14 Things To Look For When Auditioning a Band

giggingSo you’ve been taking guitar lessons for a few years, and you finally feel like you’re ready to join a band. Or maybe the band you’re in now just isn’t working for you any more, and you’re ready for a change. Or perhaps you’ve been on the shelf for a while and you’re ready to get back out there and gig.

Whatever the reason, you suddenly find yourself faced with an audition. No problem. You play the sort of music this band plays, you know your audition songs, your chops are solid, you sing pretty well, and you’ve worked hard on crafting your tone. You’re ready.

Or are you?

Many musicians go into an audition with a “me” mindset: they’re looking at me, they’re judging me. And while that’s true, it’s only half of what should be going on. Even as the band is evaluating your performance, you should be evaluating whether or not they are a good fit for you. To you, it’s their audition.

So how do you objectively audition a band? Below is a list of some characteristics to look for.

  • Can you get along with everyone? It doesn’t matter how spectacular they are if you can sense the drama from the moment you arrive for the audition. And if the band has seen a lot of turnover within the past year, think hard before you take the gig.
  • What sort of reputation does the band have within the community? You may not be able to find this out, but you should at least try to talk to former band members or with club owners of current and previous venues.
  • Do they have a website, or do they rely on Facebook? Social media is important, but websites are mandatory. A website is the one place where you can showcase your music, videos, photos, and calendar. In short, it’s the one place you can control completely. If the band has been together for more than four months and hasn’t put up a website, they’re not serious.
  • Do they have active social media in place? A band that does not interact with its fans on Twitter or Facebook is a band that doesn’t understand the power of social media. Odds are they don’t do marketing well, either, and that their turnout is low.
  • Are their instruments of good quality (name brand) & in good repair? Instruments don’t have to be top-of-the-line, but their sound does need to complement that of the rest of the band.
  • Is the PA in good shape? Is it powerful enough for the venues you’ll play? Does it sound clean and punchy?
  • Does the band have clear goals? Is it just for fun, or is it serious about making good music and money? Is everyone on board with them? Are the goals realistic?
  • Is the band working now? If not, is it at least gig-ready?
  • Do they have showmanship? Watch videos of them live. Do they work the crowd or just stand there?
  • Are there issues with tempo or tuning?
  • Is there evidence of drug or alcohol abuse?
  • What are the attitudes toward practice?
  • Is there a dress code for shows?
  • How will you be paid? Is it a straight fee, or a percentage of the door? Are you expected to help pay the sound man? Are you expected to chip in for gas to the person who brought the PA and lights in the trailer?

A good band will already have most of these characteristics evident already, and if you’ve gone to school on them before the audition, you’ll walk in with a good feel for what to expect from them. If the band is lacking in some of these points, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should pass on an opportunity if one is offered. You should, however, have in mind which characteristics are non-negotiable.

The band will evaluate you on everything you bring to the table. You should evaluate them the same way.

How To Book Better Gigs, Part 2

9397483030_3a000e94e2In part 1 of this series I suggested that bands wanting to play corporate parties, weddings, and festivals take stock of their current status before contacting promoters and booking agents. Since these gigs pay considerably more than the average club date, the person in charge of hiring entertainment will want to make sure the band is worth the money. Therefore, an artist or band must evaluate everything : press kits, set lists, equipment, what the band wears, and personnel. Assuming your band has those elements in top shape, you’re ready for the more lucrative gigs.

Now, how do you get them?

First, learn how to network.

Networking 101

Note: if the word networking scares you , read this article and consider going with someone else to a few public events.

Your network simply refers to the hierarchical relationship of your friends, your friends’ friends, and so on down the line. You don’t need to create a network: it already exists. You simply need to write it down in some form, then improve on it. So whether it’s in paper form or an app, invest in a good planning system. It needs to contain your contacts, a way to group certain contacts together, a calendar, and a place for notes. Use it daily, and carry it with you wherever you go.

3342687115_d2fa440a6dYou’ll also need an elevator speech. This is a 20-second commercial you can give to someone in the time it takes you to travel with that person in an elevator. You may never have to give it there, but you’ll use it often on cold calls, whether in person or over the phone. Keep it less than 250 words, and practice it often with the rest of the band. (This article has a great deal of useful information on writing such speeches.)

