Over my years in the music industry, I’ve seen many, many live shows, both from the stage and from the audience. This means I’ve seen bands make the same mistakes time and time again.
And because I’m guilty of making these mistakes too, I created lists of some of the ways bands can avoid these pitfalls without too much effort. These are four easy-to-develop performing habits that contribute to long-term success and to making bigger, better impressions on both new audiences and fans.
Without giving an extensive Grammy acceptance speech, thank the other artists on the bill for playing, the sound guy for doing a great job, the venue for having you, and everyone who set up the show. You’ll seem humble and grateful to the audience, the other artists will be open to working with you again since you’ve proven you’re not an ass*#^, and people who don’t usually have the spotlight shone on them (like the sound guy or gal) will appreciate your support.
The venue probably won’t be huffing and puffing about how rude you were if you forget your thank yous, but it will always be noticed and appreciated when you do do it. Don’t forget to thank your fans for coming, too. Maybe find out who had the longest drive to come see you, and give him or her a free album or T-shirt.
+ Learn more on Soundfly: Building your mailing list and maintaining healthy fan relationships are two ways you can guarantee early traction on your next funding campaign. Learn more in Crowdfunding for Musicians.
Many artists feel uncomfortable promoting themselves onstage. I don’t like doing it either, believe me. It feels cheesy and even a little cheap. But it’s essential for artists to promote their newest album or projects, even if it makes them a bit uncomfortable. And audiences don’t find it unnatural either, it’s your show, they understand that this is why you’re here.
Remember, nobody else will do this for you unless you have a major label behind you. Even then, the most successful artists still mention their wares onstage. Promote everything — your records, your shirts, exclusive merch or sales on the old stuff, your mailing list, and socials.
If you’re on a tour, it’s also important to promote your next show, particularly if it’s somewhere nearby. Find a way to do it that appeals to who you are as an artist. Think about what your fans might like to hear you say. All the promotion in the world does no good if it doesn’t come off as genuine.
If it helps ease the stress, come up with a script you can memorize. Better yet, let one of your band members do it (assuming you’re in a band). During my touring days, my bass player had a gregarious and infectious personality. He was instantly nominated as the one to promote and talk up the band at shows.
Support the other acts on the bill
If you’re playing with other artists, it’s important to show up early (if you can) and watch other bands perform. Not only does this help build a rapport and increase your social sphere, but it may lead to more opportunities.
My band got to one gig incredibly early thanks to my guitar player’s lead foot on the gas pedal. We met with the opening band and offered to help them unload and set up. They were grateful, and we struck up a friendship. By the end of the night, we had an offer to play a show with them in a market we hadn’t yet broken into.
By contrast, I’ve seen experienced acts do the complete opposite, and it always looks bad. At one show I attended, the opening act — a popular regional band — packed the venue. The band following them was thrilled to play to a wall-to-wall crowd. Unfortunately, the opening band then invited everyone in the crowd downstairs for drinks, so the headliner played to no one, and it left a bad taste lingering for a while.
+ Read more on Flypaper: “Booking a Tour? Why Not Try Booking Two Instead?!”
Connect with your audience
Current and potential fans respond to personal connection. I’ve seen quite a few bands walk offstage after a gig, pack up their stuff, and go home. While sometimes this is necessary — if you’ve got to be at another gig in another city with a long drive, for example — most of the time it pays to hang out and network.
You should be mingling in the crowd or standing by your merch table. Strike up a conversation with people attending the show. It can be intimidating to talk to strangers, but if nothing else, you have one thing in common — music. Try to find out it’s someone’s birthday and dedicate a song to them onstage or give them a free CD. A friend of mine did this at a recent show and it built so much trust with the rest of the audience that he ended up selling a ton more merch that night, simply because of the gesture!
With gestures like that, odds are that you’ll make at least one long-term fan; he or she will remember that show for a long time, and it might help you get comfortable interacting personally with your audiences in the process.
And why not take it a step further? When people sign up for your email list, make a note of their name and send them a personalized message:
Hey, John! Great to see you at the gig in Bowling Green. We’re going to be in the area next month and would love for you to stop by! Let me know if you’re around and we’ll put you on the guest list.
Social media is the most powerful way to connect, and stay connected with your fans, and you should be posting every day. Pictures from the stage (some artists take selfies with the crowd), pictures and updates from the road, a thoughtful message, some lyrics you’re working on, or even twenty-second snippets of your performance. To keep in line with merchandise giveaways, think about running a contest to build engagement during periods of slower activity.
The possibilities are endless. The point is, you’re engaging and keeping your followers engaged. That’s how you create long-lasting fans.
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