The challenges we face as bands, musicians, venues, and promoters are numerous right now, but as proven in recent weeks, many are still doing well. The question is, how?
Before we can get to that, we need to understand how the climate has changed and adapt.
What we have to remember is that for the underground Rock and Metal scene in the UK to continue to thrive and grow is that we have to create a culture of encouraging people to come out to live music events on Friday and Saturday nights again.
That means we as bands have to not only promote ourselves effectively, both online and offline but also be good enough live, and engaging enough to draw people out and continue to draw people out. The challenge for venues/promoters is to adequately communicate to their natural audience what type of events they are running and to be engaged and understanding to their audience and to tailor their bookings to meet their taste.
So what are we competing with in 2022?
Up until the early 2000’s, there was a culture in this country of going out Friday and Saturday nights, which meant many venues didn’t have to work as hard to draw people out, especially for live music, as they had a natural audience who came out of habit to their venue or events because that was what they did in their leisure time. A bit like how football fans will watch their team’s home games every other Saturday. It’s a habit, they turn out, and thus the games have a natural audience. We in Rock/Metal have failed to achieve that same mentality with our core audience.
Since the old days, the world has changed, and now we are competing with Netflix, YouTube, PlayStation, and cheap store-bought alcohol. The natural behavior for people, especially in the under 30’s demographic, is to stay inside rather than go out to a venue for a drink, let alone live music. People don’t go out to meet a potential partner in the same way as before either, most dating is done online rather than out in bars and pubs like generations past. The current audience habit is many who do love Rock and Metal will prefer to save up for say a Bloodstock/Download style event once or twice a year and see a handful of bigger bands when they play their hometown. It’s more cost-effective to do it that way, especially with major festivals, because you get a lot of bang for your buck and can see a ton of bands over 3 days.
The question you need to ask is, why would people come out to see my band/event over what they can do at home for free?
Some certain promoters and venues are presently unable to understand these challenges and frankly have fallen so far behind the times it is damaging the efforts of those trying to buck the trend. They don’t even use a mailing list to communicate the events to their audience.
The scene needs to move away from using Facebook events and poorly designed, and often pixelated gig posters as a cover photo-only style promotion. We need to invest in the promotion, using mediums such as Google Ads, Meta (Facebook/Instagram), TikTok promotion, and so on as well as posters in the venue and flyers if you are able. We need to target our campaigns to those people who actually will most likely attend the events and continue to remind them the event is happening. We need to use tools like Bandcamp, and Postcodes to target those people who have already bought from us as bands to alter them of the events happening in their area.
We can not rely on any free promotion on social media as the algorithms are designed to hide the posts and push forward those who are paying for them. Posting events in a 1000 Facebook groups with no paid promotion will result in poor attendance as nobody will see it.
Moving away from Facebook is important, most people under 40 aren’t using Facebook and have moved over to TikTok and Instagram, even for messages, they use WhatsApp and not Facebook. By all means, keep up with Facebook but use the other tools as well. If people aren’t responding, do some research, learn how to use the new tools, it’s simple enough and be ready to spend some money to push your events.
We as a scene need to have professionally designed posters, and promotion that communicates the event in simple terms, and to survive we have to engage with the younger audience by matching the level of quality they are used to from their favorite bands, YouTubers, podcasters and so on. If you fail to do that, and your promotion looks cheap, dated, and lazy by comparison you will not get this group out. If the promotional material looks poor quality, people will assume the event will be of low quality also.
Four band logos on a black background with a date and time doesn’t tell the audience anything. 99% of people won’t know who the bands are, so won’t turn out, however, if you are running a Black Metal night, you can promote that first and foremost and target Black Metal fans in the local area and that is the draw, rather than the bands who won’t be known to the audience. Bands themselves are also naïve in thinking that people know who they are. Sticking your name and a date/time on a Facebook event is not enough information.
Speaking of bands, many are just as guilty of failing to adapt to the times and sometimes fall into the trap of repeating the same mistakes and then complaining it’s not working when nobody attends. The question bands need to ask when a gig fails is, did you do enough to let everyone who might be interested in that area that the gig was on?
It’s hard work being a band in 2022, you not only have to write the music, rehearse, pay for the recording, self-release, and so on, you have to be a promoter as well and you have to keep up with the times. You may feel that you don’t want to do the promotional side of things, and that’s fair enough, but understand if you leave it to others, the results could well be poor.
Bands have to understand that a gig isn’t just a place to perform, it’s a market, it’s your market stall, your performance is an advertisement to encourage people to buy your CDs, vinyl, shirts, and so on from the merch stand. If you are going to quibble about spending a few quid on promotion then why are you printing merch? Would you rather lose a little money on the promotion in the short term and play to a packed venue and potentially sell a ton of merch, or keep that £20 and play to a handful and sell next to nothing? If you are aiming to “go-pro” then you should treat all of this as a business anyway. Advertising is essential for any business and it costs money and takes time to do.
