Posted on AlterThePress.com in May 2011.
In the year 2011 there are endless ways to promote your band, both online and offline. For new and hungry bands, it can be an advantage as well as confusing and with some many options, naive band members may not know the right way on how to get their music heard.
Some put heavy emphasis on their online presence through social networking, blogs, video updates, free downloads etc. So much so you get the impression that some bands care more about getting more followers on Twitter, then they do about their music. Whilst others go down the old-fashion route of playing show after show after show, ever improving and perfecting their choice of profession.
Of course when your band reaches a certain level, you receive help from band managers, PR companies and if you’re lucky, even a record label. However for bands starting out it can be difficult to get noticed and to get to that level where you have others helping you.
With so many different methods for bands to promote and present themselves, what is the most ideal method? Can bands find a right balance between online and offline by themselves?
We asked various individuals within the music industry on various aspects of how bands can promote themselves the right way. The likes of Jimmie Deeghan (Every Avenue), Jesse Cannon, Kevin Douch (BSM Records) and more disussed in depth on various issues such as is merchandise a necessity? Are online free releases affective? and much more.
Is playing live still the most important way for bands to noticed in an age where social networking seems to be as influential?
Kevin Douch (Big Scary Monsters Recording): I think it really depends on what kind of music you play. For a punk band the live scene is still vital and maintaining a strong, regular presence can have a noticeably positive impact. For other bands, post-rock ones, as a random example, other means of promotion can work really well and constant touring isn’t always necessary.
Jesse Cannon (Record Producer/Musformation.com Editor): While there are bands who can get discovered and/or signed without touring, it is rare. If you want to take over the world you have to do it all and do it really well. If you get great tours, you need to stand out and be smart enough to know how to get people to sign up for your mailing list at your shows. Once you get them on your mailing list you then need to get them to like you on Facebook or follow you on Twitter/Ping/Tumblr or whatever the new flavor of the week is. You then need to use those social network tools to get people out to your next show so that your audience keeps growing. While bands may have gotten popular without one thing or another in the past in the past…. I think aside from a one in a million exception, no bands will achieve any great heights without learning how to work the synergy between how social networks feed live music and live music feeds your social networks. Facebook and your mailing list feed concert attendance and music consumption and Live music feeds it back into the social networks. It’s a circle and you need to have good strategy to make it work to it’s fullest extent.
Jimmie Deeghan (Every Avenue): I think that playing live isn’t necessarily the best way for a band to be noticed this day and age, however, I do think that it’s the best way that someone will remember you by. If someone comes to your show to see you play; unless you put on a horrible performance, they will love it no matter what. If you go above and beyond and you exceed there expectations and they see you up there just having a great time and connecting with everyone in the audience in ever word of every song.. those are the memories that will last and what will keep fans coming to shows.
David Adams (Soundcloud): Both elements are complementary and create deeper fan engagement and loyalty. Social networking gives you the tools to make contacts and sustain relationships with new and existing fans away from the stage. While at a live show you should have the same idea of bringing a community together, from the bands you tour and play gigs with, to hanging out with fans and interacting with new people.
Giles Bidder (Cynics): The bands I feel most connected to are the bands I saw live before hearing any of their records. Some of the names I’m talking about are The Steal, Captain Everything!, Gordon Gano’s Army and Gallows. I saw Gallows at Pioneer Skatepark in St Albans when I was 15 and I remember thinking “fuck, I’ve never seen anything like this before”. Everyone around me was going off and screaming along with this small ginger frontman who looked like he was constantly on the verge of tears - the furious kind. I’d never felt so scared for my life, yet I just wanted to stay there and witness this shit-storm of awesomeness. It felt incredibly special. Another one was The King Blues at a pub called The Roundabout in High Wycombe (where Eddie from The Shitty Limits used to put on shows); I still say that’s the best show I’ve ever been to.
What I’m getting at is that when you see a band live, you feel connected to them on a level you will never get to by simply clicking on a link and pressing “play” on a computer screen. Watching a band live is an intimate and personal experience, and that is how you fall in love with a band.
So my answer is yes; I notice a band from seeing them live and feeling a connection, not from their Facebook status about how they’ve got “big plans for next year”.
Tyla Campbell (Tiger Please): For me, the live part of being a band is still the most important part of it. Anybody can sound good on a recording but it’s live where you can tell a good band from a great band.
Within the online market can giving away music (for free) be as affective, especially when “fans” can just search google for a bands full discography?
Kevin Douch (Big Scary Monsters Recording): Pretty much every song ever recorded is now available to download online these days, if you’re willing to search for it hard enough. I think the main thing to remember when it comes to giving away music is how you can use it to your advantage. Free music is pointless unless there’s a reason behind it, and a target to achieve in mind.