Your networking kit isn’t complete without business cards. If you or your band does not have them, you’ll need them. Nothing says professional faster than a good business card. You need not go for flash, but you do need the band’s name, contact person, contact info, and website printed on good, heavy cardstock. Make the color stand out with a glossy finish. It’s worth every penny.

One more thing: networking is all about building and nurturing relationships, whether you do it in person, over the phone, or online. If you only turn to your network when you want favors, you’ll soon find that your contacts have no time for you. Remember the cardinal rule of networking: you can get what you want by helping people get what they want.

You’re now ready to start networking.

Start With Who You Know

Musician Stan Stewart suggests starting with your friends and from them drawing up a list of people you know that might be able to help you. Contact your friends and simply tell them what you want.

… strike up a conversation about wanting to gig at this place. “…and I was wondering if you know the manager there…” You get the idea.

Let’s say you want to play for a certain company’s New Year’s eve party, and you have a friend who works at that company. Contact him or her and see if you can get the event planner‘s name. Also ask if you can use your friend’s name when you call the event planner. Regardless whether you get the gig, don’t forget to send a thank-you note to the event planner and your friend. If you do get it, however, a thank-you lunch with your friend is in order.

While your friends are perhaps the most willing to help you out, almost anyone can open doors for you. Know where to go for networking opportunities. Some suggestions include:

  • Club owners you’re now working for (great source of referrals)
  • Waitstaff and bartenders at the clubs you’re now working
  • Music stores (employees there are an excellent source of information)
  • Musicians in other bands
  • Professional musician organizations (ASCAP, BMI, SOCAN; the AFM (musician’s union; local songwriter’s associations)
  • Networking social media sites, such as LinkedIn or Plaxo
  • Alumni associations (most of these have LinkedIn groups)
  • Parties, informal gatherings
  • Bridal events (usually heavily attended by caterers, formal shops, bakeries, florists, and so on)
  • Churches/places of worship

Search Social Media

8583949219_f55657573eIf your friends can’t help, you can usually find out who books acts from the venue’s website. If you’re lucky, there will be a link to that person’s email or social media on the site as well. If you’re really lucky, you’ll see a phone number. If you can’t find any of this, however, Google is your friend.

But if all you can find is a Twitter link, take heart: you can still save the day. Follow them, says Stan, and engage them. (This is definitely the place for your elevator speech!)

Tell them who you are. Then, play it by ear: you may need to wait for a second or third interaction before you ask for a gig directly. An indirect approach may give you an “in”…. When the time is right, be sure the digital version of your press kit is ready to send.

A word about using social media contacts: don’t abuse them. The same networking ettiquite applies to these relationships as well. And while you may not be able to take a Twitter or Facebook contact out for lunch, you can retweet Kickstarter campaign and gig announcements. You can also listen to and comment on a fellow musician’s Soundcloud postings, and you should certainly thank people for liking, repinning, following, retweeting, and mentioning you and your posts.

Dealing With “No”

You need to understand that you’re going to hear “no” a lot. Successful people always do. During my days in business-to-business sales I read that one will hear “no” ninteen times before hearing a “yes.” It was true then, and it’s still true today. So when you get hit with a no, follow Stan Stewart’s advice:

Don’t burn any bridges. Don’t storm out or get pissy. Just say “I hope you’ll keep my press kit in your files.” If you’re still dying to play for a particular venue, continue to network. You’ll continue to meet people who are connected and they can help you get a second chance.

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Photo credits: John Anthony Loftus  (top); dereskey (middle); Jason A Howie (bottom)

You can follow Stan Stewart on Twitter at @muz4now; his website is www.muz4now.com.

Becoming An Excellent Sideman

danny2final_0I love reading Danny Barnes’ essays. He packs a lot of wisdom earned from years of experience into them, and not one word gets wasted. And Danny doesn’t provide any dramatic revelations about music or the music business. It’s just all common sense.

His article on playing in someone else’s band is an outstanding example of applying common sense to musicianship. To begin with, he points out that you’re not the star of the show. You have an obligation to remember that “your number one job above all else is to make the leader sound good, look good and feel good.” In exchange for following what he calls “the rule,” you get money, an education, and valuable network contacts. Not a bad deal.

