If you look on social media, you will see tons of memes about how hard it is to get people down to shows. It’s sad but true, very few people support live local music. While you can spend all day thinking about why people aren’t coming out to see your band, it’s more important for a musician is to focus on how they can pack rooms.
When you can’t bring people down to shows, it can have negative effects on your career. Promoters don’t like to book bands that don’t draw. If no one’s coming to see you, it means you’re not generating any money at the door or at the bar. And if promoters won’t book you, you won’t get any gigs.
Most local bands thrive on gigs, so this is not the best scenario.
So what can you do to bring people down? Here are a few suggestions.
Why Don’t People Come to See Bands?
I have years of experience begging people to come out and see my band, so I know every excuse in the book, from the lamest to the most legitimate. A lot of them may honestly have something else to do, such as work, or they may have a prior engagement. Others may come up with an explanation like, I’m too tired, or I have to work in the morning (regardless of how early your time slot is).
A lot of the excuse making may lie in the fact that music has lost some of its excitement. At this point, it seems as if everything has been said and done. People have become jaded and don’t have the motivation to come to shows any more.
Many argue that social media may be killing the live music scene. People know they can see footage of your band on YouTube or Instagram. So why should they come down and see you?
Competition is also partially to blame. If you live in a big city, there’s guaranteed to be a lot going on, especially on Saturday nights. If you’re not the hottest ticket in town, your audience could go elsewhere.
How to Get People Down to Your Shows
While we can ruminate for days about why people don’t go to shows, the important thing is figuring out how to get them to come down. Here are a few suggestions.
Get the Word Out
If people don’t know about their show, they certainly aren’t going to come. Here are a few ways you can get the word out about your event.
Make a Flier: The first step is making a flier. The flier should clearly include the who, what and where like the venue, date, time and bands playing. Making an attractive and unique flier will help the event stand out.
Keep in mind that posting the same flier repeatedly could burn people out. Therefore, you might want to make multiple fliers or create a video for the event as it gets closer.
Use Social Media: Social media provides several outlets for advertising gigs. You can post fliers and videos on various platforms. Facebook will let you make an event for your shows.
It’s also advisable to join different groups on Facebook where you can advertise events. Go for groups that are specific to your area to reach a more targeted audience. A week or so before the gig, share the event in various groups to get the word out.
Hand Out and Hang Fliers: In the days before internet, bands used to go out to clubs and give out fliers in person. This is still sometimes done in modern times. Personally, I think it has a nice, old-school touch.
You can also hang fliers to get the word out. If the venue has wall space, hang fliers there. They can also be hung in record stores, coffee shops and other cool gathering spots in your community.
I’m sorry to say it, but if you’re not social, the music industry may not be for you. Sure, there are musicians who have made it regardless of anti-social tendencies such as David Bowie and Axl Rose.
But when it comes to success, the more people you know the better. And this will definitely come into play when inviting people down to shows.
And it’s not enough just to know people. You should make efforts to be friendly and socialize. Face it, it’s hard enough inviting people to shows in the first place. (Thank God for texts and messaging. Back in the day you’d actually have to call the person…and hope you could just leave a message).
But imagine messaging someone you haven’t seen in years and writing “hey, you want to come to my show.” The response… “who dis?” It’s best to stay in touch with people that come to shows whether it involves going out to coffee every now and then or saying hi on social media.
The nice thing is, the more people that come to your show, the more people that will come. For example, if your band tends to draw 5-10 people, your gigs may have a nice, intimate vibe.
But if you draw 20 or 30 people, now it’s a scene. People will enjoy going to your shows because they know they will see their friends there. They will have fun socializing with the crowd and they may become regulars.
What’s more, word will start getting out about your band, how good you are (hopefully) and how fun your shows are. This is what it takes to start building up a reputation and it may even get you signed.
Personally Invite People
Earlier in the article, we briefly discussed the pains of personally inviting someone to your show. But believe me, this is a necessary evil.
When people see a flier advertising your show, it’s easy for them to ignore it. They can pretend they didn’t know about the show. They may also feel uncomfortable showing up without a formal invite.
If you invite people personally, they will definitely know about your show. They will also know you want them there so they will feel welcome.
Get on Other Shows
Another way to ensure a good turnout is to work with promoters that have a built-in crowd. In the city where I live, there are certain promoters that do shows that always get people down. If you can get on these shows, there won’t be as much pressure to bring a crowd.
However, if you get placed on this type of show, you always want to do your part by sharing the flier a few times. This will show the promoter that you are willing to help.
Playing a show with a built-in crowd can also help you in the future. It will expose you to people who have never seen you before that may end up coming down to see you when you play other venues.
Fairs and farmer’s markets are terrific for exposing you to a new audience without the pressure of promoting.
Support Other Bands
No one understands the pain involved in getting people down to shows like fellow musicians. If you support other bands, they may just come see your band. It’s a good way to increase your audience.
Put on Your Own Shows
Another option is to promote shows yourself. Find venues in the area that are willing to work with you and ask them if you can take over a night. Then ask bands that bring down a crowd if they’d like to play.