Jesse Cannon (Record Producer/Musformation.com Editor): Fans usually do whats easiest. We have all been down the road of a shitty quality torrent that is out of order or missing songs or a bad Mediafire link. Most people are going to do whatever is easiest and if the band wants your email address for a download most people aren’t going to be too hesitant to get it since they know it will be of good quality (one would hope). Some people want to outsmart the band and download it on their own, (ironically these people aren’t too smart). Music has always been copied, when I was 13 my friends and I copied cassettes, at 20 I bought a CD burner. At 24 I bought a hardrive, at 33 I use Bit Torrent and What.CD. I am sure at 37 I will be using something else.
Also Google started to delist this illegal downloads this week and we are going to see 2011 be the year that the big institutions no longer make piracy so easy. Look for Tumblr, Google and many other platforms to start taking much bigger strides to preventing you and your friends from sharing illegal downloads. Then look for people to find new ways to share music and for this never ending cycle to continue.
Jimmie Deeghan (Every Avenue): Giving away music can be a good thing. everyone wants free shit. At the same time if it’s free it also loses a little bit of it’s sparkle. Lots of bands are giving away music with some sort of incentive program so they get something in return. For instance.. ‘Tweet for a Track’ offers followers the option to send out one tweet to there followers saying “hey I just downloaded ‘song title here’ and it’s awesome! go check it out!” and then all of there followers will read it and the person that sent it will get a free download sent to there email. Kinda cool… but I ask myself everyday what REALLY is affective when it comes to that type of marketing. Music is a whole new ballgame these days.
Tyla Campbell (Tiger Please): In a way yes. We use MusicGlue.com in which the fan can receive a free track in exchange for their email address. We then add their email to our mailing list, so both sides are a winner.
Despite MySpace’s downfall, plenty of other services like Twitter, Facebook, Bandcamp, Soundcloud etc still give bands plenty of options to promote themselves. Which off these do you think fans engage more in?
Kevin Douch (Big Scary Monsters Recording): They all serve a different purpose. Facebook holds the most amount of information and connectivity, although isn’t too good for actually housing music, Twitter is great for short, sharp bursts and stamping your own personality on what you do, whilst Bandcamp and Soundcloud and brilliant for sharing music. Right now I think bands need to be on 3, if not all 4 of these sites, at least until a good replacement for Myspace is established.
Jesse Cannon (Record Producer/Musformation.com Editor): Well it is easy to see which ones they engage in more by using analytic software (Next Big Sound, Google Analytics,etc.). For a group like Man Overboard I am always shocked how big Tumblr has become for us. I would say it kills Twitter as far as spreading the word to our fans. For dance groups like MuforMGMT’s Sensual Harassment, Soundcloud is an amazing tool and it will do you way more good to have a strong presence on there, but for a pop punk band, not so much. Bandcamp is an amazing tool and if you promote iTunes instead of Bandcamp you are an idiot. PureVolume used to be a great tool for bands to get discovered, but I find it hilarious when bands still put their music on there in 2011 and make a big deal out of it. The site gets less traffic than a lot of music blogs you could be premiering you’re song on and instead you premiere it on a social network that doesn’t allow you to retain fans. The same with premiering your song on MySpace… what a fucking joke! Trade a email, a Like or a Tweet for it (BTW my company makes a tool that does all that) The fact is if you want to make your promotions effective you need to do research, I know its not as fun as sending naked pictures to girls you saw on isanyoneup.com but it is very important.
David Adams (Soundcloud): There are many online channels for bands to utilise and engage positively with fans. They should take time in learning about each of these new tools and how best to use them. The great thing about SoundCloud is that we help our users share their sounds and music wherever their fans are. You just have to upload your audio to SoundCloud once and then you can share it across Facebook, MySpace, Twitter or to many other sites like RootMusic, Mobile Roadie or Virb that are integrated with us.
We also have a thriving community of creators and music makers on SoundCloud itself. To get feedback or a comment on your track from another musician or someone who’s into your music can be highly rewarding. SoundCloud spends a lot of time and effort fostering its community; we even hold a regular global meetup day, so that our users can meet up in real life in cities across the world. The last event saw meetups in 60 cities with over 1000 users attending.
Jimmie Deeghan (Every Avenue): That’s a good question! I’m still wondering that myself. Bandcamp is a wonderful program that I actually just started an account with. It makes buying music from atrists simple with less ‘in-between’ crap. For instance, www.bandcamp.com/jimmiedeeghan , and BOOM! you can buy my music for a ‘name your price’ option. Which is pretty much putting my music and work into the hands of people in hopes that they will enjoy it, and feel good paying any sort of amount weather it be high or low.
Tyla Campbell (Tiger Please): We use our Facebook and Twitter frequently and the majority of young people have a Facebook account, so personally I would say Facebook is the most affective. They have improved their Bandpages from a few years ago as now you can add tour dates, ticket links and a more attractive looking music player. All you need really.
How important is fan-interaction (both online and offline)?