The rest is pretty easy. Just remember who the leader is (or “the dude,” who is probably not you, Danny says) and keep him happy. What follows is a litany of what it takes to be a sideman extraordinaire. A few things you need to remember are as follows:

  • Don’t worry about money or business arrangements. You’ll get paid if the leader has something good going, and business arrangements aren’t your concern.
  • Don’t self-promote your CD or band. It’s bad business, and it doesn’t keep the dude happy.
  • If you’re on tour, stick to buisness. You’re at work, not on vacation. Sightsee another time, unless you have a couple of days free.
  • Try to be the easiest person the leader has ever dealt with. No one likes a jerk, and you can be replaced.
  • Travel light, and be courteous while doing it. Have your tickets, boarding passes, and passport handy. You don’t need to check a bunch of stuff on the plane. If you drive, offer to pump gas and check the oil.
  • If you charge something to your hotel room, pay for it. Small tours generally can’t splurge for room service or mini bars. Pony up.

Now it’s your turn. What advice about being a good sideman would you offer to someone just starting out?

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Of the Music Business

TOp3z2BP4D0buTIBWRlyKiAVv-pjEEuIygLDG9XMwqo,M7PkHcgnFPUw_Q5AHpOtJP_oBaDtUKm8uMUp-KNlhtQI had a conversation with another musician the other day. He was grousing to me about how hard it was to get a gig in this town. I hadn’t had that problem, so I asked what he meant by that.

“It’s obvious!” he began. “These club owners expect you to bring your own following to the gig!” He waited a bit, apparently expecting some sort of condolence from me. When he got none, he went on.

“I mean, nobody in our age group goes out anymore. Nobody has the time! Nobody has the money! I mean, I don’t go out unless I’m playing.”

I was about to say something to all of that. I wanted to tell him that of course the owner expects you to bring a following, that people in his age group (mine as well) do go out, and shame on him for being part of the problem: not going out and supporting other musicians. I changed my mind, though. I realized whatever I said would make no sense to someone who actually believed the world owed him a living, a club owed him a place to play, and that he didn’t have to lift a finger to draw a crowd. The crowd would be there, waiting on him, chanting his name, and waving the Zippos in the air.

The Ugly

Unfortunately, there are more musicians out there just like him who believe that if a club owner could only hear how good they are they would land the gig. Here it is, the ugly truth: the person who books your band does not really care if you are any good! Being good is a perk. He or she expects the booking to put butts in seats, sell food and drink, and make money. In the case of a club, the owner that pays your band $800 expects to earn at least four times that amount because you’re there. He has overhead in his lease, his insurance, his staff, and his product, plus he has to make a profit. If you’re not bringing in fresh faces, it’s only good business if he replaces you.

250878012_55b96c985cAnd the club owner isn’t the only one interested in your money-making potential. If you have an agent, he wants a cut, too. Same with your publicist, your merchandise company, and your CD distributor. Don’t forget: you are the product, not your music. You may be the best act out there, but that title means nothing without fans.

So the next thing you have to consider is why you don’t have a following.

The Bad

If you’re not doing what you can to market your band, then stop wondering where your friends are and start telling them. Send out emails letting them know where you’ll be next, and when. Put that information on Twitter and Facebook. Create a group of contacts in your smartphone and text them a couple of hours before the show. Make up some flyers with upcoming show dates and contact information: put these on tables at your gigs. Take pictures at the show and put them on your website and Instagram. And don’t expect the club to do any marketing for you.

But if you’re doing all of that and you still have empty seats out in front of you, then you don’t have a following because no one likes your music. Period. The tribe has spoken.

Your friends may listen to a track you uploaded to Reverb Nation and become fans; they may like you on Facebook and hang out with you on Google+; they may even tell you that they’ll make it to one of your shows. But if they haven’t shown up in 3 months, then you either need new friends, or you can assume the old ones are just not into your music. And that isn’t the club’s fault, either.

