Many bands want to spring into a lifestyle of playing every night of the week. Musicians are a passionate bunch & we totally understand the impulse. However, it’s a good idea to pump the brakes a bit & come up with a strategy so you aren’t missing opportunities.
Play gigs to get better
In another blog post we define the difference between a gig and a show. Playing in front of people is a learned skill. The Beatles famously played clubs in Hamburg for two years (1960-1962), often 5-6 hours a night. George Harrison said that “Hamburg was really like our apprenticeship, learning how to play in front of people.”
As you perform these gigs keep your goal in mind. It’s easy to settle in to playing free gigs every week at a local pub for a respectable amount of money. However, if your goal is to ultimately sell tickets then you are going to have to make a shift at some point.
Your goal at this stage is to become good at playing in front of people. You can make some good money playing gigs, so save it. The next phase is going to be a little rough financially, but it will be temporary if you do it right.
Scarcity is key
Once you have developed your live show into something people are going to be willing to pay to see it’s time to sever your relationship with gigs at your local pub. If your goal is to sell tickets to your concerts then you can’t give it away for free any longer. Too many bands make the mistake of playing a mix of gigs and shows & can’t figure out why their ‘fans’ won’t pay to see them play.
A good rule of thumb is to play 1 ticketed show in your market each quarter at first. You want to treat your ticketed show as something people should be marking on their calendar & asking off work for. These are events that people are making plans to attend & centering their entire night around. That’s the major difference between gigs and shows. You are the attraction, not the beer. A tell tale sign that you are playing too frequently is when your girlfriend or boyfriend starts missing shows.
At first, your shows are going to be small & that’s OK. Actually, that’s a benefit. You should be getting to know everyone that makes the effort to come see you play. Don’t act like a spoiled rockstar & drink yourself to oblivion in the greenroom & then stumble onto the stage like a fool. Stay sober, treat this like a job, and do the hard work of building an audience one person at a time.
In addition to playing a quarterly show in your hometown market, you should begin making progress in surrounding markets as well. Pick 2-3 cities that are not too far away (but also not too close) & start implementing this same strategy in each market. That should give you one or two solid shows to promote each month.
Your goal at this stage in your career is to get to a point where you can draw 100 people to a ticketed event. Once you can do that it’s time to pour a little gas on the fire by opening for national artists..
Build Your Audience
I’m going to be blunt with you. Not many bands can draw 100 people to a ticketed event It’s a simple enough goal, but many bands get caught up in playing too many gigs too frequently & burn their audience out. Once you get to the point where you are selling 100 tickets you may feel like you have reached the top of a mountain. Let me stop you there. You haven’t. Don’t let your ego get too big here. Now is the time to start taking opportunities for the sake of building a crowd, not to make money (yet).
This article will help explain in detail how to go about becoming an opening act at your local venue. It also discusses how to make the most out of the opportunity. Your goal is to play in front of people that have never heard of you & cross-promote your next show with them.
Getting these types of gigs after draw 100 people to an event on your own won’t be difficult at all. If you implement a strategy of opening a national show & following up with your quarterly show the next month then you should be able to begin growing your audience from 100 to 200.
As you begin growing your audience remember that perception is everything. Tom Windish, founder of the Windish Agency, offered some expert advice in a Los Angeles Times interview last year. “The right place to play is the place that sells out,” Windish said. Listen to this man. He is responsible for breaking more artists in the United States than most agents during our lifetime.
Keep Expanding / Seek Help
If you can draw 200 people to a ticketed event in your hometown AND 2-3 surrounding markets then it is time to seek help. Honestly, agents and promoters are probably already watching you. The promoters you work with to gain opening spots on national shows are going to be your gateway to agents. They have long-standing relationships with agencies & can offer up advice on who to contact. If you can sell 200 tickets in their club I promise you they will be more than happy to help.
I’m going to caution you once more. Getting an agent to work with you is not your finish line. This is where your career really begins. Your grinding strategy of building your audience from nothing to 200 starts over in each city across America now. It’s a long process, but you have already proven that you can do it at this point. Instead of waiting 3 months for your next gig you are going to be traveling around the Country doing this in each market every night.
Treat every show like an opportunity. Don’t loose sight of the big picture, and don’t give up. It’s a grind, but bands break through all the time. The bands that grind it out for a decade before getting big often go on to have the longest careers. You don’t want to be the band that hits fame & then burns out just as fast.