Kevin Douch (Big Scary Monsters Recording): This is vital. Gone are the days of rock stars being untouchable celebrities, people like transparency. They like to feel connected, with no boundaries or borders getting in the way. Chatting to fans via social networks and at merch stands after gigs are very easy and ultimately rewarding jobs for bands, and can go a long way in building a positive relationship with their fans.
Jesse Cannon (Record Producer/Musformation.com Editor):It’s important, but it also isn’t the be all, end all. I keep seeing a trend, all these terrible “Disney pop punk bands” with their girl jeans and stupid haircuts who kiss their fans asses all day long and never work on making good music. Yes, they have fans but they are what I like to call “flimsy fans.” They are fans that are kinda passionate about you and but not enough that it counts for anything tangible. They listened to your band, but your passionless, safe bullshit Disney-like music just didn’t touch their heart enough to make them spend money, but they did click “Like” on your Facebook profile and then hid you from their newstream. Fans may reply when the group asks you to post pictures writing “I love ” on their forehead in lipstick and post it on the group’s Facebook wall, but the fact is they were bored and it isn’t cause they love this safe, dumb band, it was just something to fill the time after school.
The fact is, the most important thing is to put out good music, that people feel really passionate about regularly. I often look at the bands who put out these Boys Like Girls wanna-be, safe “punk” songs and they have a million plays on MySpace but they can’t tour across America cause these million listeners don’t feel passionate enough about them to attend a show. It is just filler in between episodes of Jersey Shore. These bullshit groups that made made one on one connections with fans (probably on a message board or at the mall where they made the kid listen to them on ear buds), usually didn’t take the time to make a great song that touched kid’s hearts. This means on Friday night when there is a choice of going to see a band that really touches a fan’s heart with a great song, or the safe band kid who made the one on one fan bond, the fan goes with the band that is going to give them a sense of catharsis cause they want to feel the power of a great song and share that experience with people who feel similar to them. The safe, boring Disney boy band loses even though they worked really hard to get that fan and bonded with them one on one.
The real fact is, we are all bored with bands telling us to listen to them after being inundated with it on MySpace and at shows for years. Basic marketing principles all show time and time again, if you make something great, friends will tell other friends and the fact is, friends trust the recommendations of a friend more than the creep at the mall who makes you listen to his band. Make something so great that people want to tell others about it and you will go much farther than always begging people to listen to your music.
With that said, you are a fool if you don’t interact with your fans, it is enjoyable and you learn so much from it. I just think this whole one on one fan interaction thing is getting a little over hyped and you need to devote the proper amount of time to creating something great and fan bonding. Going too heavy on either side will net a useless result. I guide my bands to try to make something so great that it can’t be denied, that way people will spread the word themselves. If you do that, and a little bit of smart promotion, fans will tell other fans. That’s the working smart, not hard, approach.
David Adams (Soundcloud): It’s probably one of the most important skills for any band, whether it’s personal interactions from band members or being able to message clearly to your whole fan base. Artists should make the most of these opportunities and make sure those who are ‘fans’ feel like they are getting something worthwhile for being connected and following your band. If a fan is asking a question on twitter or saying thanks for the great show, how about sending them back a personal audio message as a response via SoundCloud?
Giles Bidder (Cynics): It totally depends on the individual members of the band and what feels natural to them. For example, Brand New rarely do interviews or make any connection to the world outside of their records and live shows. That gives them this integrity that’s really intriguing. The Shitty Limits is another name that comes to mind: in terms of ‘fan-interaction’, they would come to a show, play and then fuck off. Sometimes that’s all you want from a band. It’s hard to like a band if you see they’re uncomfortable and unnatural in the way they operate.
Tyla Campbell (Tiger Please): For me fan interaction is vital. The simplicity of just answering a fans question on Facebook or Twitter, just shows we appreciate their support and aren’t ignoring them. Talking to fans at the end of shows and signing their CD’s or having photos with them is great too. Bands who just stay in their dressing rooms after a show I really don’t get.
In recent years it looked like some bands were given record deals with just a handful of songs and thousands of social network “friends”. Why do you think this trend occurred and do you think this period is now over?
Kevin Douch (Big Scary Monsters Recording): These days bands can do more than ever before to promote themselves, in some instances removing the necessity to have a record label. Some managed to establish themselves well, building a big online fanbase and therefore making themselves an enticing prospect for labels who could immediately tap into that, and I’m certain we’ll continue to see more and more of this over the coming years. It won’t be based on Myspace friends, but any band who demonstrates a high level of interest in their music will appeal to some labels.
Jesse Cannon (Record Producer/Musformation.com Editor): It will still happen, the bands I described in the above post will still fool the fools of the music business and by nature the music business always attracts a lot of fools who think just cause a group has a lot of Facebook Likes someone is actually paying attention to the bullshit they put out. This trend occurred with the “MySpace bands” because we always want to find logic in the world and “logic” told us that if a band had a lot of fans on the Internet that people actually liked them. We all know how that went, and unfortunately we all heard some of those bands.
