Numbers don’t lie: is your live show effective?

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Email Newsletter Tips for Musicians[This article was written by guest contributor Wade Sutton of Rocket to the Stars.]

What I am going to talk about in this article is rooted so deeply in common sense, yet few bands actually do it.

Your live show will ALWAYS be your most powerful tool when it comes to marketing your music, your merchandise, your music brand, and getting people to sign up for your e-mail or text lists. It is where most first impressions are made. It is your best opportunity to make somebody feel so caught up in you and your music that they feel compelled to buy something from your merchandise table or add their e-mail or cell phone number to your marketing list.

Yes, your live show IS a marketing tool, but it is one that continues to go underdeveloped by most artists. And I’m not talking about a significant lack of energy and work put into most live shows (that is the easy thing for me to bitch about). I’m talking about the fact that most artists aren’t even tracking the numbers that allow them to get a bead on whether the show is truly working from a marketing perspective.

A simple question for you to consider

Let’s say you had a specific manner in which you would ask audience members to sign up for your marketing list during your show. You had a script planned out ahead of time, you rehearsed the delivery, and you always went for it at the same spot in the set list. And it was all working pretty well for you.

But then you decide to mix things up a little bit. Maybe you change up the script and delivery. Or maybe you move the moment during your show in which you encourage the audience to sign up or head to the merch table. Now, instead of asking them to do something after a high-energy moment in the show with a call-and-response, you make the pitch after an emotionally powerful moment that leaves the audience so quiet you can hear the proverbial pin dropping.

How do you know if the changes you made were effective?

Upon being asked that question, most artists give me an answer like, “Well, I would compare the total number of sign-ups at that show to the number of sign-ups at previous shows.”

Their answer would not only be wrong, it would also show they are making one of the most basic and common mistakes when it comes to gauging the effectiveness of the live show from a marketing perspective.

I’m going to tell you why…and I’m going to tell you how to fix it.

That which is measured can be maintained

I consult with a lot of bands on things like live performance and show production and my first hour with every single one of them includes a very important conversation. I explain to them right out of the gate that my focus will be on three things.

1. How do we put on an incredible show that leaves audiences wanting more?

2. How do we get as many people as possible to buy something from the merchandise table?

3. How do we get as many people as possible to sign up for the band’s marketing list?

Once that is out of the way and I know we are all on the same page, I then ask the band an extremely important question: Can you show me data tracking merchandise sales and marketing list sign-ups at your recent shows?

The vast majority of the time, the bands are NOT able to show me those numbers because they don’t bother tracking them… which is maddening for me and a perfect example of why so many bands are spinning their wheels.

Of the bands who DO have some numbers, most of them are focusing on the wrong numbers. More often than not, the numbers they have are total amount of money spent at the merchandise table for the show and total number of people signing up for the marketing list at the show. Are those numbers important? Sure they are. But they aren’t the numbers you want to be looking at when determining the effectiveness of the show… and here is why.

A tale of two shows

Let’s say you do two shows in which you have different methods of presenting to the audience a call-to-action to sign up for your e-mail list.

The first show has a total attendance of 100 people. The second show has half that number, 50.

You tell the audience at the first show that you want them to sign up for your marketing list. 41 of them decide to go ahead and sign up.

At the second show, you move the call-to-action to a different spot in the set list and you go about asking for it in a much different way. 30 people sign up.

Which show was more effective at getting people to sign up?

It would be the second show because, even though it had less attendance overall and less total people signing up for the list, it actually had a significantly higher conversion rate when it came to sign-ups for your marketing list.

41 out of 100 people signed up for the list at the first show. That means what you did during that specific spot in the show resulted in 41% of the people there doing what you asked them to do. But what you did differently at the show with 50 people resulted in 60% of the people signing up.

The first homework assignment I give EVERY band when I begin helping them with their live shows is tracking the following numbers:

1. What PERCENTAGE of people at the show signed up for the marketing list?

2. How much money PER PERSON ATTENDING was spent at the merchandise table?

We need these numbers for…every…single…show because this is what allows us to determine whether changes in the show help or hurt our chances of getting people signed up or spending money at the merchandise table.

Some artists try to gauge this sort of thing based upon their perception of the crowd at different points in the show but a lot of artists end up with bad estimates that are swayed by the artist’s heightened emotions while performing. But if you are actually tracking these numbers, they will tell you EXACTLY what you need to know about changes you make to the show. The numbers won’t lie to you.

Identifying the wrench in the well-laid plan

Yes, there are things that can come up that can skew your numbers over time and, yes, you have to be able to learn how to pinpoint them and come up with a way to make sure the data you are collecting is accurate.

The most common issue with this system is when you see your conversion rates for marketing list sign-ups falling after doing several shows in one market. The percentage of people signing up could be falling because of changes you made to the show or because you simply had an off night (it happens). But the percentage of people signing up could also be dropping because a significant portion of the people attending the show signed up for your list at a previous show.

