by Buddy Mercury
edited by Dan Adler-Golden
I’ve been in the same band my entire adult life (my own band), and I went from a relatively successful band touring-wise, to a relatively successful band local-wise and it took two very different tactics.
For years I toured and played with Mercury Radio Theater. Our goal was basically to build as big of a social media following as possible in a handful of major towns and cities in essentially a 10 hour drive radius from our hometown of Philadelphia.
Being a Regional Rockstar
We’d call bars, punk houses, coffeeshops, venues and play anywhere, anytime. We had a good press kit with good recordings, made sure the bio was short but punchy and intriguing (I have a friend who books one of the major venues in philly and his facebook statuses are just lines from bad band bios). We would always send press kits to all the local college radio stations before we showed up (about a month in advance), we’d print tour posters (we basically invested in a lot of advertising), we’d make sure to hunt down the local music blogs of each place we played and let them know we were coming to town and tried to play it up as much as we could. Also, we’d research the bands that we knew we would go well with in those towns and tried to hook up shows with them (the best way to do this would be to invite them to a show in Philadelphia and then they’d return the favor when we were on the road).
Eventually, we got a few key opportunities that a lot of bands don’t get. Bigger bands saw us play and asked us to tour with them, we got set paychecks every night and were making ok money. We toured a handful of times with well known bands and would be sure to hit up those same cities (at smaller venues) six months later to try and start our fan-base there.
Was it a lot of work? Yes it was, but we were doing it at a time when there wasn’t such an insane saturation of bands on the market. At the time, we were using mainly myspace in its early days and had thousands and thousands of followers, who would pay close attention to what we were up to. Also, on the old myspace pages you could search for followers by location, and we would use the people who were our friends or followers in given areas to do street team work for us. Then myspace came to an end and everyone moved to facebook.
At that point keeping the momentum going was just too much for me personally (after about 7 years), so I stopped touring, but nothing would ever keep my from playing music. So I decided to shift my attention to just being popular in Philadelphia.
Keeping it Local
Before becoming “local” I knew that I would have to be offering less of an experience and more something that could stand up to repeat viewings.
Through all my years of playing and recording in the city, I had become friends with local musicians, but I never really tapped a local audience that would be considered a fan-base. The first thing I did was ask all those musicians to join my band, and I ended up with an orchestra of around 8 people. I knew that would set me apart from most other bands in the city. I also knew whatever we did it had to be more, for lack of a better term “marketable”. I’ve played this song since I started guitar, and it had always gotten a lot of response from audiences because it was fun and whimsical. I decided I needed to take these 8 people more in that direction. I also needed to add some vocal stuff that people could shout along to (audiences love interaction). Once we had some new tunes we ended up sounding like this.
We pooled all our resources and waited for a big show to come along. It turned out that one of our friends, and amazing local legends, were going to have a reunion show that would certainly sell out one of our favorite venues. They asked us to set up the show, so we did, but tickets sold so fast they ended up having to book both friday and saturday and we opened both nights. From there we were sure not to play too often (there is nothing worse than a local band bugging you to come out every friday), we kept it to every 3 months and tried our damnedest to offer something unique. Each show had a theme and other bands that fit that theme, we MC’ed the shows rather than just have the bands file on and off stage. We made sure the audience/fans knew they were signing on for an entire night of bands who we had hand selected, and since we had 8 members the first few shows we really bugged all our friends and contacts to show. This really impressed the venue and we were able to return and do the shows periodically.
We made sure to try and get as much press as possible from local blogs, that way there is something to say about us. 5 shows happen every night of the week in philly, why on earth would they write about ours?
We made sure to write a press release for every show that gave all the details as well as info on all the bands playing that night (not just us). And what was so special about those nights? Well, we were booked the weekend before thanksgiving, it should have been a dead night for the venue with everyone traveling, but we billed it as “Gobblepocalypse,” and had a local animator make a 3 minute flash animation about robot turkeys taking over Philadelphia. Because it was a dead weekend, every blog in the city picked it up and we had a massive show. You gotta know how to turn a weakness into an advantage ( I know that’s hackneyed shit, but still!)
The shows became really popular, and as we started to sell out venues, we started to increase our frequency of playing. We decided rather than bust our balls trying to play a huge show every month, we’d pick a smaller venue we’d have no trouble selling out (100 person max) and just started a monthly residency.
That’s where we are right now, I know the path of every band and musician is different, but I think the main theme is…there are a lot of talented people in the world, and in 2014, there is just too much damned competition out there for bands, so you have to be offering something no one else would think of, and back it up with good tunes, and a fun time. People go to shows either because they’re fun or the musician is so amazing they want to be in awe of them. I ain’t in the second category, so I damn well better be in the first.
Anyway, hopefully this doesn’t get buried after all that typing, hope you find it interesting. Have a great day.