Are fliers for a show even worth it?

In my last post, I talked about flier and handbill legibility.  In the comments for the post, I got into a discussion with Kai who brought up some good points.

Do people actually pay attention to flyers for a bunch of bands they’ve never heard of?

One of my bands paid a service to plaster Seattle with flyers for a year, and didn’t see any difference.  Only our friends ever showed up.  If flyers are useful, then there is a very difficult skill to it.  But perhaps you’re right about the location of flyers around building a longterm brand.  Maybe if I keep plastering the same bars with flyers, people will start to remember.  Anecdotally, my friends and I have never seen a flyer and thought, “oh, there’s a band I keep seeing flyers for.  I think I’ll go”.

Okay, I was trying to argue in favor of fliers with Kai, but his comments hit close to home.  Especially considering I live in Seattle as well.   I was actually coming more from Kai’s viewpoint a few years ago.  In Seattle, it’s sensory overload on fliers.  Layers upon layers of fliers are on every damn pole.  What’s worse, you can put your fliers up all over the city, and assholes like Poster Giant will blatantly tear down your flier or simply just staple over them.

The question I would ask my bandmates was this:  “Hey, name that cool band you just saw on a flier that you’re going to go see!”  The result was always silence.

Handbills are almost on the same level.  I’ve been handed handbills while walking down the street, see them while getting coffee, and been given them by various other bands and friends while hanging out at shows.  Most of them end up staying in my pocket, I forget about them, and they end up causing a mess when I wash my pants.

Being in a band, I’ve also spent more money and hours on fliers than I’ve made from shows. I was a dumbass and went to Kinko’s to print out full color, 11″ by 17″ fliers that ended up costing about $3 each.  Kinko’s is a rip-off.  I found a smaller printing shop that only charged 99 cents per flier for the same thing.

However, the risk of not having fliers is fairly substantial.  I had a GREAT show lined up with some friends, 800 Octane from Portland, that had a big following in Seattle.  (And the Pistol Whipped Prophets from Eugene, OR.  Thanks for the comments, Spooky!)  But I fucked up.  This show was supposed to be our “come back home from tour” show, but I got overwhelmed with the out of town shows.  I made a cool flier for the show, but I relied on a friend to hang them up at the venue.  It didn’t happen.  Result?  Hardly anyone showed up.

(NSFW!  A link to that flier.)

Here’s what bugs me about fliers.  You can do it, and no one will notice.  You can not do it, and you risk ruining a show.  And after spending hours dealing with fliers, you never know if it did any good either way.

I have the following ideas.  But take them with a grain of salt.  I’ll more than likely refine or completely scrap these ideas.  Please call me out if you think I’m full of it.  I’d be more than happy to change my mind.

Un-Social Media:  Not Everyone Is On Your Facebook Page

Believe it or not, not everyone has a Facebook account.  Even if they do, they probably don’t have your Facebook page, Twitter, or MySpace on their favorites.  In fact, it’s more than likely they have no clue who you are whatsoever.

My friend running an underground club and the singer of Dreadful Children, told me something rather shocking.  There’s a ton of kids out there who don’t have iPhones, internet access, or any way of knowing what’s going on with anything.  The only way they know what’s going on is through fliers.  No flier for your show?  They aren’t going to show up.  Potential fans lost.

Even if they have all the iPhones, iPads, and massive uber-wifi connectiveness on the go;  chances are you are just one of thousands of bands they haven’t heard of on Facebook.  Your 30 posts and events will go completely unnoticed.  However, if a scenester is smoking outside by themselves, they might look at that flier and see your band.  (By the publishing of this post, scenester beards may have grown to the point of obstructing sight.  In which case, you will need a whisker flier with a good dose of irony and a free app offer.)

