Ever wondered why your band struggles to even get pub gigs, yet a fresh new band is packing out venues from day one? Fed up of having to resort to Pay2Play gigs because no decent promoter is willing to take a chance with you? The secret to success is in plain sight, it's just only a few have the vision to see it. This guide covers the importance of planning ahead, how to gain attention for your band, and how to score those exciting opportunities that are otherwise unavailable to you.
The biggest mistake unsigned bands make, particularly newer ones, is also one of the most frustrating parts of working with bands. The idea that the more they gig, the more people they will reach, and the bigger their following will get providing their music is good. So they set off, aimlessly gigging wherever they can, desperately shouting their really long Facebook URL's to the audience (of mostly friends and family and the other bands who are only there because they're supporting you, not your band), and they pick up the odd like on Facebook here and there, only to never see that person ever again at a show. They sometimes get the odd gig which has a decent turnout, mainly because another band who knows what they're doing has brought it, but even then they never truly get much progress. They start posting pictures up on Facebook complaining about how nobody supports local unsigned music any more, memes about how much they work at their passion, yet nobody gives a fuck. Eventually the band members all get frustrated, some leave, and the project comes to an end.
Meanwhile, a group of ridiculous looking kids who play mediocre music (to you) are playing all the good festivals, doing a tour, releasing music videos, recording an album, and have people going to their gigs?! Is it because they are super popular and have amazing friends? Is it because they're really rich and have bought their success? Surely they must be well connected... Wrong. What they might have is a manager who actually knows what they're doing, but in most cases it's down to them actually having enough organisational skills to plan ahead.
The best way to explain how to plan effectively is by making up a hypothetical band as a case example. This band is going to be called NOVA (randomly came to mind). I will also use another case study called TRASH. Now NOVA are a group of guys who know what they're doing, they're planning ahead. TRASH on the other hand are a group of guys who don't know what they're doing, equally talented with music, just no sense when it comes to managing their band.
The BeginningThe two bands are born, they've been practising for a while and have both come up with a set of songs they like and they want to get out there.
TRASH are so excited about playing to big crowds of adoring fans, they reckon their music is kick-ass and speaks for itself. They launch their Facebook, inviting all their friends, get about 200-300 likes, and start posting terrible quality videos of them playing (sounds like it was recorded with a microwave). Around 3 or 4 people like the videos (but never watched them fully), and the band is now contacting promoters asking for gigs. Not many reply... Only the ones that say they need to sell X many tickets or pay up, or buy upfront for tickets. Pay2Play promoters. They get sold "exposure" and successfully book their first gig at the O2 Academy a few months down the line.
NOVA whilst excited to be getting out there and gigging, decide a more sensible route. They piece together a plan that schedules for an entire year, roughly what they are going to be doing. They have already been putting £5-10 each every week to the side as savings, and they are now planning on entering the recording studio in a couple of months' time. They decide to rehearse and perfect their songs in rehearsals, ready for the studio.
A Couple of Months LaterTRASH, splash onto the scene with their first gig. They managed to only just sell the amount of tickets they needed to sell in order to not lose money (minus the petrol costs) by personally messaging every single one of their friends about their gig (because nobody was looking at the event on their facebook page people had liked). The gig is on a Wednesday night at the O2, the band stands outside the venue taking a picture with the venue logo behind them, all excited! They're first on and the time ticks closer to the start of their set. The only people there are a couple of friends and family who bought tickets, some of the other bands, and a few stragglers feeling uncomfortable because they're in a very large room that seems quite open with the lack of people there. The band notices some of their "fans" (as they would call them) who bought tickets hadn't arrived yet. "They must be running late" one guy says to his band mates. Their set begins, they rock out as hard as possible to the small crowd, mostly of people talking to each other and only stopping to applaud at the end of each song. The band comes off stage feeling over the moon and full of adrenaline. They stay for the other bands and start drinking, and as the other 2 bands come on stage, people from the pub next door clamber in and fill the venue a little more to watch the bands. They had been drinking in the pub because the beer is cheaper, and the only reason they are there is not for the music, it's to support their friends and family in the bands.
Meanwhile, NOVA are doing the finishing touches to their EP and it is sounding absolutely killer! The extra rehearsals and fine tuning has really paid off and meant they have recorded the EP for much less money than they had expected, and it sounds great! They now start executing the next stage of their plan, contacting press, promoters, booking agents, labels, management, and a whole host of other industry professionals, sending them their EPK (Electronic Press Kit) in a hopes of getting on their radar. Their plan is to release the EP later that year, backed up by a marketing campaign that is finalised with a short tour of support slots. They know that to book a tour, they will need around 6 months to get it all sorted and to make sure they can secure the dates and locations, this gives them time to also keep saving up more cash and to get everything planned and ready for the marketing campaign. As the interest from press, promoters, and other industry professionals slowly trickles in, they start planning out a music video for one of their tracks.
