The Difference Between a Successful Band, and Your Band

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.

Ultimate Guitar

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.

Sound familiar?

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 Beginning

The 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 Later

TRASH, 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 Later

TRASH, 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 Later

TRASH 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, 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.

46 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Problem I notice with a lot of bands, and problems they have becoming successful are: Not having a unique sound. Trying to push really technical music then complaining when hardly anyone wants to listen to it. Or the really big one, is they don't care about image. Music is more about image now than it ever has been, on stage, you create a persona, and that is your act. It is part of performance. that separates performing from just playing music in front of people.I've seen so many musicians just turn up and be like "Well, Kurt Cobain didn't care about his image" etc, but here's the thing: This isn't the 90s, you can't pull that off anymore. This isn't the 80s either, you aren't going to be a successful solo guitarist.Stop trying to cling on to outdated music business practices. Streaming and piracy have changed everything. Deal with it. NETWORK. It's who you know, not what you know. Don't like it, think it's really bad that people choose people they know over talent? Too bad. That's how the world works. Don't piss people off, and don't suck up to them too much. Find common interests with people who can benefit you, get on friendly terms with them. Your band is the BRAND. Learn to sell it, learn how to market yourself, or you probably aren't going to go far. There is more music now than there ever was, and you need to stand out.
    Leather Sleeves
    That reminds me of a passage from Futurama: "Delivery [music] has nothing to do with the delivery [music] business. Image, people, image!" -That Guy. I was actually just thinking about that the other day, it's kind of true of most business. Especially music.
    This is a fantastic piece of fiction. Let me tell you the reality of Nova. They put $10 a week aside as a savings, except the singer who is always broke. At the end of the year they have a whopping $500 to record. So they go to a guy who will record them for that price and they get an EP that sounds like it was recorded in a dumpster. They now have no money for merch so they book a tour and pay for it almost completely out of pocket, because opening bands get paid shit and they have no merch to sell. Did I mention they had to quit their jobs to tour. So after a tour that cost them money, they return home with no jobs, no place to live and the bassist pawned his gear to pay for his drug habit. The van broke down so they cant get to the next festival and the guitarist knocked up his girlfriend. So now the band no money, no place to rehearse and needs two new members. These are the moments they will never forget.
    On the off chance you're speaking from personal experience, you really should have picked more responsible bandmates before trying to make it as a pro musician. Of course, if there's no personal experience backing this cynicism, then I guess you just enjoy being defeatist for the sake of being defeatist. Either way, that doesn't change the reality that many people can and do carry out a very similar plan to the above, and "make it" as a result.
    I had something similar to that for like 8 years, just being completely unable to find more than one other dedicated, competent and interested musician to be in the band, and settling on mediocre "hobbyist" musicians for the rest of the roster. It's pretty difficult to find solid bandmates if you don't live in the right area.
    Same here. That's why I'm about to leave the country. If you want it enough....
    I actually have experienced that with my newest band I'm forming. The trick in it all really is that you have to accept you won't find the 'perfect member' easily, if at all. What you do is look both at the strengths and weaknesses of all your team and see how it would match as a combined effort.
    Hahaha. I was thinking the same thing. However it is a good read from the point of view that having a good plan of action and making sure you are rehearsed when going into studio are both great was to ensure you are one step ahead of the other bands out there.
    Depending on the genre of music, you can circumvent the cost of recording in a studio by doing most, if not, all of it, at home. Yuck is a great example of this, they recorded the drums in a studio, but they did everything else at home. I can't remember what they used as they've taken down the equipment list, but it was all fairly basic stuff. Mac Demarco is also another great example, he's never been into a recording studio and has done everything at home.
    sure sounds like it
    It suits the sort of thing they're going for, which is basically stuff like Dinosaur Jr, Pavement and Sebadoh.
    Yeah get it. But you would need good gear, and either a sound engineer in your band, or connections in that way. You would also need experience at it. chances are if it was ur first album it will sound rubbish.
    Very true. If I remember rightly, Enter Shikari's Take To The Skies was a home recording. That is a possible variable but if you are without the tech or the skills, then you will be needing a studio, engineer, and the sort.
    I'm the lead guitarist for Trash currently. Time to change. But is it too late? We got one show coming up, our first show, pay2play.
    One thing that's not mentioned, but is about in 99 % of all cases true: To become NOVA, you probably need to be a THRASH for a few years first. Whoever means it serously, will prevail, others will broke up.
    Of course, but it's always helpful when someone opens your eyes a little bit for you, than having to be a blind mole rat for half a decade. What I have wrote is through personal experience. TRASH is based off an old band of mine, same with NOVA.
    Yes. Thanks for the tip. Played in to many TRASH bands and am over expecting them to be what they are not. Short sighted unprofessionals....
