This Artist Lost 2,000 Potential Fans In Two Hours Because Of This

Great Artist, Missed Opportunity

I just got back from a nice trip to the Midwest for a couple weddings and a camping trip with Dad. It was a nice break from LA and I was reminded what nature looks like when it’s not starved for water.

While in Madison this past weekend we decided to grab dinner at the beautiful outdoor University of Wisconsin Union Terrace. Growing up in Madison where virtually every music venue was 21+, there were few places I could go check out live music when I was in high school. The Union Terrace was one of those places. Most Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights over the Summer I spent down there taking in whatever talent the UW committee decided to bring for the community to enjoy (for free), outside, overlooking the lake. It’s quite the scene. Some nights it’s a non-stop dance party. Others it’s an indie rock outfit. I caught Umphrey’s McGee here for the first time – before anyone knew who they were. And Jon Fishman (of Phish) played with The Jazz Mandolin Project on the Terrace back when Phish was on hiatus. The beauty is, no matter who is playing, if it’s a nice night, there are nearly 2,000 people hanging out, drinking local brews and chowing down on Wisconsin brats. It was a dream come true when I finally got a chance to play this legendary venue a few years back.

So, this past Friday, I organized a little get together with friends and family for brats, burgers and beer at the Terrace. I noticed they now have live jazz over the dinner hour in addition to the evening rock bands.

Even though it had just stormed a couple hours prior, the Terrace was packed. We found the last couple remaining tables. There was a phenomenal two piece performing a nice blend of contemporary folk, pop and jazz tunes. The singer had a sultry Norah Jones timbre to her voice and traded off between the ukulele and keys and had a solid upright bassist backing her up.

I wanted to buy her CD or vinyl, but there was no merch table to be found. I wanted to Like her on Facebook, sign up for her email list, follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Spotify, but she never mentioned her name. I thought about referring her for a couple looking for a singer for their wedding. I started asking around if anyone knew who this was. I finally found a woman who was a friend of the singer’s and she looked annoyed that I interrupted her journalling (sorry). She curtly shot back, “that’s her husband on the bass.” Uh, ok, never mind. I guess she thought I wanted to go hit on her married friend.

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Guaranteed I wasn’t the only one there who was enjoying this performance. This singer was phenomenal. Sure I wasn’t hanging on every word like I would be watching her in a theater. Because that’s not what this environment was suited for. This was background music to enjoy your friends’ company. And she served this purpose perfectly. But I would have gone to see her in a theater setting, but, again, I had no idea who this was. She lost a fan in me, and everyone else there. But not because of her music.

When you have an opportunity to play in front of a large crowd at a fair, festival or other venue like this, you need to capitalize on it. This is a HUGE opportunity. You should ask a few friends or members of your street team to walk around the crowd holding up CDs, vinyls, and flyers wearing your shirt. Make sure each friend is equipped with a Square or PayPal credit card swiper hooked up to their phone, and plenty of cash for change. They should have backpacks with extra merch and a mailing list clipboard, or better yet, an iPad or phone signup. Anyone who is interested ask them to sign the list. Sell them merch, or at least hand them a flyer so they can start the process of becoming a life long fan. They will most likely come see you again.

+How Much You Should Be Charging For Merch

If you’re doing a bunch of these kinds of performances, invest in a retractable banner stand. These are typically about 2-3 feet wide and 6 feet tall and cost $80 – 150 depending on the quality and company. Put your name/logo big and bold on it with the logos of the social sites you’re on. and are a couple companies who offer these. These are also perfect for anytime you get a big opening slot. Of course you need to say your name on stage a few times, but people will miss it or not know how to spell it. If this banner is planted on stage next to you they will take a photo of it and remember. Want to try something fun? Put your Snapchat QR code on it big enough for people in the crowd to scan.

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Have someone planted at the merch table as well with the mailing list signup, flyers and all merch. On the flyer make sure there’s a booking contact email and phone number. These kinds of performances is how you leverage a $300 one off gig into a $1,400 wedding.

Never look at a performance for just the paycheck you are receiving. Look at the performance for the paychecks you could receive in the future, the lifelong fans you could gain, the merch you could sell, the career you are building.

Now, don’t take this to the extreme. People will try to convince you over and over to play their restaurants, bars, backyards, benefits for “exposure.” Be very careful with these shows because they are slippery slopes and every show you take for no pay, you diminish your worth (and the value of every other performing artist).

Every show you play put to The Perfect 30 test:

Payment = 10. Career building = 10. Enjoyment = 10.

You don’t want to play any shows for less than a total of 15 on the scale. If the payment is incredible (10), but there will be very little career building potential (3) or enjoyment (2), that equals 15. If there is decent payment (5), but will bring great enjoyment (9), but little career building potential (1), that also equals a 15. Take these shows. The shows you shouldn’t take are the ones for little to no money (1), very little career building potential (3) and very little enjoyment (3) = 7 total. Pass!

