What follows in an excerpt from The New Music Industry: Adapting, Growing, and Thriving in The Information Age, David Andrew Wiebe’s guide to scaling your independent music career mountain in the music industry. Refreshingly honest, it chronicles the mistakes and ups and downs of Wiebe’s own career.
How you present your live show really depends on three things: the size of the venue, the number of people you’re playing to, and the resources available to you.
As you are just starting out, you will have to do the best with what you’ve got. You may not be totally comfortable on stage. You may have trouble singing while playing your instrument. You may not be able to play your instrument without watching your fingers. You may not have the resources to do the types of things you’d like to do in terms of production.
Over time, you will become more at ease on stage. You will become a better player, and you will learn to command the attention of the crowd. You will have the resources to amp up your production. You will have to put in the time to get there, however.Over time, you will become more at ease on stage.Click To Tweet
For the purposes of this guide, I’m going to slot everything under three categories: Preparation, Promotion, and Performance. This would be an exhaustive subject if I was to go into every detail, but instead I’ve summarized the key points. Let’s get into it.
Frankly, when it comes to performance, there’s nothing as important as the preparation stage. If you want to get the most out of your live shows, this is where you should be spending the majority of your time.
A lot of musicians tend to think that a great concert is all about the performance, when in reality it’s about the experience you create for your audience.
Even if you think certain aspects are cheesy or unimportant, if they make your fans feel good, you shouldn’t be too quick to write them off.Let’s take a look at what you need to do to prepare:
- Rehearse: of course, there are very few bands that don’t actually rehearse before a show; unless they know their material forwards and backwards. However, don’t just practice your music in your rehearsals. Practice your stage moves, and plan out how each member is going to move and when. Invest in live music production materials and understand how you can make each song look different and not just sound
- Select a venue: venue selection is more important than you might think. As a musician, you might be tempted to take gigs in every dark and dingy bar. You may be tempted to play all of the highest paying gigs. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t. However, when you see things from the perspective of your fans, this simply won’t do. If you want to create a memorable experience, you should be thinking about everything from parking space to menu items to how accessible a venue is.
- Get familiar with the venue: take some time to get familiar with the venue, the stage and their equipment. Make note of the venue capacity. Make note of any extra gear you might need. See if they have a sound system and a sound tech, and if not, what solutions might be available to you. Find out if the sound tech is any good. Begin to envision how you are going to set up on stage. If possible, visit the venue when another band is playing and make notes.
- Sound check: show up to the venue early and sound check before the show. Ask the event coordinator, venue owner or the sound person when would be the best time to come in. The sound tech can either be your best friend or your worst enemy depending on how you treat them. Be willing to work with them; if they are any good at what they do, “Your guitar is too loud” is usually more than just an opinion.
- Prepare stage props, lighting, etc.: if you have stage props (like a vinyl sign with your band name and web address on it), lighting equipment, or video equipment, make sure to prepare these things in advance. Don’t wait for the last minute to see if everything will work out. Make sure to test your gear and get it ready for your performance.
- Prepare your gear: make sure that all of your music gear is in good working order. If you think you might need extra strings, batteries, sticks, tuners and so forth, ensure that you have a backup supply on hand. You don’t want to show up to the venue with gear that isn’t going to last you the night.
- Prepare print materials: depending on how you intend to promote the show, you may want to have posters, flyers, business cards, invites and/or post cards on the ready. Make sure to plan to have these materials in your hands long before your show.
The promotion stage is where you get the word out about your show.
There are a myriad of ways to do this, and if we were to broach the subject of guerrilla marketing, there would be virtually no end to the number of ways you could raise awareness for your show.The promotion stage is where you get the word out about your show.Click To Tweet
Use these tips as a starting point and continue to expand your marketing efforts as you are able.
- Send out invites: if you’ve prepared postal invites, you’ll want to start sending them out at least four weeks before the show. Make sure to create a list of people that you intend to invite, so you don’t end up missing someone. Conversely, you don’t want to send an invite to someone that is going to cause trouble or disrupt the performance. Use your discretion.