    You won't find 2-4 others who are professionally minded unfortunately. What you can do is find people with their own strengths and weaknesses that work together. All they need to be able to do is: - Play well - Turn up on time - Practice - Stick to a schedule The rest can be left with one person who has a more business minded attitude since the others will likely just follow what you say. (Why think when you can follow, right?)
    You may be right? I guess I'm meaning "unprofessional" in the sense of being unreliable, having a bad attitude, unwilling to learn and improve, or invest in being some sort of team. Not so much the business side...Too many "business" people in a band could be messy?
    Depends really. You can have more than one 'businessey' guy/gal in the band so long as they're able to compromise on certain situations. In some cases there are multiple ways to skin the same cat. That is something I struggled with on some occasions since I am very confident in my own choices, and I know what I do works or when it doesn't I have the insight to change it to work. It's just to work as a team, you need to balance it all and make it work with a joint decision.
    The joker the pushed the dislike above is probably still living in his mom's basement, pissed off that he hasn't been "discovered" on youtube yet...
    Never discuss "success" with anyone that hasn't read Joseph Campbell cause they will probably connect success to money. The world is full of rich failures.
    Okay so lets analyze this. Nova doesn't play a single show. They sit and rehearse, and eventually decide to record. Good start I'll admit that. They write a few good tunes and after a decent recording session start to promote themselves. Then they go and play their first show, and because in all reality these guys have focused on only one aspect of being a musician, they aren't comfortable or tight playing in front of people. I've been a session musician for two years, and I can safely say, playing in a small room is completely different than a live show. You only get experience and good from playing live shows. So they don't sound like their record, which costs them fans. So now they've just spent all this money, and planned out an improbable goal. If you only focus on the marketing aspect, you either better be the Beatles in their later years, or a promoter. You have to play gigs. Now Trash fucked up because they didn't plan at all, I get that, but unless you view this as a two front war, you won't make it. A better and more accurate article would have been to merge both wrong mentalities into a unified and correct ideology. You have to polish your work, both by practicing and getting feedback from the audience. Then you record and make a few band videos. Promote the fuck out of them, ALL while playing as many gigs as possible. Don't even think about a tour until you're getting over a certain amount of pay each gig, can logically take enough time off to travel to each location, and that you have the fan base to get you a decent draw everywhere you go. This should take a year to two years. A manger helps, just as a promoter does, but if you do it yourself, you need to pull double duty. Sorry man, but you took two extreme examples and tried to pass them off as some sort of lesson. In reality both of these bands would fail.
    BlueJayWater, I can see where you're coming from, but I will have to disagree. If this is your first ever band, then yes, what you say is true. The realism of it all however is that your first band will ALWAYS fail. This is from the viewpoint of musicians who are well experienced at playing live, particularly since they're making decent music, something first band'ers tend to lack. As for gigging as much as you can, that actually is detrimental to your PR, and also devalues your brand. This isn't the 1960's - 1990's. The scene doesn't work like that any more. If you want your band to be taken seriously, getting a product together that is as good as the big names out there, with good marketing, and good B2B networking, that is the way. By doing this, not only do you wow people with such an explosive product, making them think "this band is the next thing", you also show industry (such as promoters) that you are something that has the capability of going further than the rest. That is how I get the bands I manage at least £100 payment fee per gig from the start, touring as a support for bigger named artists and progressing each year. None of that playing pubs shit.
    To throw things into the mix. I wonder if playing in front of a church group every Sunday counts as "live shows". I would be interested to hear what you guys think...
    Yeah, if you are an experienced muso, you woiud be fine. There is always room for improvement, but Nova are smart, exerienced musicians, who know the Trash model doesnt work.So they perfect a product before they showcase it to the world. Simple
    I should also add: Most pro bands use their own gear and sound engineer who they will get to come to a rehearsal so that they can sort their sound so its near enough to their recordings as possible. That way, when you play a live show, you sound epic.
    What you've said here has helped elaborate a bit more, but most of it still ties in to the promoting aspect. I understand that music is a business, and your work must be treated as a product. So what do you do when you have a brand new product? You test it. You get reviews. You get as much feedback as possible to tweak your design to reach more people. In short, you make it more marketable. You still have to play shows. And what you said about this isn't the 90's anymore is true. But one of the best ways of networking is still word of mouth, and face to face interaction. With all the bands I've played with and started, I got the farthest by playing small gigs to build a reliable fan base, to network with promoters, and because of those get high paying and prestigious shows. Even with today's tech, you can't ever seal a deal over the phone or through a text. You gotta look them in the eye and shake their hand. I get what you are saying and yeah, I agree. But there are a lot more real world situations that Trash would be able to adapt to over Nova, because they are in the thick of it. I still believe Nova would fail, because I've seen it. And I've seen numerous Trash's fail too. I think you were on to something, that's why I commented. Perhaps you should write a follow up. Something with a bit more realatable scenarios, and more in-depth with the real world
