Career Strategies That Work And Don't Work
I know there are successful musicians out there, and I want to know how they got that way. No doubt we all want to know.
In being a musician, there is either some sort of pride with not seeking someone else's help, paying for it and doing it on your own, or just being too lazy. I never had that problem. I was not too proud to pay for someone else's consultation with how to help my career, because it is a business. I'm not saying I always hired someone. I would also ask all the musicians I knew who were successful at what they did. After trying out everything suggested to me, these are things that I found did and didn't work.
Getting a Band Together
This is the first step. Now, you might have other musician friends, but there are obstacles. They have to be easy to work with, like the music and not be flaky. I didn't have any friends who were into my music, so I went to www.craigslist.org. I found a drummer and a bass player that worked out. It was hard to find more players, so I went to hired guns. I liked the idea that you could find exactly what you wanted and they would learn your songs, no questions asked and have it down in a week. Man, that made things easier.
Getting the Gig
Everyone has ideas on how to book gigs. First you need the promotional package: the picture, the CD, and a bio. The CD is the most important part. The booker is looking for a match on the bill. Also, they always want to know how many people you can draw. The magic number seems to be around a minimum of 25 people, but more about that later.
After sending out multiple packages to bookers, I found that most of them don't call you back. You have to be persistent, but not annoying. I found that calling after a week is a good time to start. Sometimes they have a recording saying the best time to reach them. Plan to send your CD one to two months before the time you would like to be booked. Bookers plan ahead that amount of time.
You will have to hunt around to find the small places that will book you if you have an audience of 0-25. People say that it's good to book shows in three to four different markets in your local area. While this is a good idea, it's easier said than done. What happened to me is that I called and sent out packages to multiple places outside the city I lived in and none responded, or if they did they wanted to know if I had an audience in the area. Well, this is where the "catch 22" comes in: No, I didn't have an audience there because I'm looking to create one there, and I can't unless they give me a gig, but they won't give me a gig unless I have an audience. Phew! Did you catch that? What ends up happening is you can book shows at VERY small places and maybe even cafés to get started in the areas and make musician friends.
Making friends with bands in the areas you want to play is KEY. Playing at small places in that area is one way. Another way that's suggested by others is to send e-mails to bands in the area you want to play in. Why travel to the areas when you can just send an e-mail, right? Wrong. What ended up happening is that I sent e-mails to the bands that I thought we would work best with and no matter how sincere I was in the e-mail, they never responded. I find that most bands are not very professional, or at least helpful with other bands in giving them a show, unless you're already friends with them. The bands in other areas that I was able to get shows with I was already friends with. How do you do that? Go to shows and support local bands. When other bands come in from out of town and you're at the show, introduce yourself, start talking to them, and give them your CD. Then when you contact them about shows they will be more likely to be responsive.
Promoting the Show
Here is one the main keys to being a successful band. Why? Because one of the best parts of playing a show is seeing a lot of people in the audience. Also, the club likes it because they have more chances to sell drinks. Let's face it, this is a business. The club may like having a band on stage that doesn't make them wince, but more importantly, they're concerned with how much money the bands help them make. This is why the club will invite bands back. If you can bring in a lot of people that drink, you may never have to book your own shows again. You will have club bookers calling you and asking you to fill in spots for them. This is the point you want to get to. But before you can get to this part, you have to bring the people in.
There is much speculation as to the best ways to do this. In all honesty, there isn't one perfect way and trying as many ways as you can think of is probably not a bad idea. However, of all the ideas that have been suggested to me, these are the ones that did and didn't work for me:
Putting up flyers everywhere: Now, if you didn't know a band, would seeing a piece of paper tell you how they sounded? No, so why would you go? I never got people to a show because they were introduced to my band on a piece of paper on a pole. If you are known in the area, this works well.
Handing out flyers personally at targeted shows: This is where you make small flyers and go to shows that you think the bands audience would be similar to yours. Now, you don't want to go into a club and hand out flyers for a show that you're playing at another club. Clubs sometime see this as rude. However, you can wait outside for people to leave and hand them a flyer and have a chat with them. This is both a hot and cold method. Again, you are stranger to these people and most of them still won't come to your show. You will be lucky if you pull in a few. I paid for 5,000 flyers and had a street team pass them out and talk about the show to people. In the end, I had 20 people show up to a show that weren't from the band's mailing list. That's quite an expense for so little people showing up.
Inviting friends and family: This is the only surefire way to get an audience started. These people will come to your show, and the hopes are that combined with them and the other people that are at the bar to see other bands will like you enough to come back again and/or tell other people about you too.
Posting your show on music sites: I have never had someone tell me they came to see me because they saw my name on a music site. That said, I myself do check sites like www.myspace.com, to see what shows are playing because I can go the bands websites and hear the music.
Advertising your show in the newspaper, Craigslist and local weeklies: It is free to list your shows in an area of these places and people do actually check them while they're doing other things.
Playing parties: You can contact people you know that have lots of friends and have parties and ask them if they would be interested in hosting your band. Some you will be able to get them to pay you a fee. That worked for me. It has also been suggested that you put a donation can at the door saying that it's for the band and mention the suggested amount you want. I haven't tried this way, so I'm not sure how well it works. But, it's another idea in case you have a host that doesn't have enough to pay you. This is a good way to have a captured audience that you don't have to get to come to the show.
Catch-all for things that didn't work: Passing out flyers for your next show and CDs at a show that you have just played, playing bookstores, imagining the ideal audience and place you want to play, playing open mics, leaving CDs at places with your next show on it, leaving cards at tables asking people to sign up for mailing lists or to host you at a party, putting information and non band-related news on your website, forums, and putting your band sticker everywhere.
In the end, it is important to keep trying different things and not quit after one method doesn't work for you. It could be the next thing you try that brings you success. It can also depend on who you know, what style music you play, and how much money you put into constantly getting your name out there. Luck is just consistent hard work and creating the opportunity, so you never knowall of things I've listed as not working could very well work for you. Good luck!
Butch Berry is a singer/songwriter/guitar player for Butch Berry Band www.butchberry.com