Oversaturation infringes every corner of the music industry, but none quite as cloyingly as the arena of live music. Bands start out with the eagerness to play as many gigs as possible. It comes as no surprise that when they’re at the point of overplaying in their hometown, they fail to realise that their prolific presence on line-ups can ultimately damage their career in the long run.
Why Playing Locally Too Often Impedes Your Music Career
Two main traits of artists able to sell out hometown gigs, talent aside, are their tendency not to excessively gig in the same area and their commitment to giving each show a purpose.
Every time someone sees you on a bill, they will weigh the pros and cons of seeing you. It is all too easy to become the band that someone disregards because you’ll probably be playing again soon anyway. Or it could be that they just saw you a few weeks ago at a venue down the road, and they doubt seeing you again will be worth the time, money, energy, and backache, if they’re over 30!
Taking every opportunity extended by various promoters to play in your hometown or in the same area can be tempting. So tempting, it can lead some artists to become oblivious to the fact there is only a certain number of people in any given scene. And yes, that goes for big Metropolitan cities too!
See the irony in the fact that most local bookers are hesitant booking out of town acts because they won’t realistically bring their fans to fill the venue. Even if you do have a devout local fanbase, don’t assume that they have got little else going on in their lives that they will constantly be there to support you.
If you’re still under the impression that the more gigs, regardless of the location, the better, consider how excited you would be if you knew that you could go down the road and see your favourite artist EVER play every week.
Unless there is something fundamentally wrong with you, which means that you’d retain excitement from replicating an experience over and over again, the gloss would quickly get stripped off your favourite artist being perpetually available and demanding your attention. Even the greatest pleasures have the potential to become monotonous. ‘Things’ are only as good as the measure of them.
If you play gigs less frequently in your hometown, you will get MORE of a draw because you will create scarcity and a sense of exclusivity. Music consumers, much like any consumer in our modern late-stage capitalist hellscape, thrive on scarcity. Marketing executives love to abuse the fact that the masses are mercenary enough to make Gollum look altruistic. The trend of absurdly expensive music NFTs proved it! As do the people who collect white label records or drool over the prospect of owning an icon’s guitar. And realistically, there would be infinitely less hype over Glastonbury if everyone could snag a ticket every year! Demand being greater than the supply is a consumer’s kryptonite.
If you do become a band known for selling out venues – regardless of the size – in your hometown, people will be far quicker to purchase tickets when they go on sale, to avoid another great driver behind modern marketing, the fear of missing out! Additionally, you will become infinitely more attractive to gig promoters outside of your local area and festival bookers when you can show them glimpses of adoring fans eager to inch their way front to your shows. You’re not fooling anyone by posting gig photos taken a long way from the barrier or the stage that don’t show a single audience member.
How Often Should You Play Local and How Should You Play It?
There is no short answer. The general rule of thumb for playing in your local circuit tends to be four times a year, or at least playing gigs 6 – 12 weeks apart in the same area, the number also depends on another factor; the quality of your shows.
Every show should be an event. If you don’t have new music to promote at your shows, get creative in coming up with why fans should see you for the first time AND subsequent times. Go acoustic. Come up with a concept, beyond just giving your run of shows a clever name. And never underestimate the impact of creating something that seems unmissable to fans old and new.
Hopefully, I have pulled you out of the “but, but, but EXPOSURE!!!” trap by this point. Because even if it does seem like common sense that more shows = more fans & tickets sold, the effect is almost always the reverse! Any good band manager would tell you not to overplay your local circuit, but with so many more 100% independent artists doing everything themselves, there is no-one to impart this sound advice.
If you are playing the gigs needlessly and aimlessly, that time/energy could be far better expended on networking, self-promotion, writing and recording new material and actually coming up with a long-term plan. There may be no glory like taking a roof off a venue and hearing the demand of an encore, but for that to be sustainable, your tour plans have to be logical.
It may be easier and quicker to play a venue that is on your bus route instead of clocking up the miles in your tour van; that is no reason to allow convenience to override common sense.
For some, all of the above will be a bitter pill to swallow and I will have undoubtedly burst some bubbles by opting for harsh truths over adding botox to lip service. Yet, I offer very little apology in pointing out exhausting every local gig you can is akin to aural incest. Don’t get hooked in the big fish in a small pond mentality.
If you still need convincing, take some advice from Ari Herstand, artist and author of the best-selling chart-topping book, How to Make It in the New Music Business, which has been adopted by music business schools globally. His definitive guide on accepting gigs, factoring in career-building potential, merch opportunities, pay and enjoyment, is freely available here. For the love of God, bookmark it!