I recently attended the NXNE music festival and conference in Toronto. It was my first time at NXNE, but the lessons I took away for bands who were showcasing were the same as at other conferences I’ve attended. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re going to be showcasing at a conference or festival in the future.
I Loved Your Band, Too Bad I Have No Idea Who You Are (and Other Lessons from Music Conferences)
1. Repeat Your Name
People are constantly coming in and out of showcases, so please don’t forget to say your name often. If you only said your name at the very beginning of your set, the people who arrived 3 songs in will have no idea who you are. Don’t be shy about it, and you can even joke about constantly repeating it, just make sure to do it. You can mention your website, your Twitter handle, ask people to like your band on Facebook, and sign-up to your mailing list. These are all great excuses to mention your band name.
I’ve attended so many artist showcases and walked out not knowing who the artist was. People are extremely busy, don’t make it hard for them to find out who you are by having to ask around or search through the conference program, be sure to let them know yourself.
2. Play Only Your Best (Rehearsed) Songs
It might be tempting to play that song you just wrote because it feels fresh and exciting, and you think it’s the best song you’ve ever written. But if you haven’t rehearsed it live, PLEASE don’t play it at your showcase. Play the songs you know best, play older “hits”, but whatever you do, don’t go in there playing a song live for the first time.
An artist friend of mine once played a high-profile showcase at a music conference and decided to play not only one, but several new songs that had never been performed live. Big mistake. Everyone I was with commented that those songs were the weakest part of the set and couldn’t understand why the artist had played them. You have to remember that often the people in attendance are not just having a beer and chatting with their friends. Some people are there to do business, and these are people who can help your career. Don’t take risks like playing songs you’ve never played live before. Only play what you know best and what has been rehearsed many, many times. Maybe try out that new song in the late night jam sessions amongst other musicians and ask for their feedback. But please don’t showcase with it.
3. Play Your Heart Out, No Matter What
Regardless of how many or how few people are at your showcase, play like you’re playing in front of all of the agents, managers and festival directors you were hoping to meet. Because you never know who those few people are, and often times it will surprise you.
At a Folk Alliance conference a few years ago, I went to see a private showcase of one my Montreal artist friends, Allison Lickley. It was in a small hotel room, and there were only a handful of people. I kind of felt bad for Allison initially, but then I realized that one of the people sitting up front was Ken Irwin, co-founder of Rounder Records. Most artists would have killed to have Ken at their showcase, and there he was in a tiny hotel room watching my friend Allison perform with only a few other people in the room. And this kind of thing happens more often than you might think.
So whatever you do, don’t complain about how few people are in attendance, or don’t experiment or jam because “no one is there anyway”. Play your set as tight as you can and blow those few people away, because you never know who they are.
Along the same theme, I recently read a great blog post by Chris “Seth” Jackson called “No One Will Remember Your Band: 10 Ways to Stop Being Forgettable". In it, Chris lists 10 ways that bands can stand out at shows. He touched on a few things that always run through my mind at conference showcases like having a large banner on stage, as well as having your logo on the kick drum, amps, etc., which ties-into letting people know who you are. Highly recommended read: http://www.musicthinktank.com/blog/no-one-will-remember-your-band-10-ways-to-stop-being-forgett.html
For more tips on attending music conferences, you can download my eBook “Attending Music Conferences 101”. From pre-conference planning, showcasing & networking, to the post-conference follow-up, it offers a step-by-step look at the music conference experience and how to maximize it from a musician’s point of view.