October 28, 2010

Week 6: How To Release Your Music (Part 1 of 3)

 (This is Week 6 of my Fifty-Two Weeks of Music Do-It-Yourself advice)

Snake Skin Prison's Keith Ploeger with the bands 11/19/10 release Nine Kinds of Bad

Having reviewed new releases for the last 15 years, I’ve seen a lot of different ways a band handles this subject. What I’ve gathered is there’s pretty much three pieces to this process, and each one is as important as the others.

First, you must decide how you want to produce your music; will it be a full-length or an EP? Are you going to produce a CD, release it online, or sell it via USB (or a combination of all three)?

Second, you have to plan and execute a CD release show.  This includes booking a club, promoting, and doing something to make it a special night, not just another gig.

Third, you have to get your music into the hands of the people who can promote your music. This would be radio, critics, bloggers, and club bookers and owners.

This is a lot of information, so I’m going to go ahead and break it up into three sections. So, “What Are You Releasing” is part one of this three part series.

PART 1: What Are You Releasing?
A Compact Disc
There are three different versions of Compact Discs (or CDs). If you’ve got one song, you release a single. If you have 3-5 songs, the release is known as an Extended Play (EP) and if you’ve got 8-15 songs, you’ve got yourself a full length or Long Play (LP). The terms EP and LP come from the days of vinyl (you know “records”). I included a little background at the end of this piece.

If you have at least 45 minutes of music, you can release an LP your standard full-length CD. To me a full-length CD is a milestone in a band. It’s making a statement that you guys are serious and committed to being a band.

On a cost level it makes sense as well. When you release a CD, the physical product costs the same no matter how many songs are on there. The cost to promote and mail the product to magazines, newspapers, radio, bloggers, and other interested media folks is the same.  But, if you only have 4-5 songs on a CD, you’ll only be able to charge half the amount because at the end of the day, the music is what the music fan is interested in paying for.

The EP
Based on the above, you can probably guess my stance on EPs. I really, really don’t like EPs. Initially, the fact is, you’re putting half the effort into something and asking fans and the media to treat it as importantly as a full-length.

Thinking of it as a band, my reason for not liking EPs is, you are wasting half that CD and it’s costing you the same amount of money to design packaging, order and print the physical CD, and promote. I am going to continue to shout this to anyone that listens. If you want to release 4-5 songs, get together with another band that has a similar style as you, and produce a “Split EP.” That way you’ve got 5 songs and the other band has 5 songs on a single disc.

If you do this you win in 3 ways. You are using all the space a CD allows, you are splitting the cost of production with another band, and you are crossing over to their fan base and introducing your fans to theirs. It’s really a winning combination. This is how underground punk bands used to do it about 30 years ago. Why it’s not done more today is beyond me.

If you decide to produce a physical CD, do me a favor and really think about your CD packaging. Have a design in mind and make sure it enhances the music. If you aren’t a designer, hire an actual designer to design the artwork. By the way, the drummers girlfriend “who took art once and can do it for free” seldom works out. If you go the designer route, give them guidance if you have an idea or know what you don’t want… but let them create the concept after listening to the songs. I’ll write more detail about this in another column, but just know that the design is as important as the music that it contains. It’s a product, and product packaging is the eye candy that may make someone want to pick your product up.

In 1999 30,000 "apples" of the Beatles entire catalog on USB was released.
New Media – Digital and USB
Now, there’s the matter of new media. You can elect to do a digital-only release where you sell (or give away) your music on your website or via places like iTunes. The bonus of releasing on your Website is, you can glean the fan’s information. If they give you their e-mail, you send them a link to the music. Now you have a valid e-mail for them and have expanded your mailing list so you can keep them informed about your band and invite to shows.

Another way I‘ve gotten music has been via a Universal Serial Bus (USB) Drive, or as I like to call it - a thumb drive. This is neat because it expands your options. You can place songs as well as any videos, lyrics, messages, or photos you’d like to share. It’s nice for a release with bonus content.

Here’s the drawback. Fans can easily delete the music in favor of having a thumb drive. So, in this instance, you should probably sell your “Music Stick” for at least double the cost of buying the thumb drive.

I did a little research on this to get the basic idea, but I also included my opinion. Here’s a little history. This is largely my view, so I reserve the right to be wrong on this, but I think I’m right. Originally bands (or record companies) would send out singles (45s) in vinyl to radio in order to get a song played. This cost less than sending a full record (as in actual vinyl).  

The term EP and LP were the formats in which the recording was produced via vinyl (source). When CD technology came about, the format changed, but we kept the terminology. The EP was originally just promo for radio, not a viable sales option.  Since the physical product was the same, record labels and bands decided to throw 2-3 songs on there, and sometimes alternate versions like a live version or radio edit and ship it to their promotional contacts.

When digital music sources came out, consumers (read the music fan) could suddenly buy the one song they liked via iTunes and the like. In order to cater to that, bands and labels started producing and selling EPs. It’s the “need it now” syndrome.

Yes... that's me. Are you listening? SOAPBOX TIME!

In my opinion, record companies and bands have done a lot of damage to the concept of a physical album by selling things to the general public that isn’t in it’s finished product.

Let me put it this way. In the current Rolling Stone, Keith Richards has an excerpt from his new book, Life that was released this past Tuesday. This is kind of like the concept of a “single.” Here’s a taste for free and if you like it, buy the book. That works. It’s a free taste and he got the media to bite.

