How can my friend's band promote themselves?
February 23, 2009 12:28 PM   Subscribe

A good friend of mine just wrapped up a full length album. They are a trio with a little bit of live experience, but no real contacts. How should they go about promoting themselves, both to play in bars/clubs or for possible label representation?
posted by patientpatient to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
what kind of music do they play? There are different approaches for every industry.
posted by The1andonly at 1:10 PM on February 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I Am Not A Record Executive, but I am a budding music reviewer for my college newspaper, so here's my $0.02.

The simplest way is to have a little postcard printed with a catchy graphic and their myspace URL. Take a bunch of those, along with sample CDs, go around to local bars and clubs, and see if anyone's willing to let them play. If there are colleges nearby, even a tiny little community college, try to get a gig there (which shouldn't be too hard, though you might not get paid). Stick the postcards up on lampposts and bulletin boards. Send CDs or email mp3s to local newspapers to review, if they have a music review section. If there are music blogs in your particular genre that don't mind submissions, try those.

I don't know whether you're in a big city or in the suburbs or what; this might make a difference in how many venues are available. Either way, the key is keep trying. People are bound to say "no"; but just because the first five clubs you tried are all booked for now doesn't mean the sixth one will be. Same with music reviewers, same with everything.

As for labels, a good place to start would be to find other small bands in the same genre and see if their labels are accepting anyone new. For lack of more details about your situation, I'd say wait until you've played a few more local shows.
posted by lolichka at 1:23 PM on February 23, 2009

It all depends on what they want to do with themselves, and how much time they have. Do they want to be a local live band? Do they want to tour? Or do they see themselves as more of a studio band, with limited live potential? Would they be gigging around to sell the CD, or to sell their show?

If they want to be a (relatively) local band, they can just ask around at bars, coffee shops, etc. They could attend open mic nights (depending on if they can sell CDs there or not). Just get out and have fun. If there's a local alternative radio station, send them a CD or two, but make sure the station fits their sound. Otherwise, they could be throwing away a CD. They could send some CDs to music/arts reviewers at the local paper(s). If they send their CDs somewhere, be sure to follow up in a few weeks, but don't be hurt by rejection or cold shoulder. Any decent radio station or reviewer gets a lot of unrequested material, and must sort the good from the bad with some speed, or they'd never get to the good stuff.

If they're looking to sell CDs, talk to any local music shops to see if they can sell directly to the shop. I'm sure the shop would preview the music and decide if it's worth shelf space, but some local shops have local music sections. eMusic has a good page on distribution options for self-released music for digital music sales. Then there's always MySpace, Facebook, and all sorts of blogs.

If they have time, they can promote themselves pretty well with a bit of research. The key thing to know is who you're trying to get in contact with, and what they want. You don't want to be a rock band trying to play at a blues lounge, or a pop-punk group trying to appeal to indie rock radio kids.

Labels are useful because they handle a lot of the promotion work for bands, but they aren't as necessary as they used to be. David Byrne had an interesting article in Wired for emerging artists. It's from a few years ago now, but still an interesting read.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:24 PM on February 23, 2009

Yeah, what's the goal and where are they? Advice will depend a lot on those answers.
posted by klangklangston at 2:38 PM on February 23, 2009

Response by poster: They are near Chicago and are of the indie-folk persuasion.

I don't think they have lofty goals...just some steady shows and possibly a small, independent label to pick them up.
posted by patientpatient at 6:43 AM on February 24, 2009

Best answer: Hmm. Ok, most of what I know about Chicago applies more to indie rock than indie folk, but let's give it a try.

First off, they do need a myspace page with a couple of songs on it. Then they need to find folks who are already playing out that they like. I'd have to start by googling around for indie folk gigs in Chicago, but your friends should (ideally) already know some people who are there and playing. (What, they have a band but don't go to shows? Fail!)

Then they want to practice, practice, practice, and start getting opening gigs for those bands they like. Play out, get good. You don't get good without playing out. Then go back and put different songs on that myspace—too many bands keep their demo bullshit up too long.

Don't worry about press, really. Having been a member of that dubious estate, what the press is good for is getting folks who wouldn't normally go out and see music to come and see "important" bands. Those aren't the folks you want at first—you want locals, people who already know your scene and are already involved in it. They'll be your early adopters and champions. Press only really becomes important when you have, say, an album to sell, and even then, it's more important if you're looking to sell 1000 copies rather than 100 copies.

It helps to look cool, or rather, have good design for your flyers and t-shirts. VG Kids is in Ann Arbor, not too far away, and I really recommend them for getting stickers, t-shirts, anything screenprinted. They're DIY punks and they do an excellent job for reasonable prices.

Stickers help, as do t-shirts. But what really gets a band booked again and again is a crowd, and, though this may not apply so much to the folk scene, something that really helps that is getting a whole bunch of women to come to your shows. Work on the girlfriends of members of the band (if they won't go and see you, you probably suck and should practice a lot more, and maybe write new songs), and get them to bring their female friends. A bunch of women will attract dudes to a bar night; a bunch of dudes won't necessarily attract women. And a bunch of women looks great to label reps.

Start concentrating on getting your music into the hands of those folks who are your scene, and who are doing things like booking shows and putting out records of folks you like. They're where you'll build a rep.

Oh, last little bit of advice off the top of my head—Be fucking professional. Book gigs, then show up on time for the soundcheck and watch the other bands. Don't be a dick to the sound guy. This sort of behavior is crucial in the early days of gigging because it helps separate you from the rest of the assholes who want to be rock stars. Take your shit seriously, and other people will too. Too many otherwise decent bands get derailed early by being massive cocks and acting all ego when they don't deserve it.
posted by klangklangston at 10:20 AM on February 24, 2009

In addition to klang's good advice, something that my band has been doing that we've really enjoyed is looking out for unusual show opportunities. There are often events and venues that are not strictly music related, but where it is cool to gig. For example, we've played recently at a folk art museum, at loft parties, at a culinary festival and a benefit event for Haiti. These shows have been fun to play and it's gotten us some fans who would never have come to see us at a standard music venue. Near Chicago there should be plenty of stuff going down all of the time, so I'd imagine there are interesting opportunities to be had. If they can work connections with other creative folks they could play underground art parties, street fairs, whatever. We frequently come across these odd show opportunities just through our circles of friends and through other bands that we've played with before. We often just throw the idea out there and are prepared to accept what comes our way.

People remember you when you play a unique show and it's always cool for there to be music where you aren't expecting it. It's also given us experience in setting up a six-piece band in all kinds of playing situations, which is critical if they ever want to go on a serious tour.
posted by otolith at 11:12 AM on February 24, 2009

Oh, yeah, I'd second that. One of those up-and-coming bands from around here (Crystal Antlers) made their early rep by having a manager who would book 'em EVERYWHERE. I mean, seriously, I saw 'em in a dirt lot in back of a hair salon, with a neighborhood boracho mariachi opening. It was totally fucking sweet.
posted by klangklangston at 11:45 AM on February 24, 2009

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