Promoting Your Unsigned Band

By Chris McGinty (

I don’t currently have a band,
but I play one on TV. Ignore that last sentence. It didn’t make any sense. I
also have not been in a highly successful band at any point in my life, but I
feel like I have some good advice about promoting. So what the heck? Give this
a read, and the worst case scenario is that you don’t think I know what I’m
talking about, and you can just go on with your life. Fair enough?
 1. You Have to Really Mean It,
I think this is the most
important thing. You probably can’t expect too many people to spend more time
caring about your band (or other creative projects) than you do. The goal is to
get to a point that the combined total amount of time that your fans spend
caring about your band is more than you do. This means that you have to put
your best foot forward to begin with.
I’ve seen a lot of local bands in
my time, and I can promise you one thing, I typically cared more about the ones
that I saw more. I’ll admit that on occasion when I really liked a band, I
bought their cassette… oops, I’m showing my age, or their CD, and spent a lot
of time listening to them. For the most part, this isn’t the case. If I didn’t
manage to catch a band more than once or twice, I typically forgot about them.
This means that you have to spend
time letting people know who your band is, and what they do, or no one will
know that they should care.
2. There are 7 Billion People in
the World…
…and Your Band is Only a Few of
This is one of the hardest things
to swallow. Even if you’re an international superstar, only a small percentage
of the people in the world will be aware of who you are. On top of that, we
live in a time when everybody has a band or solo project. There is so much
music out there that you really have to be special to matter.
Here’s the funny thing (sadly
funny, that is). In order to be special, you don’t necessarily have to be
better than every other band. You have to be good enough that people like you,
sure, but the important part of what you do is being available to your fans.
When people talk about this, I think it’s usually misunderstood to mean that
you talk to people after your gigs, and you respond to email. That’s a big part
of it, but there is another important part, and it has to do with what I said
in entry #1, spending time letting people know what’s going on. When you have a
means to update your followers, make sure they’re in the loop. Keep them
interested in what you’re doing.
As an example of this, my
favourite local Fort Worth/Dallas group, The Crazy Ivans, gets out and plays a
lot, but there have been a few slow points for playing live. Usually, they’re
writing new material, and so forth. Once, they were on one of these breaks, and
they took the time make a quick video of one of the songs they were working on.
The Crazy Ivans – Lesley Jean
This meant that by the time I saw
them play it live for the first time, I was already familiar with the “new
song.” They probably don’t do enough updating like this, but that was one time
they got it right. This brings me to my next point…
3. Put Your Damn Music Online
I’m not sure why this is, but I’ve
noticed that a lot of bands are very stingy about letting people hear their
music. It seems to me that that would be like if I wrote a bunch of blog posts
and then created a website that said, “Hey, I have blog posts. They’re really
good.” If I go to a band’s website and I find that their front page gets more
attention than showcasing their music, I typically close it out. You’re a band,
not a web design firm. Front page of your website: This is who we are. This is
our music. Enjoy.
I think that it’s a symptom of
the digital age. After the music industry became paranoid and convinced that
their sales drop was due to file sharing, they became very guarded about
letting anyone get anything for free. Nevermind that radio stations always did,
and still do, offer free music for people to listen to. That’s right. If
someone doesn’t want to spend money on music, they won’t. They’ll listen to the
radio. They’ll go to free shows. They’ll do whatever.
But they might also tell their
friends about your band, and their friends might buy. I know that I’ve seen
bands that I wanted to post to my Facebook Timeline only to find out that they
have nothing worth posting online. Maybe someone posted a really poor sounding
live video from their phone, but nothing that I can say to my friends, “Check
this out.”
The sad fact of the matter is
that there are careers that are more appealing than others. If you want me to
collect trash, you’ll have to pay me a good wage, because I don’t want to do
it. On the other hand, I want to be in a working band, along with lots of other
people. The funny thing is that a lot of those other people will do it for
really cheap… as in, free. You can either make a couple of extra sales on
iTunes, or you can actually be heard. When someone goes to your website, make
sure that they want to stick around. Provide music.
4. Promotion Usually Takes Time
Have you ever been handed a
business card or a flier? I’m guessing that most of the time those things end
up in the trash the next opportunity you get. Guess what? The same thing applies
when you are in a band. Even if you play a show, and the crowd is really into
it, it’s likely that most of them will not remember your band’s name when they
get home. It’s also likely most of them will never return to see you again. This
can be disheartening. Believe me, I know.
You have to keep letting people
know who you are. That’s really the only way it’s going to work. I haven’t
given you any specific means of promoting here, because there are plenty of
how-to articles out there. I don’t need to repeat it all here. I want to get a
point across instead.
Some of the biggest actors of the
late 70s and early 80s stopped making movies believing that they would always
be immortalized in Hollywood,
but then people forgot about them and paid more attention to the new stars. So
what did they do? They started making movies again. They started promoting
themselves again. Why? Because if you don’t let people know who you are, they
won’t know.
Take the long view with
promotion. Things usually don’t come easy in life, and even if they do, they
aren’t easily maintained. As I said in entry #1, you have to really mean it. If
you don’t, very few people are going to care anywhere near as much as you do.
And if you don’t care enough to keep letting people know you’re there… well,
you get it.
On an Unrelated Note
Speaking of promotion, we’re
still running our Kickstarter for our board game, Rise of the Rock Star. At the
time of this post, it’s almost halfway over, and we’re only 3% funded. If you’re
into board games, and especially if you’re interested in a music themed game,
go check it out.

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