What Most Music Biz Bloggers Don't Realize (Or Won't Tell You)


If you're anything like me, you've spent an exorbitant amount of time reading about the music business. You've studied their research and applied their techniques when applicable; you may have even found ways to improve upon their advice. You may have also found yourself reading blog post after blog post and saying to yourself: “I do all this stuff, why is none of it working?” I may not be able to answer that question succinctly, but I can tell you a few things I've found to be absolutely true and largely unmentioned by every blog I've ever come across. Until now, of course.

Let's start with the recording process. Most bloggers will tell you to find the best studio, engineer and producer you can afford and while this is solid advice for a band looking to achieve stardom via radio play, this does little to help out musicians of the more abrasive styles. The truth is, if your biggest influence is a band like Repulsion or Fuck The Facts, it's probably okay to skimp on the recording cost a bit. As long as every instrument is audible and the mix is loud, the listener will get the point. Unless you've got a studio in your area that is familiar with heavy music (beyond what's on the radio) you may want to record everything yourself and put the rest of that money into merch or your tour vehicle's gas tank. Besides, unless you've got amazing album art and/or promo photos, very few people are going to bother listening to your music anyway. It's a shallow world, the faster you come to terms with this, the better off you'll be; in music and in life.

Most of the advice you'll find on booking shows & general “show etiquette” is fairly solid: trading shows with out-of-town bands; watching and talking with the other bands; having a well-organized, eye-catching merch table, preferably with an attractive person behind it; making sure you're polite to the venue's staff; reminding the crowd to tip the bartender; never admitting a mistake or stopping during a song, the list goes on. However, there is a common fact about live shows that a lot of blogs miss: people are broke, especially at DIY shows where half the audience are teenagers. There's nothing wrong with wanting to get paid for performing, but sometimes it's better to keep the cover charge as low as possible in order to get more people in the building.

Let's say you've got 500 really fancy T-Shirts you're trying to sell for $18 each in order to make your money back after they're all sold. Let's also assume you're playing at a bar with 5 other bands and the cover charge is $8. Put yourself in the position of Joe Paycheck-to-Paycheck (Hell, you probably ARE that guy) he just wanted to go out and drink with friends and maybe hook up. He's only got $50 he can spare until next Friday...make that $42 after the cover charge he begrudgingly paid. 3 drinks at $4 each and he's down to $30 and feeling the pinch; do you really think he's gonna spend $18 on your shirt? I'm not saying you should skimp on quality merch, you just might want to consider keeping the cost low whenever possible. If shirts are too expensive for you, make hats or koozies...or even frisbees! Basically, anything unique that can't be downloaded is a good bet. A lot of people at shows genuinely love music and people who love music will often choose your limited edition colored vinyl 7 inch over a shirt. That's why it's important to know what your audience likes to buy. A couple hundred 7 inch records may take up space in your garage for a while, but if you keep playing live, you'll probably sell them all eventually. The other alternative is taking the loss and selling your merch too cheap, but then you might have the problem of undermining your worth as a band. That's all your decision to make.

Now, let's get to something I (and probably most of you) can relate to: heavy bands just don't make much money; it sucks, but it's true. I don't know about your region, but here in the southern United States, Pop-Country is King and most people's idea of Heavy Metal is Five Finger Death Punch, so no matter how kick ass your band is, you're probably not gonna have an easy time making gas money to your next show. All the blogs talking about making $500 a night selling merch don't tell you that they're playing really soft, radio-friendly music. I know I'm mostly preaching to the choir on this one, but it needs to be said, most people are terrified of heavy music. All those bloggers with their success stories simply aren't talking to you, they're talking to their indie-pop cohorts.

Is all this to say that your chance of success in music is unlikely? Certainly not. As long as you've got a band full of people willing to put in effort every day to get further, you've got a shot. Do all the little, seemingly frivolous things too like scheduling tweets and posting photos of virtually anything interesting you do. It doesn't really matter if it has nothing to do with music, someone's gonna be amused by your drunken William Shatner impression or your anecdote about getting propositioned by a transvestite hooker at Waffle House. You're an entertainer, remember? If you're having fun, odds are the people watching are having fun too. If nothing else, maybe you'll get a bunch of pissy youtube comments that cause a flame war, (do people still say “flame war”?) but that will still draw attention; it's a win/win.

Get someone's girlfriend who thinks she's a photographer (you know one, I'm sure) to shoot your band's next show. There's no rule saying that blurry photos can't look cool and who doesn't know how to use photoshop at least A LITTLE these days? Write some great music, get some unique merch and play live as often as you can (but not too often in the same place) so you can stay relevant in the minds of your fans. Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter and unless you're reminding people you exist, they're gonna forget. Perhaps the most important of all these things is just getting up there and having a good time. It sounds cliché, but if you're not having fun, your audience can tell and they're not gonna have fun either. Besides, being in a band is supposed to be fun. It's also very hard work and sometimes incredibly frustrating, but I wish you all the best of luck...unless you sound like Five Finger Death Punch; in that case, stop immediately.

2 comments:

  1. Read it again even better this time. Wish it had some hard rocking band behind some of my songs. As long as it's just me acoustic I'm pretty much gonna be indie pop :). One of my fav posts out of innumerable blogs I've read.

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    1. Thanks! Glad you dug it enough to read it again! It's tough for musicians no matter the genre, best of luck to you.

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