Top tips for the DIY musician from The Great Escape - Part 2
Blog by Louise Dodgson under Artist Managers, Creative & Branding, Finance, Law & Music Business, Live, Media, Music Publishing, Music Training & Careers, Record Labels, Recording & Production, Selling & Distributing Your Music
Last week we filled you in on the lowdown from The Great Escape panels featuring plenty of top tips relating to building and capturing your fanbase, plus how to make money from your fanbase effectively. This second instalment of our blog brings you expert advice on getting gigs, connecting with the industry, plus a first-hand account of setting up and running your own label from Tru Thoughts founder, Robert Luis. So let’s not hang about and get stuck straight into the nitty-gritty…
This panel welcomed insight and debate from Brett Pracownik, Assistant Manager and gig booker for London’s Borderline venue, Lucian Beierling, founder of Splitgigs, and seasoned gigging musician Chris T-T.
Playing live is essential for any band or musician but booking worthwhile gigs can sometimes be tricky. Although there is an element of learning from the steep curve that is the live circuit that must be experienced first-hand, there are some pointers you can take into account to save yourself unnecessary pitfalls and expense.
Honing your stagecraft can only be done in front of an audience and a good starting point for trying out new songs, setlists and performance techniques can be at open mic nights which are a great exercise in engaging and holding people’s attention too. Most bands will have a core bunch of friends to come along to gigs but you can’t count on this forever and rely upon the same people to make it to every one of your shows so, in short, you need to be good and keep on striving to improve.
In terms of contacting promoters and venues to book your own gigs, all members of the panel recommended carrying out research before approaching someone for a show. Will the venue suit your style of music? What artists have they put on in the past? What does the gig booker expect from you? What promotion will be carried out? Platforms such as Spltigigs can be a great reference tool when booking gigs; a gig-swapping and feedback site (think TripAdvisor for gigging musicians!) where you can read up on reviews from other bands and artists to make sure you’re not going to travel miles to a venue with a rubbish sound system or similar.
Don’t just accept any show that is offered to you. Are the other bands on the bill good? Are they similar to you, meaning that by playing to their fans you can potentially grow your own fanbase? It is also a good idea to ask a promoter whether there will be any fee involved for you or not, or even just some cash towards petrol. There may not be, but it is definitely good to be in the habit of asking politely beforehand and this will aid your decision making when weighing up accepting a gig or not.
What do promoters look for when booking gigs?
The question was posed to the panellists about how they seek out new music to book and their answers ranged from recommendations from other industry folks in the know to checking out new music blogs. But for the most part promoters do rely on the direct communication from bands and artists who are looking for gigs. When sending your music to promoters and gig bookers, all members of the panel echoed that there is no need to clog up inboxes with many attachments and long descriptions. You can be succinct about what you do, send over a link to music plus any live video footage and that will be enough. Blanket emails can be spotted a mile off, so whether you’re approaching gig promoters, record labels or radio stations – this is a big no-no, don’t go there!
If they like what they hear, the next step for most promoters will be to check out your social media profiles. It’s not necessarily to gauge how many followers you have, but if there has been recent activity then this is a good indication to a gig promoter that you are likely to help in pushing the gig to your fans, and of course promoters are keen to work with proactive and hard-working bands. Ultimately though, the bottom line is that the music must be good. A promoter will be willing to take a risk on a musician with a smaller following if they feel it will make for a brilliant show.
Getting festival slots
There is no doubt that a prime route into major festivals for emerging bands is BBC Introducing and all artists should make sure they submit music to BBC Introducing for potential airplay, and hopefully regional and national festival opportunities. There are also hundreds of smaller scale, local festivals held across the UK each year that welcome unsigned artists and can act as a stepping stone for bigger events further down the line. Be sure to check out the Festivals section of The Unsigned Guide directory for contact details and application info for festivals with emerging stages and slots available.
The topic of booking agents was also raised and, whilst there is no ‘right time’ in your career to take on the services of a booking agent, you just need to be a great live band. But the running theme across all panels we attended at The Great Escape was to get out there, do it yourself and draw people to you! Don’t spend time pursuing the likes of booking agents, record labels, music PR and so on. If you get on and do it, are proactive and have a decent following, sooner or later the industry will come to you and this will put you in a better position too.
Being out there, involved in a scene and getting to know other bands in your city or beyond is what you should concentrate on. You will organically meet or be put in touch with reputable and suitable promoters, festival organisers, booking agents by doing so, or they will eventually gravitate towards you if you’re busy, proactive and are making great music.
