Creating and Promoting a Showcase Whether you represent a label or individual artist, creating and promoting a showcase of musical acts can help you book larger venues, build media exposure, expand your fan base and jump-start merchandise sales.
But how do you do a showcase right—and cost-effectively? ANTJE, founder of Chicago label, Sweet Pickle Music, has used showcases to support local artists and Sweet Pickle compilations. The showcase strategy has garnered performances at festivals, events and clubs in Chicago, Seattle and Amsterdam. The events have also helped drive sales of Sweet Pickle releases and merchandise for participating bands.
“Showcases take a lot of work and persistence, but I haven’t done one that hasn’t led to bigger and better things. Below, she shares 11 tips from her proven-in-practice playbook to help you craft your own showcase success story:
1) Pick a theme. The right theme can make the difference between getting a call back from a booking agent. Her estimate: she’s twice as successful booking themed showcases than standalone gigs for individual bands. For two recent cd compilations and subsequent showcases, Sweet Pickle used “Big Fish Little Fish: Emerging Women in Chicago Music” as the theme. It gives booking agents and venues a ready-made promotional hook—and works well for in-store performances. Tip: Be specific and narrow in your theme’s focus. The tighter it is, the better your chance of getting attention.
2) Consider a beneficiary. If you partner with a non-profit, you can use the showcases to raise money and use the altruistic feature to negotiate favorable terms with potential artists and venues. For the Big Fish showcases, door proceeds helped pay production costs for the showcase, and profits from merchandise sales benefited women-focused charities in Chicago. Tip: Ask the charity about playing their fund-raisers. It’s a ready-made source for you to put on your showcase—and it gives your artists exposure to a completely new set of people.
3) Recruit artists who fit your theme. Your basic showcase pitch: Performers benefit from exposure to new people, the ability to play a larger venue than they could secure on their own and, if your showcase benefits a charity, the ability to help out a good cause. You should get a mix of performers—from larger name to mid-tier acts to make for a varied and compelling evening of music. Make it clear: Each artists’ participation means they’ll need to be prompt for sound checks, take part in promotions and do their part to make the showcase a success.
4) Consider showcase flow. In addition to ensuring your showcase artists fit your theme, you must remember how their performances will stack up one after another. Used a three-act rotation (solo/duo, band, band) to cycle through 11 artists in a recent, four-hour showcase. “It would have been a snoozer to run soloists back-to-back.
5) Shop for a venue that fits your showcase. Beyond the usual sources, look to the calendar/upcoming events sections of independent music sites (like indie-music.com), newsletters and discussion groups to find potential events and clubs to pitch your showcase. Do they offer showcase opportunities? Would your theme and music resonate with the venue’s customary audience (or bring in a new crowd)? Will they require a guarantee to reserve the venue for a night? What’s your take of the door? What ancillary benefits like exposure to producers and distributors or industry media will a venue generate? How can you parlay your success into more showcases and exposure? Tip: Don’t spend your time with clubs or events with bush league Web sites and promotional materials. “If they can’t even promote themselves well, what will they do for you?”
6) Pitch it wide. Once you’ve got a solid theme and inkling of willing artists, start your pitch efforts. It’s a numbers game. The greater the number of booking agents and promoters you reach, the greater your chances of finding one that says yes. And remember, “just because you pitch them doesn’t mean they’ll do it.” Tip: Tell ‘em you’ve got a back-line to show you know how to make the venue’s evening easier.
7) Get promo help from showcase artists. Remember the expectation-setting with artists? This is where you get their help to make the showcase a success. But make it easy when you ask them to do some work. She gives all showcase performers press kits with releases, customized to highlight each band’s participation, to use in their promotional efforts with fans and media. Two important don’ts: 1. Don’t promote the specific format of your showcase—i.e., each band plays a 15-minute/three-song set. “You don’t want to give anyone a reason not to show up. 2. Don’t abuse the privilege of working with your showcase acts. Let them manage e-mail distribution, and see if you might do a mailing to their offline lists. Tip for labels: Pay attention to the artists who actively promote your showcase—they’re the ones you want to consider working with again and potentially signing.
8) Provide stage plots for each showcase artist. The venue’s sound crew will love you for it. Plus, for showcases of five or more bands, it’s essential to have the plot and a backline to ensure set changes of five to seven minutes (a point you must also stress with each act!). Work with artists at least three weeks in advance to know their stage set-up/requirements, discuss the virtues of punctuality and convey their needs to the venue.
9) Consider a finale. It’s a nice way for all showcase artists—or the lead individual from each act—to share the stage. The downside: A finale requires more rehearsal time to coordinate band and vocal parts.
10) Promote your success. Go back to the same e-mail, fax and mail lists you do for promotions (and those you glean from the event), and share how well the showcase went. Highlight the bright spots—attendance, money raised for charity, exceptional moments, etc.—within three days to make sure your follow-up is effective. “Take advantage of the good will while it’s fresh. Tip: Tie the follow-up to an online photo album of the event to make your outreach more compelling, she adds.
11) Keep in touch. Refine your theme, develop a new showcase and pitch it to everyone you contacted your first time around (plus new targets you find, of course). The key: Highlighting the attendance and sales success of your first showcase, and how it will benefit the club even more than the first time they rejected your idea. “You need to be persistent, but I get calls to play from people who have said “no” 15 times.