Your Band As A Brand:  Get ‘Em Recognizing

Here’s time for an anecdote I heard.  Bear with.  (Ladies, please don’t kill me with this one.)  I was told a story.  How true it was, I don’t know.  But here it goes.  A friend of mine was trying to figure out how to hook up with women.  He noticed his friend was always getting laid.  He decided to watch his friend to see what was going on.  At a bar, his friend walked up to a girl and said, “Do you want to fuck?”  She got pissed and walked away from him.

Baffled my friend walked up to the guy and asked, “Does that actually work?”  The guy replied, “Nine times out of ten it doesn’t.”

Chew on that one for a sec.  The guy is hitting on 50 girls a week, so he’s hooking up with at least 5 girls a week.

This story might be total bullshit, but I’ve seen sillier shit work with hitting on women.  Who knows.  But to relate this to fliers and getting people to notice your show, most people wont’ notice.  But maybe 1 out of 10 will!  At the very least, they’ll see your band’s name.

If people keep seeing your band’s name, it will sink into their sub-conscious.  Bands can get noticed for the most silly or illogical of reasons.  I’ve been a sucker and went to check out a band’s site just because I’ve seen their name around town so much.

(Please don’t start going up to women and asking them to fuck because of this article.  Have some class.  Just lie about your job like everyone else.)

Note The Genre Of Music For The Night

I see this quite a bit.  A flier for 3 bands at some club.  The bands are listed, “John Doe and the Willickers”, “Itsy Bitsy Insanes”, “Thee Band Name Because ‘the’ Was Already Taken”.  This flier tells me nothing.  What type of music is this?  Why the hell should I pay $5 to see this?  “Punk Rock Awesomeness”, “Metal Monday”, or “Ironic Beard Night” would help me out to know I’d like to go.

Seriously, I’d like to know!   I want to know if there’s something I might want to hear.  Otherwise, the flier is lost in the tons of other fliers of other unknown bands.

Make It An Event

This one I need to turn into an experiment.  Martin Atkins recommends making every show an event.  How about a contest?  Get all the bands to toss in a free shirt and CD for the winner of a raffle.  Or, more simply, “CD Release Party”.  Or just, “2011 Too-tight-manjunk-pants night!”  Whatever.  Be imaginative.  Every show should be an event.  Something themed and DIFFERENT FROM EVERY OTHER FLIER.

How to test if fliers are effective?

This one I don’t know.  It’s hard to set up an experiment if there’s no way to determine the results.  What do you think?  Please comment and throw out some ideas.  Have fliers worked for your band?  Are they just a waste of time and money?

(Any donation would be much appreciated. Even a dollar would help out. Thanks!)

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42 Responses to Are fliers for a show even worth it?

  1. I think you bring up some great points here about how to make fliers more effective, but I think there is something else that you should be doing (if time permits it): Artists should get out there and actually find the fans, stir up some buzz and bring the music to the attention of the local scene, so that your show is not reliant on ‘advertising’, which is really what fliers are.

    If you’ve get to a city a night early, or you are even performing in your local town and have time the night before, you should go out and play some street gigs outside of other shows where your potential fans are checking out other similar bands. Via the advice of a friend, Dave Huffman of The Indie Launch Pad blog, you could get a handstamp made with your band name on it and while you are playing, have a friend stamp the hand of a bunch of people checking out your music, then give them a handbill. While these handbill’s were a pain in the ass before, the handstamp will remind the fans the following morning what the name was, and if interested, they will refer back to the handbill to checkout when you are performing next… oh wait… your performing tonight? sweet!

    haha make sense?

    Great article overall though Chris (seth? still dont know what to call you).

    Jon Ostrow

    • Call me Seth. 🙂 I actually read about the handstamp thing in Bob Baker’s Guerilla Music Marketing, however not used in quite the same way. Thank you for bringing up fliering and promoting in a different city. That’s something I really want to dig into. I know I’ve sent fliers to a club in a different city only to see none of them being displayed. Hell, I even sent them tape to put it up with.

