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« For Musicians: 10 Tips For Turning Your Fanbase Into A Tribe | Main | Selling Out Your Shows Every Time »
Friday
Aug202010

Conquer Your City - Conquer Your World

A downfall of indie bands that I have noticed is their lack of inspiration when playing their local area. Often times they are so longing for some grand international tour of stardom, they forget that they can create fan buzz and music sales on their own home front. The band or musician finds one bar/venue that will let them play and they set up 1, 2, or 3 gigs per month there. Each month. As for promoting the event – Facebook invites! And a myspace notice!

I am not saying that a regular venue is bad. And I do not deny the tepid power of a general Facebook invitation. Certainly artists need to take advantage of all that online social media can offer – although there are far better ways to do that than most bands utilize. That is a topic for another article though.

 
This article is more of a checklist on setting up and promoting a city tour. Musical success will not come waiting on an international tour. (Actually, there have been bands that have become well known globally and have financial success with music sales without leaving the comfort of their home area. Again, a tale for another day…)

I’d like to mention what I feel are just a few of the many problems with the “lazy approach” of the one-venue/facebook invitation approach.
  • Your current core audience tires of going to the same bar/club each show
  • Your core audience can not be expected to attend every show you do so your audience numbers taper down
  • The band members themselves tire of going to the same club to perform
  • No new fans “happen” to hear you onstage, because you are in the same venue with same neighborhood people and your fans
  • Your invite goes to the same people every time – so few new people receive the notice
  • There is no proactive promotion to find new fans
With a little pre-planning, organization, and planning, an indie band can set up a valid and professional “City Tour” that will increase their exposure, fan base, and ultimately their sales of music and merchandise.

SCHEDULING YOUR CITY TOUR

FIRST, take stock of your bands “tools.” Make sure you have at a minimum: a web presence, a physical/mail-able press kit, and an electronic press kit.

Your website should be simple, easy to navigate, have basic info on the band and the members, a player which allows visitors to hear your music, and it should be EASY to purchase your music/merchandise from your site. Nothing frustrates a site visitor more than wanting to purchase a download and having to navigate through the myriad gates of hell to find out how or where. (More detailed information on elements of a successful website in another article.)

If you do not have these things, spend some time putting them together before continuing your “tour” planning.

SECOND, set a band meeting and determine a reasonable number of gigs per month. Assuming you want to gain new fans, keep current fans, make some money, and encourage sales of your music and merchandise – a reasonable goal may be to play 3 shows per month, each at a different venue.

Of course, you and your band mates may have vacation time soon and want to pack in 8-12 shows in a month. Great! Pack in a lot of gigs and call it something clever like “Hot Summer in Sioux Falls Tour” or “Fall into Portland Tour.”

THIRD, do a survey and mapping of your local area. Go online and “Goggle map” or go old school and get a paper map. (Paper maps are more fun anyway!)

If you live in a metro area of 10 million people or more – such as Mexico City, Tokyo, Sao Paolo, New York, Shanghai, Los Angeles, etc. – you already have more potential fans, resources, and sales opportunities, in your local area than some entire countries have in population! Start treating your local area as a major resource for your success!

If you live in a smaller area, say a small city of 85,000, map out a more regional area. Use your town as a centering point and gauge a drive-time radial distance of about 2 hours out and mark this as your border.

Divide your area into multiple sections. If you are in a sparsely populated area, you may only have 6 quality areas. In a city such as Mexico City, you can come up with at least 15, after removing those “danger zones” that you dare not tread! The number of areas should indicate your basic minimum number of different venues for your “city tour.”

FOURTH, begin your research and search for clubs/bars/live houses in each of your divisions. Do an online search and pick up local newspapers and magazines. Look for websites of venues, ads for upcoming shows and where they will be at, etc. Ask your friendly fellow musicians to share their knowledge of venues in the area. (You DO network with other bands and musicians, right? Best practices of making friends, influencing, and networking with fellow musicians and music professionals – another article!)

