I can see it coming from a mile away. Someone is chatting with me and finds out I manage bands and work with labels. Not only do they find that out but they find out that the bands I work with make money, don’t do pay to play and generally seem to be doing okay for themselves in a lot of cases. Their ears perk up and they start trying to pitch me their project. I try to nod politely but most of the time before I’ve even herd the music I can tell whether or not someone is a pretender. It ties into know nothing managers and FUCKING try hards. These are the people who give me gray hairs and make me hate this whole thing and the people who I inevitably have to turn down. Now I know that this can be tricky to explain without sounding super pretentious, but I definitely want to talk about at least a few things that make you out to be a band that no one takes seriously and even touches on the border of ‘perpetually unsigned’
I think that first, foremost, and most generally we need to look at presentation. This is a pretty massive subject and probably requires an article in an of itself. It encompasses everything from art and layout to how you perform. I think that the general rule is not to straight up emulate one or two bands and hope it works out. Rather you need to look at twenty bands and see what they have that works and try to distill those core elements into how you present your band. I think that a lot of artists are a little too clearly derivative of one style or thought process. They don’t have the grander vision in mind and it doesn’t do them any favors. The other key, and a theme you will find throughout this article, is figuring out where to invest their money in presentation. This can mean either bullshit PR which doesn’t do anything, flashy stage shows when no one cares about their band or failing to pay for good album art because your buddy did it for cheap. A lot of bands have their priorities out of walk and it consistently works against them.
Now I know I touched on this in the last article but I know that a lot of you read these out of order or independent of the greater context, which is totally fine. The point being – if your songwriting is shitty everyone can tell and few people will have either the knowledge or the balls to really point it out to you. I know this sucks because it’s an intangible and intangibles are always the worst to have to work out, but by god can your shitty songwriting make me feel bad for you. This is especially relevant, in my eyes, to bands that have done everything else right. They do DIY tours, make friends in the scene and generally grow their brand but at the end of the day until their songwriting gets good then no one will actually care. There certainly is validity to wanting to build up a name as you imporve, but the sheer frustration of looking at artists who have been doing this for decades and still can’t write good songs drives me a little bit crazy.
A huge part of this is because they frequently buy into bullshit. Aside from the bullshit PR schemes and ridiculous live doodads that I mentioned earlier groups that suffer from ‘unsigned band syndrome’ often try and get showy awards that mean nothing and are little more than participation medals. Beyond that they frequently invest in pay to play shows that get them nowhere. While a pay to play opening slot can certainly be a cool experience and even help your band, if your presentation isn’t on point and it’s not in context that people actively want to watch you then you aren’t going to find any real forward momentum. I’ve seen countless bands pay to play on special showcases and that almost never gets them anything. It’s sold to them by industry figures desperate for a buck and it just leaves them deeper in debt. That’s how you get the entire city of Los Angeles.
And so we get into the fundamental issue and one of the big things that drives this blog forward – understanding your scene. A lot of these bands just straight up don’t understand that they need to be nice to the people who book the cool DIY shows if they want to really go places. They need to connect with small specialty labels and try and coordinate grander visions for the future. You need to make friends with people if you want real fans because direct to peer marketing is going to get you miles further than any sort of advrtising campaign will ever get you. You need to figure out what makes people in your scene tick and then play off of that. Otherwise you’re just going to keep disappointing yourself and others in a struggle towards the end. Is that a little romantic? Yes. But at the same time, when you look at how much crap is going on out there to make artists suffer you might as well accept it for what it is.
So – I write this having not slept in twenty four hours. My teeth hurt and my head aches but I know that the event I am going to is far more real and will have much more potent connotations than many of my trips to industry mixers in LA or showcases in New York City. It’s going to be potent because it’s a finely curated festival that attracts the people who are interested in the same precise kind of music that I love and are able to connect everyone together because it’s music that people are passionate about. I know that sounds hella pretentious but after seeing bands shoot themselves in the foot time and time again by going for festivals that don’t mean anything and never will it’s hard to not feel bitter. Turn your bullshit detector on, because being in a band sucks.