Where To Play If You Don’t Have A Following

© 2015 Vinny Ribas

One of the biggest challenges that new artists face is that they don’t have strong following yet. Most venues like to hire acts that can bring in new fans. The same often holds true for bands who are trying to tour but don’t have following in all of the cities that they want to go to. So what can an artist do to keep his or her calendar filled? Here are some thoughts and ideas.

First, there are venues that already have their own audiences. These are ideal if you can’t fill seats on your own. These are called ‘soft tickets’. Some examples and way to land these gigs include:

  • Venues in tourist areas. Often the purpose of the entertainment is to keep the tourists from going elsewhere. If you can captivate an audience, this can be ideal for you.
  • Tourist attractions like theme parks often hire entertainment strictly for their entertainment value. Sometimes it is to establish a specific mood or atmosphere. Other times it is to match the theme of the venue.
  • In most cases, the draw at a casino is the gambling, not the entertainment. Of course, if you are playing the main showroom, that might not be the case. But often there are acts on small stages above the bar or right on the casino floor. The entertainment is there to create a fun, vibrant atmosphere. Many casinos also have bars with a dance floor. While they do hire acts with a draw, a good party band can still find their way in simply because they keep the customers drinking, which in turn makes them gamble more.
  • Private parties such as weddings, conventions, anniversary parties etc. hire good entertainment without even allowing the act to bring fans in. The same holds true for many lodges, private clubs, country clubs etc.
  • When setting up a tour, it can be wise to try to book yourself in small towns where there are very few competing venues. That means that everyone in that town probably goes to that hangout, and they don’t have to rely on you being the draw.
  • There are fairs and festivals that will hire acts based on their talent rather than their draw. Again, the idea is that you are there to capture the fair or festivalgoers and keep them there.
  • You might be able to build a circuit around a specific nonprofit, in which they set up the shows and sell the tickets, and your job is to show up and entertain. Of course, you would share the proceeds in this kind of arrangement.
  • If you have a strong knowledge of marketing and social marketing, you can insure a venue that you will help in the promotion of a show. Have a detailed plan of exactly what you do to promote local shows (radio interview, press release, social network promotion etc.)
  • Restaurants often hire entertainment that can keep their customers around to dance and drink after their meal. It has nothing to do with who you bring in, but how many people stay later because you are captivating.
  • Music festivals (in which you are not a headliner) hire bands based on their ability to please the crowd.
  • Offer to work off nights rather than weekends. Many venues will take a risk on an off night just to see and hear you perform. If they like you, and their patrons like you, you have a much better shot at being hired for a busier night.
  • Retirement homes and retirement villages have their own show-goers as well.
  • Depending on the venue, you might offer to play for a reduced rate the first 1-2 times you are there to build up a following. Make an arrangement to get a raise to your normal fee as you begin to draw your own fans.

It is important to note that many of these ideas may only work if you are playing all or mostly cover tunes. Playing all originals poses an additional challenge because both the act and the music are unfamiliar to the venues. Most original artists also can’t fill a 4-5 hour night with great music like many venues require. To overcome this, some good strategies include:

  • Search out venues that match one of the criteria above but are OK with or even promote original music. Examples include coffee houses, colleges, schools, some community theaters etc.
  • Learn to market yourself well, creating a buzz before each engagement.
  • Use tools like Eventful.com’s ‘Bring Me To Your City’ widget to show a venue that you have created a demand for your act in their city.
  • Work the off nights. Some venues will hire original artists on these nights and then hire cover artists for their busy nights.
  • Offer to play for little or no money the first 2-3 times you are there to build up a following.
  • Mix your originals in with cover tunes. You might even play the cover tunes in your own original style rather than trying to copy the original recording. This way you continue to brand yourself.
  • Tour with other original artists, taking turns singing your own songs. This way each artist might bring in his/her own small group of fans, and the combined draw is acceptable to the venue.
  • Know how many CDs and how much merch you usually sell per 50 patrons in a venue. Then, based on the anticipated size of the crowd and the venue itself, you can possibly compromise on your flat fee if you are confident you will make it up in CD and merch sales.

The bottom line is that, with a little research, you can find enough venues to keep your act booked a reasonable amount of time. And then, as you build a following and return to each venue, you can ask for more money and/or a better night.

About The Author

Vinny Ribas

Vinny Ribas is the founder and CEO of Indie Connect, an artist management, consulting and training company. The company also hosts networking and educational events and has published an app that connects people to the Nashville Music Industry. During his 40+ year career, Vinny has been a full time musician, artist manager, booking agent, songwriter, studio owner, producer and the Entertainment Director for the NV State Fair. He has also coached over 1000 artists and songwriters. He is a sought after speaker and has authored over 400 music industry articles. Vinny is also the CEO of Top 4M Entertainment, an independent film and television production company.