Become a Local Star: How to Pack a Club in Your Hometown

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Ari Herstand[In this post, guest contributor and full-time DIY musician Ari Herstand talks about the importance of focusing on big local shows early in your career — and how to make those shows successful. Throughout the article, he’s sprinkled links to other good information to help you along.]

I’ve played over 500 shows in 40 states and have booked nearly every show myself (I’m still DIY). I started, though, in my (former) hometown of Minneapolis. Before ever leaving the state (of Minnesota for those struggling with geography) I had chalked up about 30 local shows.

From the moment I made the decision that a performing songwriting career was to be my life (mid-freshman-year of college after giving my dad a near heart attack) I began playing out as much as possible. I made a local goal: sell out the Varsity Theater.

The Varsity Theater is a 700 person capacity venue in Minneapolis just off the University of Minnesota campus. Nearly every band that has toured through Minneapolis has played it at some point. I lived a block from it when I decided to make music my life. I’d walk by it every day from the sub shop I worked at and salivated as I passed the 40 foot tall marquee with a hot touring act’s name in lights.

In one year, I not only played the Varsity Theater, but filled it. And two years later I sold it out.

+Shows Sell, Events Sellout


Before even thinking of touring you need to figure out how to conquer your local market. It sounds a little aggressive to say conquer, I suppose. Hipsters would say “simultaneously satiate the collective consciousness of the city.” But I say conquer (because it’s a true battle – and hipsters are assholes).

+Who Is Ari

+I’m a Tool and I Have Accepted That

You have to figure out early on what your niche is going to be. Everyone has one. I started with the University of Minnesota (of 40,000 students). Hardly a small niche, but a niche nonetheless. I was part of that community so I understood the hot coffee shops, Greek houses, dorms, the grassy mall, the union, had friends at the newspaper and on the ultimate frisbee team and so forth. I took a blanket approach and plastered the campus with posters for every show – just to get my name out there and begin the conversation. I also started playing every possible venue on campus (in coffee shops, dorm lounges, bars, open mics, music venues, sorority lounges…yup, frat houses…bro, and…elevators (that’s another story). Eventually everyone started to take notice.

+How I Got 250 To My Debut CD Release (How To Get Started)

One person seeing a poster or a Facebook ad or a YouTube video won’t get them out to your show. They have to be hit from multiple angles and from multiple people.

postersGet a street team together of 10 friends (yes call it a “street team” – or give it a creative name; you can then build this up with true fans eventually) and go around town putting up posters, pass out handbills in the niche community you are targeting and have the more personable members of your band start up conversations with those you think would get into your music (getting personal is much more effective than just handing someone a handbill).

With all the social media out today it’s so easy to convince yourself you’re doing effective promo work behind your computer when in reality it’s not nearly as effective as you think.

No social network or YouTube video can change the electrifying energy of a physical experience. Get out in the world and meet people!

Go to local concerts OFTEN and meet all the other bands. I used to go to 4-5 LOCAL shows a week when I started out. If they see you supporting them maybe they’ll support you. Follow the local tastemakers on Twitter and find out where the hot shows are around town. When you’re there go up to these people and introduce yourself. Maybe even reference their blog, tweets, whatever and maybe hand them your CD (“I love what you wrote about Grizzly Bear. I think you’ll dig our record”) and an invite to your show (AFTER youhave a great conversation). Then begin the Twitter conversation online. Eventually they’ll write back and welcome you into their community of fellow gatekeepers.

Crowdfunding Guide: how to 
harness the financial power of your fans

+Always Unwrap Your CD

+Be A Supportive Member of Your Music Community

+Rock Stars Are People Too

stage3Target your local promo efforts to specific groups that are unique to your band. Is anyone Jewish in the band? Hit up the local Moishe House, “young adults” group, Hillel house, synagogues, etc. Get your members to make sure everyone in the office comes to the show. Legitimize it with customized posters for that show (put it up in the office), pass out handbills, encourage them to buy tickets. Don’t feel embarrassed about getting your co-workers to buy tickets. When they get there and see a packed house they’ll think YOU’RE THE SHIT and will happily buy more tickets in the future. Is anyone in the band involved with an intramural sports league? Get the team to come! Is anyone in a ski club? Offer group discounts. Is anyone in the group gay? Target the local LGBT community. You have to target very specific groups. Targeting enough small groups will eventually add up to a sold out venue.

+50 Is The Magic Number (Book a Headlining Tour)

varsitystage2I recommend playing a big local show like this once every 2-3 months as to not overwhelm your audience. When you’re starting off you’ll want to play anywhere and everywhere just to get experience playing. After you have a bunch of shows under your belt and you feel you’re ready for the big time then start spreading your local shows out and promoting the bajeebers out of each one.

+Friend Fatigue

Make sure you get people to film these shows as you’ll want footage of you playing to a packed house (this may only happen a couple times a year). Then promote this footage to the local media outlets along with the winning point: We sold out our last show. If you sell out a hot venue in your city I guarantee everyone who’s anyone in the local music world will start to take notice. But, this is only the beginning.

