As artists, most of us have experienced an instance in which we booked, planned, and promoted a show only to be met with a small or lukewarm turnout.
Disappointment sets in. We begin to feel as though our efforts were in vain. Or maybe we even flashback to previous times in our lives when things did not turn out the way we hoped they would. Then we enter a downward emotional spiral that ends up affecting the quality of our performance.
“It doesn’t matter anyway,” we reason, “no one showed up to see us.” But is that really true? Is how you handle yourself at this juncture inconsequential?
Stop. You don’t have to go down that negative track. You get to decide what kind of meaning you attach to events in your life.
Here is a better way to cope with disappointing audience turnouts.
Step 1 – Take a Deep Breath
Your promotion efforts may have failed. But then again, there may be circumstances outside of your control that led to your predicament.
I can recall:
- Hosting an open mic with no jammers. I made sure to let people know where to sign up after every two or three songs, but it was 90 to 120 minutes in before anyone even realized that they could come up and play. I also had to take breaks for each period in a playoff hockey game (I live in Canada; I’m serious). Fortunately, there were many upsides to this gig, including pay.
- Booking a Halloween-themed show that very few people attended. I put together a band, and even got into costume for the occasion.
- Playing multiple coffeehouses, lounges and bars where the only audience was the staff, the bartender, or the baristas.
It’s easy to go down negative alley, but first, take a deep breath and realize that your promotional efforts may not have been the root of the issue. Maybe a sporting event impacted your turnout. Maybe your local audience grew a little tired. Maybe another local event attracted people that would have been at your show. There are hundreds of possibilities.
So reframe the problem. Then, when you’re ready…
Step 2 – Get Realistic
By the way, even if you did the best you could, audiences are fickle, and there are times when things just don’t go your way. Also see the last point.
However, you can’t face what you haven’t owned up to. This is not a good time to blow matters out of proportion. Take some time to evaluate all of your efforts leading up to the show date. Are there any things you could have done better? Did anything fall through the cracks? Did you make any costly mistakes?
It isn’t necessarily fun, but you also have to take a closer look at how good (or how bad) your act actually is. You will get better with time if you commit to gaining more experience, but you might still be in a growth season at this moment in time. You can only gain a realistic perspective if you are ruthlessly honest with yourself.
If you’re in the process of paying your price for success, then realize that you will encounter a lot of resistance and disappointment along the way. Inevitably, you will have some underwhelming experiences on your journey.
Step 3 – Have Fun
No one showed up for your show? No problem!
As long as the venue is okay with it, you can take the opportunity to rehearse onstage. There is no experience quite like live experience, and if you can keep a good attitude even when there isn’t anyone there to see you, you’ll have a lot more fun on your journey.
In addition, take a break or two during your sets to connect with your fans. Take Instagram photos of your band having fun onstage. Send texts to your fans letting them know that you’re playing. Post a few tweets about your “impromptu” performance. Show them how much fun you’re having.
With any luck, you might have a few people show up for your second or third set (depending on how long you are playing for). However, even if that doesn’t happen, at least you made the most of an unsexy situation. Your fans may even remember it as “the time we missed out on a great show”.
Step 4 – Reflect
The show is done with and you’re happy to have it in your past. Maybe you played to a small crowd, or maybe you played to an unresponsive crowd. Both situations aren’t much fun, but you’ve made it through, and you’ve gained some valuable experience. Maybe you even had the chance to work out some kinks in your set while onstage.
This is a good time to take a moment to reflect. If you truly have the desire to gain something from events (good or bad) in your life, you will have to reflect on them. The act of reflecting gives a chance for growth to catch up with you.
Did anything go wrong with the planning, organizing or promoting of your show? Don’t dwell on this question for too long, as it can direct your focus to the wrong place, but if you identify anything that you could do better next time, make sure to write it down.
In some cases, “nothing” really truly is the right answer. It’s entirely possible that a set of circumstances beyond your control made your show a less-than satisfactory experience. If so, you don’t need to spend too much time dwelling on it.
Here are a few more guiding questions to ask yourself:
- What did I learn from this show?
- What could I do better next time?
- If a similar situation arises in the future, how will I prepare in advance to manage myself and my emotions better?
Conclusion: Audience Turnouts
Hopefully you’ve gained a better understanding of how to cope with disappointing audience turnouts. Most of the time, you can’t take these things personally. Let it be water under the bridge, and keep your end destination in mind. You may not be where you want to be right now, but if you persevere and adapt, you will certainly have better moments in the future.
Also note that you can learn to thrive in these situations instead of merely coping with them. When you know what you’re after and why you do what you do (i.e. your purpose), you’ll let the smaller things slide; and everything is a small thing on a journey towards success.
Author: David Andrew Wiebe
David Andrew Wiebe has built an extensive career in songwriting, live performance, recording, session playing, production work, investing, and music instruction. In addition to helping musicians unlock their full potential, he also continues to maintain a touring schedule with multiple bands.