It’s a popular myth that all bands and musicians dream about playing stadiums every weekend. Playing a large concert can actually get pretty stressful, as well as mentally exhausting. Smaller, intimate shows are a great alternative to large events.
We’ve researched the topic and found 10 situations when holding an intimate show for 25-50 attendees beats a larger scale setup.
1. Location limitations.
Shows in unusual, exciting locations, like a boat out in the harbor, a lounge by the pool or a bridge, will have natural space limitations that won’t allow for a large audience.
If you want to play a show with a niche topic that requires a location to fit or just to experience the energy of a deeply symbolic historic location, like a museum, art gallery or an old pub, you’ll have to limit the number of attendees. Similarly, exotic locations will warrant going for an intimate show format.
Sometimes the reason for your smaller concert is less poetic – the town you want to play (or your fans want you to play) just does not have any suitable venues (at all or on the dates you want). Similarly, playing a house concert will also limit your guest list. If you are as brave as Taylor Swift to invite a few dozens of your fans right to your house, that is!
2. Unique fan interaction dynamic.
Live shows help musicians get instant feedback about their music, and with intimate shows, performers can see the faces of everyone in the crowd, a conversation can be held easily, and the whole show can change as it goes. More – fans have a much better view and can experience your performance with all the rich details.
Case in point – the Tiny Desk Concert series at NPR Music. Musicians from various genres and of different levels of popularity come to play their shows for just a handful of people, sitting by a tiny desk. The simple, enclosed environment forces musicians to just focus on the music.
Adele 2011 Tiny Desk Concert. Image courtesy YouTube
Another example – 2012 Linkin Park show exclusively for SiriusXM listeners. The event allowed attendees to ask the band questions and enjoy the legendary band's music from the best seats imaginable.
3. Scattered fanbase.
A lot of reasonably popular bands have fanbases scattered across a country or a continent and makes more sense to play small venues that are sold out than larger ones that only get half-filled.
4. Unusual topic or format.
A themed event might require you to limit the guest list due to limitations like audience interests or organizational capacity. Say, you are having a masquerade or a costume party-style event – not every fan might want to adhere to your desired dress code.
This also includes events for narrow age and interest groups. For example, Jack White held a contamination-themed intimate rock concert in London in 2014 that invited fans to follow clues and participate in an infectious disease outbreak roleplay:
5. Additional tour stops.
Reach fans in smaller areas by adding small shows along the way of your key tour locations.
When planning your tour, you can add in intimate concerts in towns close to your main tour route to allow your fans in more remote or less populated areas to enjoy your music as well.
Intimate concerts are a great way for more known performers to attract contributors to charity initiatives. The exclusivity and closeness attendees get at smaller events provide the incentive for benefactors to join.
The location of such events can even be kept secret to the public, like John Legend’s 2018 LA event for 50 attendees ($200 per ticket). All proceeds were donated to FREE AMERICA.
John Legend during the event. Image courtesy Airbnb
7. Small production budget.
A large stage requires bigger crew and production budget. Lights, equipment, costumes, props and stage decor might cost you a pretty penny, so if your production budget is limited, a smaller show might be your best option.
8. Exclusive preview.
If you want to test out your new material in an authentic, interactive way, holding a live show for a limited group of fans can be a great option. It can also help you connect with your fans, like all the photos from Taylor Swift’s recent album preview party show:
Preview shows can help you try out a new sound or look.
9. Venue limitations.
Most venues tend to stick to several key music styles they welcome, so if you play more of a niche genre, you might be limited in your venue selection. Playing intimate concerts means a string of unconventional locations, as well as the house concert format you can now reach with your shows.
Another venue limitation you might encounter is sound quality. If you want your music to sound a certain way or want to improve overall auditory experience of your audience, you might want to host your event at a location that would allow that, like All Hail Hyena and their recent intimate concert in Burnley, at Grooves Studios, where the band normally practice.
The show allowed as a handful of dedicated fans to experience the band’s jam session in person and hear the songs just the way they were intended to sound, but not as a cleaned-up studio record, but live:
10. When you don’t know your fanbase.
Musicians and bands who are just starting out and/or don’t really know their audience that well, or are exploring remote locations, it’s better to start small with shows that won’t be as hard to draw the crowd to – most up-and-coming acts in heavily populated urban areas can muster an audience of 25-50 paying guests.
Moreover, if you are just starting out, venues might be more inclined to offer you weeknights instead of the coveted Friday or Saturday slot. Selling tickets to a weekday show is a little more difficult, go the safe route and play an intimate concert for 25-50 concertgoers.
Reduce your financial risks when producing a show by pre-selling tickets before production starts. Here’s how to do it