“How do I get people out to my shows when even my family members don’t want to come?”, lamented a fellow musician on Facebook earlier this year.
Fair question. After all, who loves you more than your parents, relatives, or siblings, right? If they aren’t your top supporters, who will be?
Truth be told, this type of thinking gets us into a lot of trouble. For some reason, as artists we’ve come to believe we should hawk our wares to the people closest to us – our “A List”, if you will. We think the people we know are the easiest to sell to.
But through my many experiences in retail, network marketing, entrepreneurship, and music, I’ve come to realize strangers are often easier to convince and sell to than family members or best friends.
That’s why I say our thinking is the problem.
Are Your Family Members Your Fans?
The answer to this question is most likely “no”.
There is an off chance they like your music and would willingly listen to it in their car – or wherever they happen to listen to music – on occasion.
But that’s relatively rare.
Now, are your family members your supporters? In many instances, they will be. They’ll buy your merch and music. They’ll come to a few of your shows. Maybe they’ll buy you instruments for Christmas or pass your contact information onto venue owners. Again, this type of support isn’t always offered, but it’s not unusual, and nice when it is available.
Still, there’s something you should know about your music, especially if you’re just getting started. This could be hard to hear. Are you ready? It probably isn’t that good. That’s one of the reasons people aren’t coming to see you.
Yes, I know, you love music. You’ve worked hard at it. You’re trying to get better. But guess what? A lot of people are just around you to give you a little pat on the back while you’re honing your craft. Is it any wonder they don’t want to be at every show of yours?
Sure, going out to a dive bar or generic coffeehouse might be fun for your family… once or twice. Beyond that, what’s in it for them? Why are they going to come to see you again?
Don’t worry, I’m not here to beat you down. I’m just shedding some light on your situation. With that reality check out of the way, we can get to the good stuff.
Don’t Worry About Your Family Members
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself having to go on without your family. I know it can be tough, but most successful people have had to turn their backs on naysayers and start feeding their mind with positive thoughts and affirmations. They had to build their self-belief while pruning the negative from their lives.
Some of your family members will come to your shows some of the time. And here’s what I have to say about that: Some will, some won’t, so what?
If you make it big down the line, you know who’s going to come crawling back to you, talking about how lucky and amazing you are, don’t you? Your parents, siblings, and relatives. There is, of course, the chance they’ll never change their minds, but again I say, so what? Will you really care if you’re successful and they’re still negative?
There are people out there waiting to discover you. They don’t know it yet, but if they had the opportunity to see and hear you, they would willingly sign up for your email list or buy your album.
Persistence is key. After all, there’s no practice like live performance. If your music isn’t that great right now, don’t worry – if you make a conscious attempt to improve, playing shows will make you better fast.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take lessons, especially if you don’t know how to sing or play an instrument. But getting out there while you’re working on your craft is healthy and will speed up your growth.
Bring a mailing list signup form with you everywhere you go, and you’ll start building your list. It may only grow gradually, but it will happen if you stick with the process.
Let your family members come around when they will. In the meantime, focus on your career.
Leverage Your Data
Conversations around data are only going to increase in the music industry. Thanks to the abundance of data available, learning about your audience has never been easier. There are also plenty of amazing tools – both paid and free – you can use to uncover key findings about your target audience.
Data will help you narrow in on your target audience. If you knew that your music appealed to women between the ages of 35 to 44 with an income level of $60,000, do you think you could find more people like that? If not, it’s easier than you might think.
The first place to look, if you’ve been building your Facebook fan page, is Facebook. There’s a little tool called “Insights”. Maybe you’ve heard of it. With it, you can learn what posts are engaging your followers most, the age and gender of your audience, and more.
Another great tool is Google Analytics. If you have the tracking code installed on your website, you can learn a lot about your audience’s behavior, how they surf your website, what else they’re interested in, and more.
If you’re looking to dig up information on bands or acts that sound like you (you may be able to poach a segment of their audience), Alexa and SimilarWeb can also come in handy.
Now, you may be asking what to do with this data. The idea is to figure out who your music appeals to, and then find more people like them. Then, you should get these people to like your Facebook fan page or sign up to receive emails from you.
Facebook ads make this process easy. You can either build a lookalike audience, create a new target audience based on what you know about them, or target “people who like your page and their friends” to begin amassing more likes for your Facebook page. Your ad could include a link to a landing page where people can sign up for your email list.
Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a magic bullet or anything. Likes and follows aren’t always targeted, no matter how defined your audience is. But if you keep this up, you’ll have more people to share your music with and invite to your shows.
Plan Better Shows
It’s amazing to me how poorly planned many shows are. I understand that music is meant to be fun, but don’t you think your fans deserve a little better?
Now, I understand. You probably have some limitations in terms of budget, resources, connections, and venues willing to have you in to perform.
But at some point, if you want to offer your audience the best experience possible (hint: You do), you must begin to see yourself as an event planner – not just a musician. You must begin putting your audience first.
If you’re asking yourself why seeing things from the perspective of your audience is the least bit important, you’ve just identified one of the reasons why no one is coming to your shows. You aren’t giving them a good enough reason to.
From the fan’s perspective, it’s all about the experience. The music is just one component of that. Their experience begins the moment they arrive at the venue and begin looking for parking. Menu items, atmosphere, seating, visuals… everything factors into their overall experience.
This isn’t to say a dedicated fan base wouldn’t go to a dive bar to see one of their favorite acts play. But when you think about it, that’s kind of hipster behavior anyway, and an experience all its own.
But you aren’t someone’s “favorite act” yet. Or, at the very least, there are only a handful of people that think of you that way.
So, if you want people to come to your shows, make them compelling. Work with the bar to come up with food or drink specials. Use stage lights and a projector screen. Draw a bigger crowd by booking two other acts on the bill. Organize a contest or giveaway. Involve your audience in your shows.
There are many ways to make your shows more stimulating and engaging. Get creative.
Grind It Out
I used to collaborate with a singer-songwriter who always said, “you have to pay your dues”. I’m not a fan of the saying, but I think he’s right.
These days, I get rave reviews for my performances. This tells me I’m more than worthy of the opportunities offered me, and could go after bigger and better shows if I was so inclined.
It wasn’t always that way. I remember the first time I played two original songs in front an audience. I had played in bands for a few years, but never solo. The reception was… lukewarm?
But over the years, I’ve played hundreds of shows. I’ve grown comfortable playing in front of an audience. And, even though I don’t have all the kinks worked out in my sets, I don’t worry about it because I’m a professional, and I still deliver a great show, even when little things go wrong.
Practically every musician has had that experience of no one coming to their shows. Your friends and family members might be excited about coming to see you at first, but that initial enthusiasm will die down. You might be left playing to a barista or a bartender, and maybe a couple of other people, for a while.
Trust me, this challenge is not unique to you. The question is – are you willing to keep going where others have given up? This is often what separates those who succeed from those who don’t.
The great thing about grinding? It’s not that complicated. You just keep going out and playing, not worrying about the results. You suck it up through the defeats and keep pressing on. You stop worrying about attendance. You go out and play for the joy of playing.
The universe will test your resolve. Gigs will be cancelled. Details will fall through the cracks. Marketing will be ineffective at times. Venue owners will drop the ball. You’ll play one big show that makes you feel like you’re going somewhere, and then end up playing a small show the following week. This is normal, and should even be expected.
If you are mentally tough, then don’t worry about anything else – just grind it out. Keep playing.
Bonus: Be Likable
This may not apply to all of you, but it’s possible people aren’t coming to your shows because they don’t like you very much.
This isn’t to suggest that all artists are likable. But people still must like you enough to want to share in an experience of your creation.
I don’t think most popular artists are jerks. There are some well-publicized ones out there, but most present well.
Sometimes it can be hard to know how much people like you if you aren’t on the outside looking in. You must develop and practice more mindfulness to determine what people think of you. Also ask your best friends for an honest opinion.
In general, see things from the perspective of others. Treat them how you would like to be treated. Add value to those around you. Be kind and courteous. Smile and shake hands. Work on your small talk, communication and people skills. This will help you in your career regardless of whether you’re looking to get more people out to your shows or not.
If you want to build a profitable music career, you can’t depend entirely on your family and friends to help you make it. You need to make real fans. Certainly, some of your family members or friends might be your fans. But do you really think you can develop and sustain a career on a fan base of a dozen people?
No matter how you look at it, you’re going to need to turn some strangers into fans – preferably thousands of them. The sooner you accept this fact, the sooner you can start tackling the biggest challenge of all, which is obscurity. If no one knows you or what you sound like, no one is going to come to your shows, and that’s a fact.