One of the great byproducts of the new music business model is the resurgence of the underdog – the ability of the often overlooked to be able to make a name for themselves in the industry. Twenty years ago the gatekeepers dictated the industry – Agents, Managers and Record labels told us what concerts to go to, what records to buy, and what music to hear. An indie artists who wanted to have a career and impact had to be creative and do things differently.
Twenty years has passed and the world of music has shifted. And yet, the story for all artists (signed and unsigned) remains true. In order to have a career and impact, artists must have a unique plan to gain attention and keep it!
One of the first issues to address for any artist is how to get a gig – how to secure the opportunity to showcase the unique talent of the artist. When you’re a famous artist and your song is heard on the radio and your picture is seen in magazines, people are naturally clammoring to book you. But when you are unheard of, unseen, and unknown, initiative must take over in order to get the performance opportunity.
Following are a few brief reminders to be aware of.
1. Relationships, Relationships, Relationships. - One key to securing opportunities for an artist is relationships. When no one has heard your music or known your name, it is critical to connect to people who are aware of your talent and can vouch for it. I’ve always encouraged artists to find 20 people whom they have known in their life/career who can vouch for their musical ability – friends from college, high school, or even from previous gigs. Contact those twenty people and ask for an opportunity to perform. Assuming that performance goes well (and if all twenty don’t, perhaps consider another line of work) – then ask those ‘friends’ to recommend you to ten other people in their network. If you can get 20% of those extended relationships to book you, 40 more shows will come in……and so on and so on. The added benefit of this is that you will continue to perfect your craft. And in the age of twitter and Facebook, having people talk about you positively, and twitter about your music leads to more people knowing of you and hopefully wanting to connect with your music.
2. Be Easily Found – Its very important that if someone hears about you and/or your music that they can find you easily. Be it on myspace/facebook/website/etc – be sure that you are present in those mediums. You don’t have to have a different site in each – you can have them all point to your myspace or your website, but once they are there be sure there is contact information EASILY found. A friend recently told me about a band and I googled them and found their website. I spent several minutes looking throughout their website for some sort of email address or phone number in order to contact them, but to no avail. So I gave up. And most promoters will too. Be sure that your sites are easily discoverable and your email and phone are easily accessible once your fans (and potential fans) are there.
3. First Impressions - Its human nature to jump to conclusions quickly – so its highly important that the impression you make at first sight/listen is one that you intend to send. The indies who ‘win’ are ones that are intentional about the image they are sending. The difference between a folder with handwriting on it – or something that has been professionally printed can make all the difference in the world in getting a promoter’s attention. The same is true for a demo that sounds like it was recorded in your garage on a $15 tape recorder. The music doesn’t have to be a $100K studio album, but it definitely needs to sound like you put some energy and time into it. And be sure that whatever you send musically to represent yourself is something that you can create live. Even if its not a full band, you need to be able to pull off the song if that’s what your are using to promote yourself.
4. Hello, My Name is……. The use of the phone has been replaced in many places by email or text; however, if you want to book a date there is no better way than picking up the phone and calling. It certainly helps if you have a lead and connection (using the 20+ names you got in #1) – and then calling each of those to follow up. Tara Leigh Cobble (www.taraleighcobble.com) is an indie artist who has had a busy career and she shares the story of picking up the phone book in the town she was planning to go through and calling churches to see if they would host her. You have to be comfortable with rejection because you will get it – everyone does. But you’ll also get a yes, or two, or 20 – and if you do it enough, maybe 100!
Next up will be some ideas once you’ve gotten the gig to get invited back. I truly believe that if you can get invited back you can build on those opportunities. So build the relationships, be easily found, look professional, and pick up the phone!