Yeah, hiring a big-wig PR person would be cool, but your band is probably eating PB&J for breakfast in the back of your van with barely enough money to make it to the next show. How do you promote your shows to get people through the door without taking on more debt or asking your parents for more money to help you make it home in time for Thanksgiving?
Plan in Advance
(No shit). If given the option, playing weekend dates is much more desirable than playing during the middle of the work-week. Bands, friends, and potential fans probably aren’t going to come out on a Wednesday night at 9PM to see a no-name band play. Booking weekends usually requires advance planning (read 3-4 months) and coordination with the venue. Instead of booking your shows whenever you can, try and think ahead and land a much better show date. Playing weekends brings more money through the door, bigger crowds, and more on-stage confidence.
- Booking Tip: If you’re trying to get better dates for your band’s calendar and you’re having trouble getting the attention of the booker at the venue you want to play, try putting the date first in your email subject line. Ex: “December 4 – [Band Name] at [Venue Name]?” Putting the date first makes it easier to book you!
Get Better Bands
This obviously doesn’t help if you’re just starting out, but organizing shows farther in advance can help you share the bill with bigger, crowd-drawing bands. Bands that have a name in town are probably organizing their shows 3-4 months in advance, so reaching out before they fill up their calendar can put you at the forefront of their mind as an opener they may call for a bigger show in the future. Asking a big band to play at a coffee shop next weekend because you agreed to play a last-minute gig is a sign of unprofessionalism. Think ahead.
Before we start talking about all of the different ways to get people out to your show, I suggest taking 10 minutes to get yourself organized. The different promotional methods outlined below are going to require some information about your band, so getting your shit together now will make your life a whole lot easier when the promotion actually begins.
While you may not have a Dropbox or Google Drive folder set-up for your band yet, I find that putting a SHOW INFORMATION document somewhere online that all band members can access is the best way to know that everyone is in the loop and that everyone can pitch in to make things happen.
There are 3 types of photos you’re going to need.
A high-resolution (300dpi) press photograph is going to be key to landing good coverage. Believe it or not, some magazines and blogs may run your story just because you have a big, high quality press photo they can put to print (yes, really).
If you don’t have already have a high-resolution picture of all of the band members involved in the project, have everyone come over to your place this weekend, sit your ass on the couch, prop your iPhone against the TV stand, and get it done.
This one might be a bit harder to accomplish if you don’t have an artistic member of the band or don’t know someone willing to help your band out, but you need to figure out a way to make it happen. Show posters are still an integral part of promotion and there are a number of free event-poster sites and templates online that will help you have a professional show poster ready in under 20 minutes if you don’t have a friend you can call.
- No Graphic Designer Friends? Band Robot has an online flyer designer that’s pretty easy to use.
The not-so-obvious final type of pictures you’ll need are square versions of your band photo and show poster. Many online event calendars (we’ll get to that in a minute) require square pictures as opposed to 8.5″x11″ or A1 sized designs. Open the pictures up in Photoshop, find an online image editor, or use Microsoft Paint to crop your photos into squares.
These vital pieces of show information can be copy-pasted from a Google or Word Document into show calendars, emails, radio stations pitches, and Facebook event pages.
Date, Time, Place, Price
The who, what, when, and where of show postings. Get the basics down first. Know when load-in is, when doors open, and what time music starts. People also don’t want to have to hunt for where the show is going to be (your cool, edgy-house show isn’t going to bring anyone out if no one knows where it is). Make everything easy to find and understand.
- Example: “October 12 (Doors 6PM, Show 7PM). $5 at [VENUE NAME].”
If you’re not yet the size of Wilco, your band bio doesn’t need to be long. Write 2 sentences about who you are, where you’re from, what kind of music you make, and throw in a self-congratulatory fact about the band. You’re going to be using this in just about every piece of press you try and get, so make it short and sweet.
- Example: “[BAND NAME] is a psychedelic-folk project from Athens, GA started by University of Georgia music students, Mike Michaels and Jet Jetson. [BAND NAME] played AthFest 2013, opened for the Awesome Allstars, and has had airplay on WUOG 90.5FM. They will be performing at [VENUE NAME] on [DATE/TIME/PRICE].”
For every show you’re playing (if you’re on tour), get the full name of each band playing and a URL of where to listen to their music. Put it into a list so you can easily copy and paste it into every event you post. Helping other bands get promoted as well helps keep the community alive!