The Good

So what can you do if you this article hits close to home? Plenty. First, determine why you’re not getting gigs or why the ones you do get have low attendance. Then do one (or both) of the following:

  • Work at your craft until you’re ready to perform. Get good here. Go back to the basics of scales, modes, and arpeggios. Study. Take lessons. Listen to lots of different music, both inside and outside your genre, and learn how to play it. Read a wide variety of poetry to help you with your lyrics. Go out and listen to other musicians.
  • Work on your business chops. Get good here, too. Read all you can about the business of music. Get some networking skills and use them when you go out to listen to other musicians. Learn as much as you can about social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. You don’t need them all; learn which ones are best for you.

Notice the first word in those points: work. Like the musician at the beginning of this article, you can grouse all you want to, but it won’t solve anything. It won’t make you a better musician. All it will do is alienate you from those working hard on their own careers and who have no time to listen to someone else complain.

So if you’re not getting the bookings you want, take charge of your career and figure out why. Assess your music honestly and be willing to make changes. And don’t waste time and energy blaming others: you are the master of your fate.

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Image credits: Top – the author; Bottom – Chad Miller

Feeding the Muse

stuck-in-a-rutSo you’ve recorded a few CDs, and they’ve done well. You’re on your fourth tour, and your fan base is growing. So far, so good. Except that the only posts on your Facebook and Twitter now are your fans clamoring for a new album.

When suddenly you realize you’re just not feeling it anymore.

Or you’re in a cover band, which has been riding a huge popularity wave for the past 8 months, but it’s suddenly gotten old. You haven’t had time to learn any new music in months, and while fans still show up to your gigs, the numbers are not quite what they were.

And suddenly you realize you’re just not feeling it anymore.

It’s a sick feeling. Did I peak and not realize it? you ask yourself. Is this all there is? Am I wasting my time and my life at this? And in an attempt to break out of your writer’s block, you write more songs that start to sound a lot like what you’ve written before, which only adds to your frustration and deepens the rut. Or you pull out a couple of done-to-death standards from your B-list and work them into Saturday night’s set list, even as you vow to get the band together and learn some more music soon. Real soon.

We all get in ruts from time to time. The trick is recognizing them for what they are and knowing how to work through them. Fortunately the folks at Music Marketing [dot] com have listed over a dozen ways to get out of your comfort zone and feed your creative muse. Among them:

  • Get out of the band you’re in if it stifles you. You may like everyone in it, but if you art suffers from it, what’s the point?
  • Post videos of unfinished songs on Facebook. Ask for fan feedback. This deepens the relationship you have with them, which is another source of inspiration.
  • Play in a venue that makes you nervous.
  • Join a band that plays a different genre than what you’re used to. I got out of rock for well over a year and played jazz, and it was such an inspiring and liberating experience. It forever changed the way I compose music.
  • Write a song with someone else. Fresh perspective is always good.

NatureYou can also try one or more of these suggestions:

  • Start a new project. Rather than find another band, start one of your own.
  • Introduce some original material. If you’re in a cover band, adding a few of your tunes will add variety to a tired mix. It’s also a great way to find out how your music goes over with a real audience.
  • Experiment with a different sound. Hire a sax player or percussionist for one of your gigs, or rework an entire set as an acoustic one. You may not want to shake things up like this all the time, but it’s good when you do. And your audience is sure to appreciate and talk about it.
  • Go on hiatus. Academics take sabbaticals, usually to write a book or some other project. But by getting away from a routine and focusing on something fresh, they often return to their posts with renewed enthusiasm. It can work for you, too. Just make it clear to the rest of the band that you need some downtime to recharge. If they’re not comfortable with that notion, however, you’ll need to be prepared to make what could be a hard choice.

Daft Punk was able to avoid a creative rut by using some old-school techniques to record their latest album, Random Access Memories. Thomas Bangalter explained that the duo wanted to expand its creative horizons before their music became boilerplate. Musicians can’t thrive in a comfort zone, he said. “That’s not what artists are supposed to do.” You owe it to yourself as well as your fans to keep pushing your music to new heights, but you can only do that by having a creative vision and sticking to it.

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Image 1 credit: Chris Yaw

Image 2 credit: DesignPics Inc.

Updated June 12, 2013

The Digest: Fresh News About the Music Business – March 30, 2013

ramonePhil Ramone, Music Producer, Dies at 72 NPR The Two-Way

While the cause of death was not immediately disclosed, Ramone was known to have been hospitalized with an aortic aneurysm in February. Ramone, a South African native, studied at the Julliard School in New York when he was a teenager and went on to earn 14 Grammy Awards.

