So, you’re booking a show. You’ve secured a good night of the week, good bands, a good venue, and all that stuff. How do you ensure that this is the most popping event in town? Often, even when everything looks good on paper, the show will still lack that je ne sais quoi that sets it apart from all the other shows going on in that particular week. For instance, there’s a reason why so many people go to hip little European festivals – they understand how to differentiate. This is a place Americans fall down all the time and something that I hope to explain a little bit about through this article, I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of show going experiences on both sides of the Atlantic so I feel an obligation to share. When you focus on differentiating factors and what makes your particular show the sort of experience people want to pour all of their expendable income into, you start to win as a band. Finding the differentiating factors is relatively straightforward, but figuring out what makes this experience so special? Well, that’s the hard part.
This is something that people are increasingly dropping the ball on because of lazy promoters – yet within this space, there are so many upsides and opportunities. In an age where promoters are increasingly just using the generic admat or flyer that agents give them, the art of the flyer is disappearing. Yet when it comes down to it – flyers are one of the coolest things that you can use to make your show feel special. We’ve all spent time with those coffee table books full of punk flyers. Nowadays though, this is a lost art. Yet that’s not the only way to incorporate art. Don’t be afraid to ask a local artist to put some of their work upon the walls in your event space. These things make your show feel more like an intersection of the arts – something worth attending because it’s part of a larger whole.
Often — especially in smaller cities — you see lineups that are just thrown together. Maybe you have a metalcore band playing after a black metal band after a prog metal band. This doesn’t make sense to me. There’s a lot less crossover between metal genres than you might think. If your show doesn’t make sense as an overarching whole, then people are just going to feel alienated. However, if you have each show feel like something unique, attendees will start to identify you as a band who only play sick shows — or a promoter with good taste. Now I know that this is a tall order, but it’s also good because it essentially forces you not to overplay. If you can avoid over-saturating your market with shows, it’s the single greatest thing you can do to curate a lineup people are stoked to come to see.
Adding Extra Attractions
This is another area in which Europe schools the USA – they add extra attractions. This could mean quite a few things — be it a zip-line at major festivals to a specialty beer brewed just for the show. Remember – we’re living in an age where things are more “customized” than ever before. There’s a reason that bands ranging from Black Label Society to Iron Maiden will have shirts customized for a specific city. It helps to add to the fun – it’s your only opportunity to get that thing. In a world of microbrewers, limited edition merch and all manner of DIY conjurations, you can definitely figure out something that’ll get people through the door. Printing posters, for example, is a great way to show that you’re trying to make this something people want to remember. Sometimes, it’s the concept of the show being larger than life that ends up making it larger than life.
At the end of the day, this is the hardest one to maintain – you should never overplay. If you’re out there hitting clubs in your market every couple of weeks, people might feel overwhelmed by you. It makes sense to play a lot early on when you aren’t drawing shit and trying to build a name, but after a point, you need to dial back to once a month, then once every three months. You can complement this by swinging out to cities nearby and using those gigs to keep amping up your live show. Hell – sometimes even small suburbs have cool small scenes that are a little bit separate from whatever the major city you live by has going on. This all being said – if you’re playing in a city ten times a year, then your shows are never going to feel like an event. However, if you dial it back, making sure that your set is grandiose and powerful and the sort of thing people are going to write home about.. well then you’re starting to get somewhere.
No matter what you are trying to do within your scene, the whole goal is to fight the demon of over-saturation. This is the reality we all must come to terms with, day by bloody day. If you’re booking or playing a show, you want it to be head and shoulders above the other handful of good shows in your scene happening around your city that week. Figuring out how you want to differentiate yourself and what you’re going to do to show that you’re special — in a scene where so many bands are content to just play on the floor with bad sound — is important. Figure out what makes you special, amplify it, and then grow from there.
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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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