10 Ways To Improve Local Gigs
I’ve played local gigs to thousands of people, hundreds of people, tens of people and, sometimes, no people.
Literally, no people in the room….
I recently wrote an article about music industry decline and what it can be like to be an independent musician in today’s potentially depressing climate.
I touched on how local shows need to improve to start becoming an attractive proposition again and I got a lot of feedback – some really good strong opinions about changes that can be made to make the whole gig-going experience more enjoyable for all concerned.
That two-way discussion has inspired me to make this list of positive changes we as musicians, venue owners, bookers and audience members could implement.
Obviously, these are mainly my personal opinion and I’d be really interested to hear all your thoughts in the comments!
1. Don’t Book A Bad Act!
There are so many people accountable for this and it is unbelievably common.
First of all, if you’re in a band and you’re wanting to gig, please make sure that you can play, and play well!
Of course, gigging experience will improve your performance, but before you even think about that, be real with yourself. Record your rehearsals, listen back to them and think “Would I want to hear that on a night out?”.
Chances are that the venue’s sound system won’t be that much of an improvement on your practice room P.A., so use that as a yardstick. If you can sound good in rehearsal, you’re probably ready.
Other culprits for booking acts of ‘questionable’ quality are the headline band themselves, whose ego-feeding desire to be the best act on the night clouds their judgement when putting together a line-up. Make sure the whole bill is quality or the punters won’t even stick around long enough to see how great you are!
In my opinion, a lot of the blame lies with the venue bookers themselves.
It’s not an easy job to fill the line-up of a live music venue night after night, and it takes a lot of dedication and organisation. But, from what I gather, most bookers don’t even listen to bands anymore! They just look at the Facebook Page of a band they’re considering; “2,300 likes, Brilliant – probably a quarter of them will come to the gig”.
Bookers need to vet the quality of the bands they’re putting on the stage.
There’s too much laziness involved in the whole process; meet the quota of four bands (50% of the time the ‘headline’ act will do this for them), tell them to invite all their friends, then sit back and watch the total audience of 50 people roll in (15 of which are in the bands playing that night).
Bookers need to listen to band submissions for live shows (every artist should have a well recorded live song on their YouTube channel btw…) and then decide whether or not this band are going to add value to the evening’s entertainment.
You should be able to walk into a local gig venue on an evening and know that, if there’s live music, it’s not going to make you want to walk straight back out of the door!
Yes, it is up to bands to improve before they hit the road, but ultimately the booker has control over the whole night and should take pride in their work of consistently delivering quality entertainment.
If you’re in a band and helping a booker put together the bill for a night when you’re playing – or if you’re the booker! – use this and find really great bands to play with so that the whole night is a memorable event for all concerned.
2. For Local Gigs, Put Bands On Earlier
A lot of people are reluctant to come out and support your band if it means they won’t get home ’til the early hours, especially on a ‘school night’.
It means a long stretch of listening to (probably) bad music, an expensive night out, a taxi home, and an unnecessary hangover the next day coupled with the thought of “I’m not doing that again”!
In my opinion, a three band line-up performing at 7pm, 8pm & 9pm is perfect.
Your audience can come straight from work without all the hanging around in between, and have the option of getting public transport home and be in bed for 10.30pm if they want.
It might not be very rock n’ roll, but it is considerate of you to cater to the people who want to support you, but really need their 8 hours!
Your fans/ friends have wised up to the fact when you say, “We’re on at 9.30”, it really means 10pm. And that most gigs run behind by half an hour, so it’s more like 10.30pm. When you say, “We’re on at 9.30”, what they hear is, “We’ll be finished about 11.30 and you’ll be home after midnight”.
So, if you go with the earlier start and finish, then for the people that want to stay and party, well, that option is still there! And the bands can have a nice wind-down and converse with their fans.
That’s the last time I go to my mate’s headline show on a Thursday….
