Here’s How to Pick Up Your Local Music Scene

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

One thing that every scene has in common? Musicians all complain about how crappy the scene is. Whether you live in a tiny town with just one hillbilly bar or a huge city where the best venues seem impenetrable, you’ll hear your music-playing friends griping about all the ways your local scene fails to deliver what they need.  Why gripe, though? You can become part of the solution, even if you’re not interested in buying your own nightclub.

1. Find out where people in your town are hanging out
So there’s no great, rockin’ club in your area with a built-in audience. That’s fine. Your future fans are hanging around somewhere after hours, and it might not be a traditional nightclub. It could be a coffee shop, a bakery, a funky bookstore, or some kind of anarchist co-op. Hit the streets, watch the hipsters, and find out where all those people are going!

If you walk in the door and see an amazing live act performing, then maybe you can skip steps two through five and just hand a demo over to the lady at the counter.

2. Be nice to the management and suggest doing live music
If the hot hangout in your town – whether it be a restaurant, diner, or beer-can museum – rarely or never books live bands, there may be reasons. Introduce yourself to the people in charge and find out what they are.

There’s an end-around maneuver for every obstacle. Are there apartments upstairs? Suggest doing acoustic shows only. Do municipal regulations make things difficult? Those can be waived or overcome with a little help from your local elected officials – they’re supposed to encourage commerce, not suppress it, and are usually friendlier than you think. The most common hesitation usually involves a shady former associate who tried to book music before and made a mess of things. In that case, it’s time to put your salesperson hat on and reassure your potential partners that you’re trustworthy, you’ve booked shows before, and you’ll abide by whatever parameters they wish.

Offer to book one show on a trial basis and see how it goes. Venue owners and managers want more traffic; if they think gigs are workable, they are inclined to say yes. Make a “yes” more likely by volunteering to bring everything needed: a PA system and someone to run it, as well as a trusted human to work the door. That way, the venue provides nothing but the room.

3. Promote like a boss
Once you have a date, make sure you can bump the place out. It’s all hands on deck to ensure a packed room. Use flyers, both in the venue and around town. Promote on social media. Make sure your musicians get the word out to music fans.

Get your local media to work for you, too. Newspapers have an arts or events section, and journalists are always looking for something new to report. A popular local venue starting a concert series? That’s news. Remember the dreaded 10 Percent Rule: 10 percent or less of people who know about the event will actually show up. If you want a hundred, you’d best invite a thousand or more.

4. Charge a tiny cover
Bands shouldn’t have to work for free. Most non-musical venues don’t charge a cover, but a cover charge of one or two dollars won’t turn many folks away from the place they were going anyhow, especially if they discover the added bonus of unexpected live music. You can negotiate the split, but most or all of the cover charge should go to you and your bands; the venue is making money from whatever they were already selling.

5. Thank everyone profusely and invite them back
You should embrace your role as MC or find someone who will. Introduce all the bands, thank them when they’re done, thank the venue for giving you the space, and thank the crowd just for showing up. And of course, if there’s another show coming up, make sure nobody leaves the room without hearing about it. Flyer the room for your next show before tonight’s show begins.Start a mailing list. Pass out handbills.

6. Add some special sauce
Find a way to make your event special. Can you partner with an artist to decorate the room with amazing paintings or photographs? Will your event have a theme or celebrate some holiday? Anything is better than nothing. Hand out cookies or freezer pops. Make your show stand out.Your brainchild could be start the new scene that your whole town is looking for.

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