It’s Not All About an Ego Boost: Objectives of Gigs
By David Himes |
A gig without an objective won't do much to help your career
‘The Gig Kahuna’
by David Himes
To ask what might sound like a stupid question, what are the reasons for a band or artist to play live? What do you want to gain? This is a question you’ll want to ask yourself and answer very, very honestly—not the easiest thing in the world to do. Of course, many will say for the exposure, the love of it, or the money—the latter of which is laughable in reality. But truth be told, there are actually several, if not many, objectives you want to achieve when playing a live show. To some bands in the know, some of the reasons I’m about to cover may be redundant and obvious. But many others might be surprised at what an artist should accomplish for a truly successful gig.
While an entire article could probably be written on each objective, I’ll briefly touch on each, starting with some of the most obvious:
The word “exposure” gives me mixed feelings. On one hand, unless you have a strong enough show and material, it’s just another delusion of grandeur. On the other, it definitely helps to get the right exposure if you take full advantage of it. But keep in mind you are playing for someone else’s crowd more often than not. So for starters, you will need strong enough material, delivery, and showmanship to win them over. I’ll explain what I mean from both perspectives:
First, playing for the bartenders is not exposure. Playing for your girlfriends is not exposure. Exposure is not something that you are entitled to. It is something you earn. It is something you make happen, unless you get it by sheer dumb luck.
But here is the main problem I have when I hear the word “exposure:” Let’s say you luck into some gig where there is a built-in crowd of some sort, maybe opening for a national band (or even a top local or regional band) or playing some radio event, and you actually do win over some new fans. What do most bands do to stay in touch with their new fans? The answer is absolutely nothing.
Did you mingle around with a binder, laptop, iPad, smart phone, or anything to capture or exchange contact information or get them on your social media? Did you do anything at all to let your new fans know when and where you’re playing next? Did you even put up a banner with your band logo or name? The answer is probably no to all of the above.
So that “exposure” you got did you no good, other than maybe an ego boost (not that there’s anything wrong with an ego boost, as long as you don’t let it get to your head). And your new fans don’t have telepathic powers (unless I’m missing something here), so they more than likely won’t be showing up at your next gig. Unless you have some kind of magic bat signal or something, you need to stay in touch with your fans. And don’t for one second think they will bother seeking you out. 90 percent of them won’t.
Closely related to exposure is another objective:
Gaining New Fans
Other than maybe an ego boost, all of the “exposure” in the world isn’t going to do you any good if you don’t win over any new fans. Even if you have to do it yourself, you should be walking around with the same tools mentioned above (binder, clipboard, iPad, etc.) to capture your new fans’ email, social media information, or any other ways to stay in touch to keep your new fans posted on when and where you’re playing next. Hopefully, you’ll have people stopping you and giving you props as you mingle around after your set. What better time to capture their contact info? It’s very important to stay in touch with your fans (old and new)—and make it as easy as possible for them to know about your next show, album release, or whatever.
Keep in mind many fans won’t be there forever, or come to all your shows. As with any business, customers/fans can (and do) fall by the wayside. So you have to constantly pick up new fans. Since you are working on a local (or maybe regional) level, you more than likely don’t have the luxury of someone to do your marketing and publicity for you. So it’s up to you to work your fan base.
Anyone who has been out there already knows this is laughable. For the most part, if you walk away from a gig with more than maybe a little “gas money,” if even that, you’re doing pretty good. However, with a good fan base and the right planning and execution, it is possible to make a decent chunk of change from a live show if you know how.
This is another obvious objective, but if not done right, you won’t be selling much merch, if any. By the way, regardless of the gig or venue, you should always be able to sell merch for 100 percent of the proceeds. This is one topic I have to side with the artist on. If the club or venue doesn’t allow this or insists on getting a cut of your merch sales, avoid playing there, unless there is nowhere else to play in your town.
If possible, have someone (friend, relative, or even a professional) with a camcorder, tablet, or if it’s all you have, a smart phone to shoot a video of every show—even if it’s just a small camcorder on a tripod stand set to capture the entire stage. One reason for this is to critique your stage show at your next band meeting (you do have band meetings, right?) sometime after the show. Another reason is to put vids up on YouTube and/or other similar sites, social network, etc. If you can, it’s nice to even do a multi-camera shoot and edit everything into a snazzy vid for use online. Today’s technology makes it possible for even a novice to do this.
One other point about shooting a video of most gigs, is it can help you decide what to wear on stage, for those of you who are conscious of that kind of thing.
As with videos, it’s also a good idea to have someone snapping photos during your set. You can almost never have enough photos for online use or whatever. While you’re at it, some candid shots can also be good—maybe some of you with your fans, and post those online as well. And while all the band members are all in one place (not always the easiest thing in the world), get a few shots of all of you together for possible promo pics if they turn out well enough.
Stage and Gigging Experience
Assuming the band will stay together, if things are going right, your act will get bigger and better with nearly each gig. Of course, there will be those nights when not everything goes right or according to planned, but you should get the point.
Never play a gig without your band name/logo somewhere on the stage such as a banner, sign, backdrop, drumhead, etc. You can never have enough visibility in the scene. The idea is to create more and more awareness of your act with every gig—even if only on the local level.
The thought here is you want to set yourselves up for the future. Hopefully, you’ll end up being welcomed back to the venues you play and have a good reputation with those whom you do—or want to do—business with. If you’re lucky, you might be seen by the right eyes. In fact, once your act is polished enough to do so, invite some key players (club talent bookers, agents, managers, promoters, label reps, radio people, media, anyone who can help you in your endeavors) to your shows. Put them on your guest list and if you can, have a VIP area set up for them. Before attempting this, however, it’s a good idea to make sure you’ll have a good turnout and that your act is strong. But then again, if you’re getting significant turnouts at your shows, the powers-that-be will come to you.
This is arguably one of, if not the greatest, reasons to play and reap the fruits of your labors. Yes, one of the best highs in the world is feeling the love from a good-sized crowd (or even a smaller crowd). Love is known to be one of humanity’s top needs. It’s right up there with food, water, oxygen, etc. And it’s ultimately what every artist wants. But as with any other high, it will soon wear off, and you’ll have to come back down. It’s important not to let the buzz overtake you and cloud your logic. Love can be a very dangerous drug, and can kill or seriously hurt you in the end if you’re not careful. Don’t let it cause you to lose sight of your other objectives for playing a show.
Okay, so now I might be getting a bit carried away. But seriously, if your gig is successful, many (but not all) clubs might comp you some drinks, or at least give you a discount. Some will give a bar tab as part of the deal. While certainly not the most important reward, it’s definitely a nice little perk. But please, don’t abuse it.
I’ve only touched on a few objectives for playing. If I were to dig deeper, I’m sure I could think of more, and chances are you could think of others as well. Hopefully, you will start to accomplish most or all of the aforementioned objectives with every live show you play.
David Himes is the author of the book Realities for Local Bands: Talent is not Enough. You can find it at Amazon. For a FREE sneak preview, click here. The book is also available in PDF format. Also, David published a local music scene paper for over 16 years and has held over 400 live shows, giving him a unique insight on the scene. Your feedback and comments are welcome.