I remember the first time I went out on tour. It was just for one week but as a young musician I was really excited about travelling around the midwest and the south, playing music for people who had never heard my amazing band before. I still love touring, but that first trip taught me some valuable lessons.
I spent a few months researching venues and calling the contacts for each club that my band wanted to play. It was a lot of work figuring out logistics. We hit Dayton, OH, Georgiana, AL, Memphis, TN, Nashville (twice in one night at two different clubs), and Cincinnati, OH. Some shows were great, some were so so, but they all had one thing in common – no one came. We played for small crowds at every venue except Georgiana. I had put hours of work into booking my tour, but I completely dropped the ball on promotion.
Somehow I thought that if my band just had a little one or two sentence blurb in the local music rag, people would say, “Hey, let’s go check out this completely unknown band from out of town for absolutely no reason tonight!” I didn’t think about the fact that I personally never go check out new bands unless there is some compelling reason, such as a great interview or a friend who already knows and likes the group.
Every club told me the same thing. “Send us some flyers and we’ll put them up around the bar. We’ll also send in our listings to the local papers.” If you want people to see your band, you need to do more than that. First, you need to build a following locally, before you strike out on the road. But whenever you play a new town, you need to promote your show. Make sure you send a picture in to the local music rags, daily papers, and of course entertainment websites. A good picture makes it more likely that you will get a longer write up than the one line in the calendar. Also, write a press release. That way if the music editor doesn’t feel like interviewing you, she or he can simply copy your press release word for word. If you know people in town, ask them to come to your show. Personally invite them and ask them to bring their friends. Don’t play in towns where you don’t know anyone.
Consider hiring a promoter. I played a show last year that was sold out and standing room only. My band hired a local promoter for $100. For that fee she sent out a number of email blasts and wrote a facebook invite. She also contacted all of the local music journalists. We gave her a picture and wrote a very basic press release about our band and the particular show, and why the venue was awesome, and why you simply had to be there, etcetera, which she edited and improved. That $100 brought in 100 people who paid between $10 and $25 to see us play. We made a killing.
I’ll likely elaborate on this in a separate post, but a database to keep track of all of your contacts is an excellent idea.
You have an awesome band. You took the time to book a really great room. Don’t drop the ball on promotion. Especially these days when it is getting harder and harder to fill rooms. And never believe anyone who tells you, “We sort of have a built in crowd.”
Alex’s Bio: Alex Anest has been performing, recording and teaching music in the Southeast Michigan area since 1996. He was a founding member of the Jericho Guitar Trio, Never Nebula, and Delta 88. With Delta 88 Alex performed across the Midwest and played at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival in 2004. Since then he has toured Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy with songwriter Kevin Meisel. Alex currently performs with Ryan Racine and Gas for Less and the electric anti-jazz ensemble Giraffe. Giraffe is a chance for Alex to bring his many musical influences together – a very enjoyable, though sometimes difficult task for a musician who finds inspiration from artists as varied as Paco de Lucia, George Harrison, Thelonious Monk, and Jimi Hendrix. The common thread among these giants (and the goal to which Alex aspires) is the ability to transcend stylistic boundaries while keeping their own unique musical voice intact.