Being in a band is not as easy as it looks. The image of a group of friends having fun on stage is appealing and envied by thousands of young people just learning their instruments. In order to succeed in the extremely competitive world of music, however, a band needs to stay on their toes at all times and put in a lot of extra hours aside from their jobs, families, or other hobbies.
To be successful, a band must treat itself like a small business, constantly advertising and finding new ways to gain customers or, in this case, fans.
It is not too difficult to make a name for yourself in your home town. After all, that’s where many of your friends and family are. Unless you live in the very competitive cities of Los Angeles, New York, or Chicago, it should be possible to call in favors to some of your friends in the service industry and possibly get gigs at neighborhood bars which sometimes feature new or local bands a few nights a week.
If you are satisfied with playing a show once a month or once a week as a hobby, great. If your aspirations are higher, however, you will need to think of new ways to get people through the door and larger, higher profile clubs to perform at.
That’s easier said than done. Even if you are the most talented band in town, there is no guarantee you can get any gig you want. There is a very real world of politics and business savvy required to expand your band’s presence, even at home.
Getting started and expanding your band’s presence is very similar to starting a new restaurant. If you opened a new bar or restaurant, would you be satisfied if your friends and family were the only customers night after night? To gain a reputation for a quality experience, you need more customers all the time, a worthy buzz around town, and press.
Contact the local papers. Offer them interviews to outline your ideas on independent music and always plug your appearances, much like an actor on a talk show. Find local filmmakers and offer recordings of your music for use in their films. Keep a slick looking website well updated, get your recordings on digital download sites for free until there is a demand, and make some stickers to put on bar bathroom walls. It won’t necessarily be cheap, but neither is starting a business.
So You’re Established Locally. What Now?
Keep at it. Expand into the regional market, using the techniques you already used locally on a larger scale. Talk to those same bartender friends and find similar venues an hour down the road. Talk to local print and graphics shops to propose a trade. They make you some T-shirts or stickers, and you advertise their company for free, handing out business cards or getting their logo on your vehicle. It sounds farfetched, but it does work sometimes.
When speaking with club owners or possible sponsors, always talk about your band like you are cutting edge and rapidly gaining popularity. If that same restaurant, discussed earlier, wanted investors, would the owner talk about how few customers they had and how discouraging it was?
It may take years, but with a little talent and business sense, your band can be booking shows many nights of the week in your state or region. Keep people updated, however. Your new fans will want to know more about you and the internet is a powerful tool to keep them informed. At this point in time, about three quarters of band business occurs online, from advertising shows to posting event calendars to selling recordings. You still need to show your face though. That’s part of the charismatic presence you want to convey.
Are You Ready to Tour?
If your presence is strong enough regionally, now is the time to branch out. Think of it like a franchising opportunity. Other bands you have impressed will put in a good word for you and the buzz will spread. You can not, however, rest on your laurels and wait for the cash to come rolling in. Fans want more music. With how much time you are now spending on the band combined with the expansion, it will become more and more difficult to hold down a traditional job, precisely at the time when you need some capital to keep the expansion rolling.
Prepare to be poor for a while. Banks don’t offer business loans to musicians who want to drive around the country playing in bars, so the burden falls on your band. In general, except for very rare cases, a band has to tour nationally for a couple years before they get noticed by any agencies or legitimate record labels. Recording costs will fall on the band. Travel expenses will fall on the band. Breaking even on tour will be the goal at this point.
If you’ve played your cards right, you will start to succeed. Still, however, the band will not be lucrative. It is, essentially, like having a minimum wage job. How many writers out there have gotten discouraged by the piles of rejection letters, the constant struggle to get noticed? It’s the same with a band. Labels and booking agencies don’t want you unless you are already making money because they are a business as well. If you are lucky enough to get picked up on contract, money will gradually start trickling in and then it’s all uphill. That is, if you can survive that long on such little wages.
Being in a band is not for everybody. If your goal is making quick money, you should probably find a different line of work. With a little diligence, business sense, and passion, it is possible to succeed in the complex world of musical performance.