MySpace was an easy system to game and some terrible bands got a lot of promotional money from their ability to do just that. Instead, music-biz-types are now looking a little more deep and at some more complex indicators to judge if people really like a band. The reality is some bands will always get signed for stupid reasons, that will never change. Before MySpace it was selling out a certain venue was a mark that a label should sign a band, tons of bands could play to 5 thousand people in LA but only to 20 people in NYC. They would get signed and flop (some also got huge like, Van Halen). I think this most recent lesson has taught labels to look at enthusiasm and dig a little deeper. Let’s hope so, cause I hope to never hear another band as horrible as Daphne Loves Derby ever again. Just cause they knew how to use a code to inflate their plays on a stupid social network, we had that crap shoved down our throats for years.
David Adams (Soundcloud): In hindsight the bands which became the most successful during this period were those who knew how to activate and engage their network of “friends”. This one skill has not changed even though the digital landscape has; the way we communicate must not be throw away but allow “friends” to feel more and more activated.
Jimmie Deeghan (Every Avenue): I think the whole ‘MySpace’ band thing happened because MySpace is what was ‘hot at the time’ and it was beneficial to both parties. The band and the site. It’s where everybody was logging into and if people could draw hits on those sites, then that’s where kids were going for music and trying to stay connected with bands.
I don’t know I still feel confused by all the networking sites and the way music is being marketed now. Everyone is so fickle these days(including myself)
For a band starting out, how important is it for them to keep their feet on the group and not have high aims?
Kevin Douch (Big Scary Monsters Recording): I think this is very important. Bands need to maintain realistic targets and be careful not to get too carried away. It’s easier said than done sometimes, especially when you have certain aspects of the industry piling plaudits on you or using phrases which beginning with “the next…”, but it’s vital you learn to take the highs with the lows, because ultimately every band will likely experience both throughout their career.
Jesse Cannon (Record Producer/Musformation.com Editor): Not at all, it’s good to have high aims, but the stupid thing to do is to think too many steps ahead and emulate bands that are already big. It is always comical when I see these kids dressed in some theater make up looking like a transsexual Jared Leto. Relax! Most bands who are successful start off modest and work their way up. Pink Floyd’s first record wasn’t The Wall. My Chemical Romance didn’t start dressing like down syndrome comic book characters until their 4th record. Start off with learning to write a song and developing your creative process. If you focus on going one step at a time and not trying to skip steps and instead build up a fanbase with some patience, your results will be much much better.
Jimmie Deeghan (Every Avenue): Always keep your feet on the ground. Always. It’s good to dream big, but don’t ever take what you’ve got for granted and think that you’re on top of the world because you’re on a tour or playing some show for hundreds or thousands of kids. It’s easy to be knocked right back down on your ass and you most likely will be eventually. Back on the ground I mean, so stay there and work.
Giles Bidder (Cynics): It’s easy to start something that’s too small to fail. If you’ve got low expectations then it’s not hard to surpass them and have lots of fun with it, all the time surprising yourself. The only thing I ever wanted to do is release a 7” vinyl record and play to a room full of people shouting my lyrics back at me. I’ve been really fucking lucky to have accomplished those things, so now every little thing that happens makes me really bloody excited.
Tyla Campbell (Tiger Please): When you start out as a band all you gotta do is play any gig you get offered, even if it’s just for £10 fuel money. That’s what we did and we just kept at it. If you’re patient enough it might just pay off.
How important is it to take a DIY approach from the start?
Kevin Douch (Big Scary Monsters Recording): I’m a strong believer in DIY and like to encourage bands to do as much as they can from day one. I’m sure some people out there would see this from a different point of view, which is fine, for me it’s more of a personal preference. I like bands to have an understanding of the work needed behind the scenes to keep them going, and the more tasks they can take on and manage to a decent level, the less responsibility they’ll need to place on others, therefore taking more control of their own career.
Jesse Cannon (Record Producer/Musformation.com Editor): From the start to the finish it is important. As a manager and a record producer obviously I don’t condone doing every single thing your self, but you should always be doing as much as you can do proficiently on your own. Man Overboard is a great example. Nik is actually a record producer for a living, but he acknowledges he can only make things sound so good, so they always came to me for their releases. Now that we have bigger budgets they will be working with a bigger producer and myself. We got as far as we could with the labels we were working with, so it was time to move to a bigger label which was a reason MOB and Transit both went to Rise. DIY until there is too much of a demand to be able to handle it all anymore.
