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Making a good impression at gigs

Guest post by Jonathan Sexton | CEO Bandposters

Before I ran a company, I played hundreds if not thousands of gigs all over the US. I’ve played to 10,000 people (2 or 3 times) and I’ve played to 10 people (more than 2 or 3 times). As important as learning how to book gigs, I’ve learned 8 things NOT to do when showing up for gigs, especially to a new venue in a new town.

Everyone of these tips come from cringe worthy personal experience. Here are some great ways to make a good impression on your next show or tour.

1. Don’t Be Late for Your Gigs

Everybody is late, be different. This is the baseline of professionalism, if you show up on time, are professional and easy to work with and don’t have a huge crowd your first time out, it is more than likely you’ll get a few more shots at it. Venues and sound teams have a million better things to do than come and find you. If something happens that you can’t help (van breaks down etc.), then call as soon as you can. Then be on time next show.

2. Don’t Hangout in the Green Room All Night­

Your show and your career completely hinges on how many fans you can earn. Fans love your music and they want to know you. If you are new to the market, you need to get to know the sound guy, the bartenders, the regulars; you’re playing gigs to earn fans and build a business.
Don’t hide, get out and talk to everyone, be friendly. Relationships are the key to the music industry and this where those relationships are made. Don’t hide. Get out there with the people

3. Master Stage Volume­

If you play a show, and the crowd can’t hear the vocals, you’ve lost (this includes punk and metal). There are a million scientific reasons that the human vocal cords cannot compete with drums and amps. Some big clubs have the power to get the vocals up over anything, but most small clubs do not. In my opinion, it starts with the drums, you can play great without playing as hard as you can. Then guitars have to get over the drums, and the vocalist is generally screwed, let the PA do the work, so you don’t have too.

4. Talk to the Crowd

­You may have played your songs 1000 times, but that new person in the crowd or in a new city has no idea who you are, what your songs are called, and what your twitter handle is. Tell them, thank them for being there, introduce the band, say something funny. You have to engage the audience. It’s a show and you are earning their interest. The best bands plan when they are going to say something in the set, and what they are going to say. Not scripted, but at least a general idea.

5. But Don’t Talk too Much­

Don’t ramble on before every single song, also, my pet peeve is when people say “this is a new one” it’s like a reverse apology. 9 times outta 10­­ they are all new ones, even the old ones, because most people haven’t heard you before. I prefer to play 3 songs, then say a little something, then play 3 more. It seems to be the right mix. Find what works for you and your audience. In the end it’s a music show, engage your audience, but don’t monologue.

6. Don’t Get Wasted­

This screams amateur hour. It’s not even about acting like a fool, you also lose awareness of how you are performing. No one in the industry wants to babysit you. Have fun, but don’t fall off the stage.

7. Thank the Crowd (even if it’s just the sound guy)

The first 15 minutes after your gigs are your best opportunity to collect new emails, thank fans and sell merch, especially if you are the opening band. Once the next band starts, it’s harder to talk because it’s loud and people’s attention is elsewhere. In my band, we had a deal that we’d divide and conquer. 3 bandmates would get the gear taken care of and 2 of us would immediately hit the crowd or get to the merch booth. That way we could maximize the small window of opportunity and have contact info for the people that we would reach out to when we return.

8. Thank the Venue­

Taking 5 minutes to find the manager or head bartender after your gigs, look them in the eye, and thank them for having you can do wonders for your career. You are building relationships and it’s something that most people do not do. It’s a great way to stand out from the hundreds of other bands that play at the venue around the year. Same with being on time and professional, venues will remember it the next time that you want to play at their spot.

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how to get more gigs

In today’s music industry, gigging is a huge revenue for a lot of indie musicians. Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of competition for the limited gigs available. Just standing out of the crowd of talented performers can be a challenge, especially when you’re trying to grow into cities and towns you’ve never played before.

If, however, you are dedicated and have a strategy in mind when looking for gigs, you’ll have a much better chance of getting noticed. I’ve broken it down into 5 basic tips that you can follow as you’re trying to get more gigs.

After you read through these tips, check out this article for more ways to book your own gigs.

1. Collaborate

Collaboration is the first step to this equation. I’m sure you know how hard it is to get a spot in new venues, especially if you’re not yet at the point where you’re working with a booking agent. Venue owners and promoters just feel safer booking a band that they know can fill the room. If, however, you can connect with the bands the promoter knows, you might be able to get more gigs you wouldn’t normally have access to.

