The Lost Art of Band Promotion
by Derek Norman
A new band called “TermiNation” is on the local scene. They have the talent. They have the sound. They have a Facebook page and each member has 500 “friends.” Everything appears ready to take the venues by storm and melt faces by the hundreds!
But it doesn’t happen right away as expected, does it?
Every show is different, but TermiNation is generally dismayed by the overall turn-out to see them perform. A few months have passed, and they put on a great show, so why aren’t more people rolling in? Facebook events are created and posted in a dozen groups along with digital flyer images and a logo that seriously pops! The Reverbnation page is up too! Where are all the new fans???
“The venues aren’t promoting the events enough!”
“The promoters aren’t focusing on us enough!”
“It must be that horrible 8:30 time slot!” [see the article by Dr. Froth – Ed]
Statements like those above can be heard throughout the Houston scene nearly every weekend. In fact, I’ll bet they can be heard throughout the country. A mindset has arisen in the modern world where perceptions of responsibility are skewed (in my opinion), and the art of self-promotion has essentially been lost – where social media has replaced some of the most vital components of social interaction.
Perhaps the fact that I grew up with hard rock and metal in a very different era has something to do with this, but I want to present my view on the responsibilities of the parties involved in a show.
A promoter arranges and promotes an event, working with the booking agent and/or venue. How far a promoter should take the promotion itself is always up for debate, but his/her responsibility is to the event as a whole. The promoter cannot always go directly to each band’s individual fan base, nor can this person do the additional work of helping a band build its fan base. When a band is placed in a particular time slot, it is likely due to that band’s expected draw, and newer bands will have to pay dues in opening slots as their following and reputation grow. Even quality veteran bands will have to accept opening slots from time to time. So much has to be taken into account by the promoter when organizing an event in order to try and maximize its potential impact and attendance. We are all aware that with promoters, just as anyone else in the business, there will always be a variance in quality, so assessing a promoter’s work should come down to whether or not the key responsibilities are fulfilled. And yes, I will address the 1000 pound gorilla in the room: There will unfortunately always be shady promoters to weed through as well.
A venue should be seen in many ways like a movie theater. Movie theaters provide a location in which to watch a movie. They aren’t specifically concerned with ticket sales because that money goes to the film’s production company. Instead, they make their money off concessions. A sparsely populated theater where twenty people spend $500 at the concession stand is more profitable than a full theater that spends $200 on concessions. Movie theaters don’t put a movie’s trailer’s on television or hang posters all over town. They hang posters on their property, update their website/telephone recordings, and ensure the movie times are posted. One only needs to swap out a few words in this paragraph to state the primarily goals and responsibilities of a venue. I’ve been around rock and metal scenes throughout the country my entire life and have rarely known a venue to send its own people out and about to promote a show or spread flyers.
What now are TermiNation’s promotional responsibilities? First and foremost, a band must build its fan base. This means accepting the fact that there may only be five people in the venue when playing an early set. One of those five people may be on hand to see one of the later bands but become a fan of TermiNation in the process. This new fan may bring five more friends to the next show! A good following takes time and patience to develop, and no band is too talented or too unique to consider themselves above this process. Some bands do get lucky and are discovered earlier in their careers, but that is rare and should never be expected.
So where have all the flyers gone?
The two biggest mistakes I see bands making today are relying too much on social media and relying (blaming) too much on the other parties involved. No matter what level of promotion one expects from a promoter (something this article isn’t intended to debate), a band should not put the onus on anyone but themselves when it comes to ensuring their fan base shows up to represent at any given show. If a band has 600 Facebook fans but tends to perform for the same 10 people every weekend, only they can address this issue.
Facebook itself can be both a great asset as well as a hindrance. Social media allows bands to maintain contact with their fans in ways that were impossible to imagine a decade ago, but I personally believe it also promotes a certain unintentional “laziness” where promotion is concerned. People often seem to come away from sharing events frequently on Facebook with a feeling that the job is done. Keep this in mind: A fan has to know who you are in order to “like” your band page in the first place. Sure, people can search Reverbnation to discover new music, etc, and fans of other local bands may find you through word of mouth (or “word of post” in this case) and various groups, but don’t assume this will increase show attendance by a significant percentage as it still only reaches a small percentage of the people. The impact of discovering bands through social media is also not strong enough to last. Many people will “like” a band and essentially forget they exist within a week. How many music fans out there have hundreds of bands “liked” and hundreds of friends? Do those fans really read every post that comes across the news feed? Probably not. Bands need to make a more potent impact in order to be remembered and get people excited to attend a show!
When I was first getting started in the idea of shooting video for local bands, I did not know many of the musicians in Houston and wasn’t sure how to get the wheels spinning. Then, one night in 2010, I was approached by someone outside of Numbers. He pulled a CD envelope out of his backpack and gave it to me. Not only did the envelope contain a demo CD, but also a show flyer. The “backpack man” was none other than Carry The Storm’s Kelly FitzSimons, and since that night, I’ve been to a dozen Carry The Storm shows. I could write endlessly about how a simple moment outside of Numbers helped to get the AdVantage Point Video snowball rolling! There’s a reason I can even now still remember meeting Kelly so vividly despite not being able to recall what national act headlined that night.
Imagine going to a Slayer show with thousands of rabid metal fans. Ninety percent of those fans likely have no idea a local scene even exists! How do we get the word out to those people? They aren’t in any of our local music Facebook groups because they don’t even know to look for them! This is why I wholly believe that in the modern world, we still need to get back to the basics and recover the lost art of band promotion. Social media provides an amazing business tool for keeping the communication flowing between promoters, venues, bands, and fans, but due to the lack of leg work being done on the streets nowadays, huge resources remain untapped. In order to bring the masses into our social media networks, we have to reach them and make an impact. Put something in their hands. Show them your enthusiasm for what you do. This is how you grow the fan base from Hell!
Take the accountability for your success into your own hands! Not only will TermiNation succeed, but so will the scene as a whole!