Hey guys! Before we hop into today's post, I wanted to give you a heads up to look out for a special Saturday guest post from one of our Brooklyn Basement staffers. He put together an amazing post about getting into the industry on the business side. Stay tuned!
Recently we had a reader request a topic that is relevant to every up and coming artist/band. So genius we were surprised we hadn’t thought of it ourselves! (kidding) (mostly). His question stemmed from how to phase his artist out of playing bar gigs. So this brought up a few more questions -- How do you say no to easy money? How do you turn casual, lean back listeners into actual fans? How do you even brand the bar gig? Should you take a gig with bands that don’t line up sonically? So let’s dive into it!
#1 - Take a Look at Your Goals
The first thing you need to do is take a look at your big picture goals. Success is defined in many ways and some people absolutely kill it on the local circuit. If your goal is to live a quiet life, but make a living making music then the cover gigs and local bar gigs can be your ticket to success. You still have to work hard to make a name for yourself and make it so YOU are the person they call for the gig, but it’s definitely doable. Ever heard of Yacht Rock Revue? Yeah those guys are making some cash. The downside to this is that you may have to make some artistic sacrifices. Most of these high paying gigs come with the cover songs to make listeners happy. I used to go to this ONE bar in Atlanta almost every weekend because I grew to really like the guy who played on Saturdays. He played a mix of covers and originals, was SUPER friendly to everyone in the bar (he got to know regulars by name), and put on a great show. He never really made it out of the Atlanta bar scene, but from what I understand, that wasn’t his goal. He was making money, quietly raised his kids, and got to be a musician.
#2 - Moving from being the bar band to being someone’s favorite band
This is tough. If you’ve been playing your local bar scene for a while, chances are you’re probably earning some decent money. However, these gigs can definitely hinder your ability to create a real, loyal fanbase that will pay to see you live, pay to buy your original music, and follow your career beyond their local 10 mile radius. Think about it logically - why would htey drive into the city, fight traffic, and pay for a ticket when they can generally see you for free down the street? The flip side of this is that if you’ve been playing steadily for years, you probably have generated some interest in your music already. Once you decide to take your project to the next level, it’s time to make everything you’re doing as professional as possible. Get slick press photos, make sure your website and socials reflect your new brand, and make some great recordings. Then, once you’re ready, book a ticketed gig in the closest city. This will be your chance to slowly convert the bar fans into real fans. Slowly phase out the local gigs while promoting your new show and new music. A lot of the bar-goers will probably be excited to support you in your new venture AND get to say “I used to see him/her when they played at Joe’s Bar!” It’s a tough road out of the bar, but if your goal is to have a career that stretches beyond your hometown, it’s a necessary move.
#3 - Taking the low paying gig
If you’re used to cover gig money, starting to play ticketed rooms will feel like it sucks the life out of you (and the life out of your bank account). However, in the early stages of your career, building a real, ticketed touring history is incredibly important. In a world where technology constantly changes how people consume and pay for music, the only thing that is guaranteed is your live show. Fans who may never pay a cent to listen to your music online may be live music fans who buy 10 shirts with your face on it. Long story short - the road to building a real touring fan base is long, hard, and full of days where you can’t afford a hot dog. Stick with it. If you’re putting on an amazing show, the fans will come around, and so will the pay day.
#4 - Taking a show for the sake of taking a show
So a pop punk band just reached out to your metal band to put together a bill at a venue you’ve both been wanting to play. You’ve both proven that you can draw about the same amount of tickets, so putting these together could get you into a bigger room and in front of potential new fans… right? Well, maybe, but just take a second to think it over. If you’re very new to the scene, then it might be worth it to take the show and start a relationship with the promoter. Your sounds might not totally line up, but you’ll get some history, get to play a cool venue, and you’ll get to play your songs in front of your fans. Let’s chalk that up as a yes, take the show.
If you’ve been touring for a bit, have made somewhat of a name for yourself in town, and have worked with the promoter before… you should probably pass on the gig. If sonically your bands are incredibly different, it won’t matter if their fans are there - they probably won’t be into your sound. And on the flip side, your metal fans might be super turned off by pop punk. At a certain point, it’s important to start to deliver a great show start to finish by working with bands within the same genre. Then everyone wins! Fans, promoter, both bands -- everyone gets paid and happy.
At the end of the day, your long term goal should always be top of mind when making decisions about playing shows. Think big picture plans vs short term wants.
REASON TO IGNORE THIS ADVICE: You got a booking agent before you put out your first EP. Let them handle the touring mess!