When you’re not in the studio, you really ought to be playing out; performing live, whether locally or on tour, in support and celebration of your sound. These two realms– “the office” and “fieldwork”– keep a musician (and their bands) very busy. We might even consider a third one: promotion, the “advertising” department of your business. Previously, we had discussed hiring Public Relations (“PR”) to help generate buzz, but you can’t expect them to grab all of your fans. As a band, you’re proud of your sound, right? So, why not spread the word? Well, lately I’ve been noticing a trend of should-be up-and-coming bands struggling to generate a significant draw when playing live. And this never ends too sweetly, because the band wants to– maybe even expects to– make money, while the booker has to pay off the venue or space for their time and resources that hosted what turned out to be a private show. Of course, the booking agent and venue will promote as much as they can, but it’s almost impossible for them to be in tune with each band’s individual fans. So how do you draw the masses out to your next spectacle?
The Curse of the Internet
We’ll start with an easy one that almost anyone can achieve, at home, in their pajamas. The all-too-convenient cyberspace has been connecting millions through the development of social media, which has heightened the “convenience” of social networking. However, this type of interaction with anyone, including your fans, is indirect and therefore “passé”; it’s there, and you can scream as much and as loud as you want in cyberspace, but no one has to hear you unless they choose to. This is a good place to post things from time to time to keep hardcore fans in-the-loop because they are more likely to check back by their own account and interest. You can even make frequent posts on the internet to promote your upcoming shows and music, but the fine line is in the volume: are you informing and updating or are you spamming? Also try to discover new sites to incorporate as alternative outlets so that you have the opportunity reach unique audiences. Be sure to connect with other artists, venues, and promoters through various media. These loose acquaintances can develop into strong collaborative bonds over time and help to cross-promote each other’s music and events. The internet is great for viral plugs, but it’s not always the most accurate or reliable way to share essential information about your upcoming show, which is crucial to bringing your fans out of the woodwork.
Flyering the Perimeter
This method is a little more hands-on, if not directly interactive, way of promoting a local show. Print up posters with all the details for the show and maybe an eye-catching, colorful graphic for good measure. Not an artist? Not a problem! Keeping it simple and straightforward will also get the point across, and equip the reader with all the information he or she needs to be able to attend. You might also consider collaborating with a local artist or talented peer and have them take care of the whole visual ordeal. You’ll still have a role to play though; now you have to “bomb” all the places where you think people would pay attention. You know the audience your after: where do they hang out? Put up flyers around your hometown, school, bus stops, and coffee clubs for starters; any place where you might find yourself hanging around. Also be sure to paste flyers around the vicinity of the venue, and maybe even in a wider arc, venturing into neighboring ‘hoods and street corners. Try to keep them at eye-level for any wandering eyes, and be respectful of other posters that were already up because this is very much a first come, first serve territory, and everyone’s trying to accomplish the same thing.
Radio Isn’t Extinct (Yet)
Radio is still an essential tool for a lot of the population to discover new music, and relive the old. Even if most people disregard the mainstream AM/FM frequencies, unless driving perhaps, schools tend to have broadcasting companies or projects that run a radio station, and the development of internet radio has opened up many doors for the exposure of up-and-coming artists. Connect with a various independent and local radio stations, and give them some promo material to work with. Sometimes it’s hard to tell how engaged these small-time stations are with their audiences, but if they are set in place and active, there must be some demand, right? Radio stations live to inform their audiences of what’s hot and happening lately, so, chances are, they will be very accommodating and enthusiastic about plugging your event’s details, and maybe even broadcast a track or two in promotion of your project.
This is probably the most direct method of promotion, engaging your fans and audience in real-time, face to face. And the best part is, you can do this at any time! Just talk up your show. As a cashier, I am constantly recommending and sharing music and events with old and new customers alike. As an up-and-coming or underground independent band it’s hard to first establish a truly dedicated audience, but you’d also be surprised by the interest from people you never expected to pick up your album or show up to a local show. In the beginning, it’s always a gamble, but the amount of time and sincere persuasiveness invested in promoting your craft and event will pay off. Another idea to directly engage some of your future fans is to pass out mini-flyers after to the exiting crowd at other shows hosted at the particular venue you’ll be playing at. Anyone who’s ever attended a show or concert has experienced this. Again, it’s hard to tell how many the canvassing will actually influence, but now your information is out there, and patrons of a specific venue tend to trust the booking agents to host a good time with good music. And the fact that you, or your street team, made an effort to be there to personally ensure every curious hand receive your flyer makes it a lot harder for the general public to ignore. In a way, this method combines elements of the other alternatives we mentioned above, striving to tap into a kind of viral marketing campaign; by distributing large volumes of the same information, and playing off of the people’s already established trust with the venue, you are able to generate an aura of sincere curiosity about your own event, hopefully resulting in a subsequent draw, whether in support, or investigation, of your musical project.
If you tackle some of these methods of promotion, you may see an increase in your shows’ attendance levels. If you are dedicated enough to approach each campaign, there will be pay-off. Simple as that. If you want fans and a dedicated audience to support your band, especially when playing live, you have to put the time in to go out and generate your own buzz. You can’t expect everyone to discover you on accident or chance or luck, alone. As an underground musician, and band, each member should be collectively striving to gain their audience, and subsequently, their draw because that’s what it’s all about; establishing a community or scene for your sound, so much that, eventually, you many not have to work so hard because your fans will take on the task of sharing and promoting, supporting and reciprocating all of the hard work and hustling that you invested early on in your career.