My thought is, by releasing singles and EPs for sale, you’re taking away from the bigger package. EPs are no longer a call to pick up the new LP; they are being marketed as a stand-alone package. It’s a bastardized version of promotion and I’m not a fan. To me a single or an EP should be a freebie. They are hooks to get people to pick up a full-length.  Why should I spend $15 on an LP when I already dropped $5 on an EP that has most of the songs on it already?

Let me qualify my soapbox statement. I am a fan of digital media, but I do not own an iPod, I don’t have music on my phone (heck... I even turned off texting), and I may know more about the inner workings of a band that lead to an EP release than the general public…. But I totally think music fans would eat up a split EP. Pay for the band you like and get a bonus treat of a band that could be your next favorite.

Next week will be part two in my “How To Release Your Music” series. I’ll talk about planning the CD release show.  Trust me… it’s important.

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/.

October 22, 2010

CD Review: The Roving Gamblers

“Just take my hand, let’s get out of this place. We’ll go somewhere far where there’s room and a space to run, run, run.” - Run

The Roving Gamblers
The Roving Gamblers

If you’re a fan of Austin-based children’s television stars The Biscuit Brothers, you’ll likely dig The Roving Gamblers. Why? Because The Roving Gamblers are Jerome Schoolar, Allen Robertson, Damon Brown, and Brad Shelton – aka the actors/musicians who have spent the last two decades portraying characters on the Austin-based Emmy Award Winning PBS series.

Don’t worry though. It should only take you 2-3 songs to forget that the voice you hear on the debut album of The Roving Gamblers is the same as that of Dusty Biscuit. This is a good thing… because the fourth song is called “I Like To Drink.”

I sat down with Jerome Schoolar, lead vocalist of The Roving Gamblers, last week. He explained that this CD is a collection of the music the band has written over the last 20 years and played during sound checks. While the instrumentation and vocals may sound similar to The Biscuit Brothers (duh…it’s the same band), the songs are for the parents… not the kids. This is a mixed bag of country, swing, and a little humor thrown in there for good measure.

Dusty Biscuit and Jerome Schoolar

It’s a 42-minute journey into the songbook of Schoolar and company. By and large, these are songs about love and life. They keep positive and are really a fun listen.

The album kicks off with a nice two-step worthy love song entitled “Dance A Million Miles.” It continues with some great harmonizing on “Playing With Fire” which is a track about the type of girl most men chase, but few keep. There’s also the blues-infused “Marry Me,” the escape-with-me ballad “Run,” and the reassess your life track “The Plans You Made.”

Now, the track that I alluded to earlier. “I Like To Drink” is a classic country swing that takes a humorous approach to a place where most adults have been. “I like to drink. But the drinking, it don’t like me. I like a shot, but I can’t stop and two or three.”

My favorite track on the CD is “Lucky One.” I can see contemporary country stations playing this one. It’s definitely got a hook, great harmonies, and is an easy one to sing. “I am a lucky one. I am a fortunate son. I have a place in the line, I’m doing just fine. I’ve already won.”

Now, there is a kitchy fun song that reminded me what these musicians do as day jobs… the ragtime-infused “Charleston When I'm 90” is a nice little ditty about dancing away your senior years.

The album ends on a nice note with “Better Man” which is a song celebrating the thing all guys strive to be when we meet our other half.

Several of the tracks evoke an 80s country sound to them, which makes me think The Roving Gamblers could find a musical home in Austin at places like The Broken Spoke, Poodie’s Hilltop Roadhouse, and Continental Club. I could see a “Roving Happy Hour” being a nice draw if these guys decide to make this double musical life a mainstay. They definitely have the talent, and based on this CD, they’ve got the songs as well.

Schoolar explained the sales from this CD are going to go entirely into The Biscuit Brothers’ Project, meaning they are using this band as a fundraiser to make the next season of the PBS show a possibility.

But, don’t expect The Roving Gamblers to play anything from the “Magical Music Farm” when you head to Central Market (38th & Lamar) Sunday, October 24, 2010 at 6p for their CD release celebration (which doubles as The Roving Gamblers’ debut concert as well).

Oh, and if you want to bring the kids, don’t worry, Schoolar promised they wouldn’t be playing the drinking song at this show.

October 21, 2010

Week 5: How To Write A Press Release


OK, we’re five weeks in on this project, so it’s time to deconstruct the promotional piece known as a press release. There are a few things that you need to make sure are included.

First and foremost, what are you promoting? Nothing is worse than a press release with no direction and no main point. Yes, you want a media person to know about your band, but that’s not enough. There’s millions of bands out there and let me tell you, each one of them think they are important enough to be covered in the press.

You need to have a hook to your press release. It could be the show you’re promoting. It may be an album you’re releasing.  Perhaps you’re headlining a charity gig. Maybe your band just won an award. Someone important reviewed your CD or said something on their show or in an interview about your band. There are hundreds of reasons to send out a press release… and thousands of reasons not to.

The deal is, it’s got to be newsworthy. Something that will make someone in media want to:
1. Read the press release
2. Listen to your music or come to a show
3. Be moved enough to write about it.
4. Find out more about your band.

So let’s strip it down to basics.

Step 1: Get a list of media contacts
If you don’t have a list already, you need to get one. Put someone in your band in charge of creating a good list of media folks. You need name of media outlet, name of contact, phone numbers, addresses, and e-mail addresses. Maintain this list and update it at least once a month to make sure it’s fresh. Even though I’ve owned INsite since 2008, I still get press releases to my infoATinsiteaustin.com address that are for the previous owner who took it over in 2005 and even the one before that. If you don’t care enough to find the current writer, why should they care to read what you have to say?

