As a new artist or band you’re ultimately going to take a hit financially if you want to gain any sort of momentum. As the old adage goes, “It takes money to make money,” and in the music industry it’s a bit more like “It takes money to maybe break even I hope we don’t get a flat on the way back from the gig.” While touring itself is still considered the best way to get that momentum I’ve seen artists spend a ridiculous amount on a rehearsal space to barely play out, and others spending a ton of money on a music video or a lighting rid for music that sounds terrible. Knowing how and when to invest in your music is just as important as investing the time in writing the best music you possibly can.
Here are five ways to make “small” investments for maximum impact.
1) GET A WEBSITE AND AN ONLINE STORE
Having a page on every social media site is a crucial way to interact with your burgeoning fan base, but it’s still a really good idea to also still have your own webpage. Fortunately you don’t need to spend thousands on someone designing it any more either, as Wordpress and other online blogging sites have widgets so you can drop your posts and information into the site significantly easier than a decade ago. Work to make it engaging, easy to read and navigate. Most importantly, make it easy to find your music.
It’s also a great idea, if the need warrants it, to have an online store. Even if you just have a T-shirt and a CDr of your first demos signed by the whole band, it’s good to have something for people to buy if they want. Bandcamp is a solid place to set up your store if you’re a new artist and don’t feel like shelling out a monthly fee to get something like BigCartel (which I use and love). Note that Bandcamp takes 10% of your merch sales though, so if you’re actually moving more than a hundred dollars of merchandise a month I recommend checking out BigCartel (which starts at $9.99 a month, and no I’m not being paid to advertise them) or another online store. There are some freebie store sites out there too, but I’ve never had much luck with them and they end up being a bigger pain in the butt than necessary, in my opinion.
2) PROMOTION COMPANIES
Whether you’re on a label or not promoting your band and music can be an exhausting endeavor. In short, it can suck. You spend countless hours pimping your music and new album and end up feeling like you’re just screaming into the void. You’re also not getting any responses from the online ‘zines or any other places you want interested in your new stuff. A promotions company can help get the word out. Some are ridiculously expensive, but there are a lot of smaller ones which are more reasonable and could help double up your efforts (and your small, struggling label’s efforts) to get the word out. There’s also an added advantage that these companies ideally already have established relationships with a lot of other people (Taurant Services is one of these in the industrial scene, as is Juggernaut Services*), as networking is a major key to success, and those people may be more likely to open and pay attention to an email from someone they know and trust rather than some random email that may end up being a waste of time.
I’ve seen some smaller artists paying other people to book shows for them. Do that yourself, and save the 10-15% you’d be paying that agent and invest it on any of these other things. Don’t just use a service because you don’t like doing that part of the job. It’s not all fun and games. Suck it up and be smart with your cash.
Oh, and you should still be promoting yourself, but make sure to coordinate with your promotions people to make sure you're not hitting the same places twice. Efficiency and planning is key.
*NOTE: I haven’t used either of these services and this shouldn’t necessarily be seen as an endorsement. I did work with Christian over at Taurant at Static Sky and Crunch Pod however and he’s a solid guy. I’m sure they’re both awesome, but I have no firsthand experience with either company.
3) ONLINE ADVERTISING
Before you do ANY online advertising you should research how to write an online ad. Generally it comes down to keeping it simple and giving people a reason to want to click on your ad. Having a good image helps a lot, too. After you’ve done some basic research on theoretically how to get a maximum response you should look at where you want to advertise. Google, Facebook, Twitter, and lots of scene-related ‘zines allow you to advertise. There are still some physical print magazines out there too, but those tend to get a lot more expensive, so I’d be wary to advertise in them unless you have something big you want to advertise, and then weigh the difference of spending a few hundred dollars or more on one ad in one magazine or carpet bombing Facebook to some targeted audiences daily for a month or two. Your call.
