How to Promote A Band/Album?
November 11, 2021 1:37 PM   Subscribe

My band has finally recorded our first album. What do we do now?

After significant pandemic-caused delays, my band has finally recorded, mixed, and mastered our debut album. Yay! But now we don't know what to do with it. I'm hoping fellow Mefite musicians can offer some advice/courses of action.

More information: The members of my band have all been playing music and playing in bands for a long time, but none of us ever approached it in a "professional" manner. In the past, with previous bands, we'd record, get cds made, give them out, put the songs up on Bandcamp, do an album release show with friends' bands, and that would be about the end of it. Very DIY, very local. We've now recorded an album we're all really proud of, and we spent some decent money in the process, so we'd like to approach this a little more professionally. Except we're not exactly sure what the next steps should be.

Here's what we're currently doing:

*Looking into ASCAP/BMI.
*Looking into CDBaby or Distrokid to get the songs on Spotify, iTunes, etc.
*We want to make a limited run of physical copies. Our album is a novel-in-song, basically, and we want people to have access to the lyrics. I come from a zine background, so I'm working on a "fancy" zine of sorts to go along with cds. (We did not have the album mastered for vinyl, as we thought vinyl would be out of our price-range.)
*Asking a local promoter/friend to help with an album release show.
*Got an official band photo.
*Got a friend to write our band bio.

The age range of the people in the band is 30s-50s, so we all have careers, families, etc. We are not hoping to make our living playing music, and we are not able to tour for months, or even weeks, at a time. We have no expectations of making any money from any of this.

We'd like maybe a little promotion, some album reviews maybe--but do people even still read those? Any reviews I read are from Googling specific bands I already know/like, and seem to be from local newspapers in the cities they are playing while out on tour. Our guitarist would like to get the music licensed for tv shows/movies/etc. but I think that may be too ambitious? We aren't really sure, even, how to market ourselves or target ourselves, because none of us can think of another band we sound like. My description of the band, when people ask, is "Southern Gothic 70s-arena indie rock with a pop Americana twist." Who even knows what that means?

I've been spending time reading blogs and websites and trying to do research but everything seems so scammy or vague. Perhaps my questions here are too vague (and I hope this kind of question is allowed). I'm hoping for recommendations for non-scammy resources, or what I should be doing. I honestly don't even know what I should be aiming for. Do we need a website? Do we need a music video? Should we try to hire a PR person or pay for a PR campaign?

Are there tips, tricks, advice, steps to follow or things to consider that you found helpful when releasing and promoting your band's album? How did you improve your little local band's professionalism?
posted by dearwassily to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This article, How to Release a Record, should help a lot!
posted by xo at 1:53 PM on November 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think a lot of what you do some down to what your goal is. I'm in a similar boat as you and have put out numerous recordings over the last 30 years in various genres (ambient electronic, Americana-ish, jazz), either solo, or as part of bands, and my only goal has been to be creative and have fun and be cool with whatever happens. If you want more than that, then you're going to have to put in a lot of effort, and play out in other cities. Unless you're REALLY lucky and manage to get something licensed on a TV show or something like that. And just assume that every dollar you spend don promotion is being thrown in the trash, and as long as you're having fun, consider it the equivalent to people who spend money on boats or fancy vacation, or whatever.

Here are a bunch of random things that address some of your questions.

• Distrokid has been great. It's an easy system, inexpensive, and gets your stuff everywhere. Plus, they give yo all the income from streaming (they make their money from the yearly fee and various add-ons). Of course, the tiny amount you make from each stream is nonsense.

• Bandcamp is great, too. Very easy to use, and a lot of major artists are now selling stuff there, so it's not just indie bands that no one has heard of. Unfortunately, they pay you for each transaction, which incurs a PayPal feee. I wish they'd pay monthly so that you'd be paying less to PayPal.

• At this point, even the people you think want CDs (like friends of the band members in their 50s) probably don't want CDs. If you're going to have any made, do the smallest amount possible, otherwise you're just going to wondering what to do with all of them. I've used for short runs (100-15), and they've been great.

