How To Make It Big, Or Rock Trying: An Overview Of “Everything You Need To Know About The Music Biz in 2014”

old town school of folk music
The Old Town School of Folk Music, in Chicago

Now that you have music and an online presence, here comes the real work: marketing. The first rule of marketing from the Sound Opinions team? Be unique.

“It’s a bonus to have a unique angle or story to tell to your audience,” DeRogatis asserted. “The first 1,000 vinyls of Steve Albini’s debut EP with Big Black included a gift with each copy, such as a used razor or a condom.”

While giving out contraceptives and weapons isn’t a requirement for your strategy, Kot and DeRogatis make a good point. Creativity goes a long way, and a little research doesn’t hurt, either. If you’re a punk band, Google nearby venues that book similar acts and work to make a name for yourself in that scene. Something like, “Our sound marries the manic lunacy of the Sex Pistols with the political awareness of the Dead Kennedys,” captures the imagination far better than simply listing names of bands you like.

A common music industry cliché is that it’s all about who you know. And if you don’t know anyone yet, that’s okay – thanks to the Internet, reaching fans can be as easy as learning the opening riff to “Smoke On The Water.” It just takes a little networking.

When it comes to contacting venues or booking agents, persistence and patience are key. If someone doesn’t write back immediately, don’t despair. They get hundreds of emails just like yours, which is why it also doesn’t hurt to use an eye-catching subject line. “DON’T MISS OUT ON BOOKING THE GREATEST BAND EVER!!!” has a better chance of getting opened than, say, “Indie band looking for show.”

Building buzz around your shows has a lot to do with your live performance, but reaching out to the press, no matter how small the outlet, is a crucial component of gaining exposure. Once you book that first gig, email every music blogger, magazine, and industry connection you know to try and spread the gospel of your music. Every new person you reach is a potential fan, and leveraging the power of local publications can put you in front of hundreds of people you wouldn’t have reached otherwise.

It might sound backwards, but getting a little old school might be one of the more progressive ways to market your music today. If you have a show on the horizon, print off some crazy flyers and post them everywhere. Just finished recording a new EP? Get some vinyl pressed and hit up the local record store to try and sell a few.

THERE IS NO MANIA LIKE PASSION

Kot and DeRogatis concluded the seminar with the top five most common mistakes for new artists, and they are as follows:

  1. Impatience
  2. Not putting in the work
  3. Not being on the same page as bandmates with goals
  4. Not asking, “Do we suck?”
  5. Not realizing it’s okay for music to be a hobby

Those first two mistakes go hand-in-hand, with bands often believing that site hits and notoriety will magically accumulate simply because they’ve played a few shows and once had their names mentioned in a local newsletter. The next two are arguably the most important, though. If your bassist is frequently skipping practice or your drummer is missing his second show in a row due to work, it might be time to move on. Finally, the last mistake is something that most artists can’t stomach. But there’s nothing wrong with being a weekend warrior and jamming as often as possible while balancing a hectic work schedule. And hey, if you keep at it, you never know when it could pay off in the long run.

Even if making money isn’t your endgame, Kot and DeRogatis urge wannabe performers to acknowledge that while music is an art, it’s also a business. If the time comes where your band is lucky enough to have emerged from the depths of PBR binges, broken dreams and bowling alley gigs to book a tour or require an agent, preparation is crucial. While gaining popularity doesn’t necessarily require a label deal or a manager, infrastructure is a must-have, so do your research, be clear with your bandmates about expectations, and be ready to pay for whatever you get.

What it all boils down to for the Sound Opinions team, though, is passion. Kot shared a personal story in which he witnessed a young Kurt Cobain take his budding band to Chicago for the first time, where they bared their souls on stage for roughly eleven people. It’s a performance that still elicits vivid emotions for the veteran journalist, not necessarily for the musicianship but because it showed an artist who displayed true passion for his craft, even when he was performing for a nearly empty room.

“What are we looking for when it comes to music and art?” Kot asked. “We want to be shaken to the core.”

This article appears in our September/October 2014 issue. Buy it here or download it here. Or better yet, subscribe

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