7 Ways to Engage Your Audience and Boost Engagement

Musicians of all genres and levels, from the small time troubadour to the international pop super star, spend time traveling up to play shows for the good people in all corners of the world. From huge festival stages to tiny coffee houses and everywhere in between, musicians hawk their wares in hopes that audience members will take home a piece of the evenings magic in the form of a CD, t-shirt, or even a vinyl record, that leave will them wanting more and eagerly awaiting the time you’ll bring your show back to their area. This merchandise serves as a business card of sorts, and getting a calling card in the hand of as many people’s hands as possible is the key to continued success. Though the initial sale puts gas in the tank and food in your belly, these reminders of you can provide you more opportunities to share your music in performance in the future. Are you looking for tips on how to improve your presence in the music scene? Having trouble making the connections? As one travels and learns through trial and error, this process becomes easier and your skills sharpen through years of experience. While there’s no substitute for getting out there and learning from your own mistakes and successes, I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned in my years on the road that I hope will help you with a head start on your music journey.

While I hope to share more experiences as this blog grows, there is on evening that stands out in my mind in my journey to learn about connecting with people and building an audience. Some years back, I was promoting a show in Ohio. Travelling to Ohio to fulfill these commitments was no small undertaking, and considering the extra travel and expenses, I was banking on CD sales to beef up my profit margin. After making the trek to Buckeye State, I was disappointed to learn that the show had not been promoted to the extent needed for a successful evening. The posters I sent the venue were never posted, and except for a small newspaper ad, no one in the area had any way to know about the show. When it rains, it pours, and as fate would have it, a major storm hit the area on the day of the show. Most of the people who might have attended stayed home out of the weather, and the show was surely going to be a flop. With hopes growing dimmer by the minute, I started to panic. However, drawing from the advice of mentors and my own experience, I determined that I must act fast if I were to going to be saved from a major financial setback. Marketing is about message and movement, so I jumped up from behind the merch table and began connecting with the folks seeking refuge from the storm outside by browsing the bookstore. I politely introduced myself, and to my surprise, many had heard about my performance, though they had not originally planned to attend. After making these connections and staying at the venue for longer than I had anticipated, I was able to sell all the CDs I had at my table. Though all hope seemed lost, I was able to salvage the evening through merch sales. This evening, along with countless others over my years of traveling, have taught me that while you need to have a good product to sell, human connection is the key to greater success in the music business.

Whether you are getting ready for a major tour or a set at your local farmer’s market, here’s some helpful hints to consider for increasing your success:

1. Promotion

First and foremost is the promotion of your event. If no one knows you are performing, how will they know to show up? There are many ways to promote your performances, both conventional and some that are less obvious. Posters, newspaper ads, and plugs on your own websites and newsletters are some of the most obvious ways to get the word. Being in touch with local media outlets, including local daytime TV programs and radio personalities who specialize in your type of music, will help promote your work. With social media becoming a prominent part of modern life, you promote your event via Facebook for little to no money as effectively you could through many more expensive outlets. Cultivating a strong social media presence is a must for success in the modern entertainment industry.

2. Show up early and stay late

Putting in the hours are key to success, and the music business is no exception. Show up early and establish good report with the venue staff, and a show a willingness to help. Being timely and easy to work with are marks of professionalism, and this makes the process easy for everyone involved. Being a pleasure to work with strengthens relationships and increases your chances of being asked back and good recommendations to other venues. Arriving early and staying late also allows you more time to connect with your audience. Audience members will be more likely to buy your merch and continue supporting you if you make them feel like you care (and if you don’t care, I’d suggest finding other work). If you are in a rush, experiences with audience members can easily turn sour, thus hurting your efforts. Allow yourself time to do your best work.

3. Workshops and Jamming

Being accessible is a key element of making connections that will lead to your continued involvement and success in the music. Workshops allow you to share your knowledge with up and comers seeking to hone their skills, but it allows gives fans new insight into what you do. A new understanding of your work may help gain you new followers. While the goal is to make money playing music, getting out and playing for fun with fans and potential collaborators builds connections that will allow you to keep coming back to events. Events are always eager book retuning “Fan Favorites,” and this is a good way get yourself in the good graces of fans and promoters alike.

4. Make friends

Building an audience and moving merch is much easier when you have plenty of friends in your corner. Establish a good relationship with venue owners and promoters before the event. Send them promotional material ahead of time and help promote their venue on your social media pages. Get to know the folks beforehand as well as you can, and it will be like meeting up with old friends by the time you make it to the venue. Being friends with writers and disk jockeys will also help spread the word, as they can get written promotional material in the front of the eyes of countless people who may otherwise miss you, and perhaps most importantly, get your music in the ears of radio listeners who can turn into fans and friends. Stop by radio stations that play your music when you’re in the area, and be sure to thank them for their support, both via written word and in-person visits. Cultivating meaningful friendship with other industry figures is critical for moving up in the music business.

