As an independent band, it's important to get out on the road and play in places that aren't your hometown. Even if you aren't ready to tour yet, it's a good idea to start branching out and doing weekend runs in nearby towns, so you can start building a regional market that will make touring much easier in the future.
It can, however, be a big endeavor to set up a non-local gig, promote it, and travel there with the band and gear. It's not something that you can just do on a daily basis, and so when you're on the road, you want to make sure that you make the most out of every gig. In order to do so, there are a few key things that you should have together so that you don't waste gas money on a gig that did nothing for your band. If you can check "yes" on everything below, chances are good that your band is ready to venture out into new territory!
1. You're over-saturating your hometown market
This is one of the biggest and most obvious signs that you're ready to move into other nearby towns. If you're getting enough gig opportunities that you're completely saturating your hometown market, the best option would be to keep gigging just as frequently, but spread your gigs out to other nearby towns.
Saturating your market is essentially the result of playing too frequently within the same 20- to 30-mile radius. If all of your friends in the area saw you play last week, then they probably aren’t all going to want to see you at the same place the following week. This will keep your draw lower than it actually is! By stretching out and booking some gigs in adjacent towns, you can still gig every week, but you can set yourself up to only play the same area roughly once a month, or even less. This is important, as your fans will have to wait and build up their anticipation before they get to see you again.
2. You have your band's branding down
Making out-of-town trips to play with your band can be a big investment. The longer you want to be out and the farther you travel, the bigger investment it's going to take. Thus, you want to make sure that you're making the most out of every trip. In order to do this, you've got to have your band's branding together, and in a way that's memorable.
Having your branding down includes many small tasks, such as having your social media put together, a website that features your best content, a logo and font to represent you visually, an EPK, a unified image, and ideally some press. Having all of this prior to playing an out-of-town gig will ensure that people will remember your name/logo and be able to find you easily once they get home and decide to look you up.
3. You've got your live set down
This is another essential element in making the most of your out-of-town gigs. If you're thinking about running out to play other places, you want to make sure you've got your live set so solid that everybody in the room will be impressed. You've got one shot at a first impression with a new audience and market, and you want to make sure you don't blow it.
This, of course, means being musically on your game, but also includes knowing things like the setlist, what you will plug at which points in the set, and how to connect with your target audience. Play a gig prior to going out of town and test all of these things out to see what works and what doesn't. Having this stuff established prior to going onstage will make you a more confident performer overall, which will carry through to both your out-of-town gigs and your hometown gigs.
4. You've got merch to sell
It's a good idea to have some kind of merch that you can sell prior to branching out into nearby towns. This is helpful in many ways, from making enough money to cover gas, to keeping yourselves active in the minds and ears of your new fans.
Even if you don't have fancy CDs or T-shirts, having at least some stickers or pins is better than nothing. This way, you'll be able to set up at the merch table and converse with your new fans after the show, which will no doubt be a memorable experience for them. Additionally, if they buy something, they'll have a physical representation of the band with them that will remind them to check out your website and social media when they get home. This is important, as if you don't have something physical for new fans to take home, they could forget about your band, putting you back at square one as far as building that new market goes.
5. You've networked in the area
This is a great way to improve the quality of out-of-town gigs that you play when you first start branching out. Do a little homework before you start booking, and check out some of the local bands that are in the area you're headed to that are doing really well. If you find a great local group with a sound that would mesh well with yours, reach out to them and introduce yourself.
By doing this and establishing a relationship with a few other bands, they can help you out just like your friends' bands in your hometown would. They'll often have the inside scoop on where the best places to play in their town are, and they might even be able to get you access to house shows and other such performances that would not be available to you if you tried to book on your own. Oftentimes, they're very down to help you promote in their town as well, assisting with putting up posters and telling their friends. Plus, playing a show with bands that you know and like is a ton of fun, and will help everybody build their audiences. A little homework before booking yourself in another town definitely goes a long way.
For more tips for performing live, check out these articles:
- 5 Strategies to Overcome Stage Fright
- 4 Ways Even the Shyest Artists Can Develop Their Onstage Persona
- 5 Easy Ways to Spice Up Your Cover Songs
- Be a Pro: Secrets to a Successful Festival Performance
Dylan Welsh is a freelance musician and music journalist, based in Seattle, WA. He currently plays in multiple Seattle bands, interns at Mirror Sound Studio, and writes for the Sonicbids blog. Visit his website for more information.