It never ceases to amaze me when a metal band is playing on the same bill as an indie rock band, a rapper, a wannabe pop band, and a classic rock dad band at a bar with a burn out sound guy who could care less. Inevitably the few people in the audience only come for one band and then leave before the next band comes on. This scenario happens all the time in NYC.
I wonder who booked the show and if it is the bartender, the manager of the bar, or an outside booking agent. Then I wonder what the hell they were thinking. Why would you want a disparate range of bands who don’t know each other personally and do not share the same genre even remotely to play at your bar? Even if you are a lucky venue that has walk-in traffic? You may make some money at the bar selling a few drinks but chances are the customers will not remain loyal to your bar. If there is a promoter who put the show together, they will not have loyalty from those patrons to come back on the promoter’s next night. The best DJs with a following know what I am talking about because they have a connection with their audience. Not to mention that they know how to put music together. In fact, the best DJs can mix genres together and still maintain a cohesive set. Why? Because they know the common factor of the songs and they are telling a story with them either by beat-matching or spinning songs of the same key or similar melodies. So if bands of different genres play on the same bill yet they have some form of unifying relationship the night will work. The fans of individual bands will be likely to stay for the other bands and the promoter will have it easier in terms of developing loyalty from their audience and that audience returning for the next night he or she promotes. It all boils down to making a connection with fans and developing loyalty from them by bringing acts together that make sense.
The experience that your audience has is the most important thing to focus on. If you are a promoter you have to figure out how you are going to give them the best experience. If you are a band you are going to play your best and give your fans the best experience you are capable of. If you are a DJ you are probably going to get requests. If you are a nice person, you are going to play those requests if you can because it will give that person who asked to hear Lady GaGa or Beyonce a good experience.
If you are in a band or curating a show you have to know what you want to achieve. If you are just doing this for money forget it. Good luck trying to get rich. If you are a band and want to make more fans, treat every show like it is the most important show you are going to play. If you want to be the best promoter in town, you have to promote shows that relate to your values. What I mean by values is that what you do reflects who you are. In other words, your values are directly proportional to your authenticity. If you are into heavy metal, put on the most deadly and satanic heavy metal shows. If you are a raver, put together the most insane drug-binged-glow-stick-waiving-all-nighters you can get away with. Rome was not built in a day. If you want to build anything you have to do it brick by brick.
Pay attention to how other people promote things outside of your field. My favorite example is Chanel. Coco Chanel established her reputation for creating simple and elegant fashion. How she became successful, however, was collaboration with the right business minds. In the 1970’s the brand of Chanel began to reemerge after several decades of a decline in demand. Under new direction, the brand was revamped by Alain Wertheimer, who’s father had owned the rights to the brand name since the 1950’s. High demand was created by arranging a sense of scarcity and exclusivity for Chanel No.5. Millions of dollars were put into advertising while limiting availability of the famous perfume. The brand today has incomparable loyalty because people know what to expect from Chanel. What attracts customers is actually the desire to become what the brand represents (pay attention because I’m going to show how this relates to music marketing in a moment).
The reason you want your show bill to be cohesive is that you want to attract the audience firstly, and you want to give them a valuable experience once you get them there. As a promoter you want to curate nights that inspire. Since time only moves forward, you want to build anticipation for what is going to happen. The reason Chanel has customer loyalty is because they have established an aspiration. In other words, the people that buy Chanel products want to appear wealthy. They acquire a sense of satisfaction because they are buying into the illusion that they are included in the social status that Chanel represents. As a marketer of music, you can create a similar effect. Hip Hop culture is an example of this phenomenon. Materialism is idolized in the music videos and lyrics in the form of bling. In marketing a brand - music or otherwise; your business has a brand - you want people to want your bling.
In every show you present and every image your band puts on your fliers and record covers, make sure it represents your values. Presentation is key. Chanel spends a load of money on presentation. Insiders will tell you that as a prestige brand, Chanel actually loses money because they spend so much on advertising. If you are a band or promoter in NYC, chances are you don’t have that kind of money but you do have creativity. Make sure the artwork on your fliers is as good as the paper or JPG it’s printed on.
Example of good artwork:
Build a reputation for doing good work that is different from what everyone else is doing. In the 1940’s, P.T. Barnum earned the reputation of being the most renowned of showmen through his audacity and humor with a strong amount of confidence. To deal with a competitor who was attempting to outdo Barnum by producing a “scientific” attraction on hypnotism, Barnum responded with his own demonstration of hypnotism. In front of his audience, he hypnotized a young girl. To prove that she was indeed under hypnosis, he announced that he would cut off one of the girl’s fingers. Hearing this, the girl comically opened her eyes and bolted off the stage to the delight of the audience. Barnum’s competitor lost credibility after the joke was made of his subject and attendance dwindled while Barnum’s grew. Make it look easy. One successful NYC promoter who comes to mind is Michael T. It seems as though wherever he is people are dancing and having a good time. He has that je ne se qua that few people have which can draw a crowd by charisma alone.
Your audience is everything. You are working for them. San Francisco DJ/Promoter Jeffrey Paradise knows this rule. He always seems to make himself available to his fans and as a friend online, I have made an ambient observation when he asks for requests as to what songs they want to hear when he DJs on a given night and gets enthusiastic responses and several “likes”.
Fill a void. We should take notes from Todd P, who has curated shows with bands including Lightning Bolt, Matt and Kim, Dirty Projectors, Dan Deacon, Animal Collective, and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore. He has made a career out of the DIY ethos and is sought after by film makers and casinos. He began producing shows in Austin TX when his friends’ bands needed gigs and did not have a venue. He has over the years cultivated a tremendous following in Brooklyn by producing shows that are inclusive and expose great bands to an enthusiastic audience that could otherwise not attend these shows due to age and monetary limits. Todd P. has come to represent that very inclusiveness.
Let’s talk about the opposite of inclusive for a minute: the velvet rope. When you see people lined up in front of a velvet rope at a night club, it usually consists of douchebaggery waiting to get in and buy bottle service. Avoid any “scene” that is part of a clique in any way. It may seem special to be a part of an exclusive group for a spell, but elitism is counterintuitive. Things can be exclusive (Chanel No.5), but people must be inclusive. Let the music stand on it’s own and attract the element of people you want to attract. Don’t shut people out. It is much more effective to be welcoming to everyone. That’s not to imply that you should not have any standards, however. Again, promote what relates to your values and be authentic. In doing so, you will attract an audience with the same or similar values.
Beware of overexposure. If you are too visible, you will lose demand. One mistake I learned from is to not book an artist that has oversaturated the market. I didn’t notice that he had gigs before and after in the same week in the same area until after I had already booked him at Heroine Chic. Even though this artist is relatively famous, we lost a lot of money on him because of the low turnout.
While we are on the topic of my mistakes, let’s talk about stress. Early on, during one of the first nights I ever curated with live bands, I let stress get the best of me and committed the worst of all sins. I am not proud of this, but I visibly cut a band’s set short. NEVER EVER EVER DO THIS! No matter how pressed for time your schedule is, let the band finish their set. Tell the bands how long their time limit is, if there is one, before hand. Worst case scenario, let the sound guy tell them it’s their last song.
In conclusion, we have to work together. Now more than ever, the music industry has changed in terms of monetary value, but in many ways has become stronger in the currency of bringing people together and sharing not only music, but communicating ideas and emotions on a direct level that only the internet can facilitate. Indie artists are giving away their music for free and as a result, people are coming out in droves to live shows.
Sean Allen Fenn is based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn NYC. He enjoys Mexican food.