Strategies for Promoting Your Band
July 20, 2012; William Lewis
Now that your band has gotten a gig and prepared for it, there is one thing left to do: It's time
to promote yourself. As an independent band, you don't have the same resources as a band signed to
a label. They have people who do this for them. We really can't promote on the level that they can,
but that is not a problem at this stage. It's important to take this in perspective. If you live
in, say, Baltimore, and you're just starting out, you don't need to reach people in Texas. What you
need to do first is concentrate on your local area. By doing this, you can build up a fan base that
will allow you to go to other places and play.
I'm sure a lot of you are wondering where you even start. I sure did when I had to figure out how to get people to my shows. The good news is you have a lot more at your disposal than I had when I was starting out. Most of what I'm going to tell you is either free or on the cheaper end of things. I know that as a band, the money usually just isn't there to spend on promoters. So, here are some ways you can get people to attend your shows using methods you can very likely pull off.
The first thing I always did was distribute fliers. What I would do is take the name of the venue, the date the show was, when the doors opened, the cost of getting in (if any), the time the show started, and usually a picture of the band in the background. I had a friend design a flier. He took the above info, incorporated our picture and our band name and gave us a first draft to look over. If I liked that, he gave me the file so I could print more and I usually paid him around $10. Sometimes it was just a trade of services. I'd offer to set up his guitar, and I'd get the flier designed for free. You may be able to work out a deal similar to that if you have a friend who can design eye-catching fliers.
Now that you have those fliers, it's time to post them. Telephone poles are an obvious spot, but be wary of placing fliers on poles. Many cities have ordinances against placing items on telephone poles. Traffic signs are strictly off limits as well. Nothing can be placed on those signs. You might find some luck with pawnshops, as they are usually open to having fliers from local bands posted in their shops. Local music stores might also be open to that idea. In fact, many have a bulletin board up for that purpose. Those are safe places you can try. That way, your fliers are up and will certainly be seen by people wandering in those stores and it'll keep you out of trouble. You can also look for bulletin boards at local colleges, in supermarkets, coffee shops, or anywhere there is foot traffic.
Fliers are the old school way to get the word out there. In today's modern world, there is another way to get your music out to a lot of people all over the world. And the best part, it's usually free. The Internet offers options that were simply unheard of 20 years ago. It's also a part of why the music industry is changing so rapidly. Now, you can do interviews, post music videos and audio files, and even interact with your fans, all without any type of label support. You can even sell your albums and singles online without the record label taking the largest percentage. Those sites like CD Baby usually charge $4 or so to sell your CD, so anything over that is profit for you. A label is going to take much more, but I'm deviating off the main subject. Right now, let's talk about some of the sites out there and the differences in each.
Good Places to Start
First up is one I'm sure you've heard of, but maybe you don't use as much. MySpace was really meant to be a music site from its incarnation. Today, MySpace is mostly populated by musicians and bands. The site has features that allow you to upload songs, videos, and post your concert dates. For a band page, there is a lot of information you can have up on the initial "profile" section of your page. Typically, on that page you can list your upcoming show dates, songs for people to listen to, your management and booking information for people to get into contact with your band, a list of your band members and what they do in the band, and even some general info about your band, such as where you are from, when you started, and your website, if you have one.
The other parts of the page are available on the left side. There are sections for band photos, songs, and I also see many bands have a buy option available, if you want to sell your music online. You can also post music videos. And, the blog feature is there to keep your fans updated on any news from your band.
MySpace also has a way to create a mailing list. That means if you post something about going on a tour, releasing an album or single, adding a new member, etc., your fans can be notified about it immediately. If you have a band that has tracks for sale, why not offer a free download of a song to anyone who adds you as a friend? This way, you gain a friend and you have one more person giving your band a listen. If they like what they hear, they might buy more.
MySpace is still a great place to have a band profile. Even though people have moved away, the music really hasn't. The great thing about it is you can link to it from another site or page your band may already have. It may take a few hours to get the page customized the way you want it, but it's still free advertising. And when it comes to music, free is good! It's especially good when you can reach such a large amount of people.
Facebook came along after MySpace, but it has overtaken MySpace in terms of popularity. Facebook is more oriented toward people's everyday lives, not just to their interests. With Facebook, you can put up a status quickly. Early on, MySpace didn't have that feature. Being able to put up a status and have it reach everyone who is your friend as soon as they log in is a nice advantage. MySpace has since added a stream tab on their page, which is very similar to the status messages that Facebook has.
