Have you ever gone to a show solely based on its show poster? Odds are that if you are in your late 20s or early 30s, you probably have. But in Toronto these days, this is becoming less and less likely to happen.
It is not that great show posters aren’t being made–they are–but what do you do with them? Facebook has marginalized their effectiveness–and even if it is effective to post them there, do people check Facebook events that often anymore? Twitter is great for show promotion but not as great for using posters. At their core, posters were made to be used outside, as a means to grab people’s attention and help them find out about a show.
This has really been crossing my mind as of late now that I’m in St. John’s, because here the art of the show poster is still alive and well! Walking around downtown and on George Street the other night, I saw countless show posters, ones for small indie artists trying to get the word out about their gigs. They were not being taken down, they were not being covered up by some gross dance party hiring people at slave-labour prices. None of that. In fact, they were being embraced. All at once, I felt so happy to be in a city where I could actually advertise an event on the streets, and sad because in Toronto the ability to do this has been taken away.
These days people will blame Rob Ford and cite cases like C’est What getting fined and taken to court for bands postering to promote gigs, and they are right–that is a legit concern. Nobody wants to be taken to court. But that law is a few years old, and the poster as a legit marketing tool for shows has been dying for much longer than that.
I came into the promotion game about eight years ago and would go out–with either my then-girlfriend, now-wife Terri or one of my friends–and spend hours relentlessly postering a few times a week to promote our events. For a while, it worked. But around a year into my time postering, I started to notice something very unfortunate: all of the people going out there and putting up legit posters for their upcoming events were seeing them get covered up with stuff like the next big party at the Guvernment or whatever. These companies that do this excessive postering take up tons of space and mock you by putting up posters telling you to hire them, right on top of the posters you just spent hours (and your own money) putting up.
Every so often someone decided to throw out the line to me “Yeah, well, there is more to promoting an event than social media.” I agree; one of those things should be getting a quality poster designed and putting it up around town. But now, doing that in Toronto is about as likely to work as sending out a bulletin on MySpace.
In a city with so many bands and so many venues, we need to get back the ability to communicate shows with posters. There is a reason people do it here in St. John’s–because it works! The organic experience that comes from seeing a show poster, making note of it, and then going to check the show out is far more rewarding than wading through the clutter of social media. So how do we do it?
That is a tough question to answer. I am not sure, but what I am sure about is that blaming Rob Ford and his laws isn’t helping anyone. They’re clearly hiring postering crews to cover the city, but are these places like the Guvernment being fined? They bloody well should be. All I know is that it’s not the laws that are ruining postering. Like I said, those laws are only a few years old. It is the postering companies who have no respect for anyone and treat Toronto streets like it’s their personal bulletin board. If we can stop them, we can get the streets back as a way to promote events. Let’s face it, the city isn’t going to fine everyone.
Just something I’ve been thinking about. Contrary to what we often believe, we don’t know it all, Toronto. We could learn a thing or two from how they do it here in St. John’s.