    Some Nova's will fail, that's a certainty. There are many contributing factors to a band's success more than just the business aspect of things. I'm sorry to disappoint but if there was a formulae I could tell you now that would ensure you saw great success 100%, I would tell you it. The reality is that there isn't. You will only ever know so much on how to build yourself a successful band, but never it all, the rest is what they call luck. I could delve into so many topics from this that I could write an encyclopaedia of knowledge, most of which may not apply or help. For example, the bands that get HUGE success, are usually the ones that create a new scene. To create a new scene, these bands would take multiple genres, and meld them into one. They consistently do this over the course of their careers. Be it the first band to introduce fast punk with rock n roll, to Enter Shikari mixing trance with metal. The biggest bands that have secured a career longer than a single album's worth of material do this. You always get one innovative band, and then a shit ton of bands that replicate what they do. Currently there are a huge swarm of Periphery bands popping up, and a huge swarm of Sand Pit Turtle bands. Compare them to bands like Korn who mixed Doom elements of music with hip hop and nu-metal, they're in a completely different league.
    The exact reason i stopped trying to join a band. roughly 90% of bands is like "THRASH".
    The NOVA story does assume they have a lot more money for all of the "press, promoters, booking agents, labels, management, and a whole host of other industry professionals" not to mention the EP and music video right off the bat. In fact everything in their route involves spending a lot of money that they haven't made.
    Why are you paying money for press, promoters, labels, and booking agents? Press = Free unless you use a PR company. Promoters = paying you or if you aren't good, you play for free. Bookings Agents = Take a cut of your pay from gigs, not just paid to get you gigs. Labels = Get paid from a cut of the revenue. The only industry you might be paying for is a manager. Otherwise you are getting ripped off. IF all you can get is by paying industry to work with you, then its a serious case of your product being utter shit. If you're going to be a successful band, you need to pay money out of your own pocket to begin with, as with any business you start up.Nova put aside £10 a week each, that's £50 a week for a 5 piece band. Let's assume they take 4 months to get ready for the studio. That's £868 already from just setting aside £10 from each member.The £10 was just a number to come to my head. Most bands will save up more.
    I don't think you understand the sheer number of P2P promoters out there and how hard it is to avoid them when starting out. Nobody pays somebody for a gig when they have no fans. "But it's about the music man". Fuck off and live in the real world and get a real band.
    Well I've never used a P2P promoter in my life apart from one time when I was 17 I got persuaded to enter a BOTB competition (which was entirely P2P promising exposure blah blah). Just because there are loads of P2P promoters, doesn't mean you have to choose to go with them. If you just work harder at getting decent opportunities and making yourself attractive to the decent promoters, you will be fine.
    Always ask for a performance contract from every promoter you work with. Read it, make sure there is not shortfall requirements, no ticket buying requirements on your part, etc. If you can't get a fee then play for free, just never pay to play. You should be able to get a fee though if your music is good and you have presented it well (as in have a product).
    friday.the.13th.jasonx · Sep 14, 2015 01:11 AM
    I dont like band members who tell me what to play on my guitar. Your the vocalist do your vocals your the drummer do the drums you get what im saying?
    That's ridiculous. Each band member should be able to give a view, add direction to your part and if you dislike another persons part, you should be able to air your view. If you have an idea on another instrument, you should be able to air that as well. And in case you're wondering, this is why nobody wants to be in a band with you.
    It doesn't always work like that though. If your band works in a democratic kind of way, that's fine. But if you are the main songwriter, and do all the business, the opinion of others may not matter. Because they are just hired hands. Its not necessarily WRONG. Its just different ways of doing things.....
    Not sure where the context comes for that statement but I think that's just a personal way of approaching things. In my own band, we all have the ability to put forward ideas, irrespective of the instrument we play. We're all multi-instrumentalists at the end of the day and recognise each member has their own creative flair. The end results is variety on the collection of songs we create. A song that I've personally started writing will usually be very lyric orientated due to the fact I'm a singer, but I usually create the guitar parts to back my own singing. These are then taken by the group and adjusted to how we all think works best. But then if one of my guitarists start making a song, the way I put my vocals to it will be different, giving a still good, but slightly different result. See where I'm getting at?
    So should bands that are just starting out wait until they have an EP out (or at least about to be out) before they start performing gigs? That's the vibe I got from NOVA's story. Another question I have is this: how do we avoid "Pay to Play" venues and get paid for gigs? What venues should we be looking at (its pretty obvious that "bar gigs" will get you almost nothing, so i want to know exactly WHERE i sjould play). Also, I think the part of having a nationwide tour after one EP is a little far-fetched. In real life, NOVA would probably be only performing in their state at most. Other than all that, this article is great for new bands wanting to get their name out there. Thanks man!