+Book Your Own Tour – A How-To Guide


smile squareAri Herstand has been a full-time DIY musician for over 5 years. He’s played over 500 shows in 40 states and has opened for artists such as Ben Folds, Cake, Joshua Radin, Matt Nathanson and Ron Pope. His songs have been featured on TV shows like One Tree Hill and various Showtime and MTV shows. His latest studio album debuted at #11 on iTunes singer/songwriter charts. He writes an independent music business advice blog, Ari’s Take:

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  • I really liked your blog especially the part about actually going out and talking to people. I have been reading your blogs for a while and have been taking your advice. My band, White Flag Raised has seen success based on the advice you have given and just played our first large venue. If you are ever planning to hit up the Denver area, we can help you get a good venue.

    • Very cool to hear! Thanks Joshua. I'll hopefully be back to Denver very soon – love that town. I played the Hi-Dive the last few times through. Where do you usually play?

  • Good stuff thanks!

  • Great story. It really shows you can DIY 🙂 Thanks, Matt x

  • A fantastic piece, thanks!

  • "for those struggling with geography"…
    you're not TOO condenscending are you???
    "In one year, I not only played the Varsity Theater, but filled it. And two years later I sold it out"…
    is there a difference???
    what kind of article is this???
    you work with a lot of semi-famous producers and artists…
    not everyone has that opportunity…
    I'm sure your article is well-intended, but certainly not real for the average artist…

  • Ned a drummer?

  • It all sounds very lovely but how much money did you put in all that DIY promotion ??? That's only possible if you've got money. Posters are expensive !

  • The Man

    A lot of good advice. One thing I would add though is “You play a show because there’s a demand, not to get a demand.” I’ve learned that successful bands don’t waste their time playing in areas where there is no fanbase or demand. They first get a demand going by trolling the local media and pushing all the promotion they can in that area. Playing to empty venues or just the other band’s fans who will never care about your band is not only a waste of your time, it waste your money and drains your band’s confidence and lowers moral. Don’t play a show unless you KNOW you are bringing at least 10% of the venue’s capacity with you. If the venue holds 500 people, you need to secure at least 50 people(who are NOT immediate friends).

  • Great advice. It’s always tough breaking into packed show status, but it’s definitely worth the struggle. Make sure you are ready to be seen and heard by others. You will need to be able to handle criticism and failed attempts as well. As long as you believe in your music, others will.

  • DIY wins!

  • I agree with the personal connection theory. I carry flyers everywhere I go for our upcomming shows and I “profile” everyone I see and hand them to people who look like they would be into it ! Converstaions develop out of this approach about 50% of the time. People enjoy the personal connection with an artist.

  • This is probably the best blog post I’ve read on gigging. It’s straight to the point. Social media doesn’t get people out to gigs. People get people out to gigs.

  • I find the advice overly oriented towards commercial forms of music, bands and singer – songwriters. What approach do you have for more niche markets like instrumental jazz or classical music?

  • Yes, I like your story, but in my country the Bahamas, I realize the music entertainment is falling because, no body knows much about artist developemnt, and no one has much experience about it. Cdbaby has really educated me, and I have become more wiser. When I read and emphathy with the stories sent to my email constantly. I realized that God have created me, for a purpose and I will not stop pursuing it.

  • elsupertupi34

    Ari's experience is full of hard work and dedication. Not mentioning his rehearsals and practice to be more and more original. God bless your heart amigo!

  • Thanks for the advice..

  • Ari, great article. Thanks for sharing the advice in a quick and easy way to read.

  • Ari´s is a great performer and a great Local Artist.
    I like to know if get some international gig or maybe He thinking to touring abroad US.

  • Ari

    Yo Jerald, this is exactly for the average artist. I was a completely unknown artist in my local town when I made that goal to sell out the Varsity. And yes, you can "fill" a venue without selling it out. I brought 250 to the club which "filled" it (with the setup of tables and chairs they had for the night), but didn't sell it out.

    You have to make your own opportunities in the music industry. That's what I learned very early on. You have to constantly get out there and meet people and keep a positive attitude.
    Read this:
    and this:

    Best of luck with your music. I'm just an "average" musician who made shit happen. You can too.


  • Ari

    I mean, posters aren't THAT expensive. A guitar pedal is way more expensive than the posters I printed. But sure, it's an investment. Are you serious enough to put money towards posters instead of eating out? Maybe eat PB&J for a couple days and the money you saved on food those few days could spend to promote a show. It's all about where your priorities are.

    Read this:

  • Benjamin Mariano

    Thanks for the tips! And also, you resemble James Franco!

  • How would you explain what a 'tastemaker' is? Liked the article Ari, please keep sharing with us!

    • From an online dictionary ——

      Taste-maker: someone who popularizes a new fashion. fashion arbiter, trend-setter. Role model, model. Someone worthy of imitation.

      Seems right to me.

  • Good advice, however I think you underestimate the enormous advantage you had of being at Uni, where you have a ready-made audience, when you started out.

  • I personally DO NOT WANT to read anymore article by this POTTY MOUTH

  • Viktor Dufka

    it was great reading, pot mate. thak you very much, peace and love

  • Glad you dug it Viktor. Thanks!

  • Danny Hickey

    Breaking News: Hipster Asshole Hates Hipster Assholes Who Use Big Words That He Put In Their Mouth.