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Does Your Group Exist?

“I don’t exist when you don’t see me.”

– Sisters of Mercy

You’re Invisible

When I first started playing in a live band, I would hang flyers and promote our shows vigorously. I believed people would come out in droves because we were an exceptional band. At that time, this reasoning seemed logical to me. Why not? All the other local bands were promoting their shows with flyers or by getting the clubs to add their name to the club’s print ads. Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way that there is no correlation between how good a local group may be and how many people come to see them.

Back then, if all the bands on a particular show (concert) were good, or we were playing in an awesome club, I would automatically assume the place would be packed. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I was disappointed when we played to a relatively empty room. Nevertheless, every time we booked a show, I posted flyers around town and told myself that this time, things would be different; this show was going to be crowded. Why? Well, this time, we were playing at a better club, on a better night, or there was some other factor that made me believe that this time we would attract a big crowd.

I didn’t know it then, but I was putting my energy in the wrong place. I was working hard to promote something that was not promotable. Here is what I mean: it is not possible to generate interest in a band that no one has ever heard of simply by hanging up flyers, around town. Yes, it was cool to see our group’s name in print; but no one knew our group or our music outside our circle of friends. And even some of them had never really listened to our music. Yet, I kept repeating the same pattern, each time expecting different results. First, I posted 100 flyers, and no one came. Next, I posted 300 flyers, and no one came. Finally, I posted 1,000 flyers but got the same result: no one came.

I didn’t understand that it didn’t matter how good we were, since we were unknown. Our group didn’t exist outside our own circle of friends, family, or coworkers. We weren’t getting any airplay; we didn’t even have a record yet. The rest of the world had no idea who we were, what we looked like, how we sounded, or anything else about us. Sad to say, we were invisible. And we weren’t unusual. Most local groups had never released a record or had their music played on the radio. Most local groups are as invisible as we were.

Here is what I learned: people do not magically turn out for a group they have never heard of. Concert clubs, concert halls, and theaters do not have built-in audiences. People don’t just show up at a club and ask, “Who’s playing tonight?” This may be the most misunderstood concept in the concert business. What I didn’t realize then is so obvious to me now.  If no one outside your circle of friends and family has ever heard your music, then no one outside that circle is going to come to your next concert.

I completely missed that point. The question is, are you missing it as well? If so, it is time to stop repeating strategies that don’t work and learn some that will. In this chapter, I will explain why promotion—as most of us understand that word—is an ineffective way to build your fan base. I will show you exactly what to do instead.

Promotion Will Fail

Promotion usually takes the form of a publicity campaign for a particular product, organization, or venture. In our business, most local groups think they need to promote themselves or hire someone to do it for them. The strategies they seem to favor include posting flyers or getting their group’s name in print, on the radio, or featured in a news story.

What I have learned from working with thousands of groups is that none of these activities do anything to affect attendance at a local show, or to grow a local band. Not even radio helps, unless the station actually plays a local group’s music. Stations rarely do this, unless it’s for a local radio show that features local music. Even then, it’s often very late at night with a very small listening audience. (Radio stations usually charges hundreds of dollars for a one-minute ad during the day; that same ad running on a Sunday night might cost as little as $5. That ad cost should give you an idea of the size of the audiences for late-night shows.) In instances where a station does play a local group’s music, it’s usually only once, which is not enough for anyone to know if they like a song.

My business partner and co-author, Dan Cull, and I own a concert production company called Gorilla Music. We coordinate an average of twenty local shows a week, with about ten groups on each show, in more than sixty-five U.S. markets. After coordinating shows with thousands of bands across the country, I have never seen a local group successfully reach the top of its market on promotion alone.

While traditional promotion may be effective for tangible products, there is a big difference between promoting a tangible product and an intangible one. Music is intangible. That makes music one of the most difficult products to explain and the reason why most groups have so much trouble describing their own sound. Even if a group can pinpoint their genre or make comparisons to other artists, it’s still not the same as having someone listen to their music. People won’t know if they’re going to like a group’s music until they’ve heard it for themselves. When was the last time you walked into a record store and bought a bunch of CDs or gone to a show to see a group you’ve never heard of?

Therein rests the biggest problem for the aspiring artist: it is very difficult to get your music on commercial radio where thousands of people will hear it; yet, that is a critical component of attracting people to your shows. For people to become fans of your music, they have to experience it first-hand… multiple times.

Social Media?

Yes, social media and video sharing sites are extremely useful tools for sharing your music. However, these tools have not made a measurable impact on a vast majority of local artist’s record sales or tickets sales for their shows. For the last few years, unidentified artists have bombarded Internet users with local music. Unfortunately, most of the music hasn’t been very good, and this has turned off millions of potential fans.

So, if you can’t rely on social media sites to spread the word, what is the alternative? The answer is simple: you have to get out there in the trenches and literally drag people to your shows. You must do this until your concerts are so packed that you’ve established a reputation for having great shows.

This does not mean you should abandon your Facebook or YouTube accounts. Social networking sites like ReverbNation are a great way to reach your current fans, and some people may take a chance and give your music a listen. If enough people tell each other about your great songs or sound, and you really catch on, that’s called “going viral.” (It’s also called a miracle.) It’s not likely, but miracles have been known to happen. So, stay on top of all your social networking sites and use them to complement your word-of-mouth marketing activities. Used properly social networking sites are the best tools local bands have available to them. Word of mouth marketing in conjunction with social networking is how you will make the biggest impact on selling your music and packing your shows.

The Reason Fans Come

Two things to keep in mind: 1) At the local level, clubs and promoters are event coordinators, not promoters, even if they tell you they can promote your band; 2) The quality of your music at this stage of your career has very little to do with the number of people who will come to see you.

How many times have you seen good or even great groups play in front of no one? It happens all the time. Have you seen a terrible group play at a packed venue? That happens often as well. How can less talented groups draw bigger crowds than more talented groups? The answer has to do with whether people are enjoying themselves.

That’s not to say that the quality of the music isn’t important. It is. However, the music is not the driving motivation for people attending a local show. I know; this is a concert, and people go to concerts for the music, right? Well, yes and no. On one hand, they go for the music; but it has to be music they’ve heard before, music they like.

The local band has a different challenge than the famous touring acts. Remember the chicken or the egg riddle? For the touring act, the music comes first. You like their music, so you go and see them in concert. It rarely happens this way for local groups. When you go to see a friend’s band perform live, this is often the first time you have heard their music.

If people don’t go to local shows for the music, then why do they go? Mostly, they go to have fun and to hang out with friends and like-minded people. They go because someone invited them, or to be a part of a scene, or to meet new people, or to see their secret crush. There are many reasons, but hearing unfamiliar music usually isn’t the main one.

When you get in your car and drive to the local arena or music hall to see your favorite national act, chances are you listen to that group’s music on the way to the concert. You listen or jam to the songs you’re about to hear in a live setting. If you’re in a local group and people are singing along to your songs in their cars, you’re on your way to developing true fans. I will talk more about true fans in the chapter, “Selling Your Music.” Right now, you need to understand that people go to shows to have fun, and they have more fun if there is a crowd. People like to go where they can be with other people who are sharing their experience. If you are able to pack a venue full of people, your fans will have more fun and be much more likely to come for your next show.

Create a Network; Create a Buzz

If promotion is largely ineffective for local talent, what’s the alternative? The answer is networking—meeting new people, making new connections, and recruiting people to attend your shows. This is the most effective way to grow your fan base, as you will see in the next two chapters.

