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May 3, 2006 10:03 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for advice on effective live music promotion and building a following. Also: flyers?

I read these threads, and while they contained some good advice I feel like my situation is a little different.

This question was prompted because I got an e-mail from a promoter today saying that she'd try to get me a slot because she likes my music, but that I should be able to bring in at least 30 people, and for me that isn't usually the case.

I've been getting gigs steadily lately, but I've always had a hard time getting people in the door. I play indie-popish tunes, and though I've been performing with a rotating cast, I do all of the promoting. I concentrate mostly on word-of-mouth, in person and via myspace. I also usually make simple flyers (I can use InDesign, but I'm far from a design guru) and put them wherever I can, but I don't feel like they tend to do much good, despite sporting an attractive name and clever catchphrases. Lots of people say they'll come and generally it's only the same small group of my friends that shows up.

So what can/should I do? Help me expand my following (primarily in Pittsburgh, where I'll soon be returning, but I'd like to start doing things in nearby cities as well). I'm a college student there, as are most of my friends. I've got a myspace as well as my own domain with lots of mp3s that I think represent me quite well. At recent shows I've felt confident in my sound and people who didn't already know me have been sticking around and sometimes buying CDs. But I need to get these people to come see me again.

And with regard to flyers in particular - what makes a good flyer? What do you like to see on a flyer that sometimes isn't there? What size is the most effective? What locations? What adhesives? Where should I avoid flyering? And anything else that might help.
posted by ludwig_van to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Get your friends at college to go, maybe even pass out fliers (don't put them on walls and such though, because you might get fined for littering). I'm willing to go to a concert if a friend comes up to me and tells me he's in the band, or even an aquaintance. It seems to me that most people are too.
Get your other band members to spread by word-of-mouth too, wherever they go to school/work. People are vulnerable to salesmen if they encounter them in person.
posted by Citizen Premier at 10:10 AM on May 3, 2006

It really depends on location, so finding someone in your area who is successful at promotion would be a good start. The advice I could give you that works in my area might not necessarily work in your area. With that said...

Flyering is important - probably the most important thing you can be doing - especially in and around campus.

I used to make between 30 and 50 flyers per month for the venue I worked at, and generally followed these rules:

1) Large, clean fonts with the bands playing and the date and time. Avoid fancy, hard-to-read fonts. Don't include the cover charge. You don't want people making the decision to not go when they're looking at a flyer. You'd rather tham find out the price when they show up - they're more likely to pay it once they're already there.
2) I usually use some sort of attention-grabbing image - rarely is it a picture of the band, unless it's cool looking.
3) Make different sizes. Kiosks usually have regulations (ours were 8.5x11) but businesses sometimes allow larger in their windows. I always made 8.5x11 and 11x17.
4) Buy a staple gun for wooden kiosks (no thumbtacks please) and scotch tape for windows.
5) Completely cover campus with flyers. Put them wherever you're allowed to.
6) Flyer every day for the week leading up to your show. They get torn down all the time, and you'll be ahead of the game if you're out there every morning ripping down those that have covered yours, and putting up new ones.
7) Hit businesses in the areas surrounding the venue. If the business has flyers up already, chances are they'll let you put one up for your show.

Other good ways of getting people to show up:

If you have the option, try to add another local band with a bigger draw then yours. Depending on the venue, they may or may not let you do that. If they won't let you put another band on the bill, get a couple of guys from more popular bands to play a few songs on stage with you.

Find out if the venue is going to have any drink specials on the night you play. If so, let your friends know. Be careful advertising beer specials on flyers, though. Depending on local laws, this might be illegal.

If the venue isn't having any beer specials, ask them to have some!

I know there's more, and hit me up via email if you want to duscuss further!
posted by nitsuj at 10:20 AM on May 3, 2006

Response by poster: Citizen Premier: I agree that those are good recommendations. The difficulties are that my circle of close friends is pretty small, and so even when they all come it's not enough. Beyond that circle, it's difficult to get anyone to come out. I don't think it's because my music sucks, and I don't think it's because they're particularly bad friends; I suppose most of them are into different kind of stuff. It's hard to say, and frustrating sometimes.

And as for band members, I usually either don't have any, or I have people who play with me but are more like backup musicians that come and go and don't really help out beyond that. That's a whole different problem though, which I'll be working on as well.

nitsuj: Just what I'm looking for, thanks.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:24 AM on May 3, 2006

IANAL but I am someone who used to book a club and deal extensively with peeps in the world of indiepop. I'm going to throw out some advice that is maybe not DIRECTLY in answer to your questions, but might be helpful in building an audience.

