If you’ve got a decent demo, you’re probably itching to get it into the hands of the right people at the right places. But before you go sending your music into the black hole that is a label’s A&R department, consider this: Instead of wasting postage by mailing unsolicited material to ambivalent parties, why not organize a showcase? Think about it—your live show is your strongest selling point. It also allows you to connect with industry folk face-to-face instead of through email or over the phone. Besides, at the end of the day these people all want to see how good you are without the gloss of studio production and to see how many people you can draw.
Whether you’re trying to win a record deal, land a publicist or booking agent or beef up your press kit with some good reviews, a showcase is a powerful tool of persuasion. Here’s how to put on a good one and reap the benefits.
• Put together a killer bill. Pick four bands who have a solid fan base and are generating buzz. You’ll want them to be able to bring out as many of their contacts at labels, media outlets and agencies as possible, not to mention their fans. Choosing bands for your showcase is critical, so be strategic. Make sure your lineup is cohesive without being redundant. Don’t pick acts who are going to completely outshine you, or are so bad that they drive all the industry folk away.
• Find the right venue. Size and sound are key here. Estimate how large your audience is going to be and find a space that will accommodate everyone and feel full. Make sure the sound system is up to snuff and you’ve got a knowledgeable sound guy—you don’t want to lose any industry interest on a technicality. Also, shoot for a venue that has some cache. Industry people are more likely to show up at a club with an established reputation over some Mexican restaurant with a stage.
• Cast a wide net. There’s no use putting on a showcase if you’re playing to only one industry rep. Make sure you invite enough VIPs so that if only a third of them come, it’s still worth the effort. Reach out to everyone on your wish list, and get people to confirm they’re coming. Your showcase should ideally be taking place in a music hub, e.g. New York, L.A., Nashville, Chicago or Austin.
• Get your fans (and their friends) to come out. Call in all your favors, beg, plead, do whatever it takes to fill up your venue. Make your showcase free admission. You’re trying to woo industry players, not make a profit.
• Bring it. When you step onto that stage, you had better own it. Showcase sets are normally 20-25 minutes, so pick 4-5 numbers that are sure to kick ass. Practice them until your fingers and ears bleed. Make sure your transitions from one song to the next are as seamless and quick as possible. Don’t indulge in unnecessary stage banter, but don’t be too aloof. In general, less is more. Just make sure your “less” is still charming.
• Hang out. Industry people are notorious specters, able to slip in and out of audiences without being noticed. Keep a guest list at the door so you can see who actually came. Do a little research before the show so you know what your invitees look like. If you spot some VIPs, greet them, chat them up, maybe even buy them a beer. The more you connect with the industry reps off stage, the better the chance you’ll connect onstage.
• As always, follow up. Send a thank you to everyone on your list who came. For those who didn’t, reach out with a “Sorry you couldn’t make it …” and invite them to the next show. If at first you don’t succeed … well, you know the drill.