5 "Do's" of Indie Hip-Hop shows

This article is aimed at people involved in their local indie hip-hop scene. If you’re booking national/global tours or are a globally known artist, you most likely won’t read anything here you don’t already know.


1. Promote

·      What local artists have to understand is that it is rare for an event to have a built in audience. Artists and promoters are on the same team and the goal of that team should be to build a community that supports a local scene. Communities require people and you know people. So not only should you be sharing the flyer and posting on social media, but you should also reach out to your friends and family directly and let them know you’re performing. People are much more likely to come see you if you reach out to them directly instead of just assuming they will see your posts/tweets. If the average show has 5 artists booked and all 5 of those artists bring 10 friends (you know that I know that you know at least 5-10 people who would come see you if you asked), you all the sudden have a room of 50 people with a common interest. Your friends meet their friends, everybody has a good time, and now you have the foundation for a community/scene.

2. Live versions of your songs

·      I will touch on the whole rapping over your vocals controversy in the next article, but it is professional and important that you have versions of your songs tailored for live performance. This means having the instrumental properly mixed and mastered and if you are keeping vocals in, making sure they are there for a purpose and mixed into the track in accordance with that purpose. If the song has a super long intro or outro and you don’t plan on using that time for a specific purpose, edit the beat and shorten it for the live version so you are not just standing up there on stage looking foolish. If you only have the studio recording to the song, reach out to the producer for the instrumental. Alternatively, you could find another beat at the same tempo the lyrics fit on and perform over that as an exclusive remix people only get to hear if they come see your show.

3. Rehearse

·      This should go without saying, but apparently it has to be said. You should rehearse your set until you know it like the back of your hand. If you are nervous, rehearse every aspect of your performance (i.e. your movements, crowd interaction, moments to take a drink). If you consider yourself a performing artist, it is literally your job. If you have a brand new song you’re not confident you know the words to yet, take that ish to an open mic, not an official show. Rehearsing results in more confident and seamless performances. Also, rehearsal provides an opportunity to find the spots in your verses where you can take a breathe without missing a lyric. If you want to perform a song where it is literally impossible to catch a breath, then you can create a live version of the track that has pre-planned background vocals in spots where you know you would otherwise run out of breath. If recorded vocals only come in at preplanned spots, it comes across as professional instead of amateurish.  

4. Bring merch

·      Often times local showcases don’t draw big enough crowds for you to get paid. This is why merchandise is so important. Ask any indie touring artist, many nights the only profit you walk away with is the merch you sell. Buy a small foldable table or stand that you can set up after your performance to show people what you have and make a little extra bread. If you don’t have merchandise, bring your computer and pull up the site where people can purchase digital copies. You can also make a mailing list on Excel or Google Drive where people can leave their contact information, comments about your set or anything about the night, and print them out before the show so you have some way to give fans a better chance of remembering you.

5. Network

·      This really just boils down to being personable. Introduce yourself to the other artists, maybe even buy some merch from them if you liked their set. Introduce yourself to the bartender. Tip the bartender and thank them for their services. Introduce yourself to the person running sound and thank them for their services. Thank the promoter for the opportunity. Add people you meet on social media or ask for their phone number if you made a connection, and build real friendships and partnerships. People will remember you for that and be more likely to offer you future opportunities. Remember that even when you sell nothing, meeting people who are willing to see you perform again or tell other people about your music is the realest long-term win. Furthermore, if you want to be a big piece of the puzzle in your scene, it is important that you attend and support events that you are not a part of. Become a familiar face to fans, artists, and promoters. If you only show up when the situation benefits you, people will begin to notice. Never expect handouts. If you show love and support to your scene, your scene will eventually show love and support back.


1. Scout the sound system

·      It is important to know what equipment the venue is working with and what you may need to bring in order to hook up to their system. It is not a good look to be having technical difficulties while people are coming through the door. If you are unfamiliar with the venue try to have a soundcheck before the show to make sure everything is in order. Also, considering people are there to hear music, if the sound system is inadequate you may want to consider renting equipment or switching venues. Nothing kills the vibe faster for the crowd or the artists than bad sound.

2. Stick to the Start Time

·      People have schedules, families, work, etc. and if you keep pushing back the start time you are going to frustrate a lot of people. You have a little bit of wiggle room, but generally speaking, start the show when the flyer says the show starts and update people immediately if that time is going to change. On a related note, having brief breaks between sets (letting the DJ take over between performances) is usually a good idea. Having a host for the night can also help keep things running smoothly, informing people when the next act will hit the stage, directing people to a merch table, etc.

3. Pay Artists

·      After you cover your overhead costs, it is simply good business to reward the artists who put the leg work in promoting your event and bringing people through the door. This will improve your reputation as a promoter that artists want to work with. It doesn’t have to be much, but speaking from experience, any amount is better than nothing. If you’re taking an L on the night and have nothing to give, just be honest and upfront about it.

4. Diversify your event

·      Sometimes the model of come to a show, get rapped at for 2 hours and leave can get old and stale. Been there, done that sort of thing. Come up with creative ways to make your show more than just a hip-hop showcase. Bring in artists of different mediums to showcase their work (painters, photographers, etc.). Introduce a competitive component to the event. Bring food to your event, have a raffle, a dress-up theme, some video games. We’ve literally had a masseuse at one of our events. Just do something different that makes your event stand out from the rest.

5. Always book a DJ

·      DJ’s are essential to any indie hip-hop show. You need at least one to help the night run smoothly and keep the vibes going. Nobody wants to see an artist searching through their phone for the next song to play. Also, pay your DJ. They often have to collect and organize everyones tracks, adjust volumes from set to set, and hold down the decks the entire night.

Written by Simon Sed and edited by Just Joey

Thanks for reading! Tune in next week for 5 things promoters and artists should NOT do when booking or performing at an indie hip-hop show. Comment and add your thoughts to the conversation!