3. Make Sure the Place Looks as Good as You
People are coming not just to see your band, but to enjoy an evening of entertainment.
You want them to look back on the show and think, “Wow, what a great night!”, and have a good mental image to go with that feeling. To walk in and think, “Wow, this looks cool”, and associate that with you.
Let’s face it, some venues are absolute shithole dive bars, and that is part of their charm. You can leave them alone and enjoy the scuzz.
But, for the most part, venues are pretty soulless; back rooms of pubs or a small stage in the corner. You have the power to create your own vibe here.
One of the first gigs I ever played was a showcase put on by my then manager in a crumby upstairs room in an out of the way pub in Newcastle. The room hadn’t been changed since the ’70’s – it was rough.
But, he instructed us to meet him at the venue at 10a.m. on the morning of the show, and when we got there he had hired (or somehow sourced) 100’s of metres of red drapes. We stapled them to every wall and put them over every table. He hired lights that slowly changed colour. Good quality candles were on each table and a smoke machine billowed ominously from the corner.
When people entered the room it was unrecognisable to them – it was like being inside a genie’s lamp.
That was really inspiring – though, if I’m honest, I’ve never equalled that effort!
Just imagine if you did put that much care and attention into every show. You can make it an experience for the audience – every time.
I know bands that take a bunch of fairy lights with them wherever they play, and even just that little touch adds something to the stage. You can get smoke machines for like, what – $50?
And smoke machines make everything look amazing. It’s a fact!
You could go as far as investing in your own lights even. The possibilities stretch much further than deciding which is your coolest on-stage attire.
4. Find Somewhere to Hide Your Gear
When you go to see a ‘real’ band at a ‘real’ venue, the front rows are not littered with the guitar cases, amps and drums of twenty people like they are all too often at smaller local gigs. It’s not a good look.
The onus here should really be on the venues to provide a room for storing gear, or at least allow you to put it in the staff room.
Like I mentioned earlier, the place has to look the part. Having gear lying around not only looks unprofessional but it also puts people off getting closer to the stage – and that’s exactly where you actually want them.
Scope out the venue before you play, contact them and ask them if there’s somewhere to store your gear. If for some reason the venue can’t accommodate this simple request, then be creative. If it means that after soundcheck you have to lug your stuff back to the car or van ’til just before your set, then do it.
Keep the moshpit/ dancefloor for fans – not flight cases.
5. Soundcheck Early and Get There on Time
Getting the soundchecks in early makes for an easier, more relaxed night for everyone.
The sound engineer has got your levels, and can enjoy the night getting drunk without sacrificing your sound. You can spend the time making sure you get the best audio representation, and rest assured that when you hit the stage you know exactly what band your fans are going to hear.
You can solidify your monitor mix so you’re not shouting mid-song, “more vocal in the foldback” (again not a good look). And, I think, most importantly, people will not arrive at the gig whilst someone is still soundchecking.
What random punter in their right mind would want to stick around in a bar after they walk in to the sound of a snare being hit repeatedly while the engineer gets the levels?
It happens, all the time, and it sucks.
Everything should be ready, sounding good & looking good before the doors even open.
The first impression is just as important as the last one.
6. Make a Tech Spec / Stage Plot
Even if the sound engineer hasn’t asked you for one.
Believe me, they’ll be glad of it.
This will make soundchecks so much easier for all parties. You can outline the gear you use and the amount of mics and DI’s you require. Show a diagram of who stands where on the stage & what levels you want their instruments at (e.g. stage left is the lead guitar so have him a little louder than the other).
Who’s the lead vocal and who’s the backing vocalist that can’t really sing but wants the mic there for effect?
You can even go as far as providing the engineer with a set-list, if different songs require different mix tweaks. The engineer is getting paid and are there to work so don’t feel bad about asking for what you want. You’ll probably find they’re glad of the help as the sound quality reflects on them too.
This is what a basic stage plot should look like. Check out this article from the CD Baby DIY Musician blog about how to make one.