Networking is powerful. Networking is the best way to create buzz around your group. Networking is easy, natural, and free. The more people you know, the better. Every one of these people knows other people—lots of other people. Networking is all about meeting as many of those people as you can and getting the those people to attend JUST ONE PACKED SHOW. Once they attend a sold-out show, the buzz will follow. It may be impossible to describe your sound, but it’s not hard to say, “These guys are great. I love their music, and their show was so much fun! It was packed to the walls!” Pretty soon, the word is out, faster than you would have ever believed.


The more people you can get out to your shows, the more fun your friends will have, and the more likely it is that they will come again. If they have a great time, they will also tell others about your group. People who spread the word are exactly what you need; it’s the most effective way to grow your fan base. This is the way to create a buzz around your band. Once you create that buzz, great things will start to happen. Can you imagine what the local music scene across this country would be like if every group could bring at least 100 people to every show? Frankly, that’s my dream—to build every local scene in every city in this country. I sincerely hope that you will join me in realizing this dream, and while you may have your doubts right now, I assure you it is well within your power to do so.


  • There is no correlation between the quality of your music and the size of your crowds if no one has heard your music before.
  • Unknown groups don’t exist outside their own circle of friends, family, or coworkers.
  • People do not magically turn out for a group they have never heard of. Concert clubs, concert halls, and theaters do not have built-in audiences
  • There is a big difference between promoting a tangible product and an intangible one. Music is intangible.
  • Old-fashioned promotions are an ineffective way to grow a local group’s fan base.
  • The most powerful way to get people to your shows is by networking. Networking is free, easy, and highly-effective for local groups.


Exposure Doesn’t Work

“Giving a good performance, giving it all is what it’s all about.

I love to perform.”

– Henry Rollins

Why Play Live?

I have been interviewing and consulting with groups for years. During that time, I have asked hundreds of groups why they play live. I get some pretty strange looks, usually followed by an awkward pause while they try to make sense of my question. Then they respond with something like “because we love it” or “it’s our passion.” I don’t leave it there; I ask again, “What are some of the other reasons you play live?” The next most popular answer is “for exposure.”  They don’t always call it exposure, but that’s essentially, what they’re talking about. The other two popular answers are “to make money” and to “gain more experience playing live.” The irony is that only two of these answers will further their careers; the rest could actually hinder them more than they realize.

The first and most popular answer—“because we love it”—is definitely the reason most groups perform live. It may be your reason, too. It’s very difficult to explain that the very thing you love, the reason you play music, could prevent you from advancing your career. Your love for performing should never be a factor in deciding which show opportunities to accept or how often to play live locally. Unfortunately, it usually ends up being the only factor groups use to make these decisions. You love playing live so much that you take every gig you can get from anyone who will offer you a show. Unfortunately, playing lots of gigs will not help your group develop a strong local draw. Your group needs a strong draw, so you can get good gigs and show opportunities, sometimes life-changing opportunities. 

The other favorite answer, “exposure,” is also not a good reason to perform live. In fact, local exposure doesn’t help a group’s draw either, which I will explain in detail throughout this chapter. The best reasons to perform live are to gain experience, to make money or raise capital, and to network, all of which are necessary if you want to make it to the next level. If you’re in a group that hopes one day to write, record, and perform music for a living, you need more experience, capital, and a bigger network to help you move up the ladder.

We Worshiped Exposure

I was in two groups in my early twenties. The first was a band called Serious Nature. I met a few guys at a local recording studio, and they gave me an opportunity to audition for their group. They were looking for a bass player, and at the time, that’s exactly what I played—bass. Tim, the drummer, was an upbeat salesman type, and funny as hell. The guitarist, Ted, was super friendly and a little quirky. The lead singer and keyboard player, Mike, was a talented musician and hard-working entrepreneur. Tim and Mike were both in their late twenties and had lots of experience. They were great people; I looked up to both of them and felt blessed to have been given the opportunity to play with them.

I joined their group and learned all the songs. Within a very short time, we were playing live. At our very first show, we had more than fifty people there, just to see us. A week later, we had our second show, and only about thirty people showed up. We kept playing as many shows as we could get, any place that would have us. Within a few months, we couldn’t get anyone out to our shows, and I mean no one! There were times when we couldn’t even get our girlfriends out to see us. We kept on playing show after show, sometimes three or four shows a week. I remember playing a show on a Saturday afternoon and then another one that night. These were sandwiched between a show on Friday night and another one Sunday night. We most likely played over 100 shows in the first year I was with them.

From time to time, we would get to play for a decent crowd, but it was always the headliner’s crowd, not ours. And we knew it. Every time we would venture out and land a headlining show of our own, we wouldn’t get more than a handful of people, and the venue would be empty. We kept saying we needed more exposure and more shows. We thought we needed more people to see us. It seemed to make sense. We were a talented group, and the people who did catch our set would tell us how much they loved us.

Then, two things happened. The first was an amazing opportunity to open for a hot, new act called Exposé that was touring the country after having a big hit on radio called “Seasons Change.” We opened the show to a sold-out crowd of about 2,000 people, mostly screaming girls. After the show, I felt like a rock star with girls everywhere asking for autographs and flirting with us. I remember thinking that this was the opportunity we needed, that this gig was going to change everything. I assumed that all these screaming girls would be at our next show, but they weren’t. I never saw any of them again.

The second thing that happened was incredible. We had just recorded our first record and released a single called “RescueMe.” Tim, our drummer and band manager, was able to convince the local Top 40 station in town to play it. When they played it for the first time, I almost cried. I thought I had made it. I had dreams of MTV, touring, hit singles, and fame. At that time, Tim was a schoolteacher for a junior high school. After the station played our song, he had all his students call the station and request it over and over (for extra credit of course!). Most of his students and the rest of the school got behind him and blew up the request lines. Our song went into rotation and got all the way up to number eight. I would hear it playing all day long. Again, I had visions of stardom, and I couldn’t wait for our next headlining show.

We were riding high on the success of our new single, and we booked our next headlining show at a club called The Phantasy. We found a few opening acts, made flyers, and distributed them everywhere. Then, we showed up for our show, but no one else did. We had fewer than thirty people there to see us. We were shocked.

The students who had been requesting our song were too young to get in, and no one else had any interest in our supposed “hit” song.  I was devastated and confused. How could we have a song on the radio and still not have any fans? It was quite baffling. Years later, after buying my own concert club and promoting concerts for many national touring acts; I finally understood what had happened. If I hadn’t become a club owner, I would never have learned the truth.


The Songs Must Be Good

In 1995, I bought my first club—a popular concert club called Peabody’s. Everyone from Pearl Jam and Green Day to Tori Amos and Jane’s Addiction had played there before. As my business partner and I took over, we started learning the business and trying to build relationships. It was a tough business, but also a great life experience for me.

Early on, I realized that some of the “baby national acts” would sell out our club, and some couldn’t get anyone out to see them. A baby national act is a group that is just starting out, a group that may have one song on the radio and a record label to support it. For example, the first time Creed played my club, no one came. Radio was playing the hell out of their record, but fewer than fifty people were at their show. The same thing was true for Tonic. Tonic played at my club three times that first year with the same result. Finally, as you may know, both Creed and Tonic had big songs that took off. That’s when their careers took off as well.

It was around this time that I began to understand why no one had come to see our group, even though we had a song on the radio. I learned that if a song on the radio touches people, they come out in droves to see that group. If it doesn’t touch people, they won’t bother. Just having a song on the radio means nothing; it has to affect people to get them off their couches and into the club. Our song just didn’t touch anyone. Even though the request line was ringing off the hook, it was fabricated interest. Don’t get me wrong. If our song had truly moved people, all those phone calls would have helped to catapult that song and our group to the top. However, that wasn’t the case.

