Playing live is so important when it comes to building a following for your music. Shows give you the perfect opportunity to connect with the fans you already have, plus get lots of new fans on board. However, it's not enough to just play a great gig (though it's definitely a crucial ingredient). No matter how much you have the crowd going during your set, it will turn into a one night stand unless you find some way to convince those people you're a keeper. Here are a few things you can do at your show to make sure the audience doesn't forget your name in the morning.
Start a Mailing List:
Your mailing list is one of your best tools for communicating with your fans, and at a show, make a point of trying to get everyone in the room to join. From the stage, tell people where they can sign up and what they can expect from it (updates on new releases, special offers, etc). The best place for the mailing list sign up sheet is a merch table, but if it's a small venue, a table in the corner manned by a friend will do the trick. Email addresses are your number one priority, but get street addresses, too. This will help you target certain people with info about happenings in their towns.
Merchandise is becoming many musicians' favorite way to earn cash, but in addition to helping out your bottom line, it gives you one more avenue for connecting with the audience at your show. If you can't afford to get t-shirts and such printed or professional CDs/vinyl manufactured, that doesn't mean your merch dreams are scuttered. Burning CDs on your home computer, complete with homemade artwork, is perfectly acceptable as long as you're up front about what you're selling and price it accordingly. Giving stuff away is ok, too. Just be sure everything has your website info so people can find you.
Spend Some Time at the Merch Table:
On big tours, there's usually someone in charge of looking after the merchandise, and at smaller shows, one of your good natured friends usually ends up closing the sales (and convincing people to add their name to your mailing list while they're at it). That's fine and practical, but after your set, you should make an appearance with your merch. Your fans (and your fans-to-be) will love the chance to interact with you, and you'll be able to convince them directly that signing up for your mailing list will be worth their while.
Hand Out Flyers:
This is one you should use sparingly, because flyers often end up on the ground, but if you've got some news you want people to know, then get some flyers printed up for the show. This is a good way to let people know about a new release you have coming up and where they can get it or to let them know about some other shows you have coming up (in their area, of course). Again, make sure the flyer includes all of the relevant info people need to track you down online, like your website, MySpace page, blog and more.
Use the Information!:
Opening up the lines of communication between you and your fans is only part of the battle when it comes to maximizing your opportunities at gigs. The really important part comes after the show, when you put the information you get about your fans to good use. This means adding the email address you collect to your mailing list and adding the street addresses to your database. Also, it might not be fun, but it's worth having a few different databases on the go that separate your fans according to geographic location so you can target the right people about an upcoming show or other news.
Find Your Angle:
I once attended a gig at which the band gave out a mix CD and a pack of gum at the door. From the reaction of the audience, you'd have thought they were handing out hundred dollar bills. Everyone shows up and plays some songs at a show - what can you do that will really capture people's attention? Don't be afraid to do something a little different - people will remember you for it, and it's a great way to get people to go out and talk about your group.
Assign the Tasks:
If you don't have a manager, things like adding people to your mailing list can fall through the cracks. The easiest way to stay on top of these things is to make one person in your group responsible for handling these responsibilities.
Communicate With Your Fans Soon:
This is where separating your mailing list by geographic location comes into the picture. Soon after a show, send out an email to everyone in the area and welcome all the new subscribers to the list. Mention a few things about the show, let them know if they can see pictures online from the gig and anything else you can throw in to let them know that this is an email that you're specifically sending to people from that show. This gets harder as your following grows, of course, but when you're truing to build a following, this can go a long way.
Check With the Headliners:
If you're the opening act, make sure to check with the headliners before setting up a merch table. Some headliners don't like the support selling things because they fear it will detract from their own sales, and unfair as it might seem, you're obligated to stick by what they say.