• I've never done vinyl, but friends have, and from what I understand, as vinyl has gotten more popular, all the plants are severely backed up, so you could be waiting many months to get your records after you order them.

• ASCAP or BMI would be good to register with, but the likelihood of you getting money from them is basically nonexistent, unless you have a radio hit. Still, though, it's better to have that taken care of sooner than later, so if something does happen (airplay or TV licensing), you can make sure they're aware of it and get some money.

• Advertising is still very expensive and only works when it's repeated many, many times. I spent a fair amount of money on an ad in three issues of a fairly well-known magazine maybe 15 years ago, when print magazine were still popular, and the add didn't sell a single disc. I would have a hard time recommending doing any national advertising.

• I've never personally had anything placed in a TV shows, but a couple friends on whose records I played have, and one used Taxi and got a bunch of placements. At the time it was like $400 per year. Another friend lucked out when the people involved in a big-time CBS show were looking for song with lyrics about Greenland and came across his. They ended up not using that song, but another of his in a different scene. (the only time (to my knowledge) that Justine Bateman has made out with someone to the sound of my bass!)

• The only time I've had reviews in national magazines was when the stuff was put out by a label. Even though these days, magazines often run reviews of stuff released independently, and list "Bandcamp" as the label, I've had no luck getting reviews. I think if you can create a "labeL', you'll look more serious and maybe have an easier time of getting reviews.

• I do think that a PR person with good connections is the key. But a good PR person is going to be costly. Back in the old days when you could have an agent or a manager, they'd work for a percentage, but these days, 20% of nothing is nothing. (well, it was back then, too, but there was a much better chance of money being made in record sales and live shows). No ones buying anything physical anymore except maybe vinyl at shows, streaming pays squat, and when I hear about bands coming through town to play, it sounds like they're barely covering their expenses. My friend opened for a group (a husband and wife) that was on a known indie label, and the main guy had been in some known bands, but there were 25 people at the show, and their guarantee was basically covered by the door charge. They sold some records, but there's no way that they come out of there with much more than gas money. But they were treating their tour as their honeymoon, so they didn't care. I have a feeling that that's more common than not (not bands treating their tour as a honeymoon, but bands making zilch but doing it for fun).

This article by one of the members of Pomplamoose gets into a lot of detail about the cost of touring (they were playing sold out shows to decent size crowds after building a YouTube following and still lost money). There was a lot of backlash against the article because the author is the founder pf Patreon, and now very wealthy, and they also spent money on things like non-dirty hotel rooms and food, and they paid the musicians that were needed to fill out their band. (evidently, you're only allowed to tour if you're willing to sleep on couches and eat ramen). But all the backlash was all gatekeeping nonsense. The article is very factual about how much money was brought in and how much was spent.

Also, I think "Southern Gothic 70s-arena indie rock with a pop Americana twist" is a really good descriptor, and sound slick something a lot of people (myself included) would like.
posted by jonathanhughes at 5:51 PM on November 11, 2021 [6 favorites]

Bandcamp has done me well. You do have to kind of keep it fresh (I released something every few months for about 3 years) to keep eyes on it, but I have an utterly obscure free-form space jazz band that has done about 750.00 in sales without much more than posting to Twitter & Facebook. They definitely pay the best rates, if you can draw in listeners.

As far as professionalism, your band should have Twitter, instagram & Facebook pages, updated with catchy graphics as often as you can reasonably find an excuse to, like gigs, Bandcamp Friday, holiday shopping, etc. You probably know all this. Mainly, get out there and play gig upon gig, don’t give up if they’re not well attended at first, and be sure to put some cards or flyers by the door with a link to your album. People will get to know your name by seeing it on marquis and in the club’s advertising, and name recognition is huge.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:54 PM on November 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding xo's link & jonathanhughes. (Especially the parts about getting copyright & the PRO (ACAP or BMI and Soundscape) sorted out.)

