Lets break down what you want as a band, a musician. Should be to create music that you want to share, perform, live off of. If its not, why are you insisting on playing at businesses that need more than your ego to cover its costs of letting your annoy their customers and your small group of friends in the first place?
Now, If it is, lets be smarter about what you are doing. If you want to play all the time locally, play smaller rooms, less than 200 cap rooms. Play rooms that don’t have firm costs specific to that event that needs to be covered by the bands draw during that 4-6 hour time frame. Know the venue you play and the music you play. Deathmetal and forms of core have only a few outlets, hip hop a little bit more and punk a little more than that, so don’t force a chicken gizzard into a toaster and expect bread to pop out. Also those genres have to work twice as hard for less results, so having an apathetic attitude with the fan base and friends that support you already, or potentially will support you, does no good. You should be actively seeking new fans while interacting with current ones and do so without being a little whiny bitch about it. You created it, why aren’t you working as hard or harder to share it? Especially if its a genre that isn’t filling arenas. One thing I see many local bands of these genres do is try and promote themselves and book themselves without any recorded music. HOW IN THE FUCK IS A PROMOTER OR VENUE SUPPOSED TO PROMOTE A BAND WITH NO MUSIC?? So if you choose that even harder route, don’t expect anyone to conjure up fans to see you, if you haven’t even laid a basic foundation. Again with live music there are hardly enough people that just randomly want to hear new music, so its up to you, again, to lay that foundation and engage music fans, so your promotions and the promoter or venues’ will be relevant. Sure if you have been in other established bands you can cherry pick some fans and friends to start, but only if you reach out to them directly. Why would you think that the small amount of people that will come because its you, is in the network of the promoter or venue you book with? That’s kind of the point, everyone brings their networks together for a night of kick-ass-ery, where all can share new fans and have a nice crowd to play in front of. Without music and expecting others to find your fans can only do so much for you guys as a band and makes everyone’s job harder to do, including yours.
One big issue is bands thinking they can use local show money to pay for the world. You and I both know there isn’t much money to be made with local music, and how many times have you gotten less than a hundo or even nothing due to a shitty lazy band, venue or promoter (8 years in, you think I’m perfect?)? Sure there are bursts of solid paying gigs but again most are under $100 and then most bands use that for their bar tab. So using your current jobs to cover those initial costs is key at the local level. Don’t think you have to go out and record a full length epic album. You can start with a single or a 3 song EP. Share the costs with all band members, and get that it handled. When you realize that when you draw 50+ people at a show only holding 250-300, and overwhelm that place with your people and music, great things happen. But you have to have a strong structure in place to make all that happen.
The music industry has completely changed from 15 years ago, and you really do not need a publishing label anymore, you can be your own, and own your own, be an owner, owning the owned. First and foremost you should create a business for your band to start writing off those pesky expenses and begin that foundation to eventually get you all on a payroll system. So create a name, and head down to your local business licensing office to get the info to make it happen. Ideally you want to be able to publish your work, and any side projects your band mates might have down the road, owning your rights to what you created. Educating yourself now will help you when you work on things like distribution deals and sponsorships or get enough sales and such to pay for management, PR & marketing, booking, etc. Once you are a business and recorded some music. Register it with a performing rights group like BMI or ASCAP both as your publishing business and have each members join as song writers and any other titles (producer, performer, etc) they have. This will ensure that when you release it on digital sites and radio, you will get your royalties. Please don’t focus on how much one site pays out opposed to the other like that Cake asshole (who if you looked at all the royalties made at other sites and sales they do pretty fucking well for a band who is still sucking money from an album 20 years ago, and hey that could be you, just don’t be a whiny bitch because a site with low amounts of advertisements doesn’t pay thousands out just because you feel it should), look at each site as an opportunity to reach potential fans. Fans that will buy merch, physical cds and tickets to your shows when they hit down, and if you get some small portion of a cent per play and a fan for doing nothing than just submitting it, those are the little things that will get you on your way to being a band who is self sufficient and profitable.
If you are an established band that hasn’t gotten all your older music published, do so on your new publishing label, having your entire catalog is great for fans, and shows people like me that you are progressing as artists, as well as how often you create new work. You never know, an older track might pick up interest and you can re-record it on a new release and really push it. Keep your older shirt designs and create an online one-off merch store like with Reverbnation or Zazzle. That’s another tool that can generate income without the hassle of sending out shirts and printings them yourselves. So older material, merch, online distribution, check.