Topspin Offers 5 Direct-to-Fan Lessons From SXSW Hypebot

South by Southwest is more than just a venue – it’s a place where artists can learn about the latest trends that affect their music and what lessons they can learn from those trends. The Hypebot article describes five of these lessons and strategies for musicians and those who work with them. Among them: the digital streaming experience must evolve to allow fans to dig deeper into the music and discover the artist completely. Also, artists must also go beyond the metrics, such as followers and likes, and focus on the authenticity of their messages.

Get Ready – Apple’s iRadio Is On the Way! Forbes

Slated to launch sometime this summer, iRadio is acknowledged to be the next logical step in the progression of iTunes, iPods, iPhones, and so on. So what took it so long? The sticking point seems to have been profitability: Pandora pays artists $0.12 per 100 spins, and Spotify pays a whopping $0.35 per 100 spins. Apple, however,  wants to pay only $0.06 per 100 spins. Whether or not they get that rate isn’t etched in stone, but if talk of a launch is buzzing about, you can be sure that Apple has the hammer and chisel ready.

House Concert Tips and Advice Music Music Marketing [dot] com

house-concertIf you’re considering playing a house concert, take time to listen to this podcast first. The folks from Music Marketing [dot] com discuss topics ranging from which artists benefit from house concerts the most to whether house concerts should be streamed to getting Beyonce to play your house. And for more information about house concerts, click here.

Guitar Giant Gibson Takes Control of Teac Scotsman

The deal is worth a reported $52 million, and according to the guitar company, will help it expand into Asian markets.

Why Your Facebook Page Isn’t Growing Music Think Tank

Face it. You’re probably not going to get above 6 percent engagement on your band’s page, and that’s on a good day. In fact, most users have fewer than 256 followers. Some of that is your fault: you don’t post interesting content, you don’t use pictures or infographics, and you don’t engage with the community. But Facebook has stacked the deck against you. You can’t reach 100 percent of the people out there because the advertisers are paying for that privilege.

The Rise of the Musicpreneur Music Think Tank

Tommy Darker has written the first of three articles that provide “a well-organized overview of the tasks involved in being a modern do-it-yourself artist,” and it’s worth a read, especially if you’re just starting out on the indie artist road. What follows is a solid tutorial on music business terms and tasks, such as sustainable business model (what you do to stay in business), and growth/metrics (how you measure how well you’re staying in business). Then there’s stuff about web presence, branding, SEO, online platforms, and so on. If it seems intimidating, then you’d better read it twice and brace for parts 2 and 3.

Bob Moog Inducted Into Inventors Hall of Fame Music Industry Newswire

robert-moog-2Dr. Robert Moog, inventor of the legendary Minimoog Synthesizer, earned his rightful place among his fellow peers recently when he was posthumously inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame. A statement from his company headquarters in Asheville, NC, explained Moog’s honor as one given to “individuals who conceived, patented, and advanced so many of the great technological achievements that have changed our world.”

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The Digest is a weekly feature of the Sketchbook blog that provides an annotated listing of links to relevant articles about events, trends, people, and things that have a direct impact on us as musicians. If you find The Digest useful, or if you want to suggest improvements, please let me know. Also, if you have content you’d like to see included, please send a message via Twitter or Facebook. And share the love by passing The Digest on via email or social media.

Image credits: Top – http://www.npr.org/blogs; Middle – http://www.joyike.com; Bottom – http://www.djproaudioinc.com

The Digest – March 19, 2013

Express - 2013 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive FestivalSouth by Southwest: Recapping the Music Festival Time

A rundown of the SXSW highlights, from Prince to Justin Timberlake, to Waxahatchee, to Death Grips, to Dave Grohl, it’s all here. Next year I’ll drop some more names.

How the Internet Is Changing Everything (feat. Amanda Palmer on Vocals) Sex, Genes, and Rock

Thirty years ago, says Rob Brooks, if you wanted to listen to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” you had to buy Thriller. Today, if you want to listen to “Gangnam Style.” you need only go to YouTube or download it from iTunes. Or a bit torrent site. Piracy abounds, which has dramatically affected royalty payments to artists and producers alike. Now the question has become “how do we make listeners pay?” Brooks says bands to tour more, and fans to pay to experience music live. And that, he says, completely inverts the way technology changed music in the 20th century.

