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If you’re in a band, you should already know the only way to survive, and hopefully make a profit one day, is by touring. Paid performances and selling merchandise are one of the only real sustainable ways musicians can make money. It’s sort of a "back to the basics" for the music industry landscape in general-- since the early 1700s musicians and performers were paid to do one thing: perform live.
But, just because you landed a gig, made it onto a large tour or festival, or are finally in front of a few hundred people, that doesn’t mean you can pack it in and wait for success. Having an audience is like having a new digital platform to use, such as ReverbNation or Sonic Bids. You have to build the site with eye-catching content and engaging news so that fans will return often. Touring is no different. You must connect with fans, promote yourselves and get creative in order to get noticed.
So, here are some tips to keep in mind whether you’re playing a one-off slot at Bonnaroo, a basement college party, or a major run on Warped Tour.
Connect With Your Fans!
There are many, many ways to do this. The most obvious way is to simply talk to them. Don’t sit at your merch table texting your girlfriend (or boyfriend) as you have people standing in front of you deciding if you’re worthy to buy a t-shirt from. Stand up, give them a sticker and ask what they thought of your show.
Take pictures with fans! No fan (or potential fan) will be more excited than to go home and see their photo on your Facebook wall. They’ll have this photo forever, and will always remember you.
Videos are the most viral content, ever. If someone is raving about your music and buys a bunch of stuff from you, ask them if they want to be in a fan video with you. Ask them to tell people what they thought of your show. Visual content is key and fully engaging. I promise they’ll share it over and over.
Giveaway Free Stuff
You’ve gotta spend money to make money, especially if you’re an emerging act. If you want people to buy something, give them something free first. Whether it be a sticker or an autographed poster, show them you’re willing to invest in them so they’ll invest in you.
Give away your music. You already do just by recording it, so get some IndieCards made that have free digital downloads, make some demo cds or if someone seems really interested, give them a CD just for coming out. You’ll certainly win over a fan and they’ll more than likely go home and listen to that free music.
Promote, Promote, Promote
This is a no-brainer. But you’d be surprised how many bands show up to a festival, play and then sit at their merch tent. If you’re an emerging act and played a 2 pm show on a small stage, you should be using the rest of your time making friends with the stage crew and making sure they know your name. Walk around and pass out your stickers and demos. Hang posters with your set time (before the show if you have time). Talk to other bands on the tour (make sure you give them a cd!) Someone helped them at one point and most are willing to help you. You’d be surprised how far simply talking to people can get you.
Be Creative & Appealing At Your Merch Space
Don’t get me wrong, someone in your band should sit at the merch table. But, work it! A band I manage recently had their debut on Warped Tour. I was a proud manager to see picture after picture on Facebook of their hanging whiteboard which they used to display set times and quippy notes. People walking past will read and notice what you have. Make sure your band name is visibly displayed--whether you have a fancy banner or a cardboard sign with it drawn on. Have a reason for people to visit you--make a “free” sign for the stuff you’re giving away, bring an acoustic guitar and play some songs in front of your table, offer signings, and again, always make conversation with fans.
Jeanne Crump manages NJ based punk outfit Lost in Society and is the Marketing & Publicity Coordinator at Spark Market Solutions. She is a contributing writer to BandsOnABudget.com. Jeanne can be reached at jeanne [at] bandsonabudget [dot] com.