A lot of us start or join bands for the fun of it, and for many, the dream of making it big. But sometimes there's a disconnect between hobby and work, and particularly with being in a band the notion of it being a job can creep up on you out of nowhere, or you might need to make a sudden change you're simply unprepared or not capable of making.
Bandmin - Band Admin. If you want to make your band a money maker, in 2020 this is essential.
So what do you need to know when your hobby, becomes a business...
It used to be so simple. We would learn an instrument, develop a passion, get good, and perform. People would flock to see the local talents, and we would play for the dream of being discovered by an AR guy who may or may not be in the crowd. We'd get offered a management contract, and boom, success.
Things have changed a lot since then, with the explosion of social media and the free ability for every Bieber, Puth and Mendes wannabe to publicise themselves online, those AR guys now don't need to attend venues, or check their mail for demo tapes, when their e-mail boxes are inundated with soundcloud, youtube links, and MP3 attachments of the music they've recorded in their bedrooms.
The fact that we are so free and able to do this is genuinely fantastic, and the stuff of dreams in terms of exposure for those struggling musicians years ago. But with this, comes heavy saturation, making it if anything, harder to be discovered. So navigating the fields of self publicity becomes something that needs constant attention and a very defined mindset.
Musical success comes with sacrifice. I don't think it's possible to have your cake and eat it. Naturally, because of the necessity for income, almost all adult musicians you meet will be holding down a steady job, and of course, all occupations come with their own need for loyalty, but we've all had those gigs crop up right in the middle of a shift that Jill won't cover for you because Gogglebox is on that night...
Some employers will be welcoming and understanding of these needs, but it does mean you've made up your mind career wise, as it can make progression with your employer difficult if you're seen to have interests that lie elsewhere; which business wise makes sense. The higher the rank, the more loyal to the company you need to be.
I've had gigs I've had to miss, ones that have been difficult to arrange the time around, and ones where I've arrived by the skin of my teeth, but had to skip sound check. It's stressful, but it feels all the worth it because you get to perform, you get to do what you love and hopefully take a step forward in the direction of the career you're really working for.
Unless, you've made poor decisions, and end up playing to an empty venue - The fear, and reality, for so very many bands, and potentially (speculation) traces back to the invention of Napster. The boom of MP3s, and the progression of streaming has likely not done many favours for people not really bothering to see local live talent...Unless you're going to see that already established band you really love.
A very common business principle, is Pareto Law (the 80/20 rule). Which easily applies to trying to progress as a band. It states that roughly 20% of what you do accounts for 80% of your results. You might feel like you're playing hundreds of shows, but your online profile is not growing in followers, likely because those shows you played, perhaps only had a handful of people at each show.
Hypothetically, let's say our current goal is to gain followers on our social media profiles through gigging. So you play 100 shows. Each of those shows has 10 people...So you've played to 1000 people, and at each show you've made specific mention of your social media presence and how people can find you and your music.
20% of those people you've reached might be susceptible to respond...So those 1000 potential new fans are already at 200, and from that, 80% might actually bother to find the pages you were talking about. So you've got 160 new page likes, which on paper sounds great!
But realistically, if you've got 100 shows lined up, it's probably going to take you 6 months to a year, maybe more to have played those when you're trying to balance a job at the same time. Slow progress right?
Then factoring in the potential for people to actually interact with your social media content, and see you perform again, that 160 you've worked really hard to get over the course of a year is starting to look like a dismally small number of actual fans.
This is where things get really disheartening.
You start a band for fun, you start getting out there and gigging, and suddenly you're wondering if you've got what it takes to make it, and that you've been doing it so long now, that surely you should be getting somewhere just from your presence and exposure.
So performing initially seems like a little bit of a broken paradoxical system. Places boast about having live music, and having live music venues as a means to draw people in, and for a few it will...But the bulk of that customer draw comes from them choosing the bands, and the venue then expects you to bring in the clientele.
There are a few places across the country that work it in a nice way: They know how busy they typically are on a busy day, so budget a set fee to pay a band for a particular amount of time. With the expectation that the band with draw in more business, should their takings pass a certain threshold and become profitable, the band becomes entitled to a percentage of the takings. It's fair, and it incentivises the band to bring in more people.
