Promoting a Show

In reality, nearly every musician dreams about playing a show to hundreds or thousands of people so they can do what they do best, perform and play to a sold out crowd. Rarely does something like this happen quickly (not saying it can’t), but most artists and bands will need to start out one fan at a time by personally inviting family, friends, co-workers and online fans to their events.

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You’ll need to get creative in finding ways to get people to come out to shows, especially if no one knows your band yet! Either way, there are a million ways to promote a show and here are a few suggestions to start:

- Create a Facebook event three weeks to one month ahead of the day of show - further in advance if it’s a record release to maximize visibility.

- Invite your friends from that city - you can search in the facebook search tab “friends of mine in _______” and fill in the city your show is in. Sending a personal message helps, or texting them to see what they’re up to that night.

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- E-mail is great and everyone checks theirs pretty regularly. Utilize this and start an e-mail list - let people sign up to get updates and important show details. They can sign up online on a website or by a sign up sheet at your merch booth.

- Create a poster or online flier (one that all the bands can share on social media that is eye-catching and relevant) *no later than a month in advance* as well as physical copies you can drop off at the venue for them to hang up.

- Print up small handbills of your poster and go to local shows and distribute them to show-goers. You can also leave these at some bars or rehearsal space bulletin boards.

- During the weeks prior to your event, go to the venue as well as other local venues and see other bands playing. Introduce yourself to the people at the show and invite them to the show.

- Be thorough in the show information online and on posters - other bands playing, door opening time, show start time, set times for all bands playing and order of bands, age restrictions, location, etc.

- Don’t be pushy

- See if you can sell tickets in advance and give people a cheaper option than purchasing tickets at the door

- Get some friends on the list for free if you have a guess list - usually a band will be given 4 or so guest spots, sometimes more, sometimes less.

- Engage with your audience and do some sort of ticket giveaway or contest

- Set goals for yourself/your band on hitting particular crowd numbers for growth

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It is important to not be afraid of self-promotion. This is a common fear amongst musicians and people who have lots of stuff to promote! And most of the time, people want to know! You’re gonna have to if you want people to show up. Let people know where you’re gonna be and why they should come - do you have new songs you’ll be playing that you haven’t yet? Do you have a new look? New album out? Songs people wanna sing and dance to? A one-time collaboration happening on-stage? Make it interesting and show people you are interested in your show. Make frequent posts about it, not just once, but many times, because people forget and because repetition sticks in people’s minds!

Most importantly, be creative and thoughtful in inviting people out. It’s great to speak to the masses online, but people find it exciting and more meaningful if you reach out in a more personal way. Then eventually you will find ourself infront of those 100 people you imagined in the first place!

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Routing a Tour

When you first go to plan the routing of a tour, it is important to take these factors into consideration and to first ask yourself a few questions to define the tour.

What is the purpose of the tour?

Are you releasing new music? Did you just release a single or record and want to support the new release? Are you playing a great festival or show in the middle of the country or in a big city that’s great exposure and great pay? It might make sense to turn the trip into a tour instead of flying there. Are you just looking to expand and play regionally as well as gain new fans? Or are you just looking to play and get paid gigs? Whatever it is, try and define that first with your band so when it comes to finding venues and cities you are looking in the right place!

(Photo: Jenny Bergman)

(Photo: Jenny Bergman)

What vehicle are you using and how long is your tour?

Is your car or van in good enough shape to take you where you need to go? Is a rental a better option? And if it is, is it in your budget? Sometimes when you’re first starting out touring it might be best to consider just getting your feet wet with a few week-long runs with your band before diving into a full few weeks or month. That way you can build up to something bigger and you won’t go out of pocket too much if you’re just figuring things out! No matter how long you are going out on the road for, make sure that your car has passed inspection and that you can rely on it to get you where you need to go safely!

What is your target market?

Once some of your goals are defined, decide who you are playing for. Which cities do you think your music will go over well and where do you want to start to build a fanbase?