Anyone can advertise online, but only smart artists do the work to make sure they’ll actually get a response with it. See what ads by artists you respond to and which ones you don’t and think about why the ones you like are effective and keep that in mind when writing yours. Don’t just put any boring crap up there either—think of a way to stand out that represents you and your music. And don’t overthink it. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. If you’re entertained by the idea then go for it. Trust your instincts.
I’ve talked about merchandising before, but I’d like to reiterate that one of the most beneficial ways to get your name out there is by people promoting you FOR you. This means anything from giving out stickers to selling yachts with your band’s logo on them (has KISS done that yet?). Get merchandise that can be bought and sold cheaply, but isn’t bad quality. Your cost per shirt may drop a few bucks if you use a cheaper brand but if the shirt quality and/or the screenprinting is shoddy you aren’t doing yourself any favors. Stickers, CDs, and everything in between can be used to help get the word out on your stuff. Sell it at shows, and sell it in your aforementioned online store. Be cautious, however, to not get in over your head in debt. Don’t buy hundreds of shirts if you’ve only played two shows, you know? You can find online businesses to do short runs for a decent price, so research research research, my friends, and read reviews for the sites if you can, but NOT the “testimonials” on the sites themselves. Oddly, those are always positive. Knowing the breadth of options are out there can save you a lot of money and a lot of frustration.
5) A FREE RELEASE IS A CALLING CARD
Giving away music is more and more common these days. Truth be told most of the time a free release from an up and coming band may drown in the tsunami of other music out there, free or not, but with some smart marketing, networking (see #s 2 and 3), and touring you may be able to break out of pack. The most important thing about a free release is that it’s solid. This doesn’t mean spend tens of thousands of dollars to get it professionally recorded at a high end studio and mastered by a hugely respected engineer, but simply taking the time to do it right. Make sure that the songs and recording are the best you can do ON A BUDGET. Make sure it’s mastered as well as you can afford, and have a cool image for the cover. Regardless of what you think of artists like Skrillex or Pretty Lights, they made their name by giving away their music with the hope that word would spread and it would be traded around. While thinking you’ll achieve their level of success is pretty idiotic, know that if you get your music into the right hands word can spread, and word of mouth is more important than any ad you buy.
Send that release when it’s ready to any music blog, magazine, online zine, or radio station you know might want to play it. Put it all up on YouTube, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Reverb Nation, or wherever the hell else people might be able to stumble across it. Just make sure it’s your best work, as none of the above suggestions will mean anything unless there’s the quality to back it up. The music will always be the thing, but don’t be the proverbial tree falling in the woods. Make yourself heard, but just do it intelligently and by investing your limited financial resources where you’ll get the most bang for your buck. Good luck, and remember you need to be patient. Rare is the artist who is an overnight success, so remember that you should be the tortoise and not the hare. If you’re going to try and do this for the long haul you need to build a solid foundation for your music, and the above suggestions should ideally help with that.
5 Tips To Writing Effective Copy For Your Music/Band
November 15, 2013, 05:40:pm
Writing copy describing your music is a tricky proposition at times. It’s never a comfortable prospect to talk about yourself essentially trying to sell your name, image, and art to someone who probably doesn’t know you. In fact, at first it’s downright weird and awkward, but with practice and some understanding of how to write effectively and pitfalls to avoid it gets easier. Or at least you feel a lot less like a bragging whore and hopefully can see the stuff you write as an extension of what you’re trying to get people to hear.
And, to be fair, a lot of people aren’t gifted writers, so it might be easier to get someone else who has a bit of flair for language to do the writing for you. If anything the tips below can be a good way to make sure that they don’t suck as well. Or, you know, have them read it just to be safe.
“Copy”, by the way, means any written communication regarding your band or music. It could be blurbs for a new album, a biography for your webpage, or something you send out for gigs so the venue or news outlet will have something to put up about the artists on the bill.
