You’re in a band trying to kick ass and take names. You’re going out and playing shows, but sometimes, the shows just aren’t working out for you. It could have been because you didn’t promote the show right or weren’t appropriately prepared, or perhaps it was because you didn’t sell enough merch. Other times, it’s because no one liked your set and you didn’t make any friends.
There’s a lot of factors that feed into a good show. There’s also a lot of mistakes that bands make when playing live. I’ve seen a little bit of everything that can go wrong out on the road, all throughout my years working with labels like Prophecy Productions and Ripple Music and bands like Alcest and Exhorder. Once we identify some of the key factors that you might be messing up, we can guide you through them, ensuring that you have a better time playing shows, both at home and on the road.
5. Not Promoting The Show
This is a big thing that drove me crazy when I was a promoter. Sometimes, bands get booked on shows and expect the promoter to do all the work. Except when no one is trying to help the promoter out, it’s hard for the promoter to feel super motivated. After all — if no one else cares, why should they? It’s just a DIY metal show after all. So yes, promoters should step it up, but when bands aren’t doing anything to contribute, well… what’s the point then? Make sure you’re showing that you’re promoting shows and contributing to the growth within your scene. One thing I always recommend bands do is run a cheap sponsored post on Facebook. It can be as little as $5, but the promoter will see it and thus realize that you have skin in the game. The leads promoters to giving you more opportunities down the line.
Make sure you start promoting the show as early as possible and are posting about it frequently. Even if you can’t afford an ad, regular posts are going to get more people out to shows and promoters liking you more, because if you’re clearly trying — even if you draw no one — the promoter will give you another chance, but if you’re an entitled, lazy dick you won’t get booked again.
4. Not Advancing Shows
A lot of bands feel like the general show experience is very stressful, especially in terms of getting there, having a firm grasp on everything that’s going on and all that good stuff. I get it — especially when you’re on tour and constantly stressed because you’re always in new places. There’s an easy way to handle this though: advance your shows.
What this means is a month out, email the promoter and ask for what time you should be loading in, confirming payout details, figuring out where you should park, and all the other logistical details. The promoter will be happy to answer your questions. If the promoter doesn’t get back to you, follow up in a week. Then follow up a week after that. Then a week after that. Then every day leading up to the show, if need be. If you try to advance, and the promoter never hits you back, then at least you know that if the show is a mess when you get there – it’s not your fault.
3. Poorly Presented Merch Stands
Another big complaint I see bands make is that they aren’t making good merch sales at shows. Their set went great, the night went smoothly, but they don’t get any of that much needed merch money. Well guess what? The odds are it’s because you’re not selling merch anyone wants. Even if you are selling merch people want, it’s possible it’s so poorly presented, no one is checking it out. The takeaways from this are multifold.
First, you need to be paying a real graphic designer to do your shirt designs. You can’t just get your bassist’s girlfriend to do it. Furthermore, you want to make sure that your merch stand looks cool. That means you make sure you’ve got merch racks, good lights and, at a minimum, something that makes people want to come check out what you have for sale. Remember that initiating the conversation is half the battle. There’s a reason Antichrist Demoncore would sell crazy things like bathrobes at their merch stand. It wasn’t because they were drowning in bathrobe money. It was because people would come up to check it out, then get into a chat with the merch person and wind up buying a different, cheaper product.
2. Your Stage Show Is Boring
Here’s the thing your friend won’t tell you. Your stage show? Boring as hell. I probably see five hundred or more sets a year. When I’m at a show, I’m basically choosing between your band and watching baseball with my cat. You need to be more compelling than my disappointing Phillies and my very handsome fur baby. That’s not an especially high bar. However, so many bands can’t even do this. They just stand around on stage, not creating any sense of drama, fun or intrigue. I understand the idea of wanting to let the music speak for itself, but guess what – unless you’re on the Yob level, your songs aren’t that good and instead just look goofy. Also, bands like Yob have a really fun stage show — on top of having amazing songs! If you can’t put on a compelling show, no one is going to care about your band. Keep your sets relatively brief, and make sure they’re full of energy. It’s honestly arrogant to do otherwise, because you’re just wasting everyone’s time.
1. Not Making Friends
This is the final point. You want to make sure that people are coming back to your shows, be it at home or on the road. The best way to do that early on is to win over one fan at a time. The way you win over one fan at a time is by making friends. The band Dreadnought are amazing at this, always making sure to stay in touch with the ton of people they meet at every show via social. It means that they rapidly built a group of devout fans. People are finally starting to care about them because they spent so long building up a strong base. You need to make a point of making at least one new friend who can become a fan at every show. If your package of merch and your live set is good, they’re always going to be stoked to see you again. If you’re just doing more of the same boring crap, then you’re just wasting everyone’s time. Grow meaningfully and with intent around a quality product, and all this live show stuff will lock in organically.
If you found this informative, I document some of the solutions on my Instagram series, #BaconsBits, which you can find on my page, @MattBacon666.