As you compile your list of possible venues, you will probably notice various cost-types:

1. YOU pay them to let you play there – sort of like a rental hall situation
2. THEY pay you to play – but you may need to audition to be on the roster
3. FREE to play there

As a starting band, you might want to make initial bookings with the venues that are FREE to play. You pay nothing out of pocket, and can get a decent percentage of the cover charge. But DO contact and send your press kit to those clubs that require an audition or demo tape. Often these clubs are larger with a good reputation for their music performances – general music lovers will attend shows of bands they are not familiar with on the strength of that clubs “recommendation.”

If you chose venues YOU must pay, think carefully of your bands budget. Consider pairing with another local band to share the expense and your mutual audiences.

FIFTH, time for another band meeting. Get out the calendar and mark the days and nights when all band members are available for shows. Assuming you have regular band practices, those nights should already be available. Even if your fellow band mates have pesky “real” jobs, spouses, kids, school, or psychotherapy sessions – there WILL be at least 4 nights each month when all members are available!

And tell your cohorts to bring the significant other and kids to the show. Children are never too young to rock out – why else do they now sell infant size concert tees?!

SIXTH, contact the venues via telephone, email, website contact form. Send the physical press kit to those clubs that want it. Attach your electronic press kit to inquiry emails. Direct others to the website. Start scheduling your performance dates.
Okay – you have completed the above steps and you now have one, two, or three months worth of performances set up on your bands calendar. Your shows are strategically scattered in various neighborhoods and areas across your region at different styled clubs, bars, live houses.

Now what? On to promotion!

Perhaps your previous form of promotion was to send out a Facebook invite. List your upcoming shows on your website and/or myspace page. Maybe send a tweet to your followers. Great.

The problem is, this information is going to the SAME people every time you have a show! It can hardly even be called promotion – unless me asking my friends “hey, wanna come hang out Friday and grab a beer?” is promotion. It is really just a notice or an invitation. And let’s be honest – your last Facebook invite, the one you sent to your 4562 friends…how many came to the show?

(The problem with only using your Facebook and myspace friends as your invitees to the show is multi-fold: many of those “friends” are your family/friends that live far away. Many are online pals that share your love of Moroccan cooking. Others harvest your trees on Farmville. Some…just want to be friends cause you have a super hot profile pic. Sad, but true! Sure, many of them could become buyers of your online music and merchandise, but it won’t help your live audiences.)

A FEW GUERILLA PROMOTION IDEAS FOR YOUR CITY TOUR

  1. Have business cards made for your band. Band name and picture, musical style and website listed on front. Back should have the next 3-4 live show dates and venues written in. Going out to eat or drink? Give one to your server, the bartender, leave a couple in the bathroom stall. Shopping? Leave one in the dressing room, give one to the clerk. Going to some other bands live? Hand them to fellow audience members.
  2. Go old school with actual printed flyers or post card type notices. Do some reconnaissance in the areas of your upcoming shows and ask if the small shops or coffee houses will let you post one/two in the window. Put them on car windshields or in bike baskets – in areas where your bands demographic works or goes to school.
  3. Post on other bands blogs, sites, and facebook pages. If it is a bands webpage or facebook, do not post a hardcore plug of your show…but more of a “Hey, saw your show last week! It was great! Come see us play next week at Bryans! Maybe we can do a show together sometime!” Those band members read it, their fans read it…new ears listen. Read any general blogs regularly? Start posting friendly comments, and mention your band and activities. Read music specific blogs? Also post friendly comments, but also ask for input from fellow readers on your music, etc. Again, new ears for shows and sales. It goes without mentioning that when commenting, you should be signed in online so that by clicking on your name, the reader is taken to your website.
  4. Frequent shopper point cards! Don’t let major retailers be the one ones cashing in on the idea of customer loyalty. Grab it for yourselves. Your core audience, and new fans, sign up for the band’s point card (enabling you to capture names and email addresses so you can ALSO start a band mailing list – much more focused than general social media invites!), and start getting a punch/stamp each time they attend a live show. After a set number of attended shows – they get something: 5 shows get a free download or a band logo item. Maybe a discount on a higher priced item. 10 shows get no cover charge for a future show. A free t-shirt. Super fans – which have attended 30 shows? You offer to cover their favorite song by another band – in your own style, of course! The ideas are endless.
  5. Open Mike Nights! Regardless of your bands musical style, the vocalist and guitarist should work together and craft an acoustic version of one or two or your bands best songs. Metallica has acoustic versions. Lady Gaga has acoustic versions. Miyavi has acoustic versions. YOU should too! And on random Wednesdays or Thursdays when that interesting restaurant or bar has “Open Mike” night – the vocalist and guitarist attend and hit the stage for their allotted minutes. An audience that might never have heard of you, your style, etc – is there! For free! An event arranged by someone else. Impress them with YOUR acoustic version, tell the other performers they were “great” and/or “very unique” (even if it is not completely truthful) and hand out those business card/post cards.
Now, go conquer your city!
(For help with your own city tour, virtual tour, or online promotion, find me at: http://www.facebook.com/interidoru)