Here are 5 tips to writing better copy:
1) WRITE WELL
Yes, this should be obvious, but proofread the crap out of your piece. Spellcheck the crap out of your piece. Have others review it for content and, more important, readability. Make it easy to read, as everyone isn’t a strong reader and you want to communicate to as many people as possible. That being said…
2) HOLD OFF ON THE ADJECTIVES, JERKY
It’s all too common to think “How the hell should I describe my band, my music, MY LIFEBLOOD?!”, and sometimes that answer is “ALL THE WORDS I CAN THINK OF THAT ARE DESCRIPTY”
I know it’s hard to describe something you’re so close to. It should ideally mean a lot to you, after all you’ve put in a lot of careful time, thought, and made some hard decisions along the way. It doesn’t excuse you saying “Cyb0rcr0tch’s new album is yet another blistering, pummeling, brutal electronic assault on the feeble, placid, yellow-greenish masses!!!”
Be as careful with your word choices as you are with that tricky breakdown in track three. There are plenty of online resources such as, hey, thesauruses (thesaurii?) that can help you come up with your copy. The shorter the copy the better in most cases, as you want to keep the reader’s attention until the end. A 12-page narrative on the creation of the band or album from start until finish just isn’t necessary, and frankly if someone hasn’t heard of you they aren’t going to get past the first few paragraphs anyway. You can make it interesting without it sounding like middle school fanfic. Remember that less is more and leaves something to the imagination. With that said…
3) KEEP THE EGO IN CHECK, BUDDY
There’s a significant difference between talking up your good points and being a laughable egomaniac. Describe the music, not yourself. Describe the shows, not yourself. It’s better to say “Cyb0rcr0tch has rocked crowds locally with their dynamic, ballbusting music since late 2013” than saying “Cyb0rcr0tch’s guitar player, the charismatic, smoking hot, well dressed Larry Larryface commands the stage better than anyone since Steve Vai’s second guitar tech”.
It’s about the music. And to be frank, the more you talk yourself up the more you have to actually prove when people either see the show or buy the album. If you make it sound like you’re the most incredible band in the world, you’ll not only disappoint…you’re going to get made fun of. A lot. This segues nicely into…
4) HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY
Remember that this copy is supposed to represent you. This doesn’t mean you can’t exaggerate a bit (it’s hype for a reason), but there should be some foundation in reality. I’ve blogged on it before, but the truth is you, your band, and your music aren’t revolutionizing anything. You may have a distinct voice, but you probably aren’t that unique. Or, as Scoobius Pip has said, you’re JUST A BAND. It doesn’t mean you aren’t good, if not amazing, but you aren’t the Beatles. You aren’t Kraftwerk. You aren’t Run DMC, and they were all just bands as well. Maybe you’ll change the game, but it won’t be because you created something people haven’t heard before—you just did it better than most.
Talk yourself up but keep some sense of humility. The music will speak well enough for itself if all goes well, so it’s a good thing. I promise.
5) NAMEDROPPING IS GOOD IF PEOPLE KNOW WHO YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT
My pal Eric from Null Device pointed this out in a blog he wrote a while ago (linked at the bottom, and honestly more thorough than mine) that nobody cares who produced your album unless it’s a big name. I’ve personally mentioned people who have helped with production on my album that weren’t “names”, but that was mostly to try and drum up some business for them. People only care about known names when it comes down to it, so the fact that I’ve played with some amazing local bands doesn’t come up in a blurb, but mentioning I’ve played with everyone from Infected Mushroom to Atari Teenage Riot does sound pretty cool and special. If anything, that can let people know that you might kinda sorta sound like those bands…which I kinda do and kinda don’t.
So there you have it. Writing copy can be fun (and if you’re having fun doing it people will be able to tell) and doesn’t have to be an excruciating or, worse, embarrassing experience. With practice you should be able to find a distinct voice for your writing just as you did your music, so don’t get frustrated, see it as a good opportunity to spread the word on what you do and, in some ways most importantly, know that this is a very, very small part of what you need to do. It’s an appetizer. Don’t fret too much about it, but still work to make it worth reading.
