Hacking the Performance Business: Part 5 – Promotion


It’s not as simple as “if you book it, they will come.”

When it comes to performance, promotion is the art and science of drawing people to your shows. Whether you’ve got a guarantee or a door deal, that’s where the value is over the long term — heads through the door.

There is a true creative art in show promotion — from the literal artwork on the show poster, to the art of social networking to draw commitments to be there.

Then there is the science: growing the geography and demography of your fan base, hypothesizing about what size crowds you can draw at which venues in which locations.

The Art of Promotion

Much the same way you are the manager until you get one, you are the show promoter if there is none.

The venue has a responsibility to promote the show itself, or work with a professional promoter. However, that responsibility is only as big as the venue’s capacity and reputation.

For example, small venues can be expected to hang up flyers, but you will often have to supply them. Your expectations should be low in general, and you should expect to pick up a lot of the slack when it comes to promoting the show. If you’re good at it, you might even earn some side money from the venue promoting other shows and networking with other musicians.

On the other hand, a large venue should not be giving you tickets to sell and paying you a commission, or telling you that it’s 100% your responsibility to promote the show. A large venue with a sizable budget has no excuse to put the financial risk of doing the show entirely on you.

This is where the balance lies: between being ready to accept full responsibility for promoting your own show if the venue unexpectedly flakes out, while at the same time working with the venue and promoters to ensure your expectations of their promotional responsibilities are clear and met.

Performance Promotion Checklist

If you’re not doing every single one of these things for each of your performances and tours, you’re missing a key part of the strategy.

Branding – Each performance should be strongly branded. Remember, only a small fraction of the people who see your promotion will show up, but they all will be exposed to your promotional message. If you tour, the whole tour should be branded. For example, if you release an album, you might brand the subsequent tour by heavily referencing the album title, concept, artwork, etc. The next level above that is creating a breakaway brand for the show or tour, with its own title, concept, artwork, etc. that references or relates to your band’s brand.

Artwork – This can be an illustration, photograph, design, or just a flyer with a few things scribbled on it. Try not to just scribble though, because you cannot underestimate the power of artwork to draw people to your show.

Poster – Display your artwork on a poster. Print and copy for hanging in the real world, but design with the web in mind (it should grab attention as a thumbnail image). Bonus points for printing or silkscreening limited edition posters to sell before, during and after the show.

Event Listing – Don’t forget to list the show on your official website after you make your Facebook Event page, both of which are musts. If there are tickets, all your links should point to the page to buy tickets — if not, point to RSVP on Facebook. There are a variety of services that notify fans of performances in their area by their favorite bands, Bandsintown is just one example. You should seek out a presence in every niche of the digital performance promotion space as your fan base grows.

Fan Outreach – We’ve discussed the importance of fan relationship management, or having some sort of way to track your individual fans. At its most basic level, this is your email list (we like Mailchimp.) But we encourage bands to at least step it up to a spreadsheet to track your most dedicated fans. By including information like City and State, this database will be a cornerstone of your fan outreach as your geographic touring range grows. Advanced platforms like FanBridge exist for when your spreadsheet or email marketing platform become unwieldy.

Beyond Fan Outreach – Contacting your fans in the area is a no-brainer. They’ll probably come anyway, whether you promote or not. Forget about them and focus on people who are on the fence, the people who need to be convinced this is the show to be at. There is no growth if you’re only promoting to the converted.

Channels – Channels are complimentary to fan outreach. They’re where your fans in that area are hanging out, whether it be online through Facebook or in real life at a pizza place. In addition to identifying which of your die-hard fans is are in range of attending your performance, it’s great to know where to reach them and their friends. Be on Facebook. Have a flyer in the pizza place. Know the channels.

Touches – Each time a potential show-goer is targeted with your promotion, and each time they pay attention, that counts as a “touch”. It usually takes multiple touches to get people out to a show. Your biggest opportunities are when the show is first announced, and a few days before the show, so focus your energy there. The art is in not inundating fans with touches between the announcement and the run-up, but still providing enough to pull them in. Think of the announcement as planting a seed. You have to water the idea of going to the show so that it blooms right as everyone else is getting excited about going.

The Science of Show Promotion

Growing your audience and expanding your booking opportunities is a matter of successful show promotion.

The success of your show promotion can crudely measured by adding time and money spent promoting, the dividing the sum by heads through the door.

A simple example: If your time is worth $20/hr. and two band members spent 4 hours each hanging up $50 worth of posters, that’s $210 worth of expense. If 21 people show up, you’d be paying $10 per head. Not great. If 210 people show, all of the sudden you’re paying $1 a head and things are looking great.

These types of calculations help you figure out when and where you can expand your touring geography. Your ability to expand into new territories relies on your ability to promote those shows. You’ll also be able to know what to ask for as a guarantee, or what to expect from the door, if you can predict turnout based on previous promotions.

Show promotion really is an art, and is wildly different for each musician. However, you should analyze your results scientifically to see if your promotional hypotheses play out as you predicted.

As we’ll review next in part 6: Touring, growing a fan base through performance is a cycle of returning to geographic locations to ever bigger crowds by (a) giving a legendary performance that will be talked about and (b) successfully promoting the show so even people who have never heard your music feel compelled to be there.

(CC-BY-SA) photo credit: Jaymis