Just cause you go to a big label doesn’t mean DIY ends. Justin from MOB has been packing merch for 8 hours every day this week. We get offers to do our merch fulfillment every week but for various reasons we find it necessary to do our own merch still. I think every band in the future will need to put out smaller releases - singles, EPs, live stuff, etc on their own labels which is as DIY as it gets. This increases your profits as music sales die down and marketing and bonding with your fans directly increases sales and allegiance if don’t correctly. Justin from MOB still books some of their shows even though we have a fantastic booking agent. Justin and I will do our own graphic design at times, build websites etc. The more skills you are proficient at, the more happy you can be with your creative vision and keep your profits up, so you can stay on the road and in the studio for as long as you would like. It is important that you also find a good team you can trust when you hire out to do things. No one does everything themselves unless you buy a vinyl press and and silk screen all of your own shirts and eventually that would leave you no time to make music. I make sure any group I get involved in finds great people to work with, who are exceptionally talented and get what we are going for so our vision is never compromised.
David Adams (Soundcloud): It’s not about saying how important it is to take a DIY approach, it is the fact you can potentially have the same success from DIY as signed. If you are ‘DIY’, there are a number of platforms and applications enabling creators to promote themselves. SoundCloud’s API allows you to connect your audio to a number of these platforms and applications to give an artist opportunity to get noticed, which could also lead to being ‘signed’, growing a great team around your music and finding a fanbase.
Jimmie Deeghan (Every Avenue): It’s very important to take a DIY approach from the start. I’ve seen so many bands on tour that just have things handed to them and come out of nowhere and it’s kind of silly. I mean it’s amazing for them no doubt and part of it is just jealousy because all of us in Every Avenue have been busting our fucking asses for years upon years living out of our van and ‘making do’ as best we can, but at the same time it builds our strength up a bit and makes the bond a little tighter. You can’t be mad just because one band reached a certain level before you, just gotta play your own game ya know?
We do our best to keep things DIY for instance on Warped Tour we will wake up early in the morning and find out what our set time is (on Warped your set time changes every day and you don’t know until that morning) and we will right our set times on our posters and what stage we’re on. We will walk around like zombies melting in the early heat, with tons of posters and duct tape just taping our posters everywhere, trying to get the word out about what time we’re playing. Don’t get me wrong, we have a street team through the label and all, but we’ve found in the past that “if you want something done right you’ve gotta do it yourself.” It is a good mentality to have when it comes to things like promoting your band on Warped Tour.. lots of street team kids just sign up and get free shit from the label. Don’t get me wrong, we have some AMAZING street teamers and helpers, but i’m willing to bet a lot of bands are in this situation and committed help is few and far in between sometimes.
Giles Bidder (Cynics): It depends who you are and what kind of music you play. In the UK there’s a strong DIY punk rock scene where if you’re a punk band, it’s not hard to book a ten date tour on your own. If you help someone else’s band out, they’ll help you out and that’s how you get the ball rolling. It’s a two way thing; if you’re kind to someone, they’ll be kind back. From my experience it is a very polite and civilised business. So I guess that’s one way it’s ‘important’.
At what time in a bands career should they look for a manager?
Kevin Douch (Big Scary Monsters Recording): This is different for everyone. Sometimes bands already have a great understanding of what’s involved in simply being a band, and can manage themselves effectively throughout their career. For others, a manager is needed very early on.
Jesse Cannon (Record Producer/Musformation.com Editor): Look for a manger when the decisions you have laid out before you are too great to deal with, not when you are looking for some one to “take you to the next level.” The time to get a manager is when you have so many opportunities you no longer know what in the hell to do and you are so afraid you are going to mess stuff up, you are ready to have a heart attack. Looking before then is usually going to net you a result of begging people and you should always be too proud to beg cause what does a beggar usually get? Pennies, not dollars. You will get much better returns learning to do things yourself and then having someone help you out when you get too big to handle on your own.
David Adams (Soundcloud): This is very much a personal choice, though one interesting new management tool to check out is BandCentral. If you are self-managed or need an easier way to communicate with band members and a manager it can be really useful, they also have a cool SoundCloud integration too.
Jimmie Deeghan (Every Avenue): If a manager wants to work with you, they will find you. Don’t waste valuable time skipping steps trying to find some manager; focus on your music and making fans and getting out there on the road.
Giles Bidder (Cynics): Band’s shouldn’t actively look for managers. If a manager cares enough about a band, he or she should go to them first. Until that happens, organise your own life.
Tyla Campbell (Tiger Please): There’s no point having a manager right at the start of the band. You got to make sure you’re a solid unit as a band first, both onstage and offstage. I’d say the best time for to get a manager is simply whenever you feel you are ready to go up a level. Rather than being an opening act for a good local gig playing in front of 20 people because people are still queuing outside, with a manager you could end up being main support or after sometime maybe that headline act everyone is talking about.
Does having an memorable image/look help bands?
Kevin Douch (Big Scary Monsters Recording): Similar to the above, sometimes yes, sometimes no. Major label bands almost always have a strong look or aesthetic, whereas at the smaller, indie level, bands can still manage a successful career where what they look like doesn’t matter at all.
