Guerrilla Tactics: Handbills
What good is a fantastic gig at a fantastic club if no one's there to see it? Promoting a concert is just as important as playing the concert itself, but it usually takes more than just a little word of mouth to get the buzz going. And even if you've already tacked up tons of posters and fliers, it's important to remember that people aren't always interested in an event they only know about via generic promotion tactic.
That's why handbills are an amazing form of concert promotion. By creating and passing out handbills, you get to promote your concert with face-to-face contact, really getting in there and giving the people a reason to see you play. Audiences want to feel connected to the music they're experiencing, be it rock, pop or even opera, so engaging them in conversation while promoting a concert gives your show a much better chance of being completely packed. Handbills are interactive and personal -- and often a savior to new bands looking for a built-in audience.
Handbills are, simply, small versions of a flier or poster used to promote a concert. They're typically about the size of a postcard or standard photograph and include promotional information about the event they are advertising. Beyond that, though, there aren't many rules. Much like concert promotion itself, handbills are unique and relative to the band or event they are promoting.
It's important to understand, however, that while handbills may look like miniature versions of posters and fliers, they function very differently. Fliers promote a concert with almost full anonymity; people reading them never really get a sense of the people behind the event and will often forget the information 30 seconds later. And because there are so many fliers posted on a bulletin board or telephone post at any given time, the document's design is an important aspect of the concert promotion. You can't physically grab the person and tell them about your show, so your stand-out flier has to do it for you.
Handbills, on the other hand, are interactive. Though you'll most certainly want to think about the design aspects of your handbill, the biggest selling point will be how you interact with the person receiving it. You'll need to engage the person in a way that doesn't smell of a sales pitch and make them forget that you're actively promoting a concert. Discuss their musical interests, talk about what's happening in rock music today, and let them know why your concert is in line with their taste. Talk to them, not at them. Though you'll of course want to rehash the promotional information found on your handbill, make sure to give people room to ask you questions.
Learning the Layout
Though page layout isn't the most pressing concern when it comes to promoting a concert by way of handbills, you definitely want to create something eye-grabbing, easy to read and indicative of your band's personality. You can achieve this one of two ways: a computer-based layout program like Photoshop or the cut-paste-photocopy method.
Photoshop is the program of choice for many bands doing their own concert promotion. It offers a vast array of tools to create the most professional looking handbills while still managing to be user-friendly. And even if you've never used a layout program before, it's easy to create a handbill using the basic functions of a program like this. Choose the document size (4x6 or 5x7), color (black and white if you intend to photocopy, color if you're printing the handbills yourself) and font (something clear and readable), and let your imagination run! Just make sure to include your band's logo, if you have one, and to create a thin border around the page so the handbills don't cut off important parts of the text. And always print a few test copies before you commit to a design. Be sure that nothing is blurry, the color is uniform (no too-dark or too-light areas) and that each piece of text is completely readable.
Even if you aren't comfortable using page layout programs, you can still create handbills to promote your concert; you'll just need to do it in a more organic manner. Cut a piece of paper to the size you desire and physically paste the images and text onto it. Grab images from magazines or newspapers, create a background collage and paste your band's logo on top. Then, use a simple word processing program to create the text; cut the sentences into strips and paste those below your logo. Once you've cut and pasted your way into a unique and interesting handbill, photocopy the original. It will definitely look hand done, but even professionals are using this design tactic in recent years. Personality, after all, is the best form of concert promotion.
Now that you've finished creating your handbills, you need to distribute them. Take your handbills with you everywhere you go -- tuck them in a backpack or purse -- and give one to each person you talk to; promoting a concert is a full-time activity, and you should be prepared to discuss the show at any given time. But don't use only this gradual method of concert promotion; plan specific outings for the sole purpose of distributing your handbills. Go to concerts or events similar to yours and talk to people, get them interested. Take a small stack to your local music store or record shop and ask the employees to keep them on the counter and talk to customers about the event. You could even ask your concert's venue to place some handbills at the bar or on tables, or to hand them out with cocktail napkins; it's not the most interactive way to promote a concert with handbills, but every little bit counts.
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