Why major artists get sold-out shows and you don’t !
I wish that when I put a show on sale, I could tell how many people want to buy a ticket and then just sell it to them
Head of A&R and Business Development at Wasserman Music
A story First
For many years I helped artists to build an audience & tours in Europe and in Asia. It’s always an exciting time for an artist to prepare a tour and get shows scheduled in some prestigious cities or venues.
I remember my first tour in Asia, it was in 2006. I was super thrilled to bring a European band to play in The Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Back in time, it was not so common. The infrastructure and the type of informations available to organises tours were scarce. Only artists touring in that region were well known artists such as Tom Jones, Mariah Carey and a very few indie bands.
I had full trust in local promoters to deal with all the marketing aspects. The sort of agreement was: I bring a band, you as a promoter you set the venues and deal with any promotion aspects (I know I was very naive..and stupid). In fact, each promoter did the job fairly. Promotion were done unequally among each shows, but we had some TV coverage (MTV in Manila) and some articles in National newspaper.
Remember, in 2006, we didn’t not have any tool such as Chartmetric, Soundcharts, FB, Spotify to collect data and social media platforms to promote any tours. We had only Myspace, a couple of blogs, radios and tv (if we were lucky), news media and usual word by mouth.
As expected, not many people attend the shows for my band. Around 20 to 50 peoples for each shows. Not bad for a first time and without much promotion but we were very far to break even.
Looking at those poor results, I started wondering how major artists can get sold out shows for thousands of people while I can’t even have a full tiny venue of only 100 people. I understand that major artists have build an audience, and can leverage a heavy and targeted promotion to ensure there will be enough people coming.
But what about emerging artists ? I was convinced if I could find the solution to that question, I could bring more bands on tour.
The Hard Reality of Touring
Back home, I started to debrief on what went wrong and conclude the following:
- 1No research regarding if there is a demand for this particular type of music/niche in that region was made.
- 2No real understanding of who is part of the local indie community in each country visited
- 3No real and targeted promotion done to attract the audience
- 4No efforts were made to build an audience before touring.
Learning my lessons and getting my first success story
In fact, a few months later I reiterate the experience in Europe this time with another band (different type of music). We toured in 7 countries. Results were very inconsistent. In fact I end up doing a series of shows with almost no one in the audience for 70% of the tour. Double failure !
Booking shows was an easy task but I was confronted to one real obstacle: How to build an audience and bring that audience to the show ?
In 2007: I gave a final attempt but this time I was prepared, I did my homework (I even ask my mum to light some candles at church and send me some good vibes.).…
I was working with a French band doing post-rock. At that period post-rock was becoming very trendy in South East of Asia. I managed to get them 2 shows (in Singapore and Bangkok), 1 festival ( Baybeats in Singapore) and 1 mini festival (in Kuala Lumpur).
All shows were successful for the following reasons:
Those 4 gigs were a game changer for me. The band had TV interviews with Channel V in Singapore. They had also some radio interviews in Kuala Lumpur and finally they even got a distribution offer for Thailand but most importantly they found their audience.
Major Artists & Their Audience
You may be thinking: if you are an established artist, it’s easy to build an audience. Not much promotion is needed, and audience will come by itself. Well, that’s not entirely true. I witnessed shows from artists selling zillions of records worldwide and had difficulties to fill even a mid-size venue in some regions.
You want to know why? Lack of audience/demand in specific areas.
I want to share with you three examples below to illustrate the above.
Major Artists Use Cases
Use Case 1: Vampire Weekend
Back in time, when I was booking shows in Bangkok for international acts, we decided to book the US act Vampire Weekend.
Bookers in the region (Singapore, Bangkok, Indonesia) were getting excited to have them. The band were on various magazines, blogs across Asia. We noticed a decent interest for the band in Bangkok through social media and local indie scene communities as well. As a result, we felt confident to book a venue of around 4000 cap audience. Once the show was confirmed, we start launching our usual marketing campaign across the city and start put on sales concert tickets for the show.
Their album Contra skyrocketed in terms of sales (their previous album had also a massive success). They build an audience which growth exponentially and fast. Contra was ranking extremely well in the charts (Billboard ..) as showed in the pic below.
After a quick momentum where we had a spikes in terms of tickets sales. Despite heavy promotions on-going, we quickly noticed we were not going in the right direction. Sales were slow, extremely slow. Not a good sign. Knowing that, we increased our marketing efforts but nothing was happening.
In fact, we sold around a bit more than 60% of the ticket. It’s like having a big punch in your face !
I quickly realised that well established or not, when it comes to selling a show and gathering an audience, you need to go through a certain number of considerations such as:
The showstopper we faced was clearly the lack of audience for the band. The demand was not strong enough to fill the venue we booked.
Use Case 2: Damien Rice
We knew Damien Rice was looking to tour in Asia in 2015.
After doing some thorough research through local fanbase, local press, label, analytical tool, his level of popularity in the SE Asian region, we found out we had a strong chance to have a sold out show in Bangkok. Over the years, Damien Rice build an audience which can be considered as loyal and solid. So we booked him.
