Some tips for new unsigned bands

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As an unsigned musician I am well aware of the challenge it can be to promote a band. As an unsigned band starting out it will often be the case that the group or individual has only their music and a stage to showcase it on. Money is so often a problem, and most unsigned acts have to work for an income, leaving little time to push their act with whatever resources are available to them. The production of CD’s, flyers etc can be a daunting and seemingly expensive task, especially to a newcomer. Very few people will have useful contacts, and extensive knowledge of how the music business operates.

I’ve put together a few essential tips for unsigned bands that have started gigging. The ideas may seem obvious, but as I have learned, it’s one thing saying that you will do something, and something completely different putting those ideas into practice. This article is by no means comprehensive, as I don’t want to ramble on forever (and I probably could!) and won’t be talking so much about the performance side of things. There are some essential points I will have to make though. Dependant on how many views there are, there may well be a second part to this.

I will assume that as a band or artist you will have something tangible with your music on. You don’t have to spend hundreds on a recording of your work, you simply need a recording that accurately portrays your act. This may in fact be a live recording or demo. If you feel it reflects what you have to offer, it can be a good starting point. You will also need to sign yourself up to as many internet platforms as you can, Myspace, Facebook, Unsigned.com etc. This will allow you to upload your music, as well as information about your act, photos, gig listings, and contact information. It can be time consuming, but it’s a great way to start promoting your band.

Get Yourself a Press Kit

It’s important to put together a press kit detailing your band and what you have to offer. It’s a common misconception that a press kit will be a beautiful glossy work of art, that will cause the openers eyes to melt with it’s obvious goodness. It does however, need to be professional and well thought out. The press kit will need to have as essentials:

i) A CD copy of your music.

ii) A biography detailing the artist(s).

iii) Thorough contact details, including telephone numbers, email addresses, and any websites or links that may be necessary.

The following image is of a press kit example that I have sent to promoters to be considered for gig bookings. Each kit simply consists of a promo CD, a detailed bio on a sheet of A4 paper, an opening letter which is personalised with the recipients’ name, and some photos of the group. It’s important to produce something consistent and professional looking, and to make sure that your contact details are on each item.

Example of a basic press kit
Example of a basic press kit

For the CD, I just have a promo copy of the group’s latest album. This is partly because the artwork was not completely finalised on sending them out, but also as burning CD’s, attaching labels, and using CD wallets is a far more cost effective way to go about it.  As long as it’s made to look professional why not?

You can either create a demo of 3-4 key tracks, or note in the kit somewhere which the key tracks are. (Make sure the track listing is not only on the CD itself). This is included on the A5 cover letter.

The bio can details the group’s latest releases or can simply be info on the artist. It should be no longer than a sheet of A4. This method of sending kits out requires money for CD’s and labels, wallets, paper and ink, and A5 padded envelopes. These can all be bought on budget, and each kit would cost around £1.25 (including second class stamps.) You can change the kit depending on who you are sending it, or whether it is a promoter/reviewer/radio show etc.

Many promoters will book a band without hearing a CD, so it’s important to do your research before sending things out willy-nilly. You may find from a website that it’s best to email a promoter/venue detailing the act, or to ring before submission. This way you won’t waste time or money which could be put to better use.

Before and After Shows

A CD is an invaluable source of promotion at gigs too. It’s a good idea when building a fanbase to look at it from the perspective of “One fan at a time”. If someone really cottons on and enjoys what you do, that person will go home with the memory in their mind. That person may then come to another show, after telling friends about your amazing band, and so forth. If you have a CD to sell during a show, your new fan will have something to take home and remember you by.

As a new unsigned artist, you won’t be making huge amounts of revenue, if any, from shows. You may well go under the ethos of “It’s all about doing what we love”, but sooner or later you may run into the trouble of not having funds to produce CD’s, flyers, or anything else to fund you passion. Making and playing music is an expensive business, and if you are selling your CD’s at a price that will allow you to produce more CD’s, and in turn improve your fanbase, you can realise an invaluable source of funding.

A little bit of confidence can also go a long way. This could be the difference between people returning to a show or not. Perhaps you are at a venue where the place is split into separate parts, if so go and tell people that you are on before you play, hand them a flyer, blag it, and say you are the most amazing band in the world. Look at it in terms of opportunities lost. A small amount of effort can start to drive things. Likewise, take the time to mingle after the show. Go around and talk to your audience, make that personal connection, sell some CD’s. After all, you want to make the show a memorable one so that people come back. This is a great way to increase the amount of people at each show.