Jesse Cannon (Record Producer/Musformation.com Editor): Yes, totally, but it is not everything. Sometimes not having much of an image can go a long way. If you make music as terrible as Jeffree Star’s you better look crazy or no one is going to listen to it. I actually thought it was really genius when All Time Low did that photoshoot in the pool with their shirts off. No pop punk band had been so unashamed of being that shallow (I am not talking about the depth of water in the pool either) and it turned many heads and I actually respect their innovation and the risk they took doing that. These days a band showing off their “sweet pecs” is commonplace but at the time no band from “the scene” had done that and gotten noticed. Look where it got them (not that, it was the only catalyst)!
Some bands would throw up if they got popular off their good looks. Could you imagine how tortured Thom Yorke would be if he had been born good looking? I personally love many image driven bands, I would never wear Fred Perry’s if it weren’t for my love of Blur. Do I think Blur would have been huge without Damon Albarn’s cheek bones and Fred Perry T’s? Absolutely, but maybe not as huge, there comes a point where when you are being marketed to the masses, that good looks help get you to the next level. Paramore made a great record with Riot, but what got them in the 13 year old mass recording buying was a cute Tom Boy singer for the boys to get sexually confused over and 3 dreamy fresh faced Jesus loving boys that were so innocent they were just right for a teenage girl to fall for. Plus it was hard for Mom to be threatened by 3 boys who look like total virgin in their 20’s, when their daughter wanted the CD. If mass success is what you are looking for, you better have some sort of image, if you just want to be as cool as Jawbreaker and go down as a legend, you can shop at Target as long as you got the songs to back it up.
David Adams (Soundcloud): In the online world it’s essential to have a memorable image/look and it presents itself in many different ways. Firstly, there are so many more places online today where fans are going to see you. Just getting your main avatar right is crucial; think about how many times that will be seen on Twitter, Facebook or on your SoundCloud account. And don’t forget how easy it is to share pictures nowadays, with services like Instagram, Flickr, Tumblr and Twitpic.
Secondly, as physical sales decline some people have started predicting the death of the album art. After all you can’t put a beautiful heavy-weight gatefold cover on a digital file. But actually artwork is more important than ever. If you’re giving away a track or pushing a stream of your latest record to bloggers and music sites then make sure you use SoundCloud’s beautiful artwork players that put your image front and centre. I know Alter The Press takes example of this on a regular basis.
Jimmie Deeghan (Every Avenue): Having a memorable image/look for bands definitely helps. However but it doesn’t help when every band looks like each other.
Tyla Campbell (Tiger Please): For some bands it definitely helps. When we started out, we went onstage all wearing a different check shirts. After a while we realised how stupid we all looked. Luc and I once went onstage wearing the same shirt too because we hadn’t discussed it beforehand. But at the end of the day, just wear whatever you feel comfortable in.
When is it the right time to start producing/selling merchandise?
Kevin Douch (Big Scary Monsters Recording): As soon as possible, I think. As soon as a band is playing gigs they should have t-shirts and music available to buy. It’s a great way to make some extra money and start getting their name out a little further.
Jesse Cannon (Record Producer/Musformation.com Editor): Day one! If people like your song or live set they often want to buy something to show the pride in that experience. Every day you don’t have merch that is easy to purchase is lost money that you could be using to get to the next step of where you want to go.
Tyla Campbell (Tiger Please): I’d say anytime really. Obviously when a band starts out it’s a bit stupid to have loads of t-shirt designs. One design should keep you going for a while.
For new bands, is merchandise worth producing?
Jimmie Deeghan (Every Avenue): Merchandise is a big role. If it wasn’t for merch, a lot of bands wouldn’t be able to tour including us. When we go home at the end of a tour. It’s merch profit that brings in that number 7 at Taco Bell that you’ve been thinking about for the past few days.
David Adams (Soundcloud): It helps to test the water; a great thing about the web is you can start off small, see what can work and make further decisions from this. As mentioned earlier about analysing and learning from your stats, you can begin to work out when could be the right point for yourselves to sell merch. And of course if fans are coming up and asking if you have any t-shirts every night at shows, then maybe you should have some.
Tyla Campbell (Tiger Please): Merchandise is definitely a great way to earn a bit more money. Even if it’s a couple of demos on a blank CD you’re selling for a pound. Also if you have a great design for a t-shirt, people always buy it, whether you’re a new band or an established band.
How far into a bands career should they think about releasing material?
Kevin Douch (Big Scary Monsters Recording): Once they have demos recorded to a high enough standard to do them justice, I think it’s worthwhile. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a fully packaged, high quality CD, it could be a demo CD-R in photocopied sleeve, it could just be a free download via their website.
