No Contract, No Problems: Simple Tips For An Unsigned Band : If only it were so simple in the life of an unsigned band. If you’re reading this it’s probably because your band is awesome, talented, unique, and… not ready to sign with a label.
“What?? No way!” You say, “we’re all super talented and our songs are really well crafted. Of course we’re ready.”
No, you’re not. That’s not because your songs aren’t good, or you’re look isn’t right, or any of that other stuff artists tend to over think. It’s simply because most musicians tend to forget what half of the “Music Business” is. Business. (And to be honest the balance between “music” and “business” is really more like 20-80, favoring business.)
As much as we wish it were so, talent and skill simply are not good enough to warrant label interest. How many super-talented musicians do you know who are still unsigned? If talent were all it took, wouldn’t they already be packing arenas?
The fact is record labels as businesses are looking for something they can cash in on quickly and with as little investment as possible… record labels sign success.
So what does that mean? As an unsigned band, it’s up to you to establish a fan base, book shows, record, publish and distribute material, and yes, even make a profit.
Now I know this all sounds backwards. Isn’t that what the label is for? In short; not really. At least not in today’s music industry. Changes in consumption habits and technology have left record labels less willing to gamble on startup, and even up and coming acts, which means it’s now up to unsigned bands to prove their success, and ultimate worth.
But better you’re aware of the realities of the music industry earlier, than to haphazardly throw yourself into the mix with no real idea of what you need to accomplish to succeed. As stuffy as it is to talk and think business, it’s even more frustrating to see all your efforts end in nothing.
So what can you, the unsigned band, do to become a success? Here are some tips to get you started:
* Record Some Music: This seems like a no-brainer, but record something. Anything. Set up a couple mics during practice, or ask a friend with equipment if they’ll help you cut a demo. Or even find a studio with affordable rates. There are a variety of ways to get it done. Online classifieds, message boards and schools with audio engineering programs are good places to look.
* Give those recordings away (almost) free: At this stage the whole purpose of recording is to give fans something to remember you by. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get anything out of the transaction. A simple one-page website, or ‘landing page’, where people can download your stuff in exchange for sharing their email address is a great way to build a fan base. But keep it simple. Include a brief summary of your band, and explain how the process works. The page should have no more than 2 options for visitors: share your email and claim your download, or leave.
* Promote the download: Print business cards and hand them out at shows, you can get hundreds for extremely cheap. Promote it on your band’s other online sites as well (Facebook, Reverbnation, Twitter, etc.)
* Build, and use, an email list: I know, ‘who still uses email?’ But there’s a reason you’re doing all this. Firstly it establishes a direct connection with fans who you know are willing to act when it comes to hearing, and staying in the know on what the band is doing. And it’s a much more direct method of promoting shows and other happenings than hoping your post will stand out amongst hundreds of updates on Facebook. Second, it proves to labels that your band has an active fan base, willing and excited to be involved with you, and ultimately more likely to financially support your efforts through show attendance and album sales.
* Find some signage: On average, new acts only seem to tell an audience the name of the band 2 to 3 times per set, if that. That’s not enough to stick with most people, especially in a loud bar or venue. So put your name in writing. The kick drum graphic is a classic, and works great as long as no one is standing in the way. Whatever signage you chose, just make sure it’s easy to read for everyone in an audience of 200 or so.
* Concerning merchandise: It’s awesome. Everyone loves seeing their band’s name on tee shirts, stickers, bracelets, buttons, beer cozies and the like. But don’t expect to get your money back on them. As an unsigned band these are simply more tools to keep you on the top of people’s minds. And you’ll likely be giving most of it away for free anyway. I’m not saying avoid merchandise, because it’s definitely good to have. And eventually it will be necessary. But do know that there are more efficient ways to build, and showcase, your success.
Obviously this list is far from comprehensive, and there are thousands of other ways to promote your music. But keep in mind that whatever you do, record labels are looking for trackable information that proves you’re successful. As an unsigned band, starting with simple, low-cost methods is a great way to establish a foundation and take your first steps.