The Local Bands That Couldn’t

It was with more than a little sadness and disappointment that I watched as the fine folks at broke the news in recent weeks of not just one, but two local bands that have decided to part ways, break up, quit playing, or whatever other euphemism for finality one chooses to employ. One, Hello Tomorrow, was a young group with what seemed a great deal of potential and some loyal fans in the area. The other, Baumer, was a well-established indie rock band with a national label deal and plenty of touring under their belts over the last four years or so.

So, what happened that made each of them come to the same conclusion? check out their respective Myspace profiles for their official explanations, but what it boils down to is the same thing that’s in the business and financial news a lot these days–it’s tough to make a living out there.

Not that either of them were lucrative, full-time concerns, but even part-time musicians like to be able to create, play out, and record without going totally broke or into debt. For many it’s just too much overhead to even get out and tour extensively like Baumer did, what with gas prices and everything else going nowhere but up. I’ve had numerous other musicians in every genre comment that they’re also looking long and hard at their tour schedules and future plans, trying to cut costs and not do things that end up losing money.

Here’s where the whole “new music business model” thing comes into play, but with creative twists. Increasing a band’s online presence is fairly inexpensive, and it can reap some pretty decent returns. I’ve discovered more bands randomly surfing on Youtube in the last year, probably, than anywhere else, for example–see some previous posts on this blog for proof of that. Most music fans are getting the vast majority of their music online, too–legally or not. Bob Lefsetz threw out a figure in a recent post on his blog that over a quarter of the total album sales for Coldplay’s latest were logged online, most of them on iTunes.

Is your music available online? Is it out there for free on a site you put up? not just streaming a few songs on Myspace, but the whole album, easily accessed on your own site? There’s the key, getting those eyeballs searching for music online to get it from you, not some anonymous quasi-legal P2P site. If they get it from you, you can do several things–offer additional bonus tracks not on the proper album, sign them up for email lists, discussion forums, promote your upcoming live shows, get them on your street team, whatever.

What you do with them isn’t as important as just doing something, once you get their attention. Commerce of any kind isn’t about the lowest price, it’s about the best relationships. Offer good service, easy downloads, video extras, swag, etc., and your customers will come back for more and tell others about their experience.

And before you scream about having fans, not customers, I’ll say that fans ARE customers, if you’re lucky. If they’re really fans they’ll pay for stuff from you–the t-shirt, bumper sticker, a signed vinyl copy of the album they already downloaded for free somewhere–hopefully from you. This in turn will help you finance the creation of more recordings, tours, and other events and promotions that put your music in front of other people, who then become fans and the whole cycle starts over again.

For Baumer and Hello Tomorrow, it’s too late–they have already decided that it wasn’t working for them any more. As artists, that’s their right, and who are we to say they need to keep going if it doesn’t make financial or creative sense?

For the rest of your favorite bands out there slugging it out in the clubs as many nights a week as they can manage, there is still time for a fan-financed rescue package to succeed in helping them continue along the path of making great music for all of us to enjoy. So get out, either in person or online, and support good music in whatever way you can.


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