You can buy a list from a service, pay a company who has contacts to send your release out, ask fellow bands for their contacts, or create your own. If you want to create your own, here are a few links you may like.
(Use this list to find contacts on your own… or buy their service.. whichever you like.)

Step 2:  Find your Angle
I’m going to invent a band for the example. The band name is Dog Face Cow (which is not a band and dogfacecow.com is available right now. If a band forms with this name, you better thank me in the liner notes of your first album and you should send me $1,000 a month after you make your first million dollars).

Anyway…. let’s say your band, Dog Face Cow, is releasing an album called… um… Udder Times via a live show at Headhunter’s on November 30. Let’s also say you’ve got yourself a spot on FOX 7's Morning show "Good Day Austin" playing to promote the release. This is good.  The headline will read “DOG FACE COW RELEASES UDDER TIMES 11/30”and add a secondary headline that reads “Performing on FOX 7 11/28, CD Release Show 11/30 at Headhunters

Dog Face Cow's Udder Times CD Artwork

That’s an example of an angle. Now.. what would NOT be an angle you ask? Anything that is totally uninteresting. Guitarist leaves. Band forms. Band rehearses. Band has new songs but aren’t playing anywhere to promote it. General information about band. These things are not press release worthy because they are not newsworthy. The reason for a press release is to promote something that will cause the person reading the story to find out more about you, attend a show, buy an album, and talk about you.

Step 3: First Draft
This is not a quick and dirty process. Think about what you’re writing. Why would people care about this event? Who are you hoping comes to the show? Who are the people this particular media outlet writes for? What would make you come to the event? If it’s a show, who else is on the bill? Include websites for you, the other bands, the venue, and contact information for the band in case the media folks want more information. 

When you’ve written all you think you need to write on the matter, AND YOU’VE SPELLCHECKED, take a step away. Come back to it the next day and reread, make corrections. Spice it up a little bit. Make it an interesting read.  Then… Step 4.

Step 4: Shorten it by ½
Anything that can be said in 700 words can be said in 350. Take into consideration the attention span of the person reading the release. If someone sends me a 1,000-word press release… that sucker isn’t likely to be read. There’s a reason the top pop songs are 3 minutes or less… people don’t care to be engaged by one thing for much longer than that. Make sure you JUST include the important stuff.

Step 5: Make sure the important information is UP TOP and AT THE END.
Answer all of the important questions. Who are you, what are you accomplishing, when is this event, where is it happening, and why should I care.

If you’ve ever taken any public speaking classes you’ll know these two ideas: 1. KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid. And my favorite “Say what your GOING to say. Say it. Then Say it AGAIN.” Both of these are golden and can be used in writing. Learn them.

You may kick off with some witty little banter you think it really funny. Limit that as much as possible… maybe the first half of the sentence. Something like “Make sure you grab a change of underwear when you head to Headhunter’s on November 28 because Dog Face Cow is going to make you crap your pants with our amazing sound.”

Recap at the end of the release with some quick bullets

Who: Dog Face Cow
What: CD Release celebration
11/28: 7am on FOX7
11/30: 11pm at Headhunter’s (address)
Cost: $5

Step 6: Make sure you include an action.
What do you want to happen? In the press release, call for an action. Here’s a few examples:
-       Udder Times should be arriving at your office in the next week. Please give us a listen. Even if you decide not to review it we’d love to hear your thoughts.
-       We’d love to have you out at the show on our guest list. Let us know and we’ll put you +1 on the list. There may even be a beverage of your choice in it for you.
-       Here’s an online code to download Udder Times. Please let us know what you think.
-       Contact lead singer “Thwack McLovin” at fakeemail@dogfacecow.com to schedule an interview, if you have any questions, or if you just want his number so you can drunk dial him after the show.

Step 7: Headline
I kind of went over that in the “Find Your Angle” post, but I want to drive this home. The headline is the most important part of your press release. Most of the people who open your press release will read the headline and move on. Never even glance at the text below it. You have to make people want to read more… but don’t just write something for shock if you can’t wrap it into meaning something important to do with what you’re writing about. “SPLEEN REMOVAL MACHINE” would catch attention but it has nothing to do with your band. “UDDER TIMES CALL FOR UDDER MEASURES” might do it. “DOG FACE COW ATTACKS HEADHUNTERS / FOX 7” is probably where I’d go. You can have fun with it… be serious about it…make it epic….make it important… but make sure it conveys the heart of what your press release is about.

Step 8: E-mail Subject Line
If you’re going to use e-mail to blast your message out, you need to come up with a good subject line. Now, remember these people may not know you at all, so something like “What Are You Doing Friday” won’t make them open it. And if it does, they may be pissed it’s not a personal letter. Label it what it is. “PRESS RELEASE: Austin’s Dog Face Cow To Release Udder Times.”

Also, PLEASE if you’re going to e-mail something, make sure the people you send it to are via a “Bcc.” That way their e-mail address is hidden AND they don’t know if you sent it to just them or 1,000 people.

Step 9: Before you send… read it again.
OK.. you’re done. You’ve written, edited, made sure all of the right information is up top and in there, and made sure unimportant stuff is left out. Now… read it again. Spell check again. Make sure the days are right. Make sure the times are correct. Make sure the links are valid.

