The annual CMJ Music Marathon kicked off yesterday, bringing together 1,400 artists at 80 different venues across New York City. If you were part of the action as a spectator, you were likely treated to some incredible live performances and, hopefully, you left with the names of a few bands you’d like to hear or see again. For up-and-coming artists, CMJ offers a platform for discovery and an opportunity to build their fan base. In the era of music-streaming, finding a way to cut through the noise and establish a connection with fans who will love your music is absolutely crucial. To capitalize on this opportunity, it is important to treat your CMJ experience as a pivotal part of the success your career. With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you maximize the value you get out of events like CMJ.
1.) Promote the hell out of your show
Building an audience before you take the stage is a critical, yet often neglected part of playing at an event like CMJ. Get the word out about your show. And I don’t mean tweet it and forget it; blast out notifications to everyone on your email list-serve, contact local music writers asking them to review your show and tell your friends to tell their friends. If you have the bandwidth and budget, print out some flyers and hand them out outside of the CMJ registration building. It sounds a little hokey, but most people attending CMJ start the day off with a plan for which shows they want to attend and then freeze up like a deer in headlights halfway through. Sticking a flyer in their pocket might put ideas in their head about coming to see you perform. As I mentioned before, treat your show like one of the biggest moments in your budding music career. When you go out on stage, you’ll want as many people there as possible. Which brings us to the next step…
2.) Build a refined setlist
This isn’t your average show. Put some extra thought into how to make your performance the best that it can be. Any feedback or observations you’ve received from your previous shows regarding your performance: now is the time to put them into practice. Your audience will have likely heard two or three bands before you and will hear several more after you so you want them to leave with a certain impression about you and your music. The bands that I’ve seen that stood out the most were the ones that played high-energy, over-the-top performances, even if their music was relatively muted or somber. It is a challenge, particularly if it’s just you and a piano up there or if the venue you’re playing at doubles as a restaurant or a noisy bar. But that gives you even more incentive to craft a setlist that accentuates your unique qualities. You may even consider putting your most catchy and appealing songs towards the front of your set rather than at the end in order to keep people's attention/attract onlookers early into your set. Of course, how you tailor your set is entirely up to you and you should do whatever feels most authentic to the music you have created. But if you’re number one goal is to acquire more fans at CMJ, create a setlist that you believe will accomplish that.
3.) Have an amazing performance
Okay, okay. This one is obvious and most artists will respond that they always put 100% into every show. But the reality is, you probably don’t. Don’t just play the way you usually do; take your best performance to date and multiply it by 100. It doesn’t matter if your crowd is bigger or smaller than usual, the impact of your performance on this stage will resonate outside the venue walls and into the social sphere more than a typical performance would. Music aficionados and journalists like me are itching to find the next big act to write about before anyone else does, so keep that in mind when you take the stage.
4.) After it’s over, keep the conversation going
Of all the bands I saw last night, only one mentioned their website or asked the crowd to follow them on social media at the end of their set. It may seem trivial, but people need to be reminded that you exist even five seconds after your set has finished. Drive people to your Facebook page (which of course is fully updated and well-presented) and have a post queued up at the end of the night so that you can engage with new fans immediately. For example, if you have a photographer handy during your performance, have him or her take pictures of the crowd during your set so that you can post them up on your page and incoming fans can find and identify themselves. With Twitter, be sure to write a post-show tweet, and, of course, use all the necessary hashtags, retweet any mentions of you... you know the drill. One of the more clever post-show marketing tactics I've seen a band do was send me a personal message when I followed them on Twitter thanking me for being their “100th follower” and offering to send me a free t-shirt as a reward. It was gimmicky, sure, but what can I say, I’m a sucker for free schwag.
5.) Network, Network, Network
One of the coolest things about CMJ is that it brings together 100,000+ people united by a common passion for finding new music. This is your opportunity to meet and talk your band up to the right people who can get you where you need to be. Get access to the CMJ artist and press lounge and put on your networking hat (don’t forget those business cards). If you want to be really stalker-ish and efficient, search through the list of attendees that have created a profile on CMJ’s site for people you want to meet and shoot them a message asking them to meet up. Remember that, after this week, you’ll be going back to relentlessly churning out emails to industry people and hoping for a response; use this time to meet them in person and they'll be much more likely to open your email and/or respond next time.
Hopefully, CMJ is a success for you this year. If you would like more advice or would like me to come to your show, drop me a line at email@example.com.