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16 easy ways to make the most of your gigs

  • By AndyVale
  • 22 November 2013

This is an update of a blog I wrote for musicbud.co.uk last year. Since then I've put on even more gigs, from upcoming acts in pubs to established acts playing in rooms that hold thousands. I've found that all of these points are still relevant and still need sharing.

We've had a couple of decent posts on here recently that look at how to book gigs, and how hard you need to work at your gigging. But this one, to me, is a point that a lot of acts neglect. How to make the most of those gigs, how to work smarter. What can you do to turn crowd members into fans, to get fans coming again, to get promoters booking you again, getting the venue to want you back?

I've had a long think about why some artists are forgotten soon after their set and why some manage to forge a fanbase in a town from just one or two shows. How come some acts don't get a second booking? I've also thought about why various problems occur at some shows and how you, as an artist, can avoid them.

These tips will (hopefully) help you get booked again, increase audience retention from shows and make your shows run a little smoother. I've tried to make points that can be applied to upcoming artists of most genres, set-ups and styles. On top of this, you should end up enjoy the gigging experience more as well:

- Be prepared

As usual, I'm starting with the simple ones because people still get them wrong. Have a checklist of things to do/bring for every gig. Know where the venue is and how long it will take to get there. Have a basic promotion strategy and follow it. Make sure you have all the necessary contact details for everyone involved in the show and that they have yours. Problems may come up, but if you've got your act together then you should be able to deal with them.

- Be punctual

You might think that you can rock up when you like, bang out a quick soundcheck and everything will be alright. Sometimes this is the case, but on the one time it isn't you will look like a fool. Not the promoter, not the venue staff, not the other acts, just you. Turning up late without a good reason also wins you zero friends.

Ain't that right Justin?

- Keep connected

Following on from that, sometimes things do happen that disrupt you on your way to a show. A lot of damage control can be done by keeping people in the loop. The promoter, the sound man, your band mates or anyone else who will need you at a certain time before the show. It may annoy them a bit, but at least they are aware of the situation and can work around it. They'll appreciate it far more than if you make them guess your whereabouts.

- Respect the other artists

I cannot fathom how some artists expect people to listen to them, but they won't listen to other people or even remember their names. I have deliberately not re-booked some artists because they played their set and spent the rest of the night talking loudly at the bar with their mates instead of watching the other acts, or just left without reason. Show some manners to the other bands, encourage your fans to do similar, and hopefully they'll repay the favour. Everyone wins!

- Be nice

Related to the last one, but important enough to warrant its own point. Don't be a pushover, but having a smile on your face and being calm can help many situations. Also, people know each other and bad reputations can spread quickly. One night of acting like a diva can very easily get you blacklisted from every nearby venue. Not everyone can get away with acting like Axl Rose.

- Always get something from your show

A band doesn't ever have to play for nothing. You may not get paid for a show but you can still get emails, pick up fans, sell merch and spread your name. This stuff is still a valuable currency for an upcoming artist. Be proactive about it and you can walk out of almost any gig with 20 new emails, 10 CDs sold, and a couple of potentially useful business cards.

- Have something to give out

Flyers, badges, stickers or anything else which is cheap with your name on it are still important marketing tools for an upcoming act. Shocker, but your set may not be the main reason people are going out. You may only represent a portion of their night and there's every chance that you won't be the first thing they think about in the morning. But if you've given them something to remember you by then you may turn a bystander into a curious new fan.

- Tell people where you'll be after the show

Wherever possible, you should be looking to take advantage of your set straight afterwards. Heading out to the merch stand to sign CDs and chat? Tell the crowd. Gonna take a five minute break to powder your nose before you get there? Tell the crowd. Gonna be skipping home to watch that illegally imported DVD from Amsterdam? Lie.

- Remember the sound guy/gal's name

Duh. You can't be reminded of this one enough. The person on the desk can make or break your night. At least have the manners to learn their name, even if they suck.

- Good crowd? Get some pictures!

It's crazy how few bands/photographers get a couple of decent crowd snaps during the gig. People love being reminded of a good time, so whack up some pics of them enjoying themselves on your page. Let them tag away and drive up traffic to your corner the net. It also makes you look good.

Photo by Tomodo, Rizzle Kicks at University of Surrey Students Union, Guildford, 2011

- Your show includes the bits between songs

Getting the audience patter is a fine skill. Two of the biggest mood-killers at gigs are either long periods of silence/tuning, or inanely confused chat between songs. For this I refer back to the first point, preperation. If you know which bits of your set require a line-up change, tuning, or for you to give the song some context, then plan something to make the transition as smooth as possible. This can either be a well chosen short story, the rest of the band playing some music or even just a joke about getting there. None of this is quite as important as having a killer song or two, but it may make the difference between you looking like a decent pub singer and you looking like a professional performer.

- Give the audience a chance to participate

The exciting thing about this is it can create a slightly different show each time. Have a basic percussion instrument and invite an audience member to come up and play it. Have a "dance-off". Offer to buy a drink for the person who... you can come up with your own stuff. It adds a bit of excitement as there is an unpredictable variable involved.

- Invite press and media along

Most gigs get no press because nobody tries to get any. Ask the venue in advance if there are any local papers, radio stations or good bloggers in the area. Get in contact with them and offer to do an interview in the lead up to your show. Offer them a few MP3s to help with promo and maybe even a guest-list spot for a reviewer. If you're not a particularly big name then larger organisations may not be interested. But if you are covered by a lot of smaller brands then the total awareness created by it can be a reasonabley strong force.

- Learn from the crowd

Your friends and family might tell you everything you want to hear, but a live crowd has zero cares about your precious feelings. Their feedback will be the most honest, and useful, you could ever receive. Look at how they regularly react to the songs, sections and features of your performance. What makes the crowd thin out? What gets people nodding along? What causes them to start chatting amongst themselves? What gets them to shut up and listen? If something's continually not working, be ruthless.

- Say thanks (and mean it)

To the crowd for coming out, for the other acts for playing, and to the venue for having you. Do it on stage, do it on your social media pages after the show too. Unless there is a really really good reason not to, you should get into the habit of doing this. Again, I don't mean to patronise you but there are still acts who make zero effort with this stuff.

- Get a contract

We've all heard horror stories of bands doing shows and the promoter/venue not paying them what was earlier agreed. Regardless of who is in the right or wrong, 9 times out of 10 a contract signing could've sorted out the issue. "He told me over the phone we would get £1000..." simply will not cut it in a court of law. A contract doesn't need to be too complex and there are guides out there to help you draft up a simple one

Yeah, something like that will do...

Are you a promoter, musician, or venue owner? What are some ways that you think bands could make the most of their gigs?

An old saying about musicians:

Amateurs practice until they can get it right, professionals practice until they can't get it wrong.

I believe that this applies to the "business" side of it too. So if any of this seems daunting, then take them on one at a time. Get in the habit of doing them and you'll soon find yourself doing it instinctively. Hopefully you'll have more enjoyable and effective shows as a result.

Andy is a Supajam writer who has had music-based roles at numerous Commerical, BBC and Student radio stations over the last 6 years. He is also a music promoter in the South-East of the UK. He has a website where he interviews musicians with only one question, and he is currently typing in third-person. You can tweet abuse at him if you fancy letting off some steam.