July 21, 2011

Week 41: Standing Out or Outstanding?

Mike Truth and the Replacement Killers - Stood out.. and were outstanding.
They are no longer playing together though.

Let me first state something that I’ve stated a few times before, but I’ve been told I’ve got a lot of new readers to this column… so it bears repeating. I make one simple, but important, assumption when giving advice in this column. I assume you make good music. And by good music I mean music people enjoy listening to… not necessarily earth shattering and unique… just good. Without good music, you are likely not going to go anywhere in the music world… at least not when you’re in a do-it-yourself world. Actually, if you don't play music that is palatable to a segment of the public all the promotion in the world, if you do it right, will just speed up your bands demise. Nothing travels faster than bad news.

With that said, let’s talk about this week’s column.

Do you Stand Out or are you Outstanding?

Standing Out but not Outstanding
I’ve seen plenty of bands that stand out because of how they dress or their stage show, but musically they don’t have anything new to offer. Many of these folks are going to be a blip on the radar because they will not be able to book shows after one time… but some of these bands are really packing the crowds in. The music isn’t bad, it’s just bland. There’s nothing new to discover.

Plenty of bands sound just like any other band in their genre. I’ve seen quite a few rock, country, and metal bands that fall into this category. It’s the showmanship that gets them fans. If you aren’t doing anything earthshattering with your sound… and you’ll know it if you aren’t… the stage presence is the key.

And, although DIY music is my focus here… remember that being in a good cover band can actually net you some really quick cash. I know a couple of bands whose members play in cover bands for private parties. It’d be pretty easy for a band to raise the money to produce an album by playing cover shows.

There’s a reason cover bands make so much money. Some people really want to hear Loverboy, The Gin Blossoms, Snoop Dogg, and Bruno Mars in the same hour… performed live. I’d be lying if I told you I haven’t wanted to jump up on stage at 11:15p on a Tuesday on 6th Street during a rousing rendition of “Jack and Diane.”

So, your look and stage presence is a big deal. Think about it.

Outstanding without Standing Out
In the same breath as knowing some sub-par bands with great stage presence and good crowds, I know my share of really, really excellent sounding bands who play to an empty house. Your sound IS important, but it’s the rest of the package that will gain fans. Do you have a stage presence? Do you play to the audience? Do you promote your shows?

In a perfect world, great music would be rewarded with great adoration, respect, and great crowds to listen. But, this isn’t a perfect world and sometimes mediocrity with great promo is rewarded. If that wasn’t the case, there’d only be about 100 bands in Austin, Texas (If you’re in an Austin band and you’re reading this, I’m including your band in the 100.. of course).
The base line is, promotion is going to get you where you need to go… and the bands that are getting noticed these days are doing things that are getting them noticed. They are doing contests for house concerts. They are doing video chats. They are getting involved in video games and going on reality shows. They are doing radio and TV. They are playing in public places unannounced and handing out fliers for their . They are tweeting funny things. They are interacting with the world, a lot.

Why not both?
Here’s a few ideas that may get you some attention, if you’re lucky. If you try any of these and it works.. don't forget where you learned it.

1. Flash Mob Music Video
I don’t think I’ve ever seen this… but it would be fantastic. Get 3 or 4 video cameras, invite 80-100 people (or talk with an organized Flash Mob group), meet at a certain location in public (the more public the better) and shoot a video. The planning may take weeks, but the video would only take 5 minutes. And if it’s a good song, this little trick may make it go viral. And if you do it after reading this.. please send me a link.

2. Contest for best Fan Video
Do you have a new album out? Why not give your fans a chance to win something (a private concert, a stage-worn outfit if you have outfits, CD collection, etc) for making a fan video. The first time I saw this was when One-Eyed Doll did it. She’s now got over 90 videos made by fans… one of them has over 4k views.

3. Buy the Cover
This is totally unorthodox, but if you can find someone who will play ball (read, accept payment for having you on the cover of a magazine), you have some great PR. Before you scoff let me tell you two things. 1. A lot of magazines will sell their cover. It’s all about sales. I know this from personal experience. 2. If you tell people you bought the cover… word will get out and it will backfire.

In case you’re wondering (because someone probably is) I have never sold a cover. I’ve put unknown bands I believed in on the cover, but never sold it. Maybe I’d be printing the magazine this month had I sold the cover… but I never could bring myself to do it.

4. Play Benefits and Walks…
There is a walk for Alzheimers, Breast Cancer, Heart Disease, etc… What if you were the band who played EVERY walk? Contact organizers for any and every walk you can find… and see if they’d like to have a free concert after the walk... or maybe at the ½ way point. Who knows how many fans you’ll make from the people who are there. The bonus is, you gave to something THEY feel strongly about. So, you’ve got a bond.

5. Hand-write notes to all people you send your CD to. Especially media.
So I get a number of CDs in the mail to INsite Magazine. Usually I pile them into 2 piles: Austin and Other (the INsite I own is the Austin one). I listen to every Austin CD, and if I have the chance, I’ll listen to the others. It usually ends with me having a bunch of “National” CDs I never get around to listening to. Well, last week I Opened the mail to find a CD by California’s Paper City. Along with the CD was a little note that explained they will be playing in Austin on September 11, 2011 at The Beauty Bar… along with contact number if I needed any additional information.
Paper City's Popular Talk (w/ note)

In case you’re wondering Paper City is a trio who has that has a modern sound that is reminiscent of the free and fun 1960s when everyone seemed as innocent as Ward Cleaver and the music was a bit bubble gummy. Lead singer Marisa Predisik delivers songs in a beautiful and addicting way. They’re on tour now, and if their live show is anything like the record, it’s going to be great.

And I wouldn’t have known that if I didn’t get the hand written note. It was that little extra step that showed me that the artist was a little more interested in making sure I listened. That’s al it took.

So… What are you doing to stand out in an outstanding way?

Sean Claes is the owner of Austin's INsite Magazine and has been a freelance entertainment writer since 1996. For an introduction to his "52 Weeks of DIY Music Advice" visit this link - http://www.tinyurl.com/Claes52DIY. If you like what you read... please share. To visit Claes' homepage, go here - http://www.seanclaes.com/

1 comment:

Cameron said...

I don't think i could ever make a band, but I think that fan video thing is a great idea. I think youtube had an opera day where they would choose from videos of people singing certain keys and create an entire song. And the mailed notes are great for the hoarders type fans who just collect all of a band's stuff. :)