A question I get asked all the time by local level bands is ‘How much should we be playing locally?’ and this is a tricky one. There are so many good tours coming through all the time that need opening bands. This isn’t even touching on your friends coming through who you want to play with just so they don’t have a bad show in your hometown. I know how tricky it is to find this balance, it’s not an obvious one to figure out and it’s one that is going to routinely give you headaches. So in this article, I wanted to break down precisely how many times you should be playing in your hometown in a year, why I think that and how you can implement a strategy around that and then how you can decide which hometown shows you want to be playing.
4. How Many Shows Should You Play In Your Hometown Every Year?
Four at most.
But seriously – most of what I see looking at the bands who are able to build up a sustainable hometown following is that the ones grinding out four hometown shows in a year are basically at the maximum point where the show still feels like an event and they are drawing. The bands who play less in their hometown annually, like Kings Destroy who do great in New York but only play once or twice a year in the city, tend to see further amplified results. Once you start playing more than four shows a year in a given city a few other factors come into play. But booking shows once every 90 days is easy. It’s great too since 90 days is roughly the window you need to book and promote a strong local show, so once you play one you can start focusing on the next.
3. Why Do I Think This?
So – aside from sheer observation, as outlined in the previous point, there are other reasons I think that playing four times a year in your home city is the key. The real focus is just that you want to see your band at an event. If you play more than four times a year it quickly becomes a case of ‘Oh I can see that band whenever”. What’s tricky is you actually do want to play a lot early on because you’ve got to get good live, but doing that should only be seen as a means to kick things off. If you’re a few years into being a band it’s important to scale back and become a little more selective with your shows. Again – the focus needs to be on making your shows something special. You can even go above and beyond by bringing in fun extras to your shows, be it partnering with a local brewery or gear company or even negotiating with the bar to make the first round of drinks free. It’s all about getting those heads in. However, this is a lot of work and if you do it too much it just will make you look bad.
2. That’s Not A Lot Of Shows! How Do I Play More?
Now I am not advocating that your band plays only four shows a year, that would be hard for a lot of reasons. Not only is that going to impact your live talents it’s also going to limit your growth. So the secret is simple – focus on playing more regionally! You can play any market four times in a year early in your bands’ career. You just want to keep hustling and getting yourself on new bills. If you can get yourself on more lineups and play more cities in your area then a regional buzz will build. You can even do this by engaging in my twelve promoter theory wherein you identify 12 key markets, including your hometown, and try to hit each of them four times a year by doing weekenders every other week. That is a strategy for clear and gradual growth.
1. How Do I Decide Which Shows To Play?
So this is where it gets tricky. If you are inducing artificial scarcity then you want to make sure that your relatively rare appearances stand out as can’t miss events. Then you get back to the fundamental question from earlier in this article – do you try to help your friends touring through so they will help you when you play their town, or do you try to open for bigger bands and hopefully impress some people in the bigger crowd? Well, I think it’s a balance. It’s important if you’re going to open for a friends band to make sure it’s a friends band who are hustling So often bands go on tour who have never hired PR, never done any self-promotion, barely post on social, etc. That isn’t going to help you move the needle. But if it’s a band who are working hard and who are friends with you? Then go for it! Simultaneously – opening slots for bigger bands need to be thought about too – by and large, the secret is going to be thinking strategically and determining what makes sense on a case by case basis. Sorry to not have a better answer.
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Matt Bacon is a consultant, A&R man, and journalist specializing in the world of heavy metal. Having worked with everyone from Glam Rock icon Phil Collen of Def Leppard, to post Black Metal titans Alcest, by way of legendary thrashers Exhorder as well as labels including Prophecy Productions and Ripple Music, he has dedicated his life to helping young bands develop. Having started his own blog at the age of 14 he views his career in artist development as ‘a hobby that got out of hand’. In 2015 he formed Dropout Media in order to better support the artists he loves. We sit here now, years later with countless tours booked, records released and deals signed, and loving every minute of it.
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