Yesterday, I had a bit of an epiphany about draw. For those of you who don't know what draw is, it is how many people you bring to a venue. It can be a big point of stress for a lot of musicians because it's how we get paid and often determines if we get to play there again. I had a manager who, after a poorly attended show, said "CAN you draw?" His words still echo in my head from time to time. As a solo artist, draw can be hard and folks think it's one of two reasons: because they suck or they're Lazy/a "creative who doesn't understand business." There's a third reason and as usual, it's Occam's razor (the simplest answer is the right one).
You're a musician that has dedicated your life to your craft. You've moved to a major city and taken a service industry job (or something comparable) to provide flexibility for your shows. You've booked the show and promoted your ass off (bugging everyone you know to come). You show up to the venue and receive the usual handful of "SO SORRY CAN'T MAKE IT" texts. Meanwhile, on stage you watch a hobbyist musician play subpar-to-okay songs to a big crowd. They smoked you in numbers. Sometimes half the crowd sticks around (get on stage as fast as you can), sometimes they all leave, or worse-case: they stick around and talk! The worst.
Rinse and repeat then soon you begin feeling like a failure as a musician, thinking that you can't draw. Remember, you're a creative so you feel all the feelings. Maybe you even resent your friends for canceling on you last minute (give it a few days and it softens). So what's goin on? Why can't you draw but they can? Particularly as a solo act, the problem may be two elements: Circles and Magic. Let's tackle the first:
The hobbiest likely works in a 9-5 situation, sees their coworkers five days a week, and play music "on the side." Most of the people they know have the same schedule as them and when they clock out of their job they're looking to escape. They're actually your ideal crowd. (Note: This is virtually the same for non-music college students).
Remember how you moved to a big city, took that restaurant job, and embedded yourself in those creative circles?
Turns out 90% of people you know are on the same schedule as you which is anything but set. Most took those jobs so when they're not working, they can work on their art. Maybe they're covering YOUR shift. The people who are full-time freelance are either working on their craft (in or out of town) or exhausted because they consistently overwork themselves on their passion. They come out but it's hard to count on them for critical mass. Also to them, you're not magic. Which brings me to my next point...
No, not the gathering. For the 9-5er's, your job is magic. Both you and the hobbyist play an instrument, sing at the same time and create something from your brain. A lot of those folks don't KNOW many people who are magic and so of course they'll go see them! While there may be difference in quality, it's all magic to them and they're supporting their friend/coworker.
Your circles, on the other hand, are, work with, or know plenty musicians. They love music but it's not magic. You're not an escape from their work and that's fine! Your friends will come support a big event like a CD release and if you're doing well, more acquaintances will come because everyone wants to be close to success.
Now, you might be one of the lucky few who have a 9-5 job that works with your music schedule and if you're in a band, chances are at least one of your band members has one. Not to mention that a band has 4 people which means 4 significant others and 4 best friends which brings your draw to an automatic 8. 8 is an easy enough number to begin syphoning people to your show.
For the rest of us, it's time to turn the focus to getting in front those who think we're magic. This could mean opening for folks with draw (easier said than done), concentrating on press that civilians consume, maybe talking to your 9-5 friends and see if they'll spread the word about you. I really don't know the answer to this problem but at least I know what the problem is.
Just a thought.
*Disclaimer: I am not saying that there is anything wrong with being a hobbyist musician, that all hobbyist musicians are sub-par, or that seeing musicians as magic means that you have no discernment. This post is mostly geared toward the semi-pro musician who have hit a wall with their draw. Hopefully it brings solace so they can refocus their efforts and work smarter rather than harder.
Leave a comment if you wanna weigh in.
Also if you're interested, here is an article by Ari Herstand on the matter. Click Here.