How we proceeded:
In this particular use case, our marketing effort were concentrated only on one media: Facebook. We knew the audience was using that platform a lot. We run some surveys as well among that audience in order to measure their level of interest.
Based on the excellent result we got from our surveys and all the information we collected beforehand, we knew we will have a lot of people interested to attend the show BUT we had to make sure to have:
We got a full house in less than 6 min. About 1700 tickets were sold in less than 6 min.
How come an artist can sell 1700 tickets in 6 minutes while some other artists you need to push hard for several weeks to sell any tickets.
The answer is simple: some artist have build a dedicated audience able to fill a venue very quickly and you have the others.
It’s important before you start building your next tour and spend money on the promotion that you answer honestly the following questions:
- 1Do you have a growing audience and eventually a hardcore fanbase (even in a limited number) present , if yes where ?
- 2How many people could potential come ?
- 3Can you join a festival or a showcase during your tour ?
- 4How the venue will promote the show?
There are no good or bad answers here, the goal is to make an assessment and decide what to do next.
I strongly believe that building a strong audience is the key for any success touring. If your audience is very small in a certain region, then you should focus on building a stronger one before starting any tours.
Also, if you want to participate to a music showcase conference and develop your network, I wrote a post about it and shared valuable tips that will make your participation effective. The link is HERE.
Use Case 3: I saw the band The Itchyworms from The Philippines. They were part of the line up at Music Matters Singapore in 2019. I was watching the band before them, it was ok, but not much people (perhaps 200/300 people) and nothing much was happening, it was an OK show.
But as soon they finished, more and more group of people were heading towards the stage and start calling for The Itchyworms. Before the show starts, around 1000/1500 people were calling the Filipino band to come on stage and perform. The Itchyworms had a fantastic show, the fanbase there was massive, they could sing most of their songs. You can check a video of their show here.
Yes the majority of the audience was from the Filipino diaspora and living in Singapore but the point here is: this band managed to build an audience who is loyal and dedicated. I strongly believe one key of their success is their constant engagement towards their fans.
Where to find your Audience
In this section, I'm going to share the different ways to find your audience.
That way, you can start immediately the itinerary of your next tour.
Today, you have various ways to check if you have an audience:
Resource 1: Also I want to refer to this excellent article from Chartmetric Blog. This article will bring you around the various tools you can use to determine where your audience is (country/cities/platforms).
Resource 2: when you decide to survey your audience to know where you should tour, I highly recommend to watch this video from the UK artist Lucy Rose who build an amazing tour across South America (but also in Asia) based on the feedback receive from her audience. Link is here
My Two Cents Tip:
I know most of the band put a high priority to be able to play in big cities like Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, London.
At the end of the day, does it worth the money to play a show in Amsterdam, Berlin or London for 5 or 10 people.
The fact that most of the artists tend to forget (and I was also forgetful about that), those cities are super competitive in terms of live events.
For instance Berlin has tons of shows every days that you will need to compete with.
Check below the data I collected from Statista:
In summary: people living in Berlin have a large choice when it comes to live events and if you neglect that aspect and if your marketing is not strong enough, the chances are you may have a nearly empty venue for your gig.
The most crucial questions to ask yourself when you are building your tour is:
You may want to explore smaller cities as well as you may have a chance to have more audience to your shows.
Why Buying A Ticket Is A Complex Decision
In this section, I'm explaining the different obstacles an audience might have before deciding to buy a ticket for a show.
One topic I wanted to highlight was the complexity to sell tickets. You will see below a series of frictions considered as a potential obstacles for people attending your shows. In fact, getting people to buy a ticket for your shows will depend of many factors such as:
- 1Date of your shows
- 2The price (I saw several shows being a failure because price was too high)
- 3Their availability
- 4The availability of their friends (are their free that night, or do they have commitment with their family or they need to work at night ..)
- 5The weather (if it’s raining or snowing , people might be less keen to go out)
- 6Are they really fan of your music to justify spending a few $ for your show?
As you clearly understood, going on tour without any preparation will certainly lead you to a disaster. Remember, always ask yourself where your audience is based, quantify them and then only start building your tour.
Well in fact, there are solutions such as:
- Grow your fanbase - it’s not the fastest decision, it will take you weeks/months by using Facebook/IG/Tik Tok strategy or email collection but it's really necessary and require a constant effort.
- Ask your audience where there are located, survey them
- Search for concert swaps with local artists
- Pitch Festivals or music showcases happening in the region where you are touring
- Network by attending showcases as delegates and meet bookers, promoters
- Contact medias in the area where you are touring but also your media at home
- Check your analytics, and locate where your followers, listeners are based
If you have an interest on how to build an audience and prepare your next touring, I wrote an e-book which contains a good number of resources that you may find useful. Oh and by the way it’s free.
Here is what's included:
I hope you enjoyed this post.
Now I’d like to hear from you: How do you build your audience ? How do you determine which cities to perform ?
Let me know by leaving a quick comment below right now.