The price of gigs is important as well, especially with a cost of living/fuel crisis squeezing UK residents harder than ever post-pandemic. People’s money for living is not going as far, and thus if you charge over a fiver for events you may restrict your audience further. If you are a bit more established you may get away with charging a bit more, but that depends where you are a lot of the time too. Especially when staying home is free, and people have so many other options now. As stated previously, many people’s habit is to save and go to a bigger festival, so you need to figure out how to draw that audience to your event as well.
Think of it this way, if you were to pay to download a game, would you pay over a fiver for something you had never heard of? Would you pay upwards of £10 to go see a film when you didn’t know what it was or even who the cast was? Would you pay over £20 to see a football match where you didn’t know which either team was or who was even playing? You probably wouldn’t. You need to apply this logic to promoting your music and events.
As well as advertising and pricing, the timing of the event is also important. If you are an unknown band (or are promoting unknown bands) then you need to choose a night of the week the most natural audience will be available to see it, you need to communicate and stick to the start time and it needs to be days/times most people are comfortable coming out. If you have a more popular band on, you can get away with a different day of the week as they will naturally draw people out. If not Friday/Saturday nights are your safest bet.
The quality of the sound is another big issue. Venues need to pay for a good PA and maintain it with a sound person who knows how to operate it. If you do all the work to promote the show, get a good turnout and people pay a fiver to get in and it sounds awful, that audience will not come back and you will have lost all that hard work. That also goes for the quality of bands you book, if they aren’t up to the audience’s taste or expected standard those people you worked so hard to get out won’t likely come back.
Consistently poor sound will result in a dwindling audience. People are used to a higher standard of audio quality these days, and your sound/stage setup needs to meet their expectations if they are going to continue to pay to get into your venue and thus continue to buy drinks. Gigs that have no audible vocals, too much bass, and a ton of feedback are all too common and it drives people away. Also, offer earplugs for loud events, it is cheap, and your audience will appreciate it! Also, hire a good soundperson, not just rely on a mate.
A clean venue also helps, if your toilets look terrible, are broken, and stink that will put people off going. A messy, dirty, old venue won’t encourage a new audience out, keep it clean looking, keep it modern, if it’s a music venue, make it the focus of the venue, not a side attraction, especially if you are booking originals bands.
Also understand while there is some crossover, original bands and covers/tributes have different audiences and tastes. Covers bands can be quite happy to be paid to be just the live music for that night in the pub or venue, however original bands want an engaging audience, potential new fans, and people who will buy the merch. While being paid is good, to be background music for a nights drinking with a disengaged and disinterested audience in a pub isn’t worth it for the originals band. Of course originals bands can avoid this by trying to draw that audience out themselves, but it is something to bear in mind.
So what can be done to improve event turnouts?
You need to target the correct demographics for the events you are running. Use keywords and targets that relate to the bands/events you have booked. Target the local area, don’t be so broad brush, keep it as defined as possible. Use Google Ads, Meta Business Suite, and TikTok promotions to target your audience on social media. Be as clear as day with the communication. Tell people EXACTLY what the event is and what the bands may sound like. You can target an audience’s taste right down to the genre and the bands they like, and even directly to the postcode areas where the venue is.
In terms of free promotion, have a well-designed professional poster/s to be sent to the venues ahead of the gig, design flyers for handing out in that town, or use a mailing list to send them to those in that area who you know might like the event. You need good branding and good image quality. Do not ever use jpegs for images as the quality is atrocious, and if you are doing anything with audio, NEVER use mp3’s as they sound terrible.
Use an emailing tool like MailChimp to send email reminders promoting the show and encourage as many pre-sales as possible. Bandcamp allows bands to export all their sales and Excel can separate the sales right down to the postcode area. Be good at data management and it will pay off.
As for Facebook, you can still run Facebook events, but remember to invite the people who might actually attend the event, sometimes people either invite no one, or blanket invite people 100’s of miles away from the venue which is just lazy.
It takes a combination of tools to make an event a success.
Understanding your audience is also important. Trying to promote an NWOBHM event to the under 40’s that isn’t say Iron Maiden won’t be as successful, in the same way promoting a Metalcore gig to people over 40 isn’t likely to be successful. Know your audience, know who might like the music, and work to get those people out. Don’t waste your time and money on people who will never attend the show. Don’t believe everyone is going to like your music/event just because you do. Some people do like everything, but they are a minority.
Ultimately if you are not spending to advertise, aren’t communicating to anyone directly what your event is when it is, and doing the bare minimum promotional wise then you will not get a good turnout. The scene isn’t dead, many are doing very well right now, but they have adapted to the times, they know their audience and they working hard to get a good turnout.
I realise I have written a lot of thoughts down here, so I will stop but I hope my blog post has been useful to you!