Here’s the Null Device Blog, as promised:
A few weeks ago I wrote a post on Facebook which stated that I think the industrial genre as a whole would be doing better if the musicians in it stopped whining about not wanting to be called “industrial” and started owning the title. Hip-hop didn’t get respect for years until they earned it and showed it had worth as a genre, and industrial’s been around for decades yet artists, especially when they get to a certain stature and are working towards getting to the “next level”, try and distance themselves from the label as they see it as something that could hold them back.
I think it’s important to state that genre labels, on the whole, are indeed stupid, but since people are inherently lazy it’s an easier way to describe something—nobody is ever asked what they’re listening to and say “Just music, maaaaaaaan”. I also know the term “industrial” has a fairly wide berth in terms of some people’s definition. To some people Throbbing Gristle is industrial and Nine Inch Nails isn’t. To others VNV Nation is industrial and what the hell is an SPK? My point isn’t to argue what is and isn’t industrial, as that’s the epitome of a lame debate, but instead use it as a way to show that the label isn’t necessarily set in a carefully delineated set of characteristics to most people. As an artist you can “be” part of something but not use that label as a means to restrict yourself—“punk” is everything from The The Ramones to Crass to Billy Bragg, and what makes them all stand out from the herd is their music, not how they fit into their prescribed label. And if it does restrict you as an artist it says more about you and your limitations as a creative mind than anything, in my opinion.
Regardless, there are labels. And industrial, if the music and performances are good enough, doesn’t need to apologize for shit. It’s a legitimate style, made with the same amount of passion and energy as any crappy country or folk album. Maybe it’s made on sequencers and drum machines or using a computer, but to a lot of people the strumming of an acoustic guitar is about as interesting as listening to paint dry. Industrial serves as much a purpose as any other style and elicits just as much emotion if done right, just like any other style of music.
So why the shame?
Personally, I think it’s because, on the whole, our genre is a bit of a joke to people who aren’t into it, and artists who have been around a while get sick of telling people what they do and seeing eyes roll…or having to explain it (“You know Nine Inch Nails, right? Close enough”). Essentially industrial is a lot of pasty white dudes (with a few notable exceptions) douching around on computers and then putting on a lot of scary, shiny black clothes and make-up to seem tough. And while there are plenty of artists that do this well, more…do not. At least with black metal they actually play everything on stage and you aren’t meant to dance to it. A lot of what we make these days is scary techno music…and that’s how people see it. And it’s dismissable because there’s so much OTHER dance music out there that isn’t trying to be all ooky spooky. It also doesn’t fit into what the media and people have traditionally called “industrial”, ie it’s not Skinny Puppy, Throbbing Gristle, Ministry, Nitzer Ebb, Laibach, etc. (and EBM and industrial are synonymous to most of the world. Accept it.) Does that make any of the new style any less “industrial”? Well that’s for you to judge. I just want it to be strong and effective musically in whatever definition of industrial you use.
To me the spooky clichés and trends these days substitute for actual substance in the music. The lyrics are fairly uniformly laughable and don’t get more weight when screamed whispered through distortion. No, then they’re just distorted and stupid—anyone can distort their voice, but it takes a lot more to actually say something worth hearing. There’s very little that’s actually visceral about the lyrics or performances, as the production takes precedence over just wanting to show raw emotion and tear an audience’s fucking heads off. There are, of course, many exceptions, but for a genre based in aggression to connect with a wider audience it needs that primal scream to grab you by the throat and MAKE you care.
The solution, to me, is first to stop making fucking excuses for what you do. I’m not saying you have to advertise yourself as industrial, but don’t crawl into a hole or get defensive if someone calls you industrial. And hell, be bold if you want—say “screw it, YES I make industrial music, and I’m going to show every naysayer of the genre why it’s AWESOME.” Secondly, you should never make music for one audience—make insanely great music and show why you as an artist should be noticed, put on shows that leave people in a pool of sweat and awe, and always, ALWAYS be proud of what you are…even if you don’t believe in labels. That doesn’t mean compromise your vision. No, it means make it come from your heart. Your ooky…spooky….heart.
Prove them wrong.
