In every town and near every potential stage there are hundreds of upstart musical acts just trying to capture an audience. Some are lucky enough to make a huge impact right out of the gate but then watch as their audience size shrinks over time. Others play to empty rooms for months or even years before either figuring out the secret sauce or quitting alltogether. No matter which end of the spectrum your band is on, there are probably a few things you can do to improve your odds at being the next success story in your circle.
- Be like a kindergartner and write your name on everything. No, not literally… except sort of. The gear you use on stage is your own personal traveling billboard. You should have some kind of branding or graphics on it that make it stand out from every other house band, and it works best if those graphics include your band’s name. The stage is the one place guaranteed to have pictures taken, shared from, and spread around, so that’s the best way to get your band’s name in every picture from the show! Start with a logo on your kick drum, then work yourselves up to a background banner, maybe some inexpensive scrims, vox boxes, etc. Whatever it takes to plant your flag on that stage and visually claim it as your own!
- Don’t stop with just the stage! Send posters to the venue in advance of the show, or bring them in yourself as far as a month in advance. Bandposters offers a fairly inexpensive service that lets you design killer 11″x17″ full color posters and have them shipped in small batches directly to your venues. You can also have them shipped to you or your street team members… whatever gets them in the right hands so they can be prominently displayed in areas your potential audience spends their free time.
- Don’t stop at posters. VistaPrint is constantly offering cheap and nearly free offers for everything from flyers to postcards and business cards. Create an account over there, sign up for their promotional email list and upload your graphics so that when those deals happen, you’re locked and loaded to take advantage of them. Think outside of the box with these items too! A business card with just your band graphic on one side can be a quick notecard for you to hand to fans with your next show or personal phone number handwritten on the back. A postcard can also work as a tablecard to get your show details right in people’s faces. Either way, the tools are out there, just pick them up and use them.
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— Shauna Castorena (@WhiskeyChick)
- While you’re in a promotion mindset, let’s talk about media. Have at least 2 members of your band who are prepped for interviews. Most professional acts will have at least a list of talking points they can circle back to in case an interview goes far off-track or stalls out, and are quite adept at bringing the conversation back around to those points. Be sure to practice giving answers that would also make for great sound bytes or short quotes. This means practicing away those “umms and ahh’s” and working on getting your points across in a clear, concise, and friendly manner. An artist who interviews well is more likely to get more airplay and repeat appearances. Get to know the radio and television stations in your target markets. Seek them out to get interviews and plugs at least two weeks ahead of your gig.
- Support other bands! This should be a no-brainer, but somehow it doesn’t happen nearly often enough. If you’re going to the venue anyway to hang posters and set out table cards, why not go during another band’s show? Stay for the whole set. Chat with a member of the band. And for the love of music do NOT hide out on the smoker’s patio as if your mere presence on the property is enough to say you care. This passive proximity to the performers is NOT supportive. It sets the example for non-musician fans that the people playing on stage are not worth your active attention! A person who is passionate inspires other passionate people, so demonstrate your passion in a way you want to inspire yourself.
- Don’t stop at just shows. Get involved in community events that support your scene. Give yourself a quota of X number of charity gigs or benefits your band will play in a season and set out to book those. You can always sell merch to make up your costs, and your contribution to making these events a success will be priceless to the causes you are supporting. You can also participate in non-musical events like community meetings, educational opportunities and political gatherings if it suits your needs… the point is, get active and show the people in your scene that you are more than just noise in an amplifier.
- Speaking of making your money back on merch, get creative with that. Take the time to make more than just t-shirts and CD’s. There are a million different ways to put your name in a fan’s hands just waiting to be discovered. Check out Pinterest, major label band’s online stores, and trade show suppliers for ideas that will make you stand out from other bands in the physical marketing game. For some left-of-center merch ideas, check out my post covering Top Merch Items for Festivals.
- And when you have all that cool custom merch, accept that it only sells if the fans care about you. When you get off stage, as soon as securing your gear allows you to, get your ass over to the merch table and peddle your wares! Fans are far more likely to approach you for conversation if you’re not hiding sidestage fussing with your gear or out by the van sneaking the flask. Designate someone in your crew to handle the gear while you go be approachable and increase your sales. While you’re at it, try to get a merch swap going with other bands on the bill. Trade t-shirts and wear that shirt at your next event. Show your support and create the opportunity for the other bands to do the same.
- Before your set, after your set, stay for the whole show! You worked hard to get this gig, and so did the other bands. Your fans stayed to see you play, but the minute you clear out, so will they, so stick around and give them a reason to do the same. The age of the headliner playing last has gone to the wayside thanks to beer-thirty driving hazzards and “prime slot” booking, so the last band on the bill often gets the shaft. Show that you feel their pain and respect their sacrifice by setting an example that the show isn’t over till the last guitar gets unplugged.
- Make friends with the staff as much as possible. In most venues, this is just another night on the clock for them, so why not do your best to make it a good one by learning and then calling attention to the bartenders, door guys and sound engineers? Thank your venue owner and promoter for putting on the show. Encourage tips or buying advance tickets to the next big upcoming show. Whatever you do, make it something that shows that you care about the success and happiness of the people that made the stage you are playing on possible or else that stage may not be there the next time you come through town.
Want more tips on building a bigger audience? Check out 5 Ways to Build Your Contact List.