Being an unknown rock band in the late '90s meant you often played shows for free, and you usually had to rent gear, so you usually played places at a loss. The fairy tale we had all swallowed was that it was important to play as often as possible, as many places as possible, and hopefully an A&R rep from one of the more notable labels would be in the audience.
He or she would hear you, and find themselves compelled to sign you on the spot. Sadly I met many middle aged rock bands along the way who were convinced that any day they were going to be discovered, and I am grateful that I had figured out in 3 years that this method of discovery was a fiction.
In 1999 I decided I was going to create a different channel. We would work to find paying venues, or create them, and we would work to educate the music community on the importance of self-promotion outside of the “wait to be discovered” standard. Not being the kind of guy who ever chooses to aim for low targets, I decided that I would set out to create a network across North America, and would operate as a booking agent for hundreds of bands…at least for the venues we would bring onboard.
I had no realistic expectations at that point of what kind of workload this would amount too. I just had all the confidence of a 19 year old that I could take on anything that came my way.
By 2000, I was actually doing okay. We had convinced a number of venues to try having bands, and had convinced them to even pay the bands for playing. This was achieved by finding venues like restaurants that wouldn’t normally have considered letting in bands, and it went pretty well. I started to get some small media attention (see above pic) and was attempting (often poorly) to juggle booking upwards of 400 acts across Canada.
The big picture concept was that this would be a vehicle to propel myself out of obscurity, and to try and do the same for another band I was working with.
Taking The Next Step
That September, I decided I wanted to try renting some sort of hall, bringing in a number of bands, selling tickets at the door, and then splitting the profits between them. I called around, and found a Masonic Hall in a little rural town called Fergus, Ontario. The price to rent the hall was good, and within two days I had locked down the bands to play the show. The challenge of course was figuring out how to sell tickets. I decided the best course of action would be posters. I made up a number of them, and then ran around the town posting them wherever it looked like I could. Excited I went home, and got ready to receive the phone calls I fully anticipated getting from my awesome poster efforts. Over the next three weeks I managed to sell two tickets. Not good.
By the day of the show I was begging friends, enemies and frenemies to come. I managed to rustle up about eight people, which at $10 a pop was not even close to covering the hall…nevermind the sound equipment rental. As we drove to Fergus, I was terrified that we were walking into a significant failure of a show, and it was likely I would never hear the end of the back talk from other bands after the ones we book discover they were making $0 that night.
Finally my friend suggested that after we got the stage setup, we run around town and ask people directly to come. I figured why not…one last chance to not blow the whole deal.
I had made up a bunch of business card sized tickets, and flyers which were actually meant to be handouts at the show. A few of us grabbed these and spread out across town. I was shocked at how many people instantly said yes and headed to the hall. In fact, when I returned to the hall I was frozen in horror as I realized there was an enormous line of people now standing outside waiting to get in.
I knew that the hall fire code was limited to 75 people…but I also knew I was staring at significantly more people than that. On one hand I was ecstatic to realize the show was going to be a success, but on the other hand I was considering that I had no security on site…except myself…and three of the acts were crowd pumping metal bands…
So…How Did We Attract So Many People So Quickly?
At the time, my analysis of what occurred was fairly simple. We were in a town full of bored teens and twentysomethings, and we caught them on a Friday night when they were looking for something to do. If I had written it in a formula at that time I would have probably said “small town + boredom + rock show =profit,” but I was pretty certain we just got lucky. Sixteen years later (sigh) I realize I wasn’t too far off of what I now know is a powerful sales methodology in many channels, which recently came to include Google AdWords.
To my younger self, this perfect storm of factors seemed like chance. Now I can point out the specific points that triggered our success and quite frankly wish I could go back in time to explain it to my younger self…”youth is wasted on the young” indeed. If I could talk to myself though, I would point out the following:
- Audience – You chose the right target audience by default.
- Timing – You reached this audience at exactly the time they were looking for something to do.
- Price – Your price was not prohibitive for the audience.
- Urgency – Telling each person you talked to that you were selling out of tickets quickly inspired them to act.
- Credibility – You and your friends looked the part. Instant credibility gained.
- Ease of Purchase – Here’s $10. Here’s your ticket. Simple.
- Product – Something to do when something was wanted.
At this stage, any strategy I am contemplating uses the same seven considerations. I would imagine the same can be said for most marketing professionals, and I see evidence of their implementation in nearly every media channel I see. So nothing groundbreaking perhaps, but recently Google Adwords has come forward with an improved, easy to use method for capturing all of these in a few simple steps of your own.
Google AdWords Real Time Ad Customization
Small variations of this have existed for some time, but recently the options have expanded considerably. Through ad customization you can generate urgency through time-sensitive calls to action, you can hyper-specialize ads to suit a specific search or webpage, and you can run one ad text with hundreds of variations, which will automatically update without deleting your performance history.
All of these are now possible to implement without any advanced coding knowledge, thanks to the “Ad Customizer Data Template” you can download online. Simply open the spreadsheet, follow the steps, and when you are finished head into the Adwords interface. On the left hand side click on shared library, then select “Business Data” like so:
Click +Data and choose “Ad Customizer Data” as your option. After this just name your data set, and upload. Rinse and repeat.
Used in conjunction with other features, such as location targeting, this option lets you hit every one of the seven points I listed here. So research your competition through SEMrush, build out your keyword targeting, and then implement your newly robust ad strategy to make sure you find your audience ready and willing.
Wrapping Up The Show In Fergus
The show itself went relatively smooth. I broke up one fight, and my girlfriend at the time enlisted a few of her friends to sell pop and chips off to the side of the hall to help the thirsty head bangers recharge between acts. A few of the bands brought enormous speakers, and I am positive I am still suffering from hearing loss effects of the echo of the guitars as they bounced around inside of the hall.
After the last band wrapped up their set, we thanked everyone for coming and everyone left without issue. We cleaned the place top to bottom, carried the rented equipment back out to our vehicles, and locked up. Mission accomplished, and I was already excited to do one of these again in Fergus.
The next morning I got a call from the fellow who had rented me the hall. He said he was really pleased with the state of things, and that he looked forward to working with me again. He then mentioned that morning he had been getting calls from a few bands wondering if they could book the hall for a show. He figured that sense they heard music coming from the hall they figured we had bands in there instead of a play, and that he let them know that the hall does not allow concerts of that kind. At that moment I realized that he thought my company name “EFA Underground Productions” meant we were a play/theater company. I laughed nervously and said “Kids right?”
He agreed and let me know he looked forward to hearing from me again. Sadly, we never got back to Fergus…with the knowledge that we weren’t actually supposed to be there in the first place…but I like to think people still chat about that time a bunch of rockers rolled into their little town and brought the noise. Fergus truly knew how to rock.
Rob T. Case is a digital marketing expert, musician and inventor. He is currently Director of Performance on the 2015 Google Search Excellence Award winning team at Direct Access Digital. Rob worked as a contractor for a year at Google, where he trained staff on AdWords best practices, audited accounts, helped develop an automated account auditing system and served as one of four judges for the 2014 Google Search Excellence Awards. Twitter: @robtcase