We’re in a period now where a few bands are getting some non-“scene” press. Per any scene, some people are saying they don’t deserve it, and others are applauding their press success (which is very different from sales success, I suspect. We don’t have an industrial Adele…yet). The reason a lot of people seem to be hating on them is because most of these bands didn’t necessarily come out of the “scene”. I hear the term “hipster industrial” getting thrown around a lot, because it’s easier to lazily dismiss these artists because YOU didn’t support them first and because they don’t dress shiny and scary like the “Real Industrial” bands do. What I find most amusing about that is that these bands do what they want, and they do it well, and whether or not I or you or they think it’s deserved, they’re doing something interesting. They’re more traditionally “industrial” to me than the million interchangeable bands that sound and look virtually identical because they’re too afraid to take a chance.
The bands getting the press are tearing heads off. They’re provoking a reaction. They’re proving them wrong. They’re also doing it without apologizing for what they are.
And they don’t have to be the exception to the rule.
There are a lot of ways to put out releases and make announcements. With less experienced artists (or labels) I often see ways they could be maximizing their audience simply by thinking more about how to time their announcements. Some of these may seem obvious, but I've seen more than a few artists do this and get disappointed when there's no reaction to an announcement that should, by all rights, actually get some traction. Here are five basic ways to maximize exposure.
1) ANNOUNCE THINGS WHEN YOUR AUDIENCE IS AWAKE
Sure, you may get news that you're booked on a big tour at 3 in the morning and you can't wait to share the news, but that's not the ideal time to announce it if most of your fanbase is crashed out. Remember that even though your fans love your stuff, it doesn't mean your news is the first thing they check in the morning, nor does it mean they'll look back through hours worth of posts to see what neat news you may or have may not posted.
2) ANNOUNCING EARLIER IN THE WEEK IS BETTER THAN ON A FRIDAY
There's a reason people release albums on Tuesdays-- it's when people's heads actually kick into the week and it gives lots of time for word to spread. For social media it makes just as much sense, because social media usage drops dramatically from Friday to Sunday-- people have other stuff going on.
3) ANNOUNCING MID-DAY IS BETTER THAN IN THE MORNING
A majority of people are on major social media sites mid-day, whether it be for lunch or when they finally get some free time. Try and post around that time to ensure the most people see your news.
4) EMAIL LISTS ARE STILL KING
Having an e-list that you can directly contact is a lifeline for an artist. Building that e-list can be daunting, as you don't want to constantly annoy people asking/begging/threatening them to join, so giving incentives like free tracks or creative exclusives can be a smart way to go. Since I've started giving away my music on Bandcamp I require an email address and add that to my e-list (with an easy way to unsubscribe). Another important thing to remember is that people probably don't want to hear from you unless it's important. Don't bombard people with emails.
5) TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ENTHUSIASM
Earlier this year I posted an altered picture of the old Oregon Trail game that a pal had turned into a Caustic design. People freaked out over it and demanded t-shirts, and thanks to the internet and my pal being willing to quickly produce a high res version I sold a big chunk of shirts in a few days, and all because people got excited about the idea and I was able to accomodate it.
On the flipside, I polled people about another shirt idea I was convinced would sell well. Tons of people responded saying they'd definitely buy them, but when I got around to getting the final designs and preorder up I sold significantly less than I'd anticipated. Why? I lost the momentum.
Capitalize on momentum, as it's very hard to maintain it and when it's gone it's gone. If you see an opportunity it's better to surprise people with something than waiting and assuming the same enthusiasm will be there when you get around to it.
As an artist/label it costs me $775 to have 500 cds replicated (meaning not burned, like duplicated CD-Rs), and less than $1000 to have 1000 made. It costs me $30-50 to use a site like Tunecore to put my album on pretty much any digital site for a year. Or, if you use a site like Bandcamp, it costs you nothing in upfront charges. Plus with physical CDs the more you buy the bigger the price break, so you're getting albums for much less than a dollar a pop if you're a major label.
So why the hell are labels charging $10 or more for a digital version of that same album?