5. Remember the bigger picture

While some events may not be the biggest money makers the day of, never lose sight of your larger goals. Working with venues large and small to provide them with a service that meets their needs will certainly help you continue your involvement with any scene, but remember, instant gratification seldom pays. As you build a following at venues, your ability to attract customers should eventually lead to a larger payout. Perhaps more importantly, if you can get your product in front of new people who will continue to support your efforts beyond that venue, that adds to the sustainability

6. Take names

If you have a way to get in touch with people once the book event is over, get as many contacts as you can. I would always recommend getting names and contacts from anyone that visits your record table and signing them up for your mailing lists. A presence in their email inbox will help you stay on their radar and keep them interested in your work. Giveaways are another good way to collect new contacts, while giving folks a thrill with the potential for winning a special prize.

7. Show Appreciation and Be Grateful

As you build an audience while working with venues, remember that your success is largely created by fans and venue owners. After a performance, it is always a kind gesture to thank as many people as you can. Send a thank you email to the new who have registered for your newsletter, and in case they missed it, offer them any special deals you were running at your performance, which could lead to more sales. In addition to fans, thank the people who worked your event. Tell venue owners and employees thank you in person, maybe drop them a handwritten thank you note later, and spread the love on social media. These are all great ways to leave a good impress for a return visit.

These tips are just the tip of the iceberg, but I hope these will help you in your journey down the road to success in the music business. Do you have a success story or a memorable experience selling merch you would love to share? Whether it’s about tricks you learned or tips on what NOT to do, I’d love to hear what works for you! If you’re serious about taking your CD to the next level and want to learn more beyond the bounds of this article, I’d love to chat about it with you!

The Jamboree Jitters!

Every year I get so excited as the Park Slope Bluegrass, Old-time Music Jamboree approaches! This year is no exception. We have a great family-friendly event planned for folks in the Brooklyn area. It’s so heartwarming to see all the kids come out to this event, some of them have instruments that are bigger than they are! But that doesn’t deter them one little bit, nosiree! We’re happy to support their efforts and encourage them to continue pursuing the bluegrass music that we all know and love.

Nora Brown

Nora Brown

So I’m thrilled to have 12-year old banjo champ, Nora Brown, performing as part of the Saturday evening concert lineup (9/16) which also includes Jim Gaudet and the Railroad Boys. Nora just took the blue ribbon at the Appalachian Stringband Festival and she is an amazingly talented performer. Reminds me of Hazel Dickens. You folks are in for a treat Saturday night! Plus Nora has graciously offered to lead a workshop earlier in the day geared to young banjo enthusiasts and I’m sure it will be a popular choice among event attendees.

We also have a special kid’s presentation from 3:15 to 4:15 that will include songwriting and a performance of that song by all those who attend the presentation! So bring your young ‘uns and enjoy a wonderful day on Saturday, Sept. 16th, at the Old Stone House located at 336 Third St. in Brooklyn. Click here to download the 2017 Schedule.  See you there!

Kicking It on Route 66 and more!

I’ve been keeping pretty busy this summer with the movie project but we’re still hitting the festivals and performing in concert! The west coast band just got back from the Wildlife West Music Festival, a great event near Albuquerque, NM and earlier in June we performed at the Route 66 Bluegrass Festival in Victorville, CA.

The east coast band will be in concert at the historic Tompkins Corners Cultural Center in Putnam Valley next weekend and, of course, we have the Park Slope Jamboree coming up on September 15th and 16th.

It’s been a travel-packed summer so far with more on the horizon, but you’ll have to wait until later to read all about that! Hope you had a fun-filled summer vacation!

Chatting with DJ Darwin Davidson of WERU

WERU BangorAt the IBMA World of Bluegrass conference, I had a chance to sit down and talk with Darwin Davidson, DJ for WERU radio in Bangor, ME and host of the popular Bronzewound Bluegrass Show. We had a great time chatting about the album, bluegrass music and the music industry. The show just aired but in case you missed it, you can click here to listen in:   WERU Interview. As a bonus, you’ll get to hear 3 songs from my new album, Rhyme & Season! Enjoy!!

An Early Christmas Present

RMR 12-10 Chart   I just wanted to send out a big ole “Thank You!” for the incredible response you’ve given to my new album “Rhyme & Season.” A good friend of mine contacted me over the weekend and said, “Did you know that your album is charting on Roots Music Report?” I’ve been so busy lately that I hadn’t bothered to check in a while and sure enough, there it is, listed at number 37 and rising on the Roots Music Report Contemporary Bluegrass Chart. What a great early Christmas present, especially since it came from all of you!!!

I sure hope you and yours have a wonderful and blessed Holiday Season!



Can You Help?

I want to let you know about a charity event that I will be participating in this December. It’s called the Cure GM1 Charity Concert. The folks that have organized this event, andGM1 Poster some of those participating in it, have young children that have been diagnosed with a rare, and fatal, disease called GM1. Those living with GM1 must watch as their children lose the ability to walk, stand, speak, even swallow. Their vibrant lives are cut drastically short. But there is good news. A cure may be on the horizon thanks to promising research from Auburn and UMass Medical Schools. All that’s lacking to gain FDA approval is the required testing. I know that you can’t all drive down to Tucson, AZ and support this fundraising effort, but you can donate online. Please consider the Cure GM1 Foundation as you plan your holiday giving. Every little bit helps move them closer to possibly having a cure by 2017. Thank you and God bless.