Twitter Enters the Music Business  SFGate.com

Similar to Pandora, the new Twitter Music app suggests songs to listeners based on the bands they follow. Expect a launch date by the end of March.

So You Want to Play the Piano Available For Preorder Classical Mel’s Piano & Music Education Blog

Concert pianist and piano teacher Melanie Spanswick recently finished her new book, So You Want To Play The Piano?, and it is an excellent guide for anyone thinking about the piano as his or her instrument of choice. Within its pages the novice pianist can find advice on finding the perfect instrument (and teacher), supporting a child who is learning, practicing, and much more. Spanswick’s book is officially on sale April 1, but readers can order So You Want to Play the Piano? in advance from Amazon.

Music Business: Investments Are Not Expenses The Media Online

productionNo one has to tell musicians these days that times are tough, and it really doesn’t matter if you’re a veteran or just starting out. And labels aren’t doing any better, despite the mythology of  them having hoards of cash in their secret underground vaults. So it’s no surprise that artists wince at ponying up mega bucks for things like production, live sound, and branding. But what musicians must realize is that these things aren’t expenses – they’re investments in the artist, his career, and the success of the label.

New Study Finds That Music Piracy Doesn’t Negatively Affect Sales WebProNews Technology

According to the music industry, music piracy will be the death of it. But a new study shows that such is not the case. In fact, most users who are interested in music visited both pirated sites and online music stores. The study went on to claim that pirate sites actually contributed to an increase in clicks on online music stores’ links by up to  2 percent.

The Disconnect Between Musicians and Promoters The Lowry Agency Blog

Opening acts should spend less time whining about a low turnout and more time getting out on the street and promoting the show, says artist management guru David Lowry. In Part 1 he goes on to describe the costs, wheeling, and dealing involved in putting on a show, and offers sage advice to openers: get out and help put butts in seats. Part 2 involves landing a gig as an opening act, and doing that is all about developing a relationship with a promoter. “Business people are looking for persistence, reliability, creativity and hard work,” Lowry explains. “This is a very speculative business, and so promoters are looking for artists that will make sure they deliver and help make sure the show doesn’t operate at a loss.”

Seven Music Career Myths The Musician’s Way Blog

zeusBeing technically proficient with your instrument helps, but it’s not going to make your career all by itself. Nor do managers handle everything for you. (Nor should they. It’s your career!) And rather than rely on winning the Van Cliburn Piano Competition, students can better serve their careers by “performing innovative programs for diverse audiences, [and] growing their fan bases in the process.”

The Digest is a weekly feature of the Sketchbook blog that provides an annotated listing of links to relevant articles about events, trends, people, and things that have a direct impact on us as musicians. If you find The Digest useful, or if you want to suggest improvements, please let me know. Also, if you have content you’d like to see included, please send a message via Twitter or Facebook. And share the love by passing The Digest on via email or social media.

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Image credits: Top – http://www.time.com; Middle – http://www.maketrance.com; Bottom – http://www.cocc.com

Should You Give Your Music Away?

man in the black jacket with cdCan you imagine someone asking you this question twenty years ago? I can’t.

The fact is, the concept of giving one’s music away for free is a concept that has only surfaced in the last two or three years, and I’d say its nativity was in 2007 when Radiohead announced that they would let their fans pay whatever they wanted to for their new album, In Rainbows. I mean, how can you compete with that kind of a pricing structure?

Fast forward to today where Jamie Leger is telling musicians that they should give their music away because it’s not like people are buying it anyway – they’re listening on YouTube or downloading it from a bit torrent site. And if nobody is buying, then what good is having the attitude that you must be fairly compensated for your work? The world, Leger says, doesn’t owe you a living. You’ve got to figure out how to make one, and it’s a good bet you can’t make it on the paltry royalties paid out by Pandora or Spotify.

The music industry paradigm has shifted. People had bands in the sixties, and their music was about peace and love. Today people have brands, and music is just a tool to promote that brand. Bands are businesses now (they always were), and businesses have to make profits. Free music, it seems, has become the new method for getting people in the door.

