Understand The Music Business

One of the biggest fears an artist has a no-show at a gig. You’ve rehearsed for hours, spent all day travelling or at the venue setting up your stage, sound checks etc and then the moment you get on stage the audience is small / non-existent. Unfortunately, it happens. In this article, I’m going to share what I do to overcome this disappointment, share some funnies and give some advice on how to react if you find yourself in this situation.

Many hours of my life have been spent on stage in front of audiences and I love it! The buzz, the lights, the applause, the throbbing sound, the writhing bodies …. it’s like being in heaven. But, then there’s the hellish side: When you peek around the curtain before starting to checkout the audience size … and you can count them on your fingers … and the gig has already been pushed back 30 minutes to allow the “latecomers” time to make it! AAARRRRRGH!

Nobody loves me”, is the first thought that probably springs to mind. Followed by an extremely loud internal cry of “I JUST WANNA GO HOME!!!!”.

But, you can’t. Because, there, in front of the stage (or hiding by the bar) are those who have come (and possibly paid) to see you. Your die-hard fans are probably as close to the front of the stage as is physically possible. You can’t disappoint them. They are probably feeling pretty bad themselves cos their expected fun night out and the hope of seeing you with a heaving crowd are rapidly turning into a rather solitary experience! On top of that, the organisers are probably already calculating their losses and feeling rather glum. GREAT ATMOSPHERE!

So, what do you do? Hide backstage? Reduce your set to 2 songs and call it a day?? Put on a CD of a previous gig and get slaughtered at the bar??? Oh no, you’re going to get on stage and you’re going to do your thing and you’re going to do it well! Because, you have to.

Like most performing artists, I have had my fair share of audiences small enough to take home for an after party in a 40m2 studio flat. Rather than get me down, these experiences have helped me learn about and improve upon my on-stage presence and audience contact.

No-show Gig Deal | Photo: Francisco Vasconcelos / csxlab.org
No-show Gig Deal | Photo: Francisco Vasconcelos / csxlab.org

Let me share a couple of “small audience” stories with you.

A few years back, we were booked by our town to play during the “fête de la musique” (National annual music festival here in France) and were scheduled to play at 3pm, Sunday in the bandstand in the park. Under a heavy grey sky, we set up in the morning and were having a bite to eat when we got a call from the organiser saying, “it’s raining so hard that we understand if you prefer not to play”. Well, we were there, we were ready and a few friends and family had said they were coming … so, we played for the few who had braved the conditions and were encouraging us shivering under their umbrellas. It’s the only time I’ve ever invited the entire audience for a drink in a bar after a gig! (Luckily, they were only 8!).

The rain washed out that gig, the opposite happened one extremely hot day last summer when we played in a very hot, badly ventilated (no air-conditioning) village hall in the middle of nowhere. Our audience was made up of approximately 15 people – staff included. 4 songs into the gig, ALL the audience disappeared outside (they had just endured a 2-hour set beforehand)! I looked at Sylvain and said, “well, if they’re having a break … me too!”. I hung up my microphone and went outside. A guy looked at me and said, “hey, shouldn’t you be on stage???”. With a big smile, I answered, “if I wanted to play to an empty room, I’d have played at home! When you’re ready for some more music, I’ll happily get back on stage!!”. We ended up playing the set bit by bit and had a really good night. Enough was put in our hat to pay for a full tank of petrol and a kebab on the way home (although, we didn’t actually drive past any kebab shops on our way home).

So, why is it that audiences don’t show??? The reasons are various, here are the main ones:

Bad promotion – creating a FB event isn’t enough unless you’ve got hundreds of FB fans in the area;

Bad choice of date – who wants to go out the night after St Patrick’s day in the middle of the work week or the night before New Year’s Eve? Or, perhaps Netflix is releasing a long awaited series that same night or a huge band is playing a free show just up the road??

Weather – too hot or too cold can make people want to stay home in front of the fire or on a terrace drinking an ice cold beer and does not necessarily induce them to travel / spend the evening in a venue full of people!

Your band sucks – Like it or not, this could actually be a very plausible reason! Only jump to this conclusion if ALL your concerts are played with zero audience and your FB page has only 2 likes after 5 years!

Over the years, I have had to learn how to manage the disappointment when you realise that you and your musician boost the audience by 10%. Here are some pointers on how to react during a no-show gig:

Don’t panic – It’s very likely that everyone is disappointed: You, the organisers and the public. Just stay cool, calm and collected and don’t forget to pin a smile on your face.

Be professional – If you’ve agreed to do the gig, it’s got to be done. Do your thing and do it as well as you can. Remember, you never know who might be in the audience!

Don’t sulk – Sulking is ugly and it will do nothing for your reputation!

Reassure everyone – Everyone’s probably feeling really bad for you, just let them know that you’re happy doing your thing … do it right and you’ll probably be re-booked by the venue for a night that should bring in a bigger crowd.

Don’t get arsey when dividing the door takings! Just shrug, take what’s on offer and understand that the organiser probably didn’t break even either.

Interact with the people – The thing I love about small audiences is that I get to talk to EVERYONE! I make a point of hugging, kissing, thanking and talking to every single person present! OK, if you’re a little less extroverted than me, at least try eye contact and a smile. Next time you play in the area, they’ll come back and probably bring a load of mates!

If the worse comes to the worst, treat it as a set rehearsal! I once accompanied a well-known French DJ to a gig in London – there were only 5 people so he spent the evening trying out all the records he’d bought that day! When we got back to mine, he played and recorded a 2-hour set for ME and my mate which, incidentally, was later released commercially! Result!

My final words of wisdom??? Even if only 1 person shows up … that person is there for you. Do your thing, enjoy yourself, give a good time to those present and prove that you’re going to keep making music no matter what. Oh, and don’t forget to remove all “audience participation needed” songs … you could end up looking like a right twa…, em, idiot (believe me, I’ve done it!!!).

Written by
Sally Ann


Understand The Music Business