How to Sell Out More Shows at Independent Venues

Booking the gig is only half the journey… next you have to get people to the gig. Here are some tips that will help fill venues big and small.

by Holly Hagerman, Founder and CEO of event booking platform AmptUp

Despite being THE culture-makers in every city, most indie venue owners don’t have formal training in how to run a venue and do the necessary marketing. Why? Because there are only a handful of venue management training programs in America. There are hospitality programs focused on hotel, food and beverage, but little for the live music side. And as they say, it all comes down to “butts-in-seats.” 

Some Venues worry they will scare off the best musicians by “asking too much,” but remember, it’s part of the job, and the successful musicians will expect this and are already doing it. Those are the people you want to work with. 

So what are the key things every venue owner should be doing to sell-out shows?

Ensure artists are promoting YOUR show

Talent Buyers often assume that a musician will promote their show at your Venue. However, musicians often pick and choose based on notoriety and compensation. For example, they will promote a show where their pay is based on ticket sales or if it’s a big name venue that looks good on their calendar. 

But, leveraging the artist’s existing fan base is critical to selling out a show. To generate buzz and excitement among their followers, encourage artists to create engaging content, such as:

  • teaser videos (“Hey Portland! I’m coming your way Aug 6th!”)
  • behind-the-scenes footage (what it’s like on tour, beautiful spots along the way, the best burger west of the Mississippi, etc.)
  • exclusive interviews (answer questions from you or fans…Where do they get their inspiration? What was the first concert they ever attended?)
  • ask artists if they have an email list where they can promote your show.
    (Don’t hesitate to give them ideas or prompts!)

Set marketing expectations up front, in writing

Very few venues use contracts of any kind. Instead, bits and pieces of information are sent across 10 email chains. Plus, there is no professional standard for marketing live music, which means everyone assumes something different. However, clear communication is essential in any successful partnership, so capture promotional expectations in writing in a brief and clear contract. 

Address these questions every time, and you’ll be set:

  • Who creates promotional assets such as posters, social media graphics, Facebook events, ticketing links, and press releases?
  • What are the deadlines for completing and distributing these materials? Even simple “post by___” deadlines for social media are a big help. By setting clear expectations early on, misunderstandings can be avoided, leading to a stronger and longer-lasting relationship between the venue and talent.
  • How often should they post promotions?
  • Should they tag you (@who?) or repost your promotions?
  • Remember, get ticketing links created without delay to give musicians ample time to promote.

Use an online booking tool, like AmptUp, to make this fast, easy and affordable, so you can book Musicians in 3 minutes, instead of 3 weeks…and get all the important details in writing. 

Don’t just sell your shows, engage your audience

Social media is full, full, full. Many venues only post their show fliers (ie: who’s playing, date, etc.). 

Instead, get creative and: 

  • post funny memes that connect with your audience (are they a bit racy and like a raunchy joke?)
  • share photos of people having a good time 
  • post recipes or hints from your chef or fun facts about the whiskey you stock 
  • connect to far off places or fun things that are associated with your venue (Do they dream about wineries in France connected to your wine bar? Show pictures of the winery for wines you serve.). 

In short, make it fun and interesting for them. They’ll like and click your posts, which means…your important show announcements will then be displayed in their feed.

Where to promote: Choosing a platform/channel 

Is social media dead to marketing? Well, no. But don’t forget a few old-fashioned options that may be more powerful.  Most importantly, make sure you’re feeding these channels daily to get people who want to hear from you, to sign up.

Here are some channels to focus on outside of Facebook and Insta. Unless you’ve built a following already on Twitter…I’m sorry, “X” (Thanks Elon for that ridiculous name), you can mostly ignore it.

  • Text Message – Did you know that texting campaigns see a 98% open rate, compared to 20% with email? And, people click on links 3X more in text than email. Put out offers (free fries!) to get people signed up on your list. We’ve had a good experience with SimpleTexting before.
  • Email marketing – It’s critical that you ensure the Musician emails their list as well. But don’t forget your own. We find that most independent Venues use their email lists rarely, and inconsistently, if they even have one.  So dust it off, and put it to work! 
  • Your own Venue walls! Leverage your own real estate for just a few cents of paper. Post fliers to your walls, front door, and don’t forget…bathroom stalls – talk about a captive audience. Also, print out mini-fliers (4 to a page) with a QR code to buy tickets and leave them at the bar. Highlight just one to two shows at a time, that need the visibility, to ensure it’s effective. 
  • Local Music blogs and independent Radio stations: reach out to them once a month to provide free tickets for a contest, or to ask them to cover the show.  It’s best if you can promise them an interview with the band. 
  • Find the facebook groups that represent your audience…you can join and post to music groups, or go beyond. If you have a French singer, find the local french facebook or meetup groups. Have a kid-friendly show? Post to the local mom’s group (this powerhouse portland mom’s group has nearly 10,000 members!), just be sure to follow the rules, and don’t be overly salesy or too frequent. Sound like a lot of work? Do it once, and you can reuse those groups in the future. Keep a spreadsheet as a checklist.

You deserve to have a full house, and so does the hard-working band. Creating a team spirit to jointly promote will get you where you need to be.

About Holly HagermanHagerman is the Founder and CEO of event booking platform AmptUp. AmptUp believes in the power of independent live music, and the company is dedicated to making independent live music stronger, easier, and more sustainable for venues, musicians, and fans. Guiding venues and musicians, AmptUp makes the most time-consuming and costly part for every live music venue – booking, advancing, producing, and settling up a show – more transparent, simple, fast, and equitable for both sides. Join AmptUp’s community of partnered venues spanning from coast to coast at amptup.com.

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