How to Pack the House Without Hanging a Single Poster — In 3 SimpleSteps

I’m frequently approached by fellow performers in my local music community asking for ideas on how to attract larger crowds to their shows.  A few have noticed that I often neglect to even hang up a poster in town to promote my performances, yet these events tend to be quite well-attended.  

Some of these observant colleagues have suspected that there is a method to this madness and have asked me to share my promotional “recipes” with them.

Therefore, in the words that follow, I will attempt to reveal and explain the strategy that has proven most effective for me. May this info prove equally useful to you:

Ask and You Shall Receive

This is going to sound obvious but the first step you can take to get more people to your show is to ask more people to come to your show! It’s simple arithmetic, really.

Step 1: Do the Math

Through my experience, I have observed that, of every 100 people I invite to an event around 30 of them show up. That’s a 30% invitation to attendance correlation. Armed with this data, one can assume that if I invited 100 individuals for every 30 that I hoped to have in attendance I would have, roughly, the crowd I desired:

So if I wanted around 200 people at a show, I would invite 700 people.

7 x 30 = 210

Now, of course, life (and especially the music business) are not so easily contained within such a simple formula. For instance, one thing I’ve noticed is that as the number of my invitees grows past a certain quantity, my percentage of attendees starts to decrease rapidly.

There are other things that will affect the numbers as well. For example, if the show is on a weeknight the attendee percentage will drop rather significantly. Holidays are to be considered as well. Conflicting events can also skew the numbers along with “acts of god”, like bad weather on the day of the show.

Life is messier and much more complex than “7 x 30 = 210”. Sufficed to say there are a multitude of variables at play that are not properly expressed in my simple equation.  

Yet, this basic math gives me a reference point of expectation that consistently holds true for me. I suspect you’ll find similar consistency in your own experience if you take the time to calculate and analyze your own unique invite to attendance ratio.

*note: If you’re having trouble calculating your own numbers, just send me an email and I’ll be happy to help you out.

Okay. So I’ve made you do some math and now you should have a general expectation of of how many invites you need to elicit in order to garner your desired attendance numbers.

Now on to the most important step in this process.

Step 2: Make the Plea

So when I talk of inviting people to a show, I’m not talking about inviting all of your friends to a facebook event. Nor am I talking about sending a mass message or newsletter to your mailing list. These things are all well and good. I think you should do these things but there is a distinction to be made here.

When you hang a poster, send a mass email or click the invite button on your facebook event you are, essentially, putting a message in a bottle and sending it out into the vast sea of information that the average person is scanning on a daily basis. The odds of your message reaching your intended audience in an effective and meaningful way are pretty low.

If you use this “message in a bottle” method exclusively, you will likely yield frustratingly poor results.

The secret is to make direct contact with your potential audience and to deliver them a personal and heartfelt request.

After all, if the success of your show depends on how many people attend, then these people are as important to the event as you are. They deserve to be treated as individuals and, if possible, you should reach out to each person in a sincere and personal manner.

When I finally understood this reality and started treating my invites as personal pleas, my audience grew exponentially!

The Art of the Personal Plea

Start by making a list of every person you know who might possibly be interested in attending your concert. Include family members, friends, co-workers, clients, school mates, neighbors…anybody that you think might want to attend should be contacted.

Next craft a basic, informational letter that explains all of the details of the event. This is your “message in a bottle” draft. You can send this info out “as is” to your facebook invitees, twitter feed, etc. Here’s a personal example from a past show:

Hello faithful friends, family, and fans,

I’m very excited to announce that my next show will be on December 1st, 2011 in the main concert hall at The Sheldon!

A little bit about the event:

Pokey LaFarge and I will be performing together for the first time ever.  If you’re not familiar with Pokey and his music, you’re in for a real treat!

Here’s just a little snippet of the wonderful press he’s accumulated nationally:

“[Pokey LaFarge] studies the past and makes it his own… his voice is strong and warm and the show he and the South City Three put on at Newport was simply charming. The sentiment in [‘Feels So Good’] pretty well sums up what I love about this band.”

-Bob Boilen, NPR

“Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three channeled a sepia-toned era with their irresistible take on Western swing and old-time jazz [at the Newport Folk Festival].”

-The Boston Globe

The concert is in celebration of the Folk School of St. Louis’ 10 Year Anniversary.  Betse Ellis of The Wilders will be opening the show and sitting in with Pokey and me on a few numbers as well. Betse is an amazing fiddler in the old time, country and blues traditions and was a big influence on my playing in my formative fiddle years.

