My band used to play a little more than once per month but, lately, we’ve cut back to once every few months. If you’re playing every 3 weeks, it’s easy for people to say, “Oh, I’ll catch them next time.” By limiting the number of shows we play, we’ve been getting bigger turnouts when we do get out to the club.
Making Your Gig a Show
A better way to keep people coming to your shows is not to limit the number of live performances, but to make each performance different, special, and exciting. And, in my opinion, it’s important to do this from the very first time you play out. Most bands bring out a ton of people to their first show. Their friends have never heard them, the band is excited about the show and is telling the whole world, and people feel pretty committed to supporting your first show. After that, it’s up to you to bring them back. Nobody feels obligated to see you for the 5th time when your show is always the same.
Ideas for Putting on a Good Show
There are a million ideas for making your show more memorable. Here are some basic examples:
- Guest Appearances – One way to make each show different is to invite other musicians to join you on stage. Obviously, you should be selective. Pick a killer vocalist to come join you on a song or play a cover with your band. Or, pick a guitarist to come up and rip a solo with you and your group. After two or three shows bringing up different people, fans will start to wonder who will join next, and will look forward to finding out.
- New, Unique Covers – Most original bands prefer their originals, and so do I. But, the truth is, people like music they’re familiar with. Although your regular fans probably know your music and come out strong to hear their favorite originals, the other people in the bar are experiencing you for the first time. Playing a good cover early in your set is a good way to get people over to your side. I suggest picking something that is a little outside of your genre, or has different instrumentation. Nobody covering Stevie Wonder and trying to sound just like him is going to do him justice. My 10-piece funk, jazz and hip hop band plays the country classic The Devil Went Down to Georgia, and Rage Against the Machine’s Bulls on Parade. When we do cover Stevie, we have Racquel Roberts do it in her own voice and style. The key here, though, is to play different covers from time to time, so that, again, people don’t want to miss it at the next show when you play a song they’ve been requesting forever.
- Give Stuff Away – People love free stuff. Whether it’s t-shirts, CDs, stickers or hugs, giving away free stuff during your show is a good way to get the crowd involved and make them feel like they might miss out on something if they don’t come back next time. At our CD release, during a more risky song we play called Bad Things, we threw out condoms and cock rings to the crowd. People scrambled to get their hands on them and they made things really interesting at the after party.
- Perform More Than Just Music – I went to see a band once where, in between every song, the lead singer would tell part of a story. Not a new story after every song, but one continuous story the entire night of the show. It kept people’s attention on the band in between songs and made the whole show more cohesive. It was a great touch, and it really made the show seem like more than just a band playing songs. At our CD release I opened with a spoken word piece I’d been working on. It was a great way to get people’s attention and give them something new. I will say, though, that spoken word and stand up comedy at live music shows can be risky. You’ve really got to have a focused crowd or you get distracted, they get distracted, and overall it bombs. Either way, if someone in your band has a hidden talent, it can be a great way to change up the vibe of the show.
Increase Your Brand Strength
Whatever you decide to do, make sure it helps to build your brand identity. When we threw condoms and cock rings out at our CD release, it was a great addition to a song about one night stands and general debauchery. Overall, our bands tries to be fun, funny and eccentric, so the props we used were a good touch. If you can do something to make your show memorable, while also making your brand memorable, it will be easier for people to remember you, find you again, and tell their friends about their experience.
In general, it’s hard enough to stand out in the world of music. Talented people are being one-upped by people who focus more on marketing. Personally, I don’t like to see good musicians be passed up by people who just have more time to spam kids on Myspace. So, if you’re good, do yourself the favor of making your shows so good that people will be dying to come back. The more you make your performances desirable, the less time you have to spend later convincing people to come.