I didn’t know any of this back then. We had a talented group that was getting lots of exposure, opening for national acts, getting airtime on the radio, and playing show after show. Yet, we couldn’t fill up a small living room with our draw. What were we doing wrong?  Everything!

The Invention of Pre-Sale Tickets

When I left Serious Nature, I met Richard Patrick, formerly of Nine Inch Nails (NIN) and front man for Filter. He was a charismatic singer and guitarist from Bay Village, Ohio. When I met Richard he was in a group called The Act, and had just lost his bass player. We started working together and re-formed his group. We kept the drummer, a young kid named Dave, who was also from Bay Village. We added a local keyboard player named Frank who had lots of experience and talent. Frank had played with a few very successful local groups—one called the Exotic Birds with Trent Reznor of NIN and Andy Kubiszewski of Stabbing Westward and The The. After we re-formed the band, we renamed it The AKT, which was Richard’s idea. I loved the new name.

The first thing we did was write and record for a full year. Richard and I worked almost every night on our music and our plan for success. Then, we booked our first show, and we gave ourselves four months to promote it (I use the term promote very loosely). Ironically, we booked our first show at the club I would buy seven years later, Peabody’s, the most prominent concert club in town. We asked the club owner at the time—Tony Ciulla (who later went on to manage Marilyn Manson)—for 200 pre-sale tickets. It was the first time anyone in town had even heard of pre-sale tickets for a local group. Apparently, the practice was popular in Los Angeles, but I had never heard of it. Frankly, I thought I had invented the concept of pre-sale tickets.

Now, we didn’t get tickets with the notion that we were promoting our show. Our goal was to raise working capital for recording, and to help us release a record. So, we got 200 pre-sale tickets from the club in order to raise money, which is what we did. We sold all 200 tickets and raised $1,000 dollars.

We also took a portion of the money we made from ticket sales and bought T-shirts. We sold most of the shirts before our very first show. Then, we made posters and flyers to paper the town. Richard and I went out almost every night after practice to drink beer and promote our show. Well, we thought we were promoting, but really, we were networking. We went out so often that, after a little while; we would run into the same people repeatedly. We would always remind them about our show and we would try to sell tickets or a T-shirt on the spot.

We used the rest of the money we made from ticket and T-shirt sales and started recording. We bought some equipment, then rented and borrowed the rest of what we needed. After we recorded a few songs, we released a single in a cassette format to college radio. Back then, college DJs would play cassette tapes, records, anything they could get their hands on. We gave a cassette single to every college station in town, set up a few college radio interviews, and made sure that every college jock who played music in our genre had one of our tapes. Immediately, local college radio picked up on one of our songs, and I would hear it on different stations all day long.

Next, we created a huge industry guest list. We invited more than 500 people who worked in the industry to our show, as well as every college and commercial DJ from every station in town. We invited every person who liked alternative rock and worked at a local recording studio, music store, or concert club. We went to every record store in town and invited anyone who worked there who looked cool. Any time we met someone cool we tried to sell him or her a ticket. If he or she refused, we put them on the guest list. The key was to sell a ticket to anyone who would buy a ticket and give tickets to anyone who wouldn’t buy a ticket. I even made my mother buy a ticket, but some cute girl in a record store who wouldn’t buy a ticket got in free. Sorry, mom.

Then, we sent free tickets and invitations to everyone who worked at the local newspapers. I mean every single person working there got one—it didn’t matter if he worked in the mailroom—he got a letter with tickets and an invitation from us. This made a real big impact on the local paper and the people who worked there, and it helped to get an article written about us. I call it the overkill method. You send a letter to everyone, and the people who never get mail spread the word to the writers and editors who are too overwhelmed with packages to notice your package. The next thing you know, someone is writing about your group, and the town is buzzing about you.

All this time we thought we were promoting, but we were really networking. Sending invitations to people and asking them to come to see your group is networking, and it works like you can’t believe. We ended up selling 200 pre-sale tickets, the opening act sold 50 tickets, more than 400 people paid at the door, and just over 100 people showed up from our guest list. All together, we had more than 750 people at our very first show. Now, would you rather play one show every two months to a sold-out crowd or play three or four shows a month to an empty room?

An Empty Venue Kills

I met an amazing person on a road trip, and he changed the way I look at crowds. Over the years, I have seen many outstanding groups play in empty clubs and plenty of bad groups play to sold-out crowds. Until I met this person, I had no idea why. I used to think that a local group’s draw had everything to do with their work ethic and quality of their show and music, and to some degree, it does. But the size of a group’s following goes much deeper than just willingness to work or promote.

I was in a Starbucks in the middle of New Orleans, interviewing people for a position with our productions company, Gorilla Music. This super-friendly man approached me regarding my company. We got to talking, and he explained his work to me. It changed my understanding of the music business forever.

This person was a public speaker, and he traveled around performing speeches at different high schools. I was amazed when he started to explain his process and the different results he got. Surprisingly, the effectiveness of his presentations was not based on his performance, but instead on the density of the crowd. He said he would call each school in advance. His only request was that they set up the assembly in a room that would be crowded, based on the number of people who planned to attend. He said that if the school followed his instruction and made sure they used the right-sized room (one in which the students were crowded and everyone sat closely together), then the demonstration would be amazing. Students would participate by raising their hands, asking questions, and laughing at all his jokes. They would all love his presentation. He would get all sorts of compliments and they would ask him back.

On the other hand, if a school didn’t follow his directions, and the assembly took place in a larger room where people would spread out, leaving large empty spaces, then his presentation would be a disaster. No one would raise a hand with any questions; no one would laugh at his jokes; and everyone would seem lost and disinterested. This was the same demonstration that got huge laughs everywhere else that week…the same demonstration that had people captivated the day before.

At this point, I was on the edge of my seat, as excited as you can get in a Starbucks without acting a fool. So I asked him, why would the size or density of the crowd have any impact on the appreciation of the material? It just didn’t make sense. As he answered me, I had images in my mind of all these great bands playing in empty rooms. He said, “John, in an empty room, people feel self-conscious and uncomfortable. They become more aware of what they are doing than what’s happening around them. They feel as if everyone is staring at them and that anything they do is being noticed and judged. In a room that is full or feels full, everyone feels invisible and uninhibited. Since nobody is noticing them or judging them, they can be themselves. This allows them to focus on the presentation and enjoy it without self-consciousness or awkwardness. If you’ve ever been to Mardi Gras, you know exactly what I’m talking about.”

In an instant, everything made sense. I remembered all the times I had seen great bands in empty rooms and had not understood why they couldn’t build a following. I remembered thinking to myself, “Wow! No one is here to see this great band.”  I also remembered that I couldn’t wait for those concerts to be over, even if I liked the music. I was bored and uncomfortable at those shows, and I never went back to see most of those great bands. I thought back to all the bands I had seen that I didn’t particularly like but that had huge crowds. I came back repeatedly to see them and had fun at their shows, even though I wasn’t a fan of their music.

I thought about all the times I played with my first group, Serious Nature, in front of no one. I remembered how awkward I felt on stage performing in a 500-capacity club for twenty or thirty people. If I felt awkward, imagine how uncomfortable it was for those thirty people. No wonder they would tell us how great we were and then never return. They may have thought we were great and really enjoyed our music, but they didn’t enjoy our show because the room felt awkward. No matter how good your group might be, if your fans feel awkward and uncomfortable, they’re not going to want to come back.

I remembered all the sold-out shows I played, and how great it felt on stage. That’s how your fans feel when you have a great show in a sold-out club. That’s what you need to do if you want your fan base to grow— sell out your shows.

