Haven’t posted in a while about the business side of making music, but after getting into two conversations this week that started with the question “I have a CD coming out soon, what should I do to get noticed/written about/etc.?” I feel like asking “why are you putting out a CD when you haven’t done this, this, or this yet?”
In the digital age we’re in, what use is it to even release a physical product, anyway? You’ll sell ten percent of the thousand-copy pressing and use the rest for coasters. So before you waste the time and money on a production, recording, and pressing budget for your first full-length album, check the following off your list:
1. Play, play, play. There is no substitute for playing live shows, and the more you play the better you’ll get. Don’t oversaturate one club or one town by playing three or four times a week, but until you get your name out there as a band/artist to watch, playing frequently will only help you raise your profile. Until you’re drawing a good crowd regularly in several different towns, there’s no need to put out that CD–make sure there’s a demand before investing in a supply to fill it. If you’re primarily a live band, simply getting good quality recordings of your best gigs may be preferable to a costly studio disc anyway.
2. practice, practice, practice. If you’re playing a lot, this is easier to do, but as a musician and a performer you have a responsibility to your audience to know what you’re doing up there on stage. Don’t play an under-rehearsed gig, because those who see you playing poorly will most likely not be back, and not be good referrals. You have to treat every opportunity to play as a chance to convert another room full of people into fans of your music–if you can’t tune your guitar quickly, or you forget the words to your songs or the songs you cover, or if your rhythm section isn’t tight, you won’t convert anyone.
3. Network, network, network. With the rise of social networking this has become increasingly easy to do, but it has also become an afterthought or a crutch to lazy bands who think that promoting their show means putting up a Facebook event and inviting their friends. I’m talking about not just gathering “friends” on Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace, but using these tools regularly and appropriately. Myspace may be dead as a meeting place, but it’s one of the easiest places to put up music online that people can find easily, and everyone from booking agents to music critics will thank you if there are a few good tracks to listen to there, or somewhere. Use Twitter and Facebook to have conversations with your fans/followers, it will pay off in ways you may not realize until later–but it will pay off.
4. Video, video, video. Youtube is one of the main places people go to stream music online, even though the sound quality’s not that great. Are you shooting video of your gigs and rehearsals, or encouraging fans to? Do you have a Youtube channel for your band, updated regularly with new videos? If you want something more professional, consider convincing a local media arts or film school student to produce an actual music video of a song or two. These videos will make it easy for people to post about you on blogs, Facebook and other sites through links or embedded video.
5. Does your band have a website other than Myspace and Facebook? To coordinate your online presence, a real website is the most professional way to go–it can be a WordPress blog platform, to make things easy, but spring for the domain name option so you have a unique one. Nothing screams “amateur” more than a band with nothing but a Myspace profile.
6. Network in the real world, too. Don’t forget to get out often to the same clubs you want to play in. Get to know the staff and the regulars, watch how the other bands they book draw there, figure out which ones you want to open for next time, and if they have open mike nights play those to get your foot in the door. Make sure that you’re as nice as possible to everyone you meet, either at a club or just in the grocery store, at the park, wherever you are. As a musician you’re a public performer, so everyone’s a potential customer for you–don’t expect clubs to want to book you if you come around bad-mouthing the other bands they have playing, or if you stiff the waitress and bartender on tips.
7. Join a local arts organization, songwriter’s association, and the chamber of commerce. Any of these groups may be a potential source of either gigs or fans, and you might learn something from attending meetings, seminars, and festivals.
8. Play benefit shows. You want to get paid to play, of course, but donating your services for the occasional charity gig isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s a smart business decision. You’ll get promoted within a different set of potential audience members depending on the particular cause, sometimes there is local television coverage of these types of events, and if you’re really business-savvy you’ll write off the gig on your taxes next year.
9. Consider giving away your songs, not packaging them and selling a CD. Now that you have that snazzy website, put new songs out on it regularly, and make them downloadable for free, or for the cost of an email address that you can put together an email list with. Doing this one song at a time over a period of weeks or months will keep people coming back to your site–as long as you’re updating the other information (tour dates, other news about stuff you’re doing), those return visits will cement that artist-fan relationship. Get the tracks on iTunes and other legal download sites and you might even make a few dollars from them, too.
10. Do something different. You can do 1-9 above and still be just like a million other bands out there, honestly. What makes a difference is the things that are different about you and your band, and that’s not something I can tell you how to do. Find something unique about yourself, or find a unique way to promote yourself, and you’ll get noticed.