We all believe that success in the music industry should be based on musical skill of some sort, whether that's songwriting, technical playing prowess, or some other talent. But unfortunately the industry has been taken over by businessmen who have their sights set on one goal... profit.
This means that these record executives, A&R scouts, and anyone else looking to turn a buck or two doesn't care about how good you play. They care about if you can generate some cold, hard cash. These days, artists aren't even getting signed until they can prove their own worth by getting out there and selling mixtapes, doing shows, slanging merchandise, etc.
It's not that they want to see hustle. They want to know before hand if you're marketable or not. And it's your job to prove that you are.
What we're going to discuss today is 10 tips that should cover the range of activities you should be doing to get out there and get noticed. There's no "shoulds" and "woulds" and all these excuses that the skilled and unpaid musicians talk about. Either you get out there and carve your own path or you sit at home and get bitter. Build your empire starting now.
It's weird. Some industries are moving towards increased specialization. Even musicians are only expected to play one instrument. But musicians are also expected to be entrepreneurs, which means they have to wear every hat, from artist to manager, public relations expert, marketer, and even accountant.
It sounds like a bigger task than it is, and to show how simple it is (the hard part is sticking to it!) we've busted up the basics into 10 easy to implement steps. Chances are you have a lot of it covered already. Let's not waste time...
There is zero point in doing any networking with industry professionals if you can't send them home with a demo of your music. There are three fundamental steps to having a proper demo ready to hand out:
Don't just slap the first three diddies you come up with on a burnt CDR at home and write your band name and phone number on it with a marker. Write a ton of songs. You will need material anyways so it's not a waste. You aren't going discard what you don't use. Make sure you write a pop song, as much as you hate it, and then two others at least that let you flex some skill as well. Include the three best options and that's it. If you throw too much at someone, you'll overwhelm them. Professionals can spare 5 minutes, but not 30.
Pro-Tip: If you want to get gung-ho (and you should), go ahead and put 6 tracks on there and call it your first EP. If you strike it big, you'll own the masters and can re-release it and make crazy profit. This is what Steve Vai did and he's cleared an extra million at least off of his early records.
If you have a band member or friend who has the gear and can record and mix, then that works. Otherwise you need to hit a real studio. No garage band, tape recorder nonsense is going to cut it. These tracks need to sound amazing. Go get a day job and save up for this if you have to, but take no shortcuts. Presentation is everything. Have the songs mixed and mastered by a professional (not a $10 per song guy you found on some obscure forum).
Get a graphic designer to create album artwork (make sure they use templates provided by whichever CD press you're going to use, like Discmakers have for instance, so they print properly. Then go ahead and commit to a short-run pressing of at least 300 copies. It's not that much more expensive than 100 copies because the price per unit drops. Use jackets instead of jewel cases to save cash.
Don't give these to your friends and family. I mean sure, 5 copies isn't hurting you, but save them for when you're out and about at concerts and music stores and give them to the top dogs in charge. Make sure you have face-to-face interaction. Don't trust someone else to pass it off to the right person. Don't waste your demo discs. Cast a wide net, but don't be wasteful and hopeful either.
Don't waste your time joining a cover band. If you rock out an amazing concert doing covers of some famous band, the crowd isn't going to stop off at your merchandise table and pick up your album. They are going to go to the store and buy the album of the band you just covered. Don't spend your time, money, and effort building someone else's brand. It's idiotic. I don't care if it's easier to get gigs this way.
Now, I'm not saying not to take advantage of cover songs and remixes. Create those and use them online to funnel fans towards your originals. This is a great method for YouTube, especially if you can film quality videos to go along with the songs. Always invite users to view your original songs on YouTube and visit your website. This is also a great way to gain visibility in terms of being seen by talent scouts. But don't pull this crap in person. It's totally different and you won't be taken seriously.
Don't go move to Nashville or New York and end up a waiter or waitress who can't spend the time or money to gig and record because you can't afford to live. Start small, wherever you are and corner that market. It's far better to be a big fish in a small pond, even if you're smaller than all of the other fish in the bigger pond. It's all about visibility and proving that you're marketable. By gaining a solid fanbase at home, you're proving that. Take over your city with nightly gigs, posters everywhere, stickers everywhere, everyone talking about you.
Pro-Tip: Do a journalist's job for them. Call your local newspaper and invite them to interview you. They will eat it up and give you a full page spread most likely. Make their life easy and they will reward you. Leverage this coverage to get into other newspapers and then magazines. Print media looks far more official than website interviews, but take those too!
Go ahead and restock on your demo / EP. Print up shirts, stickers, and posters. It doesn't even matter if you sell them. Expect to take a loss. This is all about appearance and marketing. Every time you play a show, have a buddy (pay them!) man the merchandise table. It looks good. You want to appear like you care a lot about your business. You aren't just another goofy musician. You're a businessman and that's who other businessmen want to invest in. You've got your game together.
Did someone buy your CD? Give them 5 stickers too. Did they buy a shirt? Give them 10 stickers! Guess what happens with those stickers? They get stuck everywhere and create "brand impressions." The more people see your logo and sticker, the higher chance you have of turning them into a fan. Put your website address on there too.
