Your fanbase is supposed to grow over time, and your show attendance should reflect that. It's not uncommon to hit a plateau, though – and that's when you need to consider what you could be doing wrong.
If turnout at the local gigs you're playing is repeatedly low or stagnant, there are three crucial areas you should reevaluate: promotion, the shows themselves, and, ultimately, your music. Making changes to even just one could be the key to drawing a bigger crowd in the future.
1. What's your promotion strategy?
The ideal lead time for the promotion of a local show is at least two months, and it should include marketing on social media as well IRL with posters and flyers. But it's easy to fall into a monotonous routine that relies too heavily on minimum efforts for each: post the event online, hang up a poster at the venue, drop a stack of flyers at the bar. Sometimes that's enough – but if you're not seeing any growth in attendance, there's plenty more you can do in the way of promotion to help grow your audience.
- Get exposure from local internet or college radio: Find a show that's fitting for your crowd and ask about a guest appearance. You can do this by emailing, calling, or showing up in person. At the very least, ask how you can get your music on air – and let them know about your upcoming gig and where to find your social media pages.
- Seek out press online and in print: Landing interviews, features, and album reviews can do wonders for spreading the word about your band. Get insight from a publicist here; you can find additional ways to up your chances of getting press here. Keep in mind that if you aren't getting the attention of bigger, well-known outlets, you can work your way up to it by collecting clips from blogs – oftentimes, they're run by great writers and have loyal followings.
- Boost your event on Facebook: Even people who are invited to an event could overlook it. There are, after all, a ton of events on the platform, and those invites are folded into a user's notifications, which could be many. Boosting your event will increase the reach of your event and even show up in the feeds of users who aren't yet fans of your band page. You can run a campaign a week or two ahead of your show for less than $30 and still see results. Read more here.
- Try a contest or special incentive: You could offer free buttons to the first 50 attendees, or team up with local brands for giveaways (simultaneously mutual promotion!) at the show. Running a contest on social media is also a great way to get more exposure for your event, but be sure you check the platform's rules before settling on an idea.
Check out our full guide to promoting your music here. (A lot of the tips can be used for shows.)
2. What are your shows like?
But what about the day of the week you're performing or the venue that's hosting? If you're doing the same each time, be it a Wednesday or a Friday at a club downtown or a suburban bar, and not seeing any changes, consider switching things up. Try a new spot or a different day of the week, and you could see an uptick in attendance.
Additionally, it's important to perform regularly, but you should avoid oversaturation. If you've been playing gigs nearly every other week for a year, you might need to take a break to allow some hype to build in between.
There are also ways to make shows extra memorable that can help draw a bigger crowd: benefits, tributes, adding unexpected entertainment to the line-up, or choosing a theme and going all-out with décor and more.
3. Are people into your music?
Your show attendance will never spike if people simply aren't into your music. Holding tight to your integrity as an artist is noble, but if folks aren't responding well to your tunes, it may be time to rethink your songwriting. (If growing your fanbase is important to you, that is.) We've got plenty of songwriting tips available on the blog, from the basics of crafting catchy jams to this guide to taking your songs to the next level.
Jhoni Jackson is an Atlanta-bred music journalist currently based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she juggles owning a venue called Club 77, freelance writing and, of course, going to the beach as often as possible.