My band had its debut show a couple weeks ago. The guitarist and singer and I (bass) have been playing together for a year plus, and we started playing with a new drummer in July. I'm really excited about our material and I'd like to go out and play every weekend if we could. We'd be more experienced at playing out, we'd meet lots of people who could help us (sound engineers, visual artists, basically anyone not already in our band who likes our music and wants to contribute their skills), and we'd learn how our songs work for a live audience. However, some of my band mates are concerned that we might be over-exposed, and that people would stop coming to our shows. This doesn't make any sense to me, seems to me only good things can come our way by playing out as much as possible. Who's right? Is there a "right" for this question?
There are a few ways to look at venues vs bands. Some bands can play the same venue all the time and still not become overexposed while other bands only need to play once and no one cares if they ever come back again.
UPDATE: if you consider venue vs stable audience I think there is a spectrum with one side being a venue that has a new audience every time such as a theme park or tourist area while on the other end there are venues with locals that frequent the same spot each week, and yes everything in between. A band might want to look at venues with this in mind too.
The short of it is, a band that plays well enough, has some charisma, and most importantly can make a connection with the audience has an opportunity to create a following no matter where they play. It would be a good idea for this kind of band to have someone selling their CD, T-Shirts, etc in the lobby.
Please allow me to indulge you with a true story of such a band.
Not too many years ago, late on a Friday night I was strolling through a small town in N. California and I could hear the distinctive tone of a great Strat player through a vintage Fender Super Reverb. It sounded so wonderful to my ears because it reminded me of the band I played with in the late 1960s. Our lead player although he played a Mustang played Hendrix like no one's business through a Super Reverb--it's a sound to die for.
I had to walk into this bar and see if I was right. Not only did I nail the guitar and amp, but I soon became in love with the band. It was none other than the original Tommy Castro Band, the year was 1994. For the next couple of years this band played this same venue at least once a month and because they were so good more and more people would show up until it became standing room only. In addition to this, either in 1994 or 1995 they appeared to play more gigs in a year than there are days in a year--they often had two gigs a day.
When you have a band that has the passion for music, and the talent, you will never have to think about being over exposed. TMB earned the title "hardest working band in the USA".
You can tell when you see them that they absolutely love doing their work. Ask yourselves, where's the love?
Until you know what your audience thinks of you it will all be trial and error.
If you have a wide range of songs, so can vary the set list, then playing every week at a particular venue might be fine. If you only have 8 songs and you just play them, even your best fans may get bored.
On the other hand, if you only play one gig in a city then never return, you can't gain much of a word-of-mouth following.
So you'll want to strike a balance of playing at your 'home' venue or regular venues, along with gigs further afield.
But equally importantly - you'll want to get your advertising right. Hooking up with good promoters can be essential to getting the right numbers along to your gigs, so find promoters in each city you wish to play in.
We have a baseline routine of once a month in our two main cities, and then add other cities, venues and festivals on top of that. This way our home audience doesn't get bored but we also get our word of mouth attendance increasing every month, and we get interest in other cities and countries too.
Back in the 60s and 70s thats how bands made it.. there was no over exposure. In an example AC/DC before they were famous were playing more than every weekend they would play as much as they could to try and get as much exposure.
That being said, AC/DC did not play the same venue week after week, and it wasn't always the same show. I think in the early stages of a band, exposure is important, it will give you a following. If you're going to play the same place a few times in not to long of a time span, don't put on the same show, change it up, do things with stage presence that attract people and help spread the word, or change around songs so it doesn't sound the same.
I say play any chance you can, really any exposure is good exposure as long as you keep the crowd entertained.
If you play too much you will be overexposed(but good experience?) and if you don't play enough you will be underexposed.
There is no way to possibly answer your question until many years down the line. Hindsight is 20/20.
The good news is you guys don't have to chose one or the other... you can adapt! This is what intelligent people do. If you are playing a lot and not getting much attention, it means your sucking(more or less)/doing something wrong. Go figure it out.
If you are not playing much and people are asking when you are playing next, it means you need more gigs and to push harder.
Playing at every possible opportunity is how you prepare for a few big shows.
Your big shows can be “electric” and your small shows “acoustic.” Big shows can be 10 songs, small shows 4 songs. Big shows can be once a month at a club, small shows can be 3 house parties a night. Or any variation on all of that.
Two words: frat parties. Have more songs than you can play in any one show and it's okay to play some covers. Heck it would be ideal to have a full show of covers ready to go. The question is is it okay to play your originals? Are you The Hold Steady, The Deal, or at the end of the day just a cover band? You should maintain a list of what tunes you're ready to go out and play on any given Saturday night. BTW Friday and Saturday nights are the hardest gigs to get but you probably know that. Also free shows: college campuses, community fairs, etc.
At least those pesky gigs won't eat into your practice time. I'm on your side here, the side of going out and playing.