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:
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!