It’s the dream of many high school and college students – to be in a band or to be a singer or songwriter. For many shy students, or students without the means to buy their first instrument (yet), it will remain a dream. A lucky few will actually get up the guts to make it happen.
You’ve found your instruments, new or second hand or maybe borrowed from a willing friend, and bandmates. You may or may not have found your gear – that can get pretty expensive. You’ve found a relative or friend with a willingness to lend you a basement or garage to practice. You’re probably still trying to figure out a name. Now you need to find a way to be heard.
Granted, no amount of presence, branding and marketing will help you be heard if you suck at music or if you need more practice, but if you are actually semi-good and don’t sound like a group of tone deaf monkeys, knowing some basics can help.
What’s this “flexible branding stuff you are always talking about for music?
You’re young or just started out if you are reading this, most likely. This is probably your first band. Heck, you are probably still arguing over the name! On the one hand, you need to be “branded” (e.g. recognizable to the public) to find gigs. On the other hand, your band name will probably change at least twice in your first year of doing this.
Handle that by setting up personal pages for each of the band members, and brand yourselves individually. Make the frontman the touch point on these sites until you have a name (carefully – this will entail making some of your profiles more public which comes with risk). Then, once the band name is set (eventually) make a page on social sites for the band as well and unlink your personal accounts, redirecting folks there. This will allow you to book gigs even while you are finding your footing.
It may help to make sure each personal page has the band logo and description and the (ever changing) name on them, to let people know they have found the right place to contact you for gigs, or just to tell you how awesome you are!
Sites to help with branding: MySpace, Facebook, iMeem, ReverbNation, OurStage, NuBuMu, SeeJoeRock, YouTube
What happens if one of my bandmates leaves?
This happens, too, in young bands. In this case, if putting a notice on your local community board at school or local cafes and such doesn’t work to find your replacement drummer, try another social site. Both MySpace and Facebook offer marketplace listings for just such and occasion that work like an online classified ad. Don’t overlook Craigslist either – it’s a great place to find bandmates. Again, proceed with caution – not everyone online is full of butterflies, rainbows and good intentions.
We got really good and someone wants to pay us!
Congratulations! You are on your way! Getting paid is a sure sign that you don’t sound like a bunch of tone deaf monkeys (or if you do and are in a death metal band, that you are really awesome at sounding like a bunch of tone deaf monkeys). Getting paid opens up a whole other can of worms. In the beginning go with cash and divvy it up fairly. Keep records – you may need to pay taxes even on cash payments. If you’ve outgrown cash you can grow into a bank account, and attach it to a PayPal account – this will make it easier for folks to pay you online.
Other uses for PayPal and online payments include people buying your merchandise (you will have T-Shirts once you have a band name, I’m sure), any demo CDs or downloadable music you may have, and tickets to shows. If everyone in the band has a PayPal, it’s a fairly simple prospect to divvy up the money regularly.
Wait, merchandise!? I didn’t even think of that. We can’t afford to print shirts!
Never fear, the online world is here to help with this, too. Remember that PayPal account we just talked about? You can use it to take payments from sites like CafePress and Zazzle. The sole purpose of CafePress and Zazzle is to give you a simple, easy, affordable way to make and sell stuff. They use a print on demand method of distribution, which means you don’t have to order hundreds of shirts and pay up front – you design them, you upload designs, you set a price, you link folks to the product on your social sites or web page, and CafePress and the like handle the orders, the delivery of the stuff and the paying of you.
This all seems like a lot to handle. Does it take time?
Yes, it does. The more serious you are about your band and your music the more time you should spend interacting with fans and fellow musicians on your online presences. If it’s just a hobby you hope to make some money at you can dial it down a notch and focus on other things. The nice thing about being in a band is that you can divide the work load among you so it doesn’t take too much time from homework, dating, jobs and other things in real life. Even so, all total you should spend about an hour a day on this part of things – the marketing part – in addition to the practice part and the gig playing part if you want to make this a permanent part of your music life.
Is there more to learn?
Absolutely, but this beginners guide should get even the youngest musician started down the right path. We can talk strategy down the road in installment two of this.
What about printed materials?
As my friend Nate from Big Duck Management will assure you, the days of the poster and postcard and sticker are far from dead. They are just a part of the whole now, though. Even things like photos and videos are easiest to have fans upload online to your social sites first. Then save the best to add to your media kit you’ll be building as you go.
This post was inspired by this question on Twitter today:
As an end user, perhaps my favorite application of microsharing platforms of all types (think Twitter, Foursquare, etc) are how they help me add to my already extensive music collection. It’s fun to get a little shiver of a music fix randomly during an otherwise normal business day, just by tuning in to what’s going on around me online.
As a consultant, I love seeing the innovative ways the people behind the music we love are using microsharing platforms. It inspires me to see the ongoing and building connections with fans, the innovations in distribution, the advances in sales, the making of successful gigs and forging of collaborations.
These platforms have another effect also: they make music human again, bringing it out from behind a faceless corporate label or radio station. What should musicians be doing on these platforms to get their music heard and do an end run around the status quo?
One to One Sharing: Hand pick fans to send free songs, offer an opt in DM link to a free song each month for your fans and followers, talk to your fans one on one and get to know them – if you are in their city, meet up with them before or after your show. All of these things foster the one to one fan/creative relationship as well as sales.
One to Many Sharing: Use your social platforms and website to give people ways to discover your music. Use all of them! Sure, Twitter is fun, but if you integrate Blip, iMeem (now MySpace Music), and more, you’ll get more bang for your buck with the cross linking and user driven sharing systems they all have. Toss in more obscure things like Twitter lists and you have even more ways to share your sound with the world.
Collaboration: Social media provides an unprecedented arena for collaboration between artists and fans. Take advantage of the mashup culture, and use the ability to reach people you wouldn’t normally be able to reach to create new projects and expand your reach and audience, as well as to make more varied and interesting music.
Booking Gigs: The access that social media platforms give musicians to venues and enthusiastic fans can go a long way toward eliminating the middle man in booking gigs. One of my favorite uses of this is a musician who has been using his social network to book intimate house gigs all over the country, exposing fans to his music in a much more personal way. Another favorite example is the musician using Ustream with other social platforms to generate interest in upcoming gigs locally. Then you have people like Sooz in Boston using her love of music and social media to drive awareness to local bands through an annual event she’s making (Soozapaolooza).
Distribution: The music industry may be crying foul at the way things are changing, but that isn’t going to stop the deluge of fans clamoring to get their music delivered to them in new and unusual ways that free them from the vice-like grip of pale Clear Channel pop and label generated. Musicians on top of the trend with social media platforms for delivery will find themselves ahead of the game. Innovation is the key to success now.
Live Shows: Fans are clamoring for live shows. We already discussed the innovation of having fans host live in home shows via leverage of social media platforms, and of fans hosting live events to showcase their favorite artists. Collaboration with your fans using social media can increase attendance at live shows already on your schedule and help you schedule and broadcast live shows in new and innovative ways on and offline.
These thoughts are just grazing the tip of the iceberg of potential. I’ll be talking in Cannes France at MIDEM about more ways to leverage specific platforms for musicians this month – if you are there, come have a listen!