Feb 16, 2014

The Five Reasons Your Band Isn't Going to "Make It"

I live in Nashville, Tennessee. What actors are to Los Angeles, musicians are to Nashville. It's a total infestation. This, combined with many years as a touring musician, has afforded me the opportunity of seeing countless people make gigantic mistakes in their efforts to "Make It."

In this post, I'll tell you five things you're doing to sabotage your chances at The Big Time. And, no, Number One isn't that you suck. Statistically, it's safe to say your band sounds terrible. But that didn't stop all of the shitty bands currently on top of the radio charts, so there must be more to it than that, yeah? Assuming your band can all play the same song at once, let me give you some tips on how to drop the attitude, quit annoying the people you need, understand SEO, build your legacy and rise above the rest of the local scene.

[UPDATE: Since writing this article, I've been added to several lists of "music blogger emails" sold by scam artists. I'm not a music blogger and I almost never write about new music. I'm never going to listen to your band's music and I'm certainly not going to write about it. Honestly, this is probably doing you a favor because if I did it would almost definitely be a bad review. If that sounds harsh, allow me to offer you my sincere lack of apology. The same segment of this website where my email address can be found has a specific request to not send me promo materials for musical acts. To ignore this request is actually illegal but, perhaps even worse than that, makes you and your band (or your clients, if you're a "publicist") look like total assholes. Stop doing this and keep reading this post.]
Everyone has a dream but not all fantasies become reality. This is a generally accepted fact of life and we're quick to assign it to lack of opportunity, connections or luck. The brutal truth, however, is that the biggest obstacle is almost always ourselves. Whether pessimism, procrastination or pomposity, typically we aren't even aware of the self-hate crimes we commit on a daily basis. This phenomenon manifests perhaps most observably in the world of musicians, actors, writers and artists of all kind.

I happen to know a lot about the music business aaaand...

Rod Stewart wearing sunglasses inside holding Rockstar energy drink

You Are Not the Shit

The word "rockstar" should become an insult in your world. It is in mine. I'm actually glad I get to be the one to break this to you, as it's oddly satisfying to watch a person realize the universe does not revolve around them. I'm not afraid to name names, so let me tell you a story:

I don't remember the town in California but The Moonshine Bandits were the opening act. It was a sold-out crowd and they wanted to bask in the glory of all that attention. Fine, as long as you get off the stage when you're supposed to, which is not what they did. After they'd been on the stage ten minutes after their set was scheduled to end, we told the sound guy to kill the power to the stage. [We didn't do this to "teach them a lesson" but because this venue had a strict noise curfew ordinance, meaning the stage had to go quiet at a designated time that night no matter if our (headlining) set began later than scheduled.] One of the members of the "band" threw a tantrum in the dressing room (which he wasn't even supposed to be in at this time), saying, "This is bullshit! I own this town!" Well, clearly you don't, homie.

Listen, you can't make it on your own, pure badassity. You are going to need a lot of help on the way up, so be humble, because the people who are in a position to lend you a hand have to want you to succeed in order for it to happen. Internalize the concept that you don't deserve to make a living with your music. You earn it. Understand the meaning of the word "professional." If there is a single member of your band given to displays of immature/dickheaded behavior, drop them, now. While you're at it, ditch the entourage. When you walk into a venue with a group of people, you're vouching for every single one of them. Any and all bullshit provided by anyone in your crew, management or on your guest list reflects poorly upon you, your band and what it's like to work with you. Your acquaintance trying to impress his +1 by acting like a jerk to the bartender? He's the reason why you aren't going to play at that venue again.

Bonus Tip: Unless you are on a national tour or know from experience that the sound tech at a certain local venue is inept, you definitely do not need to show up with your own sound guy if the house isn't going to charge you to use theirs. This comes across as arrogant and even a bit insulting. Your sound guy doesn't know the room, the board or the inputs. You know who does? The house tech. You know who doesn't give a shit if your hotshot engineer is making your set unlistenable? The house tech.

Guy with Annoying Smile

Stop the Hustle

Have you ever been sober in a room with someone on cocaine? It's excruciating. They're over-excited, can't form proper sentences and/or stay on topic in a conversation yet determined to talk your ear off. From a record label, music venue or press standpoint, this is basically what it feels like to receive the typical e-mail or phone call from you or your publicist. I'm at work and have never met you before, you're acting like you've decided for me that we're going to be best friends.