Step 10: Send it out.
Congratulations. You just sent a press release out. Now be prepared to sit back and hear nothing. It’s OK. Don’t get bitter or mad… it happens. A lot. I recall in the years I sent press releases out for bands… the best luck I ever had was getting contacted from about 3 people… and the release was sent to about a hundred targeted people in Austin media.

Step 11: Three Important Points
Even if a band get’s the first 10 steps down, below you will find three things you need to think about. Most bands do one of the following three "dont's."

1. Don't wait until 3 days before the show to send press release… you really need to send it 3-4 weeks ahead of time to make the best play at media attention.

2. Don't forget to follow up. Wait about 2 weeks and then reach out. Make it a question… something like. “Hey, I was putting together the guest list for the 11/30 CD Release show for Dog Face Cow’s Udder Times and I was wondering if you’d like me to add you +1 to the list? Headhunter's wants me to turn it in by 11/23 so please let me know ASAP. Also, wanted to make sure you received the press release I sent on 10/20. Here’s a link to it (post it to your website or a blog) in case you missed it.”

3. Don’t EVER accuse someone of ignoring you… or deleting your message… or not caring… or anything that would make you look like a whiney little brat. If you do, you can probably consider that contact dead and your band won’t ever be in that publication. I’ve got a few bands on my “not worth my time” list… and I consider myself the nice one in media circles.

That about wraps things up for this week. If you want to see me this weekend… come on out Saturday (10/23) to Emo’s for our INsite Night for November. Rockshow Promotions presents: Squint (CD Release), Trashy and the Kid, Waiting for August, Matches for Memories, and Radio Fallout.  I’ll be the one  not wearing a black t-shirt.

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/.

October 18, 2010

DIY EXTRA - A few examples...

I thought I'd share a couple of examples of bands I think are doing it right... these folks are promotional engines... and it shows in the audience at their shows.

Here's some bands and what they're doing on YouTube to promote themselves and shows.

Example 1:
Austin's Full Service - October 23 @ The Parish promo video. They teamed up with Austin's Pizza for a show.... Pizza and music... at a place that sells beer. Eees good.

Example 2:
One Eyed Doll - The ROCKUMENTARY by DavidJr.com.
Talk about dedicated fans. DavidJr.com did a 1.5 hour documentary on this band. This is housed oh his page, but there's a lot of great promo videos on the Official One Eyed Doll YouTube.

Example 3:
Granger Smith - Americana music... with a nice shot of humor. This video is a great little video card for the 10th Anniversary of the Texas Music Chart. (There's a series of Ten Year cards on the TMC site but this one is the most original by far) I could spend a day watching the funny little clips he releases via his YouTube Page.

Example 4:
Fulton Read - This San Marcos/Austin band asked for fans to help them write a song... called "What's Been On Your Dirty Mind." I won't tell you which lyrics I wrote (I'm a family man! And I don't know if they used any.) It's on their YouTube Channel. They also give all their music away for free online at their Website.

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/.

October 14, 2010

Week 4: Publicity

Week 4:
If Your Band Is A “Best Kept Secret” 
You’re Not Doing It Right.
Josh Homme interviewed by 101x's Toby Ryan on at 2007's ACL Music Festival
Step 1 – Repeat this out loud “Publicity is not the same as promotion.”
Step 2 – Go back to Step 1 until you truly believe this line.
Step 3 – Proceed with this article.

This week, we’re going to touch on something that you should be doing, many bands do, but few bands do well. Publicity.

Press Release
The key to a press release is information and content. You must move the “give a crap” needle a little bit.

- If you released a new single to iTunes… nobody cares.
- If you’ve been around for 3 months and you’ve got a new guitarist… who cares (unless that guitarist is someone like… I don’t know… Kirk Hammett).
- If you’re releasing your debut album with a CD Release show, that may be worth mentioning in a press release.

Also, think about having a trusted friend (who has some writing knowledge) read over what you’ve written before you send it out. Stupid mistakes will get you every time (wrong date for the show / misspelling the magazine’s name / not including contact information).

I’ll likely have an entire article on writing a press release at some point… but for now, that’ll do.

Invites to Shows
Collect a list of e-mail contacts of all the newspaper / magazine / television / radio / music blog / promoter / booking agent / media folks you can find. Send them monthly updates. Not weekly. Not daily. Not yearly… monthly. That way you don’t become a bother, but you are remembered. Include in the e-mail the fact that you’d love for them to come out to a show. Mention you’d be happy to put them on the guest list (most clubs will OK media folks for free, but even if you must pay for them being on the list… do it. You’re laying the groundwork for what could be a good move for your band – a media contact.
Mike "Truth" Boudreau of Red Eyed Fly invites me to shows. Do you?

If they DO make one of your shows, make sure you thank them and don’t let them walk away without a CD, sticker, t-shirt or at least a drink you bought them in their hand. You want them to remember you. Reach out to them within the next week and thank them for coming out. Don’t pitch anything to them at that point. Wait. It’s always best if the media person thinks the story is their idea. Then if you don’t hear from them in about a month… reach out again. THEN make your pitch.

CD Reviews
Always mail your CDs out to any publication that may review it. Use your Google to find contact names and addresses. Find like-sounding bands and see who’ve reviewed their disc and reach out to that reviewer by name. Make sure you include a bio and list of upcoming shows. If you REALLY want to impress (at least it impresses me) hand write a little note to the reviewer thanking them in advance for taking a listen to the CD.