I also owned a dance club called Heaven. It was located in a very popular entertainment district called The Flats. The club business is very similar to the business of growing a local group. People go to dance clubs for the same reason they go out to see local groups or concerts: to have fun. Just like the concert business, if the room is crowded people will have fun, tell their friends about the club, and come back again.

When a group of two or more people entered our club, we would over hear them discussing their plans. If we were crowded, they would say things like, “Cool. Let’s hang out here!”  If we were somewhat busy, but not crowded yet, we would hear conversation like this, “Do you want to check this club out, or should be go somewhere else?”  “I don’t know. Let’s stay for one beer and see what happens.” Then, if we were empty, people would walk in the club and turn right around and leave.

It’s the same for your fans. If you have strong crowds at your shows, people will have fun, tell their friends about your group, and keeping coming back to see you. If you’re playing for small crowds, your fan base will continue to dwindle.


  • Why are you playing live?  Have a good reason.
  • Playing a bunch of shows isn’t going to grow your fan base.
  • To grow your group you need to network aggressively.
    • Fans feel more comfortable and have more fun in crowded rooms.
    • To grow your group’s draw, pack the venue.


Grow Your Band Fast

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family;

Whoever you are, you need one.”

– Jane Howard

Your Social Circle

So, your group doesn’t exist outside of its own social circle, and you can’t use exposure to grow a healthy fan base. What is the solution? The only effective way to grow an unknown local group’s following is to build a network or a music scene around that group, person by person. What does it mean to “get out there in the trenches and drag people to your shows”? It means you have to call everyone you know and ask them to go to your next show. You have to text the people you are not comfortable calling, and you have to email everyone else you know. You have to use your presence on social networking sites to personally invite people—the people you know, but for whom you don’t have phone numbers or direct email addresses. You have to go to all the places where you might be able to recruit people to come to your next show. If you wish to grow fast, go a step further; and get your friends, family, and fans to help you invite even more people to see you play.

Your next show is the only show that matters, because every show afterwards will be affected by the attendance at the next one. It MUST be packed with people who are there to see and hear your group. Preferably, people who run in the same social circles, and have the same interests as your group, musically and otherwise. This event and every other event must be big! Everyone you know should be there.

If this show is not packed, it will be harder to get people out to future shows. Always do everything you can to get your whole social circle out to each show. Make sure everyone in the group gets involved in the process. Even if they’re not good at making friends, every little bit helps.

Expand Your Network

OK. You’ve tapped out your social circle. Now what? The next step is to stretch even further by expanding your social circle beyond its present boundaries. Start looking for more people with similar interests. Make friends at concerts, in bars or clubs, in coffee shops, and in record stores. Make friends everywhere you go, and make friends all the time. For God’s sake, make friends with every band you play with and everyone who works in the clubs where you play. This is one of the best ways to expand your fan base, because making friends with another band sometimes means making friends with their entire social circle. Jackpot! When you befriend other bands, you already know you have similar interests, which is an essential component in this process.

Once you find someone with similar interests, see how you can connect with that person. It might be by making great conversation or by helping them in some way. Find a way to enrich his or her life, and you’ll be fast friends. Maybe it’s as simple as turning them on to your music or finding another cool thing for them to do on a Friday night, like going to your group’s show. If it’s someone in a band, then the two of you can now start supporting each other’s groups by going out to see each other’s shows.

My co-author, business partner, and brother, Dan, is better at networking than anyone I know. He seems to know everyone in town. He can’t walk down the street without someone saying “hi” to him. Dan loves to talk to people. He likes everyone, and everyone likes him. He’s a genuinely friendly guy whom people like the first time they meet him. When he owned Peabody’s, he put together a fake band—a group that didn’t even play their own instruments. All they did was lip-sink to a recording of cover songs and wear crazy clothes! Most people knew it was a joke, but some thought that it was a real band with real shows. Dan and his friends were so good at networking that they had over a 400-person draw—a 400-person draw for a fake band that played less than three shows a year. If a fake band can build a following, so can you!

I think the reason Dan is so good at networking is that he’s always in a great mood. He doesn’t think the glass is half full; he thinks the water delivery guy just dropped off a year’s supply. That’s the kind of attitude that attracts people. Everyone just wants to be around him. He also has a great memory. Tell him your phone number, and he won’t even write down. He just remembers it. Hell, I can’t even remember my own phone number! The point is to take an interest in other people; have a fun, upbeat attitude and it’s going to be easier to make friends and new fans.

You can and should be networking all the time. In fact, you must network all the time if you want to grow your group. If you’re in a music store and you see someone buying a Guns N’ Roses record and Axl is your favorite singer, just approach that person. Maybe you’ve even been told that you sound like Axl. In any case, you’ve just found a networking opportunity. Let this person know about your group, and tell him how Guns N’ Rose’s has influenced you or your group. Make sure this person knows about your next show, and knows how to find your social networking sites. Business cards or flyers are great for this purpose. I know, I just told you that flyers will not help you promote, and they won’t. But they can help you network. Carry them everywhere you go, and use them as a tool to open conversations or to remind fans about your shows. Just don’t waste them on telephone poles where they are mostly useless. Finally, try to get this person’s information so you can reach him again. If he does give you his contact information, make contact immediately, and try to develop a friendship.

These are the kinds of situations in which you and your whole band need to put yourself on a regular basis. The more often you go to places where you can effectively network and the better you get at networking, the bigger your group’s following will become. To a great degree, the size of the network you can create is more important at this stage of your career than almost anything else you can do to create a large following. I have seen it a million times: unpolished groups with large networks that end up with a bigger draw than more experienced and seasoned musicians. Their network and their crowds make their shows more fun for their fans than the groups that have all the experience, but little or no network or fan base.

Be honest for a second. Do you think that people are going to care if the music is the greatest music in the world if they’re having a great time at a packed show? The answer is no. If they’re having fun, they are going to come back again. On the other hand, if the music is great, but the show sucks and no one is there, are they really going to want to return? They might buy a CD if they love the music, but you won’t see them again if the show wasn’t any fun.

Think back to a few of your group’s most successful shows. Why were those shows successful? Did you spend a lot of money promoting them? Were they successful because you implemented some new promotional tool? Or, were they successful because most of your social circle attended those shows? Most likely it’s the latter: your social circle showed up. The groups that can get their social circle out to their shows, write great songs, and put on great shows, grow… and they grow fast. The bands that can’t get their social circle out to see them will almost always fizzle out. I have even seen a number of groups grow without great shows or great songs, but I can’t remember a single group that has grown a large fan base without a strong social circle, unless they had the help of a radio hit.

Effective Networking

Effective networking includes (1) networking with purpose and (2) networking habitually. Networking with purpose means that you seek out certain people whom you need to meet to help further your career. Networking habitually means that you try to make friends everywhere you go and with every opportunity that arises. I recommend that you include both types of networking in your pursuit of success.

Networking with purpose requires two actions: first, you create a list of needs and wants; and, second, you create a plan. Networking requires friendship and value in order to be effective. If your only objective is to get what you want and move on, you’re not going to get very far. The most effective way to network is to bring value to others. If all you do is talk about yourself and ask for favors, people will get turned off very quickly.

If your first goal is to sell out your next show, make a list of everyone your group knows. In fact, make two lists: one list of everyone you think might buy a ticket to your next show and a second list of everyone that will help you sell tickets to your next show. One of the best tools you have is your cell phone. My groups would have band meetings where we would go through our cell phones and call everyone we knew. We would ask everyone to come to our next show. We would go in separate rooms and just start calling. At one meeting, our drummer was a little shy, and he didn’t want to invite a certain girl he had in his phone. I grabbed his phone and called her for him. At first, he was mad. The funny thing is that she showed up for the show, and they started dating right after that show. Of course, he forgave me for calling her. The point is, you need to push each other and work hard to get everyone out to your next show. We had great turnouts for those shows, because we put lots of effort into getting our friends to attend.