Jesse Cannon (Record Producer/Musformation.com Editor): I am a big believe in the concept of building worth. One of the examples I like to cite is Man Overboard’s Hung Up On Nothing EP. They gave it out free on the Internet (it was also available on iTunes which I think is smart, since if someone wants to pay to support you, you should allow them to do so, which is also why you should make your music Name Your Own Price on Bandcamp), and would go to other band’s shows and give out CDs for free as well as doing this at their own shows. They gave out so many of them that it became in demand. It started selling on iTunes and eventually we were able to repackage it with some other old song on Before We Met and 2 and a half years later those songs are still selling great. They had great songs that kids really identified with and really spread the word (and toured their asses off). They built value in their music, where as most groups put out something and after the first week the value of the record diminishes with each week that passes.
So what I am saying is this, release material as you go. Your first songs may suck, but at least it’s a starting point, you may not want to send your songs out to every A&R man when you aren’t confident that you are good, but start putting out music and gaining fans. Play live and start feeling the reaction of people to your music. Waiting until you are an amazing group, with perfect songs is a big mistake. The fact is, most bands are terrible when they start out and we forgive them when they make good music later down the line and find their early material charming. I defy any Saves The Day fan to tell me the Sefler demo was really their best stuff. But it is enjoyable to listen to now that we know them, but not as enjoyable as their best material.
David Adams (Soundcloud): The immediateness of the web allows anyone to publish to the web instantly. As part of this, you now have a community where you can also gain feedback. It can also be a great way to take fans on your journey or collaborate with other musicians. If you want to share with your friends then this is awesome, you never know there maybe a friend checking it out who wants to make music too and joins your band.
All collaborations on the web does not have to be in the public eye. Being able to share audio privately is an important tool, SoundCloud has features such as our secret link and widget to help with this. You may find this collaboration part helpful too.
Jimmie Deeghan (Every Avenue): You should release material all the time. It’s not smart however if you’re serious about music and you’re trying to find a label to call home, to shop anything other than an EP. In my opinion why waste time with an entire full length record that you recorded at a subpar level; make an ep and make it the best you can. Save the most money you can and push it on the road and into the hands of everyone you can. When you’re on a label you will have the time/resources for that full length.
Tyla Campbell (Tiger Please): I think it’s different for each band. We released ‘They Don’t Change Under Moonlight’ because it just felt like the right time. Most importantly only release material if you think the songs are up to scratch. When we originally wrote ‘Lights and Sound’, the last minute and a half of it was completely different to the one we released. Just because we thought we could improve it.
Is radio/video airplay still relevant and still a key promotional tool?
Kevin Douch (Big Scary Monsters Recording): Videos are harder to justify spending lots of money on than before, as there are simply less outlets (at least in the UK) to get them played, but can still certainly be effective if managed properly. Radio is still good though, especially with people like Huw Stephens and John Kennedy who’ve always been brilliant at supporting new bands. With BBC Introducing and their related festival stages, it’s a wonderful resource and gives opportunities for bands to reach a higher stage than they perhaps could’ve done just a few years ago. Like with everything though, radio should be looked at as part of a promo plan, and not a one-off. To effectively build a good fanbase, you’re going to need radio play, magazine coverage, tour dates, a good online presence and more.
Jesse Cannon (Record Producer/Musformation.com Editor): YES! YES! YES! Well done and serviced videos make bands enter into a different Rubicon. Radio outlets, like Pandora are huge promotional tools that can get you new fans with everyday that passes. Terresterial radio is important but it gets really important when you have hit a point where there aren’t many avenues you haven’t already explored and promoted. The kids today love their YouTube. Kids, parents and even grandparents love spreading a good video across the Internet, if you can harness that power you are in good shape.
David Adams (Soundcloud): Yes, it is still hugely important. Ideally you want to secure airtime through all channels, but it’s also important to understand your fanbase and where they are; for example, sharing an embeddable track with a site like Alter The Press may have more relevance to the community you want to reach.
Jimmie Deeghan (Every Avenue): Radio and video airplay is relevant of course. Radio is a whole other planet. I couldn’t even begin to try to explain that. and videos can always be a great viral tool. Be creative.
Tyla Campbell (Tiger Please): In my opinion as long as people still listen to the radio/watch music channels, it will always be key. We released a music video for ‘Autumn Came The Fall’ which got to the most requested UK tracks on both Kerrang and Lava TV, which just looks good on a bands CV.
Can “networking” within the music industry help bands on their way?
Kevin Douch (Big Scary Monsters Recording): Definitely. Unfortunately the old saying of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is still very true. Thankfully there are lots of good people out there who can help with this, and are always excited to hear new bands.
Jesse Cannon (Record Producer/Musformation.com Editor): Totally! But it will also make a lot of people think you are a douche. When someone networks with me, I never want to speak to them again. I go out drinking in NYC all the time and when I see a “networker” I will duck and cover. Where as a genuinely friendly and nice person I am always happy to talk to. Go out, be nice and bond with people over human things, not what you can do for each other. Talk about the commonality in the human experience instead of the usual douchey business gossip and you will make a friend. I have been at this for a long time and almost everyone I know who knows how to network is also someone whose star falls fast. The genuinely nice and cool people last.
