Five things every aspiring musician needs
Those of us who have had the fortune to hang around the music industry for a few decades tend to pick up a few ideas about what works and what doesn’t.
If you are trying to get your music out there, you’ll get a lot of advice from people with agendas. They want you to do x so that they get y. What follows is generic advice for putting your best foot forward.
Five things every aspiring musician should have:
- Mailing list. Before you start freaking out, realize this isn’t a big deal that involves new software and complexity that might make your sensitive artistic brain burn out. You can do this in Gmail or any other mail program. The point is to keep a list of every person who has helped you, liked you, interviewed you, or written to you showing interest. Don’t lose contact through disorganization, which is what 99.99% of musicians do. Ask “Mind if I keep you updated about [Band Name Here]?” and most people will say yes. Then send them periodic updates, about every third month. For people in the industry, this helps them track you and do nice things for you like write articles. For fans, this is a sense of being attached to something important. As your list expands, you can migrate to a free mailing list service.
- Audio streaming. As soon as you have recorded material, you should have one current song you stream live. You do not necessarily need more than one, which preserves the exclusivity of your work. However, especially at the demo and first album stages, it doesn’t hurt to worry less about monetizing your work and more about getting it out there. Unfortunately, most streaming services are pretty bad and also rely on the notoriously buggy and unsafe Adobe Flash Player (if your computer got hacked in the last 5 years, it’s most likely it happened through this piece of junkware). The best are SoundCloud and YouTube, and both are free.
- Contactability. Most of you have a web/phone presence, but the important part is this: it should never change. Thus you probably want it to be separate from your social media presence, which is where you post updates. What’s wrong with using Facebook as your official page? Social media trends change, and you’ll be (in about six months) in the same place the people are who stuck to MySpace. Get yourself a free website and keep it minimal. Post links to your audio streaming, your mission statement (see below), and have some kind of contact, whether an email address or a contact form.
- Demo. What’s this, 1992? A demo? No one uses tapes anymore, you say. That may be so. However, the demo is the most important stage of your band’s career. It’s where you hone your craft and show us the direction into which you’re expanding. It’s also a stage at which experiencing reviewers tend to be generous to you, since they know it’s a work in progress. Most demos get cut from the review pile not for being bad but for being contentless, in other words imitations of form without substance. If you’ve got something you are trying to express, even if your style isn’t distinct, experienced reviewers tend to be accepting. A demo also allows you and your fellow band members — if any — to focus on what you’re doing, and figure out if you like your direction. It’s a form of prototyping that’s vital to making music. Nowadays, it might be an MP3 demo. But nothing’s worse than a band who rush out a first album of material that still needs incubation.
- Mission statement. This is both a formal mission statement, and a one-liner for your own head. You’re at a party, and you head back over to the punch bowl made from an imitation triceratops skull, and you meet someone new. They ask, “So what’s your band like?” You want to have a one-liner you can zap out in a zombie-like state. This should briefly describe your musical style, but more importantly describe your direction. “We’re a death metal band trying to revive the creativity of the early heavy metal era” or “We’re a doom metal band who want to capture a naturalistic vibe.” Keep this one short and sweet. For your website, and to email to anyone who shows any interest in you, you need a one-paragraph more formal statement. If you aren’t confident in your word-smithing skills, find a local (underappreciated) zine editor or DJ and they will most likely help. Your mission statement should be a clear and easily-grasped statement of both style and substance, and it should be the first thing in any communication you have with industry. It’s not realistic to expect people to remember you immediately, and they’re busy people; give them a helping hint. This also gives people who visit your website “talking points,” such as “I found this new band, they’re organic doom metal” when they tell their friends about you.
This article is limited, and not intended to be anything other that five useful things for you to do. For more general advice, try the BBC page and How to Promote Your Music on About. It’s also worth checking out industry-related rants from Trent Reznor and Steve Albini.
One final word from an industry source:
“Listen to your customers, not your critics. Only invest your efforts into something you enjoy…”
Lee Parsons, CEO, Ditto Music
This is best expressed as a more universal principle: make music that you would be able to listen to for two weeks straight as a teenager and then throw on at least once a month for the rest of your life without getting bored. Make music you would be excited to find in the store or on a dub or torrent. If you satisfy your own cravings, and not the neurotic critique that most of us having running in the back of our heads, you will make something you can believe in.