1. Stop Thinking That the Venue Should Be Promoting Your Show.
The venue isn’t required to promote your show. You are lucky that they are even letting your band play in the corner of the room, underneath the sportsball TVs, next to the dart boards and Golden Tee machine. In fact, they even agreed to pay you money, regardless of your ok-ish musical talent and lack of fans that actually show up and buy alcohol. What are they going to use to promote your show? The generic 8x11, black and white poster of your band posing on train tracks, that you dropped off 3 days before the show? Maybe the cell-phone video of your out-of-tune singers harmonizing “Wagon Wheel?” If the bar uses these things, they might actually keep people away. Karaoke makes a bar more money than your band does, just remember that. So do yourself a favor and take the advertising into your own hands. Don't rely on anyone else for your success. Why would you even want to play to “Crabby Bill” and the other jaded bar-regulars. You want to play to your own crowd. Put in the work, get them into the bar, sell some alcohol and show the bar owner why they booked you in the first place.
2. Stop Using False Statements In Your Biography.
Come on, there is NO way that your cover band is the “premier,” “up-and-coming,” “most-powerful” band in your area. Your singer doesn’t have “soaring vocals.” The talent in your band in not “off the charts.” Your crowd doesn’t “leave with sore throats from singing along.” I know for a fact that they aren’t “begging for more.” If they were, there would have been more than 5 people left in the bar when you ended your last show. Be more creative when you are coming up with your biographies. Don’t just regurgitate the cliches that you have heard for decades. Be truthful and say something like, “the area’s 6th most popular classic rock band.” How about, “this is a brand new band and we always try our best.” Perhaps, “we wear cargo shorts and sandals on stage in the summer.” Maybe even go as far as, “our bass player wears a fedora and has an alcohol problem. 50/50 chance that he might pass out between the 2nd and 3rd set.” I would definitely consider coming to that show. But if I see anything similar to “a force like no other,” I’m running the other way.
3. Stop Thinking That You Are Special Because You Play Music.
Too often, I see people complaining about the way they got treated by a venue, the small amount of money being made, and/or lack of people at their shows. There seems to be a sense of entitlement among musicians. To quote Tyler Durden from Fight Club, “You are not special. You're not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You're the all singing, all dancing crap of the world.” Just because you learned an instrument and started a band, doesn't mean that you should get paid for it. You are lucky just to have a bar stage to play on. In one breath, you say that you are in it for the love of music and with another breath you complain about not making enough money. Remember, for 90% of us, it is just a hobby. For the rest, it's a hobby that they do often enough to make a living on. But you pay a plumber for their services, why wouldn't you pay a musician? Because a plumber is a professional that provides a needed service that not everyone can do. When you are one of four different bands playing “Don't Stop Believing” on any given weekend night in a two block radius, what makes you think that you are providing a special service? A jukebox is a cheaper form of the same entertainment. No one forced you into playing music, so you aren't allowed to complain about working conditions. Until you provide a musical product that large amounts of people want to consume, you aren't special.
4. Stop Adding Your Band Name to Recommendation-seeking Facebook Posts.
We have seen it before. A kind lady named Karen, who works for the town street dance committee, makes a post asking her friends if they know of any popular bands that should be considered to play next year’s event. You scroll and scroll but no one has mentioned the cover band that you started with Kenny and Dale from work. That can't be right. Your band is awesome. Then, a brilliant idea plays out perfectly in your head. If you just tag your band on the facebook thread, Karen will definitely see it. She will click the link to your Facebook page and be wowed by the lack of recent status updates, the cell-phone video of you playing “Sweet Home Alabama” from 2 years ago and the massive 219 fans on your page and she will book you right away for the headline spot. It's time to be honest with yourself. If no one else tags your band, you aren’t good enough. Nothing smells worse than desperation and when you tag your own band, it looks very desperate. The only thing worse, is making a post pleading that your fans all go to the thread and recommend your band. That is next level hopelessness.
5. Stop Saying You Are Offended That People In the Crowd Aren't Paying Attention.
You have been rehearsing for weeks. Spending every free moment practicing your parts. You can't wait to debut your brand new cover of “Summer of 69” because you are sure the whole bar will go crazy. You hit the “D” chord and your singer comes in with the classic first line. A few people have started dancing up front, but the majority are un-phased. Maybe things will change when the drums kick in, but the frenzy doesn't take hold. You look out and see a couple that appears to be having a heartfelt conversation at a table. There are a few ladies to the side scrolling through facebook and taking selfies. The rest of the crowd is playing pool, watching sportsball on tv and generally appearing uninterested. As much as it may anger you, you can't be mad at this. Those people don’t owe you anything. Most of these venues are bars that just so happen to have a band playing. It is your job to entertain them. It's not the patron's job to give you a participation ribbon for being in a band. Instead of blaming a younger generation or cell-phones, it's time to consider that you aren't doing a good enough job. Give them something that they can't turn away from. Make them watch you. Also, remember that they are there and are choosing to spend some precious time with you. Even if they aren't fully engaged, this should still be worth something. Only thing worse than a bar of people not engaged, is a bar with no one in it at all. There are so many other bands that they could not pay attention to, might as well have them not paying attention to your band.
Tuck "Cheeks" Hemlei is an 80's hair band veteran who now works in the music industry as a consultant for live bands and venues.