How To Promote A Show. You may not like what you’re about to read….

image from howtorunaband.comThis guest post comes from Chris "Seth" Jackson, who blogs at How To Run A Band. Chris experiments with music marketing on his own band Shiplosion and shares the results.

After having a poorly attended show, it’s easy to point the fingers at everyone else. The bottom line: the turn-out is entirely your responsibility.

When trying to promote your show, you would expect there to be a team of people to help out: the club, the booker, the other bands, and the promoter. And, yes, they sometimes do help out. However, more times than not, that level of support just isn’t there.

"How about the other bands on the bill? Can’t we get them to help flier and promote?”

Sadly, no. You can’t rely on other bands to promote the show. However, you can rely on them to make outrageous demands at the show, despite having done no promotional work whatsoever.

The bands that actually do help out, you want to work with them forever. Treat them like gold, pitch their shows, and always keep in contact with them. Those are the contacts you need in this industry.

Also, what if the other bands are from out-of-town? They can’t physically promote at all in your city. They rely on YOU. If the band is new, they may not know how to promote. Again, they need to see how you do it!
“How about the booker and the club? Aren’t they supposed to promote this?”

No. The booker has done her job by booking the show. She, now, has to book the other four months worth of shows, all the while dealing with cancellations and flakey bands.

The club itself is usually in the business of selling alcohol and trying desperately to keep its doors open. Most clubs I’ve seen at least run ads in the local papers. That’s about all you’re getting with the club dealing with shows just about every night of the year.

“Well, the promoter for this show is going to promote this, right?”

No. The promoter does drugs and steals your money from the door. So far, all the people I’ve seen that have the title “promoter” are the least capable of promoting. Not to say good promoters don’t exist; just don’t bet on it and protect your ass.

Rely on Yourself

In this biz, you are the only one you can rely on. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t build a team. As your band grows, you will need to bring in others to help you out.

However, this doesn’t mean trusting them implicitly. In the software testing field, we have a saying: “Trust, but Verify.”

Just because you have an entertainment lawyer doesn’t absolve you of double checking what the lawyer has written up for you. Just because you have an accountant doesn’t mean that accountant is handling your money correctly. Having a manager doesn’t mean your career is being handled appropriately.

And with promoting a show, you need to verify that those also “helping” promote are doing their job. For this very reason, starting your show promotion as early as possible will help you identify the slackers or the scammers.

If you do rely on someone else to help out your band, make sure to have a backup plan. Just like bringing an extra guitar and drum sticks to your gig, you should have a backup plan in case someone falls through. And in the music biz, people fall through a lot.

Though this post sounds a bit negative, I’m only trying to make you aware of the reality of the situation. Sometimes you have great shows where everyone promotes, and you don’t have to worry about all the other people. Then, you have shows where you can’t even rely on your own bandmates to help with anything.

That’s just how the biz goes. If you plan for the worst, you will be prepared against most surprises. Your show will still get promoted, even if it’s only you.

The alternative when relying on everyone else? No promotion occurs, and you have zero people at your show.

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  1. Thank you for posting this, Bruce! I’m very honored and flattered!
    I should have added to this post that sometimes you are your own worst enemy when it comes to a show promotion. It’s a lot of hard work, and it’s easy to get lazy or too tired.
    I’ve been trying to develop a more formulaic plan for show promotion that gets the best results without making your band seem spammy. If I get it right, I will definitely share on Music Think Tank.
    Again, thank you, Bruce!

  2. Although I don’t agree with the generalized negativity, I do appreciate the point… you are responsible for your own success, and should NEVER leave it up to someone else. Working in the media, it is the bands who hustle personally who almost always get my attention first; you can’t help but respect a band that takes responsibility for getting fans and new listeners excited about their music. It’s contagious.

  3. Good points, but terrible headline. This article does not offer any tips on “How to promote a show”, just some advice on setting realistic expectations for WHO will help promote it.

