Do you want your next concert to be a sell-out event?
In “The key to booking better gigs” I discussed three of the best strategies to turn every show into a success:
- Don’t play too often in any given town
- Choose smaller venues that you can easily fill
- Make each gig special (album release show, tour kickoff, etc.)
But those are all high-level decisions. There’s got to be more to the formula, right? Indeed.
In this article I’ll discuss specific steps for effective concert promotion.
You won’t have to do ‘em all for every single show, of course. But the more items you can check off this list, the better your chances of selling out the venue.
The earlier you can book a show, the more time you have to create interest in the event and work on your stage production.
Some gigs arise last-minute. But those should be the exception to the rule.
Try to book your shows anywhere from 3 to 12 months in advance.
Prestige venues, music festivals, and high-demand house concert series may be booking even further out than that.
Curate a great lineup
If you can’t sell-out the show on your own, team up!
Find one or two other acts with a reliable draw in that town. Work together. If you’re booking a tour through THEIR hometown, return the favor with a gig-swap when they travel through yours.
Make sure you coordinate your plans for promotion with the other acts on the bill. No need for three bands to work separately when you can pool your efforts and budget.
Choose the right ticket price
You want to profit from the show, but not charge so much that you don’t fill the venue. It’s a balancing act, and there’s some trial and error, for sure.
But lean on the venue or promoter’s expertise if you’re unsure of the right price.
Also ask for their recommendation or options regarding ticketed events versus door-charge, and specific seats versus general admission.
Get business buy-in
The business that you want to see most invested in your show is the venue, of course.
So discuss with the promoter, the talent-buyer, or the venue management what they plan to do to make the night a success. What exactly are they running for promo (ads, posters, etc)? Who pays for what?
By getting detailed info, you’ll know how your efforts can complement one another, or plug holes.
Then ask yourself: Are there other businesses or charities that might invest in this show? An outside sponsor who can cover some of the costs and promote the event to their customers, in exchange for some branding, education, or product placement during the show?
Prioritize amazing design
Your event has to LOOK cool. In advance.
You want people — when they attend the show — to feel cool by association.
So make sure your concert posters, associated social posts, Facebook Event Page banner, and other web assets all have a striking visual appeal.
You can do a lot these days with Canva and AI design tools, but if you need a pro designer, allocate some promo budget. It’ll be worth the expense.
Make a list of all the places that need quick edits or announcements, including:
- Your concert calendar
- ReverbNation profile
- A Facebook event
- YouTube Cards (if you’re in the YouTube Partner Program)
- News-bars or popups on your website
- And more
Now go and add the relevant info about your show!
Don’t neglect your email list either. Segment the list based on geography, and send an email to people in that town.
Put up posters
IRL posters are still important.
If you’re playing a different town, mail them directly to the venue, local record stores, and any other relevant place for public display, such as libraries, instrument stores, bookstores, coffee shops, etc. (call or email beforehand).
Or if a local band is opening, coordinate with them to hang posters. If you’re playing your own hometown, hang ‘em up yourself!
Tease the mystery
Will you have a special surprise guest? Get people guessing, but don’t reveal the answer.
Will you debut a special song? Share a snippet from practice that sounds familiar, but not a dead giveaway.
Are you working on an interesting stage design, props, or costumes? Show some behind-the-scenes moments where those elements are just starting to come together, but aren’t quite ready for showtime.
Plant the seeds of curiosity.
Create dedicated merch
Tell your fans there will be a special merch item that can ONLY be acquired if they attend the show.
You could sell it at the merch table. You could give it away at the door. Or you can include it as part of a special ticket package.
The point is to create a sense of urgency and commemoration.
Make ticketing EASY!
You often won’t have a choice about how ticketing works, which platforms are used, etc. A lot of that is left to the venue’s existing processes.
But wherever you can, you want as few clicks as possible between your promo efforts and the final purchase.
Don’t send someone from an Instagram photo to your website’s concert calendar to a venue site to a ticketing page to checkout, when you can probably remove a few of those steps.
Run digital ads
If you have a great piece of social content (performance videos work well), run it as an ad to people who live within driving distance to the venue.
Use the caption to address the specific town and get them excited for your show.
Get retargeting info
Is it possible to acquire retargeting data or customer contact info from the ticketing platform or venue?
