One of the most frustrating parts of the music industry is the inherent catch 22 that being a part of this places you in. On the one hand you need to tour heavily in order to seriously increase brand awareness and try and meet the right people, on the other hand, no one wants to book you if they don’t know you and are recalcitrant to work on larger projects with you if no one has heard of you. At the same time though you might be able to figure out some advertising if you want to get real funding for your ads its going to be tricky to get the band to all want to contribute, so either you have to suck it up and pay yourself or wait for the band to start generating more ad revenue, ad revenue that is never going to come if you don’t already have a reason for people to be paying extra to want to come out and see you. Suffice to say – these harsh realities can be rather discouraging for the unwitting young musician and you need to spend time to try and figure out how to do this on the cheap.
I think one of the keys of doing this is to be a part of your scenes online community. Now I’m not saying that you need to spend your entire time working your band by sucking up to various scene people, that’s not going to work. What I’m saying is be a regular poster in groups, try to figure out who does what and just tr and make one friend in each market you want to target. For most people this happens somewhat organically, you slowly work your way through online groups until you find the right people to get into contact with and ease into it from there. You give back to your scene and then people want to talk to you. It can take a lot of time, and in fact is something I still don’t feel like I have totally achieved after 7 years of doing it pretty much all day every day, but I’ve gotten a lot closer and this has made it so that I can easily start to do things that most bands could never even access. It’s not because I’m especially smart or interesting, but because I make a ton of stupid Facebook comments and am reasonably friendly.
When trying to create this network the most important thing to do is to start regionally. Most people don’t want to book a band from across the country and you need t be careful when asking to get put on those sorts of tours. However if you can become friends with some of the main people who are immediately local to you then you are going to start to find a regional community that can really pay dividends. It’s foolish to think that time and time again you’re going to luck into people on internet groups, you’re going to have to go out and push to get shows outside of just your hometown. That’s totally fine. Because guess what? All of these people go to shows all the time. They are going to stumble through and you’re going to have a chance to interact. You can’t just expect to network at your own shows, again, that’s fucking stupid. What you can expect though is to be able to locate folks who matter by investing time and energy into becoming a notable voice in your local music scene.
I think that it’s also important to realize that there can be alternate forms of income for any band. Now I’ve discussed these at length on this blog and I’ve also discussed why pretty much all of them are so much bullshit it hurts. That being said there are exceptions. Being willing to play covers sets can always help you make a little more money. By the same token, having a wide variety of merch options, some of which are only tangentially related to your music can help you generate income. One thing I’ve found that is often wise is to have merchandise with some other form of utility. That is to say, a lighter with a beer bottle opener can be much more interesting to someone than a patch because relatively few people use patches even though they are a great low cost merch item. However a ton of people like to use lighters and beer bottle openers. It’s alternative thinking like this that can start to help you figure out new paths to generating tangible income.
Of course you’re probably going to look at this article and point out to me half a dozen examples of bands who did none of this and now are totally at the top of the world and dominating the music world. Those bands typically have one of two things and you need to come to terms with that. The first thing that they might have is some of the best songwriting. The reason you know those bands is because there songs are rad and they really know how to put together a record that people click with. This is a hard one to cope with because everyone thinks that their songs are the best and should be loved by thousands. Unfortunately most of us are not geniuses and have to claw our way to the top rather than have it granted. The other option to drive people forward is fluke, which happens more frequently than you might think. Maybe your music especially clicks with a single agent for some obscure reason and you wind up on a big tour, or you get a video to go viral. Of course, if you want this to turn into actual sustained success you still need songs to back it up and if you don’t you’re just wasting your time.
So basically as I see it, you have two real choices before you when presented with this catch 22 of the music industry. You can either go out of your way to work hard and make the connections tat you know are going to pay off for your band in the long run with meaningful relationships, regional networking and alternative income schemes, or you can quit. There’s a third option, that being praying that some fluke pushes your music to the next level. The thing is you can’t really count on your songwriting being good. Because no matter how many classes you take or hours you put in, the odds are not a ton of people will connect to your work. That’s just how humans are. So you need to evaluate these options and then push from there. It’s the only way.