So – one thing that drives me truly insane with independent bands is the amount of silly and unnecessary expenses that they make. This isn’t just for bands on the road too – a lot of groups who think that they are cheating the system or finding other weird ways into things are really just wasting money and making themselves look silly. The music industry is a place with notoriously tight margins, and if you’re not getting paid enough then you might as well make sure that you are doing all you can to save money. That’s not to say you should cut corners, I’ve talked about that in the past and that is almost always a bad idea. You always want to present yourselves as professionally as possible. It’s also important though to just be aware that there are a lot of things out there that might seem important, but in the words of JRR Tolkien – not all that glitters is gold! Let’s spend some time picking into that sort of stuff.
One of the big things I see a lot of bands investing in is the sort of stuff that seems to suggest that you can skip your scene and start to get booked on shows automatically. Most of these things come in the form of websites that offer an ‘easy solution’ for like $30 a month. Guess what. Anytime you are paying under a few hundred bucks a month for a service that service is going to be so widely used that any personal relationships they have cultivated are going to be borderline useless. Maybe those types of services can get you lame corporate gigs, but who is really interested in that sort of stuff? It doesn’t boost your organic reach and makes it just as hard to try and grow what you are trying to represent. I’m talking about things like Sonicbids here. I’ve never met someone who actually got somewhere cool with it. It seems like, while it is definitely a cool idea, it’s trying to skip a level of networking and hard work that isn’t possible to avoid.
Similar to this can be things like backdrops, especially when you are only looking at playing small clubs. Like – there are definitely bands who merit a backdrop. But your shitty 4×8 drop with your logo on a black background isn’t impressing anyone. At best it helps someone remember your band name. At worst it makes you look almost Spinal Tap-esque the first time you try and take to a big stage with your dipshitty backdrop. That’s simply how things are in this scene and that can really suck. That being said – there are certain thins that don’t look corny which can improve your profile. I’m a big fan of getting a custom drum head that shows off your logo as well as considering side drops, especially if your gear isn’t exactly hip. That doesn’t work for every band but it certainly can give you the sort of market differentiation that you need in order to properly grow what you are doing.
The live aspect can also be very difficult. In particular we’re talking about shows where you have to sell tickets. In most cases, unless the headliner is a known band who do cool things you’re basically fucked. The promoter is trying to make you sell 30 tickets to support an aging national act not because they think you are worth 30 tickets, but because they don’t want to sell the tickets themselves. They want a sure thing, and if you’re at a level where you are still getting asked to sell tickets then the odds are you’re just embarrassing yourself. There are legitimate promoters to ask you to sell tickets, but that’s more to cover their ass on the locals. That is to say – if you think a band is going to have a big draw and you now you can get your friends to buy tickets not for you but because they are stoked to see the headliner then you should by all means grab that opening slot. But if it’s a group who you think might have an inflated sense of self… might as well pass on that one.
Then of course we move on to the biggest money sink for bands – national tours. This is the sort of thing that can really break a band because they will dramatically overestimate their draw. Just because you personally know three people in a city who like your band does not mean that literally anyone else in the city is fond of your band. That’s an unfortunate reality. When ti comes down to it, a lot of these bands are going to be stuck with shitty promoters because they are the only ones who touch new bands and then they end up losing money and start to whine. This sucks. You have to realize that you need to pay your dues and doing so with regional runs is the best way to grow your brand, but doing so with national ones is pretty much the worst. This is something I’ve ranted about before, but look at a map and try and target places close enough to you that it’s not totally weird and freaky and grow from there. It will suck at first, but it does get better if you’re smart – I promise.