One of the things that makes my life so difficult is that a lot of the services I provide as a manager, PR guy, label executive and writer are soft skills. That doesn’t mean they are less important, it just means that they are harder to define – it isn’t that they aren’t valuable either, in fact, because of their rather ambiguous nature they can be more important, because if you find someone who excels in any of these then you pretty much have to hire him. This is not meant to be a self aggrandizing article but rather one that asks you to look at the industry in a new way and with fresh eyes.
What I always tell my clients before signing them on is: “Technically I’m not going to do anything you couldn’t do for yourself.” And this is true. I’ve seen bands get thirty plus pieces of coverage for their record without a PR guy, go to Europe without a manager or a booking agent, and make a living off music with no real label. Everything is doable with sufficient funds and time and of course the right skillset. The thing is – there’s a reason that almost every major band has a PR guy, a manager, a booking agent and a label. Yes – it’s a lot of costs, but it makes the whole process of being in a band so much easier.
Most bands who are playing one hundred to five hundred person crowds should be looking at losing up to twenty five percent of their gross on any given show, if not more. That’s just a huge part of the trade. And again – some pretty major bands like DRI or Pomplamoose manage to keep everything in house – and that’s awesome. Once more though – that’s the exception. You might be lucky enough to have the people with the right set of soft skills in your band and that can be great, but don’t get ahead of yourself, it’s easy to overestimate the soft skills that people have to offer.
Perhaps the most valuable asset hat you can have as a musician trying to guide your band to success is an ability to read people. For this I would like to recommend Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People, for me at least it’s been a key text in allowing me to understand how to understand people. You need to be able to figure out if folks are the real deal or if they are just riding your coat tails. Remember – even a band with the smallest amount of success will have hangers on. You need to be able to figure out which of those mater, and that’s where a lot of the struggle comes in – hangers on are hangers on for a reason and they cause a lot of anxiety for people in bands when deciding which individuals with traditionally soft skills should be brought into their fold. This is part of a time honored struggle and one that we all end up a part of whether we like it or not.
I think that if you’re someone who is trying to market your soft skills the best thing that you can do is to be honest. Explain exactly what you can do for a band with whatever skills you are trying to sell. If you oversell yourself and are not able to follow up then word is going to get out. A lot of people claim to have soft skills, and again, nothing I do can’t technically done by you and your band, the same goes for other people. So of course hangers on are going to claim to have those skills to be with the band. The only thing that you have to sell yourself as someone trying to market soft skills is your achievements, and as long as you have that then you know you’re building towards something greater. Remember, you are what you do, and if you continue to do good stuff then people will stat to pay attention.
What I’m trying to say is that soft skills may very well be the trickiest part of the music industry. With band members it’s easier, you get along or you don’t, they can play the music or they can’t. Same with album art and songwriting. Not to devalue those things, they are important and super difficult but they tend to be a bit more quantifiable With management and the ilk things get complicated because you’re dealing with people outside of the band and trusting them a lot more than you might initially think. It’s a stretch to hand over the keys to the kingdom you’ve built to someone else in the hope that they will take your music to a new level, but it has to be done.
Simply put, soft skills are a huge part of what makes this entire industry work, and you need to be able to execute them or have someone who can execute them for you if you want your band to continue to grow. That’s just how this whole thing works. People require a level of professionalism and knowledge if they are going to work with you, especially at high levels. This may not seem to fit the DIY ethos that you may have founded your band on, but that’s simply how it is. If you want to carry forward you’re probably going to need a team behind you, not just a few buddies who ‘know some people’.
In the end though, what does this mean for you? Essentially that you need to be aware that there’s a lot of bad dudes out there, but also a lot of good dudes. For every guy trying to make a quick buck off your new single there’s another guy who would love to give it a review. In a world where far too many people are trying to crack into an industry that can only support a fraction of them you need to be realistic about who you decide to work with. It can’t just be a friend it has to be someone who has proven their worth before. Finding these people of merit is a challenge, but they are out there and they are ready to help take your band to the next level as long as you can produce art that they believe in. Find these people, befriend them and prepare to conquer the globe.