I’m as big a believer in the power of the Internet to change the comedy business as anybody, but I recently had a bit of a revelation. Since technology now allows you to reach the entire world with the click of a button, I think many comics are attempting to expand the reach of their career before they should.
Whether it’s spending lots of time trying to get out of town clubs to book you, or packing up your stuff and hitting the road to go on your own self-promoted “tour,” or investing a ton of time and effort into building a national fanbase, I think in many cases these things are actually distracting you from a more likely path to success.
I recently came across a video featuring a number of successful musicians discussing what they think it takes to get noticed. I’m not sure when the video was originally recorded, but it seems a little dated (I can’t imagine a lot of people are interviewing Fred Durst these days about the secret to his success).
But, that aside, I definitely think it’s worth watching. Here, check it out…
There’s a lot of great insights in the video, but one of the themes that really jumped out at me was the emphasis that so many of these artists and music industry execs put on their local scene. Repeatedly, they encourage up and coming artists to focus on their hometown, to grow their fanbase in that market, and essentially to ignore everything outside of their local base.
While I don’t agree with all of it, I do think there’s a lesson to be had here.
As a comedian, it’s easy to be seduced by the dream of performing in different cities and getting booked in far away venues. But it’s likely your time is better spent conquering your home turf first – something many comics never bother to do.
And it’s worth mentioning here that I don’t just mean succeeding in your home town to the point that you can regularly get stage time at your local club, but rather that you actually develop a real fan base in your city.
How many true fans do you think the average road comic actually has in his own home town? I’m guessing not that many.
If you’re hustling in your local market, shouldn’t you have the ability to draw more fans to a show than most out of town headliners who swoop in for a weekend? You have the advantage of having 365 days to “own” your city, whereas the out of towner who comes in has probably only been on the marquee for a couple weeks.
Why should they be able to draw more fans than you?
Yes, I understand you may not be able to compete with the “celebrity” status of a major TV star or headliner, but let’s be honest – most headliners don’t have that kind of pull. In your market, you should be able to outdraw the typical headliner if you actually put your time and effort into doing so on an ongoing basis.
And just imagine what would happen if you did…
Don’t you think your local club would notice if whenever they booked you (even as an opener) more people showed up than when they booked other local comics? Wouldn’t they book you more and possibly pay you more?
Don’t you think you’d have a better chance of selling albums to a local fanbase who’s seen you often than to a national fanbase who doesn’t really know you?
Don’t you think you’d get more industry attention by being the “King” of your local scene than you would by being just another good comic who came to Los Angeles or New York with no fanbase and just a belief that you were good enough to get discovered there?
I’m not saying you should stay in your town forever, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t ever go on the road.
But, I do think there’s a value to concentrating on your own local market and building a real fanbase there before you chase other things.
And that’s probably something that gets overlooked too often. Do you agree?
4 thoughts on “Is The Best Way To Make It Big To Think Small?”
I guess since my local scene is LA, thats even more reason to concentrate on the local scene first huh?
The struggle continues to be, at least for comics in my situation outside a major metropolitan market, is how to get a decent fan base going. There aren’t many people interested in going to see live entertainment in the first place because that’s not the culture…
Even with steady local marketing – reguarly performing, putting up some flyers, making sure people know when and where you’re performing – it still seems like a very tough climb.
Not saying you’re not correct, and I agree that it makes sense to grow locally before trying to jump up to the bigtime… I wonder if other smalltown comics face the same problem: How do you get consistently large crowds, considering the nature of being smalltown means many people have already seen you perform (even with new material, they aren’t likely to keep coming back), or your drawing from your personal social network, and that gets tired, too.
@ Andy… In my opinion, small town comics could have a little easier time at it because there’s less competition for the entertainment dollar. If you think about the larger comedy industry, there’s not a lot of money to be made on performing in the biggest markets (ie. LA, San Francisco, Chicago, NY, etc), but most of the money is made in small towns throughout the country. I’ve always found it much harder to develop a fan base in the large markets because of the numerous choices for entertainment.
No matter what market you’re in, we’re fighting to just get people off their couches long enough to experience real people in a real place. That’s everywhere.
Oversaturation can definitely be a problem in a local market. I perform in my hometown every six weeks with a little break around the holidays. At one point I could put over 100 people in a room, but I neglected them for a little too long while I was doing road work and now I’m having to build that again. And I do plenty of other low-key sets around town. But the big promoted event comes every six weeks. I treat the other sets and feeder gigs to collect people for the big events.
But remember that “come see me” isn’t the only way to do it. Besides a show that features you, you can do other shows that you curate and host to keep things fresh. You could do a podcast/blog centered on local topics of some sort (entertainment or otherwise). The main objective is to be a face that people see as often as possible, even when you’re not performing. You don’t want to oversaturate the “come see me” invites, but everything else almost can’t be overdone.
And remember that 10-20 miles away in most areas is considered a new market. So you want to do your best to saturate an area and then evolve into the areas around it.
That response got way too long.
So if your local scene is NY or LA, do you recommend moving somewhere smaller?