But, career building potential doesn’t just happen. You have to MAKE it happen. This duo’s show on the Terrace COULD have had a 10 for career building potential had they had volunteers walking around with flyers/business cards and a mailing list signup, and COULD have had a 10 on the payment scale had these volunteers walked around selling merch (they would have made a killing) and had the artist set up a merch table. Assuming this show paid decently well, this was the difference between a 15 and a 25 on The Perfect 30 scale.

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A funk/reggae band I used to manage got a chance to open for Damian Marley at Summerfest in Milwaukee in front of nearly 3,000 reggae lovers. We employed this exact approach and not only did their roaming volunteers sell $2,000 in merch during their 90 minute set, they sold tickets (and passed out flyers) to an upcoming Milwaukee show which ended up selling out. This Summerfest show was The Perfect 30.

If you believe in your music enough to turn it into a long lasting career, these are the kinds of strategies you need to employ make it a reality.

PS – if you know who this singer is, please post in the comments so I can find more of her great music


Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based singer/songwriter and the creator of the music biz advice blog, Ari’s Take. Follow him on Twitter: @aristake

21 Responses

  1. obama

    “I wanted to buy her CD or vinyl, but there was no merch table to be found. I wanted to Like her on Facebook, sign up for her email list, follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Spotify”

    You are lying!

    • bob

      Yea sounds like Ari gave up after not finding a merch stand. I would’ve walked up to the artists after the set.

      • Anonymous

        That’s not the point Ari is trying to make. If you’re trying to promote yourself as an artist, it shouldn’t be so difficult to figure out who you are and have to search for the information. The average fan wouldn’t wait around to approach the band after the set. And they shouldn’t have to.

  2. asdf

    Great points, but not every performer wants to be a star and promote themselves. It’s a grind. Maybe playing the park was reward enough for them.

    I used to be a club DJ for a long time. I did it for the love, and the extra cash (I made a bit of it). People would ask me for cards and mix CDs all the time. I never had any or made any. Didn’t care. “Just catch me in the moment, I’m here every Wednesday/Friday/Saturday (whatever)”. Eventually got bored of DJing (late late nights) and moved on. Still work int he business in other ways. No big deal.

    I wonder if anybody ever wrote a blog post about me, some great DJ with crappy marketing skills and no motivation to self-promote.

  3. pbody

    I agree with the above comments. I take it as hyperbole.

    I think people stop caring because it just seems like an impossibility at times and the reward is not worth the effort, especially if you have a decent paying day job.

    This article is great for musicians who drop out of college and try to embark on a career in music. The one’s sleeping in the van needing to eat.

    True, musicians have to be great at business these days. Some great lessons in sales and marketing here that could be transferred to almost any sort of sales related endeavor.

    • Ari Herstand
      Ari Herstand

      Thanks! They don’t have a website though, and their Facebook Page has 3 Likes (well 4 now…) and they don’t seem to have any music available online. This may just be a fun little side thing they do (found out the singer is a teacher and the bassist is in about 10 other projects around Madison). Which is fine, but hopefully more serious musicians who want to build a career can learn from this and take advantage of every opportunity. People shouldn’t have to work this hard to find out who the performer is on stage in front of them.

      Appreciate the link!

  4. Thedenmastet

    There are dumb musicians like here are dumb journalists. What a pointless piece about your dumb trip to Madison. It rained a couple hours ago. Wow.

    • Paul Resnikoff
      Paul Resnikoff

      One thing I thought was really valuable was the Perfect 30 test, which is really the first time I’ve seen a formula for weighing an opportunity. That’s the first time I’ve seen an attempt to quantify every opportunity.

      I guess the Super Bowl would get a 20.

  5. Amy

    I, for one, am able to read an article and determine for myself whether or not it applies to every single musician on the face of the earth or just the ones who are seriously trying to make a go of it in the music industry. So I appreciated the advice in the article, as well as your kind words about the musician. I am not a musician, but I liked the concept of The Perfect 30, and think it could be applied or adapted to a variety of situations.

  6. Stevie

    Seriously, it either applies to you or it doesn’t. No harm, no foul. It’s like wanting every article written to apply specifically to you.

    Re the performer, I’m surprised. Even if you don’t do it up with merch and a table and people wandering the crowd ready to take money for said merch (which I probs wouldn’t do), saying your name is a basic. Even if you don’t want to “get famous”, I always thought that if you only said one thing during a performance it would be that.

  7. Kelpie

    Thanks for the article and the great tips. It is always fun to find a new musician to follow, especially when traveling because it’s not so much planned. A good reminder to bands to SAY YOUR NAME during the show!

  8. Meg

    Dear Ari,

    I am the singer and ukulele/keyboard player from the group you featured in your article, and wanted to take a minute to respond.

    First, thank you for your kind words about our group. I only get to play in a duo setting with my talented husband Nick Moran( once in a while, so I’m glad the show was enjoyed.

    Next, thank you for your information about promotion. I hope it was useful for your readers, although it was a bit off for the group you featured. The Goodie Two Shoes is a project that my husband and I created for the purpose of making music that we like together. Performing together fosters creativity better than doing dishes together, promotes togetherness more than running side-by-side (it’s not pretty), and is more profitable than a trip to Target (obviously).