Here is an example of networking with purpose:  let’s say you need studio time to record your next record, but you don’t have any money. Start by calling each studio in town and offering to work or to intern in exchange for studio time. I have not only seen and heard of people getting into a studio this way, but I’ve done it myself. In more than one instance we were able to record an entire album free of charge. (I discuss how we did this and how you can do it in more detail in Chapter 12, “The Studio.”)

Let’s say you need a gig. Start by networking with clubs and promoters. It’s easy. First, get your group booked, and then do these things: be professional and friendly, and through your conversations with the promoter, try to develop a friendship. Then, bring value to this person. What does the club or promoter need? Clubs want and need to draw people to their venue in order to pay bills, make a profit, and stay in business. So, pack their club for them! If you are friendly, professional, and you pack their club, you’ll be on your way to making new friends and valued allies.

A decent club owner or promoter with the right connections can do a lot for you and your group. A friendship with a promoter or club owner can help you to get better shows and better time slots on those shows. Most groups think they are doing the club owner a favor just by performing. It’s simply not true. Club owners have hundreds of bands knocking on their doors every day, which means they’re doing you a favor, no matter how good your group might be.

Every time you go to a club, make friends with the soundman to get a better mix. Make friends with the bartenders to get better service, and make friends with all the customers to increase your draw. Sometimes, befriending a bartender is the fastest way to meet an owner or booking manager; they are usually good friends. To make friends with the bartenders, tip well. When the club is slow, make jokes or find ways to relate to them. When they’re busy, respect their time, and stay out of their hair. To make friends with the soundman, respect his time and his talent. Soundmen are disrespected on a daily basis by other bands and drunken patrons. Be the group to acknowledge his or her efforts. Remember, the key to successful networking is to bring value to others. Don’t be pushy or fake, and don’t drop names or try to act cool.

The same techniques are true of the habitual networker. Be friendly and kind, and be aware of the needs of the people around you. If someone has her hands full, go out of your way to open the door for her, and then make conversation. If she’s wearing one of your favorite group’s, T-shirts, point out to her how cool she is and how much you love that band. The key is to be honest. How do you act around your friends? You should act the same way around new people. Obviously, you need to be appropriate for the situation, but just being yourself is the best way to start making new friends.

Make Your Circle Bigger

Try to network with everyone you meet. The bigger your network of friends, fans, and people directly related to helping your group grow, the better chance you have of succeeding in the music business, and in life. In addition to what I call the habitual networking technique, or networking with everyone you meet, you should also go out of your way to meet people you might not have the opportunity to meet ordinarily.  You should also try to meet anyone who likes the same genre of music you write and perform.

But don’t stop there! Make a special effort to meet club owners, concert promoters, studio owners, recording engineers, record producers, A&R reps, band managers, talent agents, potential fans, and anyone else who can help your group. Also, try to meet influential people with money, and make friends with all the other groups in town you respect. Make sure you’re best friends with the biggest drawing local group in your hometown, and find out why they are the biggest group in town. (The reason they’re the biggest drawing group in town is because they are good at networking.) Learn everything you can from everyone in your network. Become a sponge and suck in information from everyone around you.

How do you meet these people just outside your social circle? The same way you grow your fan base. Start with people you know or who are easy to reach. Book that first gig, and ask the club owner how many people you need to draw in order for him to be impressed enough to have you back as a headliner. Just by asking this question, you will be miles ahead of most of the groups that club owner books. You see, most bands try to impress promoters and club owners with how talented they think they are or how great they perform. Unfortunately, talent doesn’t pay the bills; customers pay the bills. If you talk to a club owner on his level, showing him that you understand his real needs, he will appreciate you for it. You will also be demonstrating to him that you’re more sophisticated than most groups that do not understand his position or the music business.

Over Deliver

Make sure you undersell your performance! That’s right, you read it correctly!  If your group can sell 200 tickets or walk up 200 people, then tell the club owner you can get 100-125 people there. Almost every band in this country over sells. They tell club owners that they have a 250-person draw, when they can’t walk up ten people. If they’re good, they think they are great, and they let everyone know about it. Don’t make the same mistakes. Once you make promises you can’t keep, you become the exaggerating band with a huge ego that made an unfulfilled promise.

Instead, you should under-promise and over-deliver every time you guarantee something. Tell the club owner you can bring one hundred people to his club, and then bring two hundred people or even three hundred. If your music is great, let it speak for itself.  I can’t begin to tell you about all the groups that told me they had two hundred fans and then brought fewer than 10 people to my club. Guess what happened to them the next time they asked me for a gig?  That’s right—no gig!

Find and Meet VIPs

Once you have delivered a few hundred people to the club and started to build a rapport with the club owner, and everyone else associated with the club, it is time to start asking them for help. I promise you, if you bring two hundred people to a club, they will want to do whatever they can to help you and your group. They will recognize that your group has potential, and they will want to make friends with you as much as you want to make friends with them. Clubs only make money if a group can bring people in. So, once you position your group as one that can bring lots of people, it’s time to let them return the favor. First, ask everyone at the club for advice. Ask them how you can get more people to your shows. (This is a great place to start since it also benefits the club financially). Then, try to find out who knows whom and what they can do to help further your career; for example, do they know anyone from record labels or talent agencies?

When I owned my own concert club, I talked with talent agents daily and knew people at different record labels. Every club that books national talent is in the same position. Start finding out whom and what they know. Most club owners go to different conferences annually; one of the biggest is South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. Get familiar with it, as well as other conferences. Try to go to one of these events with a club owner, promoter, or some other VIP. While you’re there, make friends with influential people, and network with everyone you can every step of the way.

Start applying for every festival performance you can find on the Internet. If someone from a record company is going to be there, you have to try to get your group on the bill. The point is to position yourself in a place where you can increase the size of your network with people who can help you. The company we own—Gorilla Music—holds festivals around the country specifically for unsigned artists. We usually fly in A&R scouts or other VIPs. All of these groups should be trying hard to network with these people, but in reality only a few even approach them. These scouts are people just like you are, and most of them are very nice. Remember, they wouldn’t have come if they didn’t want to help people. So, they are very approachable, and you need to network with these people. Introduce yourself, tell them about your group; ask them to check you out live or listen to your music. Then, put on a great show, and never lose sight of the bigger picture: you are trying to get to know the movers and shakers, the people who can help you the most with your career. It takes a little research and work to network properly, but it will save you time and money and get you to the top much faster than anything else.


  • Networking is just another word for making new friends.
    • Expand your social circle beyond its present boundaries. Make friends everywhere you go, and make friends all the time.
    • To network effectively you must create value for others.
      • Effective networking includes networking with purpose and networking habitually.
      • Get familiar with VIPs, and know where to find them.


Make Your Shows Amazing

“I was impressed by Hendrix. His attitude was brilliant.

Even the way he walked was amazing.”

– Ritchie Blackmore


Eliminate the Ugliness

If you’re going to perform live, you need to make your performances impressive and entertaining. When most bands prepare for a gig, they run through their songs one at a time, stopping in-between songs to check that everyone knows his or her parts. They try to make sure each song sounds tight and professional. Sometimes they even write a new song or come up with ideas to make their show better or more interesting. Very few groups put any effort into anything else, which is too bad. With a little more planning and effort, most groups could get much further.