- Send out emails: hopefully you’ve started collecting email addresses already. A mailing list will prove vital to your long-term success as a band, and it’s a great way to promote upcoming releases and performances. Send your fans an email campaign well in advance of your next show, and don’t be afraid to follow up once or twice. Nobody likes too many emails, but most people like reminders.
- Post to your social channels: it’s generally a good idea to let your social followers know about your upcoming show. However, if all you ever post is “Buy our album” or “Come to our show” or “Vote for us”, don’t expect to get much traction with your messages. Get into the habit of engaging and adding value often, and then let your followers know what they can do for you.
- Hand out your flyers: flyers aren’t necessarily the most effective means of promoting your shows. Some see it as a way to raise awareness of their show, and if not, their music. That may be true, but I would suggest targeting your audience to the best of your ability. It’s pretty much a roll of the dice whether or not someone on the street is going to like your show or actually come to it, but you can guess with some accuracy whether or not music students, weekend partiers, and venue regulars are going to be interested, just as an example. Another way to increase the effectiveness of your flyers is to create a promotion around it. For example, you could give an album away to the person who brings the flyer with them to the show, or let them in to the venue free of charge.
- Post your posters: like flyers, posters may not have a dramatic effect on your live show attendance. There tend to be a lot of people competing for the same space, be it community bulletin boards or poster poles. If you go out of your way, you will find boards that don’t have a lot of other postings on them. However, if there aren’t any posters there, you also have to wonder how often people actually look in those places. I am not saying that posters can’t be of some use; they tend to be fairly effective for well-known acts. The main thing to remember here is to look for creative ways to stand out from your competition, whether it’s with a unique design or enticing offers.
- Send out texts: if you’ve implemented a text messaging service on your website and some fans have opted in to receive messages from you (whenever you have a show), don’t forget to send them a message letting them know about your performance.
- Make phone calls: oftentimes, the most effective way of getting your fans and industry people out to a live show is personal contact. You may not have the time or resources to call all of your fans, but if you’ve been playing for a while, you should be able to identify your key fans. Put a priority on calling those people.
Finally, the day of the show has arrived. Now it’s time to get on stage and play.
However, don’t forget that you are there for the fans and not the other way around. Your job is done when you’ve followed up with the leads you’ve generated from the show, possibly even a week later; not when you’ve played the last note to the last song.
- Play the show: naturally, when the time comes, you have to deliver on your promises. I have seen a lot of bands wait around to see if more people show up before going onstage, even if they were supposed to be onstage 30 minutes ago. Don’t do this unless the event coordinator or venue owner asks you to. There will always be fans who say, “Oh man, I can’t believe I only caught the last five songs of your set!” Believe me; I’ve seen it many times. But honestly it’s not a bad way to leave them wanting more. Invite them out to your next show.
- Entertain and engage the audience: ultimately, the show is about the fans and how you make them feel. Playing music is fun, and that’s as it should be. However, don’t forget who you’re playing for. Get your fans involved as much as you can; but don’t patronize if at all possible.
- Meet your fans: the show isn’t over when you finish playing the last note. The show is over when your fans go home. You need to shake hands, sign autographs, and include everyone you see (yes, even those who are standing off to the side). Some venues will be more lenient about meet and greets after the show than others, so try to remain sensitive to their business hours and staff as well. Take it outside (or to another place) if you have to.
- Write “Thank You” notes: this is a small thing, but it can go a long way. If you prefer, you can have ‘Thank You’ notes pre-signed and ready to be handed out before you ever get to the venue. Either way, let the key people know how appreciated they are.
- Follow up: whether you had a bad show or a great show, don’t forget to follow up with your fans. If it wasn’t so good, talk about the good points. If it was great, talk about the good points. Either way, talk about the good points! This is a good way to stay in the consciousness of your fans. In addition, there may have been people that wanted to buy your merch or check out your website, but for whatever reason, haven’t yet. The profitability of a show doesn’t need to end the moment you leave the venue. You can cast a wider net later, and snag a few more sales, subscribers or followers if you’re shrewd.
Use the above template as a starting place for your live performance strategy. Add to it or subtract from it as you see fit.
When you take adequate measures to prepare, promote, and perform well, you’ll get more out of your live shows. You’ll sell more merch, convert more fans, and grow your email list too. It pays off to be strategic.