    Nick and I believe in good and fair wages for musicians, and we do appreciate the money we earn from our gigs together, and the audience and club owners who make those gigs possible. Getting a paycheck now and in the future is important, but for us it is not always the most important thing. I am a musician as well as a public school music teacher, so singing with local groups is a way for me to express and create, to challenge myself, and to connect with the musician community in my city. Making “grown up” music also gives me creative energy to teach music to six-year-olds.

    Nick and I like to meet people who have enjoyed our music. In your article, you left out one of the most tried-and-true advertising tools: talking to the artist. We were around before, during the set break, and after the show talking with folks in the crowd, and would have been happy to chat with you.

    Thanks again for your compliments, information, and constructive criticism. The Goodie Two Shoes will try to say our band name during shows more often, and may record an album in the near future… if it brings us joy:)

    All the best,
    Meg Moran

    • Ari Herstand
      Ari Herstand

      Hi Meg, thanks for the candid response. Yeah, this wasn’t meant as a direct dig to you two (as I figured this might have been more of a passion project than a serious career pursuit), so thank you for being a good sport about me using this experience to help other musicians in their professional endeavors. Let me know when you have a CD out, I’ll be first in line to buy it!

  9. Interested

    I thought the article was useful despite it not applying to everyone, and I’m glad Meg Moran learned of it and was able to respond. The most striking thing for me, however, was the attitude of the musicians’ friend when approached for information. I’ve had people ask me so many times at shows who the singer/group was (even if the name is said, it’s not always retained, especially if more than a couple of words – so a sign is a great idea), and I’ve always been happy to clearly state the name, spell it out if it’s unusual, and mention that I love following them on [appropriate social network], or that I happen to know they’ll be playing at [bar/club/festival] soon. It can never, ever hurt to spread the word positively about music you like, especially if the other person is clearly showing signs of wanting to become a fan themselves, and in my opinion the friend fell flat.

  10. anon


    Your promotional ideas were good, especially in a time where the lack of places to buy “hard product” means that artists rely on performances. As a professional musician from the area who has almost four decades of performance experience, I can tell you that The Union Terrace is far from an ideal performance venue. Unless you get the coveted 9pm slot with a high energy band, the dynamic of the space forces the vast majority of performing artists to act in a partial “background” capacity to the low din of conversation. Each space has its good and bad points, and a band’s marketing approach has to be conditional to the space. Further, it is presumptuous to assume that these musicians (whom I know to be consummate and experienced professionals) are too naive to understand proper marketing. It is possible that they had a reason for not doing the ad hoc repeat promotional announcements over the microphone, such as a contractual agreement with another venue or festival in the area to not cross promote other events. Also, the fact that you “multitask-ed” a family event with a listening event means that you could not have been giving the group your full attention, and is, to a certain extent disrespectful. Give other musicians the benefit of the doubt instead of forcing your agenda on them.

    • ThomasH

      “Guaranteed I wasn’t the only one there who was enjoying this performance. This singer was phenomenal. Sure I wasn’t hanging on every word like I would be watching her in a theater. Because that’s not what this environment was suited for. This was background music to enjoy your friends’ company. And she served this purpose perfectly. But I would have gone to see her in a theater setting, but, again, I had no idea who this was. She lost a fan in me, and everyone else there. But not because of her music.”

      If I’m not mistaken, an event billed as “live jazz” is to encourage patrons to come and hang out with friends while the live music is in the background. You said it yourself that there’s “a low din of conversation”, so the fact Ari happened to catch this group is not disrespect on his part. What do you want him to do “hi family, sorry I asked you all here, but I’m going to go over here and listen intently for two hours because I want to give these musicians the respect they deserve. see ya”

      I appreciate the promo ideas. Maybe this duo isn’t interested in pursuing this professionally, but my band is, and these are truly great ideas on how to make more money and more fans – which is always appreciated. I didn’t see it as an attack on this duo as some constructive criticism.

  11. Anonymous

    Thanks, Ari. You give lots of give marketing advice, and this is some of it. Keep up the good work! Ella Appely

  12. Primo Margo

    “She lost a fan in me” – really?
    You sound like one of the worst kind of fans. No banner, no QR code, help me breathe. I need to run home and write a critical blog! Might as well bash the singer’s friend too.

    Here’s a thought, most songs have an ending, so next time you hear one, walk up to the artist with a $10 or $20 and say ‘do you accept tips? I love your music…what’s your name?’. I agree that the cards, website, and merch are important. But moreso is the good ol’ sneaker net, and it always will be.

    Better than that, you could have directly helped the artist with your blog by saying ‘I have some thoughts about your marketing…can we chat some time for a write-up I’m doing? I’ll learn about and cite your experiences and you can promote your band.’

    Nope. You had to be master butthurt finger-wager. Is it really about the musician or is this only about you feeling superior? Music is a relationship you know.


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