As independent artists, our greatest asset when it comes to acquiring fans is our live performance. With live performances, you are essentially making a sales pitch to potential fans. The moment someone new sees you perform, they are engaging in a decision making process. It is at your live performance where they decide whether they believe or agree with your brand, the way you sound, the way you look and if they like the things you are singing about. They are also deciding whether to buy your CDs and if they want to come see you the next time you perform.
After playing over 100 live performances recently, I observed many things about audience behavior and cause/effect relationships based on things I do and say during my sets. It occurred to me that if they are making these decisions about me, then why not do everything I possibly can to leave a lasting impression on them and influence these decisions in my favor. I came up with some ideas on how to do just that and I’d love to share them with you. If after reading these, you find something you can relate to or even have more ideas post in the comment section and let’s dialogue about this together.
What they perceive is what they believe. In more ways than one, you can influence a person’s belief about you. For example, you can book smaller venues – small enough to where your average draw wouldn’t fit. You promote the heck out of the show and as tickets start selling, start saying things like “almost sold out” or “only 10 tickets left.” This gives the impression that a lot of people are interested in you and will help sway people who are on the fence to jump on board. Psychologically, most people don’t want to miss out on something everyone else is doing. They are afraid they might get left behind, so essentially you’re playing on those fears. Also, when they come to your show and see so many people packed in such a small place just to see you, their thoughts about you being “something big” will be confirmed and they will be glad they were a part of it.
Another way to make perception work for you is asking for crowd participation. If some members of your audience don’t seem to be paying attention, get the ones that are paying attention to participate with you. Try to get them to sing along loudly or even better, yelling or dancing. The other people will look to see what’s going on because the perception is, “If these other people are having a good time, this artist is worth paying more attention to.” This works exceptionally well in coffee shops or in busking-type situations.
A friend of ours once joined a group facilitated by the promotions team for the Houston Rockets. They were invited to come to basketball games for free and their sole job was to be loud, boisterous, and look like they were having a good time. When Justin Bieber first came out, he did interviews on talk shows, morning shows, etc. One of the shows he went on was the Wendy Williams Show. It turns out since nobody knew yet who Justin was, they had to hire young girls to scream and cheer for him to give off the impression that he was a “thing.” You may not be in a position to hire fake fans, which I wouldn’t advise, but you can offer comp tickets to friends and ask them to cheer you on. It’s a good look.
Ever notice how when you go to a huge show, you don’t get to see the artist in person? You have to pay extra to go back stage and they don’t come out and mingle with their fans? Do the exact opposite of this. You are an independent artist and you rely on interaction with your fans. The more consistent interaction you can have with them, the better. Answer their questions. Ask them questions. Be a person who is approachable. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with them after your shows. The trick is to encourage real relationships. You are living a dream that most people wish they could live. They enjoy hearing about your experiences and they want to see you succeed. Give that to them and don’t complain. Be someone they can relate to. These natural conversations make you more than just a brand but a person they might be willing to support with their e-mails, buying your merch and eventually contributing to your kickstarter campaign. They may like you but might not want to come to your merch table out of shyness or laziness, but these conversations can help seal the deal.
Don’t play music, put on a show.
If they came to see you perform, they didn’t come just to hear music, they came to see a show. You must give them what they came for. I grew up singing soprano in the choir at a Baptist church. They teach you the difference between singing and sanging. When you “SING,” everything is perfect. The lyrics are correct, the chords are on point, and your vocals are in tune. When you “SANG”, you give up perfection and you allow feelings and emotion to ignite. Every note carries the meaning of the song in it. You might dance or move your head a little. If you’re a guitarist, your guitar strumming has more feeling in it. When you sang, you reach a more ethereal level in people where you’re in a conversation with their souls. Actors do this all the time. Some actors, I just have a hard time believing. Not because they didn’t remember their lines they may even have recited them perfectly. But I didn’t believe them because they failed to deliver the feeling and emotion behind their words. Don’t be that artist who can’t deliver the feeling and emotion behind their music. Your audience will never believe you.
Seek out ways to go beyond the music to give them a show. Work harder to engage the crowd by telling jokes and stories. Talk about a funny thing that happened to you that day. Practice your stage banter. Go out into the crowd and sing a song, if logistics permit. Bring some audience members up to the stage with you. Do some improvisational singing. I like to do a giveaway from the stage during my sets. It hits two birds with one stone. It builds up suspense because they want to know who’s going to win, and it also works wonders in getting people to sign up to my mailing list by participating in the drawing. Consider your clothes. Try wearing clothes that are out of the ordinary giving them something to look at and ponder on. Also consider your set list and where you put certain songs. Think about the feeling and energy behind each. Does your show have a climax toward the end? What can you do to tell your story and keep them interested throughout your show?
And finally, just be your truest self. Show off your awesome personality. After all, that is what makes you unique. If you can somehow infuse that into every aspect of your music and your live performances, you will stand out.