By Kenny Kerner
You can be the greatest band in the world, but if nobody buys your records or comes to see you live, it's all for naught. What very few musicians realize is that they themselves are in control (to a certain degree, anyway) of their fate. So stop blaming your record company for dismal sales. And don't pin those empty seats at the local club on a lack of promotion by the town promoter. Chances are, you neglected to build a proper foundation for your careers. And that foundation starts and ends with an audience. Regardless of whether you play Country music or Hip-Hop, you still need to put "asses in the seats," as I like to say.

I know what you're thinking right about now—but Kenny, we don't have the kind of money it takes to properly promote our shows or records. RUBBISH! What you really mean is that you don't have the proper initiative and hunger; you don't have the desire and imagination to get off your collective asses and do the job properly.

Let's start at the very beginning, shall we. As a musician, your product is your music. The vehicles you use to get your music heard are your records and your live performances. Once you have a good record and an exciting live show, what you then need is for people to listen and watch; people to buy your records and come to see you perform. To make that happen, you need to let them know these products exist. You need to be able to reach them. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them. And eventually, millions of them. You need to build an audience of devoted fans and followers.

There isn't a band I can think of that wouldn't like to go on tour and perform in front of packed houses every night. Unfortunately, that isn't reality. In the real world, a club tour will probably find a new artist opening the show with an audience of between 30-50 paid customers. And that's just fine. That means your band now has the opportunity to make 30-50 new fans; To start building an audience.

Some of the most reliable ways of building an audience include personal contact, mailings, phone reminders, after-parties, e-mail, newsletters, and Web sites. Here are some valuable tips on how you can build that audience for very little money:

1. Keep in mind that nothing helps put fans in the seats better and faster than an exciting live performance with great songs. So, work hard and always give the performance of a lifetime—regardless of how many seats are filled. Be sure you're playing at the proper venue first. If you're a Metal band performing at a club specializing in Country music, don't expect to build anything—except animosity toward the bookers. Once you're at the right club, the building process is the same regardless of the kind of music your band plays.

2. After your set, have someone already waiting in the lobby selling your merchandise and handing out mailing cards. Collecting names and addresses of people in clubs across the country is vital for building a mailing list as well as an audience and, you can literally print thousands of these cards for a few dollars. This will allow you to notify people and alert them to your next trip into their town as well as new recorded product available for sale.

3. After your show is over, don't get drunk and try to get laid. Save that for the wee hours of the morning. Instead, mingle with the audience. Go over to them and, one by one (if possible), thank them for coming out to see you. Even if they really came to see another band, thank them anyway. Making conversation endears you to them and tells them you're a nice guy. Don't be shy. Talk about your show. Ask them what they liked and didn't like. Make them feel important. Then, have them fill out a card that puts them on your mailing list. Once done, you've got their address and a potential new fan.

4. Don't be discouraged if you can only add 5-10 names to your mailing list at each show. At the end of a two-week tour, that could amount to some 50 new names and addresses—50 more than what you had when you left home! Put these names and addresses on your fan database when you get home. When you book your follow-up tours, check the names and notify the people in the areas you'll be going to.

5. Keep in mind that nothing succeeds like that personal touch—so as soon as you pull into town, call your newfound friends and tell them about your upcoming show. Even if you play phone tag or resort to leaving a voice-mail message, they'll appreciate the fact that you took the time to do it in person.

6. On a more local level, the big thing is the "After-Party." The headlining band welcomes the audience to attend a party after the show at a designated address. Dozens (sometimes too many dozen) show up and are treated to beer and snacks. This makes everyone feel like he is getting something in addition to the show for his admission price and, you get to "hang out" with the band. Sure, it costs the band a couple of bucks, but the promotional value far outweighs the cost. This is a great way to build an audience because everyone who attends the after-party is likely to brag about it to several friends. Trust me, the word will spread like wildfire. Most of it will be exaggerated, of course.

7. Monthly newsletters are inexpensive, computer-generated, fun-to-read, and a valuable tool for getting to your fans and potential club-goers around the country. They cost a few cents to print and only a few more cents to mail. List your band's monthly itinerary in each newsletter so the fans know well in advance of your playing dates. Tie all of this into your band's Web site so Internet navigators can also download the newsletter and hear your music and checkout upcoming live shows. It's a really good idea to print your Web site address on all newsletters and CDs.

8. Get a list of local radio programs in your tour cities and find out which ones play local music. Nothing builds an audience like getting your music heard on the radio. You'd be surprised at how many people listen to those "Local Licks" programs. Then, take a shot—tell the station you're coming to their town and ask them if you can stop up at the station to say hello and maybe do a quick station-ID spot. Invite the on-air personalities down to see you play. They won't come, but might mention it on the air! And by all means, make sure someone at the station has your music!

9. The postal cards you ask people to fill out at shows providing should ask for a person's name, address, telephone, fax number, and e-mail address. This gives you four different ways of communicating with them. By using e-mail, you can send messages instantly and direct people to your band's Web site which should also list your upcoming tour dates.

By using all of the above mentioned tools, you will be able to contact new fans within seconds. There will be no excuse for being unable to reach them if you are persistent and determined to be successful. There are literally dozens of ways an artist can go about building an audience, regardless of his/her musical genre. Playing regularly and playing often is certainly a good start. But keep in mind that if you're in a club and you see a band that just blows you away with its incredible songs, electrifying live show and passionate vocal performance, you won't wait for a monthly newsletter to start spreading the word. You'll want to tell everyone about this new band you discovered. And in truth, as we've said all along, having "the goods" is really the very best way to build an audience, a career, and a future in the music business.



From the forthcoming book, Get Smart!: Essential Tips for Success in the Music Industry by Kenny Kerner. His current book Going Pro, is available at all bookstores and at Amazon.com.

About Kenny Kerner:

Discovered and produced KISS. Also produced albums for Gladys Knight, Jose Feliciano and Badfinger. As a publicist, he represented Michael J. Fox and Jay Leno. Was the former Senior Editor at Music Connection Magazine and wrote a best-selling music education book called "Going Pro" Kerner is currently the Director of the Music Business Program at Musicians Institute in Hollywood. Specialties include Personal Management, Artist Development and Music Business.

Kenny Kerner
Musicians Institute
Director / Music Business Program
(323) 860-1122
Fax: (323) 462-6508
kennyk@mi.edu


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