      As far as the handstamp goes, personally, I would be annoyed if I was checking out a CD, and someone tried to put crap on my hands. I’m already annoyed enough by the bar putting stamps on my wrist. Especially when it doesn’t fully wash out the next day, and it was for a band that wasn’t even playing that night. In fact, the handstamp thing is one of the reasons I started this blog. Bob Baker gave advice like this in his handbook, but never gave solid numbers or results of doing things like the handstamp.

      However, I really want to experiment with busking or advertising outside of other shows. Busking, while on the road, may just get you a few extra bucks if nothing else.

      Thanks, Jon! You’ve inspired me for a future blog post on promoting in different cities. I need to research experiments to try.

  2. We only play locally, and I DO use fliers – I take them to businesses around town, I don’t randomly hang them on fence posts. Do they bring more people to our shows? – I don’t think so. BUT it keeps our name circulating and little by little (flier by flier?) people become more familiar with who we are.

  3. Brian Franke says:

    My thought is fliers are only as effective as your other forms of promoting a show. You know how people are today, if they don’t put your show on their personal calendar, they may forget or do something else. So if they pass a venue or wherever your flier is and happen to see it, it’s a good reminder. But if all you’re doing is announcing a show via a flier, you probably won’t get anyone out.

    By the way, I agree with the Facebook comment. Not only do people not have accounts, many many people have accounts and do not sign in for periods of time AND people who are on quite a bit are tired of getting invites and simply ignore them. I’ve only heard this in conversation, but I think Facebook invites and even email invites are not a sure way to get people out to a show.

    I agree that artists need to put their genre or even their pitch on the flier. Otherwise people will make a judgment of the style of music based on the picture–and sometimes I can’t tell what the hell kind of music people are playing when their flier looks more like a piece of modern art than a show announcement.

    The other thing I will say is that venues sometimes require you send or put up fliers. So even if it’s not effective, a venue is making you do it, and not sending or putting some up probably counts against you.

    I don’t know if you can test if fliers are effective since I hope a band is doing other things to promote their show. Unless you ask from the stage, “who is here just because of our flier?”

    Brian Franke, Singer/Songwriter
    @bfrankemusic (blog)

    • “I can’t tell what the hell kind of music people are playing when their flier looks more like a piece of modern art than a show announcement” Haha! Exactly! And I can just see myself after playing some crazy song on stage, asking, “Raise your hands if you saw our flier. Okay, hold them up…one…two…threee…” That’s a quick way to get everyone to leave your show.

      Yep, fliers are just one tool. I’ve always thought that going to other bands’ shows and talking to people there gets more results. Making a friend and being interested in their life. Invite them out to the show. I’m of the opinion that you’re not building fans, you’re building friends. Martin Atkins said in his “Welcome To The Music Business”, how to fill a 20,000 seat stadium? Simple. Find two people. Give them free CDs and t-shirts, talk to them, and make friends. Now, repeat that 9,999 more times.

      • Brian Franke says:

        “Raise your hands if you saw our flier. Okay, hold them up…one…two…threee…” That’s a quick way to get everyone to leave your show.”

        True, my point which you followed up with is just to ask people how they heard about your show–you probably won’t ask everyone but you may get a sense if you ask 10 or more people in the crowd. Perhaps if you asked in a way from the stage you’d get some people cheering and can base it on that.

        One thing you could get fans to do is not just helping you flier, but creating a contest to design a new flier for you. Anything to connect.

        • Or maybe make the flier, itself, fun. Maybe try something that only people reading the flier would know. Another commenter, also mentioned putting something on the handbills that would get the people to come to the show (like a coupon or something).

  4. Very good points! Having been in bands and working with bands for years now, show promotion has always been a difficult thing to master.
    One thing to consider (while not always possible) is to bring attention to any noteworthy bands you’re playing with. If a touring band is headlining the show, make sure people know about it and that you’re playing with them. Many music fans will check out your band just because of the association. Even a popular local headliner will help.

    Another quick note that is somewhat a no-brainer is to know your audience. Don’t flyer in areas that are not trafficked by your demographic in some way or another.

