Steps to Success for Indie Artists

I want to give some food for thought on the music industry, especially the beginner levels and levels that we tend to work with. Break Loose Entertainment has always prided itself on working with musicians that are starting or pushing along. The reason that we do this is mostly for two reasons.
1. I used to personally work for a company that "helped" these same artists and I felt that these artists were being ripped off financially and ripped off in terms of the "prizing" that was offered in lieu of cash.
2. We collectively feel that all musicians should be able to perform and be given a place to play. We took a year off of shows not long ago and I found that we were being asked frequently to come back and provide opportunities to the artists that we used to cater to.
With all of that said, this will be an opinion piece, but a long post based on what I see/hear/deal with on a nearly daily basis.
Many artists are asking me always how to take that next step within the industry.  I field many different questions from the vague "how do we get more fans" to the descriptive "how do we get industry out to our shows?"  The answers vary band to band as I try to help each individual artist.  But the reality is that the times have changed greatly and that has really made the music industry more difficult to navigate.

Where fans used to head out to see live music every chance that they could when I was younger, now people tend to either hit a club or not be interested in live music.  It is something that hopefully changes within the culture in the near future.  Personally I have tried so many avenues in the past to figure out how to get more fans in and how to get more fans to stay beyond a band or two at any given show.

Anyways, what is on my mind this time is some generalizations, but just some things that I have noticed over the years that I have been working within live music.  Some keys, so to speak, to succeeding depending upon what level you and your band are at personally.

1.  Don't be TOO selective.  Unfortunately we do all know the struggles of trying to get family, friends and fans out to a show that may not be the idea location or may not be the ideal day of the week.  But at some points, work is work.  I think that my key frustration here is with younger (all ages) bands.  The number of times that I have been told that The Rockpile for instance is not a great location for a band...they would rather play downtown...drives me crazy.  What we have when we do our shows at The Rockpile for example is a great opportunity to allow for all ages bands to perform for an all ages crowd.  That venue in particular is very kind to us and has always helped to foster the all ages scene that we work with.  Unfortunately, what you are going to find is that a lot of venues hit a complete non-starter when you say the word all ages to them.  Yet, every month I hear from a band that may have 16 year olds in it that tell me that they don't want to play on a Sunday or they don't want to play in Etobicoke..."but feel free to reach out when you have an all ages show on a Saturday downtown Toronto".  Sadly it doesn't work that way for many reasons.  Not the least of which is that to get an all ages show downtown often you are paying a PRETTY PENNY in lieu of bar sales to the venue.  But also, when I do get such shows, those opportunities are going to go to the artists that have worked hard at The Rockpile and worked hard to make a show work.  Not to a band that kind of threw in the towel on a show and mailed it in off and on stage.

2. SOCIALIZE.  I cannot stress this enough.  To get to the next tier in the music industry...the one where maybe you don't have to sell tickets and urge people to come out, is tough.  But one of the major keys to this is networking.  When you play a show, get to know the other bands and even more importantly, the other fans at the show.  Too many times I watch as a band hides in the corner with their friends and doesn't take the steps to MEET NEW PEOPLE.  I am sorry, but to be blunt, if you are going to be anti-social and not take some steps to make new fans, this industry may not be for you.  Take some band stickers to the people that you don't know, walk over and get to know them.  Ask them *shudder* what they thought of your set.  That's the fans.  But also get to know the other bands.  The best shows are the ones that you see pop up every year or so that have the same 3-4 artists as always but you remember that that show kicked all kinds of ass last year when you saw it.  So guess what, you go again.  Think about it.  Why do you go see a certain band every year when they come through Toronto? Because they slayed it the last time that you saw them.  Get out of your comfort zone, get out of your shell and get your band name out there.
People are always worried about how to make new, organic fans for their work...they are RIGHT THERE in the same building as you and just watched your set.  Go say hello.

3. Be professional.  This ties in to the last one.  If you think that other artists don't notice when you load in, perform and leave a show you are sadly mistaken.  For our shows, one of my major conditions is that artists plan to be at a show from start to finish and they support everyone else.  Break Loose's staff, other artists and even fans message me all the time to tell me what they think of artists.  I cannot tell you how many of those messages end with "but they left right after their set".  This is poison to you and your music.  I can tell you that straight up.  When Band X plans their next show they are likely going to book acts that they have performed with and they are FAR less likely to ever want to book with you if you show a lack of respect and leave the show or if you don't say one word to them after you are off stage.

4. Know your crowd and what they can handle and don't overdo it.  So many bands seem to subscribe these days to the theory that MORE IS MORE.  It's not.  The number of times that I have asked a band why they played a show the day or even week before the show that they have with us is countless.  As you are first starting and trying to grow, you need to balance everything that is entailed in music.  Performing, practicing and writing.  if you play 4 shows a month in the same city you will burn everything out.  Your fans won't find shows as important and thus will stop coming as much.  Your music will get tired because you will always be playing the same, or close to the same, sets.  And you will burn out because your crowd is shrinking and promoters and venues are getting agitated.

5. Perhaps the most important, and all encompassing of the above notes...your name is all that you have.
In the music industry you really are only as good or as bad as your last interaction, show and comments.  If you are dropping shows, if you are wasting time and if you are being unprofessional it won't take long before people everywhere know it.  When a band drops a ball, it is heard far away and by many.  People know what you did, people know where you played and people know the name that you have carved out for yourself.  Recently we booked a band in November for a January show...two weeks before the show they dropped the show with us because something they perceived as a better opportunity came along and they figured "who cares".  The reality is that I have to post about that band dropping the show, as a promoter I need to tell the people involved that they won't be at the show.  The bands know that a band changed on their bill, so a red flag goes up for them as well regarding that band...and it spreads out from there.  So just remember that every single action that you make in this industry has ripple effects.  One step back is generally a giant step back in the music industry.  One step forward is generally a small step forward.  It is always harder to climb uphill then to go downhill.

Anyways, I will call that a wrap.  Just a long blog from where I sit.

Until next time, please, get out there and support these local artists that are trying to get somewhere in the music industry.  They really and truly need your support and let's be honest, it doesn't matter how old you are...we all need good music in our lives.

1 Response

  1. Hi Lance, Thank you for the valuable insight. Everything you said seems very much like common sense to me. I always thought that when you are starting out, you take what you get, work your way from there. And yes, attitude, reliability and work ethic matter. The less is more section was very interesting. Easy to see how working hard can turn into over saturating your audience and them becoming bored. Thanks again for taking the time to write this. Bobby

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