Ever since I’ve been playing live music, I’ve have many different experiences as far as how the show’s been received. I’m sure Howie or Tucci or Nate or Derek or any other MFR artist can tell you the same thing.
Sometimes, there are b-loads of people at shows, and they’re loving it; other times, there are just a few people, most of which are friends who are being supportive.
You’d think that the correlation would run something like this: the better the songs/performance are, the more people show up, and the more people enjoy it. Conversely, if the songs aren’t that great and the performance is sloppy, you’d expect to see a small crowd. But these factors almost have nothing to do with how well a local band draws a crowd.
The key rests almost solely on these factors:
1. The age of your target audience.
2. How upbeat/dance-able your music is, and
3. How many friends you have.
First, let me talk about the target audience. Most music fans would agree that the majority of people who go to shows are usually under the age of 21 (described in this blog as “kids”), because it’s probably the most fun thing they can do on a given Friday or Saturday night. People who are older usually default to bars without live music, because they are old enough to drink, and because they’d rather not pay a cover to have a band drown them out when they’re trying to spit sloppy game.
That being said, the younger kids (remember, under 21) seem to like the rock music. Most show-goers in any city are kids, and most of those kids would rather listen to punk/rock/metal/etc. than folk/classic rock/jam bands/etc. If you’re playing indie-rock or folk rock, chances are your target audience is 21+, but remember, they don’t like going to shows as much as your 16-year-old sister.
Secondly, your music. Even if you have an all-ages show for the kids to come to, you HAVE to make sure you’re fun. It’s okay if the vocals suck, and it’s all right if the musicianship is a little off, but if you can get people in front of the stage, jumping up and down, singing along, and wiggling, then you’ve got them hooked. We all dance to rap songs that we know are stupid. BUT WE’RE DANCING, RIGHT!?
Third: a friend once told me that the most popular type of rock in any local scene is “friend rock.” This, of course, means that your audience will almost solely consist of friends and acquaintences of the band. If you have a lot of friends and you tell them about the show, they’ll probably show up even if you’re terrible, because they’re your friends, and they’re supportive. BUT! If you’ve got all the ingredients down (you do it for the kids, you have fun music, AND you have a decent amount of friends), your friends will show up, tell their friends, and sooner or later, you’ll be playing the Qwest Center (which is huge) with Green Day (who I like and am not making fun of).
Anyway, it’s a strange phenomenon. If you like playing shows for playing show’s sake, it might not matter. But it just reaffirms something that seemed obvious at first but got lost at some point: people want shows to be FUN, and while many can have great fun at a 21+ folk show, EVERYONE can have fun at an all-ages punk-rock show.