Out of the Rehearsal Room, Onto the Stage: How to Play Killer First Shows

For a long time I’ve be advocating to bands that the main way to build an audience is no longer by playing live. Especially in Australia, we don’t have the population or culture (in most cities, Melbourne is different) to support emerging heavy bands playing live more frequently than a month or two in the same city. Most of you who read my blog will know social media and strategy is my jam. And I’m not afraid to use my own band The Last Martyr as guinea pigs when it comes to testing out new strategies and promotional tools.

So it should come as no surprise for you to find out that my own band worked hard behind the scenes, releasing music and building an online following for over 6 months before playing our first ever live show. We were quietly writing and recording away more than 6 months prior to that making it over a year before we hit the stage.

Coming from bands that had already cut their teeth on stages around Australia and the US, the five of us really wanted to be strategic when it came to the way we launched The Last Martyr. We didn’t want to start playing shows to five people at some random pub around the corner. We put our heads down, wrote a tone of material, rehearsed our butts off and most importantly aimed to build an audience first using social media, good content, marketing and PR strategies. This meant that by the time we got on stage, we’d actually have people to play in front of. Not to mention be generating some sort of hype to open the door to good gig opportunities.

So what was the verdict?

Last month on 6th April we played our debut show at UsFest, Sydney – a festival across two stages at Oxford Art Factory supporting equality in the music industry. We were in the small room but that room was packed. I looked out into the crowd thinking how my old band had packed out the same room only a few years earlier, yet it had taken four years or so to reach that point. However, The Last Martyr had the opportunity to play in front of a similar sized crowd at their first gig.

Last weekend we played our EP Launch and debut hometown show at Stay Gold, Melbourne. Once again, the room was pretty damn full – one person even flew in from Queensland to see us (shout-out Kerry!) The night was part of Darkcell’s album launch tour so it was a double EP and album launch party which was rad. For this one we went hard on the pre-sales (always a good strategy when you can get arrange it because it locks people in) selling out of our allocated amount and having to direct people online thereafter.

I’m not telling you this to boast. I’m telling you because I want you to know that you don’t have to be playing shitty shows to hardly anyone if you don’t want to, no matter what stage of your career you’re at. Sure, we were offered shows prior to UsFest and the Darkcell support. But as tempting as it was to accept them considering playing live is obviously the best part about being in a band, we said no. And for you as well, it’s as simple as that (oh and having the strategy in place).

You have the power to pick and choose which shows you play and how many people you want to play to. By now, you are savvy enough to know which bands in the scene know how to promote shows properly and work hard to get an audience. Play with those bands. By now you know which venues are the type of venues people like to go to and which venues might be a bit out of the way or are known for letting any band and their dog play. By now (especially if you are a part of my Facebook Group Music Marketing & Mindset for Heavy Bands/Musicians) you know which touring companies are constantly posting on Facebook looking for supports for big international acts.

Despite everything I’ve spoken about, I still think the best way to build your chops is to play live. Even after two shows together – no matter how many years we’ve been doing this – we have grown way more as a unit than we could during writing, recording and rehearsals. But there is still so much you can do online to reach your target market and build your audience.

In conclusion, the way to play killer shows is to simply decide you will. Then work hard on your material and have a strategy to back yourselves up.

If you or your band are looking to boost numbers at your shows, play bigger shows and generally start building a bigger audience and progressing further in your career, check out my consulting packages. I’d love to work with you!

All images by Electrum Photography
UsFest video by From The Pit