The Myth of the Built-In Crowd

empty venue

By David A. Barber
Author of Gigging, Everything You Need to Know About Playing Gigs (Except How to Play Your Axe)

Working at a mid-sized venue (500 capacity) we are commonly confronted with the question: “So, how many people usually show up here?” This is most commonly asked by a member of a new band that has never played the venue before. Our answer is always along the lines of “That depends on how many people are coming to see your band.” In truth, our venue, like many others has little or no built-in crowd. People mostly come to our venue to see bands they already know and like. This is similar to many other venues that offer nothing else but live music. Theaters, amphitheaters, arenas they all have this in common. Even a lot of small 100 person venues live with this reality. Bands get all excited to play our venue because it’s so big and has been around for so long, they think it’s a huge opportunity to win over new fans and it can be, if the fans coming to see the other acts like yours as well, but you can’t just expect a lot of people to come, just because it’s a big room.

The venues that have built-in crowds are those with pool tables, pinball machines, cheap drinks or other attractions that bring people in regularly. many of these neighborhood pubs would have a good crowd even without the music and the band is just an added attraction to keep people around longer or provide a certain kind of atmosphere.

Think about the arena. Nobody goes to the nearest arena every night just to hang out. The tickets are expensive and so is the beer. If the band can’t sell the tickets the show will probably not get booked in the first place or will get canceled before it ever happens.

The lesson is that it’s always on the band to bring in a crowd. You might be able to rely on the venue or promoter to provide some advertising, but if you don’t have a following, nobody’s gonna show up to see you. Even if you are given the plum opening slot for a big national act, the venue is still hoping your act will bring in some people to start drinking early before the headliner goes on and the bulk of the crowd shows up.