Are you frustrated because you aren't getting as many people to come to your gigs as you want? Getting 'new' people to come to your gigs is not even the main challenge, even most of your own friends and fans usually won't come to your gigs regularly. This fact makes it harder to get bigger and better gigs that pay more money.
If your band plays 25 gigs this year, how many of your friends/fans will come to see more than 4 of these? A very small percentage. Why?
It's not you, it's them. Let's find out how and what you can do about it.
If you ask your friends/fans to come to your next gig, what are you REALLY asking them to do? Are you asking them to listen and watch you perform your songs? Not really.
In reality, you are really asking people to travel all the way to some unclean club where they need to pay to get in the door. Then they will be surrounded by intoxicated people who yell in their ears because the music is too loud to talk, pay for overpriced drinks, stand through an opening band they probably have little or no interest in, then wait again an additional 15 minutes while the stage changes from one band to the next, then finally they get to stand through 90 minutes of your band's cool songs in a room that is booming with muddy bass frequencies because the sound man does not know how to properly mix bands in a room that was never acoustically designed to have loud music played in. After the gig they leave the club and drive home with their ears ringing and a bad headache.
So if that's what you ask them to do the FIRST time, they come out to see your gig.. What are you asking them to do the second time? .. And the third time? The same thing of course.
Compare going to see your band's live show with staying at home and watching TV, listening to music, surfing the internet, or a long list of other pleasurable, easy and convenient things people can do instead of coming to your next gig.
The point is this: people have easier, and more convenient alternatives to have fun next weekend besides coming to see you (or any other band) play live.
As you can see, musicians fight an uphill battle to fill the venues we are performing at. We have a lot of work to do in order to get people off their butts to see your band's next gig.
Your friends and fans really need to know if it's going to be worth all the hassle described above before coming out again to see basically the same show a second, or third, or fourth time.
You first need to create a better and more unique experience for your fans from one gig to the next. Some bands change the songs they play from gig to gig. Changing the set list does help a little bit, but you need to do more than that to really change what your fans will expect to experience.
Some bands try to be uniquely different from other bands. You don't need to be different from other bands, you need to be a good band that puts on gigs which are often unique from each other! People need new reasons to come back to see you again and again.
Sometimes bands look for other ways to get people to come to their shows that don't normally come, they try to attract 'new' people by playing gigs in new venues in new cities.
Another thing many bands try is offering free shows. The idea here is to make the gig a no cost event for people to have more incentive to come. The reality is, free shows do little or nothing to bring more people into the venue. Think about it, do most people you know ask themselves if they want to come to a local show based on a price of $10, $5 or $0? Of course not. So free shows are not a 'significant' tool to bring more people to see your band play live. Playing a show for free 'sparingly' might be a nice addition to other things that you offer your audience but the price of the show alone won't do much on its own.
While these basic ideas are good, they typically won't help your band until and unless you have a secure fan base at home that is consistently following the band from gig to gig.
Once you have that piece in place and the performance and promotional 'skills' to make that happen in your home city, it will make things much easier for your band to create new success in new cities. But if you can't get the job done in your home area, you probably won't get it done anywhere else either.
Think about what your band can do to make your gigs unique from each other. Then, once you have ideas in place that will make your next gig more special for your audience, you need to clearly and strongly communicate this to people.
I'll give you 2 great examples by comparing two rock bands I know. I'll show you how one of these bands totally packed their next several gigs and the other band missed their opportunity to do the same by making a critical mistake.
Band 1: The first band put together their own gig and instead of teaming up with another band, they hired a small group of (very attractive) women dancers to perform on the stage as the opening act. It was announced (before and during) the gig that these women and the band would be hanging out with the audience 'after' the show at a nearby hotel lobby. People enjoyed the gig and the activities that followed later. The key piece of success for the band was that they heavily promoted the event as 'special' and promoted the dancers (including embedded dancer videos on the band's and club's website) in as many places as possible. They worked very hard to promote the uniqueness of this gig and told people very clearly how 'this gig' was better and more special than previous gigs. It didn't take long for the promotion to go viral in the area. The final result: The club was packed!
During the opening song and the band's final song the dancers came out and danced on stage, then moved into the crowd for a while and danced there too. The dancers were smart when they had the idea to integrate their act with the band's act on and off stage. They made real connections with the crowd as they mingled with them at the gig and also afterwards. Both the band and the dancers did something really good for themselves. Instead of just putting on a good show and making the audience have a good time, they put a strong desire in the minds of many people there to come see them again and again.
This band did similar gigs with these (and other) dancers as well as comedians and other acts (both musical and non musical) to keep their gigs different from each other so that people would not only get off their butts to come to see the band for the first time, but also for a second, third, fourth, fifth and more times.
Band 2: I recently saw a second band play in Chicago. Their gig also had other 'acts' that were not bands, including a pair of very attractive fire eating women who the crowd went absolutely crazy for. The only problem was there were only about 100 people in the venue to see the gig (the club can hold up to 1,300 people).
The band knew the audience would love the show, but they failed to promote it well and differently than how they promoted their past gigs. So at the end of the night they had 100 people who might come back to see them again. Had they promoted the event as the first band did, they would have had several hundred people coming back to see them again.
Had the gig been promoted and organized more similarly to the way the first band had done, they would have several hundred people coming back to see them again at their next gigs which would then almost be a guaranteed success (at least on the local level)..
It's very important that your gigs are unique from each other and not necessarily unique from what other bands do. In addition, the most crucial lesson to be learned is all of your 'promotion' needs to highlight each of your gigs as unique, different and special events. It's not enough for your gigs to actually be unique, you need to always communicate that uniqueness in all of your heavy promotion.
Additional Tip: When putting together your own gigs, you might consider getting other bands to join you. That idea is of course ok, but it's important to think about much more than only 'who to get.' You need to also ask who can you get to join you that will make THIS gig 'special'. You do not want a good band who won't promote the gig in a big and special way that shows how THIS gig is different, unique and special for the fans.
Do not ask another band to play with you until and unless they are committed to make the gig special and are equally committed to promoting that uniqueness to their fan base.
So what about your band? Well, I'm not suggesting to simply copy what the other bands did above. I'm suggesting for you to think a lot about what your band can do to make your gigs more unique and special for your fans. So talk with your band mates and brainstorm new ideas that may work for you.
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Tom Hess is a musician, composer, music teacher, trainer, coach, and mentor. He has extensive experience in the music business, and often writes some very solid advice for aspiring musicians.