If you’re doing an electronic-only release… you can e-mail them the link to the download and paste the bio in the body of the message. The last thing any reviewer needs is a 436-megabyte attachment of music clogging up their inbox. That’s an instant invitation to be trashed. I personally don’t open anything (that I didn’t ask for) over 1 megabyte that comes to my e-mail.

Getting the CD to a reviewer is half the job... but this is where 90% of the bands out there stop. You need to follow up and make sure they got the CD. Call them and if you get an answering machine leave a message then send e-mail. Be nice. They don’t have to listen to anything you send them… they are doing you a HUGE favor if they do.

If someone reviews your CD, be sure to send him or her an e-mail or letter of thanks. Even if they compare it to the smell of the garbage can at the 2010 ACL Festival where they tossed their half-eaten fish and chips they get from the Bess Bistro vendor. Thank them for giving you a listen long enough to form an opinion they believed enough to publish. The fact is… people read reviewers opinions as opinions, and the big deal is you have a review. Very few indie bands get reviewed. Heck, my last yearlong blogging journey was “52 Austin CD Reviews in 52 Weeks” and I was left with a stack of about 20-30 CDs I didn’t get to (and a stack of about 40-50 I didn’t like and, unlike many critics, I only do positive reviews). So... count yourself lucky if yours is picked from the stack.

Interview Opportunities
Do you have something interesting to talk about? Did a member of your band do something exciting? Did you win an award? Do you have a former child star playing guitar for you? Were you the kid in the Twisted SisterWe’re Not Gonna Take It” video (Dax Callner from the former Austin band Dax was)? Do you regularly perform “takeovers” in the parking lots of big shows (I’m talking about Full Service here)?
A Full Service "takeover" in the parking lot of the Austin Music Hall in June 2009 before a Matisyahu show

Find an angle. Something interesting. Write up a letter to a magazine, newspaper, television station, and radio station. Make your case as to why people would WANT to know about you and your band. In this case, the music may be secondary. That’s OK. As long as you get to perform / get on camera / get your name out there. That’s the point.

Benefits Benefit YOU
Here’s a way you can garner some publicity AND make a difference in people’s life. Play benefit shows to raise money for Diabetes Research or Breast Cancer Research or something that is near and dear to your heart. Create your own non-profit to raise money and awareness for something that you believe in. You don’t even have to have a great story. I recall an Austin strip club manager has hosted charity events to raise money for Breast Cancer Awareness just because… well… think about his business and you tell ME why.

You don’t have to be the originator of the idea either. Contact a radio station or television station who is doing a canned food drive for Thanksgiving, coat drive for Christmas, or any of a long list of charity drives they put on and offer to play at one of the drop-off points where there’s going to be a live broadcast. Many times you can jump on as the “entertainment” of a charity event someone else is doing all the work to put together. There's also charities that benefit music or musicians. In Austin, two that directly raise money to help fellow musicians are the SIMS Foundation and the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. Both have annual benefit shows and/or CD compilations.
Austin's Dave Madden plays during H.A.A.M Benefit Day in Sept. 2010

Here’s my suggestion. Please believe in the event and have good reason. Don’t do it “just for publicity” because that would be really sad. If you’re doing a show to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research please make it because someone in the band has a relative or someone close to them who has/had this Disease. You need to be compassionate, understanding, and know what you’re talking about… because the people who put on these events are celebrating/remembering/suffering. They all have a story. You should too.

Radio Shows
There are many radio stations out there and many DJ’s who do their best to promote DIY bands. Find out who the ones are in your area, and try and get on their show. Find them at shows and introduce yourself. Drop your CD by the station personally just before or after they get off the air and ask to talk to them. E-mail them and invite them to a show. Contact them 2-3 times before you pitch being on the show… so they’re familiar with you.

When you pitch being on the show, make sure you’ve got an event to tie-in because this type of publicity is one that will drive people to your show. Make sure you give away a guest spot for the show, bring a couple of CDs to give away, and be ready to play as little as one or as many as 5 songs.

In Austin there are several television stations that know and embrace music within their broadcasts. Some have it daily in the mornings (for the early birds) some do concert series on the roof of their station, and some just sporadically. Of course, Austin is also home to a music television station called ME Television. Check them all out. Reach out to them at least a month before your event you’d like to promote and do your best to get on the show a day or two before. Warning, some shows make you get there at 5:00a to play… make sure you’ve got your stuff together (I’m talking to you vocalists) because you WON’T be invited back if you don’t sound good or interview well.

PAYOLA? No.. not here. (insert sarcasm here)
Publicity is an odd thing. You’re approaching people who are on the “information” side of a business that also has an “advertising” side to it. Will it help get your music played if you place an ad on the station / magazine / newspaper you are trying to get publicity from? It shouldn’t… but many times it does. There should be a division between content and advertising (and if you’ve ever worked at one of these places you’ll know that reporters and sales reps are like oil and water) but the sad thing is money talks a lot of the time.

I have been on both sides. I am not a salesperson, but I have done sales for INsite since I am the owner. I’ll share a little story. I was in front of a group giving an advertising pitch presentation a few years ago. There’s a really neat Austincentric gift place located in downtown Austin and the owner was in the audience. She point blank posed the question “Will you write a story about me if I buy an ad?” It took me about 10 seconds to say “I’m in charge of editorial for INsite. I’d write a story about you because you’ve got a really neat and unique business. It has nothing to do with you purchasing an ad.” To which my former business partner jumped in and tried to salvage the ad (he being one of the best salespersons I’ve ever known). She never bought an ad. I mentioned the business in a few stories throughout the years, but I always had a sour taste in my mouth because of that conversation.

