It seems I hear this question a lot when I deal with fellow musicians and other artists, especially in these times when live venues are closing down.
It really comes down to a a very simple formula: The audience wants entertainment. If you deviate from this form, you get into troubles of all kinds. Below are some cardinal mistakes I’ve seen, especially here in the San Francisco Bay area scene, one of the few places where you actually still have many places where you could do live entertainment, music, DJ:ing and so on. So it’s quite doable to get gigs most of the week, just need to do some thinking.
To start with, you need to have a brand identity, be unique. Yet another generic blues band does not really cut it. You just drown in the amount of garage blues bands of all kinds that exists. Find something unique you like doing and the gigs will follow. Be generic and you are ignored.
Secondly, you have to somewhat swallow your pride and place something the audience like listening to, or dancing to. Trying to educate them about the music roots or something similar is futile — the audience is not there attending a class, they want to have fun.
Thirdly, you need to rehearse with the band or your act. Doing something ad hoc is fun at jams but for real professional image it is hurtful to see bands that can’t stop a song properly or play each song the same way, with little finesse. Not to speak of using the same 20+ song playlist for years and years.
Fourthly, you need to be exciting on stage, if the artists, singers or musicians are on stage looking like they are bored, scared or otherwise indifferent, that then will cause the audience to take a step back. The audience wants entertainment, they are even forgiving for sudden impromptu acts as long as they experience something unique. Having a dialogue between the band/artist and the audience is what separates success from utter failure.
Fifthly, you need to have integrity and stand for things that you think are important. This means that you stick to something you think is the difference and provide entertainment. Trying to please all will just frustrate most.
Sixth, select the band so the members like playing together. Putting together a super-group of super-musicians usually lead to a short-lived band. This means less time to market as the band collapsed and it takes time to build a brand.
Seventh, as for marketing, someone has to take the role of becoming the marketing person for the artist or band. No marketing, no gigs. And it does not mean to pest friends and family to attend gigs, it means to build a real fan base. Note that live venue and bar owners are interested in headcount, not the quality of music. No headcount, no gigs. No fans, no headcount. I doubt anyone has a big enough family and friend circle to pull something like this off, or then they will suddenly lose a lot of friends due to pressure tactics.
Eight, surprise the fan base with differences in the act or playlist. Doing the same act over and over is wearing, even for the biggest fan. But provide them with surprises so they want to get to the next gig.
Ninth, make each gig special, a theme or some kind of reason why the gig really happens. A new album release, a sudden 20-song medley theme presentation or something similar. This comes back to point eight.
Tenth, make sure the old or new fans want to see you again. It means that you provide them enough rope that they want to see the event again. This is a tricky area, the things I could think of is to pre-announce some other event happening later that they really want to check out. Or never do a dull or bad gig, even one person in the audience is an influencer, he or she could tell others to ignore the act/band or tell them to absolutely check them out later. Never stop a gig too early just because the audience is small — that gives the impression that you don’t take your act or your fans seriously. Don’t take lots of breaks, why? The audience is there for entertainment, not to wait for you to show up again after a 20+ minute unnecessary break. Prince is not taking breaks at his 3+ hour concerts. No energy as part of this is also a problem, lethargic bands are nasty, self-destroying entities.
I could go on. But the trick, again, is that the audience wants entertainment. They want to attend a happening — live music I think is one of the rare forms of entertainment that could stand against the avalanche of cable TV, video games and movies on demand. If it’s done right.