The unsigned music scene is one of the cruelest industries that one can subject themselves to as a career.
The hours can only be described as phenomenal, the expectation to perform acts of incredible fine motor precision and finesse immediately following and ensuing often backbreaking manual labor are unbelievably high, and worst of all the pay is usually, well, nonexistent. So WHY do we do it? As someone I know very well once replied to that very question in an interview with a popular rock magazine distributed in the United Kingdom some years ago.
â??My feet are blistered, the calluses on my hands are bleeding, Iâ??m hungry as hell and I smell like I died already, sometimes I ask myself â??Why?â?. When I get up on stage and the lights go down, I look at my band and out to the crowdâ?¦ And I donâ??t ask myself stupid questions anymore.â?
So if you are as determined as I used to be, even if a little less pretentious, then no-one will ever be able to convince you of anything other than this is who you are and what you are meant to do with your life. So, here are 7 lucky tips you donâ??t hear everyday that are guaranteed to help you on your way to becoming a successful local musician, and possibly even land that crucial recording/distribution/management contract.
1. Remember Names
In this day and age, the vast majority of your band’s bookings will be through Facebook/ Myspace/ Reverbnation or directly through email to your bands booking address. This means that the chances of you communicating in person with the person who is employing the services of your band for the evening are extremely slim to none at all, especially if youâ??re booking for a tour that crosses several different cities. Upon arrival at the venue, before loading in your equipment, find the promoter, sound guy and venue manager/owner (if possible), thank them for hiring/accommodating you and remember their names! Most bands performing that night wonâ??t bother, but if you ensure to thank them once again after the show and use their names when doing so, the first thing they will do is try to remember yours, and the next time they are booking a show of your bands genre, you will be one of the first to come into their minds.
2. Talk to Everybody
It can be difficult to make friends in such a competitive industry, everybody seems to be out for themselves and your competitors would far sooner see you break-up than see you advance beyond their level professionally. It is unimaginably common for bands to sit in opposite corners of the room with their selective entourage/support groups and make no attempt to network with the other artists. The same can almost always be said for the fans who have attended the show for the purposes of seeing only one of the acts, this is a problem that is universal in local/unsigned music scenes around the globe and can be an extremely difficult nut to crack. Before and after you have performed, every member of your outfit should be out in the crowd, networking/selling merchandise/handing out fliers or even just being friendly and breaking down the tiresome stereotype of the arrogant band member. The days of arrogance being cool are long gone, and will find you no more successful than the bands that never were. Talk to everybody, every show, every time.
3. Your Merch Stand is your Temple
If you are often in attendance at unsigned gigs, you will be familiar with the sight of a table in the corner of the room, with a closed box on top of it, labeled with a piece of A4 scrap paper that has â??MERCHâ? scrawled on it in black marker pen. Many bands and artists will spend months using this incredibly un-tempting marketing campaign and wonder why they havenâ??t sold any of the CDâ??s/T-shirts/Posters or button badges that sustain a band through the most difficult stages of their career. Invest in the following:
A powerful, but portable, desk lamp for high visibility
A mannequin to model your t-shirts
A large piece of wooden board to display prices/samples
Finally, itâ??s no good having a beautiful merch table without somebody attending it! Ideally someone outgoing and attractive to really help your sales!
4. â??Janeâ? Gets You Gigs
One of the scariest and most daunting tasks of being in a band on its way to the big-time is cold-calling venues in an attempt to secure a slot on your tour; a place to launch your latest album/EP or even just somewhere to play that isnâ??t a garage! The usual process when you finally manage to get through is to be given an email address to send your EPK (electronic press kit) or your latest tracks/videos/reviews, alternatively you will wait for what is usually an excessive amount of time to be put on to the in-house promoter, who will then give you the email addressâ?¦ Itâ??s a soul-destroying and impossibly infuriating task. Well, hereâ??s a tip that will guarantee you a 70% increase in the likelihood of you being able to confirm a date at that venue there and then, over the phone!
Instead of calling for yourself on behalf of your band, have a professional (20-30 year old) sounding woman with knowledge of your band and ideally the booking/touring/management process call â??on behalfâ?? of your band. This could be your girlfriend, your sister or even your mum! It may sound crazy at first, but we guarantee that having a professional sounding woman at the end of the phone will get you 5X the amount of shows from cold-calling that youâ??ve ever had. Try it.
5. Lights, Camera, Intro!
What does your stage show consist of?
30 minutes or as much as 2 hours of some of the most incredible unsigned music ever conceived on the planet? Then youâ??re off to the right start! That certainly wonâ??t keep even the most avid live-music fan bouncing for your entire set, you need to turn your show into something that the audience would expect to find on a stage 50 times larger than the one you are appearing on. How can this be achieved on an extremely small budget? 3 simple waysâ?¦
Lights: Fairy lights, rope lights, mini-strobe lights and even Christmas lights! They cost just a single or double digit sum of your local currency and when wrapped around the drum kit, amp heads and especially the lead vocal microphone stand, all of sudden you find yourself with something none of the other bands performing doâ?¦ Your own stage! See if you can makeshift a switch to a small strobe-light that can be activated on stage, now when you hit the crescendo of your performance, or even the finale, youâ??ll be amazed at the reaction you will receive with your own affordable lightshow!
Camera: Record every performance/practice/meeting/hang-out that you have. How do you expect to improve and understand your performance if youâ??ve never even seen it!? After 50 shows, whether you thought they were terrible or not, you will come out with a distribution-worthy live video, which will do incredible things for your performance and credibility as a band.
Intro!: Possibly the single most effective and inexpensive ways to increase the suspense and production value of your performance at any venue you can possibly perform at is to cheaply record or even download an intro track to play for the first minute of your bands performance. Some common choices are:
Metal Gear Solid
You get the idea, instead of wasting the first several minutes of your first song on trying to get the smokers and mingling-fans in from the outside or the bathroom, play an intro track through the P.A system (CD/Iphone/MP3 Player will work!) and increase the suspense of your performance massively!
6. The Musicians Union + PRS
If you are an unsigned musician in the UK and you donâ??t belong to both of these societies you might as well stop performing publicly. The Musicians Union and PRS are there to help ensure that you have a successful career, if you want to be taken seriously and be a professional, join both of these societies.
7. Have a Presence
Facebook, Myspace, Reverbnation, Purevolume, LastFM, Bebo, Tumblr, Twitter, Grooveshark and any other website that is available! If you can make a profile for your band on a website than make sure you have a presence there and use it to itâ??s absolute full potential!
Always create band profiles in the third person, itâ??s not pretentious, itâ??s professional.
Being in a band or even worse, a solo artist, is the hardest job in the world. There are no short-cuts and no easy ways to the top, but, if you follow these steps than we GUARANTEE the rate of your progression to rapidly increase in a noticeable way!
Please message us with feedback!
Sebastian Dreery 2012
(Former band member and singer, songwriter)
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net