Of course, you’ll want to put yourself on the bill as well.
If the night has a good turn out, you will expose yourself to people who may have come to see the other bands and they may end up becoming a fan of your band as well. Additionally, this is a great way to network with other musicians and build up your base of connections.
As a side note, if you decide to host your own shows, make sure they are well planned out. Choose a venue that people will want to go to that offers a nice atmosphere, convenient parking and drinks. Book bands that you know people will want to see.
Do a Mailing List
A mailing list is a good way to get people down to your shows. And there are several ways to collect one.
The old-fashioned way is to have a pen and paper attached to a clipboard available at your shows so people can sign up. You can leave the paper in a corner of the club and hope people will sign, but a more effective strategy will be to have a roadie go around collecting names.
This method is not the most convenient as you will have to then spend time putting the email addresses into your database to ensure they get notifications about your next gig, but it will yield the most success. After all, it’s likely the people that are signing are from the area. And if they came down to your show and enjoyed the band, they may come to another.
Another option is to have a sign up on the landing page or your website. So when people visit your website, they will encounter a form that asks for their location and contact information.
Reverb Nation also lets you send out notifications to your following about upcoming shows.
The good thing about both methods is that they allow for easy integration with your email system. On the downside, you will end up with a lot of signups from people in areas where you may not be playing. This may be beneficial when you go on tour, but if you’re an independent band, the chances that you’ll be touring in the cities where these people live are slim to none.
Make Your Events an Occasion
Themed events tend to get more people out. For example, a birthday party or record release is likely to get more people out than just a plain old Saturday night.
It will be hard to create a theme every time you play out, but there are ways you can make it work. Think of the time of year and upcoming holidays and use that to your advantage. For example, you may have an end of summer show, a Valentine’s Day show, a winter break show and more.
You can play even more on the theme by getting guests into the act. For example, if you are having a show in June, you can do a rock n’ roll prom theme encouraging everyone to come in ballgowns and suits. If you’re playing near Halloween, ask guests to come in costume.
This will give them something to get excited about.
Give Away Free Stuff
A lot of bands give away free stuff from the stage. If you do giveaways, it may work to your advantage if you include this when you advertise the show. A free t-shirt or CD giveaway may get people excited to come out.
Of course, it will be better if you are doing a mass giveaway. For instance, if the first 100 people in the door get a free shirt, it will be more of an incentive than the possibility of catching a CD from the stage.
On the downside, a mass giveaway will cost the band a lot of money. So you really need to weigh your priorities here.
This may go without saying, but if you’re not good, no one is going to want to see you. Okay, maybe your mother and father will come down, but if you really want to build up an audience, you must be proficient on your instrument and entertaining.
A good way to improve is by putting a critical eye on yourself and your band. Is the playing sloppy? Are the vocals on key? If not, this may be why no one is coming to see your band.
In addition to being skilled musicians, you also must put on a show. No one wants to see you just stand there and play your instrument. Okay, well there are some shoegaze bands that have broken through, but in general, people want to be entertained.
You can boost your entertainment value by dressing in eye catching clothing when you perform. Learn how to move around without looking awkward or self-conscious. Talk to the audience so they will feel like part of the act.
Don’t Get Discouraged
Every musician has had experience playing to an empty room. It’s important not to get discouraged. If you decide to give up because you had a few poorly attended shows, you’re probably not cut out for the music industry.
Do Other Marketing Strategies Work?
Let’s face it. There are millions of ways to market your band. Unfortunately, not many of them will work to get people down to your shows.
For instance, you can get press write ups, radio play and more. If done correctly, this could create a buzz for your band and make people want to see you live. For example, if you get a write up in Rolling Stone or radio play on a major station, people might want to check out the hot new band before tickets get too expensive.
But if you’re just hitting up fanzines looking to help the local scenes or sending out your music to radio stations willing to give indie bands airplay, it’s not going to do much in getting people to your shows.
For one, it may not reach your target audience, i.e. the people living in your area who can actually make it out. And the likelihood that one fan who hears your music and lives nearby is actually going to hear about your next show is slim to none.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be sending your music out to press and radio stations. Success at any level is good. But if you’re hoping it will help bring people to your show, well, you may be barking up the wrong tree.
What to Do if You Can’t Get People Down to Shows
If you can’t get people down to shows, you don’t have to give up on music. Fortunately, social media has plenty of outlets to share your music.
For example, you can do livestream shows. These are great because people can watch them from the comfort of their own home. You will also expose yourself to a larger audience being that you can reach anyone from anywhere in the world.
You can also record music which can be shared on a variety of platforms including Spotify, Bandcamp, ReverbNation and more.
Videos are also great. They tell a story and are an engaging form of media anyone can enjoy.
However, there is really nothing that takes the place of the live experience. So, if you decide to take your band to a virtual-only format, be prepared to make some sacrifices.
Musicians are faced with a lot of challenges. Getting people down to shows may be the hardest one to overcome. This article provides valuable tips that may prevent you from playing to empty rooms. What promoting strategies do you find most effective?