One of the biggest problems that underground bands face is the grim reality that sometimes you are going to get services that are too big for your britches and it is going to screw you over. This can apply for anyone from PR to management by way of record labels. While it may be cool to have an awesome opportunity dangled in front of you it’s important to take context into consideration and to figure out what other components of your band you want to keep in mind before splurging for something. This is a constant money drain and source of stress for bands who don’t do the proper research before diving into a new venture and it leaves them all the worse for wear. It’s the sort of thing that would be combated if we spent time actually talking to each other about our experiences and not all constantly trying to get a leg up on each other. The biggest rule I want you to remember when going into this article that will hopefully save you literally thousands of dollars is to always ask your scene elders if something is a good idea, or at worst, me.
The first question you need to ask yourself when getting any sort of service for your band is, ‘Do other bands who look and sound like mine also go for this?’ This is a HUGE factor that I think a lot of people miss and it ends up shooting them in the foot. The struggle is that while it might sound cool to get a radio campaign or big league PR or whatever if other bands in the scene aren’t engaging with that service then usually there’s a reason for that. Now maybe it’s a boutique service,my consulting company is like that, though the audience is growing through concerted effort. Well if it’s a boutique service then the people involved should at least know a shit ton of folks in your scene. So ask them, try to see who your mutual friends are on Facebook. It’s totally possible you just have more of a budget or have a cool opportunity, but make sure that they are embedded in this music and aren’t just going to try to market your music to a totally irrelevant demographic. For the record – this is most common with bands who waste thousands on radio campaigns.
Now, this isn’t because bands are stupid, but it is frequently because of a lack of self-awareness. IF we take the video campaign thing as an example, how many underground bands do you see out there getting actual traction on the radio? I’m not saying that they are not getting on the radio, they are, but for os much of metal it’s like specialty shows that air in the middle of the night or that have no listeners because they’re based out of an indie station in Kentucky. At that point, it’s like, why even bother? It’s not like college kids are out there trying to discover exciting new music on the radio these days anyway.There IS value in radio, but I think if that’s one of the expenses you’re looking at as a newer band I don’t really see how that would actually pay off for you in the long run. You should be looking to spend on the things that get your peers traction or that seem like they are no-lose situations. Tangible delivery of value relevant to you is the key here.
The same goes for bands looking for PR. Sure you might be able to get the same PR person as some huge band, but are the huge magazines that the big name band is getting into interested in covering small DIY musicians? Hell no. At best you’ll get a review in the back of one of them, but the truly big ones don’t even do that anymore. There is this weird expectation that blowing five grand on a PR campaign is going to get you into Rolling Stone, that’s simply not the case. Again you need to look at the other bands using the service, label or whatever and figure out if they are relevant to you or not and then figure out if they are getting the sorts of results that you want to be getting for your band. Just because someone praises a person in the industry doesn’t mean that what they are doing is right for you, you need to double-check these things and make an effort to better understand them as you go forward and try to learn.
At the end of the day, you want to be, at worst a medium-sized fish in a small pond. You want to be able to get attention paid to you. If you are paying for huge pr amongst all these huge bands there is no reason why the PR company is going to focus on your stuff rather than the big band paying a retainer. If you go to a big management company with lots of high profile clients you can’t expect your small project to get the same amount of love as the project that keeps the CEO’s kids fed, that’s just the way it works. You need to try to take a higher view and again practice self-awareness built around the observation of other bands in the scene, figuring out what differentiates them and what makes disparate elements work. You aren’t going to get this spoon fed to you, you are going to need to make a point of learning it for yourself.
Long story short – life sucks and then you die, so maybe be smart during the interim. There are a lot of people who will just take your money and provide value sure, but it is value that is totally irrelevant to what you are doing. If you are working with someone who is maybe already doing this then just get in touch and ask about the relevance and how to make it more of what you desire. If you communicate then you are going to wind up with the results that you want. However, if you just whine and wonder why people don’t understand exactly what you want and can’t figure out how throwing money at problems doesn’t make them automatically get better, then I’m sorry – your band will get nowhere. Get invested, not just financially, but mentally and you will succeed.
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Matt Bacon is a consultant, A&R man, and journalist specializing in the world of heavy metal. Having worked with everyone from Glam Rock icon Phil Collen of Def Leppard, to post Black Metal titans Alcest, by way of legendary thrashers Exhorder as well as labels including Prophecy Productions and Ripple Music, he has dedicated his life to helping young bands develop. Having started his own blog at the age of 14 he views his career in artist development as ‘a hobby that got out of hand’. In 2015 he formed Dropout Media in order to better support the artists he loves. We sit here now, years later with countless tours booked, records released and deals signed, and loving every minute of it.
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