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Well, we’ve been around the block a few times…, By Sarah

At the risk of sounding like a bunch of hoary old geezers (although why fight the inevitable?) we’re often approached by young bands asking for advice on all sorts of subjects (how to get gigs, how to do effective publicity, how babies are made etc) so we thought we’d start putting some of this stuff together in small, easy-to-digest packages and make it public on a new page on the shiny new website for anyone to access.

As usual, the Americans have been doing this sort of thing for donkeys’ years, but you don’t find very many of us reticent Brits talking about the methods behind our particular brands of madness. And whilst the Americans have some extremely useful things to say (we’ve learnt a lot over the years from listening to podcasts and reading blogs from people like Ariel Hyatt, Music Think Tank, Bob Baker and the good folks at CD Baby) not all of it is applicable to the British market, and there are lots of things we’ve had to find out the hard way. So by way of a starter, here are:

FIVE BIG IMPORTANT THINGS WE’VE LEARNT TO DO:

1. Spend time on the business side: It’s really tempting to think that as musicians you should spend every minute you have together writing and rehearsing the music, and whilst this is obviously fundamentally important (it is your product after all), there is a LOT more to running a successful band than that. After all, it’s no use to you if you’ve got the most fantastic music in the world if noone is ever going to hear it because you don’t have any gigs lined up, or if noone knows about the gigs you do have lined up, or if you don’t have any CDs recorded, or demos on YouTube, or samples to download from your website, or the fans you won at the gig last week have already forgotten about you. Keeping on top of these things takes time and effort; in an average week we spend half a day writing and rehearsing together and another half day working together in the office, then each of us separately puts in another day or two on our individual areas (website stuff, poster design and other artwork, publicity, corresponding with venues and fans on the phone, by email and on Facebook and Twitter, editing and mixing recordings, writing newsletters and blogs, maintaining equipment, etc).

2. Cultivate discipline: Doing all of the above takes some organisation and discipline, especially when you’d far rather be drinking tea and talking about your next big idea. It IS important to drink tea and talk about your next big idea, but it is then REALLY important actually to make the big idea happen. We all keep lists of things to do, good ideas to make happen, and other things we’ve thought of along the way and compare notes at the beginning of each week. The photo below shows the Whalebone office, note it has 3 computers in it... one for each member of the band. Unless you are actually living our fantasy and sharing a giant house with roadies to cook your meals and look after your children then your time together each week is limited and precious, so find ways to use it as effectively as you can.

 

3. Entertain people: well d’uh, I hear you say. But it’s not as obvious as you’d think. We know lots of bands who were a bit shy at the beginning, and thought that they didn’t really have to talk to the audience, just let the astonishing and brilliant music speak for itself. We were a bit like that too. But an audience will soon stop listening if you don’t engage with them, tell them about the music, tell them about you, tell them a story. And if you’re not doing the talking at the time, look interested in the person who is doing the talking, smile at the audience and make eye contact. As for the music itself, make sure you’re presenting a balanced and varied set list; even the flashiest stuff will soon sound boring if you don’t contrast it with some slower tunes. Indeed (and speaking as a fiddler I found this particularly hard to get to grips with) sometimes audiences actually prefer the slow stuff. Really.

4. Have a merchandise table: Bands cannot live by gig fees alone. Unless they eat dust and live under a hedge. Selling CDs is a really important income stream, and your biggest opportunity to do this is at gigs. Make sure that at every gig there is a small table in a prominent place where people can buy CDs, and make sure you are sitting by this table in the interval and after the gig to chat to people. Making personal connections is really important, and finding out about your fans can often lead to lasting friendships and people who come back to see you time and time again. And even if you don’t yet have CDs to sell, make sure that your table has cards for people to take, a mailing list to sign up to, and flyers for forthcoming gigs etc.

5. Be professional and courteous: it’s a small world, and people talk. We’ve known bands get themselves a very unhelpful reputation by simply not being as nice as they should be to venues, fans, sound technicians at festivals, and other bands. Even if a gig hasn’t turned out quite the way you wanted it it’s really REALLY important to be professional and courteous. And calm. And on time.

6. How babies are made: just kidding. Sarah knows, but she’s not telling.

Next time: FIVE BIG IMPORTANT THINGS WE’VE LEARNT NEVER TO DO. Oh yes.

Comments

Barrie V
October 04, 2012 @11:25 am
Brilliant stuff! Couldn't have put it better meself! Consider it viral.. ised.. umm.. or whatever it is.. you know..
Les Gardner
July 12, 2012 @08:15 pm
Excellent advice. Re gigs etc. I remember telling my lad about getting his music 'out there' where it could be heard. But with the 'arrogance' of youth it was all. "It's not like your day Dad". I gave up in the end. He's belatedly come around to my way of thinking!

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