When you run through your songs one at a time, stopping after each one to discuss how it sounded and to decide what to play next, you are creating bad habits. This dead time between songs will surely end up affecting your performance the night of your show. This is the area where most local groups fail. They get up on stage and take what seems like a lifetime between songs. They tune their instruments, talk, and awkwardly make inside jokes that no one in the audience understands. It’s unprofessional, and even worse, it’s boring. Frankly, rehearsing one song at a time has not only created this problem, but reinforced it.

Rehearse like professionals. When you practice for live performances, use the dress rehearsal method. Play your set from start to finish without stopping. Take the time to figure out what’s going to happen between songs, and practice that. On the night of your show, you do not have to repeat everything exactly as rehearsed, but you should try to get a feel for how much time will elapse between songs, and prepare accordingly. What happens between your songs is an important part of your show. I know you need to get ready for your next song, but what does your audience do while you’re preparing? Are you going to let them sit there bored? If you take two to three minutes after each song to prepare for the next, you’re going to lose their attention.

Before you start dress rehearsals, I recommend that you rehearse the beginnings and endings of each song. To do this effectively, play the last part of your first song. Then practice what you’re going to do before the next song starts. Immediately play the first part of the next song, and stop. You should play about thirty seconds of each song. Then repeat the process with the end of the second song and the beginning of the third song and so on. By rehearsing in this way, you’ll improve your shows and enhance your fans’ experience by eliminating the ugliness that occurs between songs.

Dance club DJs are taught to eliminate all gaps between songs. They even change tempos to match beats between adjoining songs. When done properly the crowd never leaves the dance floor. When an inexperienced DJ makes the mistake of putting breaks between songs, the crowd leaves the dance floor like a tornado’s coming! Inexperienced bands make the same mistake. People leave the floor because it’s uncomfortable to stand there and watch nothing happen. As the crowd’s focus turns away from the performance, everyone become uncomfortable. Keep the focus on your group, and people will be relaxed. Make sure you keep the silence, the guitar tuning, and anything else that will make your audience uncomfortable to a minimum.


Most people believe spontaneity cannot be rehearsed. Some even believe that being well rehearsed will get in the way of having a wild, spontaneous performance. That kind of thinking is way off. I realize that this sounds like an oxymoron: the better prepared your group, the more likely it is that you’ll have a creative, spontaneous performance.

Understand that your confidence level is higher when you are well rehearsed. You do not have to focus as much of your attention on your performance, leaving you free to imagine and create. An unrehearsed group needs to spend their energy making sure they remember their parts. They need to concentrate on everything that they’re going to do while they’re performing. If you’re not sure what’s about to happen, or what song’s next, then you’re going to be under-prepared. When you’re under-prepared, you become too preoccupied with your performance to create any spontaneous moments. So, the more you rehearse, the better chance you have of finding great impromptu moments on stage. The high of a great performance will create even more spontaneous moments.

Important Preparations

Have you timed your songs? Do you know how long your set is for your upcoming show? These are important issues. You will have a problem if, with three songs left, the soundman starts cuing you, “last song.” Time your songs and your set, and know what’s going to happen during and in between songs. Preparing for the stage is not difficult. Have a few topics or cool things prepared to discuss in case you have technical difficulties or some other unforeseen problem. The point is to be prepared.

Pack Your Shows

Remember the guy I met at Starbucks who went around from school to school performing demonstrations? Remember the dance hall patrons that turned around and left when our dance club was empty? These lessons taught me the importance of performing in a crowded room, and what happens when you play in empty one. The most important thing you can do to make your shows entertaining is to pack the venue with enthusiastic people. It’s more important to your fans than anything else. Everyone wants to have a good time, and filling the room is the best way to ensure that your fans enjoy themselves. Remember, until people know your music and like your music, they’re not there just to hear your music. Yes, having good songs is an important factor, but it’s not the only factor—not until you see crowds of people in the audience singing along to your songs.

After showing them a good time, the next best way to get people interested in your music is by making a genuine connection with them.

Connect With Your Audience

Work hard to get people to your shows. If you do, you will minimize the number of shows you play to an empty room. But if you do find your group in a situation where the room is empty, then try to create the illusion of a large crowd. Ask the crowd, however small, to get closer to the front of the stage so the room appears to be packed with people. As you do this, you will see an instant rise in the audience’s appreciation of your group. Almost immediately, your energy level on stage will also increase. Do this even in a full room. Always get the people as close to the stage as possible. Ask everyone you know to come straight to the stage the second you start playing. If you can get thirty or more people to approach the stage simultaneously as your set begins, other people will follow like sheep. People feel uncomfortable not following the herd. When they see a room full of people moving towards the front of the stage, they will follow. I guarantee it.

At one of our festivals, I hosted a free seminar designed to help groups. We scheduled everyone to check in for the event and held the seminar the same day. Since there were hundreds of bands, we created a second seminar and check-in date for the groups that couldn’t make it to the first seminar. The first seminar was packed, and my presentation went extremely well. At the second seminar, there were only a few dozen people in attendance, and the room felt empty. It wasn’t going very well. I was ill-at-ease, and so was the audience. No one was paying much attention. It was just as the guy from New Orleans had explained to me. Since the crowd was small the room felt empty and uncomfortable. This discomfort made my presentation less entertaining.

I waited until the part of the presentation where I talked about that guy from New Orleans. I discussed what I learned about the effects of crowds and the effects of empty rooms. Right at that point, I got down off the stage and asked everyone to pull their chairs together around me. Once we were all in a tight circle, I continued the presentation, and the atmosphere changed instantly. The same people who were bored and preoccupied ten minutes ago became captivated, and everyone relaxed. It ended up becoming one of my best seminars ever. Afterwards, everyone wanted to meet me and talk to me about his or her group.

Again, if you ever find yourself in this situation, take the microphone and ask everyone in the club to get as close to the stage as possible. This technique allows people the opportunity to pay attention to your show, which gives them the chance to enjoy it. It will also help you to make a connection with your crowd. At the local level, you need to do everything you can to get people involved in your show. Making a connection with your crowd is one of the best ways to get people wanting to come back to see you. Get them clapping, singing, or moshing to your music. Do everything you can to get people active, and they’re ten times more likely to come back. Frankly, the act of moshing is one of the reasons local metal bands have a much easier time growing a fan base. Alternative or soft rock groups that don’t have an activity to help them connect with their fans have a much harder time.

Participation Leads to Appreciation

If the only thing your fans can do is stand there and listen, they are less likely to feel like a part your scene. Think about it. Most of them aren’t familiar with your music yet. So, what are they going to do? Once people become participate in a concert in some active way, they become a bigger part of the show. This helps them feel more connected to your band. If you can make people feel like they’re a part of your music scene, they will be more likely to come more often to see you perform. Try getting them to chant, dance, or laugh and you’re going to be ahead of the game. As listeners, we tend to be less active participants, and that can lead us to become disinterested in a subject. If you can get the audience engaged in an activity that requires their participation, the chance of them enjoying your show goes up dramatically.

Other ways to connect with your fans is by selling them T-shirts or CDs, getting them to sign up for your email list, or just by having a real conversation with them after your show. Interact with your fans as much as possible; the more you can do to connect with them, the more likely it is that they will have a great time and come back. Having a fan buy a CD or shirt from you is an activity, just like getting them to clap, mosh, or dance. Any activity you can get an audience member involved in will enhance his or her experience. That’s right: if they buy your T-shirt they will like you better, because they got the chance to do something with you. There is a chapter later in the book on T-shirts that will change how your group feels about merchandise. So, remember to fill the room, or at least make it feel full by gathering everyone to the front of the stage. Then find ways to connect with your audience.