Let’s say you want to be able to play in a new city or even a new country. Make a connection with a band or musician with an established fan base in the area. To make the most of this strategy, target a musician or band with a similar style to you who plays similar size venues. Propose a headline-trade. In other words, you’ll open for them in their home city and they’ll open for you in your home city. This puts both of you in front of a new audience. It’s a win-win!

2. Network

A headline trade also puts you in front of promoters, booking agents, and venue owners in new areas, but its up to you to actually make the connections! Don’t be that band who just plays, takes the money, and leaves. There’s a lot more to gigging than just playing the show! If you really want to make the most of each gig, you need to be networking with anyone you can before and after your show.

Introduce yourself to the venue owner or promoter. This is the person you need to impress if you want to play at that venue again. You want to go beyond this and introduce yourself to the other bands and musicians playing that night, and even the crew in charge of lights and sound. Take the opportunity to meet everybody you can.

3. Be proactive

Unfortunately, the days of getting “found” by a record label in a small club are over for the most part. Unless, of course, you take a proactive role to orchestrate the connection. Industry people may not be hanging around the local clubs looking for artists, but they might be there if you invite them!

This strategy worked for a New Artist Model student Tomas Karlson, and it can work for you too. His band was looking to connect with a booking agent to help them get gigs in new cities. Agents get contacted by hundreds of bands looking for help booking gigs. If you really want to stand out, don’t tell them about your gigs, show them what you can do. Invite them out to the show. They will be able to see first hand how many people you can draw and the energy of your performance and the audience. Tomas’s band now works with a great booking agent who is helping them book other gigs in Europe.

4. Be prepared

First impressions are everything, so you need to make sure you’re prepared. It’s a good idea to have a short “elevator pitch” ready in case anyone asks about your music. This should basically be a few sentence sum-up of your sound and what you’re working on. You don’t want to bore them with your whole life story – just give enough information to pique their interest. Give them a phrase that they will remember and hand out a business card.

From here, you should also be able to direct them to a website or online press kit for more information. This will give them access to a more detailed bio, photos, music, and most importantly, contact information. You shouldn’t leave the contacting completely up to them, though. Ask for business cards or email addresses and propose a meeting over coffee. After all, a great connection isn’t worth much if you don’t follow up.

5. Play your best every single night

This may seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. When you’re in the business of playing small club gigs, you need to be on top of your game every single night especially if you live in a city where there is so much competition for one spot.

You may be playing a similar set every night, but someone out there in the audience is probably experiencing your music for the first time. This person could go on to be just a regular fan, they could go on to be your biggest fan, or they could even be a local booking agent interested in your music. Either way, if you don’t give it your all every single night you will fail to make the great impression that will make that person believe in you and your music.

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There’s a few ways to approach your gig. Once you book the gig, you could lug your gear up on stage, play a few of your best songs, lug your gear off stage, and go home. This is the tried and true method for indie musicians playing smaller venues and trying to build up their audience. It works, but because it’s tried and true, everyone is doing it. From the audience’s perspective, it’s easy for your music to blend into the music of the band before you.

The other route you could take is to make your gig an experience. This means you need to go beyond just playing for your audience – you need to get them involved. There are plenty of musicians who have done this is the past and tons who are doing it today. Frank Zappa, KISS, Phish, EDM DJs, and the Orion Experience are just a few who have turned their live show into an experience. Zappa’s audience never knew what antics were coming next, Phish fans reacted in certain ways to certain songs, EDM DJ’s change up their set depending on the mood and energy of the room, and the Orion Experience turned their live show into a full-on production with dancers and lights.

You don’t need to be at the point in your career where you can afford to hire a team of 30 dancers to be able to turn your gig into an experience. Get your fans clapping during certain songs or singing during others. Bring out funny props or throw a beach ball into the crowd for your fans to throw around. Get creative with it!

This article is by Chris Robley from CD Baby. This is just a short excerpt from the interview, but you can check out the whole thing over on the CD Baby blog.

What led you to creating an off-Broadway show featuring your band and music? 

The Orion Experience as a band has been together since 2007, and we’ve played all over the country, mostly in indie rock venues. I think there comes a point when, as an artist and a performer, it becomes a bit routine. I’m not trying to disparage the live music experience at all, but in other forms of entertainment i.e. a Movie, or a Theatrical show, there is a suspension of disbelief that the audience participates in… And by that I mean, the lights go down, the orchestra plays the overture, there is the feeling that something magical is about to happen… A lot of times at an indie rock show, the sound guy says you have 5 minutes to set up as the audience watches you lug your amps onto the stage and tune your guitars… I think we just got tired of that kind of performing, and that was the impetus to start approaching our live show in a different way.

