Put yourself in the fan's shoes. You are going to a party where you know the drummer in some band. The band plays a bunch of songs that you don't know. The music is so loud your brain is bleeding and your girlfriend doesn't know anybody and wants to leave early. I'm pretty sure we've all been in this situation or one like it. Why put your fans in this situation?
Remember What A Recording Is
If you are throwing a cd release party, you've probably worked very hard on recording a record. Why not let your cd speak for itself and focus on the party? Focus on getting plenty of nachos, have drunken 3 legged races, bikini contests, etc. Basically, imagine what life is like at Woodstock or outside the Daytona 500. Do your best to recreate this. You are throwing a party!! Your live show can wait until next weekend. I'd MUCH rather attend a CD release party where they play the cd than the band plays. I can't get to know anyone if the music is too loud. I can't meet people. (Most importantly, the band can not meet people...WHICH IS HOW YOU BUILD A FAN BASE). A cd can be played at a reasonable volume. Bands you usually can not play at reasonable volumes. So take advantage of the situation and demonstrate all your hard work, but don't ruin the party.
Invite Local Sororities and Fraternities
If you have a local college, by all means, use it to your advantage. Buy a $30 trophy (they are bigger than you think). Give it away to the loudest sorority or the hottest sorority or whatever. Either way, formally invite a sorority to the party and formally challenge them. If you have to, send hatemail from one sorority to the other. (You know, pretend your are Beta Theta and write a mean letter a Delta Bravo). Do whatever you can to get 200 college chicks to this party. The frats will follow.
Make Sure People Know What The Party Is For
While you are throwing a huge party that should have stories to tell for years and years (if all goes badly) you are throwing the party with an agenda. You want all of your friends to know that your hard work is complete and is available for sale. So how do you do this? Easy, you give away cds as prizes! This means you need to come up with lots of games that everyone can compete in. The idea is to make sure everyone knows that cds are for sale, but also to know they are at a band's cd release party.
You do not want some friend of a friend's little sister to have a great time at the show and remember that she had fun at “Jeff's party”. You want her to know that she is friends with “X Band”. She needs to tell her friends that she partied with “X band” and it was awesome. If you can give her an awesome party, she'll want to come to your live show. She'll even bring 3 of her hopefully hot friends. It may be worth putting a banner up and announcing to everyone that this is the “X Band cd release party” on a regular basis. Maybe you can make a game out of that? It may be worth if just to meet her 3 other friends at a later show.
Your Partymates Will Owe You
If you can throw the bash of the century with lots of people and beer, you will sell a lot of cds. Not because of your music, but because they think you are a cool guy. If you want people to buy your cd because of the music, I'm not sure what to tell you. That's like a national band type of thing. Local bands must make as many friends as possible and be the source of the party to be successful. This leads to future big time exposure. We are simply trying to sell a few thousand records.
Push Your Next Show Hard
You'll want to capitalize on the buzz of your party. Again, if you throw a successful party, people will come to your next show. You need to be ready for this! Your next show needs to be a big deal. This should be the one where you contact the newspaper, local TV stations, college newspapers, etc. Throw a bikini contest and give away $300 or something. Rent a huge PA so you sound like a big deal. Give away free t-shirts and do whatever you can to make people happy. If you can make people happy, you'd be amazed at what they will do in return for you.
If You Must, Play A Small Set
I'm always trying to cater to strangers when promoting a band. Friends will always be there. If we can make a stranger at a party feel welcome and a part of the crowd, you may win over a new fan. If the music is so loud that no one can think and you are playing, you are probably going to scare people away.
People are fans of bands at parties, but they most know the band first. The definitely must know the songs first. When people are asking you to play your songs, that is the time to play them...and not until then.
Hit Them All At Once
I had some friends who had the idea of having 5 cd release parties. This was a good thought because it hit each of their various markets differently. Unfortunately, they were divided and conquered. Imagine you are throwing 5 little parties and 20 people show up. What if you could throw just one big party and get 100 people there. 100 people is much more than 5 x 20. Synergy kicks in and you get all sorts of other benefits. 100 people seams like a big deal. 20 seams like a backyard get together. So pool all of your resources together and hit it hard.