When an unsigned band books its first tour (see Getting Bands Out of Their Own Back Yards), chances are that it will have to accept some undesirable time slots for many shows. It is going to take some work to fill a venue for a gig booked on a Monday or Tuesday night in a city where the band has no established fan base. Putting some effort into public relations ahead of time can pay off, however.
Local Venue Advertising
While the band can hope that the venue into which it is booked will market the upcoming show, it should not rely on that happening. Many venues will save marketing dollars by only advertising for special occasions or weekends. A band can locate local Internet sites that offer free advertising and post ads at two-week and one-week intervals prior to the scheduled show.
There is generally at least one publication in each major city that features a calendar of upcoming events (for example, in St. Louis, The Riverfront Times would be considered). Additionally, sites established especially for musicians can attract an audience, even if those audience members are other musicians who simply wish to check out the competition. Again, by way of example, in St. Louis, the site on which to post would be STLMusic.com.
Finally, a band should not forget nor discount the reach of sites such as Craigslist.org, which has a specific category established for “Events” in different locations. Ads should be well-worded, mention any other acts with which the band is playing (and which may have a draw), and make note of the fact that band merchandise will be offered – perhaps at a discount for the first fifty people at the ‘merch’ table. (Merchandising will be discussed in an upcoming article in this series.)
Social Networks and Email Marketing for Upcoming Tour Stops
This is one area where a band’s social networking presence can make a real difference. Maintaining an online calendar is a given, but a band should take extra steps to hype upcoming shows in other cities. When posting updates and reminders, the inclusion of a request to forward the post to other subscribers in the targeted geographic location can net better results.
Starting at least a week prior to the show, the band should alert fans on its social networking sites of the upcoming appearance and increase the frequency of such alerts right up to the day of the show. For instance, the first post could go out about a week and a half prior to the date of the show, with follow-up alerts two days later, then two days after that, until about four days prior to the show when daily posts can be made.
Similarly, if a band has an established distribution list for an email newsletter, sending an extra alert prior to the scheduled tour, then prior to each scheduled stop on that tour should be considered. Care must be taken, however, to prevent the band from appearing too “spammy.” As with ads, emails should mention anything about the venue that will be attractive to potential audience members, including a mention of the other acts with which the band will be playing.
Radio Airplay Requests to Promote Stops on the Tour
Probably the most difficult advance marketing endeavor for an unsigned band is to request radio airplay in each city prior to a performance there. If, however, a band has an EP suitable for radio play, it should attempt to take advantage of this marketing method. Doing so can be somewhat labor-intensive, but can pay off with a packed house.
The band can locate local radio stations (not forgetting college stations) by accessing sites such as Radio-Locator.com. By entering the city’s Zip Code, the band can find all the stations in that locale. From there it will be a matter of making calls to determine who to contact and the goal will be to reach out to the Program Director.
If the band’s representative cannot speak directly with this person, a message should be left, and the band should follow up by sending a promo package with a cover letter addressed to the Director that explains that the band will be in that city, and would appreciate some advance airplay to promote the show. About a week prior to the show, a follow-up email to that person will be in order. The email should mention the message and the promo kit, and again respectfully request airplay prior to the show.
Creatively Marketing Upcoming Shows
While it would be nice if a band could afford a billboard that announces an upcoming show on each tour stop, doing so is probably not going to be the reality. Putting some time and effort into advance promotion will pay off, and a band should apply its creative side to doing so. Doing Internet searches such as, “free advertising in Memphis,” can turn up methods of marketing that the band may not have considered.
Finally, even if only five people turn out for that Monday night show in Topeka, the band should give its best performance to those people (especially if they paid to be there), maintain its professionalism, and keep working toward the goal of playing to a packed twenty-thousand seat amphitheater.