Splits are these days one of the most important things that you can do in order to grow your band. I think for a long time a lot of people have felt that splits were really just the place of hardcore bands trying to cross-promote with their friends or simply just do a record with another band that they like in order to save costs. Yet as with most of the ideas in the hardcore scene we are starting to see the culture of splits starting to infect the rest of the underground music world and it’s a really good thing in my eyes. Splits are a great way to diversify markets, to reach out and try new ideas without committing yourself to a full record and even get a chance to work with new people. Look around at major bands in the heavy underground and you are starting to see splits left and right. There’s a reason for that. And while the profits aren’t as significant that’s okay in my eyes because there are a ton of other benefits, benefits that we are going to get into, as well as strategies for best marketing and creating your side of a split.
So obviously with splits, a huge focus should always be on the wins you get from cross-promotion. This one is a gimme. Someone buys your seven-inch split for ten bucks, they aren’t going to not listen to the other band on the split. That would be stupid. People need to think about that and then grow with that in mind. This means that you should be splitting promotional costs and be agreeing on what label you want to do it with and on other artistic elements. It can be tricky to find a balance with your compeer but you should be willing to be flexible, figure out what makes both bands unique and then try to push those unique selling points from both sides into the overarching direction of the split. You want fans to be intrigued for the other side of the split, and you want to find a band that makes sense to partner with. In my experience, this means a band who is in the same scene as you at a similar point in terms of draw/sales/tours but catering to a slightly different subset of fan. For example, the Primitive Mansplit withUnearthly Trance is a perfect example because those bands represent two different sides of the doom world but are likely to have a fair amount of crossover.
The other aspect of the beauty of splits is how they fit into your release strategy. Splits serve as the perfect stopgap between full-lengths for a whole mess of reasons. First and foremost it’s going to cost you less than just promoting an EP because you get to split the costs with another party. Furthermore, it’s awesome because it means that you are going to be able to tap into new audiences even as you prepare your full-length material. Meaning that people in new markets are going to be ready and willing to try your latest stuff out. On top of that, because splits are so often smaller and stopgap releases it means that the turnaround time to get them out and put together is a lot less intimidating and that the overall release process is going to be a lot less stressful. This again is a very encouraging thing I think for bands that are trying to make their name. If you’re winning over one fan at a time it’s great to give them something to latch on to in the long wait between records, especially if it shows how you are connected with the scene.
At this point, though you might be saying ‘Oh well I get what you’re saying about release strategy and stopgap releases, I don’t really have any bands on my level I want to do a split with.’. First of all, fuck you, do more research! Learn about your scene and don’t be an entitled fucking dweeb you asshole. Second, the thing is, labels don’t like to put out EP’s because EP’s cost about 80% as much to put together but sell for half the price. That’s not a good deal for the label. Furthermore, it’s really hard to get a random label to put out an EP if you’re already signed to another label. While many big labels encourage bands to do splits on other labels because they understand how it grows the market, smaller labels don’t want to take on the cost of an EP. If they are trying to grow their brand, it makes more sense to do a project that allows them to take on two bands at once anyway. It’s not that much more work.
If you’re struggling with coming up with material for a split then fair enough – let’s dig into that particular roadblock. First of all, if it’s a seven-inch split and you REALLY don’t have a new song you can pull out (And you only really need one song for a seven inch) then just do a cover of something cool. Then make it exclusive to the seven inch and to mailing list subscribers. This gives people incentive to either sign up to your mailing list or buy your seven inch. Either way, you are a winner with this. Otherwise valuable if you’re doing a twelve-inch split (In which case you had god damn better have an original song) you can get away with it easily with just an original, a cover tune and a quality live recording. One side of a twelve-inch split is really just an EP by any other name, you’re limited to 23 minutes. So doing something like that shows who you are as a band, encourages buyers and taps into other markets is a relatively easy win.
Long story short – splits are a great way to supplement your discography, bring more attention to your band and to further entrench yourself into your scene. They show how you are dedicated to your music and give people a way to tap into you without having to fully commit. This is the music industry at its finest, collaboration, shared costs and mutual growth. The best part is that you don’t need to break your back too hard on content but still easily prep your audience for what’s to come. If you can’t get behind that then this business isn’t for you. Splits are an easy way to grow and to look more impressive as an artist and create meaningful value. Get on it.
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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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