    • You mean, don’t put a flier up for your grindcore band, Animal Sacrifice, in a pet shop? Haha! I agree about the traffic and demographic. I think the venue itself is a must. And I also think you need at least a month lead time of having those fliers in the club.

      But I wonder if the target demographic might be somewhere else I haven’t thought of? Also, what if a new demographic might be more effective? Hmmm. Sounds like new experiments…

      • Very good point! It definitely doesn’t hurt to experiment with different demographics and locations. Thinking outside the box could really help a band stand out when most commonly flyered locations in town are the local record store or musical instrument shop.
        The ideas mentioned below about using the flyer to recognize your audience are great too, between the different prizes/offers and collecting information on those who attend the shows.

  5. Spooky says:

    I flier for every show. It does make a difference. I’m a person who will spend a considerable amount of time staring at a telephone poll reading fliers. I know I am not the only one in the world who does this. Making fliers noticeable is why the art work is so important. We have a venue here who’s fliers have become collectors items, due to the artwork. That means there are people not just noticing the fliers, they are looking for them. I think bands that aren’t having results with their fliers, might just want to evaluate where they are hanging them. You won’t get many results from a flier hung on a church’s cork board if your band is the embodiment of Satan, Himself. Hanging a flier up in Wal-Mart won’t bring any fans if you are band is promoting anti-consumerism. Posting fliers is a strategic game. Gathering as much demographic information on your audience will make bands better at this.

    • Actually, you have a great point about the artwork. I’ve seen people selling the posters of their show with their merch. Personally, I love making great artwork. I’ve spent hours using GIMP photo editing software, creating fliers. However, I still think the artwork is secondary to the information. Unless the artwork is really designed to catch attention.

      And now you really make me want to flier at Wal-Mart. Put on a “Recession Party!” Ha!

  6. Copsrfagz says:

    If you wanted to find out how effective your fliers are you could add something to them that would make someone who attended your show let you know they saw the flier . This could be something as simple as “Show this flier for a free gift” and give everyone who hands you a flier a free button or something of that nature. You could even A/B test two different fliers for the same show and figure out which one was more effective and propagate elements from the winning flier into your future ones.

    • Damn, that’s a great idea! Put a coupon or something on the flier itself. And I like that A/B testing stategy.

      I wonder if you can correlate web hits with fliers? For instance, put a website on the flier and see how many people actually go there. That’s probably a stretch, though.

      • Copsrfagz says:

        Yeah, might be a little trickier, but you could put a tiny url (or similar url shortening service) on there that you could point people to. I think incentive is key though, so maybe it would be like “GO HERE FOR A FREE MP3 DOWNLOAD ” and then maybe you have an alternate recording of a song or something along those lines that you only release via that URL. I’m really just throwing spaghetti at the wall at this point however.

  7. Copsrfagz says:

    I just read Spooky’s comment through again and to take this a step further with the demographic information; when someone hands you a flier back for a free button you could scribble down on the back what the person looks like, male/female, maybe strike up a conversation and figure out what bands they like, where they live, etc. This kind of data could prove much more valuable than the button you’re “giving” away.

    The second part of this trick is having an effective way to aggregate this data. You could find a software solution that would even make nice charts and graphs for you to look at.

    • I use Google Doc’s spreadsheets. They can convert data into charts and tables for data analysis. As far as getting all that info, it’s easy if you’re talking extensively with one person. Once you’re at a show, drinking with friends, or trying to promote to total strangers on the street; tracking that information will become damn near impossible.

      • Copsrfagz says:

        Yeah definitely venturing into territory where you would NEED to have a dedicated manager of some sort.

        • I only plan on getting a manager when/if I’m consistently getting at least 200 people to a show. Then I’d look more towards delegation. But, you just gave me a great idea for a new post. Time management for independent musicians. What type of schedule should one have to do all the ten million things a musician needs to do?

