As you know by now, the music business can be very spontaneous. While having a planned tour with a detailed marketing plan is ideal, sometimes performance opportunities that you can't turn down just pop up. If you find yourself booking a last-minute show, don't panic!
First and foremost, make sure that you're actually prepared to play. Then ask yourself, "How will I get people to the show?" Even for shows that are booked months in advance, it takes lots (and lots) of reminding people when and where we're playing to get them to show up. (And after doing all that for months, we still get texts on the day of the show asking, "What time do you go on again?") The techniques you'll use to promote your last-minute show aren't all that different from promoting a regular show, but as you'll see below, we've tweaked them to ensure they'll pack the biggest punch possible in the short time span you have to get the word out. Good luck!
1. Market it as a surprise show
While it might not be a surprise show you had been planning, you can still promote it that way! When you announce it, craft your call to action in a way that creates a sense of urgency and FOMO for your fans. Who would want to miss out on the fun surprise, right?
Tease something special that you have in store for the show. For instance, you could plan to pull out an old song or fun cover song that you know your fans want to hear, but don't usually get the chance to – work part of your setlist into the theme of the surprise. That way, the next last-minute "surprise" show you play will have fans chatting about what you'll bring this time!
2. Do a social media super-blast
What differentiates a last-minute social media blast from normal show promotion? Well, your tone will certainly have to be different – more excited, present, and energetic about this surprise, last-minute show. In addition, you need to be very articulate with the details of the show, since you don't have weeks ahead of you to remind and clarify for your fans. Don't leave anything to chance!
For this social media super-blast, you'll want to focus your energy on the channels where the most fans are likely to see your announcement. For the majority of artists, this is probably going to consist of the "big three": Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Let's go over how to approach posting on each of these platforms for a last-minute show:
Create an event like you normally would, and invite all of your fans and friends. On the event page, put all the necessary details, like we mentioned. Encourage the venue to share the event on its Facebook page as well. When posting about the event, don't just post the link. Use a top-shelf photo of the band that's sure to generate engagement, and in the photo post, share the event link, your beaming excitement, and all the info.
Start tweeting out info about the show – use pictures, mentions, and hashtags as usual. Again, encourage the venue to help by retweeting and tweeting to their followers. Leading up to the show, tweet a little more than you normally would – let your fans know this is a surprise show they don't want to miss. But also, be careful not to overtweet or get too excited and YELL AT EVERYONE IN ALL CAPS TO COME SEE YOU IMMEDIATELY. That'll backfire on you.
While it’s always good to share a show poster with all the info, for last-minute shows, it's usually better to bring out the big guns: post your most viral photos to draw attention to your show announcement. You understand your audience better than anyone else, but as an example, try posting something more “internet attractive,” like a picture of one of your bandmates cuddling with a kitten.
3. Throw together a quick, simple flyer to hand out near the venue
Simple show posters are the most effective kinds of posters anyway, so you're in luck – just set aside an hour to sit down and design a basic show poster. (If you're struggling, here's some inspiration.) Only print off about 100 small copies to keep costs down. If you have enough time, go to the venue you’re playing the night before and hand them out (assuming the show draws a similar crowd to your music).
Besides promoting in-person at the venue, you'll want to focus on flyering spots that you know your fans hang around – perhaps the nearest record store, the vegan bakery, the grungy coffee shop, or the vintage store on the corner. Wherever it may be, the idea is to find people you think are likely to be interested in your music, and simply let them know about the show with a friendly flyer (and a smile!).
4. Send out a geotargeted email blast
You have to be careful not to send too many emails out to your list so you don't run the risk of people unsubscribing, but if you really need people to come out, send out a geotargeted email (i.e., only people in the area should get notified, not your entire list) about the “surprise” show.
Now, unlike a typical band newsletter that outlines all the things the band is up to, make this email short, sweet, and urgent. Don't talk about anything else besides the specific show you're playing, why it's special, and why your fans need to be there.
5. Offer a one-time incentive
Again, it's a surprise show – something has to be, well, surprising. Don't bite off more than you can chew, but if you really want to work on getting people into the door, come up with a creative incentive. For instance, you could try: "Shirts are half-off tonight only," "Vinyls will include a free poster tonight only," or "A special show poster will be given to the first 100 people in the door." You know your audience and what you can afford – come up with a creative incentive that is exclusive to the surprise show, and promote that!
6. Reach out personally
Don't waste the little time you have on reaching out to every random person you've ever friended on Facebook with an impersonal copy-and-pasted message. For last-minute shows, the most effective use of your time, above all else, is to focus on your true supporters who are most willing to come out, and reach out personally to those high-prospect attendees. This should be part of your normal protocol, but really put in the effort to text your friends, call your neighbors, and go out of the way to let them know you have a surprise show coming up with a special incentive, and that you really would like for them to be there. Keep it genuine and non-spammy.
Sam Friedman is an electronic music producer and singer-songwriter based in Brooklyn, NY. His music blends experimental ambience with indie-driven dance music. In addition to pursuing his own music, he is a New Music Editor for Unrecorded and is passionate about music journalism. Check out his music and follow him on Twitter @nerveleak.