When it comes to promoting your shows, you need to hustle. There are so many other shows, events, plus the inclination of people to stay home that you are up against. As I've said before, I think every one of your shows should be treated as a special event. You don't want to play out too often.
A good barometer is your boyfriend or girlfriend. If they stop coming to your events then you are playing out too much. I would perform no more than once a month. That gives you a full month to focus on getting the word out about your next event, and a full month for people to recover from your last show and actually want to come see you again. If you want to play out more than once a month then start developing in nearby markets (more on that later).
4 Weeks Out
Confirm all aspects of your show
So, you have booked your show and are ready to get the word out. Before you do anything, make sure you have all the details of your event confirmed. You don't want to be adding bands the week of the show. They should all be booked at least two weeks out. That gives you enough time to promote the fact that you are playing; you don't want to miss a single opportunity.
Post your show on all your web presences
Once everything is locked in you should post the show to your website, Tumblr blog, Facebook page, Myspace page (yes, some people still use it), ReverbNation profile, Bandcamp, and any other site you own or manage. Tweet about the show and make a Facebook post announcing the event to get it on people's radar. This sounds super obvious, but I can't tell you how many times I have seen bands forget to post their show.
Post your event on every calendar listing you can find
We do a pretty good job at making sure our event calendar at CincyMusic.com is up to date, but it doesn't hurt to submit your event here just in case. Virtually every local media entity's website has an event or community calendar (Here is a link to a few). Hit them all just to make sure you don't miss anyone.
Create a handbill and poster to promote your event & have them printed
I realize that a lot of young bands don't see the need for doing this because everyone is online. However, everyone online is used to being inundated by commercial messages everywhere they go and have grown pretty used to tuning them out. Therefore, you need to hit them where they don't expect it: at the record store, a show, or on campus. You will need to spend some money to get them printed. Kinko's is great if you forgot to print something and need it right away, but I advise planning ahead and having Seemless or another print shop do your printing. Handbills start at about $30, depending on your quantity and size.
3 Weeks Out
Verify that your event is posted on the venue's website
Go to the venue's website, Facebook page, and ReverbNation page to make sure that your event is posted and that all the information is correct. If there is an issue, there is plenty of time at this point to get it resolved.
Distribute your posters and handbills
Drop off some posters and handbills to the venue, record stores, and music stores. Start to think about events and high traffic areas that you want to get your materials out at. Check out our calendar listing and make a list of shows with similar artists. Make sure you create a schedule and pass out your handbills at those shows. Be respectful to venues and try to not pass out fliers for a competing venue. If you need to hit another venue then do it outside as people leave. This way you aren't burning bridges with potential places to book your next show.
2 Weeks Out
Have your friends invite people to your Facebook event
While spamming people is not cool and really annoying, it is okay to ask your friends to spread the word about your event. The goal is not to invite every person on your friend list; just invite people you think would want to go. Don't become that person in your group of friends that sends out event invites every day. It's annoying and people stop paying attention.
Send out a press release
This doesn't have to be really formal, but you should at least try to get some editorial coverage. If you are living by the rule of not over-saturating the market then your event should be a big enough deal for a short little blurb in CityBeat. Create a one-page summary of your event with all the pertinent details (who, where, when, how to get tickets, how much) and send them to us, CityBeat, Metromix, Each Note Secure, Broken Mic, Cincy Groove, and any other publication that posts information on events.
Week of the Show
Continue to distribute your handbills and posters
This is your most critical week. If there are any similar shows the weekend before or during the week of your show you need to be at them passing out handbills. At this point you are just reminding people about your event. Put up posters around campus, at your work, and anywhere else you typically go throughout the week.
Create a Facebook ad
At this point you have probably spent about $100 on posters and handbills. Try to match that amount on Facebook. I'll go over this in detail in another article, but the whole process is very simple and allows you to only pay for the ads people actually click on. You may target people that like your band & live in a certain area, and remind them about the show one final time. Keep track of everything you spend and make sure you are paying yourself back at the show. If you are getting paid a flat fee that is not that much, then don't spend it. If your pay is based on a percentage of the door then it is in your best interest to spend a little money.
Remind people with an email and/or social posts
If you have a mailing list (you should), send an email to all your fans to remind them about your show. Remind people via Facebook and Twitter posts as well.
If you continuously do this process a few times you will start to see some results. I can name on one hand how many local bands supply venues with posters for their show. That alone can give you the respect of the person booking the room. At the very least your effort will not go unnoticed. There are many other ways to promote your band and your show, but they are not universal. Until you are pulling in over 200-300 people per show and making over $1,000 a night this should do. If you stick with this plan those days shouldn't be that far away!