Most reputable clubs will provide sound, lights, and a decent soundman. In some situations, they will also provide someone to run the lights. Some groups choose to bring their own sound man. This is great if he or she is very experienced, familiar with your material, familiar with the club’s equipment, and free or very affordable. This is not usually the case. Fortunately, most house sound engineers are very capable of mixing pretty much any group. They know the room and the house sound system better than anyone a local group could afford. For these reasons, I highly recommend using the house engineer and saving your money for something else. The only problem you might have is that you’re going to run into a lot of moody soundmen.

Moody Sound-Men

Have you ever wondered why so many soundmen are crabby or difficult? I believe it is because they have the most stressful job in the business. Look at what they go through on a nightly basis: they’re dealing with sometimes as many as ten groups, all with different concerns and requests. Some of these groups have over-inflated egos and trouble following directions. It’s always the club’s manager or the promoter who tells the sound person what the schedule is for the night. Then, they have bands that show up late or refuse to get off stage on time. Sometimes, groups are downright rude about a schedule, over which the soundman has no control. Almost every night some drunken patron tries to tell him how to do his job. At the end of the night, at least one band member or fan will inevitably tell him how he sucks as a soundman or yells at him for cutting them off after forty-five minutes, when they were scheduled to play thirty. Rarely does anyone thank him for a job well done.

At the local level, you do not need to bring your own soundman to your shows. Instead, you need to start the day by giving the soundman the respect he deserves. I recommend the first thing you do when you arrive at the club is to say “hi” to the soundman. Ask him his name and whether he needs you to do anything. Better yet, find out his name before you even get there by calling the club in advance. Tell him you’ll be available when he needs you, and thank him. If you really want to make an impression, bring him his favorite sandwich or soft drink. Again, you can probably find this out in advance by calling the club. Once you make the soundman your friend, he will go the extra mile for you.

Stage Volume Impact

Did you know that your stage volume has a huge impact on the way that your group is going to sound to the audience?  By “stage volume impact,” I mean how loud you turn up your amps on stage will affect what comes out of the front of the PA system. The louder your amps are on stage, the less the soundman can do to adjust your sound out of the front of the PA. I am amazed by the number of groups that turn their amps up all the way on stage and then do not understand why no one can hear their singer. Try to look at it this way: your guitars are actually being amplified twice, once with your amp, and then through the PA. The vocals are only being amplified once, through the PA.

Based on the type of music you play and what your main concerns might be, a louder stage volume might be priority number one. For you, the sound coming out of the front speakers might take a backseat to increased energy levels. A louder stage volume tends to increase the energy levels on stage and out front, for the crowd. You need to be able to control your volume to get the results you want on any particular night. It takes awareness and practice. I suggest you find a happy medium that can provide you the energy you need on stage, while allowing the best possible mix out front.

Be a little strategic if you have a guitarist who needs to be extremely loud to get the right energy and sound from his amp. If his amp is drowning everyone else out, try turning his amp away from the front of the stage. This way he can maintain his energy level, and the soundman can still get a good mix. The louder your drums and amps are, the harder it is going to be to hear the vocals out front. For some groups, like hardcore metal groups that have more of a scream-type vocal, that might be just what you what they want, and that’s just fine.

Other things to think about are properly tuned guitars and well-tuned drums. You want all the guitars to have new strings, but not brand-new strings. If they’re too new they can easily go out of tune while you’re on stage. A few days old (depending on how often you play) should be fine. If you play three hours a day, every day, then three-month-old strings are not going to cut it. Make sure you know how to properly string your instruments and how to stretch your strings. Most music stores can help you in these areas, if you’re unsure.

Lights Are Critical

One of my favorite subjects is lighting. Most clubs have lights, but no light person. You can teach almost anyone in about five minutes how to run lights for you, and you can usually get a friend to help for free. At the local level, your lights are as important as your sound. Lights can make your shows so much better for your fans. They can help make you look like a national act and increase the energy level on stage and within the crowd. Lighting is so easy to do; yet, no one does it. Most groups don’t even think about the lights. The soundman turns them on and leaves up whatever scene (group of lights) happens to be in the board at the time. Most lighting systems are simple. They have about six to ten scenes that all turn on and off at the same time with the push of a button. They have single faders (individual lights) on a switch that can turn on or off or be brightened or dimmed by the operator’s control panel.

I have found that the best light shows are all about movement. It’s not so much what you do with the lights. It’s more about creating some kind of movement on stage with the lights. Try mixing in some scene lighting by moving from one scene to another with your song. Then mix in a very mild strobe effect by slightly turning the individual faders up and down, dimming several lights at the same time. Again, it’s really just about doing something with them.

Here is the key to really looking professional. It’s so simple, and no one will even realize that you’re doing it. It’s almost subliminal. Most national acts do this, but very few local groups do it. It’s called a black out, and you do exactly that. You simply black out the stage for about two seconds in between songs. Then you have the light person turn them up a little so the band can see just enough to prepare for the next song. If the next song starts with a quiet guitar, put a little light on that person. After it gets loud again use a little more or a lot more light. The lights should help the music speak to the crowd almost like a story. The great thing about lights is how they affect everyone in the room, including the members of the group. I promise you, the better your light show, the higher the energy level will be in the room and on stage.

A few years ago, I was working with a band that was scheduled to play a club I used to own. They had played this club many times before, and the soundman had mixed them before. This was their first show there since I started working with them. I told them to bring a friend along so I could teach him or her to run the lights. I taught that person how to create movement on the stage by moving the lights around, and how to black out the stage between songs.

Three or four songs into the set, the soundman turned to me and said, “This group’s great. Are they a national act?” When I told him who they were, he was shocked. He said, “Wow. I didn’t even recognize them. They sound great tonight!” In reality, they didn’t sound any different than the last time they played. They were a talented, tight group of players. The soundman just wasn’t used to seeing local groups act like professionals, so they got his attention. He actually listened to their songs instead of blocking them out, which is what most soundmen do after mixing a few thousand groups.

Creating Energy on Stage

Do you know what helps a light show more than anything else? Smoke! A smoky room will make the light show much more defined. When the stage has a layer of smoke on it, the light rays become much more prominent. For a lot of groups a smoke machine might not fit their group’s image. However, I’m not suggesting that groups use a smoke machine to create a typical smoke machine effect or to turn their show into some kind of Kiss concert. It can be used that way, but what I’m talking about is creating a very thin layer of smoke so that no one can even detect a smoke machine. I had a smoke machine in a dance club I owned, and no one ever knew we even had it or that we used it every single night. It made the club more fun because of the movement it created. The human eye is attracted to movement, and smoke helps to define light rays, making them easier to see.

Sectional Rehearsals = Tightness

In order to get tighter and better prepared, you need to schedule sectional rehearsals. A sectional rehearsal is when just the drummer and bass player get together to practice the set, or the guitarist and bass player get together, and so on. Getting any two or three members rehearsing the set, as apposed to the entire group, forces everyone to know the material better. It also gives the group another perspective on its songs. Sometimes, you’ll find that two instruments that sounded OK as a group actually sound bad together. You find that those two instruments have been drowning each other out, masking the problem.

Stage Presence

The way you look and act on stage is just as important as how you sound. You should record every song you have from the start to finish and review it. That’s not all; you should also videotape rehearsals and live performances to see what you look like while you’re performing. Often, the club will have a recording device for you to use, and sometimes they can even videotape it (usually for a charge). However, if those options are not available, bring your own recording device and video recorder, and have a friend tape your show.