There is an easy and important fix. Park somebody at the front door with a clipboard. Disguise them as a greeter welcoming everybody coming through the door and thanking them for making the band’s show a part of their night. When they greet them, have the individual at the door ask each person making their way in whether they have been to one of your shows before and whether they are already on your marketing list.

As long as the greeter you place at the door is keeping a tally of the responses as people enter, you will have a pretty good idea of how many people attending your show were not on that list when the show started…and you will be able to get a more accurate representation of the sign-up conversion rate.

There are other issues that could throw off these numbers and you will find yourself having to be on top of your business game to identify them when they rear their ugly head.

Great example for you.

Last year, a producer in Nashville contacted me to do performance work with a young client from the Philadelphia area. She was going to be performing at a middle school in Kentucky where she had shot her debut music video a month or two prior. It would be the first time the girl had ever performed an entire set and it was made up exclusively of original music.

We spent around two months working on the show via Skype and one of the goals was to get as many students as possible to sign up for her marketing list via text messages. Now, we knew going into the show that attendance at the assembly would be around 500 students…but we wanted to make sure we had an accurate representation of the sign-up rate in that group.

The first problem we identified was the knowledge that most schools require students to leave their cell phones in their lockers during the school day. Again, this show was part of an assembly so we had to contact the school district and ask them to give the students permission to bring their phones to the assembly. Because they can’t sign up via text message if they don’t have their phones on them!

The second problem we spotted was knowing that not every student would even have a cell phone. Some of them didn’t own one yet. Others likely owned one but might have been under orders from parents to leave the phone at home. So we had to ask the contact person at the school to give us an estimate of how many students with cell phones in hand would likely be at the assembly. The contact person estimated 50% of the students possessed cell phones and would have them on their person at the show.

So now the max text message sign-up number we were looking at wasn’t 500…it was 250.

When the show was done, we pulled in around 150 sign-ups…a jaw-dropping conversion rate of SIXTY PERCENT! Imagine getting 60-percent of fans at all of your shows to sign up for your list. But had we not pinpointed some of those issues we saw ahead of time, we would have walked out of there thinking the show had a conversion rate that was half of what it really was and our perception of the show would have been that it was half as effective as it really was.

Give yourself a chance at success

I know tracking these numbers at every show and analyzing how changes to the show impacts the numbers will seem like a complete pain in the ass. I know you would rather be focusing on making music and performing.

But little systems like this one can give you a huge advantage when it comes to making your music more profitable. Successful businesses run efficiently because these systems are in place to give you honest feedback on whether what you are doing is working the way you want it to work.

The numbers don’t lie.

SPECIAL NOTE: Wade Sutton of Rocket to the Stars and CD Baby have teamed up to offer CD Baby readers a special 20% discount on memberships to Wade’s website. Members get access to exclusive articles and videos for independent artists, monthly webinars and music industry book reviews, and some membership plans include discounts on all services (biography and press release writing, live show production and performance training, press kit design, etc) as well as free one-on-one consultation time with Wade. You can take advantage of that offer by clicking HERE.

About Wade Sutton: Between co-authoring “The $150,000 Music Degree” with former Taylor Swift manager Rick Barker and working one-on-one with artists around the world via Skype, Rocket to the Stars’ Wade Sutton has dedicated his life to helping artists ditch their day jobs in favor of careers in music.

Serving as a live music producer and performance coach, Wade teaches singers and musicians how to turn their live shows into a kick-ass experience resulting in fans buying more merchandise and increasing e-mail sign-ups.

He also puts to use nearly twenty years of professional journalism experience by creating biographies and electronic press kits for singers and musicians while advising them on matters related to the media, public relations, and obtaining sponsorship.

His articles and videos on the development of independent artists have been featured on some of the most popular websites on the Internet, including CD Baby, Music Clout, and many others.

You can receive a free digital copy of Wade’s book at www.RockettotheStars.com.

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  • Hyung Woo Kwon

    Thank you for the great tip.
    So, now I wonder how do you make them sign up for the text message list or email list?

  • This is the greatest disadvantage to advanced solo crafters: Consider Mike Oldfield for an example. There seems to be a forced-dichotomy between the real band and the singer-songwriter. Use recordings on stage? Perceived lack of credibility. Play it a plain form? Works well for some songs but not others. Borrow a real band? Find others in a similar situation? The wise already know that many really great bands are getting something close to zero an hour, or even negative wages. If you’re not willing to play at a loss, you’re undercut by those who do. There is no solution to this undercutting that wouldn’t be worse than the problem. Who was it that said, “You want to be an artist? Get a job.” (I guess that means: consider yourself fortunate that you are not an artist. If you ARE an artist, that’s another story altogether.)