I’ve heard that when you were playing shorter sets in clubs you employed someone to simply dim the lights after every song. Can you talk more about some creative solutions your average indie band could use to liven up a typical club gig?

That was one of the first steps we took towards adding some theatricality to our shows. Even the simple act of having the lights go dark before we take the stage, or after a song ends can have a big effect on how the audience perceives the show. You know, look at your stage the way a painter looks at a canvas… What kind of picture are you trying to paint with your band? It’s important.

Can you tell us some of the details of taking your songs to an off-Broadway setting? What was the process like working with a director? How long did it all take? How large is the crew, and what are the different teams that play a role (dancers, lighting, sound engineers, etc.)? 

I went to school for Musical Theater, so the process wasn’t completely alien to me, but that being said, it was unlike anything we had ever done before. The whole show was up and running in a month, which is an insanely fast pace. Fortunately we had an amazing team of people. Travis Greisler the director is a crazy genius, he’s just non-stop ideas, and he just knows how to pace a show’s development. Ryan Bogner, the shows producer worked his ass off coordinating the venue, the PR, and raising money. All told we had a cast and crew of about 30 people. It was really exciting, i’m not gonna lie.

How do you encourage audience involvement? Why is interactivity important? 

When we we’re coming up with the concept of the show, we thought it was important to have the audience participate in the show the way they do at a “Rocky Horror Show” screening, or a KISS concert… I love the idea of getting dressed up, like REALLY dressed up for a show, so we came up with the idea of the STAR CHILD, it’s kind of like your inner most fantastic self. We strongly encourage people to come dressed as Star Children to our shows, and they do, and it’s the best thing ever! The interactivity is important, because the energy is shared with everyone in the room. It becomes more about the sum of the experience instead of just the band’s experience.

 How can you turn your gig into an experience?

The New Artist Model is an online music business school for independent musicians, performers, recording artists, producers, managers and songwriters. Our classes teach essential music business and marketing skills that will take you from creativity to commerce while maximizing your chances for success.

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Even with all this new technology floating around these days, the music industry is still completely driven by people. Obviously you have the musicians creating new music, but you also have the club owners, the promoters, the producers, the recording engineers, the session musicians, and even the guys running the sound board at your local club. If you really want to make it in the music industry, you need to make connections with all of these people. They are the ones who will help you move your career forward, not the fact that your music is on iTunes.

As a performing musician it’s easy to get caught up in your live show. You have to plan and remember the set list, get your gear set up right, give a killer performance, engage with your audience, and so much more. However, it’s really important to remember that your sound is one of the most important parts of the show, and the sound guy is completely in charge of that. You also need to remember that the relationship you have with the sound guy goes beyond this one gig. You’ll probably have to work with him (or her) if you come back to that venue in the future. A good relationship could lead to other opportunities. Maybe she is a fiddle player that would be interested in recording a track on your newest song. Maybe he also mixes recordings and can help you out with your new album. The point is that you never know who could provide you with a great opportunity, so be nice, considerate, and respectful to everyone you meet in this industry.

These tips come from Ari Herstand and was originally published on Digital Music News. These are just a few tips, but you can see the full list over on Digital Music News.

Get His Name
The first thing you should do is introduce yourself to the sound guy when you arrive. Shake his hand, look him in the eye and exchange names. Remember his name – you’re most likely going to need to use it many many times that night and possibly a couple times through the mic during your set. If you begin treating him with respect from the get go he will most likely return this sentiment.

Respect His Ears
All sound guys take pride in their mixing. Regardless of the style of music they like listening to in their car, they believe they can mix any genre on the spot. However, most sound guys will appreciate hearing what you, the musician, like for a general house mix of your band’s sound. Don’t be afraid to tell him a vibe or general notes (“this should feel like a warm back massage” or “we like the vocals and acoustic very high in the mix” or “we like keeping all vocal mics at about the same level for blended harmonies” or “add lots of reverb on the lead vocals, but keep the fiddle dry”). He’ll appreciate knowing what you like and will cater to that. He is most likely a musician himself, so treat him as one – with respect. He knows music terms – don’t be afraid to use them.

Don’t Start Playing Until He’s Ready
Set up all of your gear but don’t start wailing on the guitar or the drums until all the mics are in place and he’s back by the board. Pounding away on the kit while he’s trying to set his mics will surely piss him off and ruin his ears. Get there early enough for sound check so you have plenty of time to feel the room out (and tune your drums).

