Is Your Band Playing Too Many Shows?
Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
I'm in a relatively new band in Minneapolis. We're about two years old, and things have been going very well for us. We're not a buzz band by any means, but the EP has gotten us a fair amount of attention, at least locally. We've opened for a number of national touring acts, some extremely friendly Canadian bands, and played with a ton of local bands. We've said yes to almost every single opportunity to play.
We have gotten to the point where we feel like maybe we're playing too many shows. Playing lots of shows has undoubtedly made us a better band; we love playing shows and we're serious about working hard to make our band successful -- this is obviously a good problem to have. But when we're playing 2-3 shows a week, for several weeks in a row, and when all of those shows are in in town, our worry is mostly one of oversaturation. How many shows is too many?
On one hand, our instinct is to start turning down show offers, with the goal of playing 1 or 2 shows a month locally, really focusing on promoting each one as much as possible. On the other hand, we're still such a new band in the scene that we don't want to burn bridges with people by turning down offers. Should we keep playing as many shows as possible to build connections and to get our name out there as much as possible? Should we take a break from playing the Twin Cities altogether? We don't have a vehicle that can get our band to Chicago or Des Moines, but maybe it's time to buy one and take some weekend trips?
(PS -- We saw that someone on Twitter suggested you start a TV show like Kitchen Nightmares for bands, we would TOTALLY watch that.)
Why are you even writing me? Your instincts about what to do are solid; you can trust them. Saying yes to everything is a good way to have a fun time (in any regard) but for a new band, I think that's the way to roll. You never know what opportunities and connections can be forged out of some random suburban house show or opening for Little River Band at the Minnesota State Fair. You get to know bookers, you get to know bands, you play for audiences who don't give a shit (crucial)--you make friends with Canadians. It's an array of experience that will bond and grow your band.
That said, it's been more than six months since you put out your release, you have supported it adequately, and you can ease off the gas and go down to two well promoted shows a month. You either must have cultivated a decent little draw or are really good live or perhaps are just super reasonable to deal with (the latter goes a long way and cannot be oversold as a way to get repeat bookings as a baby band).
If you are getting booked this much, promoters like you, and if you are playing their club twice a month or more, you have a relationship that is well-fostered and is not going to be harmed by you being more selective about shows. Tell promoters that you are taking a break from playing so many shows to focus on writing new songs, but that you appreciate the opportunity, you love playing there and say that you hope that they keep you in mind for whatever else they have coming down the pike. Keep in mind that this is a business of "no," so an easy "no, but thank you," is fine. Playing fewer shows may help build your draw, which will benefit everyone.
If you have done support on 80-96 shows in 2013, yes, it's time to at least start borrowing or renting a friend-band's vehicle and cashing in those favors, drawing on those connections and doing weekends out of town. Or take the MegaBus to Milwaukee and borrow backline. That's like $10 round-trip. Maybe in spring you can build up to going to Winnipeg, make good on that Canadian welcome. Don't be shy or apologetic--you have paid you baby band dues--you may step up to "the next level" now. Congrats.
(P.S. I would totally do that show. There would be so many bassist tears!)
Give Minneapolis my love, I do miss it.