I share that story because here’s the deal Had I not been there as “Owner/Editor” and she posed that question to a sales rep… the sales rep MAY have the ability to pitch the story in a non-abrasive way. “Hey, I went to this place and she’s considering advertising. You know… there could be a really neat story about it.”

BUT… that’s just me. I can’t comment on the practices of “other” places. I would suggest you don’t cross the line though… if you are advertising ask the ad rep if there’s a good person to contact about getting some press. Don't tie it directly to the ad… but you can use them for information.

In marketing terms this would be called having an "inside champion." Someone who knows who you are and likes you… who works for the place you’d like to be booked.

Sometimes it’s a bit shady… but it’s all under this grand umbrella called publicity. Remember… treat your band like a business or you have no business promoting your band.

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/.

October 11, 2010


About 5 years ago I wandered down to the Austin City Hall to catch a Conjunto band play a free lunchtime show. The band was Los Texas Wranglers. They are out of Austin. I took the above photo and it ran in the June 2005 INsite Magazine as an INsite Hindsite.

Fast forward to last night. I was looking for a band to play a Dia De Los Muertos show in my hometown and I posted to my Facebook page for help. My friend Gino Gamez, whom I met at Adult Kickball, mentioned his cousin had a band... Los Texas Wranglers.

Long story short.. it didn't work out for the show (hopefully they'll play next year) but when I talked to Julian L. Fernandez from the band he let me know of a couple of really cool things that are happening to Los Texas Wranglers right now... so I thought I'd share.

1. Today (10/11/10) Los Texas Wranglers are being filmed in San Antonio for a documentary on the Texas Tejano/Conjunto music culture that will be aired on The Discovery Channel. The filming is happening at Ruben's Place in Selma (just north of San Antonio.. here's a little write up on Ruben's Place from mysanantonio.com) from 4:00p - 7:00p. All are invited who would like to celebrate and dance... and maybe be on film. There's going to be a special guest playing with the band too... but you have to be there to see (or wait until it airs).

2. They also recently received word that one of Fernandez's originals has been tapped to be used in a major motion picture. The new Will Ferrell and Laura Dern flick, Everything Must Go uses the song "El Amor Que Soñe" during a dinner scene. Neat. You can go to the Free Download page on their Website to hear and download it.

FYI.. here's a little rundown of a few of the accomplishments of Los Texas Wranglers.

Los Texas Wranglers (Press Photo)

  • Inducted to the South Texas Conjunto Associations  "2006 Conjunto Hall of Fame"  
  • Winners of Tejano Magazine's "2007 Conjunto of the  Year”  
  • Austin Music Awards “Best Latin Traditional” 2008-2010  

I can't wait to see them again. For a list of upcoming shows, visit their calendar.

October 8, 2010

Week 3: Merchandise and Swag

(This is Week 3 of my Fifty-Two Weeks of Music Do-It-Yourself advice)

Week 3: I’d Buy THAT for A Dollar…

You want to be successful and make a living (someday) from playing music. Look at your band as a business.  What are the things you have on your side to make it profitable? You’ve got your name.  You’ve got your logo. You’ve got the songs. You’ve got the music. You’ve got gigs. You are consistently adding fans. What else is there?

Merchandise - Something for the people who come to your show to walk away with. We’re talking t-shirts, CDs, hats, buttons, stickers, and the like.

The Naked Empire's Merch Booth at the Red Eyed Fly 10/1/10

Things to consider putting on ALL your merch.
1.    Band Name – Your merch is advertising someone is paying you to wear or own. Make sure people know who you are when the shirt is worn
2.    Contact – If someone wants to know more… they may need where to find you.
3.    Hometown – We may not think about it much in Austin, but outside the city where you are from… it’s kind of a big deal to be a touring band.
4.    More Music – Maybe the link to a digital download? The next show is free? Always try and make the fan make that next step.. become more invested in your band.

First thing first. Make sure you have a design that you would be proud to wear. That doesn’t mean it has to be amazing and groundbreaking, it may just be as simple as your logo (you have an actual logo…right? And no…Impact in all caps is not a logo. It’s just your name in a block-font).

Image – You can use the art from your album (just don’t make it a square CD image like you get from CafePress. That both costs too much and looks too cheap) or a group photo, or an image that conveys the look/feel/sound your band is going for. You have an Irish-theme to your music? Maybe work a shamrock or the color green. Are you a Christian band? Perhaps a cross or bible could be contained in the image. If you’re a hip-hop band, chances are you shouldn’t put a cowboy on a horse on your shirt.

Just do me (and your fans) a favor, don’t force an image in there that doesn’t convey the feel of the band. Remember your audience. You’re trying to SELL these things.

Humor – You have to be careful with this one. I love a good joke shirt (my personal collection includes “AD/HD” in the AC/DC logo style, a shirt with a ruler on it that says “I Rule” and one that says “This isn't part of my rock and roll fantasy.” Note… none of these are band shirts.  Now, I do own a Zlam Dunk shirt that looks like the digestive system and the bands name is spelled out in the large intestines. So… use humor sparingly… but if you’ve got a golden idea, go for it.

