By David A. Barber
Author of Gigging, Everything You Need to Know About Playing Gigs (Except How to Play Your Axe)
At some point every musician will ask him/herself: “Why didn’t anybody come to my show?”
Every situation is different but we will attempt to describe some of the most common reasons nobody shows up and what, if anything, you can do about it.
Sooner or later, no matter how big or successful you are, you will have show that bombs. If you’re successful and this is an uncommon thing, then don’t worry about it too much. You’re probably doing fine and you can just chalk it up to bad luck. If it’s happening commonly, then you need to figure out why and try to do something about it. It could be a blizzard or a hurricane that ruins your show. Don’t worry too much about the weather related problems. There’s nothing you can do about them, so cowboy up and move on. Sometimes you may never figure out why people didn’t show up, but if you can at least eliminate some common reasons, you may be able to avoid having a poor turnouts at all your gigs. Be aware, when booking, of things like holidays and the seasonal ups and downs of your particular market(s) and you can avoid some of those lousy shows before they ever happen. Check out our podcast/article called “Never Release Your New Album in December” for more details on seasonal and holiday bookings to avoid.
One common reason that people may not come to your show is simply competition. Maybe there’s a huge national act in town that appeals to your audience and they’re gonna go to that show instead of yours. This happens a lot and there’s not too much you can do about it, except try to schedule your shows around the bigger ones. If you can manage that, then maybe you should also attend those competing shows and use it as an opportunity to hand out flyers and promote your act. After all, these are the same people that like your band. An ideal situation would be to get your band booked to open for that bigger act.
Another common reason people aren’t coming to your show: They don’t know about it. Have you sent out emails to your fans? Is it posted on your website? Your Myspace? Your facebook? It should be. If you don’t have any of those, you need to make them and build up your fans/friends pronto. Did you make sure your gig shows up on any/all local calendar sites, news and arts weekly papers/magazines? Don’t rely on the venue or promoter to advertise your shows. They should and usually do, but there’s always more that you can do. The bottom line: If your fans don’t know about your gig, they aren’t gonna come. We’ve seen great bands playing wonderful music to empty rooms simply because nobody in the band could be bothered to promote the show. If you don’t want to do it, then recruit your fans to help out or consider hiring someone who does it for a living.
Are you playing the same market too much? If you’re playing in the same city every Friday and Saturday night, there are very few people who will be able to come to every show, much less want to. If your shows are spaced out enough, not more than once every six weeks or so, then it becomes an event when you play and your fans will try harder to make it to the show. If you need to play every weekend to make a living, then play different markets. In almost every part of the country you can drive 20-30 miles and find yourself in a whole new market. Rotate through as many markets as you can, so that you always have gigs, but never overplay in any area.
The last and hardest hurdle to overcome may simply be your performance. To put it bluntly: You might suck. You should be able to determine if this is the problem by watching your fan base. If it grows, you’re doing things right. If it starts off big, with all your friends and family coming to your first couple shows and then drops off quickly, then you have a problem. What can you do? Practice more. Make sure all your band mates are playing as good as they can. If they can’t cut it then maybe lessons are in order. Anyone can improve their performance musically and stage presence -wise. Maybe it’s time to replace someone, try some different material or even quit. We hate to see anyone give up, but certainly, playing music professionally just isn’t meant to be for some people. Sometimes, just changing the material can transform an act. We’ve seen new bands hit the road hard for a year and come back with a whole new confidence and understanding of how to capture and hold an audience. We’ve seen some bands, filled with highly talented players, insist on playing only their originals and no covers. Unfortunately, some great players aren’t very good at songwriting and so the act never quite catches on and builds a following. Just throwing in a couple compatible covers here and there can excite a crowd and get people interested in your original music. People don’t usually dance to music they’ve never heard before. In one case we know about a band that is very successful as a retro-1980s cover band and then under another name (and less cheesy costumes) plays all originals. They way they get the best of both worlds is to book both acts to play consecutively on the same night. A great example of this is Hank Williams III. He plays a set of old covers his grandfather made famous, then after a short break he comes back on stage with the same band plays a set of in your face punk. The set of covers provides income and brings in big crowds who then get exposed to his original stuff. To ease the pain, we’ve heard that some bands who must play covers in order to pay the bills will not waste time learning any cover songs that take them longer than 10 minutes to learn.
We hope this will help you understand and remedy some of the most common reasons people don’t come to your show.