We are not hoping to make our living playing music, and we are not able to tour for months, or even weeks, at a time. We have no expectations of making any money from any of this.

Right, so, here's the thing, then . . . who and what are you trying to appear more "professional" for? Who are you trying to market yourselves to, and why?

Totally serious non-snarky question worth really considering amongst yourselves. I mean, you're not trying to reach the point of stardom (or even "success") where booking agents and record labels and mangers are going to make a bunch of money off you, this isn't the first step on the road to being the next U2.

Your question is kinda vague because your goals are kinda vague - which is totally fine. And I think some of that is because you have an old school mindset, from the days when you were younger and maybe kinda hoping to "get somewhere" with music, and when there was a bit more of a clear path of steps for a band to take - record an album, send it out to indie labels, if none of them agreed to release/distribute it put it out yourself, send copies to a variety of dead-tree indie magazines for reviews, include those reviews in a promo package that went with the CDs you sent to college radio stations, use the reviews and evidence of radio play to get gigs in towns within a few hours drive, record another CD, hope that you could use the attention the first CD got to convince an indie label to distribute the new CD nationwide, repeat all of the above for a larger area, etc etc etc.

And now, you're right, all of that is pretty much gone - there aren't a ton of indie labels who pull much weight, zines & local run review websites are pretty much all gone, you can use CDBaby or DistroKid to get your tunes out to streaming services and college radio & the discs out to indie record stores, most music interviews/reviews are for bands hitting a town on tour. Bandcamp & social media are pretty acceptable web presences for little local bands.

I get it, I really do. You're looking around going, "Well, we put our tunes out on Bandcamp, get the stuff on the streaming services, print up a few copies of the disc to sell via Bandcamp and at live shows and . . . that's it? Surely there's more? There used to be more . . . I used to look at bands with websites & press kits and think they were really professional."

And the answer is *shrug* "Yup, that's pretty much it, these days." Especially because you're not looking at this as a step in a music career. You've just got some good tunes you'd like some people to hear and like.

So don't waste your time and money on any kind of PR campaign or the things that you used to think made a band "professional." Better to spend that dough on babysitters & tickets and get out to the local indie clubs and network in person with other bands and the club staff, see if you can hook up some more local gigs. Hell, save the money to put towards recording your next album.

My experience, as a band member, has been that people do still get a kick out of buying physical things at gigs, we sell at least a couple every show, even younger folks might pick up a CD, and if they don't buy something there we'll usually get couple of Bandcamp sales in the day or two after a gig. And a YouTube channel as part of your social media presence can't hurt so go ahead and shoot some videos for the fun of it.

The TL:DR is honestly I think y'all are looking at stuff people used to do as part of an effort to make it big and calling it "professional", and so you think you need to be more "professional", only you don't have any intention of making a career in music and the business has changed anyway. So you don't really need to do much beyond what you're already considering, what you do is get local/regional gigs, coordinate your social media with those gigs, put out more music, put put a video every so often (maybe record some of your live shows), every thing you do like that is a couple more people who hear your tunes, and that's what your realistic goals are - spread your music a little bit at a time.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:27 PM on November 11, 2021 [7 favorites]

without a proper label/management behind you, most of the promoters that will work with you are a waste of your money. they'll send it out but no one will pay attention because the promoter has a history of just taking people's money and sending out vanity projects.

my suggestion would be to find a cassette label (maybe even a local one) and see if they're interested in doing a small run of cassettes. cassette labels operate on low budgets, small runs and low expectations but many have a following and are not afraid to take a chance on new bands (especially if they're local).
posted by noloveforned at 8:35 PM on November 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

If you or people in the band are funny or are willing to come up with some sort of weird schtick, I think TikTok is the best possible PR lottery ticket. TikTok is where a lot of new music is discovered now, and it's not just for pre-teens.
posted by edlundart at 4:37 AM on November 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for responding (would mark every answer as "best" if I could, since I appreciate all of them and you).
posted by dearwassily at 11:15 AM on November 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

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