The World of Bluegrass Just Got Bigger!

Hi folks! I just got back from the 2016 World of Bluegrass conference. What a week! I’m planning to share more of the happenings with you in the upcoming Barnstormer Newsletter next month but thought you might like a sneak peek!

The highlight of the week was, of course, the IBMA award show. Hobnobbing with Bluegrass Unlimited’s Kitsy Kuykendall, bluegrass legend Ronnie Reno, my buddy Larry Stephenson of the Larry Stephenson Band, as well as all the good folks from Bluegrass Today before the show was so much fun. But I had no idea what an emotional experience was in store when I arrived that evening. You could have knocked me and a whole bunch of other folks over with a feather when my dear friend, Danny Paisley’s name was called as the Male Vocalist of the Year. I’ve known Danny for just about his whole career. We’ve played at the same festivals, clawing for every scrap of meat off the bluegrass bone we could get. It brought tears to my eyes and to those around me, to see him stand up there, obviously shaken, and accept his award. And he certainly deserved the win. Wow! What a thrill!! Congratulations Danny…you are an inspiration to us all!

Porch Talk with Dave Berry

I was just sitting down with a cup of coffee and the California Bluegrass Association’s July newsletter when I saw the article about James Reams & The Barnstormers! I remembered giving the interview to Dave Berry shortly after our new album, Rhyme & Season, hit the streets…but honestly, I had forgotten all about it! What a nice surprise (and great article too!). I thought I’d post it here in case any of you are interested in checking it out.

CBA Porch Talk with Dave Berry 7-16

Music to My Ears

Releasing a concept album unleashes a whole lot of questions from listeners…and that’s a good thing! Many of you have wanted to know why I chose the songs that appeared on my new album “Rhyme & Season.” Others, mostly reviewers, wanted to know why I called the album “Rhyme & Season.” And lately I’ve been getting more questions about the homeless and how you can get involved. THAT’S music to my ears!!

Behind the Songs LogoI’ve sent out six announcements that delve into the reasons for each song choice as well as the reason for the album. In case you missed any of them, I’ve posted them on the website under Recordings>Rhyme & Season>Behind the Songs. You’ll also find the lyrics and the names of bandmates that were featured on each song.

I love receiving your comments and hope that you’ll let me know how this collection of songs moved you. You can email me at info@jamesreams.com.

Rhyme & Season is Mighty Pleasin’

Nominations3I admit, I was holding my breath while waiting to hear what the critics thought about my new album, Rhyme & Season. Putting out an album is like cooking up an 11 or 12 course feast and hoping that folks like what you have done. The wait can be terrifying and sometimes the comments can be brutal. Thank goodness everyone really seems to like Rhyme & Season! I thought you might like to glance through some comments that have been received so far.

  • “James Reams’ bluegrass may not be everyone’s, but there is little chance of it being labeled generic: rough around the edges, solid to the soul! Bluegrass concept albums remain rare, and on this wide-ranging collection of singular songs, Reams and his Barnstormers have crafted an intense and sympathetic portrait of turbulent times. Reflecting the forgotten, disenfranchised, discarded, and troubled, ‘Rhyme & Season’ is a mighty powerful return to the recording studio for one of bluegrass music’s most independent and evocative visionaries.” – Donald Teplyske, Reviewer for Country Standard Time
  • “James Reams has walked the walk of those who have been cast aside. Now, in Rhyme & Season, he talks the talk. Actually, he sings it…with conviction. There is an authentic, gritty feel to the music that can’t be faked. This fine record will become an important part of the dialog about those who are down and out, left behind and marginalized.” – David Morris award winning songwriter and journalist, Reviewer for Bluegrass Today
  • “Rhyme & Season had me mesmerized the entire time it was playing.  It amazes me how [James] can continually raise the bar with each project.  The lyrics of each song fit him like a glove and the instrumental [portion] of the project was superb.” – Al Shusterman, KCBL Radio, “Backroads Bluegrass” program host
  • “James Reams has seen his share of tough times and they’ve clearly shaped who he is both musically and spiritually. This collection of tunes not only tells a beautiful story, but is beautiful to listen to. James’ unique voice and killer band carries you blissfully throughout the journey, a journey that James has chosen to use as a way to bring awareness to, and benefit the less fortunate. Good on you, James!” – Tony Kamel, Wood & Wire
  • “James Reams’ new album [Rhyme & Season] is loaded with some of the best contemporary/traditional bluegrass music you’re likely to hear this year or any year.” – Mitch Finley, Music Reviewer for Inland Northwest Bluegrass Music Association
  • “[Rhyme & Season’s] first song sucked me right in…I love the rockabilly sound of ‘Born to Roll.’ Your albums always tell a great story – that’s one of the things I’ve always liked about your music.” – Barb Heller, Program Host for NCPR Radio