  4. Agree with Jason above that the headline is incorrect. This should be titled something more along the lines of “Why You Need To Promote Your Own Show.” This doesn’t have any information on how to promote a show.

  5. Good start here… but looking forward to the second part of your post with some “ideas” for musicians and bands to promote their shows. I’ll be watching for it… thanks.

  6. and if you think you get no respect as a musician just be thankful you are not the promoter… not the one who has a bar you can play in but yeah, the one who sought you out, paid you, paid for marketing and the venue. He may put you up and even provided all that ridiculous crap on your rider only to be defined as one “who does drugs and steals your money from the door.”
    No- the promoter makes the live industry work.

  7. @hox3 – while I totally agree that calling promoters the one ‘who does drugs and steals your money from the door’ is unfair and too broad spectrum for my tastes – its been my experience that nowdays especially, Promoters are people who suddenly think they can make a buck off the bands they bring into town and go about becoming a ’boutique promotions company’ with ZERO experience, ZERO game plan and no idea how to actually DO PR other than spam everyone on their FB friends list with Event after event (which most often dont even have times or addresses for the clubs used). And yes its a pet peeve 🙂
    Good blog. Look forward to Part 2 with some ideas on how to actually ‘do’ it.

  8. I definitely didn’t say “all” promoters. I know good ones. I also know promoters doing their best with bands that aren’t doing their part to help promote the show.
    I’ve just run into a large number of “promoters” that have highly questionable practices.
    Just like bands, there are a lot of horrible ones and a small number of great ones. Unfortunately, the bad ones really hurt the music community. I’ve run into enough that I felt it warranted being called out.

  9. I saw one promoter using other promoters’ shows to inflate his own calendar and make himself look like a major player. That guy was a real winner.
    And I was being tongue-in-cheek with the drugs and stealing money part. Though, not too far off the mark for some promoters I’ve seen.
    This post was mainly a warning to expect the worst and be prepared.

  10. I can speak to many of the things in here. The thing is most musicians are the worst marketers out there to their customers. I’m guilty of many things in my career, but I know I’m better than what I used to do.
    I’m wondering two things on the promoter. One is what if you don’t have one–that means it’s more on you the band/artist to get your show out there. But second, what should you look for in a promoter (that doesn’t do drugs and those things you mentioned)?
    Thanks Chris!
    Brian Franke
    http://www.brianfranke.com/thinkingaloud (blog)

  11. Hey, Brian! You play enough shows to know! You’ve probably worked with more promoters than me, but here it goes on addressing your questions.
    If you don’t have a promoter, it’s basically a ton of hard work. The main thing is being nice, being humble, and being about other people. Creating a great and FUN rapport with your fans, getting their email adresses and cell numbers for SMS messages. Network with mp3 bloggers, ezines, and local radio stations through Twitter and Facebook.
    It’s months and years of relationship building with the fantastic people all around you. It’s about promoting others over yourself. It’s about making people happy over being a rock star.
    For the second, what should you look for in a promoter. Transparency and reputation. When a promoter deals with a show, how is the money handled? What is the promotion budget? How will the responsibilities be split between the bands, the club, and the promoter? What is the opinion of others that have worked with that promoter?
    Honestly, a promoter is an additional expense that isn’t necessary for smaller venues. If the venue is under a 200 person capacity, there is no need for a promoter (or agency or “productions” or any arbiter or company). The booking and promotion can easily be handled by the bands themselves directly with the venue.
    Bottom line, though, a promoter doesn’t have access to your fan base. Nobody is a fan of a promoter (unless they are awesome people). That’s another reason you can’t rely on anyone else…they simply don’t have the connection with your fan base like you do.

  12. I don’t think you know what a real promoter is. Don’t confuse him with a bar owner. If you are going play more than a club where you can invite your friends out to buy a drink so you can play- you will want to grow an audience in a number of markets by being booked by a professional promoter.

  13. Chris,
    I actually like the title. It get’s to the point.
    The only folks who care about your music “business” is you. Successful folks take their careers into their own hands and don’t assume someone else is going to help them out.