Think of it this way: would you rather have the revenue from one customer shelling out $0.99 for a download on iTunes, or would you rather have that one customer coming to your shows on a regular basis and buying your merchandise? Doesn’t it make sense, Leger asks, to build relationships with your fans so that you have a sustainable income? And if you can get that relationship by giving your music away, isn’t it worth it?

Recently I got the chance to talk with some teenagers who had been to various concerts over the weekend. One of them proudly pointed to a necklace she was wearing that day. “Look! I got it at the show for $40!” she gushed. It looked like it might have been worth about $5. She said she’d found out about the band from a friend, who had sent her some MP3s from their first CD. She liked them enough to buy tickets to the show ($10) and buy their merchandise. It would have taken 5 people buying CDs at $10 a pop to realize the same revenue from one girl who paid $50 at the show because she’d heard free music.

So is it worth it? You tell me. Join the conversation and say whether you think artists should give music away in order to get fans. Vote in the poll below and add your comments.

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Image: real.com

New Year’s Resolutions vs. Lifelong Goals

another-nyI’m sure your just as tired of all of the new year’s hype as I am. Strange how the birth of a new year creates this huge onslaught of media coverage that would make one believe the Myans had been right after all. It’s as if there had never been another new year ever, nor will there ever be one to top this one. At least until next year, when the whole circus comes to town again.

So I won’t speak of resolutions, since that’s all you’ve heard about for the past 3 weeks, not to mention that we’re all prone to breaking them sooner or later. Rather I’ll focus on just a few goals musicians should work on, regardless of the time of year.

  • Write the kind of music you’d want to listen to. Sure, you have to know what’s mainstream, but that doesn’t mean you should get carried away by it. Your message is in your music, and you need to personalize it. Take courage from the fact that there’s an audience out there for whatever music you want to write. Think Field of Dreams here: if you write it, they will come.
  • Practice the basics when you practice. Scales. Chord voicings. Arpeggios. Modes. These are the building blocks of any song or composition ever written, and you’ll become a better songwriter if you practice them each day.
  • Focus on building good relationships. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, don’t ask what other people can do to help advance your music career. Instead, look for ways you can help them get what they want. And to do that you have to be willing to talk to people.
  • Create and maintain a conversation with your fans. If you run to your table and hide out during breaks, you’re doing it wrong. Use that time to go out to the crowd and talk to your fans. Connect with them. Find out what they do for a living, where they go to school, what they’re studying. They’ll remember you because no one else does that, and you took the time to make them feel special. You can also mention your upcoming CD, or hand out business cards, or get email addresses, but none of that will matter if you don’t connect.
  • Learn a new skill. Don’t know how to record your songs on a computer? Now is a good time to learn. Can you edit video clips together to make a video demo? No? Read up on it and find out how it’s done. Regardless of how good you are at your instrument or craft, there’s always one more skill out there that you can learn to make yourself even more marketable.

Whatever you do, don’t set yourself up for failure and the associated letdown. Don’t say, “I’m going to practice my scales and modes each day,” or “I’m going to go out and learn a new skill.” Put the action in the present tense: “I practice scales and modes each day (or each time I practice),” and “I build good relationships with my fans.” It’s funny, but if you tell yourself you’re already doing it, you start to do it, and eventually it becomes a habit.

Resolutions are made quickly and fade just as quickly. My guess is that this is stuff you already do, so working just a little bit harder at it won’t seem like so much of a stretch. You’ll feel better about yourself for doing it, too, and that feeling wins out over a blown resolution any old day.

How to Advance Your Music Career

train+tracksBlogger Hisham Dahud maintains that it’s important keep revisiting the basics to keep your music career on track. Doing so allows you to think like a beginner again, back to when you could see clearly what you wanted. Unsuprisingly, the first tip regards revisiting and restating your original goals. Others include:

  • It’s all about sales. Make sure you’re fairly compensated for your entertainment value.
  • Network. Meet people that you can help, not just those who can help you.
  • Avoid people who bring you down. This would include so-called friends who try to dissuade you from a music career.
  • Keep learning about the business. Consider how music has changed within 20 years: home recording, internet distribution, the decline of the major labels. You can’t afford to stop learning.
  • Don’t be afraid of risks.

These suggestions will help you move your career in the music business forward – however far along you may be now.