Pokey and I will be putting out some songs and tunes of early America (blues, rags, old time, etc) on a variety of instruments and sneaking in a few rootsy original numbers as well!

This is going to be a very special night for me, as I get a rare opportunity to collaborate with two of my absolute favorite musicians of today in my favorite concert hall on earth!

I sincerely hope you can attend this once-in-a-lifetime event.

Tickets available at all Metrotix locations. Charge by phone at 314-534-1111 or at www.metrotix.com

Thank you all for everything and I hope to see you on December 1st!

sincerly,

Ryan

*This was the stock message that I shared on my facebook event page and sent out en mass to my email list.

Now that you’ve compiled your list and crafted your generic message, it’s time to make your personal pleas. Whether online, over the phone, or in person, you need to individually contact every person on your list. When you contact them make sure to engage them in a personal way.

Take this opportunity to catch up. Enquire as to how they’ve been. How are the kids? The new job, etc.  I’ve found that even if a request doesn’t translate into an attendee, at least I’ve had a reason to check in and connect with an acquaintance. That’s beneficial on a personal and professional level so you really can’t lose by directly engaging your potential audience in a friendly and social way.

Now that you’ve said hello and engaged in some personal interaction, go ahead and request their presence at your upcoming show.

Here’s the generic message above worked into a personal plea:

Hey Alex,

Hope you and Julia and the family are doing well these days.  I haven’t seen y’all since the last shindig at our your place and look forward to crossing paths again sometime soon.

Anyway, I wanted to send you an invite to my upcoming show.  I’m really excited about it and I’m hoping to get every one of my family and friends to come out.   The information is copied below.  Please share this with your mom and dad too if you don’t mind:

I can barely put into words how excited I am about my upcoming show!

It’s on Thursday, December 1st at The Sheldon Concert Hall.      I’ll be performing with Pokey LaFarge as:

The Pokey LaFarge & Ryan Spearman Duo

Tickets are on sale now at the Folk School of St. Louis and all Metrotix outlets

Charge by phone at 314-533-9900 or visit:    www.metrotix.com

 This is a once-in-a-lifetime event.  To be playing as the headlining act in the main hall of The Sheldon is a dream come true and I really hope you can be there to share the experience. This night marks the most important show of my career to date, so please purchase tickets through the link above and help make it a success!

Why is this show so important to me?    I can give you four answers:

 #1       The Sheldon Concert hall is celebrated as one of the world’s  “acoustically perfect” venues. As a teenager, I saw Arlo Guthrie at the Sheldon. He sat on the edge of the stage and played “Alice’s Restaurant” to a crowd of over 600 people without using a microphone!  The hall has also hosted such notable personalities as Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemmingway, Sam Bush, Mark O’Connor, John & Bucky Pizzarelli, Doc Watson, Taj Mahal…the list goes on and on and on.

#2     The opportunity to collaborate with a like-minded and super-talented musician like Pokey LaFarge is a rare one…especially considering the small amount of time Pokey spends in St. Louis. Mr. LaFarge is on the road for about 245 days of the year sharing his infectious brand of American roots music with folks all over the United States and Europe!  

 The two of us share a deep love and respect for the old time, country, blues, bluegrass, jug band, & early jazz music of our nation’s heritage and together we’ve created a night of music that pays homage to all of the above.  We’ll be swapping songs, harmonies, & instruments throughout the evening; including guitar, 5 string banjo, mandolin, fiddle, & tenor banjo.  

To sweeten the deal, Betse Ellis will be starting the evening’s musical entertainment with a rare solo set.  Betse is the fiddler for the popular, international touring band, The Wilders.  Betse has always been one of my favorite fiddlers.  Her perfect balance of energy, irreverence, and precision on the fiddle have inspired me since my very early  days with the instrument. It is a true honor to have her open the show…and of course, she’ll be joining Pokey and myself for a few foot stompers, as well.

#3     The show is a 10 year anniversary celebration for the Folk School of St. Louis.  As most of you know, I have spent the last three years involved with this non-profit, educational organization as a teacher, concert promoter, jam host, & volunteer and my wife, Kelly Wells, has been the Executive Director of the school for the last 8 months or so.  I strongly believe in the importance of sharing and teaching folk music and folk arts as a vital part of a healthy and whole community.  At the Folk School we strive to do just that.   All of the profits from the evening will go to support the Folk School and its quest for better living through traditional music and art.      The school will also be releasing a special 10th Anniversary CD featuring a compilation of recorded works from a host of past and present Folk School instructors and associates…including me.      Oh yeah…and we’ll have a limited edition stack of signed, hand printed, commemorative posters available for sale as well.