This is another item that will often be out of your control, but if you have sufficient leverage, it might be possible to work with the venue or ticketing service to coordinate your online marketing efforts to enable things like:
- Cart abandonment messages to follow-up with anyone who almost purchased a ticket
- Bonus offers to existing ticketholders (discount code to bring a friend, etc.)
Consider non-musical collabs
The bill you put together doesn’t always have to include other musicians.
If for whatever reason you think it’d work better to partner with a comedian, a short-film premiere, a storyteller, a dance troupe… get creative with the lineup!
Host a contest
If fans think they might be recognized in some way during the event, there’s extra incentive to attend.
This could be a contest running AT the event: Best costume? Shoot a fan testimonial video at the door and we’ll pick our favorite for a prize?
Or something you run in advance of the show: Submit alternate lyrics to one of our songs and we’ll sing our favorite entry? Write your dream setlist and we’ll play our favorite?
Alert the local press
Cover your PR bases!
Tell the local music critics and bloggers about your show, why it’s gonna be amazing, and that you’re happy to provide anything else they need.
Including interviews, comped tickets, etc.
Also, don’t forget chamber of commerce, local newspapers, neighborhood zines, and more.
Post organic social content
It can be a balancing act for touring musicians to create content that feels relevant to local audiences without ostracising the larger fanbase.
But given that TikTok and Instagram are now so algorithmically driven, you may consider creating geo-tagged content, as that type of stuff generally gets surfaced to relevant viewers, especially on TikTok.
You can also rely on more temporary formats like Stories to emphasize city-specific events.
Theme it up!
Not every concert needs a gimmick. Not every kind of artist should have fans showing up in costumes. But if it’s appropriate, get your fans involved in creating the vibe for the night.
If you have a theme, you don’t want it to be prohibitive. Costumes should be optional. And the theme should be open-ended enough that an average fan can easily put together a costume (80s night, favorite movie character, etc.)
Offer different ticket packages
Sometimes a little exclusivity goes a long way, so make sure to have a ticket tier for several types of fan:
- Casual fan / general admission / door charge / balcony seating
- True fan / better seating / advanced admission / watch the soundcheck
- Diehard fan / special treatment / VIP merch / backstage hangout
Use all of the guest list
I don’t know why, but many musicians feel embarrassed to actually fill up the guest list.
It’s there for a reason. We might as well put names on it!
Just be sure you’re using those coveted free spots for people in the local industry like music journalists, or at the very least, fans and friends you can absolutely count on to show up if their name is on the list.
Do a ticket or prize giveaway
I mentioned contests above, and ticket giveaways or merch prizes can be a good way to reward contest winners, but also include the local music industry or music media in your promotion.
Offer tickets to be given away by local radio DJs, local businesses, or the venue itself.
Play an in-studio
If you can perform at a community or college radio station on the morning of the show, it can sometimes be a good opportunity to sell those last remaining seats.
Either because people were impressed while listening, or because you capture cool social content that helps more people in town learn about the show last-minute.
Play an in-store (mayyyyyyybe)
Playing in a local record store CAN be a good way to generate excitement for a show later that night or later that week.
But… these can sometimes turn into an event all their own, so you don’t want to risk people choosing the record store performance OVER the venue performance.
That’s why I wrote mayyyyybe above.
Special themed drinks
This is a small thing, but can make the night a bit more fun, bring a few more people through the door, and boost bar revenue.
Work with the venue ahead of time to create a drink named after your act, or one of your songs.
Participation is key
I’ve mentioned something similar a few times already, but you want your audience to feel like they can be a PART of the event, not just a witness.
Find ways to include fans.
Let them influence the setlist beforehand by editing a collaborative playlist or responding to a poll. Set aside a minute or two each show to bring someone from the audience onstage. Ask them questions, or let them sing a few lines.
You want to create a sense of both chance and agency for the crowd.
Before, during, and after the show — tag the other acts, the venue, the musicians in the photos, the designer, and any fans pictured. Set the location of the post. Find a relevant hashtag for that town’s music scene.
The same way you want to pack people into the club, you want (some of) your posts to feel like a party too.
As you can see, there’s a lot you COULD do to make your next show a success.
Major artists of course have teams to handle much of the work. For self-booking artists, most of the above will fall on your shoulders. If you want to get to the stage where others handle the booking and concert promotion for you, you’ve got to sell out your own concerts today.
No one promised it would be easy. But it is possible. And I hope the list of options above provides you with a good framework for success.
Here’s to many sell-out shows ahead!