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singer and songwriter ben bruce

blog > List of Ideas to Make Each Gig Special

Dec 9th, 2010

I had trouble finding ideas on the Web, so I started my own list. I hope it’s helpful.

In researching “ideas to make your gig special,” I realized there weren’t very many out there. So here’s hoping a list of ideas will help other enterprising local musicians!

Making each gig special is important for local musicians — your friends have all come to see you (or your band; I’ll just be saying “you” from now on) five times, and plus “Survivor” is on. And there are a thousand other bands playing in your city that same night1. So how do you convince folks to make your show a priority?

One idea I had that really had legs was the Lone Microphone. I wrote about it here but the gist of it is a battle of the bands-​style evening, where “votes” are cast by signing up for artists’ email lists. For me, being the host was a chance to play a “warm up” set at the beginning of the night, plus a song and a story here and there between sets. All of us got to play for a nice crowd, get some email addresses and one person went home with anywhere from $55-$161!

Here are some more ideas — you’ll see I like to “brand” the events. Give them a catchy name, try and come up with a theme, because it’s not that hard and it helps! Leave a comment about other ideas you’ve come up with and maybe help some fellow travelers out along the road.

  • Video Shoot. Let everyone know you are shooting a video that night and they are going to be extras in the next viral video hit. Maybe offer schwag to those who come specifically for the video shoot. Have a few choice lines prepared for the extras to say to the camera.
    • Bonus: Once you post the live videos, ask folks to “tag” themselves on Facebook. Easy promotion, and they feel like they are a part of it!
  • Live Recording. Same deal.
    • Bonus: you have a new album for sale.
  • Songposium. Just a regular “singer/​songwriter” night. The Songpourri, or The Songposium. The idea here is to talk to your musician friends — the songwriters about town — and ask them to do this event with you. You discuss songwriting, how you wrote the song, then play it. And you are all drawing from each songwriter’s fanbase.
  • Nights of the Round Table. Same idea but with a medieval theme, but then it’s just songwriters in the round — each one plays a song in turn and the others either listen or play along. If you can get folks to dress up, even better. Get connected with your local renaissance crowd!
  • Costume Party. That reminded us of HIMSA and how they toured in full chain mail — how about a costume party?
  • Schwag Bag. Fill out an Email sign up card for a chance to win an album, sticker, or something drawn from the world-​famous schwag bag.
  • Whodunnit. Buy one of those murder mystery games? I’ve never played one so I don’t know how this would work. Or maybe write your own.
  • Crossword. A crossword puzzle where the answers are in the lyrics?
  • Trivia night. Trivia night is a tried and true method to get folks to the bar — maybe work out a deal with the bar where whoever wins the trivia night gets a free pitcher of beer.
  • Cook dinner. Ask the bar if you can bring in your special chili (or home made bread, or whatever). Make sure and clean up after yourself2.
  • Have a Potluck. OK, the health department has scared you off. Cook dinner at home, instead. I read an article about a band that did this but I can’t remember who. Have a house party but make it a potluck feast. Maybe for the solstice.
  • Free Beer!” Write songs with names like “Free Beer,” “No Cover Charge!” and (depending on your crowd) “Free Lap Dances” or “Wet T-​Shirt Contest.” Then your promotional poster really sings by just listing some of the songs you are going to play that night.
  • Actually, in seriousness, I read this tip somewhere (sorry, band, not to link to you!): Work out a deal with the bar for drink tickets (I think they said they usually worked out to $2 a ticket) and then offer all of your fans a free beer for coming to the show. You pay up at the end of the night ($2 x however many tickets) but presumably you made much more (merch, door) and your attendance was way up.
  • Give Away Your Favorite Books. This idea comes courtesy of Bloodhag, who throw out paperback copies of their favorite sci-​fi books at shows.
  • Book Swap Night. Give it a theme — Sci-​Fi, Romance, Western, etc. Folks trade books and enjoy the music. Maybe everyone gets half-​priced admission if they bring a book to trade.
  • Press Night. Treat all your fans like you would treat a member of the press — they all are members of the press since they are going to write reviews, blog posts, etc. So: free entrance, back stage credentials, photo pass, etc. They don’t get your newsletter, they get press releases.

Special thanks to Ward Spring, Paul Miller and Dave Lee for help developing this list (get your name linked to your band Web site by adding a new idea in the comments!).

1 This is nothing new. In fact, this is what I was able to find as I scoured the Web for ideas — many, many articles saying make your gig special. But very few ideas of how.

2 Further discussion made it clear that lots of people get worried about the Health department and da da da da da. Let the bar deal with it — if they okay it, it’s ok.


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