Let's look at some other numbers:
CDs are sold to retailers (those that are left) wholesale between $5-$7 a CD. In bulk there are probably better rates, but let's stay on the level of the small artist. This means that they're purchased for $5-$7 and sold for between $10-$13 in a physical store or out of a warehouse, both of which have expenses to keep their doors open. For digital downloads it's simply data on a server, which is a fraction (and a small one at that) of keeping an actual store open.
This isn't some crazy groundbreaking expose on costs or anything, it's simply to show that a major reason I think people refuse to pay for digital music isn't necessarily because they don't want to, it's because basic logic dictates that labels/artists are simply greedy as hell in thinking that the two formats justify similar pricing.
Add into that the annoyance territory restrictions (I can't use Amazon UK to buy a digital album that's not out in the U.S. yet, or was never released here), exchange rate issues, and plenty of other factors I'm sure I haven't thought of and you have a decent understanding why album (and e-book) sales are not being helped by this warped rationale. I'm sure the excuses for these excessive prices are along the lines of "Well the end product is the same-- it's just the way it's received is different" and "Our overhead dictates the pricing, and blah blah blah look at my new Mercedes". In reality the labels are just shooting themselves in the feet at every possible opportunity by putting up ANY roadblocks for fans to get their music at a reasonable price.
Mostly I think it has to do with labels and artists wanting people to still buy CDs. If the price isn't too different and you get something "real" out of it, why not spend the extra couple bucks and get the CD. A lot of labels have at least smartened up enough to offer an immediate download of the album if you buy the CD, as that solves the "I want it and I want it NOW" appeal of digital downloads.
Now will making the price more affordable make labels or artists more money? Not necessarily, but it may allow bands to move more units overall and that can actually add up to more money than 10 people buying the digital album and 100 downloading it elsewhere. Amazon has a great monthly deal where you can get 100 different albums for $5 each, and I've bought a dozen or so albums I was curious about just because of the price. I've pissed away $5 on stale popcorn at the movies, so the risk felt like next to nothing.
With everything I've just said I'd like to add something: I think people should pay for digital downloads. I'm not taking a stand against torrenting or Spotify or whatever the hell else is out there. No. I'm saying this because it's important to support the artist AND label, and while replication costs to make CDs are essentially null and void with digital downloads, the creation of the album itself does cost a nice chunk of cash, even doing it as DIY as possible. Art needs to be supported financially for the artist to keep going. You can only sink in so much of your own money before you just don't see the worth in it. A pat on the back doesn't pay for a new microphone, y'know?
Digital downloads should be reasonable to appeal to the most fans possible, ESPECIALLY from smaller artists. I put up the new Causticles album a few weeks ago as a "pay anything you want" on Bandcamp a day before its release so fans of our social media pages and people on our e-list could get a great deal. It was .99 (or more, and people actually did pay a lot more in some cases) for the next few days, as we became one of the top three best sellers on Bandcamp for the rest of the week. And while we weren't making huge cash it was great knowing we were getting legitimate downloads and, in the end, made some decent money as well as got hundreds more emails to add to our e-list to ideally have fans support future releases. Now it's $4.99, which is a more than fair price for what we think is a kickass release.
Note that this deal was done with literally no money down for Bandcamp. We just took a bit of time to set it up and spent a crapton of time promoting it. Unsurprisingly, word spread fast because it was such a great deal.
It's important for artists to know that fans do want to support your work, but you have to make it affordable for them. They may still get your album by other means, but that's where other opportunities arise, like offering other merchandise that can be bought-- after all, you can't download a t-shirt or patch. It's all about building a network of excitement for you, your album and, ideally, your live performances. The electronic artist Pretty Lights wouldn't have nearly the fanbase he does if he hadn't offered downloads of his albums for free and, to top it off, he offered his new album for free OR purchase and he ended up at number 24 on the US Top 30 the week it came out. If nothing else, it shows that fans aren't all out to get everything for free-- you just need to give them reasons to want to support your art.