to see you in action. You’ll have a ready-made audience you can pitch your upcoming show to. Hang out after your performance and work the room while you enjoy the main show and support your friends.
There are so many creative ways to promote your show, and these are just a few suggestions to get you going. Remember, if you don’t promote yourself, no one else is going to. Be fearless and let the world know who you are and where your next show is going to be!
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