Youtube Live Videos
This one is huge and is often left out. Before people go to shows, they want to see what a band sounds like live. Sure, your record sounds good because of autotune and compression, but if you can’t prove you’re worth anything live, no one is going to care. Figure out a way to get a Youtube video of your band singing a song live, even if it’s acoustic, and have the link ready to go. Some calendars require Youtube video links, so it’s a good idea to have one at the ready!
At the bottom of every show listing I like to include the band’s official website URL that links to a location to buy tickets or to find out more information about the show. Songkick and BandsInTown both have embeddable show widgets that allow you to put an upcoming-shows calendar onto your band website. I suggest using a separate “Shows” page on your website so things are easy to find and people who like your music can find out when you’re coming to town again without any hassle.
This is a sample posting that I generally copy and paste across event calendars during tours. If you’ve collected all of the information above, this should be pretty easy to put together.
“FAKE BAND (fakebandwebsite.com) is a psychedelic-folk project from Athens, GA started by University of Georgia music students, Mike Michaels and Jet Jetson. FAKE BAND played AthFest 2013, opened for the Awesome Allstars, and has had airplay on WUOG 90.5FM. They will be performing at VENUE101 on January 1.
Where: VENUE101 (Address)
When: January 1, 7PM (Doors at 6PM)
Cost: $5 Advance ($7 at the Door).
[Band 1] – URL
[Band 2] – URL
Visit fakebandwebsite.com/shows for additional show information and to purchase tickets.”
Promoting the Show
Ask Other Bands
This one shouldn’t even need to be a tip, but I’ve had plenty of shows where the bands sharing the bill haven’t bothered to invite anyone out. These shows usually go on too late and the last band is stuck playing to the sound guy, the bartender, and the drummer from the opening act who doesn’t have to work in the morning. Don’t let this happen.
As you’re setting up shows, encourage every band to bring out a set number of people. If your fee to rent the venue for the night is $75 and tickets are $5 each, then each of the 3 or 4 bands playing has to try and get 4 people out to cover costs. If a band can’t bring out 4 people, you either shouldn’t be playing with them or you shouldn’t be paying $75 to play at a venue.
If everyone works to bring out a few friends, the end of the night may mean the bands break even instead of paying out of pocket to play for no one.
Local Event Calendars
I don’t care what town you live in, I guarantee there are event calendars for your city. Googling “[CITY NAME] event calendar” is a pretty good way to find them. These event calendars almost always allow community submissions that go to the editors for review. In smaller cities, I’m usually able to find 3-4 calendars that accept public submissions.
Using the sample posting from earlier, I copy and paste all of the information I need into each show listing submission. It’s in these event calendars that you’ll see why we needed 3 different promotional images as well. Some calendars only accept high resolution press photos to promote the event, while others only allow you to use a cropped show poster. Follow the event posting guidelines to ensure your event doesn’t get taken down for policy violations!
- Use Youtube Links and Embedding: On “fancier” event calendars (like ones hosted by the Eventful software), you’ll sometimes see the ability to embed a Youtube video to help promote the show. In many cases, I usually throw a Youtube URL at the bottom of each listing anyway. After looking at the video statistics on Youtube of some live-videos one of my artist’s has, traffic definitely comes from event listings back to Youtube. Don’t miss out on additional traffic.
Videos with Concert Dates
There’s a folk duo out right now called the “Milk Carton Kids” who have a kick-ass Youtube presence. For every tour they announce, or even a major show, they post a live Youtube video of them performing one of their popular songs with the tour dates pasted over the image (Link below). These videos waste no time in telling viewers when and where the band is playing, as well as giving a preview of the kind of show concert-goers can expect.
Annotations are the small in-video “popups” that give additional information about what’s on-screen. They’re usually found at the end of videos with a call to action like “Be sure to subscribe by clicking here!” In conjunction with concert date videos (mentioned above), annotations can let you add ticket links, additional show information, or contests to offer free tickets to those who click the link.
Use Facebook event postings to invite your personal friends out to shows. Also, be sure to make each Facebook event ‘Public’ so that it shows up in the general event calendars that all users can access. Making an event invite-only or unavailable for search will isolate a potential show-goer from coming if they’re looking for something to do on Friday night and your event is no where to be found.