The first thing that you need to understand is these huge entities you're trying to get the attention of all have established relationships with management firms, booking agents and PR firms who represent the artists you're seeing in magazines and onstage. Nobody is getting into Rolling Stone magazine just by sending them an e-mail. Nobody's calling the Knitting Factory box office line and hanging up with a booked gig. Even so, many such entities do still have clearly available guidelines for submitting your publicity materials. Disregard these and you may as well set your guitar on fire for all the good it'll do you.

So, let's assume you (or your rep) followed these guidelines. Chances are the e-mail is still too long, formatted in a way that makes it tedious to read, and riddled with typos. This stuff matters and it is your responsibility to make sure that it gets done correctly. Your publicist needs to clear every draft of every press release with you. You need to care. Hi-Res images/video are a must. Don't send a wall of text; do break the message up into sections with a clearly defined concept for each chunk of writing. Read this Wikipedia article on how you may be making your band look stupid. Focus on what makes your band or this album actually different from the 4,000 other things this person has to read on this day.

Bonus Tip: If your attempt to make contact has gone unanswered for a week, it is acceptable to send a follow-up e-mail. One. If that gets ignored, walk away. People are busy.

Bonus Bonus Tip: Learn what the BCC option in your e-mail client is for. Do use it, however, only use it for contact with groups of people who know you're contacting them because they are in that group, like a mailing list or a media list. Don't compose a stock letter with generic phrases like "Your venue would be a great fit for us!" and send that out to fifty clubs as your first contact with them. That's getting deleted immediately.

audience enjoying a small show

Big Fish + Small Pond = You're Dinner

Remember my story about the guy from The Moonshine Bandits? That's an example of what can happen when you let your local celebrity go to your head. There are other negative consequences of hometown heroics. It's too easy to build a local fan base. Your family and friends will do free publicity work for you, often annoying the shit out of people through methods discussed in the last section. And you don't even have to have a particularly original sound.

Every town I've lived in has had its own version of a band who weren't exactly covering Tool but might as well have been, always with a pretty solid draw. What can happen here is this band may start to actually get paid decent money per show, think they've got it made, quit their jobs and book as many local gigs as possible. Do this and you're fucked. When people know they can catch one of your shows any day of the week, you take a swan dive on their list of priorities.

When you first start out, play any and every show you can get on. If possible, save up enough money to book your own show in one of your town's better venues. Book a mid-level national act who will sell a lot of tickets and, congratulations, you just managed to secure yourself a prime opening band slot. You've also demonstrated foresight and, hopefully, professionalism to the higher ups in the local scene, if you remembered to not act like a hotshot the whole day. But once you've accumulated a good following, play in your hometown no more than once a month. (If you live in a big city with different 'hoods, tedious to travel between due to traffic and what-not, you can pretty much treat each area as its own town until all of your shows begin to sell out. Then back off.) Your band's performances need to be a special event for your fans.

Bonus Tip: Don't get too comfortable. Use your newfound local cred and connections to get other gigs as support for more nationals. Make more connections. When it comes, accept the offer to go on that package tour. If you were able to win over the locals in your town, you should be able to win over the locals in this town. You've also got that whole "these kids are from out of town" mystique on your side.

streetcar collision

Timing Is Everything

It's critical that you get the horse before the cart when it comes to building your career. You obviously don't want to book a tour of the surrounding states before you have a good one or two hour set.  If you don't have a proven track record of selling tickets, you are wasting everybody's time by trying to book your band a headlining gig. There is an order in which these things must happen.

You just finished mastering your incredible new album and you can't wait to release it because this could be the one that hits. Well, slow the hell down. Rolling out a new album isn't so simple. You have to build momentum. This isn't a mistake only made by clueless bands. I see indie labels blow this one regularly. The big music websites, magazines and blogs are run out of buildings with literal stacks of music waiting to be reviewed. Most of the albums in these stacks that are actually going to get listened to were sent by the labels and firms this outlet works with regularly.

There is a chance you could get something heard just by sending it in but you can't send out your review copies a week before the album is released. None of the reviewers will have listened to it in that time frame. Then, even if they were planning to listen to it, they'll see that the album has already come out. That means they now won't listen to it and it won't get reviewed. They're looking for the hot new thing. The hot new thing everyone loves now was on that reviewer's desk maybe two months ago, way before it was released to the public. Get it?

boring looking band standing in shadows

SEO - Learn It, Live It

SEO means Search Engine Optimization. Nerd stuff, right? Wrong. SEO is not exclusive to the Internet. The Internet is nothing more than a compendium of what happens in spacetime. Our entire lives are going to be searchable soon and they mostly already are. There needs to be at least one member of your band who fully comprehends the ramifications of this - not a guy at your manager's office or publicist's office - a member of your band, who can check the work of any manager/publicist you have.