1. Make sure the information on the flyer is right. Always. If a venue/promoter is too sketchy to give you (fairly) accurate time slot & pricing information, consider playing elsewhere.

2. Be nice to the booker. Be organized. Show up on time. Be nice to the sound guy and the room staff. An opener who brings 20 people and is well-liked by the staff will get a "second chance"; the guy who brings 40 but is late & a pain will not get another booking.

3. Try to get booked into the crappy super-early-first-slot-while-everybody-is-milling-about for a larger, more established, touring indie act.

3b. When playing to the 15 people milling-about-before-the-big-touring-act-show, have your merchandise already out and have someone manning the merch table. If your merchandise is good looking (get artists at your college to make stuff! The print studio is your friend!), available IMMEDIATELY and inexpensive, it will get a better response, especially in the indiepop world where (to a certain extent) there's a lot of design/collectibility fetishization. If you don't have your merch ready until the start of the "real" opening act's set, you've missed your window of chatting to people, getting an email for your mailing list, and getting people to open their wallets BEFORE they spend their last five bucks on another beer.

Anyway, once you cross the 30-50 barrier you'll be in much better shape. Hope the thread helps you get there.
posted by bcwinters at 10:28 AM on May 3, 2006

Also - the promotor asking for only 30 people isn't too much at all. If the cover is low ($5?) offer to pay your friends way to get in. You're not going to get rich playing this show anyway, so use the money that you'll get at the end of the night to pay for 10 or so tickets for the "group leaders" of your various network of friends. (ie: the popular ones!) If you give out a few free tickets to the popular ones of the group, the groupers are sure to follow.

Talk to the venue beforehand and tell them you want to purchase 10 tickets in advance to hand out. Pay cash up-front, or ask if you can have it taken out of your end of night pay.

You need to get your name out there, and that's the bottom line. You could make 10,000 flyers with "BAND A" written all over it, but if nobody recognizes the name, nobody is likely to come.

This isn't something that's going to happen over night, or even by the time your next show comes around. It's a process that takes several years sometimes, and being sucessful at it is what seperates good local bands from bad local bands.

If you can get a solid local following, you'll be asked more and more by promotors to play for larger touring bands, giving your band even further exposure. So sell sell sell your band to anyone and everyone. Handbill around campus, network with friends, do whatever you can't to make everyone think they need to come check out your band every time you play.

Also: very important! Don't oversaturate the market! Don't play in the same area every week! Limit the number of shows you do to at least once a month! I can't tell you how many local bands I've seen bust out of the gates playing 2-3 shows a week only to find their attendance severely drop off after a few months.

Your shows are special (at leas that's what you want people to think!) and if they're happening twice a week, people stop caring. Make an effort to make each one of your performances different in their own right without losing your sound. You don't want to alienate your fans, but you want to keep your shows fresh to keep them coming back.

Oh, how I could go on and on...
posted by nitsuj at 10:34 AM on May 3, 2006

(I cringe as I type it, but) Myspace. Or Facebook. And, at least once you get back to school, one of the many relevent electronic bboards.
posted by inigo2 at 11:15 AM on May 3, 2006

I'm an old fart long out of college, so maybe my advice isn't relevant, but here it is anyway:

The week of your gig, stand up in each of your classes (before class starts, or ask your instructor for a minute to speak at the end), announce that you play music and have this show coming up, and ask your classmates to come out and support you. Maybe you can also ask them to each bring a friend. Maybe offer to pay for the cover charge of each classmate as suggested above, if you want to go that route and your classes are small. Maybe you can play one of your songs. Pass out flyers to each student and look each one in the eye as you do, saying "I hope to see you there!" Act excited and confident that every single one will want to attend.

It's amazing what a personal appeal will do, and if you have been reasonably friendly to your classmates, you might find they want to support one of their own, or get in early with a rising star so they can say they knew you when.

It's a small start, but ya gotta start somewhere. Good luck!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 12:26 PM on May 3, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, everyone.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:11 PM on May 3, 2006

I'd like to chime in if I may:
I was in an industrial-metal band (ala Ministry, Helmet) for 5+ years and what built our following was doing lots of live gigs. Yeah, I know it's not the out-of-the-box answer you're looking for, but it's a fact. People need to see you on the scene for awhile. Bands become successful through word of mouth, and that kind of street cred can't be bought. You need to gig your butt off and in time your rep will be good.
posted by rinkjustice at 6:54 AM on May 4, 2006

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