In Australia, the number of punters at metal shows, featuring either local bands or international bands, has decreased to a point where the industry is becoming concerned at the reasons why. It also turns out that this slow-down is also being experienced around the world.
The level of concern is growing: and we at Metal as Fuck pioneered the 'metal chat' on Twitter, to open some discussion about why this might be the case. Following recent discussions on Twitter and elsewhere, we started these chats - which happen weekly - with a discussion about online versus 'real' promotion.
The internet opens enormous possibilities for good promotion for all types of shows. Social networking, through sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter, provide a great vehicle for getting the word out, if these interfaces are used properly. And, indeed, many metal shows are now being promoted solely online.
In contrast, the old-school methods of promotion: handing out flyers, putting posters in stores, relying on street press, and generally "papering the town" have declined - almost at the same rate as online methods are being taken up.
And yet, although internet promotion is on the rise, punter numbers at shows are not.
The chat last week highlighted some core issues surrounding gig promotion, in both areas. On the one hand, there is an argument that it's not so much 'online versus real promo' that is the issue, but 'good, comprehensive' promotion, and whether bands and promoters are engaging in promotion in a solid, productive way.
The case for and against online promotion
Clearly the interwebs present huge possibilities. And yet, what is increasingly being seen is a tendency to engage in a 'drop, run, and hope' method - especially at MySpace. This method tends to see people dropping flyers on MySpace profiles, sending messages or bulletins, and hoping for the best.
While the internet appears to be 'free' and 'simple', it isn't. A good promotional strategy is multifaceted, and still takes hard work, regardless of where that strategy finds the light of day. What people seem to forget is that one free and simple post online is easily drowned in amongst a billion of other posts too.
The consensus from the first metal chat is that while online promotion is great for viral marketing, done right, what it often misses is the casual fan. A casual fan doesn't spend his or her time following bands, or checking their various MySpace profiles or forums - and is therefore likely to miss out on seeing gigs that are coming up - but is more likely to go if they see gigs being promoted in other ways - such as through flyers at other gigs, radio shows that they listen to, and posters in shops that they frequent.
Some reasons why 'real' promotion has dropped off
But 'real' or physical promotion has its difficulties, even though, as some argued, poster/flyer promo works better than online promotion. Gaining advertising in street press is expensive, and not guaranteed to hit the right market - even though it can really do great things for gigs. Shops are increasingly refusing to place posters or flyers in windows or in-store. And many cities worldwide are pulling down posters put up in random places, such as light-posts.
What works, and what the issues are
So what does work, and might gig promotion need to change in order to increase the numbers of metalheads at shows? Unfortunately, there is no quick fix.
What the metal chat on Twitter highlighted was all of the problems that exist. While there are problems with the methods of promo, there are other, significant, issues: bands now seem to be less willing to hang around after shows and 'network' with their fans, and with other bands. Many bands also never go to other bands' shows unless they themselves are also on the bill. And then there is the issue that some people see promotion as something you do for shows, and not as something that needs to happen continuously.
What constitutes 'good' promotion?
Good promotion needs to be a constant for bands, especially for young bands: it has to be top-of-mind all the time. Australian band Frankenbok pointed out during the chat that promotion should be seen as a constant and ongoing communication: with fans, with media. As they stated, 'you can't just do something once and think that's got it covered!'.
What the metal chat revealed is that all types of promo are part of the same equation. To get great promo, both online and 'real' promo need to be seen as coordinating and supporting tactics that underpin a bigger strategy.
If you want people to come to your shows, if you want recognition, and if you want to drive a greater consciousness about your bands or local scene, you need to engage in promotional activities constantly: it is not something you can just do ad-hoc. Once you start thinking about promotion in this way, each tactic moves your promotion further towards your strategic goal.
The image for this article is of Big Star records in Adelaide, South Australia.