I thought about writing this post on band promotion because I often hear new bands and struggling musicians wishing they got more paying gigs. Getting a paying gig is good, I mean… you spend a lot of time, energy and even money on getting your act together.. rehearsing, traveling to rehearsals and gigs (gas can be a pain if you travel by car), buying your gear, etc. But getting paid gigs for new acts can be very difficult.
While I believe it is great to get paid, I don’t mean to say you should think of a band as a business. What I am saying is, it would be practical to at least have your costs covered.
Of course, that would depend on you and your reasons why you are in a band in the first place.
Some bands want to play; love to play; feel that playing and getting their music out there is the best compensation there is.. and the return of their investment in effort, time and money is that opportunity to get up there and PLAY. There are also others who work towards a long term goal like building their own following and getting their music across to them.
The reasons why you do it, pretty much sums it up.
But, if you wanted to get paying gigs, here are a few things you can do.
1. Work on Your Product
Once in a while I come across a client who struggles with promoting their product or service, and put in a lot of effort only to get minimal results. The main reason is, they have not been able to accurately develop, define and refine their product, which is why aggressively promoting something mediocre will always yield mediocre results.
So what is your product? The band, and your music. The key question is how do you set yourself apart from the rest. What is it you do that is unique, or what is it that you can do better than everybody else?
“What do you want people to remember and LIKE you for?”
2. Define Your Music/Repertoire
Repertoire defines what type of band you are. It also defines who your audience is. I believe writing and recording original material is great because by having your own music you create an asset that others do not have. It is that that final sum of a collaborative creative effort that brands your band. BUT, does not guarantee success, since for your band to be successfully recognized for your music, you would first need to attract an audience that gets to hear and appreciate it.
On the same note, being a cover band does not mean you cannot get paying gigs. There are a lot of cover bands that get paid well for small bar gigs or even major events.
What it comes down to is the novelty of the band, and your draw. Novelty is that something about you that people will want to come see; and your draw is the size of the crowd you can gather at your gigs.
3. Market Yourself
You would need to sell yourself to people who you believe would appreciate your band and what you have to offer. There are basically two types of people you want to market to; there are the people who you want coming to your gigs and appreciating your music, and the people who are in a position to hire you for gigs.
This can actually be the classic “the chicken or the egg scenario”, where you actually grow your audience and get more exposure by being playing more gigs, but to get more gigs you got to get invited or hired by people who have a hand in making gigs happen.
But it need not be complicated. You just have to do both at the same time.
Networking is key. The more people you get to meet, the more contacts you establish, the closer you get to your goal.
Ways to Network.
a. Use the Internet, put up a website that tells people about you and your music. Use social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace to build a network. Use media sites like YouTube, MetaCafe and DailyMotion to spread your music and build a list of followers/subscribers.
Always mention these sites during gigs; when you talk to other people about your gigs, during shows, and include them on printed materials such as stage back drops, fliers, calling cards, etc.
Make people WANT to go to your site by offering them some sort of benefit they get by going, for instance.. you can tell them that they can listen to a live-stream of your music on your site, download your music from your site (if you allow), or tell them you give away free merchandise like shirts on occasion and mechanics on how to get free stuff are on your website.
b. Print business cards, or calling cards. That way you are able to hand people you meet something that they can refer to when they need to contact you or if they refer you to other people who might need you for gigs. A business card says a lot of things about you, it pretty much says, you mean business, you got it together, and your can be relied upon to deliver if contacted for a gig. It creates a good impression about your band.
c. Do quick sets at small parties that you are already there to attend in the first place. Parties or gatherings are a great way to build up a following. This grassroots approach can lead to viral promotion. Never underestimate the power of word of mouth. If you know that a friend is putting together a party, offer to do a few songs. Let’s face it, being in a band is cool, that may be one of the top reasons you even started one.. so don’t wait for an opportunity to play fall right on your lap, you create your opportunities.
d. If you are not that established, volunteer to front for other bands who are friends of yours AND are established. Established bands typically have a huge following, grab the chance to get yourself in front of that audience, their audience. You might not get paid for this, but it is an investment that will yield long term benefits. Through this opportunity, you show people what you can do, tell people about your website or where you are online, you can hand out business cards and talk with people in the audience or show promoters.
e. Find radio stations that play material from unsigned bands. Getting your music played on a radio station is one of the most difficult things to get done. You will be turned down by a few, but you cannot let that setback stop you from being persistent and trying them again later or trying to find other stations that will play your music. If you are in college, get your music on your campus radio station, if your university has one. That said, I personally found it a lot easier to market your band and network when in college, it was so easy because in college you meet a lot of new people all the time, and get invited to a lot of parties and events.
If your music does get airplay and attention, your band WILL get attention.
4. Management / Representation
You have to have a manager. An authority figure who you trust and count on to work for nothing less than the success and well being of the band.
A manager should be a tenacious businessman. He is a negotiator, understands marketing, and most importantly he believes in the product he is entrusted with. His main goal is to sustain and develop further the product he manages.
Having a manager can have many advantages, and one of the things I see managers being able to do that bands that manage themselves cannot, is be objective. The manager sees something that individual members in a band do not see, this is especially true when some members of the band develop egos that cloud their judgment. Members have a tendency to get tunnel vision and might not respond well to other people’s opinions that may not be flattering, a manager knows if criticisms are valid and take these not emotionally but objectively.
A manager is both a member of the group and outsider; a member because he works with the group to achieve their goals. He is an outsider who can make rational decisions and even be critical of the group if it fails to deliver what their audience expects.
Musicians can sometimes be the most stubborn of people, and the least receptive to criticism, and a trusted opinion from an authority figure can help the band work to better the product. Remember that the manager is above all a businessman, and he runs the band because it is “profitable”… the easier to market a band, the more money it makes, the more money the manager makes as well.
Managers should also be very aggressive and persistent, a friend of mine (a manager for a huge act) once told me a story about how she approached bar after bar only to get denied each and every time and was given all sorts of reasons and excuses. She never gave up, and did not give up on her band… today that band is a major recording artist… and actually they have been big for some time now.
So, if you are a new band that needs to promote yourself and get more gigs, and hopefully paying gigs…
- you have to be a band that can draw an audience
- you have the ability to make people who catch your gigs, like you or your music enough to want to be in touch with you so they know where to go for your next gig
- you have to build your reputation and brand yourself and your music
- you have be aggressive and get gigs and not simply wait for them, and if you are able to successfully do this and your band becomes successful, the offers will actually start coming to you
- you have to have someone.. a manager, who takes care of business and does this well, so that you are left to do what you do best which is put on a good show or create music that your audience appreciates.. as a performer it might be best to not worry about anything and let the manager do that worrying.. all you need to think about or focus on is having a good show or having a good time on stage.