OTHER CLOTHING – Hats, jackets, sweatshirts, socks, panties (Ever seen my Broken Teeth g-string?), bandanas. Anything that you think your crowd would wear, try and make it available for them. Just remember, you are investing your money into this.. so don’t go crazy.
Merch Booth at The Parish Room in 10/09

CD - MUSIC – You can go a few different ways.
1.    You can actually produce a physical CD and have them designed, pressed up, printed, and packaged and sell them for $10-$15 (or your EP for $5). This way someone walks out of your show with something. Plus, for folks like me who see CD design as an extension of the music and something to really enjoy it’s a great thing.

2.    You can go the way of the digital download and only sell the CD online or to people who can access iTunes. You save the cost of actually manufacturing a CD, but how many people are going to remember to access the music and purchase it? You lose the immediate sell.

3.    My suggestion is a combination of the two. Sell your CD or EP and throw in the digital download of that album for free. OR… sell the digital download via a business card to someone for a donation (let them name the price). Yeah, they’ll share the card and a bunch of people may download your music who didn’t pay for it… but look at it this way.. PEOPLE ARE DOWNLOADING YOUR MUSIC.
One-Eyed Doll hand designs A LOT of her merch

VARIOUS OTHER STUFF – If you think it’ll sell… get your logo imprinted on it and make it so. Lighters, patches, pins, earrings, necklaces, shoelaces, guitar straps, sunglasses… I don’t know.. dream big.

Make sure you shop around. There are some great deals out there. And the more you order, the less it will cost you. But the more you order, the more you will need to sell. DO NOT order anything until you know the quality of the product. Make sure the vendor can meet deadline and deliver a product you would be proud to sell. If you sell crappy merch… you are reflecting on yourself… not the vendor.

Various merch and band swag.

Now, aside from merchandise, which you sell, you’ve got to think about band swag. This is going to be the freebies you give out during shows or when promoting yourself to magazines, clubs, and distribution points for your albums. Look to the big companies to see just how much importance is given to swag.

Each year I love going to trade shows and festivals just to see what the new freebies are out there. Right now I’m drinking from a McCoy’s Building Supply Center cup and using a University Star (the school paper of Texas State University- San Marcos) pen to jot down notes on my Tanger Outlet Mall notepad. Yes, I went to the San Marcos Business Expo last month. I also came away with a variety of toys (rubber ball, Frisbee, etc) from the Embassy Suites Hotel, A LOT of pens and pencils, business cards, letter opener, and assorted other goodies. How much Macintosh, Harley Davidson, Dell, or Nike stuff do you see on an average day? What’s on your keychain?

The point is, there are some interesting things out there you can use to make yourself known.

If you’re a party band, order some beachballs with your logo and Website on it to throw out into the crowd. If the band autographs it, it will be that much more memorable. Practice safe music and put your logo on condoms. Print your info on matchbooks. Make some pens. I’ve seen some bands put their logos on rolling papers. Order a bunch of suckers and stick your logo on them. Make business cards with a link to a digital download.

Get a gazillion stickers printed with your logo and website. Sticker anyone who will wear is and tag all your gear (and anyone else’s who will let you). Always carry a stack with you and put your sticker in bathrooms (I’m not talking just any bathroom…the ones who allow stickers like the Red Eyed Fly) and anywhere else in public they allow.
Red Eyed Fly Bathroom (photo by Empire Primitive)

You know your audience. What would YOU want to get for free at a show? What would make YOU want to find out more about a band? Give that to people at your show.

What do I collect? I’ve been interviewing bands, taking photos, and going to shows as a journalist since 1996. I keep most of my printed tickets. I’ve got an extensive guitar pick collection. National bands like Marilyn Manson and KISS as well as locals like Snake Skin Prison, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Nooner. I’ve also been collecting old drumsticks signed by the band that played them, and one of the coolest things I have is a drumhead that Ben Mills from Rockshow Promotions gave me a few years ago when we did an INsite Night with his former band Nooner. I’ve got a tambourine that was left at the first ever Backwoods Bash which I had all of the organizers sign. My idea of swag is “band used.” But I’m not the “normal fan now… am I?

Fans appreciate when they are appreciated… and free stuff says “we like you.”

Until next week. 

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/.

October 1, 2010

Week 2: Social Media

(This is Week 2 of my Fifty-Two Weeks of Music Do-It-Yourself advice)
Week 2: Tweet your Facebook all over MySpace.

The Set Up: Let’s assume you have booked a show… since you are a band. So… next step is promoting said show. We’re going to call this one “New School” promotion. (Because last week’s was “Old School.”)

There are a whole heaping helping of great (and not so great) things out there on the internet you can use to promote a show. Most of them are free… or dirt cheap. Treat this blog like a checklist, did you blog? CHECK… Did you create a Facebook Event? CHECK. Did you tweet? CHECK… and so on.
(All logos are property of the places from where they came.)

People forget.. e-mail is the original online social media. You really need to create and maintain a list of people who are interested in your music (have them sign up at shows) and keep them informed about your show. There are several options of places you can use for e-mail campaigns, and if you get a list long enough… maybe you should consider it. For now, a personal email from the band will work. Oh and to get a personal e-mail from the band you should probably have…. (read on)

If someone wants to know about your band, where do they go? You should have a point page for them. If you have the time, money and resources you can have yourself a pretty dynamic page. If you have some talented friends you may be able to get the same, but I tell you this… most of the time you get what you pay for. Friends and business seldom work out as swimmingly as you thought when you were playing pool at the Red Eyed Fly and your friend says “Hey, I can make a site for you.” And you say “Cool man.”

