Book gigs locally first, then branch out to bigger marketsThere’s a lot of debate out there about whether or not a band should focus on getting established locally before trying their hand at regional, national, or even global notoriety.

And it’s true – no matter how hard you try, there will always be some localities where hosting an open mic is the greatest level of achievement.

But assuming you’re in a reasonably large town or city (it doesn’t have to be considered a music center), and people like to check out local shows, there is a good reason to build support where you are.

Creating momentum in your hometown can definitively lead to bigger gigs. So let’s take a look at what you need to do get established in your locality.

Practice and perform

I’m not going to be talking at length about this, because every band has to work on their craft if they ever want to go anywhere. You must practice!

But let me talk about a few things that I think are helpful:

* Live performance is the best practice. Not to say that you should rush the stages, but there are things you simply can’t learn from practicing in your basement. If you’re starting to gain some confidence with your set list, you’re ready to give it a go. Play for free when you’re first getting started so no one has any false expectations about what’s going to take place.

* Get good at sharing your story. Who are you? What makes you unique? Why should people listen to your music? How can you relate to your audience on a human level? Focus on these things, continually refine them, and good things will happen.

* Work on your live performance. If you haven’t seen how live music producer Tom Jackson can quickly transform a band’s performance and stage presence by teaching them a few basic principles, do yourself a favor and look him up on YouTube.

Create as many personal connections as you can

This point can’t be emphasized enough. If you do nothing else, build relationships.

As with social media numbers, it’s not about quantity – it’s about quality. There is some advantage to knowing more people, but if all you do is build surface-level connections with everyone, your time will have been better spent elsewhere.

If you aren’t naturally sociable or outgoing, work on your people skills. As you begin to learn more about interacting with people, you’ll soon realize it has more to do with listening than it does with talking.

Give people some context for conversation. Don’t just jump in with “hey, so I hear you’re an event planner – would you be interested in booking us?” No matter who it is, say “hello” first, and introduce yourself. Let the conversation unfold naturally, and practice conversational generosity. Develop your situational awareness.

I recognize that there’s a lot of shorthand communication that happens with texting and IM and Snapchat these days, but this type of interaction can work against you when you’re not connecting with people in your age range. Embrace the old-fashioned way.

Relationships are going to take you further in your career than just about anything else you can name. Build a strong, loyal following in your hometown by meeting everyone you can. This isn’t all about doing – just be open to the possibilities.

Focus on community and not on competition. Focus on helping and serving others, and they will be inclined to reciprocate.

Don’t forget to market

You probably thought this was going to be all about marketing. Don’t get me wrong – it’s important for you to know how to market your music, but there are also a lot of distractions out there.

Should you be on Snapchat? Should you be blogging and guest blogging? Should you be maintaining an active presence on social media?

I can’t answer those questions for you, but I will say this – you should talk to your fans first to find out where and how they’d like to connect with you. This should give you a better idea of where to build an online community, which should also help with attracting new, like-minded fans.

When you’re first getting started, focus on building relationships, live performance, grassroots marketing, and guerrilla marketing more than anything else.

With this in mind, no matter what stage you’re at in your career, you should be thinking about building your list. I don’t care if this is a list of email addresses, phone numbers or physical addresses. You need a way to keep in touch with the people that love your music, and that’s number one in my mind.

Then, you can also begin to think about:

* A website. It’s always nice to have an online résumé and a central hub for your fans. You don’t need to put a ton of work into this at first, but as you begin to explore opportunities outside of your locality, your web presence will become more important.

* Your social media presence. Some of your fans will want to “like” you on Facebook. Others will want to see what you’re tweeting about. I don’t believe in making this your number one priority, but connecting and interacting with your fans is a great way to keep them engaged. But, again, make it about relationship and not shouting from the rooftops. And don’t take on too much too soon either.

Leverage your resources

If you stay focused on the right things (getting better as a musician, honing your story, building relationships, and building your email list), you will be rewarded for your efforts.

Over time, you will have built up a sizable email list, some great connections, some high-quality imagery showing how much your fans like you, and maybe even a few great industry quotes or testimonials. Video is also a nice-to-have.

These assets can be used to help you find bigger and better gigs. It’s like creating an impressive portfolio of work as a designer – if you can show industry people what you’ve been able to accomplish on a local level, rest assured other clubs, pubs, bars and events are going to want to book you. This doesn’t happen overnight, however.

And don’t forget – your extended network should be substantial. In other words, there are people in your locality that know people in other cities, states, or countries. That can lead to new opportunities too.

Closing thoughts

All of this may sound a little idealistic, so let me reel it in.

You must remember:

* Location matters. Again, some towns or cities may not be ideal for building up locally and extending out from. You can’t get too locked in, or you’ll end up “climbing a ladder” that’s leaning against the wrong building. Be level-headed about your assessment.

* You won’t appeal to everyone. People are a moving target, and even though building relationships should be prioritized, you must recognize that some will move, some will lose interest, and some will pass away. Moreover, not everyone is going to like you or your music, so don’t try to make converts out of everyone.

* Other marketing strategies are worth experimenting with. I didn’t talk much about advertising, PR and getting media coverage here, but recognize that these things can be valuable. Other strategies could prove beneficial for your particular situation.

* New opportunities are new opportunities. Just because everyone knows you in Champaign, Illinois doesn’t mean that everyone in Chicago is going to know you or even care. Expanding your reach takes time, but by this point you’ll have built the skills necessary to take on a new region.

This post was written by Shaun Letang of Music Industry How To. If you want more advice for forwarding your music career, check out his free music promotion eBook.

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[Image of expansion from Shutterstock.]