 #4     Most importantly, I can’t do it without you!  My success as a performing artist depends, ultimately, on whether or notyou support the cause by attending my shows.  I know that’s a lot of pressure, but I’m confident you can handle it.  

 Tickets are on sale now at the Folk School of St. Louis and all Metrotix outlets

Charge by phone at 314-533-9900 or visit:    www.metrotix.com

Well, I hope I’ve communicated to you just how much I would love and appreciate your participation in this upcoming event.  Thank you so much for all the support you’ve already shown me over the years and I look forward to seeing you on Thursday, December 1st at The Sheldon!

* note: I’ve found it helpful to explain why one’s attendance is important to you. If the invitee can be made to understand just how important they are to the success of your event, then they will be more compelled to act on your behalf.

Message Sending Protocol

This may vary for you, but I will share with you the method in which I sequence my messages when reaching out to the people.

  1. Email

  2. Facebook

  3. Phone

  4. In person

I do the bulk of these communications through email. After I’ve gone through all of the relevant people in my email contact list, I move on to my facebook friends and engage with anybody in that group that hasn’t already received a message from me. That usually covers the majority of my list but there are always a few that I need to call on the phone or converse with via text message. And of course, anybody I interact with “face to face” will get a personal invite provided I can find a polite way to work the subject of my upcoming show into the conversation.

Step 3: Follow Through

Now that you’ve initiated contact in a personal manner, you will need to follow up with any responses you receive.  Some will tell you that they will be going to the show, others will reply to inform you that they, in fact, will not be able to attend. Still others may ask for more details. Treat all messages equally. Follow up with every correspondence!

Continue this process the night of the show. Actively interact with the crowd and remember to thank everyone in person for coming out in support of your art. Let them know their presence is appreciated.

Finally, remember to follow up after the event. Send some final thank yous to all of the attendees along the same channels that you sent the invites (email, facebook, phone, etc).

A Few Considerations

  • I usually send my mass messages about 31/2 to 4 weeks before an event

    • I then start sending my personal pleas about 21/2 to 3 weeks out

  • Do not be fooled, this process is massively time consuming!

    • Set aside time in your schedule to attend to these communications

    • Expect to spend many hours working this “personal plea” approach

  • This process is intended for use in your local market.

    • It would be difficult to employ this strategy in regions outside of your local area unless you have established significant personal relations in these locales

  • This approach loses much of it’s effectiveness if you play too frequently in your area

    • How often you play in your hometown and what kind of shows you choose to play are a subject for a whole other discussion so I won’t expound upon it here.

  • If you’ve run the numbers and created your personal plea contact list and find that your major problem is that you don’t have enough people to invite, then you’ll need to focus on bolstering your network before this approach can be truly efficacious for your career. For more on networking, I refer you to my Free eBook:

Quit Your Day Job – Inspiration, Tips, and Practical Guidance for the Aspiring Musician

  • This personal plea approach is not the only way to entice people to come to your performances but I’ve found that, personally, it’s the most effective and rewarding way to pack the house while, at the same time, maintaining meaningful relationships with my listening community.

In conclusion, I ask you to try this process out for yourself and to share your results with me and the Acoustic Living community.

If your experience is anything like mine, the “personal plea” approach will drastically improve the attendance at your next major event.  

 

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2 thoughts on “How to Pack the House Without Hanging a Single Poster — In 3 SimpleSteps

  1. B. Sax

    Great post, Ryan. I think a lot of musicians avoid the “personal plea” approach because of the time it takes and there is this idea that you are “spamming” your friends, family, etc. But the way you interweave past interactions with your personal plea makes it less spam and more direct interaction. Plus it’s easy to just tweet or invite on facebook. I’d venture that if you only do those things, your invitation to attendance ratio is probably more like 10%

    Reply
  2. ryanspearman@gmail.com Post author

    Hey Brian, Thanks for your comments!

    I agree with you. The idea of the personal plea came about precisely because I wanted to be able to reach out to all of my friends and acquaintances without feeling so “spammy”.

    When you take the time to actually engage each person you’re contacting then, chances are, you’ll both enjoy the experience much more than a mass email scenario.

    All that being said, I think if you try this approach more than, say, three times a year, you’ll probably start getting on a lot of peoples nerves.

    Reply

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