  14. Oh, definitely! My warning is not about professional and reputable promoters. My warning is about trusting someone claiming to be a promoter, or someone dabbling in promotion.
    As a musician, I definitely have met professional promoters that work their asses off and draw national acts that sell out venues. My post here is to warn bands that blindly trust someone with the title “promoter” to be on the up and up.
    There’s no certification or license around anyone labeling themselves as a promoter. That’s why there are a lot of them that either don’t know what they are doing or are out to skim money from the door and claim “promotion costs and services”.
    I have no qualms about paying a legitimate promoter or promotion agency that does a great job.
    If you’ve been on the road or have played a ton of shows, I’m sure you will have run into the more questionable people and organizations that I’m referring to. There’s plenty of snakes in the grass.

  15. Thanks, Greg! And, yes, that was the main point of the post. Blindly trusting others to do what’s necessary to help your band can lead to dissapointing results.
    It’s not that others won’t help, it’s just that you can’t rely on them to do so. But if you have a great, trust filled relationship with someone who comes through consistently, that’s a different story.

  16. Managers are needed when a band has grown to the point they need assistance with growing their career further. A manager is great to have on your team once you’ve hit a certain point in your band’s career.
    But, don’t blindly trust a manager. A manager works in concert with your own promotional efforts. You have to make sure that your own best interests are actually being served.
    I’m definitely not saying don’t build a team and do everything yourself always. No, no, no. Just verify the right things are being done by your team.
    Specifically, with show promotion, don’t rely on things getting done without verifying.
    So, your question, is that in regards to show promotion? I don’t think a manager specifically promotes shows on behalf of the artist (though they can).

  17. Everything in this article is based on an incorrect method of doing business. When you agree to play for free or “the door” which is basically free. You are giving the club NO incentive to promote the show. If you show up and bring friends, they make money. If you don’t they make what they would have otherwise made: nothing. There is no incentive which is why these type of win-lose deals don’t make sense and these clubs suck the life out of you.
    Why the hell should you spend ANY time promoting a show? Your job is to entertain the people who are there. If someone doesn’t offer you a CONTRACTED GUARANTEE, that means THERE WILL BE NO-ONE THERE. You can play for your friends and family in your living room and save everyone a lot of trouble.
    Cut out the life-sucking middleman that is this “club” and “promoter”

  18. You’d be surprised. I have never met a promoter here in Washington, DC. There are probably so few that they’re expensive to hire and likely don’t do it full time. It’s what you get in a non-music city unfortunately.
    So if anything, all the bands and solo artists I know are their own promoters.
    But thanks for outlining what their role is and what to look for with one.

  19. When it comes to playing free or paid gigs, it really does depend where in their career trajectory the musicians are. While I don’t think playing for free is the thing a seasoned professional should do, the new band that has never played a show before would surely benefit from having some friends see them play for the first time at the local club. It certainly helps create live experience and make you better as a musician.
    But I think musicians need to learn to create value to their music and good promotion is part of the whole package of creating value.
    Musicians should treat every gig as a really important event and this article is certainly correct in warning us that we should always rely on ourselves in addition to any additional help that may or may not be there. Even a free gig can be productive as part of a bigger plan- example you want to grow your mailing list, so you play a friends party. If you do play the show you always want to make sure you collect emails and let the venue know who you are and where they can listen to you online or any other web presence you may have.
    Good info on the replies… promotion is hard work but when musicians do it themselves it can be much more rewarding as it becomes part of building relationships.

  20. Hey Hey, not to be ‘negative’ but just real, like this article …. The band or Act has to be entertaining, entertaining on several levels!!!
    What we’re up against is tv, computers, movies, traffic, people tired after work, and all the other distractions or options.
    Here in LA, it is super hard to get people out to your show, it’s like they have to think you’re the next big thing to support you. So I say entertain the hell out of them!!!
    Cheers …. impulsive lust …. NU REGGAE ….

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