So, this is really the secret to engaging with your community on a meaningful level and the reason no one gives a shit about you or your band. You don’t have a side hustle to your side hustle. That is to say, your side hustle is being in a band. Well on top of that you need something else, a different thing you do to support your band. This was a concept that was taught to me by my dear friend and sort-of mentor Scotty Heath of Tankcrimes. What he did that started his legendary punk label was to just start printing buttons for his friends bands. It was simple as that. Every band in the scene needed buttons and he was the guy who made them. Eventually he turned into the guy who was printing shirts. Then he started to put out records and it kind of took off from there. The thing is he quickly established himself as a good person to work with and a person who has an idea of how to do anything I this scene by having a side hustle to his side hustle.
I see so many bands who make friends with other bands but then never have a reason to contact them. Or maybe they see other bands in their community they’d like to talk too but there is no real common ground beyond both liking music. As any old scene head can tell you it’s when the conversation either gets granular or breaks away from the music that things get interesting. Well if you want to have a way to engage with people then you need something to give them a reason to engage with you. As charming as you might be these people all have their own friends and stuff. They aren’t out there trying to make new friends with random dudes who don’t have anything going on for themselves. You need to figure out how you are bringing value to the community. There needs to be a reason to actually talk to you about things beyond, ‘Great set bro, it was groovy.’
So, what can the side hustle to your side hustle be? Well a great way to do it is in the merch world. If you own your own stuff to make merch, be it a screen printing machine or a button maker or anything else in between. It might not be a money maker for you right away, but after a certain point people are going to see that you are genuinely interested in helping out the scene and will want to give you money, especially if it’s just something you are doing to build community. At that point it means that you’ll just be able to undercut a lot of the competition and then start to build relationships. I know this sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but guess what – you are the one who wants to make meaningful connections and establish trust. These things aren’t supposed to be easy because there’s already super connected people out there engaging in the scene at scale to help their bands and you are, on some level, competing with them.
The other obvious side hustle that people lean on is booking and promoting their own shows. This is something that can open a lot of doors because if you are booking cool bands it usually means the bands you are booking will help you out wit ha show when you go out by them. Some people won’t bother to reply after you help them but those aren’t the people you were going to grow with in the first place. You want to be focusing on the people who are going to be able to help you in the long run. So yes you are going to mess up and book some freeloaders, but that’s worth it if you know you can reliably get good shows in a town four hours away. That’s a huge step up for your band. The thing with being a promoter though is that you are much much more likely to lose money this way. Being a promoter is hard work. While I like the idea I am not really sold on the notion that you could make money or at least break even the way you would making merch.
There are of course a huge array of ways to have a side hustle to your side hustle. I know people who help with layouts and graphic design for example. This is a great way to push your craft with minimal stress. And yes, there are others who simply go to a ton of fucking shows and just buy everyone a drink. Sometimes being the beloved uncle of the scene is all you need to network. The issue with that approach is you often aren’t building trust right away by doing that. Again, you just need to think about how you are going to help the people around you. If you can figure out how you are going to help people and how you are going to actively contribute to your scene then people are going to view you as a positive force rather than a leech. To be super cynical about it – even the worst band out there can get some love if they are guys who are making an effort to help out their friends in the scene. People want to support their friends and the people who make this whole weird thing work. It’s as simple as that.
So, get out there and engage. I know it sounds scary but a lot of times the investment to get started with these things is very low. A button maker is less than a hundred dollars and a starter screen printing set is usually only a few hundred bucks. I know it sucks to have to save up that kind of money but sometimes that’s just what needs to happen if you want to get to that next level. Go out and invest in yourself and then turn around and use that to invest in your scene in order to show the world where your heart is. If people see you are legit and truly dedicated to this thing then they are going to want to help you out. It’s up to you to kick off the relationship and then see where it goes from there.