Tuesday Wisdom: Turning Amateur Band Into Professionals

General hints and tips to change your amateur band into a professional one.

Ultimate Guitar

So you've played a few local shows, you're enjoying being a local celebrity and you've decide that you are going to try and make it as a professional band. The life of a famous band musician certainly looks fun and may even appear easy but I assure you it is anything but easy (although it is fun!). You will have A LOT of knock backs along the way and will have to train yourself to become thick skinned, determined and work harder than you ever have in your life. After all, if it were easy to become rock star than everyone would be one!

First off, start by asking yourself Why do I want to be in a professional band? If your answer is to entertain, excite and have your music heard and loved by the masses then you may just have a chance as you realise that it all about entertaining your audience. If that is the case, read on as I detail some essential things you need to know and do in order to turn your band into the real deal.

The Basics

Practice practice practice! You need to have a flawless performance both in the music you are play and how you play it live. No promoter, record company or manager will want you supporting their big name band (except if you happen to be good friends with one of said people in which case you may get a lucky ONE off) unless you can show that you are at the required standard. You will need at least an EP. Notice how I said at least an EP and not a demo! It is imperative that you have a something to give/sell to your audience other than just your performance and that means you need at least 3 or 4 songs recorded properly in a studio. An album would be better but if your EP really is that good it will be enough at this stage. In the same vein, you will need a selection of merchandise to sell online and at shows. Selling merchandise gives you free promotion as well as creating an extra source of income, for which you will be extremely grateful at the start of your career, when more likely than not you will be broke.

Online Marketing

Pay a professional to design an attractive website for you and take the time to create a band profile on all the most popular musical and social networking sites. This is the best way of keeping your fans up to date as well as attracting new fans by allowing them to hear before they come to see you play. Audiences always react best to songs they have heard before so make sure you have at least one or two songs uploaded for people to listen to for free. Often the band's website is one of the first places music industry people will look and it will tell them everything they need to know about your band in just a few clicks. Make sure your site gives off the right message and shows you to be a serious act with a professional web page complete with music, videos, professionally taken photos, past gigs, a forum, merchandise, competitions and links to your band profile on other reputable websites. As the excellent and very successful musician Tom Hess once told me, Perception is Key. If YOU make the decision to appear professional in every way then that is exactly what people will think you are and why shouldn't they?

Get an HD camera, which are pretty cheap these days, and film every band-related thing you do and anything interesting too. The footage can be used to make an obligatory montage music video. This costs you next to nothing, fans will love it, and it looks great especially if you have some exciting live footage. Also, if/when you become a huge success, the footage could be used to make a band DVD which will give you another source of income and help to boost your profile.

Is there an audience out there for you?

Regardless how tight you are musically and as a band, and how professional you may be, you will only ever reach a certain point in your musical career before grinding to a frustrating halt if you don't excite your audience or, worse still, you don't have an audience. If you were to play 6 shows in 6 months in whichever city and your audiences were not increasing at each show than something is not going right. The reasons behind this could be that you just aren't exciting the audience for some of the following reasons:

  • Your are uninteresting live;

  • You sound similar if not carbon copies of other bands around at the moment;

  • There is no market for your style of music in that area;

  • There is no market for your unique style of music anywhere!

    As a band it's easy to come up with every excuse as to why this is rather than admitting that you are doing something wrong. Remember, I said that in this example your band were well rehearsed and professional so those common reasons are not the problem. For EVERY show you play you want your audience to leave and tell their friends how amazing they thought you were. You want them to join your mailing list, buy your records, buy your merchandise. You want them, without realising, to become new members of your PR team helping to spread your band's name and music around the country. In short, you need them, so make sure you always look after them and they will do the same for you.

    To get yourself more fans as apposed to just people who like your music, you may find you need to tweak aspects of your act or even go back to the drawing board and start from scratch. The trick is to make your act so exciting for the audience that promoters and record companies will have no choice other than to chase you down and not the other way round!

    Case Study:

    The Kaiser Chiefs are an excellent example of going back to the drawing board to make their band the best that it could be. They have enjoyed international success with over three million copies sold, were shortlisted for the Mercury Prize and have a number one single. All this however, was achieved after they realised that the previous band incarnation known, as Parva was not working for them so they changed their style, name and wrote completely new material, which turned around their fortune.

    Some of you out there may not like the idea of this and would probably love to label it as selling out but I disagree. I don't believe there is anything wrong with a change of style if you are going to make more people enjoy the music you are making.