Other basic things a band needs to do is have a consistent presence online and in your local scene. Use hootsuite or other social scheduling sites to keep your status updated while you work or sleep or eventually tour. Takes the load off so you can focus on getting practice in, create new tunes and having your concerts and band listed on all the social sites you can. Allow streaming of your music on sites like Purevolume and Reverbnation and maybe even use one of those to give away a free track for being a fan or winning an email contest. Even if its just a handful of people, its all apart of the big picture. Fans from here and there make everywhere, and you want to take any and all fans interested in your music. Oh yeah start an emailing list. Sites like Reverbnation allow up to a few hundred for free, and then start to build it with fans from each show by having a clipboard sign up sheet and someone to encourage sign ups. Add sign up links to your status scheduling on hootsuite, and do weekly or bi-weekly emails depending on your announcements and show schedule. Being consistent with these simple promotion acts are vital in a world full of music, vying for ears. On the streets look at the old school approach. Printing up some general info fliers about your band, links, etc and getting them in any place that allows fliers, getting at the venues you are playing or that hosts your style of music, and CD-Rs do great to spread the word. Having those on your band members at all times leaves you ready to reach a potential fan at any time. Obviously doing it for the shows you play is good too, but I personally think it should all be about long term promo, and a general flier or a business card can do more good than a dated poster. But use the show fliers and web fliers too, especially on the rare occasion a venue or promoter provides them and you don’t have to print your own.
Now doing all this, and after working so hard for so long on creating the music you are proud to push, this still doesn’t ensure a crowd, nor entitle you to relax. Remember this business is always up hill and the more you slack and miss opportunities, or slow down, its that much harder to get back where you were if you were gaining momentum. So even if you are not playing shows or even taking a few weeks or months off from the band, you should still be using the tools to keep your current fan base and friends engaged and if you listened you would be potentially making funds from your music and merch sales while you are taking that break. Taking time off is great to recharge and get some more motivation for the next round of shows, recording or creating. But take that time once a week or so to update your hootsuite or other scheduling site, your emailing list and it will go along way to reinforce your hard work, and keep your music in the ears of your current and future fans to enjoy.
Lets circle back to playing gigs. Now at first play as much as you can around town for 2-3 months. Find the bands you want to play with, the venues you can work with and work with as many different show structures like age and payout as possible to find what enables you to be more successful with your efforts. Now there are tons of types of shows from walk up free ones, cover charge, advance tickets, advance tickets your band has to sell, and the dreaded pay to play. Now I know the difference between all of those and your entire band needs to know as well. Not every ticket based show with a local is pay to play, and if your band doesn’t want to move tickets to ensure your fans represent and support you on a large stage, with a known act or for a battle/showcase and to separate yourselves knowing exactly what you can bring to the table, that’s fine. There are plenty of options at all levels to work with. Well, what if you are in a place like Las Vegas that has only large concert halls or all ages or one-two small club options? Know your town. If you are a bunch of under 21 peoples, you have to stick it out with what you have. This is where you can be creative. Eagles and Knights Halls, Community Centers, Churches, and special events like Las Vegas’ First Friday are perfect ways to get your music heard by new people. If you rotate your shows from a national act or large venue to a small club and then a unique one, it will keep your fan base growing, your band more productive on shows that really need draw, and most importantly your music will be heard and you will be in constant positions to network with different people. Don’t forget the pressures of having to be the drawing band. So once you get that 2-3 month of small shows out of the way, space your shows out at least 3 weeks apart locally. This is where you are going to have to turn down gigs, and even turn down some better gigs, especially if you already have one. Trust me turning down a gig isn’t that bad compared to a lackluster draw from playing out too much and for too many venues around the same time. Again if you want to fuck with the people opening the doors for your band, refer to the first paragraph on top. Sure, if you stick to 200 and under rooms with no touring bands or overhead costs on the shows, you can play weekly, but again its up to you, and you limit your appeal and ultimately your draw. Mix in playing bigger and more impact-full shows with hundreds and hundreds or people and put actual effort into it or keep forcing those bar and restaurant shows with 50-150 people (with 4-7 bands on the bill mind you to gather that 50-150 people) and where most of those people are usually there just to get drunk or laid, not to hear the music or discover new talent. Play more concerts, less shows. Say what now? So rotate – big show, little show, showcases/special events, spacing it out to allow breathing room and proper promotion and not to overwhelm your life, as you all have day jobs, and some have families that they have to prioritize for. I always think you should have your local scene dominated before you hit the road. If you are able to play with national acts, large venues, and pack smaller places regularly, then its time to start using that to get on the road. But for now, just dominate your local scene, and let me just say 30 people at a show to see your band isn’t really shit. Sure the bar will love the drinkers, but if you take that to a concert hall or a real production event, you are just wasting your time and everyone else involved. Be that band that draws more than the headliner, or the touring band opens up for because you took advantage of all the promotional tools and the fact you live and work in the city you are performing in. Or not, and leach of others hard work. You think practice brings fans to concerts? You think just posting on a page draws eyes and ears? No you have to present it to them often, to new people often, and no one should be working harder for you and your band than you and your band.
But whats awesome that if you work harder on getting your music heard beyond the live stage, and use your music to promote instead of another band’s name on the flier, that’s what will make that foundation of fans, experience and income to become that solid structure that you can make your music safely inside of and thrive with. Or you can keep bitching, expecting from others what you wont do yourselves, and then ultimately failing because you are not seeing the whole picture. There’s always more to learn and always more to do, and its all up to you how far you want to take your music. No one owes you a damn thing for creating your passion, but you owe it to yourself to share that passion and put your self in position to earn a living off it.
Be Smart Be Safe Be Seen. I mean heard. Here we go: Be Smart Be Seen Be Heard.