I received an email a few weeks back from Joe Torcicollo, guitarist of the band Sister Anne. He posed some questions that many musicians, including myself, have been trying to answer for years. The topic centers around getting fans/friends out to your shows, and building a steady fan base from that.
I believe the most important thing for any unsigned band is to not over saturate your local market. The rule of thumb we have lived by is to suggest bands/performers do not play anymore than once a month in their local city. If you decide that you would like to play more frequently, I would suggest your 2nd show of the month be a free show, a party, an open mic, an open jam session or a bar that pays and/or does not expect you to really bring out a crowd due to an already loyal base of patrons. Playing anymore than that becomes counter productive. The old adage of “we want to play out as much as possible” or “we’re trying to gain as much exposure as we can” does not really work in the Internet age. The reason that Indie acts are able to gain national followings by Internet buzz, is also the same reason which can make getting off the ground seem like a slow, drawn out process. Patience is as much of a virtue as productivity.
Look at it from the perspective of your friends. It is highly likely that you’re not their only musician friend, they may be musicians themselves. On any given night, there may be two, three or more other shows happening that your band is competing with. If they come support your band one night, and pay the cover/ticket, they are not going to come out and see you again next week. Even if you’re really good, they will probably opt to see their other friend’s band, or do one of numerous other activities. It works just like the first principle of economics. If you’re band is in low supply, you will be in higher demand. When my band, Buy The Sky started we would only perform once every 3 months, and now only perform once every 6-8 weeks in NYC. That is the first reason why we can consistently draw 75-80 fans/friends out to our shows.
This brings me to the second most important piece in this puzzle. After you have committed to separating your shows by reasonable amounts of time, you must make sure that each show is unique in order to ensure your friends/fans will come to the next one and encourage their friends to join. Make sure you make a point to incorporate a new cover song into each set list. Something you can do to encourage fan interaction is collect a short list of cover song options and post them on your web pages, asking your friends/fans to vote on which cover they would like to hear in the next show. That way you know they’ll enjoy what you play and will be more likely to actually attend your show. You should also rearrange your set list for each show. Playing the same set list, especially in the same order will automatically bore even your best friends and the members of your band. Try some different versions of songs out to switch it up and make it more interesting. I would suggest doing that with songs that did not really receive much regard or praise from your friends/fans. Don’t change the songs they really love! The last thing in this category would be to try and introduce a new original each show. It is something that aid in keeping you productive in the long stretches between shows, and is something you can use as a promotional point. You could post a rough demo of the track and push it as the new single, letting your friends/fans know you’ll be debuting live at the next show.
So now that you’ve lowered the supply of your band, and have gotten into the routine of offering a unique, entertaining show each time out, there are a few other things you need to do to expand and maximize your fan base. If you have a demo, EP or even an album, the best thing to do in the first few years is give those away for free to your fans/friends and any other people who may be in attendance at the shows. To keep that cost effective for the band, print up Dropcards instead of pressing CDs. You will save a lot of money, time and they are much easier to carry and distribute. Downloading directly from the site is something many more people are likely to do, rather than carry a CD around all night and then rip it to their hard drive and move into their music library. Especially if you’re a guy and don’t carry a man purse, carrying a Dropcard is much more practical since it fits in your pocket/wallet. You can use a FREE EP giveaway to entice your friends out to the next show. At the show, do not forget to have a close friend of the band go around during the set and have people sign up for your mailing list. Maybe a FREE sticker, patch or T-shirt is a good way to get people to sign up. Have someone in the band take a picture of the crowd from the stage and then post it to Facebook and let all your friends ‘Tag’ themselves. It’s another nice way to make your friends/fans feel like they’re a part of the whole experience. The other thing to do is socialize and network with the other bands on the bill, their fans/friends, the sound engineer, the manager of the venue and the promoter. Building actual relationships with these people will help you expand your fan base and support system.
That’s it for now. Keep reading the blog in case I think of any other helpful tips to make it in the industry.