Organising your own gigs will also help you understand what is involved in terms of costs, logistics such as checking out PAs, finding suitable and affordable venues, attracting punters and so on. A steep but valuable learning curve, a budget of about £200 should be ample to put on your own gig. By demonstrating your proactive nature, plus the knowledge you will gain by putting on your own gig, you will be an attractive notion for promoters and other industry to work with in future.
Connecting with the industry
Ollie Jacobs of Memphis Industries, Jack Pop from Alcopop! Records and Pip Newby of PIAS made up this panel focusing on connecting with A&R and other areas of the music industry. Record labels still play an important role in launching the career of an artist in terms of providing cash to pay for an artist’s living costs, money to record and a decent marketing budget to get things off the ground.
Whilst there are plenty of free digital tools available to bands and artists to promote themselves, there are currently more musicians than ever before in history trying to make a career for themselves, so time and creativity, and the money to allow that are key in making sure you stand ahead of the crowd. These days, record labels are putting a lot more at stake when investing in an artist so A&Rs are looking for hard-working band members and managers. The hard work truly starts once you have been signed so musicians that are aware of that and keen will be more attractive to labels.
How do A&Rs find new music?
As with the aforementioned gig promoters, A&Rs often pick up on new music through industry networks and colleagues, by chatting to other record labels and the bands on their roster, and by trusted sources such as new music blogs and radio shows such as BBC Introducing. At any one time an A&R person may be keeping their eye on 30 to 40 acts that they enjoyed seeing live and they will follow their progress and observe how they develop.
Whilst Pip from PIAS rarely finds the time to listen to demos sent to him and relies strongly on his network of music managers, PR and lawyers, Jack from Alcopop! Records was keen to point out that his independent label has signed bands in the past from unsolicited demos and are always open to doing this again. Receiving a nicely packaged demo with eye-catching artwork and, of course, great music, is still a real buzz for him and his label co-founders and they don’t think artists should be deterred from sending out demos. However, thought must always be put into your submissions and the way you approach the industry so do your research, personalise your communication and make it look and sound great!
When approaching record labels check out their current roster and past catalogue of releases. See if you can get in touch with other artists that have worked with them in the past to check their reputation and what kind of deals they are likely to offer. And should you be offered a record deal, the panellists strongly stressed that you should not just sign with a label for the sake of it. Make sure the deal suits you, you feel happy with the team and in particular A&R you would be working with, as getting along is key when working together so closely. Signing with the wrong label could lead to your release failing and this can sometimes be hard to bounce back from if you are then looking to sign elsewhere, so take your time to think any offers through carefully.
Running A Label: Tru Thoughts
Onto the next discussion, and a shift in dynamic, as founder of Brighton independent record, Robert Luis, took to the stage to chat about how he created Tru Thoughts in 1999 and provide expert advice for budding label owners.
Starting out running club nights in Brighton, Robert became eager to help out some of the acts who played for him but didn’t seem to receive the recognition he felt was due. After mixed success with putting some of the artists in front of other industry contacts he had made, he finally decided to bite the bullet and release some of their music himself and Tru Thoughts was born.
His advice for setting up a label was invaluable and he strongly believes in building a good relationship with your artist(s). Patience is required to build up a real fanbase of dedicated followers. Start locally in your campaigns by getting airplay and reviews from local stations and publications, rather than jumping ahead to national contacts who hear from thousands of musicians and labels, and simply don’t have the time to listen to everything. A strong, local following will act as your stepping stone to the next level.
Budding label owners should gather together a few artists to work with and release, rather than launching with a roster of just one band. This gives a more established impression to those looking into what you do. Plan ahead with releases so you have something new in the pipeline regularly and are active. Personally speaking, Robert confessed that his club night acted as a great gauge in testing out new tunes and potential singles for Tru Thoughts. He suggested that one-off gigs and club nights could be organised by label owners as a way of carrying out market research in the real world, an approach which Robert is keen to promote, rather than constantly gauging things based on Facebook, Twitter and other web stats.
If you are focused on starting a career in A&R, setting up your own label can be a good way to show your knack for seeking out and developing exciting talent. A warm personality for tactical interaction, adaptability, a strong desire and love for music, plus the ability to work extremely hard and hustle for new opportunities were all traits deemed essential for a good A&R person. Talent scouting is often the smallest aspect of the role, and providing guidance for whatever your artists’ requirements may be, depending on how far developed they already are, is a large and prominent element of the job.
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