1) You suck
Maybe you’re just not that good. Sorry. Most bands aren’t. Most bands are starry eyed and spend more time bitching about the breaks they’re not getting than in the rehearsal space tightening their show. Get good first. Record your rehearsals AND your shows. Do you LOVE listening to your live set? If not, then why do you think other people will?
I’ve been in the room with bands who listen back to their shows recorded from the board and they actually hear how shitty they sounded. How off key they sang. How the bassist missed the bridge. How the harmonies were off. But they pass it off as a bad board mix. This is sad. Get your shit together. Double your rehearsal schedule and double your at home practice time.
You do not deserve to be paid if you suck. That’s what all these musicians who bitch about how little they are making at live shows miss. Maybe they’re making nothing because they deserve to be paid nothing.
Stop making me pay to see your shitty band!
If you charge me $10 to come see you suck I’m going to be pissed and never pay again.
People tell me they hate live music. It hurts my soul to hear this. Live music can be spiritual. But too often it’s a chore. A burden. A favor. Because bands don’t take performing seriously enough to rehearse.
2) You Play Out Too Damn Often
Even if your favorite band played your city every week, you wouldn’t go see them. You wouldn’t make it a priority because you could always just “catch the next one.”
If you’re great, you can charge a ticket price and people will happily pay.
Spread Out Your Shows
I recommend scheduling one big local show every 6-8 weeks. This gives you proper time to promote the show and get some good buzz going.
3) It’s Not An Event
You are not going to get a music reviewer to care about a 4 band bill show on a Wednesday night. You should turn every show into an EVENT. By spreading your shows out, you actually can come up with a theme and title for each show and make it a fun, talked about event.
Title Your Shows
I once organized and played a show in Minneapolis (when I was living there) called “The Unknown Order.” I got together 3 other buzzing bands in the city (none of whom had sold out the acclaimed 800 cap Varsity Theater for any show prior). The idea behind the show was that 10 minutes before the first band started, the emcee would pick a name out of a hat and that would be the first band to play. No one (not even the bands) knew the order of the acts for the evening. After each band finished, the emcee picked another name.
The idea was to get everyone to the club at the start of the show and to put all bands on an equal level – no headliners or openers. The show sold out 10 minutes after doors opened and about 200 people got turned away.
4) You Aren’t Selling Advance Tickets
You always want to try to have advance tickets setup so you can encourage people to buy them and COMMIT to your show. Make them cheaper than the actual door price (if the venue allows this). If you can get hard tickets printed out, try to sell them or ask the local music stores to sell them. It gives people a fun activity to go pick up tickets to your show. But don’t pay to play! Don’t work with shady promoters who give you 50 tickets to sell and if you don’t, you have to pay the difference. This is different. This is working with the venue/promoter to have a packed show.
5) You Think The Venue Will Promote
So many bands believe it’s the venue’s responsibility to do 100% of the promotion for their show. Just getting a show listed on a popular venue’s calendar will not bring people out. You can’t expect venues to promote every show – they just have too many! If 4 bands play their club every night, 6 nights a week, that’s 24 bands (or 6 shows) a week. Similar to how if you played every week people (even your hard core fans) would stop caring, the venue’s loyalists aren’t going to come out every night of the week, or even most nights.
Venues put effort into the shows they know they can sell. If you’re unestablished and unknown why should they put their efforts into promoting you. Once you pack their club, the NEXT time you play, I bet they’ll put a bit more effort into promoting your show – like maybe announcing it on Facebook. I’m sure you’ll at least get a Tweet!
6) You Rely Solely On Facebook
People are tired of Facebook events. They get too damn many from too many friends they’ve lost touch with. Of course, Facebook can be a great tool to add to your promo efforts, but it can’t be the ONLY tool you use. Hit the promo from all angles: social media, print posters and flyers, press, radio, sponsorships (like local wine or beer companies are perfect). Inviting all your friends to a Facebook event is only step one.
Print up physical promo materials such as posters and flyers. We live in such a digitized world that receiving an invitation in the physical world is awfully refreshing, especially if it’s given to you by a friend.
7) You Aren’t Going Out Into The World
Weeks leading up to any big show make sure to go out more often. Hit up local shows, big shows, bars, birthday parties that you normally wouldn’t end up attending. Anything. J ust get out and talk to more humans in the physical world. It will inevitably come up that you’re a musician (or if they know you they will ask you when your next show is) and you can whip out a flyer and personally invite them.
Don’t be sleazy about it. You can do it in a conversational manner. A personal invitation in person is incredibly effective. Having a professional looking flyer legitimizes the show. You could even follow up with them with a personal Facebook message, email or text message a couple days before the show to remind them (and it won’t seem completely out of the blue).
Step one is to be great, but if you are great then you deserve to play in front of packed houses!
Hopefully these 7 steps help bring you closer to a full-time music career.
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