Music scenes all over the U.S. grow and change on a regular basis, but it’s important to keep in mind which part of the country you’ll be playing to and what type of music is mostly focused on in an area or venue. It will vary all over, but you can research the cities you’d like to play in and see what’s going on at the local music venues through the venues’ facebook page calendars or websites. You could also look up bands or artists you feel are similar to you and see the venues they play. Also consider asking other friends’ bands or artists who tour what experiences they have had.

*Make sure that if you’re focused on playing a specific bigger city that you aim to play there on a Friday or Saturday night as these are the peak show times! Try to keep larger cities on the weekends and the smaller towns in between.

*TIP: http://indieonthemove.com is a fantastic database of venues by city and state. You can also define the search by seeing the music genres that the venues host.

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What is your budget and have you set a target amount that you will be getting paid or making per show?

Sometimes when you’re first starting out, you won’t get a guarantee from the venue. In some cases you will have to play a market a few times, and show consistent promotion for a door cut, bar %, or tips to gain fans. At times you will have to rely on merch sales when you are starting out! This can be such a great savior! Your two CDs and three t-shirts sold will pay for gas and food in a new place. Sometimes coffeehouses, bars, restaurants, and breweries will pay more and give bigger guarantees than a venue in a big city. The smaller town markets between the bigger cities can sometimes be overlooked, but will often host music, be a perfect stop in between two major cities, and can really help bring in larger amounts of money than a show in the big well-known cities would. This is often because they may have a budget for giving artists a guarantee or a good bar %, and you won’t be relying on bringing in fans for a cut of the door.

When you’re first starting to tour, it’s good to establish the worth of your performance. How much do you get on a regular basis when playing your hometown? How many people are in the band and how much will you need to get to the next city? It’s important not to undersell yourself but not to charge too much either. If you are new to a market, just know you will have to play the city a few times to help establish. Consider it an investment if you plan to tour a lot. If you’re basically beginning in a new place and can coordinate with the booker, always ask and see what they can offer you as far as a bar %, door %, guarantee, food/drinks, lodgings, etc. Often venues will feed touring artists too! So always check.

(photo: kribbean at 'Roll & Roll Hotel' via TripAdvisor)

(photo: kribbean at 'Roll & Roll Hotel' via TripAdvisor)

Will you be staying with friends/family or at hotels?

If you are traveling to a place where you have friends or family, see if it’s possible for you or your band to crash with them for a night. More likely than not, they’ll be excited you’re in town and will want to come see the show and let you crash if they have the space. Offer them some merch or a guest list spot in return! If you’re staying at hotels, a lot of them offer deals and express deals through http://Priceline.com. It’s possible to get a motel or a hotel for as cheap as $25 a night in some cities!

(Photo: Vanessa Silberman on tour with Jimmy Dias of The Love Dimension)

(Photo: Vanessa Silberman on tour with Jimmy Dias of The Love Dimension)

What is the distance between cities/states you are traveling?

It is helpful to look on a map when routing a tour, and to keep in mind the lengths of your drives and the distances between your shows.

*TIP: find out who in your band will be sharing the driving duties and calculate how many hours the band can do on a gig day (ex. 4-5 hours plus gas stops/food breaks/bathroom stops. Also consider cushioning a little time for traffic in bigger cities or any time changes to get you on time for load in and sound check).

It can be a challenge sometimes finding great gigs on weekday nights rather than weekends, but it IS possible!! Many venues around the U.S. book music seven days a week, and some that only book on weekends will sometimes make exceptions for touring artists. The closer you can get to a straight line or a circle without retracing steps and driving extra miles is going to be the most effective way to map out a tour and to make the most profit!

(Photo: Jenny Bergman)

(Photo: Jenny Bergman)

Do you have enough time for preparation and booking?

Make sure you consider starting the planning of a tour 3-6 months prior to the first night of tour. It’s going to take time to align it so it is linear and so you can fill in all the gaps accordingly. If there are any gaps, say on a Monday that you just couldn’t find a venue for, try hitting up a local show and meeting some bands if you’ve got the day off. You could visit some open mics as well as record stores to see if they’ll put your music on consignment.