Have An Input List
If you need more than 5 inputs, print out an accurate, up to date list of all inputs (channels). A stage plot can also be very helpful – especially for bigger shows. Email both the stage plot and input list over in advance. The good sound guys will have everything setup before you arrive (this typically only happens at BIG venues). If you’re at a line-check-only club, then just print it out and give it to the sound guy right before your set.

Have your connections in the music industry ever lead to opportunity?

If you’re ready to turn your music into a career, check out the New Artist Model online courses. Networking and connections are huge topics in the courses. If you’d like to learn more, you can sign up for the mailing list for access to 5 free lessons.

Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1h7Jdlk

Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1h7Jdlk

Whether you’re just starting out or a superstar, there’s always a barrier stopping you from performing in new places. Maybe you can’t seem to break out of your local music scene, you want to move from regional to national tours, or maybe you’re a US artist unsure of how to make the jump to performing in Canada. Depending on your career level, your resources will differ. Musicians further along may have an agent or a tour manager to help them out. Either way, the formula is the same.

Check out this article written by Jamie Ford from Music GatewayThis is just an excerpt, but you can read the full article over on Cyber PR.

Research

Do your research: look up different cities, the popular small venues and the promoters within. Once you have this information, there is knowledge of who to contact to get a gig. It is likely that if you are from another city that you won’t be offered the best slot of the night… Be patient with this, the promoter may not have heard of you, and may be sceptical about ticket sales so they’re giving you a fair chance, and hey… if you’re good, you’ll probably be invited back with a better slot. Promoters aren’t only useful for gaining a slot at one of their venues, but they also have a good contact list of the city of which they work. If you’re impressive, there’s no doubt that the promoter will spread the word and help you branch out around the area.

Make the most of the trip

When travelling to another city to play a show, make the most of the trip and get yourself heard more than once! Perhaps arrange another show (depending on promoter terms) but there are other avenues to go down other than booking a show at another venue… Play an acoustic set in a record store, busk in the city centre with some CD’s ready to hand out, be imaginative! It may also be useful to think about taking along some merchandise, such as CD’s, badges/stickers and t-shirts etc. This will look professional and make people in the city remember you whilst also making some money!

There are other ways to get your voice heard in the city you’re heading to, again linking back to Research, find all the local radio stations and contact about a possible interview or play of your song whilst you’re in the city. This is great promotion for your act, people become aware of whom you are and may even come down to your show, pleasing the promoter too! The harder you work and the more promotion made, the more the city will want you back after your show. Engage with the audience and make them excited about your music!

Where do you really want to play? What’s stopping you from playing there? 

The live show and merchandise are becoming more important in the music industry. On top of that, there has been a surge in small indie musicians trying to make it on their own. Many think that merch is out of their budget, but with the right planning and strategy merch can become a profitable revenue stream for anyone.

This article, written by Robal Johnson of PUMP Merch, was originally posted on Hypebot. To read the full article, click here. 

1. Decide what to sell

Where to begin? Start small, be patient, and analyze your early merchandise investments. Get creative. Have an artist friend design your logo: pay them in drinks and guestlist spots. Be conscious of your audience: determine what apparel and accessories are trendy. Understand the demographic: ask how they consume and share music, which can easily be done via social networking. Acknowledge your environment: if its hot, tank tops and ballcaps are essential; if it’s cold, hoodies and beanies are a must. At first, focus on selling more for less: keep designs to 1-3 colors, buy the inexpensive option, and charge fans as little as possible. Remember, you can always upgrade later.

Don’t be afraid to be aggressive. You’re not bothering anybody at the show. I guarantee most of the people there will be excited to meet you and honored you came up to talk to them. They know you’re just doing your job and they actually want to talk to you. I have approached the bar in a small town in Mississippi and sold $10 T-Shirts. I have wandered a club in Nashville asking folks if they’d like to buy $5 CDs. Merch is a souvenir purchased to commemorate a notable experience. Every music fan enjoys the pride that comes with seeing an act “back in the day” and you need to offer them something to take home that night.

2. Convenience

Once you have decided on the right products to sell on tour, your next focus should be on convenience. If you do not accept credit cards while on the road, you are leaving countless dollars on the table. Just ask Laura Keating, Melissa Garcia, and Emily White of Whitesmith Entertainment and Readymade Records: “We have been taking credit card payments in some form or another since 2005 and it always doubles our sales at the merch table.” Now THAT should motivate the hell out of all of you.

Companies like Square and PayPal Here have made it extremely simple for you to accept all major credit cards as long as you have a smartphone or tablet. If you have not already, stop reading this right now and order one of the FREE card readers from either of those companies immediately. It will take you a few short minutes and the results are literally priceless. I can not stress the importance of this enough. In this day and age, you MUST accept credit cards. You will not only sell your merch to more people, you will sell even more items.