Jimmie Deeghan (Every Avenue): Aalways network, sometimes, a lot of times. I like to keep to myself, which means I may take a night off where everyone else might be going out with other industry folks to hang out and there could be potential new friends and connections. However a lot of times I keep to myself, this is where being very sociable and likable comes in handy for all you social butterflies.
Giles Bidder (Cynics): ”Networking” is what I like to call a Bullshit Word. As soon as someone mentions that word in a serious manner, you immediately know they are a prick. My mum’s an author and at one of her book launches a few years ago, a middle-aged suit clocked me talking to her and strutted over to me to introduce himself, explaining that he was there to “network” for his new book. You can’t have any respect for someone who says that.
A similar thing happened at Reading last year when Cerebal Ballzy’s manager came over to me and started spaffing about why he thinks they’re style is ‘really in right now’, and then asked me which label/magazine/PR company I worked for. It was pretty cringey. It’s just bullshit business for douchebags who try and cut corners instead of working hard to succeed on their own watch.
Within a band, can having a “band leader” have a positive or negative affect?
Kevin Douch (Big Scary Monsters Recording): This is another question with no right or wrong leader. Many bands seem to have a leader, but having members handling different roles (eg one booking gigs, one sorting artwork, one maintaining the web profiles, etc) can be really good.
Jesse Cannon (Record Producer/Musformation.com Editor): POSITIVE. As long as they have some humility. I see so many of these stupid bands fronted by some Jesus freak kid whose parents funded their musical endeavor until a bigger label picked em up. Oddly, they also usually have names like “Terrible Music Terrible” too? They treat their “help” (how they refer to their band and crew) horribly and ultimately they get turned on. Just because you are talented enough to write good songs doesn’t give you a license to shit on people. The best frontmen are also usually terible workers and business people, so usually it is a good situation where you find members who fill other voids in this frontmans personality so that they know they have a piece of the puzzle that would be empty otherwise. This will usually humble them enough to be nice to the rest of the group. Though some people who are a frontman are naturally great people
Jimmie Deeghan (Every Avenue): Having a band leader can be positive if and only if the outlook is positive and motivational. We all kind of have our own positions in our band; where we excel at certain things and when we get to those situations, we know who to have handle it.
Ultimately what is the right way for bands to promote themselves?
Kevin Douch (Big Scary Monsters Recording): Get your online presence setup and building, without spamming everyone. Just make yourselves easy to find with all of the information and incentives people may want from you. Get out and play gigs, make your music available and see how things develop. There’s no right time to approach labels, no right time to think about touring overseas or going full-time, these things happen at different times for every band, just take it all as it comes and be sensible.
Jesse Cannon (Record Producer/Musformation.com Editor): Every band is a unique case. It is finding what fits with your aesthetics and ethics and cultivating something that is well thought out and/or natural for the group. Even if it is natural, it often takes a lot of effort saying no to things you shouldn’t do. Don’t try to skip steps, I won’t say you need to pay your dues, as much as let things happen naturally, looking for favors, and begging for things rarely works. Work hard yourself and get yourself somewhere and people will beg to work with you which is a much better situation to be in than always having to kiss ass to get somewhere.
David Adams (Soundcloud): There are no golden rules to a road to success; making the most of the tools available to you, understanding who you want to reach, where your audience is and how these tools can help reach this audience, you can begin to work out what works for you. SoundCloud can help in this process from enabling a band to share and promote their sound across the web and all their networks - from their Facebook page, to blogs and online sites, to press, and of course allowing fans to also share your music.
Jimmie Deeghan (Every Avenue): There is no right way for a band to promote themselves. You just do what you do and work hard. I’m a pretty firm believer that people can do just about anyhting they set there minds to if there drive is strong enough and they want it bad enough, it will happen.
Giles Bidder (Cynics): Aim as high as you can but only do what feels natural. It’s easy to see through a fake band. If it feels weird paying people to get your band’s name where everyone can see it, think up creative ways to do it yourself for free. A band is what you make it; technically, you can never be ‘wrong’.
Tyla Campbell (Tiger Please): Interacting with fans has to be the key to promoting a band. If you interact with them online, the odds are they will tell their friends about you. Not just because they think the music is good, but because they are nice guys too.
Big Scary Monsters Recordings Official Website | Twitter | Facebook.
Jesse Cannon Musformation.com| Twitter| Tumblr
Soundcloud Soundcloud.com| Facebook| Twitter
Jimmie Deeghan: Bandcamp |Twitter | Tumblr | Every Avenue on Facebook
Cynics Facebook| Twitter | Tumblr
Tiger Please Offical Website | Facebook | Twitter | Tyla Campbell on Twitter
Words by Sean Reid (@SeanReidATP)