This month’s article continues on some of the lessons I’ve learned from former NIN drummer, label owner, and all around awesome-haired-British-dude Martin Atkins. Last month’s article was more hands-on and physical, as I taught you how to make your own t-shirts. This month’s article will be a little more mental, as we’ll discuss areas of influence, fan “driving distance”, and Martin’s patented “Five Point Crushing Star” technique for increasing show attendance.
Let’s say you’re a good band. A band that has good music, and a vibrant fan base in your hometown. First off, congrats! You’re one of the roughly 10% of bands who don’t suck (based on my extensive real-life research)! Perhaps you’ve started branching out and playing shows around the region. Perhaps you’ve been playing for a few years, and now can expect to see a decent crowd at just about any home-town performance. That’s great!
However, if you start to track your attendance in your hometown, you may see a worrying fact. Your attendance numbers will stagnate. We’ve certainly seen this over the past year. For example, in my hometown of Madison, WI, our average draw (from attendance over the past year) is 67 people. Looking at the numbers more closely, we’re seeing trends that hover around this number. For example, the last five shows were 70, 63, 59, 82, and 68.
You might say to yourself, “Fang, those numbers are pretty good!” For our local clubs here, they are! But as a manager of a band, what I want to see is a measured increase every time we play. What these numbers show me is that the same people are coming out to our shows every time. We’re not growing our fanbase, we’re simply nurturing the fanbase we already have. What’s I’d like to see is an upward growing trend of attendance – something like 60, 80, 89, 95, 104.
How do we achieve this? Two ways:
1. Stop playing so goddamned much!*
This is a pitfall that I fall into time and time again. After all, who doesn’t like performing live? Normally, you can expect us to have a hometown show about once every three weeks or so. Recently we’ve moved it back to once a month, but that’s still too much. In the words of Martin:
“You’ve got to be like Disney. ‘Oh shit, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is back! But only for a limited time, and then it goes back in the vault forever! And this time, it’s on fuckin’ BluRay, and it comes with limited edition stickers! You’d better not miss it!”
Basically, what he’s saying is that if you’re playing every two weeks, or three, or monthly, then there’s no real reason for your casual fans to make it out to any given show. They’ll know that you’re just playing next month anyway. They won’t cancel their plans to see you, or make a large effort to make sure they don’t miss the show. This will keep your attendance levels low.
Here’s where the asterisk (*) comes in. For a new band, I think it’s important to play often in your hometown, and to play with as many different bands as you possibly can. There’s about a year of “ramp-up” time where you meet influential people, form “band friendships, more and more people become aware of your existence, and your fanbase grows. I don’t think it hurts to be playing every three weeks (with a few breaks in there) at this point, because you’re starting to make connections and get your name out there. Once you’ve become a “D-grade local celebrity”, though, it’s time to “go Disney”.
2. Every show needs a purpose
Why should your fanbase drag their friends and relatives to this show, instead of waiting for the next one? What’s the purpose? It can’t be “just playing a show”. Are you debuting a new song? Maybe having a release party? Remember, you can “release” t-shirts, or stickers, or any other type of merch in the same way that you can release a new CD.
Here’s an idea that worked WONDERS for us: using the screen printing tutorial from last month’s article, make a new, kickass design, and print a metric ass-load of t-shirts. If you’re doing it right, these should cost around $3 per shirt to make. Have a “shirt release party” where you sell these new shirts for $5 instead of your normal price. However, this is (and make sure to repeat this over and over again to your fanbase) one night only and anyone who wants a shirt for this price must buy one at the show. This gives the show a purpose. You’re celebrating the release of your new shirt with a show, and anyone who wants a cheap shirt can easily get one, but only if they show up! When we did this, our attendance jumped to 130 people – over double our average!
Don’t have a new shirt? Do a 2 for 1 night, or a 50% off night. Keep track of your attendance and merch sales. Experiment. See what works.
Once you have these two principals down, you can engage Martin’s patented technique:
The Five Point Crushing Star Technique (TM)
This requires a little bit of planning. Let’s say you’ve got a CD release show planned four months away. Grab a map of your surrounding area. Now, imagine you’re a fan of a local band. Realistically, how far would you drive to see them? Be realistic. 10 minutes? 20? 30? How many miles? What about in traffic?
Draw a circle with a radius of your driving distance. This is your sphere of influence. We’re going to grow this sphere and drive people to your CD release show at the same time. First rule – no shows anywhere inside the circle until your CD release. Now, pick 5 points along the outside of the circle. Hopefully these are separate cities or suburbs. Schedule 5 shows in the upcoming months at these locations.
What are the purpose of these shows? To promote your CD release show. You’re probably pretty well known in the downtown area where you play all the time, but do people in the burbs know about you? How about the next town over? Your goal at these shows is to never shut up about the awesome CD release show you’ve got coming up in 4 months and to get everyone on your mailing list. EVERYONE.
Maybe you’ll only play to 10 people, but if you’re good, you’ll get at least one or two good fans out of these shows, and those fans will drag their friends to the CD release show. Now, four months later, you’re doing a CD release show that suddenly has 400 people in attendance. The club owner is thrilled, and you now have a fantastic show that people will talk about for a long time.
Also, you’ve increased your drivable sphere of influence. The people that drove from 10 minutes away saw one of the best local shows they’ve ever seen in their lives! I mean, come on – 400 people were there! The next time you play 20 minutes outside of your home base, you’ll get all the people from 10 minutes away, plus their friends, plus the new fans 20 minutes out.
Your influence grows and grows and grows. Wash, Rinse, Repeat until famous.