How to deal with a disappointing gig

3 November, 2014 in Features, Tips & Techniques

Live gig

It’d be nice if every gig was packed with adoring fans, but back in the real world… Pic: Christian Bertrand/Shutterstock.com

Not every show you play is going to be a sold-out, rip-roaring success. But don’t let that get you down…

ake a moment to visualise your ideal concert experience. Do you have a large audience? Is everyone focused on you? Are they singing along? How do you feel – are you enjoying yourself? Do you feel the energy you give off being reflected back to you from the crowd? Take a moment right now to either write down or say out loud to yourself, in detail, how your ideal gig would be and how you would feel. This is the first step towards making your vision into a reality. As you go into detail, can you feel yourself getting even more excited? If you’re only a feeling away, then you’re closer to your dream than you might think.

However, most gigs aren’t ideal. We’ve all been there – myself included – when you practise and prepare your heart out, only to realise that barely anyone has showed up, or that the people who are there find you less interesting than their conversations. But there’s no reason to get upset or feel down: it’s all about how you react to these situations. It’s just one experience, and the important thing to remember is that, like most ventures in life, this is a process that you constantly are learning from. You need to look at each experience, analyse what went well and what didn’t, then tweak the details until you get it right.

I’m going to give some examples of what I call the most common concert let-downs that every artist goes through at some point, and the best ways to overcome them. Some of these things will be out of your control, but remember that how you deal with them is within your control. It has always been a choice, and that choice has always been yours.

Little to no audience shows up

Okay, so not many people showed up. Is there at least one person willing to listen, whose day you can brighten with your music? There are some things where you just can’t control the outcome, so if you have the stage anyway, give up the urge to be disappointed and have fun with yourself, your band, or the few people who are in attendance – because they matter too! In reality, there is little difference in the feeling you get when playing a song perfectly by yourself or in front of a crowd. The same experience of being pulled into the moment overcomes you.

The disappointment comes from your expectations not being met, and yes, it would be fantastic of every show was a packed house. But now make it clear what your intentions are for your next concert. If five people showed up then say aloud “I intend to have at least 10 people at my next show!”

So now what? Well, what can you do now that you did not do before to get more attendance? Time to exercise those marketing skills and make a list of things you could do to improve attendance. Here are some suggestions…

1. Make a Facebook event for the gig and update the event page periodically.

2. Start advertising at least two weeks in advance of the show, preferably sooner, and remind people a few times a week.

3. Speak to your friends and ask them if they can come, and ask them if they could think of anyone they could bring. Do this in person or over the phone – don’t just send an email or text message. Sometimes you need to ask and you will be surprised what answer you get, but if you actually do it this way then they will know that this is important to you.

4. What else can you offer them? Free entry? Could you lay on free drinks or a buffet? Perhaps you could make it a themed event. Or you could give a portion of the proceeds to a charity – help others feel good about themselves and you will too!

Lack of attention or participation

Sometimes it’s the case that most of the audience has not come to see you, but another artist. They do not know you at all. A bell should be going off in your head: ding, these are potential fans! I have played and been at concerts where people just stare around and even talk while the support act is on stage. This may come off as rude to the performer, but it’s his/her job to catch the interest of the crowd.

What do you want from these people? The honest answer is probably something like, “I want to have everyone’s undivided attention and, even better, some participation.” So let’s list some ideas…

1. Get everyone’s attention: shout into the microphone if you have to!

2. Talk to the crowd, about anything: maybe tell a personal story about one of your songs.

3. Give out free merchandise like t-shirts, stickers, etc. Everyone likes souvenirs!

4. Support the other artists and get the crowd to clap and cheer for them, especially if they are there to see someone else. This shows you are supportive and like the other artist, which gives you something in common with the audience. You also get them excited because they are looking forward to it and need to release that anxious energy while waiting.

5. Get them to sing along – but to do this, you will have to ask and even instruct. You could play some extra chords while telling the crowd the next line. You give everything out to them and if you can help them give back to you, then you just improved everyone’s experience. Concerts are all about fans and artists coming together, after all. You don’t have to force anyone but at the end of the night you’ll know that you at least made the effort.

No-one said gigging as an up-and-coming artist was going to be easy. But piece by piece, if you know exactly what you want and can imagine it, then it can be yours…

Words: Adam Sweeney


As well as being a performing songwriter himself, Adam Sweeney runs MyEnglishLyrics.com, a proofreading and sense-checking service for non-native speakers who write songs in English, and Unsung Voices Worldwide, which aims to introduce artists from around the world to an American audience

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