What's the name of your band? Okay. Do you understand that if I type that into Google there will be half a million search results and none of them will be about your band? When you're naming your band, you should all be sitting around a computer researching the competition that will come with each of your ideas. Take this concept and let it inform every aspect of what your band does, online and off.

Sign up for every new social media platform with a screen name that makes sense for your band. Analyze your progress with tools like Fruji. [This is what I use to determine what does and doesn't result in more people paying attention to me. You can sign up for a free account that certainly offers enough tools to grow your Twitter presence. Or, you can go "like" BABY BLACK WIDOWS on Facebook and request a free Premium account from me and I'll hook you up.]

Even better, set up a mailing list. I did. [Sign up in the sidebar on the top-right of this page if you want to be notified when I write another super helpful article like this.]

Social Media is your direct line of communication to the entire world. [WATCH: Follow me on Twitter and Facebook. See?If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to hear it, etc... Well, is your show worth hearing? Is it worth seeing? Does your band just stand around and play their instruments or do you give the audience something to look at? Do you, in fact, even know where to stand to ensure you're in the stage lights? If you can't come up with something visually stimulating, you grossly misunderstand American culture. Whether it's lighting, crowd interaction, video displays, costume or makeup, images and videos of your set need to make people who weren't there wish that they had been. You know who needs to be there for anyone to even see these pictures and clips? Press. You know whose job it is to make sure the press know about your show and, hopefully, get in for free? Yours.

Thank you for your time. Are there any questions?


P.S. The statements made and positions taken in this article are all purely my own and do not in any way represent the opinions of any business, organization or venue with which I have ever been or may currently be associated. If you think I'm wrong/hate me for anything I said in this article, feel free to let me know in the comments. If you're in The Moonshine Bandits, fucking stop trying to combine rap music and country music. It sounds like shit.


  1. Anonymous4:19 PM

    Spot on. I spent the better part of the 90s playing bass in an Americana type band in KC. The singer songwriter was an egotistical rude twat to not only our few fans but to everybody!! Fast Forward to 2014--- Im playing in a country band that gets booked solid because we follow some of the simple rules that you outline here. Egotistical twat guy now plays in a "kid friendly rock band".

  2. Great article man! Now I don't have to piss off my annoying friends directly, I can just send them here ;) They probably still won't get the point. Oh well. These words help me beat it into my head what is required to maintain a level engagement with a variety of situations and I appreciate you taking the time to share your first-hand wisdom!

    1. Thank you.

      That was a prime motivation behind my writing this actually: not having to go through the whole spiel every time somebody asks me for advice.

  3. Great read. Chock-full of that uncommon commodity called common sense.

  4. One thing I would say as a member of the press: Definitely have a plain high-res photo, whether your girlfriend or groupie took it with a regular digital camera at the highest high-res setting, or if it's professionally taken. Also, don't add text to the image, don't add your band logo, and don't edit it to make yourself/yourselves look more interesting by adding a psychedelic color scheme or anything like that. I once had a good local DJ send me a photo himself with sparkles that he must have added with a phone app or some photo editing software; he looked like a fucking "Twilight" vampire.

    Also, if you give me a CD and it's not universally formatted to play in any CD player I put it into the first time, I throw it in the trash.

  5. Anonymous4:57 PM

    Go jump in the trash

    1. I'll field any criticism of this article you have to offer, bitter stranger.

  6. Anonymous11:39 PM

    Very interesting

  7. Anonymous1:34 PM

    VERY GOOD ADVICE! Had to learn a few of these the hard way back in the day. Every beginning band needs to read this!

  8. Thinking to myself... Google's 'you are never going to make it with a band'... Stumbles on this article... Laughs at direct nature of this article a number of times, already relates to and understands most of these points... Hmmmm maybe I CAN make it in a band... Returns to square one and carries on... The joys of being a muso.

    At the end of the day it's a big fucking world, there's a lots of people wanna do this shit. There's a lot of people can do this shit but never get a look in, there's a lot of people shit at this shit who got a break, there's that many pieces need to fit it be just as good putting on the lottery.

    Should I be looking to make it? Should it all be fun or there is no point? Is trying to make it spoiling the fun? If trying to make it spoils the fun should I give up trying to make it? Haven't a clue anymore, no band makes me sad, band makes me sad, no band makes me happy, band makes me happy.

  9. Thank you TMC for taking the time to write this article. I just stumbled across it and wish I would've read it 3 years ago. Very insightful. You're words are taken to heart.