7 Crucial Tips to Surviving the Unsigned Music Scene
If youâ??ve read the first article with the most useful and unspoken professionalisms to help your band progress to the next level on the live performance scene, then hopefully you will have taken the advice into account and already begun the processes that are guaranteed to increase your legitimacy as artists in the live circuit. If you havenâ??t, then please check the blogs on this website before continuing on. Now, welcome to the encore, Part 2 of 7 Crucial Tips to Surviving the Unsigned Music Scene
1. The Management
Before signing a record deal it is absolutely mandatory, in all legitimate cases, for the band/artist to have an employed manager to oversee the signatory process and to be the primary link for communication between the artists and the record label. Although it may feel instinctive to have a friend perform the role of manager under the guidance of the band itself, this is a career move that is almost guaranteed to end in tragedy. Should the label have any suspicion that the manager is working under the direct control of the band itself, they will immediately demand his/her dismissal and place your band under the wing of a label-appointed band manager, who will, without any shadow of a doubt, be looking out for the interests of the label primarily and those of the artists at a distant second.
It is imperative then, that the manager[s] you appoint at least appear to be working for the band through his/her own initiative and with their own motives in mind. They should be working under their own company name and, even if you are their only act, you should have an independent contract written up (at the managerâ??s expense) and signed between them and yourselves as individual artists working as a collective. This contract would precede and thus, over-rule, any contract with the band that should follow, and any company or organisation that acts in a way that intentionally tries to make you break or dishonour that agreement would be acting unlawfully. Age is a major consideration when investigating how genuine a manager is; ensure that the people you employ are of a professional age with considerable, confirmable experience within the music industry.
2. behind the Lensâ?¦
Image, style, scene and the fashion that is inevitably tied with these concepts are unavoidable when trying to make a successful career as performance artists of any kind. These ideas are, unfortunately for most, as imperative as the equipment that you use on stage and will involve a level of sacrifice when finally put into practice; so to, is the world of band photography and video footage. If you want to create a presence for yourselves as artists, especially at a beginner/pre-professional level than you will need to ensure that you have an iconic image of the band for use in advertising such as online profiles/ gig flyers and posters for merchandise.
So, what are the key things to consider when booking the bands first photo-shoots? Most people believe that the most important to take into account are;
Likeness to genre
While these are important things to consider, the most important and forgotten thing to take into account when thinking about your first band photo-shoot is actually who is taking the photo! Almost every band will employ the cheapest and most talented amateur photographer available and will come out with a beautiful, labour-crafted image of their band that truly represents them, but who will see this image after it is produced in the 6 months that follow until it becomes out of date and unsynchronised with the ideals and image of your band or your genre? The potential audience for this painstakingly achieved and perfectly captured moment of the band is only as far as the reach of the band itself, as the beauty and artistic integrity of band photography is incredibly under-rated and unconsidered in the photography world, and the work is thus unlikely to be included in the photographerâ??s main portfolio. This move then, is indeed an inexpensive bullet in the foot that almost every musical-outfit takes at some point at the beginning stages of their career.
The alternative is to raise the money to employ the services of the most well-known and successful professional photographer known to work with bands of your artistsâ?? genre. Though this may seem like a huge expense for something that seems relatively unimportant in the music world, it is a move that will definitely help the band along in becoming recognised in your musical niche. You will often be surprised at the affordability of the photographer snapping shots of your biggest influences and in the weeks that follow you working with them, you will have thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of likeminded individuals seeing your faces and band name on the photographers associated websites and online profiles/portfolio[s]. As this work will undoubtedly be of expert standard, it will be easily marketable and even exportable for profit as posters/ album artwork and/or as the eye-catching display picture that dominates your online profiles. This is an invaluable move that you will not regret, and every time you work with that photographer, the price for the photoâ??s, and the ensuing publicity, is likely to decrease every time, as long as you are professional and easy to work with.