Reader Comments (11)

I think Apryl's article is spot on with providing so many great promotional ideas absolutely worth trying for any indie band trying to make it. What is even greater is it even outlines actual action steps to follow so all you have to do is DO IT! Every band wants to promote their music and maximize potential in reaching new and retaining existing fan targets so this is so great for the many that did not know how. Success could be achieved with just a bit of disciplinary execution, and its all conveniently written down right here on how to do it.

August 17 | Unregistered CommenterDick

Wow, amazing article here, Apryl! I love the idea of a punch card for fans that come to multiple shows, I have yet to try it out but I know if I got one from a band that I loved, I would take full advantage of it.

August 20 | Registered CommenterChris Bracco

Too many bands/artists are told not to overbook. But the successful artists/bands I know play all the time. Sure, if you are expecting the same 100 people to come to every show, you'll burn them out. But if you can mix it up enough, you might be able to reach a big enough fanbase that you aren't tapping into the same people all the time.

Here are my tips:

1. It's easier to mix things up if you are a singer/songwriter fronting a band than being a band that never tries different configurations. I worked with a singer/songwriter who played 200 gigs a year, most of them within Colorado. She played as a solo, as a duo, as a trio, and as a four-piece. She was able to play everything from coffee house gigs to arenas holding 10,000 people. She could play 21+ clubs and also family friendly concerts.

2. Play a variety of venues. Those who will come see you at an all ages acoustic venue aren't likely to be the same who go to 21+ bars.

3. People probably won't drive more than 30 miles to see you. So if you can hit a variety of towns within 30 miles of each other, you have probably spread yourself out enough. Try not to play the same club more than once every three months. That is the most you can count on the same fans turning out. Of course, some will come see you more frequently than that, and others might only catch you once a year.

4. Develop a deep playlist and be able to mix up your songs at every show. If you have lots of songs, and a variety of songs, you can play slow to one audience, fast to another, intimate to one, big sound to another, etc.

5. An alternative to being a band headed by a singer/songwriter who can go solo is to have all the band members create side projects or at least sit in with other bands. That lets everyone play a lot without giving audiences the same thing each time. Then you might be able to draw in fans from those side projects to your main band project.

6. Don't be too "big" to play neighborhood clubs. Sure, I know that many indie bands wouldn't be caught dead in a strip mall club, but I've been to shows in places like that where the audience support has been fantastic. Sometimes the locals will turn up at the bar without knowing anything about you. If you can win them over, you have made new fans.

August 20 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Suzanne - you bring up one of my points exactly - do NOT play the same club all the time! The audience gets burned out, the band gets burned out...

