packed crowd at a live music show

How to make the most of your live music shows

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How do you sell out your live music shows, especially if you’re just starting out? Here are some low-cost techniques which are within reach of every musician.

If you don’t put any effort into creating compelling live music shows, people may see you once, perhaps twice, but then usually don’t come back. Pack the rooms and grow your draw using these techniques. This will not only help grow your audience, it will help you make more money with music and give you tons of publicity opportunities.

When you’re starting (or re-starting) to play live shows, one of the best ways to help build buzz is to pack the venue wall-to-wall and sell it out. When people are packed in a room, it naturally builds excitement — not only for the audience, but for the musicians as well. Plus, the perception that there are so many music lovers there to see you play will drive future ticket sales. It also gives you a reason to hit the press and media to generate additional publicity.

But how do you sell out your shows, especially if you’re just starting out? Here are some low-cost techniques which are within reach of every musician.

Design and perform a killer live show

The surest way to pack a room is also the most fundamental: create a fantastic live show that packs an emotional punch for the audience. Even though musicians can spend months (and months) making an album, they often spend days and weeks practicing for a live show. Yet, this is where most of your income comes from.

Making Money With MusicFortunately, there are techniques you can employ to amp up your performance, which we shared in “Work To Create A Killer Live Show.” That post focuses on five key techniques that can help you create unforgettable moments within your show for the audience.

If you don’t put the time and effort into creating a compelling show, people may see you once, perhaps twice, but then usually don’t come back. Even if they like the music, they will just stream you instead. But when you design your show as a performance that creates an emotional connection between you and the audience, your fans will want to see you whenever you play.

Don’t overplay your market

Even though you’re anxious to get out and play, and people are excited to be out and about again, make each performance special by limiting the number of shows you play in any given geographic area. You can spread out your live music shows by taking breaks in between or playing neighboring towns and cities.

Given how music streaming has changed how musicians release their music to the public, this can make your release schedule even more full of things for your fans to enjoy by playing live, then scheduling a few releases — like EPs or singles — before playing live again. This gives your fans a constant stream of things to look forward to without you overplaying your live market.

Play venues smaller than your draw

The easiest way to sell out your show is to play venues with lower capacity than the numbers who will come to see your show. As you grow your draw, you can graduate to larger venues.

In our early days, our own band, Beatnik Turtle, once leaped at the chance to play “the big venue,” because it was a goal of ours, but at the time our shows only drew 75 people, and the audience didn’t nearly fill the larger space. There was so much room — on the ground level and in the balconies — that the venue felt empty even though we drew our typical crowd. This left the mistaken impression to the audience and our own band that our draw was small when we just hadn’t built our audience large enough to play the bigger room.

To amplify the buzz of the smaller rooms, be sure to take photos from the stage of the packed house (and the line outside). This not only helps with marketing and promotion (as well as making great shots for your website or social media), but it can also serve as proof of the size of audience a venue can expect when you play their room.

Promote and presell

Don’t skip the promotion if you want to sell out the show. This includes updating your show calendar at your website, announcing to local radio (including college stations, which could provide opportunities to play live on the air), updating your social networks, hitting your mailing list, reaching out to the press and media, using your street team, and anything else you can think of.

Selling tickets in advance is another great way to ensure attendance weeks or days ahead of your show. If you and the venue can use a pre-sale ticket system, or if you can do it on your own, then you can get fans to commit to attending your show in advance.

A paid commitment raises the chances they’ll not only show up for your performance, they’ll likely bring a friend or two. If you combine this technique with playing a venue that’s smaller than your draw, you can announce your show has sold out. This can be something to reach out to the press and media about and is also a perfect time to book a follow-up show.

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Your live music shows are more than just a way to interact with your audience, it’s also a great way to make more money with music. To do this, you should maximize the amount of money you make at your merch table by creating a merch strategy that’s perfectly tuned to your audience.


Authors of the critically-acclaimed modern classic, The Indie Band Survival Guide, Billboard Magazine called Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan “the ideal mentors for aspiring indie musicians who want to navigate an ever-changing music industry.” Their latest book, Making Money With Music (Macmillan) and free Making Money With Music Newsletter, help all musicians — from startups to pros — build a sustainable music business so you can make money in today’s tech-driven music environment.

How to 
Make More Money With Music, the Complete Guide

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