*This concept is not exclusively effective for photography. The very same principal can be applied to almost any aspect of being in a band where a third party is involved in a creative process, from recording/ mixing/ mastering your album, album/merchandise artwork to who directs your music video. Though it may seem unfortunate, in the music industry, who is often of greater importance than what*
3. Pay to Play
There are an almost immeasurable number of illegal or just immoral band â??servicesâ?? that are trying to make money from providing very little and charging a lot of money for it. Promoters that demand you buy tickets in advance for your shows, Competitions that ask for a â??smallâ?? processing fees, online â??marketersâ?? who promise to increase your bands online presence for a one-time feeâ?¦ etc. These people are scum. They are to be ignored and immediately named and shamed. Once in a very long while, you will find a competition that might include a guarantee of television/radio time, or automatically raise your exposure by some other means or through your own initiative without you being required to â??winâ?? anything after payment. These rare exceptions and the future â??Buy-onâ? to a tour with an extremely famous band are the only cases where you should ever consider parting with money before you perform. You have worked too hard and too long to perfect your art, you should never have to pay for the privilege of performing it.
4. Winning without Winning
Battle of the Bands, these contests are often un-affectionately referred to as â??Battle of the Fansâ?? due to the inevitable triumph of the act that has made the (surprisingly inexpensive!) financial decision to employ a 50-seater coach to bring their own enthusiastic audience for the evening and are seldom judged based on performance alone. How then, are these and similar competitions to be profited from if you cannot afford for your hometown to accompany you to your performance? If you have followed the advice regarding Lights, Intro, Load-in/out, Merch Stand and Talking to Everyone! From the last article than your professionalism will have already narrowed the gap between yourselves and the band with the enormous vehicle parked outside with 50 of their closest friends on-board. If however, you still feel that you will almost certainly walk-away from the event without winning the prize on offer, here are a few tips to ensure you make the most out of your time and the performance.
Print flyers; very few bands bother to physically print anymore as so much of marketing is now committed to the inexpensive world of the internet. The reaction to physically printed free advertising is now bigger than it has ever been, try to ensure that nobody leaves the event that night without your flyer in-hand.
Cheap Badges; Button badges are extremely cheap to have printed and a huge favourite of live-music fans. Print a couple of hundred to sell at an extremely low price (10p UK / a quarter US) and they will be gone 10 minutes after you have loaded-out your equipment. This perpetuates advertising for as long as those bags/shoes/jackets possess your badge and slowly but surely generate huge curiosity about your band.
*You may be tempted to give the badges away for free to off-load them faster and achieve the same effect, be warned that something received without cost holds much less value to the owner than something they have spent even a small amount on. Charge something, be willing to be convinced to do otherwise*
Photograph/Video the show!; Even if you donâ??t win, the backs of the audience that the winning band has brought to the show will certainly look good on camera when they are stood in-front of you on stage.
Record your performance through the P.A; if the competition was worth entering in the first place then you will have already ensured that your live performance is at the top of its game. To record your performance through the P.A can be as simple as having an I-pod/I-Phone/Minidisk with a line-out and recording capabilities. Record your live performance through the P.A and if even one of the songs comes out 99% note-perfect, you have yourself a brand-new live recording, and if you do actually win the competition, then the recording should be good enough to sell as a â??Battle of the Bands 20–â?? EP!
â??Dropâ?? the prices of your merchandise for the performances; â??Special Battle of Bands Pricesâ? written up on your new price-list will almost definitely attract sales that would not have come about otherwise, even if the â??originalâ?? crossed-out prices are a little higher than they were the week before 😉
Follow these tips and you will find yourselves walking away from the event forgetting whether you actually won in the end or not.
5. Hometown Heroes
A band without a home is most often as successful as the proverbial chocolate teapot. Your home town is where your band must be able to guarantee a sell-out show. If the town/city that the members of your band live in has very little enthusiasm for music, or perhaps it is already inundated with bands that have the support of the local masses, then you may want to consider finding a town nearby that you can attach yourselves to and take-over. If you have an EP or album launch/ record label scout/ gig review/ live recording or any other performance with an ulterior motive then you need to know without any shadow of a doubt that you will have an energetic, excited crowd that will help you sing those choruses. Some ways of ensuring greater success in becoming â??hometown heroesâ? are:
Announcing, wherever possible, where you are from in your online profiles
Make gig prices cheaper for hometown shows
Set-up a â??street teamâ?? to help the band in exchange for free merchandise/gig entry
Title a song/album with something recognisable as a reference to your hometown
Poster/flyer/stencil and otherwise â??decorateâ?? your local area as much as possible
Do â??publicâ?? band practices every couple of weeks with no entry free
Try to set-up and run your own night at a local venue. This may sound like an awful lot of extra work, but if you have even a small degree of control over the music in your local area, then you can ensure that your presence (slightly) dominates it.
Attend local shows as much as possible, with flyers/CDâ??s in-hand.