As for not overbooking - I also know bands that play live all the time. Some bands/musicians prefer to play live often - and may or may not be so concerned with music sales. (For example - a kicking band called Spaceband from Washington state. As a cover band - they play live often! That is truly their "bread and butter!" But you do not see them at the same venue - they play many different clubs, bars, events, parties, etc.

August 24 | Unregistered CommenterApryl

I love this old school stuff! I've been feeling overwhelmed reading about all the online strategies at this site. Just getting out and playing regularly is probably the easiest and most fun way to connect with peeps. Sounds simple, but an "aha" moment for me.

The way I'm starting to see it is that the online tools are complementary -- and in order to support/enhance the live interaction. We're still human after all! I know that if I attend a live show, even if I don't know that artist, the iron is hot! Things have not really changed that much. Only the tools.

For myself, the most exciting thing is actually having tools like Logic or ProTools and being able to finally get close to capturing the sounds I imagine. I started out with 4 track cassette recorders. My last EP was done on GarageBand. Now I'm loving Logic.
I think I'm finding my way of doing things cohesively -- and still "walking point." Man, what a learning and unlearning curve it's been! Buying into the hype and fluff, feeling like giving up, etc. And now some clear "aha" moments. For me and the lifestyle I am creating both intentionally and by accident.

I'm also fortunate to live in a town that can and does have a thriving music scene. Toronto rocks!
Thanks for the great article.
Peace and love to everyone and I hope we all find happiness on our path.

August 24 | Unregistered Commenterdavidsony

David,

Thank you for the comments! I also like the "old school" even though I am "into" the new. I really encourage "virtual tours" for those that can not / dont want / etc to spend their days and nights playing live.

But for those that love to play a live show, I feel it important to use both new tools (online media) AND the tried and true methods!

I almost NEVER see real paper flyers anymore! Sure, I see iflyers - IF I go to certain sites, IF I'm on certain mailing lists...

I took a look at your site - best of luck to you!

August 26 | Unregistered CommenterApryl

Thanks Apryl

My site is only about 4 weeks old. I'm actually going to be revamping it a fair bit quite soon with my music on Bandcamp and some other links. But I digress...

Where can I find info on this "virtual tour?" I'm grateful to live in a fantastic city where there's a thriving music scene both in the clubs and local communities. I also have my own successful (for 12 years) private guitar/piano teaching biz that I derive good satisfaction from -- and touring outside of the GTA ( Greater Toronto Area) is not something I want to do at this point in my life.

Your ideas may be something I can use to supplement my live shows. I too love the internet and am sometimes intravenously connected to it. But I prefer not to be so extreme with it. It can be many many hours at times -- I have antother website where I teach guitar.

I still find flyers extremely effective here in Toronto. But I guess it depends where you live. In Toronto there's a healthy and active urban core and lots of pedestrian traffic and shops, etc. Although Walmart style malls are quite prominent in the outer boroughs.

Thanks for responding -- and if you can, let me know your "virtual tour" ideas.
Best,
Dave

August 26 | Unregistered Commenterdavidsony

Hi Dave,

Shot me an email at inter.idoru@gmail.com. I can send you an information/idea packet.

September 14 | Unregistered CommenterApryl

Apryl,

I think you are spot on with your article. I would encourage all my music friends to step out of the typical status quo and spend some time, or find someone who can help them, with some basic planning.

While we would all love for the "art" to sell itself, with a little strategy and planning work they will be much more successful.

With all of the new avenues for communication via the social media tools you can get the word out so much easier these days, research venues, tours, etc. and do so much more via the internet.

Thanks again!

Greg

September 16 | Registered CommenterGreg Brent

Hi Apryl,

this is a really good post. Thanks for all the great ideas on how to promote music! It applies for all kinds of other art, too, I think,

October 2 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

Julie,

Thank you for giving this a read - and I agree. You could definitely plot a literature reading, moving art exhibit, or some other medium, with the same steps.

October 29 | Registered CommenterApryl Peredo

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