Shows: Which Ones to Play, When to Play Them, and Why
"In light of Mondays post (9/29/14), we thought it would be important to talk about the different types of shows out there and give you a comprehensive understanding of the types of shows you should be taking at certain stages in your career depending on what city you are in and depending on the timing. Yea, that’s a mouthful, but stick with us and you*ll get what we mean.
This is the gig you take when you’re in a city for the first time. Nobody knows who you are and you’re relying solely on the coffeeshop’s regular foot traffic to be your audience. The owner is most likely not paying you a dime but will probably feed you. Some musicians reading this will not want to take this type of show, but until you have a solid audience and can gaurantee a draw, most established venues will not want to book you in their venue. But if you know what’s good for you, you’ll take the fans that you didn’t have to work for and slowly build your audience until you have enough of a fanbase to begin playing ticketed rooms. Coffeehouse gigs are often free to the public, but depending on the venue and if they have established themselves also as a legit concert venue, they will charge a cover. Check out our past interview with the folks of Burlap & Bean to see what we mean: An Interview w/ Burlap & Bean: Turning Your Venue Into a Destination.
This is the spot you play if you have covers and want to get paid an ”ok” amount for playing a 3-4 hour gig. Most bars bring in artists for happy hour or late night shows that usually start around or after 9pm. You don’t play here if you have *sleepy* music. You play here if you have solid pop/rock tunes that people can nod their head to while drinking and catching up with friends after work or on the weekend. Bars and coffeehouses are similar in that you dont have to work much to get people out and you can normally get by with playing for regular patrons (depending on the night of the week). But you can be smart and capitalize on both settings by turning those passive listeners into real fans that will come out to your shows in other venues.
The DIY Venue
This is one of those spots that requires a little bit of work. DIY’s are generally more open to non-established acts and exist to support the arts community. DIY venues range anywhere from art galleries to storefronts that turn their space into a venue at night to studios or Art Co-ops. Some DIY’s donate their space to artists. Some charge a rental fee that is usually very nominal in comparison to other spaces. Often times you’ll have to provide your own sound, setup chairs and tables, and do a lot of leg work to make the show happen. This is the type of show you take if you want more control over what’s happening the night of the show. Traditional venues are a lot more hands on, so this type of show can be much easier to manage or it can be exponentially more complicated. This post will help you: 4 Tips for Doing a Killer DIY Show.
The Ticketed Show
This is the gig you play when you are in a city where you have a draw and you know people will buy tickets. Like we said above, you might want to do a free show a few times while you’re building your fanbase and hold off of playing ticketed shows for a while. Your call. But ticketed shows require a bit more hustle b/c you have a hurdle in between you and the fan. Some people love your music but not enough to pay for it. If you feel like you have enough fans who are committed enough to pay to see you, then you can charge. The more devoted your fans are the higher your tickets get. Now sometimes you can do a ticketed show simply because the venue you’re playing in doesn’t do free shows – they want their cut, so all their gigs require cover. Often if a venue has a reputation of charging cover, and patrons are used to it, then charging a cover isn’t a big deal. It’s really all about expectations. Charging cover in coffeehouse and bars (that aren’t established venues) can be tricky because oftentimes owners are afraid that it will hurt their business – i.e. fewer sales on drinks/food. And since thats where they make most of their money, these spots normally prefer to have you play for tips, pay you upfront (rarely), or give you a percentage of what they make in food/drink sales. Another important thing to remember is that playing a ticketed show on a weekend is very different than playing a ticketed show on a weekday. It might be easy to draw 30 ticket-buyers on a Saturday night in Washington D.C., but think twice about about charging cover on a Monday. Weigh your options and examine all the variables.
The Free Show
We’ve pretty much covered this already but free shows are great! An artist has got to make money at some point, but free shows allow you to get your foot in the door. You’re essentially *paying your dues* until you’ve earned your following.
The Weekend Show
Play this in places where it makes sense. If you’ve got a strong following in Washington D.C. and a not-so-great following in Philly, do the Philly show on Thursday and the D.C. show on Friday. Play weekends in cities that are your strongest markets. Weekend shows are your bread and butter. Good weekend shows make terrible weekday shows less painful and they also help you to continue growing your fanbase in the cities that you’re really blooming in. Weekend shows in cities where you have no following are great when you’re doing something where you don’t have to work for an audience – big art festival, house concert, benefit concert…etc. If there is a huge expected turnout, take the weekend show in a new city. It’s one less thing to promote and an excellent opportunity for building your fanbase in a new market.