Give music lessons to local beginner musicians, in a couple of years the bands that they establish will list you as one of their influencesâ?¦ An invaluable accolade and a good way of generating funds for your next tour.
It is far from the intentions of this author to seemingly promote artists lying to their audience or to encourage underhanded techniques to win over a minority of people. Instead, what I hope to imply is that people who attend local shows, and support artists in their own communities, deserved to be rewarded with equal dedication of the artists that those communities create.
An endorsement is the pro-bono service or supply of a product in exchange for the attachment of their company/brand to your musical outfit. These can come in innumerable shapes and sizes, including but not exclusive to:
â?¦or even vehicles!
Though it may seem like a massive improbability for a band to obtain a full pro-bono endorsement from any company at their beginning stages, you would be extremely surprised at the services in your local area that may be in need of the advertisement that your band provides. If your presence in your hometown is well established and you have nationwide tours booked than you present access to a market that might be otherwise unaffected by other forms of advertisement. Be aware of independent music stores, printers, clothing stores, local-based magazines/fanzines/websites/radio stations and especially of products that bands of your genre seem to be able to access support from.
Start small when pursuing endorsements; guitar strings/drum skins/sticks and small clothing companies etc. The expense saved on items like these and the credibility that you achieve by attaching yourself to these companies will begin a butterfly effect that may lead to larger endorsements. When you are ready to pursue PRS/Trace Elliot/MTV or Monster Energy Drink, be sure to make the most out of your approach by including the following in your presentationâ?¦
Video; including decals/stickers/the product/product logo/yourself performing and using the product and keep it around 2m: 30s long, the same as a TV commercial. If the production value is high enough you may be surprised to find the company wish you use it on their website or even as an actual commercial.
EPK [Electronic Press Kit]
Be careful when choosing who you decide to attach yourself to creatively, a company that makes inferior products or is known to betray costumer trust is likely to do more harm than good.
7. Unplugged Alternative
Though your band may rock harder than any that hath cometh before, you may find yourself under great professional strain if your requirements automatically include a full backline to perform. You may also find that booking a full tour may be extremely difficult. It is highly recommended that every band, no matter what genre, have a possible acoustic/unplugged alternative. You may even find that you have more bookings as an acoustic band than with the line-up and performance style that you find yourself most comfortable. The advantages of being able to perform without masses of equipment include:
Busking; should you find yourself with a day off, make a good hourly wage by performing songs out in the street acoustically. If youâ??re performing that evening, then busking out in the city centre near the venue is a great way to promote the event and generate a bigger crowd.
Playing cafÃ©s/bars/parks; what defines a great show is not the location, but the performance itself. You may find that people in cafÃ©s and pubs have more money to part with for merchandise than your average rock-club attendee.
Open Mic Nights; Great advertisement and networking opportunities
Inexpensive Recording; to work-out the costs of recording an acoustic version of your best song. Take the costs of the original recording, and divide by 20. An inexpensive and, [especially when live] an incomparable measure of musicianship.
Radio performance; should you be interviewed in a local/national radio station, the likelihood of you being able to perform with a full backline is rather nonexistent. If you are prepared with an acoustic version of one or more of your songs, you may find your airtime doubled.
â?¦ One more for luck! …
8. Time, the one they donâ??t want you to know!!!….
As a musician, you will see possibly hundreds of bands break-up/ take a hiatus/ retire and simply fade-out without ever truly establishing themselves beyond the borders of their friendship circles. These are the unavoidable tragedies of the local music scene, most often lost to University/Childbirth/Marriage/Mortgages and the other confines of real life. There is one thing that remains to be acknowledged in the music world, it is true for every industry in the world and truly guarantees that those who practice it become successful, professional full-time musicians.
If you practice twice a week, play your hometown every month, tour three times a year, make consistently better records and carry yourself in a professional manner and always treat your working colleagues with respect. You will become a success, in time. For some it may come in one year, for some it may take 10, but if you keep working, perfecting, promoting and acting like a professional. Then you will be a full-time musician. It truly is as simple as that, though the advice in these articles may help you on their way, as I hope it does, it is a matter of time and dedication.
Thank you for taking the time to read these articles. If you have any feedback, comments or old-fashioned abuse to reply with then please feel free to leave them in the â??commentsâ?? section of this website!
Sebastian Deery (Former band member/ singer / songwriter)
Image courtesy of Wikipedia