Are you a musician? Is your band having issues? Our advice columnist Fan Landers (a.k.a. Jessica Hopper) is ready to give you Real Talk about any problems your musical outfit might be having—whether professional, practical, or sartorial.Confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
I was inspired by your q and a from last week about how a mainstream pop-y musician can make it big. I have a similar question, except it’s about how a DIY, underground, basement show playing, kind of scummy party band can make it big. Here’s the deal: we are an awesome band that is beloved by our community. We regularly pack the basements of DIY spaces and can draw about 150 people to an established venue. Those shows usually get favorable mentions in the free weeklies in our large city. We’ve gone on six tours, all of them (very small) money makers. We’ve released a few albums and been written up by cool magazines, and we even got a bad review in Spin. We are like so many other awesome DIY bands in this regard. But!
I feel as though we are stuck. We are at this level, which is great, but I would like to graduate to a larger venue, make more money on tour, maybe even have a booking agent so I didn’t have to spend hours upon hours booking shows for tour. Is this too much to ask? Should we be actively pursuing record labels? Hire a manager? Help!
Your band is in the exact right place to start considering these things. Often bands start eagerly asking about how to next-level things too soon out of the gate, but you guys have had some modest success for a band of your size and done a lot of it on your own steam, which puts you in a good position to assess and pursue broader opportunities or perhaps hiring someone to help.
I don’t think you guys need a manager—you sound like you get the ins and outs of the scene and know how to make things happen. It never hurts to solicit labels—and you are the sort of band most small/bedroom indies are looking for; you are touring and releasing your own stuff; you are clearly willing to put in the work to support an album. Have you given any thought to continuing to put out your own stuff, but perhaps licensing the vinyl/download rights to a small label that has a good track record? Anyone local where you might already be on their radar? That way you can keep building what you have and can continue serve your own release needs and you aren’t having to split anything on your CD and cassette sales on the road. Maybe the vinyl label can distribute those for you?
Do you have friends in a bigger band that you routinely play shows with? Is there a popular band that likes your band? How about proposing some split singles to help broaden your fanbase? Then you can do a tour on one of the coasts to support it. Which leads to my next suggestion—your next tour is about hustling to put together strong/good bills in major cities and inviting out booking agents. I think this is your best bet for getting to a next level. Getting signed and having a breakout album, being able to make money off sales—it’s in the crapshoot/pipedream pile in 2012. A band that tours wisely, consistently, has an energetic live show can have a career. Ask your friends, ask bands you open for, the person who did PR for your last record if they can suggest booking agents and if they can make an introduction. Also, ask the booker at the more legit clubs and showspaces you play—which small “boutique” booking agencies might care about a band that can bring in 120 people in Baltimore on a Wednesday night? An agent or agency that is small or getting off the ground might really look at that as an asset, someone who is going to grow with you.
If you are getting “no” or “not yet” from booking agents, you still have the really option of just asking people for help piecemeal. If you have a really reliable, social and tenacious friend who has some band/booking experience and some free time, ask if they will help you book half the tour. Just get it off your plate. Offer a set fee plus small commission on shows with a guarantee of, say, more than $150 or $200. Recruit your biggest non-obnoxious young fan (or three!) and ask if they want to come over some weekend night and help you put together packages of fliers/posters for the tour for clubs and promoters. Don’t get too attached to the idea that the only way up is with professional help reaching down from above. Friendship, a fleet of interns and hustle can get you just as far.