Look like you care. Play your best show even if the room is empty.
Part of my job is to hit up clubs and bars and check out bands. Now I am not looking to give you a record deal or finance your musical dreams. I am a booking agent, and before we book a band we always check you out live. If you pique our interests, and we have a spot, one little visit could lead to a lot of money and exposure for your group.
It happened the other night. I was at a big name show and afterwards popped my head into a local bar. I caught an amazing band who had a great product. They looked good, they played good, they had video, they were having fun. So I said to myself “I am going to book them”. Less than a week later I had another group drop out of a big gig and bada-boom that group I had found landed a show making more money than they were used to in a new market that could lead to future gigs and more fans for their tunes.
Unfortunately this is not the norm in our industry.
I watch a lot of bands… a lot. And I am surprised at how many are just up on stage for the paycheck. The singer is giving it half her range, the guitarist is half-drunk and the drummer is clearly thinking about what he is going to eat at Taco Bell later. The room is dead, because nobody is entertained by boring.
As a former touring musician myself, I understand your pain. It is tough to look like you care when you are tired, the room’s dead, and you have played the same songs a billion times. It can be tough to dig yourself out of that ditch. But you have too, because you never know who is watching and what they could do for you.
So what can you do to get that “oomph” back in your show?
Learn some new tunes: This is the quickest fix. If you feel like you are playing the same set-list night in and night out, then maybe it’s time to throw in some new songs to liven things up. Sometimes all it takes is one or two extra tunes to bring the bassist back from the dead.
Don’t play as much: This might be a tough one to swallow, but it is true, especially if you play in the same market. Ever heard the old adage “to much of a good thing”. Well, if you play the same two bars night after night, that is certainly the case for your fans and for you. Industry pro, Rick Barker, says it best in his book The $150,000 Music Degree, by doing this “you are damaging the demand for your product, which is weakening your business leverage against the venue.” Try cutting back your gigs, even if it is for a couple weeks and see if you get a better reaction from your fans and the band. If that doesn’t work, or it scares you because you need the money, it might be time to investigate new markets. Quite honestly, if your plans are to gain exposure you need to be doing that anyway. Unless you are in New York, Nashville, or LA playing in the same zip code night after night will not get you on the radar of industry gatekeepers.
Mess with your mind: Nope, not talking about smoking three joints before you hit the stage, I am talking about psychology. I used to have a trick that worked. From behind the kit I would pick out a face in the audience that I didn’t know and convince myself they were a big-shot and could help advance my career. 90% of the time it worked and I played a little bit better.
Those are just a few suggestions. I encourage you to try your own. The point is that your live performance is vital to your career, no matter what you are trying to achieve musically. I know that, 90% of the time, A&R scouts will need to see a band live before presenting a group to their label. Managers and booking agents, such as myself, need to make sure that you can hold a crowd. This is extremely important in today’s market, where live performances are needed to make up for the loss of recording sales, and this will only gain more importance as the market continues to shift towards streaming consumption.
So bottom line, you need to put on a great show every single night, no matter how many people are in the room, how they are reacting, or how you feel. This is a part of being a music professional and a vital component that will separate those who make it in this industry from those who end up asking if “you want fries with that”.