But - So many many many venues choose the approach of relying on the band to bring the business, except you don't pay them, and tell them that they are playing for "exposure"...But there is no exposure, because nobody turns up, because the venue was relying on you to bring the business. The venue loses out, and you lose out more, because you're buying drinks for yourself and your band mates in a nigh on empty venue. No wonder some music venues fail when they rely on an illogical model.
That being said, you cannot expect to be paid if you do not have any pull into the venue. Let's assume the same circumstances as above, except the venue pays you to be there. But as a band trying to build their profile, you don't have any pull. Ultimately resulting in the effect of the venue not dealing with you again, because you're not viable for their business.
So how do we solve this problem? How can we ensure that our gigs are worthwhile, that if we are not getting paid, we are performing to as many people as possible, and that the activities we do are valuable to our time.
This is where, and why, you need to think of your band as a business...If you're frustrated with any of the situations mentioned above, and are fed up of not getting paid, then it's time to evaluate what you actually want from the band, and stop expecting a magical breakthrough. The big break starts with you, your drive, and your hard work.
Suddenly 'Band Managers' don't seem like such a bad idea after all, huh?
So, here are some things you really need to think about if you're taking that step away from carefree hobby to passionate career.
Unity. Every single member of your band needs to be on the same page. You all need to be working towards a unified goal, and your passions should all be aligned. You are only as strong as your weakest member. You're all cogs in the machine, and if one isn't pulling its weight, the whole thing falls apart. This may be that either you don't achieve anything you set out and run in place, or unaddressed issues fester and come to an explosive end when people don't get what they want.
Have Band Meetings, it seems silly, but yes, just like a business meeting, you need time set aside from practice and creation to sort out an issues that need attention, be those issues affecting the unity of the group, delegation of tasks, sharing of ideas etc. Whatever needs doing that doesn't involve practice. Make sure, just like a real business meeting, you set an agenda, offer open platforms for the sharing of ideas, and create some proactive action plans for improvement.
Appoint a leader. Presumably, you won't be able to hire a manager to sort your shit out, so you'll be self managing from the get go. It's important to have one person democratically elected in charge of major decisions. Most things should be left to a vote, but there's nothing worse than being in a 4 piece where you end up tied. It's extremely valuable to have one person who everyone has agreed can stipulate the final say. Have elected your official, this will decrease the amount of arguments from one or two people making the decisions on behalf of everyone. Any issues can be brought forward to band meetings where you have allotted time for an open platform of discussion. Maintaining an agreed hierarchy mitigates conflict, preventing those feared explosive outbursts and "creative differences".
Delegate. Just because you have a leader, does not mean that they should or will do everything involved in the business side of looking after your band. A band is a team, and everybody pulling their weight is imperative to the success. So decide as a group what tasks need attention, and have each member concentrate on their own thing. Social media should be a group effort. Everyone should have access and be responsible for content, one person can search for venues proactively, whilst others should be on the look out for opportunities and react accordingly to them, having one person search and contact can help in the building of relationships with venues when they only have to consistently deal with one band member. If you also appoint one person responsible for the replying of messages and e-mails, then it avoids any confusion where nobody responds under the assumption somebody else will do it. Be clear and defined in who is doing what, and as a leader, you should be ensuring things are done as and when they should be.
Network. Early in my band experiences, it became very easy to shit on the bands you play with. When people play better than you, or have more people show up than you, or get a bigger reaction than you, it hurts the ego a bit. But instead of shooting for the negatives and bitching about them, or worse, assume you're better than them and get the hump because you don't know why they had such a better reaction...Befriend them. Especially if they brought in a decent crowd, these are people you want to keep in your contact book. This is one of the better ways that you can amass that following you're working towards. Do not disregard it as piggybacking off the success of others, it's very much an "I'll scratch your back" kind of situation. If it pays off and you end up in a scenario where you have pull and the venue asks if you know anyone who can fill a slot, you'll have a bunch of people on speed dial ready to play, and likely to a bigger crowd of fresh faces. You're in the same boat as all these other bands, so make friends and look after each other. You all want the same thing. As well as this, make sure you're making good connections with the people running the shows. You never know where people might go, and if you make yourself known as reliable and friendly, showrunners will remember you, and could help you get support slots at bigger shows, for better exposure.