This site can tell you how much a route will cost in gas and tolls and also how far you’ll travel in miles according to your vehicle. It’s great for figuring out a budget plan and a route! https://tollguru.com/trip-calculator

With just a little bit of planning ahead and time you can route a great tour!

Preparing for a live show

You’ve got your goals, you’ve found your band (or are flying solo), you have some songs, maybe you have some songs recorded (or in the works and ready to test the new material with a audience) and now wondering what is the next step. Live shows! Once you have your first show booked this is something you’ll really need to prepare for and some of these steps you’ll continue to use to prep for in the future as you continue to play more live shows.

So how does one go about bringing their material onto the stage and into these venues? How does one begin in a market, promote and start to make a name for themselves?

Let’s focus on the music and Preparing around that!First you have to make sure that what you’re bringing to the stage is a good representation of how you want to sound and how you want to be received by your audience.


Music: You’re going to want to rehearse with your band, going through all your songs one by one and making sure they sound good. Are all the instruments lining up? Is everyone singing in pitch? Are you getting the right tones out of your amps?

Tips:

- When rehearsing try breaking down the songs instrumentally or just vocals & harmonies or just bass & guitar. Any wrong notes or off parts will stand out! Also this will help tighten everything.

- Practice running the set, time it & make sure it works for the time slot allotted.

- Practice optional transitions into songs if you’re planning not to talk.

- Practice moving and try video taping you or your band rehearsing so you can see how you look.

Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse! Until it sounds good. If it doesn’t sound the way you want it to, then you’re probably not ready for the live show yet. You will know when this moment is!

Stage clothes: (*Refer to what we mentioned in our ‘Intro to Imaging’ entry). The biggest question should be image-wise, does my image / look and represent my music? Does it represent me? Or us? Wear something that sets you apart from the audience. Show that you’re IN the band. Be a unit! Or stand out as an artist. Be and look more than a person who plays on stage with jeans and a t-shirt. What inspires you? Have fun! You could even go to thrift / vintage stores with your bandmates and find some cool, cheap outfits together! Or maybe you have some friends who are clothing designers? Whatever it is - think about it and plan it out.

Tips: Look at magazines, old records, YouTube videos of your favorite artists, look at art! Anything to inspire image.

Banter on stage: Whether you’re a talkative artist or not, and even it if it’s not part of your image to say much, that is fine; but do at least acknowledge and say hello to the crowd and thank them for coming/being there. Your audience, the venue staff, bands, bookers etc., just like you, all took their time to come out and be there. If it’s a new market or new venue, know that your representing yourself and these people are taking their time to listen to you.

Tips:

Without being too rehearsed - so it doesn’t feel unnatural, think of some things to say to the crowd that you can fit between songs. Funny things that happened that day, brief stories behind the songs, ask the crowd how they’re doing, thank them for coming, tell them about the merch you have for sale, tell them about your next show, what you have in the works, thanking the other bands and the promoter who booked you, thanking the venue, be creative! (*Also you don’t have to talk after every song either - this will get tiresome for both you and the crowd. Find a natural flow and read the room!)

Product: You’re going to want to prepare to give your audience something to remember you by. They will want to take home something if they liked your performance. Before you play your show get some stickers made, buttons, wristbands, lighters, or even something small along these lines that are cheap to produce and cheap to sell with your name on it.

Tips:

- If you’re first starting out try a small run of t-shirts to see how they do! You can always print more. You can also try painting them yourself with a print screener or fabric paint.

- If you don’t have a recording finished yet, make sure all your social media sites are up so people can find you in the meantime and you’ll be able to tell them the url at the show.

- You could make a small home demo tape or even just one acoustic song single on a CD that you could give out or make into a free download to give to your new fans. You could also put a couple acoustic videos of songs up online and give out music business cards with your social media links and a link to the videos as well.

