Editor’s Note: In his previous column, Mike Hill gave part one of a two-part column on the most effective ways to market a band as it attempts to make its name in a market like Tyler and East Texas. Here’s part two.
Playing music is a form of self-expression. An art form. Most musicians will tell you they really have no choice but to play. It is a part of who they are, a release from the stress life throws at them.
As a musician, I can sympathize. But like painting, or any other art form, you can quickly become the stereotypical “starving artist” if you aren’t careful. Knowing how to market your craft does not make you a “sellout,” as it is, in fact, a must-have survival tool.
I can’t stress this one enough. If you say you will do a show swap with another band, follow through. Don’t badmouth other bands. Don’t badmouth venues or promoters. Always thank the sound guy, the door guy, the servers, the bartenders, the club manager and the fans. Tip the people who wait on you. You’re not special just because you are the entertainer. You might get surprised – some servers will actually tip the band if they bring lots of people and help them make money. (One little marketing trick I have used is giving a band shirt to each server to wear the night of your show – everyone likes free stuff and it makes your band look great for the whole club to be promoting your act.) Nothing will get you farther than being nice. And yes, being nice is a form of marketing. Word of mouth can make or break your band. I have personally seen many talented bands lose future bookings at venues because of their bad attitudes.
DON’T PLAY FOR FREE
Here’s the sticky one. Yes, you are an artist. Yes, you just love the chance to play and you do it because you love it and it’s not about the money, yada yada yada. If that’s how you feel, throw a backyard party and play for your friends. Gear costs money. Gas costs money. Venues hire bands to entertain their guests. You are performing a service, which has value.
Playing for free not only hurts you, it hurts other bands who charge a reasonable rate for their services. The factors you have to consider when setting a rate are: How many people do you draw? Many clubs charge a cover at the door, which goes directly to the band. If the place is crowded and many of the people are there to see you, you have the right to ask for more money; What if the venue doesn’t charge a cover charge? Look at the capacity of the venue, and how many people normally attend on a given night and set your rate accordingly. Venues with no door charge normally pay a little less; Did the crowd seem to like you? If your first time playing a particular location was a success, you might look at renegotiating your rate the next time you book. And don’t forget to try and get onto the calendar with your next show date when you get paid at the end of the night. It’s much easier to secure another gig while you are one-on-one with the manager.
There will be times you might have to consider playing a show for less than your normal rate, or for no money at all. You have to evaluate all the other factors involved when making this decision. Will you be playing with another group that draws a large crowd? Is there a good chance their crowd will respond well to your music? Do you feel you can gain a decent number of new fans by playing the show? Sometimes performing in front of a new pool of potential fans is just as important as a paycheck. It can be a tricky call.
To summarize, let me just say this. Playing in a band – any band – is a lot of work. For all those out there who say “he/she needs to grow up and stop wasting time playing around in that silly band,” I hope this may have changed your view a little. Yes, it’s fun, but it is a job – a second or sometimes third job for many. Support local music and the local businesses who book it. And for the bands out there, keep doing what you love. Just remember to market your project so that others can love it too.
Mike Hill is the owner of Route2 Advertising and former drummer for bands such as The Fantastic Circus and Truffula Tree.