So here’s something that not a lot of bands want to hear but is a fundamental truth in the music industry. It’s how to get a record deal in a more surefire way than any amount of social media followers, musical quality, tours completed or managers could ever accomplish. One simple word with which you entire future can be defined if you so choose and one simple word that every band who has been even moderately successful has been able to engage with. That is engagement. Engagement is how you show labels that you are someone they should care about. It doesn’t matter if this is on a merely regional level or even confined to a single city. It doesn’t matter if this mostly takes place online because you rarely play shows. It just matters that it is there. If labels see bands making an effort to have engagement then they now that there is a whole hell of a lot more coming down the pipeline for them.
There is something aptly poetic about the fact that one word has sort of defined the music industry for a hundred years. It can take many forms and that’s part of the beauty of the modern age, is that you can engage in a variety of ways. Engagement can take the form of anything from having a lot of people come out to your shows, to getting 50 comments on everything you post on Facebook. Any sort of engagement is going to catch the attention of the gatekeepers. Of course the flip side of that coin is that there are a lot of ways now to think that you are engaging when actually you aren’t. Simultaneously there are a lot more competitors now vying for engagement. The amount of hours in a day has remained finite even if the number of bands has not. This means that you’re all competing for the same time resources with little regard for the actual amount of engagement you are getting per fan. This can lead to some very tricky territory and means that folks need to really sit down and reevaluate what marketing is.
Building up engagement is just like building up any type of fanbase at the beginning – you need to do it one step at a time and it sucks. Yet it also can be easier than ever. Being a funny and fun guy on social media WILL get people in the scene talking about you and once they start talking about you it’s a lot easier to get them to want to come out to your shows, hang out with you at said shows and generally be y’know, engaged. This isn’t something a lot of bands want to hear of course because it implies a certain degree of work and it means you need to bust your ass. You need to be able to create content regularly that people want to be a pat of and that people want to have impact their lives in a positive way. Developing your content base is a tricky thing, made all the more so that you need to balance the standard things labels expect, like live videos and photos with crazy ideas that might make people sit up and take notice.
Of course engagement isn’t purely an online thing. The best engagement is frequently on an individual basis, which is part of why it’s important to go to shows and support your scene. You need to be active in the community you want to be big in, both regionally and on the internet. So if you’re going out to all the shows, people in other bands who you go to watch when there is only ten people in the room are going to feel a sort of obligation to come see you. I know it sounds weird and like you’re guilting people into it, but you’re not. It’s really just a question of building up credibility and relationships. It’s a question of making yourself the kind of person who it is worth actually going out and getting in touch with. Otherwise you’re just another asshole in the scene trying to make music and who really cares about that? Not label people is for damn sure.
The reason engagement matters of course is that it shows YOU care about your music career. Getting any one person engaged is not that hard. You just need to be willing to do it time and time again. Also did you notice how I used the phrase ‘music career’ and not ‘music’? That’s for a good reason. There are tons of musicians out there who only care about their music and that’s fine. They don’t care about pushing things any further, they just want to be able to play and that’s that. Good for them. The people who want to focus on their careers are the ones who understand this concept of engagement and understand that they need to push and reach out to one person at a time every time. I know this sucks, I’ve been the reacher outer and the one being reached out too, it can be hard. But ask yourself, ‘Do I really believe in my work?’ and if you do then the battle is almost won.
The dirty little secret though is that you need to be engaging in a relevant way. You can’t making pop punk and expect to find fans at death metal shows. You can’t hire a generic music PR person and expect readers of a mainstream arts magazine to be interested in your unique brand of post-folk jazz. You need to go where the people who WANT to be engaged with are and then give them exactly what they are looking for. This isn’t an easy game to play, but no one said it was. If you’re willing to reach out and try to make it work though you are going to rapidly find yourself in a supportive scene of people who are legitimately stoked to see you grow.