Got to start somewhere…
Whether it is just for your own benefit as a hobby, or for dreams of worldwide stardom, playing your own music to an appreciative audience can be one of the most rewarding experiences available. Quite often people find themselves wondering where to start with an originals band, or over look key points which will greatly improve their chances of success. Now we are not offering to make you famous, however we’re hoping that with this guide you will be able to make your way through this musical minefield.
A beginners guide to gigging
So you’ve got your set together and have practiced enough that you think your ready for your first gig, now to begin your journey to musical stardom. Now for anyone embarking on a career in the music industry you should be aware that it is not the most hospitable of industries to work in. Unfortunately there are a lot of people out there who will take advantage of new bands in an attempt to make quick easy money at your expense. However we are hoping to give you some advice so you can side step these individuals.
Firstly ‘Pay to Play’ venues should be avoided at all costs. A ‘Pay to Play’ venue works by asking you to purchase tickets from the promoter at full price, which you then need to go out and sell to your fans, friends and family to recoup the money. If you do not meet the quota of tickets they want you to sell, not only will you not get the money back for tickets you didn’t sell, in some instances you may even be removed from the line up. This breeds an industry where there is everything for an artist to lose, with minimal risk to the promoter. You will find in particular they will target new bands that are keen to get their first gig, but don’t worry, there are other venues out there that do not require you pay money up front to play.
If a promoter truly believes in your music, they will be willing to put you on a line up without a guarantee of ticket sales, not only that, it should be a promoter’s responsibility to promote your event and help draw in a crowd. If you see no posters advertising that you are playing, ask yourself if this is the sort of venue you want to be playing and if it will help create good exposure for your band.
Another area we would recommend you steer clear of are Battle of the Bands competitions. A lot of acts starting out will take any opportunity to perform, and although it is good to be keen to show off your art, your time can be better spent investing in areas that will help your band. Music should never be a battle, and the competitions that put acts up against each other don’t really help, you effectively end up with a room full of groups of people who aren’t really there to listen to you and will only cheer when the act they came down to support is playing.
The end result of these competitions is never how good you were as an act, but how many of your friends you could get through the door to cheer for you, great for the promoter (they just sold lots of tickets), not so good for you in building up a fan base.
Also be aware of the ‘Industry A&R types’ who appear at the grand finals of these events, claiming that you are the next big thing and that you should chat over a few drinks (which you’re paying for!) Usually these people are just an intern at a local label who has been told they can get a cheap night out. If anyone is truly interested in your band, make sure they are paying the bar tab, not you!
Another area where bands make a mistake is repeatedly playing the same venue or area. Although it may seem easy to get a slot playing at your local club, you will find that over time your fans don’t want to see you every week and soon lose interest. It’s far more beneficial for a band to play just one show a month in their local area, then spend the rest of the time playing other towns and cities where you don’t already have an established fan base. Not only does this mean that your fan base will grow, but also when you have an important event in your area (for instance an A&R agent wants to see a show) you will be able to rely on your local fans to make an appearance, as you haven’t bombarded them with the same show every week that month!
These few points are only the tip of the ice berg, we will be covering in more depth the best ways to go about choosing your next gig and ways to maximize your bands exposure.
Image isn’t everything, but it helps!
We would all like to live in a world where musical ability spoke for itself and nothing else really mattered, sadly however, this isn't the case with the music industry. People often under estimate the value of having a band image, not only does it make your band look like a unit, it also helps aid your listeners (who may see you in a magazine) by giving them an impression of what sort of music you play. If you look at some of your favourite artists, you’ll notice that a lot of thought has gone into their appearance, at the end of the day you are marketing yourself as a product, would you buy a chocolate bar you had never tried if the packaging looked terrible? Probably not.
Now we’re not saying that you should come up with a gimmick or be forced to wear something you’re not comfortable with, but if you're a folk band and your guitarist is wearing an old Metallica t-shirt they got from a gig five years ago, it just screams “ We’re an amateur band, don’t bother to take us seriously.”
Promotion is key
An often over looked factor with many starting bands is having good promotional material. You may have practiced your set till it is note perfect, however it’s unlikely that many promoters will book you if they have never heard you play. Luckily the days of having to spend at fortune on a recording studio have long gone, software programs such as Logic and Cubase can be purchased at a relatively low price that allow you to make your own demos. Alternatively if you don’t feel you can produce a record yourself, get in touch with local colleges and universities that run music courses, quite often these places are looking for bands to record so the students can get experience recording.
Another great promotional tool is a music video, as it lets people see what they are to expect if they book your band. Check out our other blog by Dan Baxter on how to make a promo video.
You should also consider having your own website, it doesn’t have to be anything flashy or expensive, Wordpress and Moonfruit let you create websites for next to nothing. Having a website will let you keep your fans up to date with your upcoming shows, musical releases and any other useful information people need to know about your band.
Social Media is your friend
Social media is changing the way people interact in the modern world, and with the right attitude it can be the prefect tool for any up and coming band. In the past the only way for an act to receive proper exposure would be through TV and radio promotion, which most of the time required the backing of a record label. Nowadays, with the help of Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and YouTube, artists can reach out to their fans without management backing. You should make your posts interesting and engage with your followers, a simple reply to a fan post will not only make their day, but it will in turn help spread the word about your band, remember, these are the people that are going to be buying tickets to your shows and any music you release.
The music industry is a difficult industry to crack, it can be many years before a band may get noticed, recently successful electro-indie band ‘The 1975’ have been performing shows for over a decade, yet have only started making waves.
Although everyone hopes for overnight success, in the meantime, you need to think about how you are going to fund all your touring, recording and general day-to-day expenses, this is where merchandise becomes important. You should always have at least some form of recording that fans can take away, after all, it’s about getting your music out to as many people as possible. T-Shirts, key rings and stickers are also good items of merchandise to have available and can help generate much needed revenue.
If you are going to be performing original material regularly, it is worth signing up with the various royalty companies. Every venue in the UK should be licensed to hold live music, and so, there is potential for money to be generated from your performance. Also whenever your music is played on the radio, in bars or restaurants it all generates some sort of royalty (even if it’s only a small one). Each country has it’s own governing body, in the UK, PPL (Phonographic Performance Ltd) and PRS (Performing Rights Society) should be your main one’s to consider. In the US, BMI (Broadcast Music Inc), ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) and SESAC (Society of European Stage Authors and Composers) are the main contenders.
We will be covering royalties in greater detail in the future, so stay tuned for our future blogs.
We wish you the best of luck on your musical journey and we hope this first part of the musician series has been beneficial to you. Stay tuned for our future blogs on other music industry topics, if you have any questions feel free to get in touch with us on our twitter or facebook