Every artist longs for the experience of playing to a sold-out crowd. The imagined cheers from your most loyal fans can be real enough that you can practically hear them singing your songs back at you. But sold-out shows don’t happen by accident. (This is a theme in the music industry, if you haven’t noticed—nothing happens by accident.)
When you’ve been on a lengthy tour, or haven’t played out in a while, it can seem like a no brainer that your hometown show will be packed—but it isn’t so. Creating an environment in which people actually want to attend will take some work, but it can be done, and done well. Check out these five tips for selling out your hometown show.
1. Make it an experience
My number-one ingredient for any successful show is to make it an experience. It’s not enough for fans to pay $10 to attend your show, watch you perform stiffly, and call it a day. You can’t expect that people will talk about that or want to recommend it to their friends, or even come back themselves. In order to fill the house, time after time, you’ll need to up your live show to a real experience—and this is especially true on a special night where you’re really trying to pack it in.
One of the most memorable shows I’ve ever been to was by a San Francisco band called Abbot Kinney, with special guests Vanwave and Travis Hayes and the Young Daze. It was a Halloween show—and when I say that, I mean it in every sense of the word. There were discounts for those who got into the spirit and dressed up, fog machines that elicited a very special kind of creep factor, actors hiding in the shadows and waiting to scare unsuspecting guests, and a video that played before each band’s set, telling the story of the haunted venue that we were in and the spirits of each spooky band that still haunted it.
It was a real live mish-mash of concert-meets-haunted-house, and two years later, it’s still one of my favorite shows for that reason.
2. Offer one-of-a-kind merch
Another great way to get people in the door is to offer a piece of merch that can only be purchased at that show. It could be a limited-edition vinyl, T-shirt, postcard—it doesn’t really matter (though I do suggest you get creative with your merch), so long as it’s unique to that night and that night only, and it’s something your fans will really love.
3. Partner with emerging bands that have a strong local draw
If you’re still a fairly new band with a less-than-stellar draw of your own, that’s okay! Use those relationship-building skills to get to know other artists in the area, and invite them to play your hometown show.
It’s even alright if they headline and you open—the point is to get people in to see you play. If that means bringing in help from bands that already have a built-in following and can hype up their fans to come out early and check out what you have going on, use it to your advantage.
4. Limit your appearances before and after
As much as I advocate that a band gets out there and plays as much as possible, if you’re playing five shows a month in your hometown, there’s not a lot of incentive for people to come out, because they know they’ll just be able to catch you next week.
When you’re planning your show schedule—particularly a show you really want to fill the house for—give yourself some space on either end of the show, so that fans know if they want to see you, this is the show they have to be there for.
5. Get creative with pre-show promotion
There are a number of ways to drum up pre-show interest, like local press interviews or features, but start thinking outside of the box, too.
How about a scavenger hunt leading up to the show? You could post various clues on your Facebook or Instagram over the course of a few days, leading to a killer hidden prize pack of tickets and merch. Or you could run a contest online where your fans caption a goofy candid photo of the band for a chance at a similar prize.
The more creative you can get with building intrigue, the more interest you’ll build around the show itself. And, of course, the more intrigue and interest, the higher your chances of a sold-out show.