How one fan can get you a gig in a new city

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Image via Fran Snyder.

Let’s talk about a struggle most indie musicians face at some point in their career: breaking into a new city. Maybe you have a good hold on your hometown and want to expand to a nearby city or town to get into more regional gigging. Or perhaps you’re doing pretty extensive tours but you want to play a city you’ve never been to before.

Either way, there’s a bit of a catch 22. In order to book gigs at clubs and venues in that new city, you need a local fanbase and be able to sell tickets, but in order to develop a local fanbase, you need to gig there.

Of course, there are plenty of cool strategies that can help you get your foot in the door. You could open for a successful local band, you could play less popular weeknights, or you could do some open mics and unpaid gigs to get your name out there.

However, with all of these strategies, it can be slow going. The fact of the matter is, it’s hard to develop a real connection with potential fans in a traditional club or venue environment, especially on a weeknight or at unpaid gigs, as people will often be more interested in their drinks or their conversations.

So how do you get past this big barrier? House concerts can be an incredible way to break into a new town or city, and the cool thing is, it only takes one fan. A lot of people think house concerts are something you have to dedicate your whole career to, but as you’ll see, they can be a great addition to any touring or gigging strategy.

Fran Snyder, singer-songwriter, house concert musician, and founder of Concerts in Your Home will be joining me for a free online workshop Tuesday, November 10 at 7PM EST to go through more cool ways you can use house concerts to boost your music career and grow your fanbase. If you can’t make it live, make sure to sign up anyway to catch the replay.

Find One Fan

The first step is to find one fan interested in hosting a show. If you’re new to house concerts or if you’re trying to fill in weekdays in between your weekend gigs in cities you’re already established in, your best bet is to aim for a smaller show. All your fan needs to do is get 10 people to RSVP and pay $10 for the experience, and you’re set.

By shooting for a smaller audience, you’re taking the stress and pressure out of the picture for your host. The fact of the matter is, a lot of people aren’t super familiar with house concerts and most people have never hosted one, so make it easy for them.

Take Advantage of the Intimate Environment

Now I know 10 people isn’t a lot, and may not seem worth your time. But think about it this way: Is it better to have 10 people listening to you intently and hanging off your every note, or 50 people not really paying attention?

Just like a club, bar, coffee shop, or open mic gig in a new city, most of the people at a house concert won’t know who you are. But, you have a few things working for you:

1. Everyone is there on the recommendation of the host who loves your music. And that means they’re much more likely to give your music a chance than a random person who happens to be at the bar that night.

2. Because of the way house concerts are set up, all attention is on you, so no competing to be heard over the din of the bar.

3. House concerts also give you the chance to chat with the attendees before and after your set, so they can relate to you on a personal level as well.

All this can add up to more fanbase growth and more merch and music sales.

Harness the Exponential Growth

Fran has found that at every house concert, often at least one attendee will be interested in hosting a concert in their home. And for every new host that’s potentially 10 new people who will be exposed to your music and maybe become fans, and possibly another person interested in hosting.

I think you can see where I’m going here. Those initial 10 people who came to your first house concert in the area can become something huge.

Make the Connection and Book a Traditional Gig

Now of course, all these new fans won’t be worth much if you have no way to contact them. After all, the point is to be able to find enough fans to fill a local venue, but even if they love you they can’t come out if they don’t know about you.

So make sure you ask them to follow you on social media and sign up for your mailing list. Just make a quick announcement after your set, keep a mailing list signup by the merch, or keep a list on your phone as you go around and talk to people.

Once you have a decent list of local fans, go ahead and book your first weekend gig in that city!

Fran will be sharing a lot more tips that will help you book and set up a successful house concert, so make sure to join us in the free workshop on Tuesday, November 10 at 7PM EST. Even if you can’t make it live, you can still sign up to receive the replay.

[This article was written by Dave Kusek, founder of the New Artist Model, an online music business school for independent musicians, performers, recording artists, producers, managers, and songwriters. He is also the founder of Berklee Online, co-author of The Future of Music book, and a member of the team who brought midi to the market.]

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  • Drew Wheway

    Thanks Dave, that was a very informative article, and good
    advice for musicians looking to get a foot in the door or a start on their
    local scene. As a musician and promoter, I know how hard it can be to get
    established on a scene, especially if you’re not lucky enough to be friends
    with a bunch of established bands or promoters. Bands that are just starting up
    (without connections) could benefit greatly from the process you describe, and
    it helps to get off the internet and into people’s homes – I think a lot of
    bands think that they can just sit at home, self-release some music, and they’ll
    be on their way. But as we know it’s not that easy (some people may stumble
    into something with a great amount of luck), so what you suggest is great,
    getting out and seeing the people, talking and performing wherever you can to
    whoever you can, and build it from there.

  • Robin Goddard

    The Concerts in Your Home site looks great and probably something that can really help fan base growth. However, the artists seem to be all Acoustic/Folk artists which raises the question of how much, if at all, house gigs allow for bands with amps, drums, etc. The question concerns noise, volume, and the physically small space to be exposed to such a high volume at point blank.

    I’m sure electric bands have done this before but I’m wondering if hosts ever refuse house gigs for non-acoustic bands because of the potential for high noise in a more closed space?

    It’d be more of a good thing though since this would force bands to turn down their volumes (and for the drummer to not hit as hard) creating a better sense of balance during a performance. You could actually hear everyone’s instrument and since the performance would be in someone’s house, it could create even more intimacy.

  • Yeah, the house concert vibe is generally unplugged (not even a PA, in many cases). So, for bands it’s always good to try to work out a set of acoustic tunes where the drummer can do light percussion or cajon/wood box. BUT… if the host is willing, you could always set up a PA and do a full band thing in the garage or basement or wherever there’s space (and hope the volume doesn’t crush people).

    @ChrisRobley

    • I know that many bands haven’t figured this out for some reason: unplugged is not the only solution for “not too loud, please” – play the drums with cotton swabs taped to the sticks, use bodyless bass-drums, and turn the ‘master volume’ on the amps way down. You only need a five watt amp for the vocal. That’s how to make metal work in a “folk” environment.

  • Clifford Cartel

    Hey guys! I have a stage perfect for house concerts. $100 a day. Email me at societydgaf@gmail.com to get the deets. Thanks DIY musician blog!!