The Midweek Show
These often dont go so well. Lets just be honest. Midweek shows, for the average independent artist, have smaller turnouts and less buzz simply because the average person (sadly) doesn’t go out to see live indie music on a weekday. I hate admitting this, but it’s true. However, Midweek shows can go well if you pick the right ones. Look for venues that host singer/songwriter showcases or featured artists during their open mics. Usually if a venue puts you on the bill for an event they personally promote and sign their name to, there is very little pressure for you to draw and the event normally has a solid following. It might even be worth taking an early evening gig at a restaurant during dinner hour just to get some exposure, get a small paycheck, and cover your expenses. Whatever happens, dont get discouraged by crappy midweek gigs.
The “Everyone Goes to This Show” Show
These types of shows are AWESOME! These are monthly First Friday-type events that happen in cities all across the country. They can be First Fridays, Second Saturdays, Third Thursdays and other cleverly named community events that serve as cultural shindigs in neighborhoods. Play these as often as you can. Nothing beats playing for hundreds of people who are passing through during a gallery crawl or monthly street festival.
The Music Festival
This kinda feels like the “Everyone Goes to This Show” show. You don‘t have to work for an audience, there are people everywhere, and in most cases you only have to play 45 min to an hour. These shows are great for your career because they involve maximum exposure with very little up front work. They often pay really well but we think free Music and Art Festivals are also worthwhile. In most cases you always sell alot of merch. Try to play as many music and art festivals as you can. You‘ll get new fans and leads for future shows and its a great tway to break in to a new city.
The Support Show
No, this isnt just any gig where you open for your friend’s band. This is the gig where you open as support for Rusted Roots or Ingrid Michaelson or some other group! This is the gig you get the opportunity to play when you’ve built a solid following in a city and the venue knows you can bring a strong turnout to the venue on the day of the show. Its also extremely beneficial for you because you can tell everyone you opened up for a huge artist, you can stick it on you calendar, and you also get major exposure to tons of new ears. These type of gigs don’t come unless you’ve really created a presence in any given city and both you and the venue know you can draw.
The House Show
We talk about house concerts all the time on this blog. We love them! House shows are the perfect gig for any day of the week….but especially weekends. They work no matter where you are. Even if you’re in a city with no draw, that one die-hard fan who hosts you will pull out all of his/her friends and make it worthwhile (if its done right). House Concerts especially come in handy on Sunday nights when you’re on the road, having a hard time filling in that last hole and need a non-public venue to play. Play as many house concerts as you can. It’s a great way to build a real connection with your fans. Read 3 Tips For Having a Great House Concert.
The College Show
In a weird way college shows are a lot like house concerts. You dont really need to have a fanbase. You just need that one student who loves you (preferably one who is on the Student Activities Board) and wants to expose you to her friends on campus. College gigs are stress free because they require little work to coordinate. But sometimes, because you*re dealing with an 18-yr old, you need to make sure they understand that you need a real live actual sound system and cant use the microphone thats attached to the podium in the Student Union. #majorfail
The Private Gig
Private gigs rock! Private gigs pay. Sometimes they’re the easiest gig you*ll ever have to do – like the cocktail hour at someones wedding. Sometimes they are much more involved. But they pay. And when you can get a private gig on a weeknight, that is is even better because it doesnt steal away from your weekends. Private gigs range from birthday parties to weddings to corporate events to any type of event that isnt open to the general public.
The CD Release Show
This one requires a lot of work, but is usually the easiest show for you to get the most people out to. Fans simply just go to CD Release Parties – it’s the unspoken rule of thumb. They buy tickets for the show, buy the CD, and tell others. Its the one show that you really wanna work hard for. This should be on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday in order to draw the largest turnout. Sundays are usually ideal b/c there is less competition with other events happening in town yet its still technically the wekend.
Did we forget any shows? Let us know and we*ll update this post as we go. Stick suggestions below in the comment section."
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