Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
Hey Fan, We live in Denver, have built a 9-song set, and are starting to book gigs. However, it's tough to get a worthwhile portion of our tiny fan base to come out to see shows, which makes them in turn hard to book. What is the most effective way to gain fans, also given that we don't have anything recorded yet aside from shitty demos? Thanks, Will
Hey Will, The greatest challenge of being in a band is exactly this--how to make people who are not in the band care about the band? There are so many intangibles, and so many hurdles as a young band it can often seem like it's just a matter of fate. I mean, who really wants to go see some baby band get its sea legs at a sports bar on a Monday night? Aside from your roommate and some blood relations bound by social contract--probably no one. So, I am going to propose a few workarounds.
Next week is Halloween. You live in a city with a big university. Find a Halloween party to play at someone's house or on campus, or for French Club or a sorority. Can you go as an awesome band? An era of a band? A weird/gag-laden concept (45 minute version of "Purple Rain," in perfect Revolution dress? Can you play "Godzilla" in eight different styles? '80s Hair Metal best of? Dress as hot dogs and play Van Halen songs poorly for 30 minutes?) Figure it out/ use a repertoire that is handy to you. Throw a party and play it.
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Part of the reason people do not want to go see new bands at clubs is because it does not sound like a lot of fun, and often isn't. Find a way to play something that will be intrinsically fun, where people will remember the good time they had with your band, where the pressure is off of them to appreciate you art/feelings/drumming, where you are playing songs they know the words to, where people are likely to be drunk and EXCITED by loud music. You can forge a connection, have a captive audience, trick people into thinking maybe your regular band will be that fun.
The long term plan? Get really good. Play often and work out the kinks, practice hard so that the kinks are nothing too major. Be diligent but not annoying about inviting everyone you know to come see your band (once per show, not multiple rounds, no nagging or guilting), make nice looking fliers or posters with all the proper information for your own use as well as promoters, be nice and helpful to those promoters. Go see other bands and make friends with the bands you play with, try to get in on some of that quid pro quo of support from "the scene." Book some non-Halloween parties, volunteer to play benefits, organize out-of-the-box shows that would be awesome to come to: DIY outdoor laser show, ski-wear themed winter formal in a garage, basement show where people have to bring a baked good to get in. It's not easy, but it's simple: People always say yes to a good time.