Whether you're solo or in a band, you need to have a branded image. First and foremost, you need a band or stage name that doesn't suck. Then you need a readable logo created, because you're going to use this everywhere for the rest of your career. Get it right the first time and never change it (because that defeats the purpose of repeated visual impressions).
Design your look. Remember, this isn't about looking cool. It's about looking memorable. I'm not saying you have to wear some costume everywhere you go. Only when you perform and in your photoshoots. Make sure you stand out. You know how all heavy metal bands dress the same? Then you know how Slipknot wears masks? Boom, that's who you want to be. You want to be the Insane Clown Posse, that dude from Limp Bizkit, Marylin Manson, etc. Create a visual dimension to your music!
Here's a real winner. Get business cards and put your band name on there and your website. Make sure everyone and their mother knows they can get on there and download your demo or EP for free! Instead of handing out your printed CD's to knuckleheads, just pass out the cards and order them by the thousands. You want those things to be all over your town, circulating non-stop. Build your army of fans this way. On the demo download page, ask the visitors to share it on the popular social networks.
I mentioned that you'd be using your logo everywhere, right? Not only on the demo, stickers, and shirt... You're going to put this online all over the place.
Join tons of music forums and create profiles using your logo as your avatar. Post and be active. Join Soundcloud and share your music there. Create your Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. Join all of the social networks and find all of your friends on there, then make new ones. Have a presence and be active. Take advantage of YouTube in the way we mentioned above.
Remember your demo's? Offer to send them to webmasters that review albums (we don't at Ledger Note, unfortunately). Offer to let those goofy YouTube video creators use your music in their videos as background music. Even send them instrumentals without the vocals if needed. The goal is to get them to mention you or at least link to you in the description. People will ask in the comments, "Who's music is that?" and so forth. Get creative and invent more ways to spread your brand around online.
You need to have a press kit on your website where it's easy to find. If some label is shopping around and lands on your site, you'll never have a clue. But you want them to find what they need so they can feel you out and contact you later if they decide to sign you.
Your press kit needs a short biography, a few professional photoshoot images, a link to your demo, a list of the highest profile shows you've done including artists you've opened for or collaborated with. Only list the famous people, not the random nobody you hooked up with on some forum. Make sure to mention when you were founded, the total number of shows you've done since then, show that you have your logo, shirts, stickers, posters, and all of that. You want to come off as professional as possible.
Make sure there's a PDF version that's downloadable and printable.
And most importantly, make sure you have contact information on there, including a phone number!
Look. These businessmen are sharks looking for fish to eat. Bar and pub owners, record label owners, all of them. They will tell you, "Sure you can play, sure you can open for my band. I can't pay you but think about all of the exposure you'll be getting." Nope, sorry. It's extremely disrespectful to ask anyone to work for free. That's not how reality works, unless you're stupid enough to do it. So many artists are desperate that they ruin their chances of success.
It's always the guys who already have money that want you to work for free.
If you work for free for someone, that's it. You just burnt the bridge. They will NEVER pay you in the future. By telling them you don't work for free, you'll be gaining their respect and standing out from others. Later when they are in a pinch, you'll get the invite you want.
The only exception is if you get the chance to open for someone that's tiers above you. Like, by some miracle everyone cancels and Neil Diamond is playing in town and has to find an opening act RIGHT NOW. Take that gig and do it for free. Your hometown fans will have no clue you weren't paid. They'll think you're amazing for getting the gig. And you can put that on your press kit. "Yep, we played with (not opened for) Neil Diamond for a 50,000 count sold-out crowd." Use the opportunity to your advantage and choose your words carefully.
If you agree to something, there's no backing out. Always show up early and stay late. Never no-show and never cancel unless there's an absolutely legit reason. Go the extra mile to become buddies. Did you play at a bar until 3 AM and shut the place down? While the owner is there cleaning up with his crew, lend a helping hand. Become friends and earn favors. Just never be the guy or band that screwed someone over.
Notice I'm not saying "don't lose faith." You will. Don't become attached to ideas either. I'm saying to not lose the branding momentum you're building. Take Kid Rock for instance. He started off as a typical rapper in Detroit. It wasn't working so he switched the game up and became this grimey southern rock pop dude. And then he hit it big.
You know what he didn't do? He didn't change his band name, because that would mean he just lost his entire history and branding efforts he worked hard for. Always let momentum build. Never slow down. Marketing on this level takes time to accumulate, spread, and show it's impact. It's like planting a seed and waiting for it to sprout.
Eventually that snowball will catch up to you and opportunity will be knocking at YOUR door. That's when saying "no" becomes a power play. That's when you can start negotiating. Until then, know your place and be humble, but never let yourself be taken advantage of.
Hang in there and do these 10 things, and you'll be well on your way to establishing a solid fan base. After that, it's always the same 10 steps just at higher levels. Instead of getting a newspaper interview, you're doing a 1.5 minute version of your song on David Letterman's show. Hang in there and work hard!