I’ve touched on this before, which is better, a big crowd or an engaged crowd?
But I never dedicated an entire post to it.
Obviously you, as a musician, and I, as a promoter, want both. And sometimes it happens. And it is a great feeling for both of us. But sometimes it does not happen.
I’ve been to and put on shows where there was a huge crowd (I saw huge based on the bands that are playing – local shows with 300+ and national shows with 10,000+) and the benefit there is that someone is going to be engaged. Even if you are an early opener, someone is going to pay attention to you, possibly buy merch, check your social media, etc. Especially YOUR fans, but if they are fans of you they already have all that.
For the purpose of this post, let’s keep NEW FANS in mind over established fans.
So, for the new fans, people who have never heard your music or maybe heard the name of your band but never really checked you out, what is more important – that there is a lot of them or that they are engaged?
Like I said, someone in a big crowd will pay attention to you. Someone will be hardcore dancing, or moshing, to your tunes if the crowd is big. Even if your music isn't great, it’s going to happen. Good right?
But, what if out of 100 people there is only five new fans that are engaged? If you haven’t experienced this yet, trust me it will happen as you play more shows. Or even worse… as soon as you get on stage everyone goes outside. You’re playing to bar staff and a couple other respectful band members.
But, what if there are 30 people in the crowd and 20-25 of them are engaged? There is a mosh pit or they are all hardcore dancing. They cheer and clap for you every time you end a song. They buy your merch. They ask for an encore.
Obviously, the engaged crowd sounds better here.
So how do you make that happen? Couple ways to do this –
Pick your shows VERY carefully. First, don’t over-saturate your market, which I have covered in many blog posts here. Next, make sure that the shows you are playing are genre specific. I like to mix my shows up but even I keep a limit on this and follow the trends. Indie rock and alternative rock go good together, death metal and deathcore go good together, but if I put an indie rock band on a metal show, it won’t work. Genre specific is important because for you to gain engaged fans, you have to play the music they are into. And maybe they are there for an indie band but they like death metal as well. Still, you have to think about what they want to hear. What they are in the mood for? I know I have days where all I want to listen to is (for example) black metal. If I heard a hardcore band during those days, sure, I may like them, but I want black metal. Same concept at shows.
Don’t pass up the show with a band who’s fans are SUPER engaged, for the show with the national who is a fad. This requires research. Let’s look at rap. Hopsin is a rapper whose fanbase is exceptionally loyal to him. Similar to ICP, his fans will stop listening to an artist that he gets in a beef with. They will hate on their social media pages kind of loyal. He is an international artist NOW but five years ago, he wasn’t. Regardless his fanbase was still VERY loyal to him. So, if you’re a rapper and you can open for Hopsin, who five years ago maybe was drawing a couple hundred to his stronger markets, or you can open for *insert nobody rapper here but had there 15 seconds of fame five years ago*, who you going to go with? This is about attaining a fanbase, not partying big and bragging rights.
You can find that research out by looking at their social media, for example. If the band page has 1,000 likes but each post gets 200-500 social media engagements (likes, comments, shares) that means their fanbase is SUPER loyal. Go back a couple months/a year too. This will tell you if that person has maintained a loyal fanbase or if they have just gone viral.
Pictures can say a 1,000 words too. Do they have photos on their social media of their fans? If you search their band name hashtag on Instagram, is it mostly photos of them, or their fans? Are the photos showing the fans wearing the merchandise? Merchandise is important because unless they are a brand new band that is fabulously rich and just giving away merchandise at shows, that means that people paid for them. You don't pay for something you're not engaged with. All of this that can tell you about their fanbase.
Understand you want both a big crowd and an engaged crowd but don’t favor one or the other ALL THE TIME. In the example of opening for Hopsin, that would be great but you don’t always want that. Sometimes you want the big crowd. The big crowd is the risk. It is you saying to yourself, “hey, I make great music and I want as many people to hear it as possible”. The engaged crowd is “hey, I make great music, and I want fans who will worship me when I get on stage”.
Do not assume that your local shows will have the engaged crowd, and national shows will have the big crowd. I had a show last night with a national act. Crowd wasn’t big but they were VERY engaged. And I’ve done local shows where once the local band got off stage, their fans left the show. Do yourself a favor and research the acts you play with. If they are local you can catch them at a show and pay attention to their fans. Do they stick around? Do they leave? You have to keep this stuff in mind.
Again, we all want both, a BIG, ENGAGED CROWD. But reality is reality. And you can gain as much from a small, but engaged crowd, as you can from a big crowd.