At this time Square is only offered in the United States, Canada, and Japan. PayPal Here is available in the US, Japan, Hong Kong, and Australia. For acts touring the United Kingdom and Europe, Team Whitesmith/Readymade suggests using iZettle for your credit card processing needs. iZettle is now live in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, the UK, Germany, Spain, and Mexico.

3. Get organized!

Third on your to-do list while gearing up for tour should be organization and accounting for your merchandise while on the road. For decades this was done by either the merch guy or the tour manager in a looseleaf notebook with pencils and a whole lot of mistakes. Then came Microsoft Excel, which we ALL love to hate. But I have seen the future of tour merchandising and it comes to us via Orange County, California in an app called atVenu. These guys are changing the game and every single touring artist needs to take note.

I spoke with co-founder of atVenu, Ben Brannen, and he shared his story of what drove him and his partners to create the service. “While on the road, I experienced first hand the inefficiencies of existing methods by which we track and settle our touring merch. Too much money is lost due to inventory issues, poor nightly settlements, limited analysis, or one broken cell in an Excel sheet. atVenu solves these problems by empowering merch reps with a mobile app designed for their needs which syncs to the artist’s web-based account where merch company and management can login and easily access a robust suite of real time analytics and reports.”

This is a game-changer for many reasons, but most importantly it is something that will save artists time and money on the road. As a merch rep myself, I can attest to the great many headaches that go along with inventory, accounting, and restocking of products while a band is touring. It is all about organization and communication. With a system in place that knows when you’re getting low on the green v-necks in small and medium and your merch guy gets a notification, imagine how much money you’ll save on those rushed deliveries from halfway across the country that will hopefully make it to the venue on time. Envision how much easier it will be to do reorders for the next tour because you know exactly what you sold, when, and where.

My buddy Randy Nichols of Force Media Management, who represents The Almost and Bayside, among others, also works as Strategic Music Industry & Product Advisor with atVenu. He sums up the app perfectly, “A tool like atVenu shows me real time forecasting data for my tour so I can both improve my profit margins and be sure to maintain a healthy stock of my in demand items. This can easily mean the difference between 10 boxes of merch in the drummers garage at the end of the tour vs an extra $10,000 in profit.”

 

Photo by DrabikPany

Photo by DrabikPany

The live show is a very important part of your musical career. Today, you can find plenty of fans online, but if you really want to form a relationship you need to go offline and interact. You should put the same kind of dedication into your live show that you put into your music. Use your creativity to make each show better than the last!

These tips came for the Hypebot article, “5 Tips for Improving Your Live Show,” and the Music Think Tank article, “6 Ways to get More People to Your Shows.”

1. Videotape your show and study that tape

These days it’s an incredibly mundane thing to get some footage of your live show so, if nothing else, get a look at yourself from an objective perspective just like you might check out a mirror on your way out the door.

But to really benefit from video, plan to get decent footage that includes your stage entry, stuff that happens between songs and your exit. Those are all part of your show and some acts undermine themselves by only taking the songs seriously.

Check it out with nobody around and check it out with a sharp eye at your side. It doesn’t have to be a complicated process in order to reap high returns for taking this process seriously.

2. Take every show seriously

It’s so offensive to the audience members present when a performer focuses on their disappointment at the size or responsiveness of the crowd. Do the best job you can everytime. Maybe afterwards it will still feel disappointing but, by building with those who are present and by reaffirming your commitment to your art every time you perform, you will still come out ahead.

3. Make the Event Interactive

Think of some new ways to make fans a part of the live show. Maybe you can have a “frequent fan” card where they collect stamps for each show and redeem it for a free t-shirt or unreleased material. Maybe you can invite some other artists who are fans to guest perform during your set. Or maybe you can shoot a fan-made “live video” for YouTube shot entirely with Vine videos on cell phones. Whatever it is, get creative and make fans feel like they’re an important part of the experience so they won’t want to miss out.

4. Find a Different Angle for The Show

It’s easier to get more people to show up if it’s your band’s first show, when you’re releasing a new album, it’s a tour kick off, or when it’s your final gig. Obviously, it’s because your fans realize those as special occasions and want to be there.

So rather than making every local show the same, find creative ways to make them more enticing: film a live music video, let fans write the set list, do special covers, play acoustic if you normally don’t (or vice-versa), record a free download of a live track, etc. In other words, give your fans a compelling reason to show up. Answer: Why will this show be different than any other? What makes this exact show special?

What do you do to make your live show awesome? Share in the comment section below.