I was asked recently to give a friend’s bro some advice on recording, gigs and generally the music “industry”.
This is my answer which after I looked at it, thought might be useful for anyone else wanting some tips….
– If you have talent, people will notice when you play live shows. It may not be many people, but it’s a start.
– Engage with your audience. Talk to them- unless you are the most amazing person every musically, people will expect some eye contact and introduce yourself and your songs. Repeat your name! Find a funny story to tell but don’t moan about being ill, being tired or your sore hand- people watching have had a hard day too but its your job to lift them out of that.
– Always take things to give to people at live shows (EP’s no matter how roughly recorded, badges, flyers..) the art of self-promotion is everything. People appreciate free stuff too, so instead of making them pay for an EP give it away or ask for a donation if they want. Most people will be happy to donate, but happier if you give em stuff for free- take a pen with you in case they want you to sign stuff!
– Anyone random coming up to you offering to manage you or record you without a business card, a website and professional example is a scammer! There are lots of people who’ll tell you how amazing you are because they want something out of it- no more so than other musicians hoping to steal your list of promoter contacts.
– Having said that… to get more gigs, have a look at where people in the same music scene as you play, and try and get those gig venues too!
– Talk to other bands doing similar music, the more friendly you are the more likely they are to recommend you as support.
– Many venues don’t want you if you can’t bring in more than 20 people. These can be the hardest gigs to get if you don’t have 20 friends willing to help out at first- I *think* the key is to build up to these venues slowly or hit them with some amazing PR! When someone comes up to you and says they liked your show, talk to them, make them feel appreciated, ask them if they’d be interested coming to see you play again sometime.. get an email address for your mailing list!
– Keep getting your music out there and don’t turn down gigs because they’re in strange places- sometimes those can be the most exciting ones for an audience. Be prepared to be versatile too- if there’s a piano in the venue, do a song on a piano- mix it up, do some a-capella..Be interesting on stage.
– When you’re “nobody” with a large talent, some people will try and use you because they think you’re desperate and don’t know any better. Be wary of people offering you free recording, or a “reduced rate.. but you have to SIGN something”. If a producer or studio presents you with a contract before recording- READ IT CAREFULLY, even pay for legal advice to explain it in plain English-or even better Renegotiate the contract! some producers have clauses that give them a cut of not only the song you’re about to record with them if it makes money, but also any subsequent re-recording of that song?! (yes, this is a true life experience!) Now, we all know as an unsigned musician, your stuff is your own- noone else makes money off it and most of the time you don’t either!! The producers didn’t write it, so why should they get any extra perks? Well- that depends on the role they played- some producers can add to your song, edit it and make it amazing – if they manage to do that, perhaps they’ve earned some perks. It is up to you whether to give away such a big part of your rights. However, most people operate on the basis of “if you do a good song I can say “I produced that” and that alone will get me more business”. You can always publicise your producer/studio online as part of a deal too.
I was lucky enough to work with someone I knew from Twitter, who offered me a reduced rate, no contract and his own musical talent. He’s produced and recorded 3 of my songs so far and they’re just getting better! I pay him the money, he does the job- I tell everyone about his mad skillz and hopefully bring in more business- the end.
– If you’re recording at home, make sure you learn as much as possible about the process. Learn your software and hardware. Research what mics are the best- there are lots of forums around discussing equipment and mastering and recording. The better recording you can do yourself, the more it will get noticed. It may be that this is where you throw any bulk of money you have- it’s a good idea- your recordings are the first thing people will listen to to see if they like you. I made the mistake of starting off with things recorded on my iphone etc, no special equipment. I learned that whilst some people LOVE the lo-fi style, and it was just about enough to get me a few open mic gigs, most people thought it was spartan and needed more layers!
– For folk/acoustic, it’s very important to sound Different enough from everyone else who also has a guitar. I’m lucky- I mostly play a Ukulele which in itself is a different sound. Always make sure the vocals are the most important thing in the mix but not too loud and most definitely in TUNE even if it takes 100 takes!I’ve heard demos with a lot of potential completely ruined by off key vocals or guitar so double check this is not you 🙂 just remember that most people do not hear “potential”. There are millions of other artists with great songs, so much passion it hurts, a great image, amazing publicity- and if all of them have slightly better production- you won’t even register on the radar!
– Research about the industry as much as possible. Seek out promoters whenever you have the time- arrange ninja gigs if you have the fanbase! Film it and take pix- the more content you produce the better initially for people to get a good feel of who you are and what you’re about.
– Contact local radio stations, send your demos (most people ask for digital these days but some still prefer a CD)
– Youtube – tag everything you do with your name, do covers that people love, make them as special as you can so you have an edge over the gazillion other versions.
– Flyer at other similar shows to you, fans of those people might turn into your fans. Get email address and a regular mailing list to send out with your next gigs etc.
– Stay focused- when you’re doing this yourself who has the time to get drunk and high and still get shit done? Be clever about the times you choose to let rip!
– Try and be nice to other people on their journey. You never know when someone will surprise you and do you a favour. Being nice though doesn’t mean being a doormat. Believe in what you are doing.
There are no guarantees. You could struggle all your life for this and still noone will hand you a recording contract or want to manage you.
Do it because you have to, because you don’t know what else to do, because even if you’re not consciously doing it, it comes out of you anyway.
Someone, somewhere will love it- and that’s a start.