Playing shows is fun, but they are much more fun when you have someone to play to.
When you start playing shows, there’s a good chance you’ll play at least a few with low attendance. It’s good to get used to this.
As you build a local following, and decide to play in other cities, or go on tour, you’ll inevitably play some shows that are poorly attended, thrown together at the last minute and otherwise bad.
Throughout your career, this will just keep happening. Every time I’ve gone and toured a new, fresh market, I found myself basically starting over. Unless you have an opening slot or you've set yourself up a great show, there’s a good chance you’ll have to grind through some tough ones.
Over time, I’ve learned to accept the bad shows when they happen, but effort to plan shows that are more likely to have good attendance.
In this guide, I’ll share with you a few ways to increase attendance at gigs both locally and otherwise.
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Play The Right Venues With The Right Bands
The single biggest factor to having a good show is playing the right room with the right bill.
When choosing the venue, consider:
- What kind of music are you playing? What kind of music does that venue usually present?
- What is your target audience? How does your target audience intersect with the people who are usually going to that venue?
- How big is the venue? How big is your draw? Will you be able to fill the room? Will you be able to half-fill the room?
- Will your audience want to dance? Does the venue accommodate/encourage that?
- Does the audience want to drink? Does the venue accommodate that?
When you’re picking another band to play with, consider:
- How big is the other band’s draw? Will they help promote?
- What is their music like? Will their fans like your music? Will your fans like their music?
- Is their music too similar to your music? You want a band that can share fans, but not a band that sounds identical to you.
- How much does the other band play? Do they overplay? Will their addition to your show diminish the value of the show?
How To Avoid Saturating Your Market
Industry always talks about bands overplaying or saturating their local market.
The risk of playing too much is that people will get bored and your shows won’t be as exciting.
The truth is, it takes a while to saturate your market. You can play quite a bit locally without overdoing it.
I think it’s equally weird when bands never play, hype up a show, but have poor attendance, because they’ve played so little that nobody knows who they are.
Here are a few ways you can avoid overplaying.
Know When To Promote Aggressively & When To Just Show Up And Play
There are some shows that you should promote aggressively.
These are the important ones – album releases, showcases, really good bills, etc.
There are other shows you don’t need to promote aggressively. If you are playing a festival, for example, you probably don’t need to promote very much. The crowd is built in. Don’t waste your energy.
Or, if you’re playing a random bar show with an “okay” sort of bill, don’t push it so hard. One post, a Facebook event and you’re done.
Not every show has to be a big deal. Sometimes you’re just playing a show.
As Your Local Following Grows, Only Take Shows With Excellent Bills
As you gain momentum locally, start to curate your shows.
Don’t play unless you’re playing a stacked bill of locals, playing a festival, opening for a good touring band, or hosting your own headlining show.
This means that when people come to see you, they are always treated to a top-quality night of music. They always leave feeling like the show was packed and exciting, and you’re giving them the impression that you are an exciting local act. Which you are!
Set Up Good Bills In Touring Markets
Your goal when setting up shows in touring markets should be to work with good promoters playing good bills.
At first, most promoters won’t want to work with you, until you have some buzz of your own to offer.
Instead, do some digging into what local bands are buzzing, and try to set up a good two to three band bill. Play that. Try to invite a local promoter that you want to work with, and if they dig your set, work with them on the next show.
Local promoters will be able to set up a touring show that works out well for everyone, and it takes the burden off of you to promote it as heavily.
Present Something Unique
Try something different! Work with a local promoter to present a show that is out of the ordinary.
There are a variety of ways to do this.
You could try a different, weird, DIY venue. Get people into a unique space and generate some buzz that way.
Try doing something different with your show. Add members, break it down acoustically, add a visual art component. Anything to generate a little bit of extra buzz!
Invite Press & Industry
Increasing attendance at shows is not going to happen overnight. You need to build your name and your buzz.
You should always be inviting local press out to your shows. Getting reviews, photos and name recognition is worthwhile.
Just make sure that you are inviting people that will come – no point inviting Rolling Stone to your local bar gig.
Similarly, invite local industry. Agents, labels, promoters, etc. All of these people need to see you live to understand your project and give you opportunities in the future.
That said, it’s worth considering whether you want industry at a particular show. If you’re not sure that the show will be packed, or do not like the bands you are playing with, skip it.
Invite people to shows you are proud to be playing.
Cover Your Basics On Social Media
I almost didn’t include this, because promoting your shows on social media should be obvious. But I thought it might be worth covering in case you aren't sure what to do on social.
Here are the basics you should cover whenever you’re playing a show.
Create A Facebook Event
Facebook events are standard practice for inviting people to shows. Create a Facebook event, invite your friends.
Add the other bands on the bill as co-hosts. Add the venue and promoter as co-hosts.
Consider boosting the event. Throwing a bit of money behind the event can give it a bit of extra visibility.
Post To Facebook/Instagram
Depending on how important the show is, it may merit more than one post. But, at least one post is worthwhile.
You can post more than once about it on an Instagram story – stories give you a lot more leeway to post often, as they disappear after 24 hours.
Run A Instagram/Facebook Ad
If it’s an important show, it’s probably worth putting out a targeted ad or two. Just to boost visibility and awareness.
I would say, spend no more than $20 on a given show, unless it’s an album release or something. In which case, use your judgement and spend within your budget.
Play A Great Show & Make Great Recordings
The single best advertisement for a show is a good show and a great recording.
Get people talking.
If people like your recorded music, they will come see it live.
If people have an amazing time at a show, they will want to come back and have an amazing time again.
That’s how it works. It’s like a great restaurant – give people a product that they want, and you’ll have success!