  8. Great points.

    I spent years flyering the hell out of Santa Cruz, CA for Monsters are not Myths and I’m fairly convinced it never got anyone to the show. What it DID do is give brand awareness. Especially after a few years of playing, we’d hear people say “oh yeah, I’ve heard of you guys”. Part of that was our very minor press, but part of it was seeing our flyers. Flyers are one part of the equation. They do nothing on their own, but coupled with press or word of mouth or some other promotion, they help.

    I love your ideas for better poster content. A cool image and a list of band names is useless if you don’t know the bands. A quote from someone describing the crazy thing you did at your last show, a description of your music (not just “rock”), or a special deal? Might be worth trying…and the special deal could help you track the success.

    PS: Love the blog. 🙂

    • Thanks, Evan! You just reminded me of an idea when you talked about brand awareness. In my last band, I was going to flier everywhere, but not for a show. I was just going to make something with just my band’s name, and that’s it. I never tried that experiment, but I think it would drive some people to shows or my site just out of curiosity.

  9. Pingback: Are Fliers For a Show Even Worth Doing? | BTTV BLOG

  10. JMH says:

    I think evrrybody makes good points. Being in advertising and design and bands for the past 10+ years i think advertising a band is no diff than any other advertising. Do fliers work? Prolly not by themself but when matched up with other forms (im talking budget advertising-websites, social media, article in the local nightlife weekly, etc…) then they can work.
    Heres something to try for flier demographics if you ever play for part of the cover at the door: BRING IN THIS FLYER FOR $5IVE OFF COVER** (or whatever ur cut of the door is) AT DOOR. Then have a couple of your people set up at door with a pen and a digital camera.
    For every person with a flier they **have to write down thier email address and age. Then you snap a quick photo and jot down the number (my camera displays this at the top right of the photo right after you shoot it) of the digi photo with the email addr. & tell people to go to the website (which is on the business card/handbill u give them- or jus the bottom half of the original flier) to see their photo posted on the “friends of the band” in _____(location) page.
    People usually come out to shows in groups or at least pairs.. Most of the time people love a crazy group snapshot on location. Especially girls.

    Ok u just lost 5 bucks but you also just:
    (1) got a VALID email address
    (2) got INSTANT demographix (with photo and age) and info on which fliers worked (provide that u color coordinated your fliers- different color papers for different parts of the city)
    (3) more important you just built an instant, PERSONAL CONNECTION and MEMORY with a potential fan

    Of course, none of this works if you dont have a dedicated people at the door or if you play a sucky show. People have to have a good time. REWARD UR TEAM and rotate them out if possible or just do the promo between hours of 10 and 11 or something…


    • Great info, JMH! Yes, I definitely want to use fliers to give an incentive to come to the show. Either money off the cover, free schwag from the bands, a raffle; I’m really loving this idea and can’t wait to try! I’d rather have that email address and someone I can talk to personally to win over as a fan. (I like that term ‘demographix’! Haha!)

      Only a couple of points I have to argue with from a beginner band’s point of view. The $5 (or band’s take) off the door cover may not be very feasible with clubs. The first reason is most shows a beginner band is doing should probably be $5 or less. Second, the bar staff don’t want to do that much math. Third, the bar staff might give the discount, not do the math, and then the other bands you’re playing with get pissed you were giving away their door money. (I’ve seen inter-band fights occur over less.) Or, this deal wasn’t worked out with the bar/club/venue, and they get really pissed off seeing money not coming in the door. Most places have to hit a certain amount of money before the bands get paid anything.

      Also, it’s not likely a beginning band would have a dedicated team. I’ve had friends help out before, but their reliability is extremely suspect. Expecting them to do more than the minimum without pay is rather difficult. It sounds like some of your suggestions would be for a more established band that is charging $10 or more for a show and has a dedicated team. (Maybe a band that consistently gets 100 to 150 people to a show on a regular basis?)