Social Media. CONTENT. CONTENT. CONTENT. Social media in the 21st century is by far, one of your biggest resources in getting followers, and arguably, just as effective as playing shows in a responsible manner. But your posting needs to be constant, ideally at the very least daily. Do your research on social media, posts need a 'call to action' that encourage followers to interact with it, so it can get shared and commented on in the efforts to appear on other peoples social feeds. Do research on social media marketing techniques, but you must remember to be yourself. Whatever the image of the band is defined as, and each member should inject some of their personality. Don't try too hard to be funny or unique, and definitely do not be textbook. Be yourself with it, just like you are with your personal feeds. People expect to be advertised to, so if you appear genuine, people will respond better. Share you gig warm ups, practices, meetings, and absolutely your social events. Big up your venues, and the bands you're playing with, grow that network.
Gigging. Obviously, you need to get out there. To as many places as possible, but if you play 10 shows over 2 weeks and are working full time, you're going to tire yourself out. Make sure those gigs are worthwhile; are you actually going to be playing to anybody? Is that venue relying on you for a crowd? You're playing for free a majority of the time, so if it's for "exposure", make sure there are people to see you. Be honest with yourself and the venue, if you can't bring in what they're expecting tell them you don't have that pull right now. But remember them, and when you know later that you can bring in some decent heads, hit them up for opportunity.
Battle of the Bands competitions can be good, but at the same time, it can be embarrassing if everybody has got people in support of them except you. Most attendees at these competitions are there for a particular band, but you absolutely might get some new fans from these people
Be extremely wary of pay to play gigs. They can be expensive, and you need to make damn sure you can make your money back from tickets. Pay to play venues are the more likely ones to have AR guys roaming (if you're lucky), but in my experience, they may have been tipped off to a particular artist. Do Not pay to play until you have pull. You will lose money, and get nothing from it.
Support slots are the way to go, not all of that bands crowd is going to be there, but a decent amount will.
Funding. Don't underestimate the value of merchandise, but make sure you keep up to date with the sort of tack people will actually keep, and where possible try and be unique and creative with what you have to sell or give away. T-shirts are a staple, so make sure you've got yourself a logo and found someone who can mock up a couple T-shirt designs. They're expensive, but in your early days, they can last a while. Funding is where being on the same page is essential, because when you split the costs, things aren't so bad. There are options everywhere for affordable merch and independent recording engineers trying to grow their business. Spread the costs and invest!
Repertoire. Most venues, especially free ones, will only ever want a 30 minute set or so, but its important to be ready for that venue that will pay you £100 or so for a 2 hour set. Keep writing material, an chuck in 2 or 3 covers or so to break up the original content. Pop music is popular because a lot of it utilises chord progressions or keys that resemble other popular songs. Our brains are wired to respond to familiarity, so if you can hit a banging cover in the mid points of your set that's in the same vein as your music, or put your own spin on it, peoples attention will be reinvigorated to enjoy some more original content. Keep up the practice on your massive set, and you can pick and choose the songs you want to play if the same 30 minutes gets tiresome for you as a band.
Recording. Make sure somehow you record your songs and put them online, familiarity is bred by repeat listens, so ensure that you can get your music out there to be heard easily. Be it Soundcloud or Spotify, home recorded live demo or cheap sound engineer down the road. If one of the band is capable of recording at home, and has the know how, this helps massively, but as much as possible I would highly recommend finding someone externally and paying them. They will be able to objectively criticise your music and offer ways to make it better, also if you put your trust in them, it streamlines the production process. If several people in the band have ideas on how things should sound in the recording, you can easily end up going back and forth on mixes before actually settling on something...Or, someone will end up unhappy and won't say anything.
When we start these ventures we don't think any further than what we want to do, and our love for it. Passion shows, but it can only get you so far. Some of us make it by being passionate and carefree, but for many more, it comes with a lot of hard work and sacrifice. Be realistic and honest with yourselves about what you want, where you're going, and the quality of your content. Take it seriously enough with a team of people who are all onboard, and the dots will connect and you may find success, but either way, it will be a very, very, long road that takes determination, patience, and more often than not, sacrifice.