In each event listing, use something similar to the sample posting above that includes who’s playing, when the show is, how to listen to the music, and how much it’ll cost to get in.
Media Rich Postings
Pictures are king on Facebook. If your post doesn’t have a picture in it, there’s a good chance it’s going to go completely ignored in the news feed. When announcing shows, try to use a brand new press photo or a bright show poster to catch the attention of Facebook browsers. Put all the relevant information you can into the image, but avoid using too much text. Keep it simple.
Facebook gives you the ability to tag other pages in your posts about shows. Use these @tags to mention each band playing that night, as well as the venue you’re playing at. When someone else’s page has been tagged, it’s very easy for them to share the post with their own followers.
There’s not much to say in the way of Twitter promotion, other than I like to post about shows the day before they happen and the day of. Tweets lose their power pretty quickly, so posting as soon as an event happens is much more powerful than trying to plan out a long-term strategy.
Local Press & Radio
You’ve gotten your show onto local event calendars (and included all of the information you can!), you’ve asked all of the other bands playing to help bring people out, you’ve promoted the show on your social media pages, and you have a snazzy event poster. Getting the show covered by the local press is the last bit of a push you can get.
Local Music Blogs
The last bastion of hope for indie bands is found on local music blogs across the country. With enough lead-time, and assuming your music is something they like, local music blogs are pretty receptive to posting about local show happenings. If you can offer a piece of exclusive content to a blog that you’re not making available anywhere else (a new song, a new live video, or even a ticket giveaway), you can usually ask nicely for a show-writeup, or at least a mention in their “weekly-roundup” style posts.
Not every music blog is the same (duh), so before you blanket email every music blogger in your city, do some damn research. Find out what kind of music the blogger likes, what they normally post about, and try to ask if they’ll cover your show in a similar way to their normal coverage style.
- Can’t Get Through?: Follow up! Follow up! Follow up! After you’ve sent your initial email and haven’t heard back, wait about 4 days before sending a quick follow up email asking if they’ve had a chance to check out your music yet and if they’d be interested in covering the show. I usually send 2 or 3 followup emails depending on the size of the blog I’m trying to get coverage on. Blogger friends of mine have said on bad days they can get up to 150 emails in their inbox from bands looking to be mentioned. You know whose emails get opened? The ones who keep showing up at the top of the inbox list.
Local Radio Stations (In-studio Performances)
Local radio in-studio performances can be tricky to coordinate if you’re planning a full tour, but if you just have some one-off dates and have enough time leading up to the show, getting an on-air performance with a local radio station may not be as hard as you think.
Like music press, local radio stations thrive on exclusive content. Bands that email the local NPR affiliates that they’re coming through town and would like to do an in-studio performance before their show and give away some free tickets are usually welcomed.
In more music-oriented cities, the local stations may even already have in-studio performance time built into their calendars for weekly (or daily) performances.
Remember that larger radio stations owned by Clear Channel (i.e. all of commercial radio), don’t really have much they can do for local bands or artists. Local NPR, public radio, and college stations are the best place to look for on-air performance opportunities.
Some cities off the top of my head that go above and beyond the call of duty are WDVX in Knoxville, TN. WDVX hosts a daily radio show called the “Blue Plate Special” that has touring (and local) acts perform in front of a live studio audience for a live-broadcast during lunch hours every afternoon. Also, Lightning 100 here in Nashville gives opportunities to touring bands to do in-studio shows and offer ticket giveaways.
Again, Google is your friend. It’s pretty easy to find which stations are playing local music in rotation and which ones may be open to you coming through and playing some songs before a show.
On Air Play?
Because the title of this article implies that all of the promotional efforts used should cost $0 to the band (except maybe a little gas), I didn’t want to include on-air radio play as a suggestion. Executing a college radio campaign, or even a non-reporting station campaign, is fucking expensive. There’s no way around it. Some stations are moving to a digital-only submission approach, but most radio stations still want a physical press package in the mail. If you’re struggling to pay rent, forking over money to mail your CD and press kit in to the local station for a chance at some radio play isn’t usually worth it just for a single show.
Being organized, along with some advance planning, can help turn your dive bar show from a no-show affair into something memorable. While you probably won’t rake in money at the end of the night, promoting your shows properly with the free resources you have available may be able to add a few dollars to your band fund that can be reinvested for the next show or tour you have.