Placement strategies are one of those things that are almost impossible for DIY bands to actually engage in because so many of the mare so hokey. So often it will be like “Oh do you play Americana? Then ask if the local Americana restaurant will play your CD!” That’s dumb, is not going to increase brand awareness and frankly just makes you look like a weirdo. Last time I checked you weren’t trying to weird out other people by promoting your band – if nothing else that’s going to impact you negatively. However there are placement strategies that work for DIY bands and ideas that you can engage in that are significantly less hard to keep track of then consignment deals or trying to do a merch swap with the other bands bubbling around in your scene. Remember this above all things, you don’t want to come off as an obnoxious try hard. That’s going to alienate bands and make fans you think you are too big for your britches.
So how do you figure out how to place your band in ways that makes sense for you? Well realize that first of all your band is not just your music – it’s a whole variety of products that you represent, that is to say your merch line and live shows can be just as, if not more important than the music that you play. So once you start to shift your paradigm in order to reflect that you’re going to find some serious advantages to how you engage with placing your music. Suddenly it’s not about getting your songs placed in a coffee shop, it’s about getting the line of photographs your band has created there. It’s not about trying to submit to every venue in town, instead you’re trying to play the farmers market, or a charity event, or a weird performance art piece. This is part of why it’s nice to have a wide variety of merchandise, because suddenly your ability to place products is much diversified and can, and in fact should, lead to different placement strategies for every product.
Don’t get me wrong either. Getting your music played in the right places can be incredibly valuable. If there is, for example, a local hip coffee shop where bands play sometimes and baristas who like good music then it makes sense to invest your energy into trying to get your music there. However I have seen many guides encouraging bands to try and get local restaurants and mom and pop stores to play their records. I don’t really see this ever realistically earning you more fans – that being said I’ve spent most of my career working with inaccessible and musically dense bands so maybe I just have a broken sense of things. Even still with inaccessible music there is a value to finding dudes who work in local record stores and engaging with their inner record nerd. The thing is you just can’t do it in record shops, you need to do it subtly, by meeting them at shows or in hip gathering places. This ties into a more general rule that I think should define a lot of your work in music.
Approaching people upfront at their place of business and asking for them to use your music or let you play live is pretty much never going to work. Sure at venues you might have luck, because outside of emailing the promoter you have few other options, but even then – those people are probably ridiculously busy the day of the show. Instead you need to be trying to meet these sorts of people in venues that aren’t work related so that when you ask for a placement you are asking as a friend rather than a professional. Remember – it’s not really about the music it’s about the brand of the band. Part of your brand can be being friends with a lot of movers and shakers in your local arts scene, the people who own the bars and the folks who make the key decisions. Odds are these people want to support local music they just don’t want to also deal with the stress of annoying overeager people harassing them while they try to work.
I know this ties into an underlying them in a lot of my articles that the music business is more business than music and that sucks a lot of the time. However you have to take that for the silver lining which is that by having a good business sense and being willing to really dedicate the time into the project then your business relationships with these people can extend far beyond just the simple placement we talked about earlier. Odds are that your local businessperson who is running a cool bar that is now playing your music is also going to be trying to develop other projects in the future, and once they start to do that they are going to use you as their go to music person. Just make sure that your work is truly professional. Something that I routinely forget under the waves of bands that I work with is how much a lot of local bands straight up suck. You need to keep this in mind to as you navigate the business side .I what you’re doing doesn’t make sense, or seem professional then the local folks who might support your music simply will blow you off.
At the end of the day music placement ideas often don’t work out because the band hasn’t spent enough time really thinking about whether or not their music makes sense to be used for the placement from the buyers perspective. You shouldn’t be trying to sell your products based on their desire to sell local art. You should be trying to sell your products based on their own merits, not their potential hypothetical value to the customer. Remember too that in a lot of these cases the buyer isn’t LOOKING to buy music or have it place in their establishment, so again you need to look at that and move forward with it in mind. The music industry is one that many people, our current presidential administration included, view as entirely auxiliary, many times because they don’t have the funds for it. So start from the bottom to figure out what you can build up to. There is no other way.