Website Tips & Social Media site suggestions:

- Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, SoundCloud, Squarespace (custom websites), Wix, GoDaddy & Register.com

- Merch & Duplicating Sites: Halfpriced Buttons, Sticker Guy, Hollywood Disc, CD Baby

Prep before show tips: Do all the guitars and pedals have charged batteries? Find out what the backline is at venue (do they already have a house drum kit or amps). Make sure to pack your tuner, extra strings, your capo, extra cables that you know work, and that your stage clothes are clean in time for the gig!

Before you step on stage for the first time Ask yourself these questions:

⁃ Are the songs sounding good and is our gear sounding good?

⁃ Have we rehearsed recently? Is the band all on the same page?

⁃ Do we have a setlist that is cohesive and flows nicely?

⁃ Are our instruments in working order and comfortable to play?

⁃Do we look like a band?

⁃ Do we have stage banter/things to say to the audience?

⁃ Do we have a thing or two that is cheap to sell or give away at our march table?

There’s nothing more magical than playing music live and sharing that with people - so put your heart into the process - you probably did when you wrote your first song! Also recall the first time you saw your favorite band or artist live. It was probably a night you’ll never forget - give YOUR crowd that same feeling!

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Photo: Concretegrey  

Photo: Concretegrey  

Intro to Imaging (on stage & off)

In this day and age of music, things are constantly evolving and moving fast. It’s happening so quick that it can be hard to catch up with social media sites and all the new music avenues constantly popping up. It can be overwhelming to some artists, especially for those who are just comfortable being songwriters that would rather perform than brand and market themselves. Either way you can’t afford to just get up on stage and play your song. You have to give people an experience—you can’t afford to be shy about your music or your message - you have to get it out there and stick out of the crowd!

Artists today have to create their own path and have a very clear vision. One must re-invent themselves constantly in order to keep up. As hard and as challenging as the world of music can seem, it can also be looked at positively to those who adapt and move with it like a chameleon. It’s an opportunity to make your own career whatever direction you want and find your own nitch. 

Your perspective is important. It is helpful for one to look at his or her art as a “brand.” Although things are not how they were in the 60’s, 90’s, or even ten years ago, one thing has stayed the same: people still go to live shows. Live music will never go away! With the pressure of these new times, artists and bands should be creative because they have to be more than just a band or artist playing their instruments. Be conscious of how you’re presenting yourself on stage, off stage and online. Pictures, content and activity are important as they help with momentum. Keep the engagement with your crowd and audience as it is a necessity!

When it comes time to play live, make sure that your band looks like a band! Be yourself, but put some extra time and care into how you present yourself. Audiences want to connect with you so please show you care. If you’re performing later on in the night you want to make sure that the crowd sticks around to see you.

When it comes time to do photo shoots or posts, keep your goals in mind. Think about the moment someone hears your song… what might they envision you to look like? If they see you at a club at your merch table before your show, what might they imagine your music to sound like?

Live Show Tips

- Put thought into what you’re wearing and have fun with it! Don’t just wear your everyday clothes. Set yourself apart.

- Make eye contact and open up in an authentic way (this may take time).

- Acknowledge the audience, say hello! You don’t have to do it after every song but at least twice during your set - let them know that you see them.

Press Photos / Video Tips

- No matter what genre, in photoshoots try to do at least one photo where you make direct eye contact.

- Make sure the camera you are using takes good, clear photos! No one wants to see a blurry press shot!

- If you’re a new artist or band make sure you’re featured or present in the content so people can connect. Of course there’s exceptions... if you wear masks or if it’s an animation, etc.

- If you come up with a particular way you or your bandmates dress that is signature to you and your music, you may want make sure it’s always carried over to your videos & photos.

In conclusion: By putting care into how you present yourself and by wearing your art just as much as you sing it, people will want to stick around and experience it. When your music and your look go hand in hand it is easy for an audience to instantly connect with you. Think about the artists you’re inspired by… how do they look and present themselves? How does their sound match their look? Be yourself, be clear and simple, and the right people will resonate with you!

(photo credit: Concretegrey & Carissa Johnson)     

(photo credit: Concretegrey & Carissa Johnson)