A Few Months LaterTRASH, after their success of the first gig, decided to book a series of more gigs with the same Pay2Play promoter, as well as being able to score a few more pub gigs in locations they had never heard of ... sounded exciting though. The pub gigs went well, mostly. Not great turn outs but all the bands were supportive of each other and stayed to watch which was great. It was nice to see each other supporting the local scene unlike others. The band got a couple of drinks from the bar for free too as payment which was very much appreciated. Unfortunately, for the gigs with the Pay2Play promoter, they struggled to sell tickets the 3rd time. People seemed to be quite busy recently or had other plans already. TRASH ended up having to pay the promoter after the gig which was a bit mean of him considering they brought all the kit, and they paid all that petrol money. That promoter must be making a lot of money. Where was all this exposure that TRASH were promised anyway? The band is still on 400 likes on Facebook!
TRASH decide that they need to record a few songs to get more fans. That way they can get better gigs.NOVA, having just finished their music video for one of their tracks on the EP, are pumped full of energy at how well everything is coming. Booking the tour, whilst challenging, has proven successful and they have a series of dates around the country, supporting bands which have already got hype around them! They can't contain the excitement about what they are creating and the urge to not go out and start gigging now is almost too much. Their resilience however is strong and they continue with the plan. They set up the social media accounts for the band, contact all their press contacts with release information, the music video, and reviews they obtained. They invite all their friends to the Facebook page and start showing the fruits of their labour, making most shocked at how good it is. They start sharing it with friends, all who are equally impressed with the content. Not only this, but people outside their circle of friends are starting to like the content, some from seeing articles in the press online. The band decided to do a few sponsored adverts for their music video which also promoted the dates of their upcoming tour, receiving good feedback and a steady stream of new interest in the band. They are pumped, ready to do the final few practices before their tour.
One Month LaterTRASH had started looking at recording studios and were immediately daunted by the costs involved. They had no idea how they were going to afford all of this and wondered how other bands had managed at all. They must be from rich families or something. Luckily, they finally found a studio that was doing recordings for cheap rates. They pick out the songs for their EP and head in, only to find after a couple of hours that they wouldn't be able to record the whole EP with the amount of money/time they had in the studio. Instead they opt for just 2 tracks, since that would be enough. They get them recorded and think they're absolutely amazing! Immediately they release them onto their Facebook page, tagging all their friends in posts to get them to listen to it. They get a few comments saying it's a good track and are really pleased with themselves. What they don't know is people found it pleasant, but never really paid much attention to it. It was just background noise to them. They certainly didn't care for it much and found that it didn't really have great quality compared to the other music they listen to. Not many went back to listen to it for a second time. The band then sets off again, trying to book as many gigs as they can, succeeding a lot more this time however. Most of the gigs though were still Pay2Play or small time pub gigs in the middle of nowhere.
NOVA launches their EP to a great reception. The final few press release articles are dished out, and the band set off on the road to do their tour. Every gig they played was energetic, the crowd loved it, interacted, and they made a great bunch of contacts and friends on the way. Their social media was having a steady engagement from people. They were creating fans. The money they had saved up was going well since they had managed to secure at least their petrol money for most shows, if not more. At one gig they even got a rider (Blue M&M's only!). Propelled by the success they've had, they begin plans on writing an album, looking at festivals they want to play, and start talking to industry such as booking agents, labels, etc.
A Year Later
TRASH are sorry to announce that due to differences, we are now no longer functioning as a band. We would like to thank everyone for their continuous support blah blah. The reality is, nothing ever happened for them. They blamed the bad support local bands get, they blamed the promoters for being bad and just rinsing money of them, never actually getting their music out there and making them fans. They fell out with each other because of the frustration in the band and the sense of stagnation. All they have are memories of playing a few gigs and the thrill of being on stage at a venue.NOVA, after the success of their first EP and tour, then went onto record an album. They had managed to make contacts within the industry and even played the smaller stage of a few big festivals that year! Their payments at gigs had increased and they even got a full rider of hot meals, water, and beer. They weren't making much money, but the enjoyment of getting on a stage to perform to a sweaty crowd was immense. These moments are moments they will never forget.
Which band are you?
About the Author:
Paul Williamson, founder of www.band-stuff.com, musician, singer, and promoter. In the past 2 years I have worked as a promoter, putting on events in London, working with a variety of bands and artists ranging from small garage band acts, to international touring acts.