Facebook does have a way to create a band/musician page. You can post music, but you have to have it linked to your page. In addition to that, your page must be approved to have a music catalog on it. With MySpace, you can upload straight from your computer. The only limit they have is the files must be less than 50MB. With compression, most songs will be 2 to 8MB, depending on the length, so that limit should not be too hard to work with. The sound quality usually isn't too much worse either. MP3s are the standard today for digital music. You do have a loss of certain frequencies, but with everyone accustomed to music received in this format, it's not as noticeable.
One other site you should consider giving some attention to is YouTube. Here you have the ability to post music videos, interviews with your band, and even short video messages to your fans. Plus, you can link your YouTube videos to your MySpace page or your Facebook page and have people view your videos in one simple click.
Getting More Specific
There are many sites that are built specifically for promoting bands. One of these is ReverbNation. This site takes everything from MySpace and Facebook and throws it into one site. The real draw here is all the services they offer bands. You can find management and gigs. You can even book gigs, find sponsorship and license out your music. They also offer a way to sell and distribute your music. One significant advantage is being able to precisely track all your page activity, including sales, profile views, gigs . . . all that is tracked, even what they call indirect page views. Indirect views are when someone clicks on your band's link without actively searching for you. Say they are looking at a page for a band whose style is similar to yours and your band is listed under "Bands who sound like this band." Someone clicks on that and ends up on your page, resulting in the indirect view.
CD Baby is another site that is great for unsigned bands. They deal in distribution as well. What they do is charge a flat $4 per CD sold, instead of a varying percentage. That cost covers shipping and everything else related and they even ship it. So, if you price your CD at $10, you make $6 per CD sold. They even offer a credit card swiper for a fee. This is great for selling your music at gigs. Sometimes people spend all their cash on food and drinks, but they still have a debit or credit card. Having a swiper at a show can get you that sale.
Using that card swiper, you can have someone at your merch stand with a computer sell digital versions of your songs. Some people simply like digital music better. I'm not sure, however, if when they purchase it's a code they are given or how the downloading works. I do know that if they happen to have an MP3 player, you can directly download it to that from the computer. I've heard of bands selling digital albums and downloading them onto the fan's MP3 players. They do charge a fee to take cards and that's simply because using a card costs the business money.
There is another site called Bandcamp, but I'm rather unfamiliar with that one. One very important piece of advice I can give you about these sites is to check their terms and conditions before you upload anything. Make absolutely sure that they do not get the rights to your music just because you upload it to that site. I doubt something like that would hold up in court, but it's not worth the hassle. Intellectual property laws are being rewritten as we speak. It's a new legal area and it is very open to interpretation. A record label gets the rights because you actually sign a legally binding contract. I'm not really sure if your average lawyer really would know about this type of thing. There are lawyers who specialize in music law, but they are likely few and far between.
One last point I'd like to make is about the independent music blogs out there. These sites can expose your band to a larger audience and even review your music. There is a very informative article on how to submit your music to an independent music blog written by Heather Browne, who writes the "I Am Fuel, You Are Friends" blog. She summed this up far better than I could.
That is probably one of the better articles I've read on the subject. That should get you all started in that area. I really have no personal advice for you here. This is actually new to me, so I'm learning with you about submitting music to these blogs.
As you can see, the old ways of promotion are being replaced. Social networking is taking on the role of promoter in the modern music world. Think of your page as a 24/7 spokesperson. It keeps people updated and informed. It gives them samples of your band. It is always there even when you cannot be. The music blogs that exist today are another huge stepping stone because, if they like your music, they'll put it out there. Getting your name out there is hard, but if you play your cards right, you can do it fairly easily.
As independent artists, we have to keep up with evolving technologies. Since we don't have massive funding behind us, we have to keep up with society and how people are receiving their information. Social networking sites are huge now. By having a page on one of those sites, you've taken a big step towards gaining some new fans.
If you take anything from this, it's that the world is changing right before our eyes. I used to be in the same boat as many of you. I never really bothered with networking online. As the influence of social networking has grown, I can't deny any longer what a huge impact these sites are having on the music business. I'm not technically savvy at all and, yet, I can make a page on a networking site and have it look pretty good. I'm sure that you all can do it, too. Best of all, it's free. Advertising is expensive and you're essentially getting free advertising. All it takes to make it work is some time. And if you put in the time, you will reap the rewards.
William Lewis teaches and writes about guitar online. He says he has been playing the guitar for 14 years and his style leans toward bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Pantera and AC/DC. He lives in Terra Alta, West Virginia. You can email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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