Being a music writer, and focusing on the indie scene, I’ve seen a lot of lists and tips lately advising aspiring artists on how to break through and get some exposure. Some of this advice is good, and some isn’t – like all advice – but the truth is that there isn’t a play book or check list of things that will universally work.
And there is a big mis-assumption that there is somewhere to break through to… in a lot of ways there isn’t. The best most bands can hope for is to have a tour where you don’t lose a ‘lot’ of money, and to have enough money to record your next album. Sorry kids, but that’s about as good as it gets these days.
Having reviewed and interviewed hundreds of bands, and being the one on the receiving end of all the emails and promotional posts, I’m going to add to the clutter of similar articles with my personal take on the things that get my attention, and that get written about.
1: Hire a good PR person. I get dozens of emails daily about new music. They all sound the same, and I can’t read most of them – because I have a life and things to do – and I already have a backlog of articles to finish. But, when a PR person I have a relationship with messages me and asks me to take a special look at an artist, I do it 100% of the time. A good PR person will be able to cut through the red tape, if you can afford them. The truth of our modern world is that it is pay to play, and if you want to cut to the front of the line it’s going to cost you.
2: Get a good band photo. This is probably the number one tip above all others. Before someone will listen to you, they will see you. Whether it’s on an album cover, a social post or an email message, there will be a visual image of you that people will see before they hear your music, and this is the sizzle that sells the steak. Again, a good shot will cost you, but a bad shot or a lack of one will cost you even more.
3: Videos, videos and more videos. They don’t have to be fancy. They don’t have to be from an expensive camera. They don’t even have to be good! Seriously. But you’ve got to have them, and the more the better. YouTube is the number one promotional platform for music. Having a video link gives you the “thing” to blog about and for your fans to share. If you had started doing a video a week last year, you would have 50 videos online right now and that would give the search engines something to find… and that’s how people will find you.
4: Write a personal letter. I can tell the difference between a form letter and a personally written letter in my email box instantly. I trash the form letters and read the personal ones, and when a band takes their time to write to me personally, and to ask me if I want to check them out I say yes 100% of the time. Even if I don’t have time to write a full review I will take my time and blog about them if they have taken their time to write to me. I consider it being polite. Remember, music writers are people too. Try to make a personal connection.
5: Be so good they can’t ignore you. This quote is attributed to Steve Martin, and if you have exceptional talent, and an authentic belief in yourself and satisfaction with your artistic accomplishment, it shows through no matter what the medium. If you believe in yourself, others will believe in you, so don’t try to sell yourself, let your talent sell itself. And if, like most musicians, you fail to find commercial success, you will have the pride of accomplishment within yourself. That’s something you cannot buy no matter how much money you make and it’s also something that can never be taken away from you.
A little more personal advice? Relax and enjoy your time in the band. You might make money, you might not, but the time people spend expressing their art and their rock and roll spirit together with like-minded people defines them and grows their humanity and depth. There is a 99.9% probability that you’re not going to break through, so if you orient your life around that and it doesn’t happen, you’ll feel that you have failed. So make the music that you want and be grateful that you are privileged enough to have a life where you even have the chance to spend your time making music.
PHOTO: World War IX