And, if you’re interested, this is the Stage Plot software that they reference.
7. Rehearse the Show – Not Just the Songs!
Start thinking of your shows as performances not gigs.
Having ‘kick-ass’ songs and being really good at playing your instruments does not a great live band make.
Once you’ve nailed the songs as a unit in rehearsal, start practising your set. Work on the transitions between the songs. If you know the guitarist needs to switch axes after the third number, be ready for that.
Perhaps you could work in an extended intro to the fourth song, the drums and bass could take care of, or fill that time engaging the audience with a story.
If you’re not a natural at ‘off-the-cuff ‘mid-set banter, then rehearse your lines and know what you’re going to say.
Between song silence is a real atmosphere killer and you want to keep your audience engaged from the opening riff to the last chord.
8. Treat Support Slots Like Your Own Show
This is a really common problem with local shows these days.
The headline act is the only band that really gives a shit, and supports turn up hoping that they can play to the headliners crowd and maybe win over a few new fans. That won’t happen if the place only has 20 people in it when you’re on stage.
You’re only as good as what you’re perceived to be.
Each band on a bill needs to work together to make the whole night a really good event for everyone that attends. The gig-goers need to leave thinking, “I had a great night watching Band A, Band B and Band C – I’ll go and see them again”.
In days of yore, bands used to put MORE effort into support slots than they did their own shows because it was an opportunity to show off not only how good they were at their craft to a larger audience, but also to prove the headliners made a good choice in picking them and they’d like to work with them again.
You’ve got a fanbase and you ain’t afraid to use it!
People talk, and people don’t forget.
If you rock up to a gig without doing any promotion and are just there to fill in the numbers, you won’t be asked again.
Attendees at these gigs will remember seeing you playing a lacklustre show to a tiny crowd, so do you think they’ll have any interest in coming to see you again when it’s your own ‘headline’ show? Not likely on that evidence!
“Going to other bands’ shows is THE most important thing you can do to support your scene”
Taken from this article he wrote for Digital Music News on the 17 things musicians just don’t get about local shows.
9. Promote, Promote, Promote!
Seriously guys, what are you doing?
Why are there only 130 people invited to the event on Facebook when between the four bands on the bill you have a network of 20,000 people that live in the area?
Oh, you’re saving your invites for your own headline show – I see….. (see point 8).
This has to stop.
Each show should be important regardless of where you are on the bill.
At legendary club, CBGB’s, (where The Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, Iggy Pop, and The Police all started), the running order of the bands was decided on the night. It didn’t matter what the times ended up as for each band because people went there to have a fun night and listen to quality bands.
Each band member should be actively promoting the gig on all social media channels.
And why not put up posters and hand out flyers? Seriously, why not?
Lamp-posts are prime real estate for gig advertising. Do your local lamp-posts have your name plastered all over them?
If you really want to get people to your local gigs then word of mouth about how seriously talented you are will only get you so far, if anywhere.
Some of your biggest future fans and groupies, who would LOVE you, are out there, but they need to know you are too.
Just do everything you possibly can, for each and every gig.
If it means doing fewer, but higher quality gigs, then good!
It’s hard work, but hard work pays off.
If you put real effort into each gig, the other acts you play with will remember and they’ll want to play with you again. This is how you build your reputation and how you can start creating that scene we’re always banging on about.
“The artists trying to get off the ground, one of the biggest mistakes they make is they tend to think they are competing with just other music going on that evening, but in this day and age you’re competing with the basketball tournament, the Masters, Angry Birds, Facebook, and sitting up on Vine all night”
Jed Carlson, President of Reverb Nation.
Taken from the interview in the video below where he speaks to Steve Rennie (AKA ‘Renman’) about promoting local shows.
10. Play ‘Eye of the Tiger’ Through the Sound System Just Before You Go on Stage!
This should need no explanation really.
Featured image: Lemonwood live in Berlin by Trav Munro.