Happy Birthday, Dinah Shore! Although probably best known for her Emmy- and Peabody-award-winning work on a variety of television shows, Ms. Shore also was a nightclub performer in the 1960s. (ps–I love this dress!)
Wednesday is the day of the week when we at McElrath Cabaret will post a cabaret blog question for the consideration of our readers.
The questions will have something to do with cabaret, in all its many aspects. The question may take the form of a poll, to which we encourage you to respond, or it may be a question posed to the cabaret community, to which you can leave your response in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
We encourage you to send us any cabaret questions that you have that you would like us to pose to the group! You can leave a question in the comments section below, or you can email it to us at kjandathenacabaret [at]gmail.com. Just fill in the [at] with the @ symbol—we need to foil the spam bots, don’cha know.
Today’s question is this: How do you get people to come see your cabaret show?
This is the $64,000 question, isn’t it? I don’t think there is any one way that will work for every performer. It also depends on the stage your career in cabaret is currently at. So let’s say you are starting out, and don’t have a huge following yet. Perhaps you’ve done a gig or two, and kind of worn out your welcome with family and friends–there are only so many times you can ask them to pay a cover and a minimum to hear you sing without ruining the relationship. You have to build an audience of fans that enjoy your music and what you have to offer. Here are some things that you might try:
- Try booking some gigs where the audience will come with the venue. We have had success at retirement homes in the area. It’s a paid gig, and they provide the audience, and often the piano and sound system. See if they will allow you to place small response cards on the tables, and you may be able to add some names at each performance to your mailing list for upcoming shows.
- Leverage every inexpensive to free means of advertising your performance. Put your gig information up on: your personal website/blog, announce it on facebook–you could put it up as an event where people can respond online if they are attending or not, tweet it on twitter. Phone calls, at least at first when your audience is not large, is a great way to invite people personally to come see you. If your performance is free to the public, sometimes local radio stations will take a public service announcement, or PSA, for your event. Sometimes there are online musician groups, or actor groups, and you can often leave an invitation there about your event. Be sure to respond to everyone who leaves a comment on these online resources. If you have been able to get someone to shoot a little video when you have performed earlier, create a nice, short video for youtube, and post that everywhere as part of your announcement, so that people who see it will have an idea of what to expect from your upcoming show. Send a great announcement with flyer and youtube to whomever you currently have on your email list. Your local hometown paper might take a press release as well. If you belong to any online alumni associations, post it there. If you become a member of Cabaret West, ($10/yr.), they will post your cabaret show announcements. The Cabaret Hotline Online will also place your show announcement sent in the form of a press release and not flyer to the Hotline for free.
- Cabaret Flyers: You can spend a lot of money on these, and if you are only going to be getting a small amount from the gig, it can cancel out any earnings rather quickly. Instead, it makes sense to create your own in a professional manner. If you have MS Office on your computer, then you already have Publisher, and are good to go. Photoshop is expensive, but another option you might have available for flyer creation. If you have no money, use the free GIMP shareware for your flyer creation. Buy nice paper at an office supply store, and get a scrapbooking cutter to make clean edges on your flyers. Create different sized flyers– quarter-page, half-page and whole page sizes tend to work best. Know the difference between a headshot and a publicity shot, and use the publicity shot in your flyer, as related by Bob Harrington, and edited by Sherry Eaker, in his excellent book, The Cabaret Artist’s Handbook.
- Where to Place Flyers: These you can leave anywhere you have a connection where they will let you. We perform at traditional jazz society monthly meetings, so taking some flyers to these can be a good idea. Go to open mics and sing, and then pass out flyers to anyone who indicates an interest. People to whom you give business–your hairdresser, or a clothing store–might be happy to take some flyers to give out to their customers. Be creative. Try your local city’s convention center and information center for the city–they usually will take flyer announcements for upcoming events. Become friends with the concierges of all the major and minor hotels in your area, and drop off your flyers there–they give recommendations to their guests who ask for local entertainment.
- Word of mouth is your friend: The best way to build a following is to do good work. If people like what you do when they first see you–and there will be a lot of those people at your early gigs–often they will tell their friends, which helps to build your audience.
- Make sure your show is truly entertaining: This will help your word-of-mouth buildup considerably. Get a mentor or a trusted performer to come in and watch a rehearsal, and listen to their feedback and make any changes that you think will strengthen the show. You won’t know for sure until you try the show out in front of an audience, so pay attention to the response they give, and pay attention to the kinds of comments they leave on the response cards to get ideas for improving the show. Does your audience enjoy classic standards, or new original songs, or some blend of the two? Ask them what they like via your response cards, and then make sure you are giving it to them.
- Make sure your cover charges or ticket prices are affordable for your area: There is no easy answer for this. You need to make a certain amount to cover your expenses, but it has to be inexpensive enough so that a person with a date or spouse can reasonably afford to attend. [For a couple, you are asking them to hand over in the neighborhood of $10 each for a cover, plus the restaurant will have at least that much as a food/drink minimum, so they are doing to have to be willing to pay a minimum of $40 for your show(and it can easily be much more than this depending upon the act and area of the country), which is a lot of money for many people in these economic days.] Having said that, see if there are things you can do to reduce your expenses. We are a duo act, just two singers and one also plays piano, so we don’t pay any extra musicians at this point, and it works fine. KJ is an arranger and composer extraordinaire, so he handles all of our arrangements, so there is no extra expense for that, either. With retirement home gigs, they pay you a flat fee, and the audience pays nothing because you perform primarily for their residents and guests, so it’s a free performance for the audience, yet you get paid for it. You can also try to find a room that you can rent inexpensively–it might be a small performance space, or a community hall, a grange hall, a recital hall in a piano store, maybe even in a church activity room (the big trick with these is finding venues that are licensed so that music can be performed), where some small place for food and drink can be set up. Let someone else handle the food and drink and make the money off of it. You might have to be prepared to bring in your own equipment–piano, sound– for this type of venue to work. You then have to sell tickets to make your expenses and any profit, but it’s another way to do your show.
So how do you get people to come see your cabaret show? We truly look forward to your comments! We value each of our readers very much, and hope to entertain you and give you a place to come and learn more about cabaret.
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Weekly Post Lineup At McElrath Cabaret:
Tuesdays: Cabaret Tip Tuesday
Wednesdays: Ask A Cabaret Question
Thursdays: Featured Cabaret Blog, Website, Performer
Fridays: Cabaret Through Time