Put all of your show information under a “Gigs / Shows / Tour / See me” tab. Make sure you keep it updated. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone to a bands website and the last show they tout is 2 months ago.

There are many free blog options out there. The most popular (for the moment) seem to be WordPress and Blogger. You can also port that blog over to another site so it can come from your band page instead of having a blogspot address (which is something I’ve not done with my blog… so I’m not really sure about the importance of that). The point is… have a blog. Keep posting on it at least twice a week. It can be something as simple as “The drummer made pork chops this week and here’s his recipe.” Or something having to do with the band, the music, sharing video, songs, gig information.

The point is, if you post to your blog regularly (give each member of your band a day they need to blog.. so everyone shares 1 thing a week) you will have people regularly visiting your blog. If people visit your blog, they will see when you post your show information.

Twitter – Does your band have a Twitter page? Does each member have an account? Do you talk about the behind the scenes stuff that happens within the band? Are you being interactive with your fans? Are you seeking out fans of similar genres (“following” or inviting them to “follow” you)? Are you tweeting things that people find interesting/funny/informative? Do you tell people that there’s a show coming up and share a link to a place where they can find out more? You may think Twitter is a big waste of time… tell that to the guy who started tweeting “Shit My Dad Says.” He’s now got a book  AND it’s a CBS show starring William Shatner now. Shit for Shat. That’s funny. Hopefully thinking and typing “shit for Shat” isn’t funnier than the show, I’ve not seen it yet. The point is, 140 characters doesn’t take much time to type, it’s free, and it may get a butt or two through the door.

What MySpace was five years ago, Facebook is now… and more. For your show you need to make an event, invite all of your local and area contacts. Make each one of the bands on the bill an administrator of the event so they can do the same. Do me a favor and don’t just invite ALL of your friends. The dude in Michigan doesn’t care about your show in Las Vegas… really.  The more people who hear about your show the more likely they will darken the door of the club you are playing. Facebook is wonderful for this.

Thoughts About Event Posting on Facebook:
1.     Create your event as soon as you book it, and invite people about 3 weeks out. People who want to attend your show probably aren’t sure what’s planned that weekend yet. They can plan on going to YOUR show.
2.     Don’t just make an event and post it on your wall thinking everyone will see it. They won’t. Invite people.
3.     Don't assume publications who have a facebook page will look at your event. They won’t. Post it to their page.
4.     Here’s a twofold one.
a.     Don’t just post about your event once. That’s not enough for people to care
b.     Don’t post about your event 100 times in 3 weeks. That’s just annoying.

YouTube is the place where the world goes when they want to find music videos. Yes, there’s a few others out there, but YouTube is the one everyone knows about. It really doesn’t take much to create a 30 second to 1 minute “video invite” to the show. Some people like to do skits, some just use it to create that band-to-fan direct invite. How you do it doesn’t matter. Make sure you include a graphic with all of the information needed (you know, the stuff you needed to put on your poster?). There is not an indie band I've found that executes the promotional power of YouTube as much as Austin's Full Service. (One Eyed Doll comes close).

MySpace is dead. Nobody goes there anymore for social interaction. BUT… MySpace is still a good place to put up our show information and some songs so people can hear what you sound like.  If you don’t have a Webpage, MySpace can act as your page. If you have a MySpace, keep it current. For daily interactions with real people, stick to Facebook.

Austin-based Sites:
DO512.comDO512.com is a really nice site for the promotion of Austin Entertainment. It’s got a nice format where you can share the poster (you remembered to do that from last week. right?), links to each band’s MySpace, and venue information. You can even put in a message to the fine folks at DO512 and they may take an interest in your show. With INsite, I like to give a pair of tickets away through DO512 just by people clicking “I Like It” on the listing. Bonus: if enough people click “I Like It” the show makes their weekly blog to all subscribers. How’s that for free advertising?

DoubleStereo.comA really cool page where bands can sell everything from their music to their t-shirts, and the homepage has a blog w/interviews and updates. You can also embed your twitter account and have links to outside sites through here. Not so much a tool to promote a single show, but it’s something you need to consider. Perhaps another week I’ll dedicate to sites like these.

showlistaustin.comJust another option for where you can post your show information.

Other band-related sites:
The two I’m hearing about the most right now are ReverbNation and Bandcamp. Revebnation is kind of like an electronic Press Kit where you can house everything from your music to a bio to your preferred stage set-up. I’ve seen Bandcamp used by musicians to sell and/or give away their music. It seems like a useful tool. I don’t know much about either one of these, but these are the ones I’m hearing about.

Ah, instant gratification. Just for kicks, do this at your show. When the first band goes on, ask anyone who has a FourSquare or Gowalla account to update that they are at your show. Ask people to Twitter where they are. Ask them to update their Facebook the same. Tell ‘em anyone who comes to the door saying they saw it on Facebook/Twitter/Foursquare/Gowalla and came because of that gets $2 off admission. Will it work? I don't know. But darn wouldn’t it be cool if it did?

No single one of these things listed above is the THING to do. In order to properly execute promotion for a show, you should really try and do as many of these things as possible. Remember, you know how awesome your band is, but don’t assume the general public does. You need to earn that cover price for the show. And the show itself isn’t where you earn it, the promotion brings them to the door before they’ve seen you play lick one live.

Next week, I’ll talk about your merch. You DO sell merch at your shows,, don’t you?

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/.