A Few Notes On Performance

I realise haven’t mentioned the performance yet, and there are a few very important things to bear in mind. You need to be confident that you love what you’re doing, and portray this in whatever way feels natural to you. It’s easy to feel nervous on stage, and this will can be remedied over time, but do try not to look awkward as this will be conveyed to your audience.

As music fans we have all been to gigs, some great, some not so great. As well as having a good set of songs to showcase, you need to think about the context. A little work at rehearsal can change 5 or 6 good songs into an amazing set. Crossover time between songs has to be kept at a minimum. There’s nothing worse during a set than a song finishing, then being treated to an awkward silence. People will lose attention and start chatting, when you want to keep their attention throughout. Practice a performance as you would play it live, and try to minimise gaps as much as possible. Decide when you will say things, create bridging bits between songs; anything to keep the audience’s attention. Also think which songs to put in which order. It may sound obvious, but if it’s a short set, don’t fill it with your slowest songs if that’s not the intention.

The last thing I will say for now (I have been rambling on for quite a while!) is to set yourself up a mailing list. This is a great way to let your fans know when you are playing, or of any news or important stuff that is happening. Perhaps include some interesting facts with each issue, the choice is yours. Don’t send out too many emails however, otherwise people will get fed up. All this will take is a clipboard, and some professional looking A4 sheets where people can enter their name, email, and possibly a phone contact.

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7 Comments

  1. And don’t forget to think about copyright issues. Do you join a collecting society or do you manage your own rights?

  2. Definitely some good tips there!

    Since his contract expired and he became a free agent, Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) has been posting pieces of advice for musicians trying to get their projects going.

    This is a link to a post on nin.com… http://forum.nin.com/bb/read.php?30,767183

    …definitely worth reading.

    The main overtone which I’d like to place emphasis on is that if you really love writing and performing music it doesn’t have to be to tens of thousands of people.

    You can arrange your own local gigs selling whatever merchandise you can for a small profit. Over several gigs you’ll accumulate a nice little kitty which can be put towards something to help your music get across. i.e.. a better designed website, band t-shirts, pay to have your CDs packaged in a more professional manner.

    As I’ve stated in other posts, music is ultimately a business so even if you are a great musician and you have a knack for writing great songs, it doesn’t mean you’ll get signed. Playing to a handful of people (if any!) can be disheartening, but with the right frame of mind you can see getting your music across as a challenge and welcome it with open arms.

    Using the internet to get in touch with music sites who may review your latest CD and publish that review can be a great promotional tool. Even if the site’s based in Kuala Lumpur, its readers’ can still download your music via iTunes or myspace for example.

    I certainly wish the best of luck to anyone who tries to make it for themselves in the music business.

  3. Some great points there, the fact about loving doing it is of course very true, nice one with the link too. I guess I was making the points to try and make the best of dealing with the small amounts of time and resources unsigned bands have to use. Anything that allows for more flexibility and leeway should be looked into

  4. Excellent advice Rich is giving out there … Unsigned artists/bands can go a long way with a little effort and some careful thought as to how to maximize the free time and little funds they do have…

    Plus there’s great satisfaction in managing your own affairs; when I first started out I couldn’t wait to sign my first publishing deals…

    But last year I was over the moon when I managed to negotiate my way out of every single one of my old contract assignments and be independent again…

    Funny how far we have to go to find out that we were already in the best place to begin with -lol!! I’ve had loads more success (and fun) since I’ve been an independent artist again -so, done properly, I really recommend it!!

    … and if you’re really after a deal; you’ll get a lot more attention from companies if you’re already filling venues and have a bunch of great recordings that are already selling well among your fans…

    The advice in the blog entry above is an absolutely great starting place (I love the idea of wondering round a disjointed venue before you go on stage to tell folks you’re about to play -even I haven’t tried that one; I will next time though-lol!) Nice one Rich!!

    Regards,
    Brett Huckfield

    • Glad you enjoyed the article Rich did Brett, thanks for the response too, sounds like you’ve a lot of interesting things to say as well.

      Lauren
      Team Music.co.uk

  5. Rich, great advice! Surprised that you didn’t mention online publishing for unsigned bands. There are a number of sites that offer this, including my own. (Unashamed plug coming). http://www.evildosh.com offers an unsigned artist:

    – their own webstore (www.evildosh.com/artist_name)
    – purchase price setting (can be free)
    – the ability to create ringtones to sell on the store
    – upload as many mp3’s as they like
    – Retain 60% net of sales with no charges

    We are also in the process of putting the final touches on help with promotion costs for the most popular artists on the site.

    All the best, Clive.

    • Glad you liked the article Clive, team music.co.uk has written a few initial pieces, and will be building up more resources and advice, interviews coming soon as we re-work the sites structure. Lauren Team Music.co.uk