Promotion 101: Getting People To The Gig

Promotion 101
By Mike King
Republished with permission from Artists House Music

If you or your band are just starting out, playing out can seem like a pretty daunting process, especially if you’re the sensitive artist type. While some folks feel perfectly fine playing to the handful of locals at the pub down the street, you can be sure that the folks that booked your show booked you for a reason: to bring people in the door. If you’re playing to an empty house, the club’s bills aren’t getting paid, and the chances of you being invited back to play are about the same as the chances the townie sitting at the bar will buy your record. There are certain unavoidable events (competing shows, acts of God, etc.) that every performing artist has to deal with, but there are also a number of very basic grassroots-type things that you can do to publicize your show, get people in the door, and make the club happy to have you.

As this is Promotion 101, we’re going to assume you haven’t really played out yet, and that your local market is what you’re looking to conquer. Which is great, as the first rule of thumb for a successful show is to INVITE YOUR FRIENDS. It may sound too sales-ey, or disingenuous, or presumptuous, or whatever, but this is the music industry, and no matter what role you play in it you’re going to have learn that no matter how distasteful it may seem, self promotion is the key to success. The number one thing you should do is to invite everyone you personally know to your show, twice – once a week or two before the show, and again the night before. Preferably through e-mail as well as a personal call. Before your music has a chance to speak for itself, the people that are going to go see you play are there to see you, personally. Hopefully you’ll pull off what you’re trying to pull off on stage, and your friends will turn on their friends to what you’re doing, and you’ll have the beginning of a little fan base. And of course these friends will mark the beginning of your mailing list, which you will keep up religiously.

Once you’ve exhausted your personal address book, it’s time for some external publicity. Making posters or counter cards is pretty easy. In no way do these have to be Hatch Show Print, thick stock, 5-color metallic ink jobs. Some really great posters can be made on the down low if you are creative and have access to a cheap copy shop. But, as always, the devil is in the details – there are certain things you must mention in the poster: Who? Where? When? How Much? Age Restriction? If someone somewhere has ever said anything nice about your band it doesn’t hurt to give people a quote either as a point of reference, but it’s definitely not a necessity. Once the posters are together, distribution is the next step. Try to find friendly, like-minded, public businesses that are cool with you hanging posters or distributing counter cards. In marketing land, someone who likes to use clichés might call this ‘fishing where the fishes are.’ Independent businesses are a good place to start – coffee shops are usually good, independent record stores, cool clothing stores, bars, etc. Your return on investment is higher if you spend some time thinking about where these should go. Another good idea would be to distribute some cards outside of a larger band’s show that you feel ‘shares the same artistic sensibility’ as you. Think your music sounds like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah? Might be a fair idea to hang outside after their show to promote your band as well.

Now that you’ve laid the groundwork for your grassroots promotional efforts, it’s time to focus on getting your show listed in the press – which can be a bit of a process, especially for a new band. For any hope of getting some promotional love from the press, you’re going to need to submit your press release at least THREE WEEKS in advance, and you’re going to have to format it just right.

Basic Press Release Guidelines

For Immediate Release

Contact info here, to include name, address, phone, email

Who, What, When, Where, Cost

All the specifics should be right up top in the release

About Your Band/Music
What makes you special, who do you sound like, why should anyone want to see you play live? As Frank Zappa might say: “What can you do that is fantastic?

Quotes
It’s always better if someone else says something nice about you, rather than you saying it yourself. There was a band around Boston a few years back that used a quote from Mark Sandman in their press releases that said something like “I saw them play, they were…interesting.” I always thought that was pretty cool.

Bio
About you or your band, what the member’s play, was a member of your band part of Broken Social Scene? What else can you say about your band?

Once you have the above formatted nice, you’re ready to send it out. Start with the hip weeklies in your area (In Boston this would be the Dig and the Phoenix, Chicago has the Reader, NY has the Voice, etc).

Next Steps
After you get a couple shows under your belt, there are some additional things that can be done to help promote yourself. You’re going to have the beginnings of your community started and your email list in place, and you can now keep people up to date through a dedicated list (there are many companies out there that can help you to send nice HTML updates), as well as a MySpace page with show listings and song samples. And once you start really killing your live show, you may start making friends with your local press, which can result in some show reviews. If you have aspirations to play outside your local area, all this critical mass can be harnessed into your promo kit, which you’re going to use to secure dates in areas where you don’t necessarily have the luxury of a fan base yet.

Keep in mind that getting your name out there is an arduous process, and no matter how good your promotion is, you’re absolutely going to be playing to a handful of folks on occasion. Every other band has been in exactly the same situation, and if you lay a firm promotional groundwork now at these early stages, and your live show is excellent, you’re bound to succeed.

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Comments

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