    Getting Signed

    Most inexperienced bands seem to believe that getting signed to a record label is their ticket to hitting the big time. They believe that once they get signed they will have reached the end of the road with television and radio stardom sure to follow. This is most certainly not the case and that is especially true in this day and age. You do not need a record label to become a success but they can certainly help you in areas such as up front financing (this money will need to be paid back!), marketing and setting you up with good contacts.

    One of the best ways to get signed, apart from being awesome, is to become a Do It Yourself band. For example don't sit around waiting to get signed before you start to do things such as:

  • Tour

  • Record and distribute your music

  • Get radio play

  • Film music videos.

    If you're doing things for yourself and you're getting well received by the public, it shows labels that there is a market for you and demonstrates what a great work ethic your band has, your determination and drive. By working that much harder to achieve your dream, you are making the job for the record company easier. It will reduce the risk for them in putting you onto their books. They won't have to worry about things like If we pay for a tour for this band how well will they cope and will people go to their shows? because you will already have proven yourself.

    Be Imaginative

    If you live in a big musical city such as London, there will be literally thousands of bands striving for success just as you are. Fortunately for you, if you have done all that I said up to this point, you will already have put yourself in about the top 2% of these bands but is that enough? Unfortunately, it isn't. You need to make your band stand out from the rest by doing things a bit differently to make industry people take notice of you. A recent example of this is a friend of mine's band Daytona Lights who are just coming out now. They lived in London and put on a midday full band show in a London train station. They held regular clubs nights that led them to get noticed by a top producer who decided to keep an eye on the band as they continued working unaided. Eight months on and the band have now recorded an album with that producer and he arranged for the band to join the popular UK television soap "Hollyoaks" for three months playing themselves and playing their own songs that will be available to download instantly. Coming up with something imaginative for your band to get noticed is something unfortunately that I can't help you with but think hard and be creative and it really could speed things up for you just as it did for Daytona Lights.

    Case Study:

    The Arctic Monkeys, whose debut album became the fastest selling debut album in British music history, were named to be one of the first acts to come to public attention through the internet (albeit primarily down to their MySpace fan page). At the time it was suggested that they represented a possible change in the way new bands were promoted and marketed. At their early shows they gave away their demos for free to try get as many fans as possible and started their own record label Bang Bang to release their first few singles in limited way. With all the hype and media attention that followed they went on to play at the Reading and Leeds festivals before signing to the independent label Domino because they were attracted to the DIY ethic of the owner Laurence Bell.

    By Alex Kehoe www.alexkehoe.co.uk

  • 13 comments sorted by best / new / date

      Cool article. My band is somewhere between The Basics and the Online Marketing phases, can't wait to see where it goes
      It IS selling out when you compromise your musical integrity right? I mean, nothing wrong with a little change in your style, but not at all costs. You shouldn't start watering down your music just to get more fans.
      I agree. If you change because you truly believe the music you are changing to is great that's one thing. But changing to make more money is a whole 'nother thing, and is most surely selling out.
      It depends I think. My lost listened bands on my iPod right now are Karnivool, Sylosis and Jeff Buckley. I would happily write music in any of those genres, however I know music similar to Jeff Buckley's would probably be the best way to success, I'm not so sure if you changed your music to another style you still liked it would be selling out.
      I agree with your point that if you're making music that you enjoy playing and listening to, then you're not "selling out" just because you're doing something different. Any changes of that nature can be rather problematic on a band-wide scale because the members don't necessarily have similar "alternative" tastes to what they started out doing. Making music that's similar to Jeff Buckley's would probably the best route to success only if you have someone possessing the level intensity and uniquely beautiful voice that Jeff had. His music certainly had wide-spread appeal, but without his uniqueness as a songwriter, performer, vocalist and indeed person, I don't know if it would've mattered too much. The wider the appeal of a style the more other musicians are probably doing it so it's still necessary to locate your unique niche within the realm of that genre (or whatevs).
      can anyone link me to prava on youtube. i had a quick look, but im interested to see what the kiza chiefs before they were.
      If i might add getting a manager is usually a must to be professional. Sure you can get your own gigs but a lot of times the venue you want to play at won't deal with the band they want to deal with the manager, especially the bigger venues. But, if your going to play at smaller venues then you probably get away with not having a manager.
      just as Anna implied I am alarmed that any body able to make $4435 in one month on the internet. have you seen this web page Red97dotcom