So you finally got your gigs booked? Hate to break it you, but you still have a long road ahead of you. Now the hard part comes…you have to get people to show up! But don’t sweat it. Many independent artists struggle with the same, simple question: How do I promote my shows? The process can seem overwhelming, especially when you’re trying to do it on your own. This month we consider what goes into a live show with an overview of how major promoters market their shows and events. You’ll find that you can follow a lot of the same guidelines for your own gigs!
Reviewing the process with CCM Indie is Steve Markoff, Creative Director at Tourdesign Creative, a Live Nation company that specializes in production, post-production and other account services for a wide variety of artists and tours. Steve oversees the production of all print, radio and television commercials, while also envisioning how they relate to a tour’s marketing collateral. He also knows a thing or two about concert promotions and offers some valuable insight.
How early do promoters begin marketing shows or tours?
“Promoters like to market their shows with as much advanced notice as possible,” Steve says. “At least a couple solid months of marketing behind each show.” What’s unfortunate, Steve reveals, is that the bigger the band is, the less advanced warning for shows there tends to be. This is because many bigger tours, especially those during the winter season, are organized and put up very quickly.
“For example,” he begins, “with Van Halen, Tourdesign didn’t have approved materials until the first week of January, and the first show date was set for the second week of February 2012. On the flip side, a tour such as Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, whose tour is playing stadiums, had their materials approved and ready to go by the end of 2011 for shows that aren’t playing until April and May 2012.”
Promoters like to use more time to market when a show is a risk or gamble in any way. Before Florence + The Machine played The Lawn at White River State Park in Indianapolis (an over 6,000-capacity venue), they typically played 1,500-capacity venues. For a show like that, promoters wanted as much time they could get to strategically market and build buzz for the show. Florence’s party gave themselves four or five months of solid lead time, and by the end of it, the show completely sold out and was one of the single biggest shows for Florence at the time.
The fact of the matter is: there’s no REAL answer. Sometimes promoters do not need a lot of buildup time, and sometimes they do. There are industry standards but those can skew in certain circumstances. In Tourdesign’s instance with Van Halen, they weren’t given enough time to market according to promotional standards, but the buzz factor alone was able to generate ticket sales and sold-out shows. “It all depends on when a tour is announced and brought into fruition,” Steve comments.
What goes into the process of promoting a show or tour?
The standard for most major tours is to start with a print ad, targeting it towards all local publications (such as an LA Weekly type paper). This is then followed by radio, and then depending on how ticket sales are doing for the show or tour, followed by a television spot. On the other hand, for more independent bands, they typically stick to print ads and web-related materials, with an emphasis on going more viral. However, a lot of the process is dictated on the audience itself. Bands like Van Halen or Guns N’ Roses who are currently going on tour typically attract an older demographic, so marketing dollars are better spent towards local radio and local television because that’s where their audience lives. That’s where their listeners are most likely going to see the exposure. On the other hand, for bands on the rise like The Black Keys, marketing dollars are better spent on web-related materials for the same reason: that’s where their audience lives.
A smart promoter will usually know how to best market to his or her audience. Based on the show they are promoting, they know the steps they need to take to make sure people are going to be enticed to go to it. Much of this comes from years of experience and saturation throughout local markets. Big promoters know how to target audiences because they live within them. Live Nation has offices throughout the country and across the world. Because of this wide reach, their offices in specific markets are able to fine-tune their efforts according to where they are located. Live Nation Indianapolis has specific email lists for fans who have bought tickets to shows. Promoters also work within local environments, and they use street teams to better understand the marketplace. Based on their experience and their company’s muscle, they can generally predict which kind of people are going to go to which shows. They can then adjust their strategies accordingly to make sure seats fill up and their artists have successful shows.
Now if only it were that easy for independents, right? Believe it or not, there are many ways you can mimic the process of promoting a show just like the pros, all while doing it on your likely not-so-glorious budget. As a commonly known rule of thumb, dollars spent towards online marketing are much cheaper than doing radio and television advertisements. This is great news for you, independent artist, because the Internet 1) does not require an agent or a record label, and 2) is most likely where 99% of your audience can be reached. But before you jump into it, assign milestones to your career. What are your overall goals? Knowing where you want to go will make sure your efforts are consistent throughout. Consider the different elements to your musical breadth: shows, tours, albums and new songs. Understand there are differences between all of these things, so split them up and promote them accordingly. It will make the process much less daunting and overwhelming. If you’re on a really tight budget, there are ways to promote your shows that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Focus on local newspapers or music publications, and always make your music available online so show attendees can follow up with you afterward. Start an email list that provides subscribers with an upcoming show itinerary. Invite your friends and family to sign up, and encourage listeners to sign up who come to your gigs. Why not even offer free stuff at your shows, big or small.
Just like any good major promoter has to understand his or her target audience when marketing a show, so do you. Build your brand locally and get a good buzz factor going for yourself. Gain support from the city where you operate out of so people know your music what you represent. If you are embarking on a tour, think locally for each gig too. Your efforts will most likely change from city to city. Consider all the advertising elements that are feasible for you and your budget – print, radio, college campus networks – and do your homework. Is there an independent radio station that will showcase new, emerging artists? What are the best local newspapers or magazines to get exposure for your musical niche? Research web-related elements in each city, too. Search for popular blogs or entertainment websites – most local weekly’s have websites with sections dedicated to music or entertainment, and these entertainment sections typically have event calendars. Add your show to those calendars, and invite people to attend on Facebook. Give away a free download before the show and remind people to come. If you can make some connections, invite industry insiders to your shows and spoil them a little bit. Keep track of everyone you meet and follow up with anyone who could be a good connection for you. You have to put yourself out there, but remember to never force it. Follow-up is key, but only when done so in a way that is enticing, not suffocating or annoying. People will come to you if they’re interested. You just have to make yourself readily available.
Most importantly, give people something to talk about. Listeners are bombarded by music daily, so you need to stand out in some special way. Making it in music is already tough enough, so make it a little easier on yourself by going the distance to be different. Promoting your shows is never easy, but enlist some friends to help you get the word out there. Your gigs will thank you for the effort!