      However, I can totally see your methods being applied with a free CD/t-shirt. Even better, get something free from each band if the other bands are into it. And definitely make it a fun picture taking event and post those pics on the front page of the band’s website immediately the next day. In my opinion, people rather see themselves than the band. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment, JMH! Look forward to more insights! Yours and everyone else’s comments are really helping me out and opening my eyes to more possibilities than I previously thought possible, even with something as simple as fliers.

      • JMH says:

        Yeah you def would have to keep the math simple. Around here most clubs dont ever even have a cover unless a band is playin. And even beginning bands get to charge, keep 100%, and are responsible for someone collecting $3-$5 at the door. ($5 for under 21 if under 21 allowed). I know it sounds like a lot to handle but Im curious to know how well it would work in other areas. Thanks for the feedback.

        • Plus, you actually have to “trust” people at the door to do what’s best for the bands. The music scene is filled with scam artists that love to take advantage of bands.

          But the idea is still sound. Bring that flier in and get something free!!! I think good results would occur if the bands themselves handled the entire thing and left the club out of the equation.

  11. ben says:

    Interesting post. I was looking for a list of ideas for making each gig special and couldn’t find one — so I’m building my own: I hope it’s helpful to folks here — and help me fill it out if you’ve got better ideas.

  12. There are many good ideas that have been expressed–definitely some things to take into consideration.

    I, for one, wish that more band would spend time on flier design and artwork and make it look more like a commissioned concert poster. Budgets differ from band to band (or co-op, label, etc.) so print in color if you have the scratch to spend, or black & white if you don’t, but keep the flier design simple and aesthetically-pleasing. Your band works towards a reputation as a legitimate group around town, and eventually, worthy of $8 and an hour of people’s time.

    • I tried to do all color 11×17 fliers, and it gets pricey quick. As an alternative, I do a small number of color fliers, then I print a large number of black and whites. Ideally, the band would have 3 designs for a flier: full color, black and white, and small handbill.

      As far as cost goes, a generic color flier can be designed and then sold at the show. But only if that flier looks damn good.

  13. Patrick says:

    Just want to point out that the free beer thing is a great idea. My old band actually did that. We talked to the owner of the bar and when people came in, the door man asked who they were there to see (something the bar did anyway, to decide how much to pay the person) The ones who were there to see us were given a ticket that we had made at home, and they could redeem it for a free beer.

    At the end of the night, the bar charged us for the beer from our pay. Door charge was $4, and each beer costed $2, so for each person that came to see us, we got $2. We ended up with something like $60, at a small bar. It worked out well, we were happy, the bar was happy, and the people were happy.

  14. Ron Fife says:

    Two things that my band ‘Kilt Rock’ Mother Grove has done that make flyers more effective:
    1. We are sponsored by Bushmills. They provide us with posters, banners, giveaways (shot glasses, mugs), and sometimes even send out Bushmills Girls to special events. And we get to put the Bushmills logo on our home-made flyers and on our website and correspondance which looks impressive to people. Not every band can get a sponsorship but your local liquor distibuter does have a budget for it. Just ask a bar manager for contact info for his local distibuter.
    2. We somtimes will make a show an event by getting a local charity or organization involved. For example we have a show coming up that’s going to be a “Kilt Night” in conjunction with the local Scottish Society; they’re going to be raffling off prizes to raise money for the organization. We get paid a flat fee at the venue so we’ll be making the same $ anyway but there will be more people there as a result of their involvement so we’ll sell more Merchandise. That particular situation is unique to our genre, but any band can find a local charity or organization looking for a bit of exposure and publicity and as a result your show becomes an event.

    • Excellent suggestions! Thank you for the info about local distributors. I would not have thought of that. Also, I wouldn’t have thought of working in conjunction with a local charity/organization AND still get paid! Usually, my bands get on benefit shows and all the door money goes to the charity. I’ll still do shows like that, but now you’ve given me food for thought on how to further capitalize other shows.

      Great info! If you don’t mind, I’ll use your comments when I do a follow up post for this.

  15. Pingback: Are Fliers For A Show Even Worth It? Pt. 2 | How To Run A Band

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