Showcases are super important for indie artists. In fact, bands big and small showcase all the time – pretty much everyone has someone they want to impress!
Organizing a great showcase is a bit of an art form. Some bands/managers know how to set up a showcase just so, and they can really make an impact.
One of my favorite examples are some friends of mine in The Dead South who were playing SXSW. They wanted to get 10 to 15 key industry people out to their show, but it was pretty hard to convince them to come to a scheduled showcase.
Instead, they put on a free, invite-only whiskey tasting in their hotel room – and it worked. Everyone showed up, brought friends, had some free booze (always a good way to please), and the band played a set right there in the room.
To me, this has all the elements of a great showcase: lots of opportunities to network, very memorable, great vibe and a captive audience. If you’re setting up your own showcase, here’s how you should go about it.
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Consider Your Goal
What are you trying to accomplish by putting on a showcase? You’re probably trying to get some industry attention and play for some key people. Or maybe you’re specifically pitching your album to labels. Or shooting for some high profile festivals. Either way, you’re going to need to plan your your showcase accordingly.
For example, if you were playing primarily for festival buyers, I would create as much of a show vibe as possible – playing a real set, probably with lights and decent sound and some production (did someone say smoke machine?).
Whereas if you are shopping around a record, I would keep the event very personal. Showcase some songs from the record, but also do a lot of meeting and greeting, and show off the actual masters from the album.
Pick A Theme For Your Showcase
Steal the whiskey tasting idea! Or think up a great idea of your own. Whiskey worked well for The Dead South because they’re a rockin’ old-time Americana/bluegrass band with a rock n’ roll image.
Try to pick something that showcases some unique aspect of your act; maybe a craft beer tasting, a unique food tasting that ties in with the theme of your band, etc. It can also be simple; at a talent buyer's showcase, my band brought a bunch of “fun-size” candy to our booth, and we were swamped!
If you’re teaming up with another band, try to have the other band fit the theme as well – e.g. How The West Was Won (for a bunch of West Coast acts). The closer you can stick to your theme and the more inventive you are, the more attention you will get.
Send Out The Invites To The Show
I wrote a whole article on who to target at music conferences and how to invite them. It’s definitely the most crucial piece of the puzzle.
I suggest an e-vite with all the information for broader invites. Personal phone calls, emails, and emails from friends in the industry are always best.
Some would say to be careful when you’re sending out invites, as you wouldn’t want to offend someone by having a competing member of the industry there, but I say nay. That is not your concern. Cast a wide net, the more industry at your showcase the better.
Hosting The Event
The key to hosting a and having musicians playing a great event is to make people feel comfortable and to have a great vibe in the room. Make sure there’s music playing in the background, food and drink to loosen up the atmosphere, and make an effort to greet everyone at some point in the event.
Try to have everyone leave with a piece of you – a CD, press kit, download card, even just a business card.
Think of creative ways to have them remember you! Perhaps party favors, or treat bags like at kid's birthday parties!
As far as the music goes, I would recommend keeping the set length quite short. 30 minutes is plenty, and 20 is fine as well. With this length of time, don’t compromise. Play only your very best songs, and don’t play any covers, unless you have a very good reason to do so.
Afterwards, make sure you take every opportunity to network. My band always splits up when we’re networking, taking on different people and working the room as much as we can. Then we send personal thank you/follow up emails, potentially that same night.
Other Showcase Opportunities
You will also have the opportunity to do other showcases. The trick is figuring out if they are worthwhile. I have played some pretty terrible showcases in my day. Here are the ones that I find useful:
- Showcases set up by your management, label, agency, etc. For one thing, you probably won’t have a choice, but you also won’t have to put very much effort into organizing it. These showcases are great, because industry people are generally more likely to go to showcases set up by other industry people.
- Showcases at a conference or trade show: ONLY IF YOU HAVE A GOOD SLOT. Playing at 2 AM on a Tuesday is not going to do anything for you (trust me).
- Showcases set up by a blog, magazine, corporate entity, etc. This can be a bit of a roll of the dice. These sort of showcases are what you make of them. At smaller conferences that promise “record label execs” and other “mysterious industry professionals”, you'll often end up disappointed by the guest list.
Examples of Showcases I won’t play:
- Pay to play/required ticket sale showcases. Not only are you paying to play, but you’ll still have to do all the work of inviting industry people. These are generally terrible, so save yourself some heartache.
- Showcases that were terrible the last time I played them. This is pretty obvious, but if it was bad before, I don't give it a second chance!
Don’t Be Afraid To Talk To The People That Matter
When you’re playing a showcase, you really need to make connections with industry people. Trust me when I say that most fans will totally understand when you say that you need to talk to “that guy over there.” Just come back and be nice later.
I do the same thing with friends/repeat fans that come out. Obviously, I’m very grateful and treat them well, but I always make an effort to network with new faces first. People understand. Showcases are not the time to be a people-pleaser – you need to go out and get what you want.