Recording and videotaping your performance can help you get a better perspective of what’s really happening on stage. When you’re in the moment, things tend to appear either better or worse than they really are. By recording the event, it gives you the ability to see and hear your performance from a spectator’s point of view. As a group, you can sit down and evaluate your performance together. Any time you can see yourself from another viewpoint you can learn new things about yourself and your performance.  Any time you learn something new, you grow as a person and as a musician. Recording your shows is a must if you’re serious about your musical career. Sports teams watch their games to improve. You too should record and watch every live show you play, so you can improve.

A video or audio recording of your performance can really give you some insight on all the areas of your performance that may need work. Also, watch the audience. This can help you determine what your audience seems to enjoy the most about your shows. You honestly look and sound much different than you think you do as each event takes place. You need to see and hear your performances from the same perspective as your fans do. While you’re up on stage in the moment and your adrenalin running, you can’t get a realistic assessment of your actual performance. Without accurate information, how can you improve what you do on stage? So, record and video tape all your shows. Then, spend some time reviewing each tape. Look for the good, the bad, and the ugly; improve what you do for your next show.

Lastly, watch what you do between songs. Nothing is worse at a show than dead air. If you rehearse entire shows, and plan segues or black outs between songs, you’ll keep the audience entertained through your entire performance. Your show will be amazing!


  • When you practice for live performances, play your set from start to finish without stopping.
  • Time your songs and your set, and know what’s going to happen during and in between songs.
  • Connect and interact with your fans as much as possible.
    • Soundmen have the most stressful job in the business; give them the respect they deserve.
    • Lights can help make you look like a national act and increase the energy level on stage and inside the venue.
    • A smoky room will make the light show much more defined.
    • Audio and videotape your performance to see your group from the audience’s perspective.


Book Your Shows Properly

“Book your shows at least 6-8 weeks apart, or prepare to fail.”

– Dan Cull


One Show at a Time

Does your group have a following of about thirty to fifty fans? If so, you’re like most other groups in your area. If you have more than fifty, you’re doing pretty well. If you have more than 100, you’re doing great. Unfortunately, most groups’ fan bases have a tendency to decline when they ought to be growing. In large part, this has to do with over-exposure in the marketplace, but it goes much deeper than simply playing out too much in your hometown. While over exposure is often the cause, it is the effect that is truly responsible for bands losing fans. When a band performs more than one show in the same market within a short space of time, it splits its fan base in half or in thirds if it has three concerts in the same town in one month.

In Chapter Two, I explained why groups should not rely on the exposure method to grow their local following. The exposure method is when groups try to get booked on every show they can in order to expose more people to their group and their music. The most effective way to grow a local group’s following is through proper planning. It’s very important to space your shows out far enough, so that your events always seem special. Never let your fans know of more than one opportunity at a time in the same market to see your group perform.

If you check out the average local group’s social networking sites, you’ll see all of their upcoming shows listed—usually two to three shows—all within a one or two-month period. Bands do this to give their fans plenty of notice, hoping to entice them to come out to their shows. There are two problems with this scenario: first, you should never give your local fans more than one opportunity to see you at any time. Second, it takes six to eight weeks to promote a show properly through networking. If you have more than one show in a six-week period, you tend to split your draw between those shows. Half of your crowd comes to one show, and the other half to the second show.

How many times have you heard a fan say, “I can’t make it this Friday to see your group, but I will be there next Saturday”?  If you have heard someone say this, you’ve made a huge mistake—the biggest mistake a group can make when trying to develop a local following. One of the main reasons people go to local shows is to have fun by meeting or mingling with other like-minded people. If you divide your crowd in half, then half of the cool people your fans were hoping to hang out with won’t be there. Your fans at the first show won’t know that your other fans are going to be at your next show.  When you gave them a choice of shows by announcing all your shows at once, they chose the most convenient one. That thirty-person draw now appears to be a fifteen-person draw to everyone at each show, which will look pretty pitiful to your fans, the other groups, and to the clubs where you’re trying to get booked again.

At the same time, you’re creating too much supply. Your friends and fans can’t come see your group three or four times a month. What if your favorite group came to town and played at your local arena every night of the week for six months? How many shows would you attend? After paying for admission, parking, drinks, and everything else, could you really afford to see more than a couple of shows? If they perform the same show every night, wouldn’t that get boring after a few shows? Most of the bands I asked this question to agree that they would go to only one, maybe two shows. So, why do so many groups play out so often?

Hey, I was guilty of using the exposure method, even though our group kept getting worse and worse results each time we performed, and our local draw continued to dwindle. We loved playing out, so it was hard to control ourselves. When an opportunity came our way, we would grab it. It wasn’t until I left that first group, and started creating plans to build a following for my second group, that things changed. Once I spent the time and effort to work on one show at a time, my new group built a following practically overnight!

If you want to grow a huge fan base, book one show every six to eight weeks, and only announce one show at a time. Network like crazy every day, and make sure everyone in your group is getting the word out to their friends and contacts. Then, make every show an event and as much fun as possible, so that your fans can’t wait for your next show.

8 Weeks Apart

It takes at least six weeks to network a show properly. Once you confirm a date, it takes a few days just to gather the information you need about the show, the venue, and everything else. Then, it takes time for all the members to obtain tickets or flyers to use as networking tools. It takes time to get the word out, to be sure your fans know about the show. As a promoter and former club owner, I know from experience that any show booked less than six weeks in advance will suffer.

The proper way to book your shows is to space them out at least six weeks apart, or longer, if possible. You should have future shows confirmed and ready to promote. It’s important that the night of that first show, you announce the next show while you have your fans all in one place. Have flyers designed and ready for the next show, but wait until that night to release those flyers. Every time you play, you should be announcing your next local show. Don’t do it sooner, or you’ll be competing with yourself and increasing your supply, which always depletes demand. Book one show at a time, and give yourself enough time to network each show properly. You’ll start seeing better results right away.

Use All Your Efforts

Once you have control of your bookings, and you are properly spacing your shows out, it’s time to focus hard on that next show. Use all your effort to get as many people out to see you as possible. Make sure that everyone in the group is working hard at networking. Try to get as many people to help you as possible. Get friends and family to help you network by selling tickets and passing out flyers and other promotional materials. Spend every day telling people about your group and your upcoming show. Create a plan and a make a list of everyone you can tell about your show and another list of people who can or will help you network. Stay on top of your plan to make sure everyone on your list knows about your show and is helping you promote it.

If you work hard to get everyone you know to your first few shows, and you put on a great one with great songs, the scene will start to build itself. If you wait around for someone else to build it for you, it will never happen. The harder you work on those first few shows and the more effective you are, the easier it will be for you to get people to your shows in the future.

Create a Scene

Throughout most of my twenties and early thirties, when I was single, I went out all the time to clubs and bars. As discussed earlier, I went to see some groups I wasn’t particularly fond of musically, and I didn’t put much thought into to it, either. I would catch a group playing locally, and if I had fun and met some cool people or a cute girl at one of their shows, I would go back to see them again. I was hoping to see the same people or even a few new people. My friends and I did this all the time.

Sometimes, a friend of mine or I would suggest seeing a local group that neither of us cared much for. If we liked the crowd that was following them, we would go to see them often. These were groups that had large followings and played about one show every other month, and it was fun. These groups had successfully created a scene around themselves, and it was paying off big for them. That’s what your group needs to do: build a big music scene around your band, so other people start following you just to be a part of that scene. This is key to growing your group locally.


  • Most fan bases have a tendency to decline when they ought to be growing. In large part, this has to do with over exposure in the marketplace.
  • If you want to grow a huge fan base, book one show every six to eight weeks, and only announce one show at a time.
  • You should have future shows confirmed and ready to promote, so the night of that first show, you can announce the next one while you have your fans all in one place.
  • One of the keys to growing locally is to build a big enough following that people start following you just to join your scene.

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