July 28, 2011

Week 42: Where Are You Headed?

Know Where You’ll Be

In case you don’t know me, I support local music. I really am a fan of homegrown talent. Luckily, I live near Austin, Texas so it’s pretty easy to find good music (although I’ll admit there is A LOT of music I wouldn’t want to hear again that I’ve heard in Austin). Sometimes bands and entertainers make it harder than it should be to support them though.

One thing could make it much easier. This is the subject of this week’s message. Know your schedule. If you’re gigging, know where you’ll be next. It’s pretty simple. Like I’ve said many times before, music is your job. Treat it as such. Know your work hours.

Now, I’ve had two separate instances happen this week that made me want to write about this subject. 

The Facebook Music Share Incident

I’m a member of the Facebook group “I Support ATX Hip-Hop. Do You?” There’s a member who posts songs, videos, and the like almost every day to promote himself. That’s great. I finally asked him where he played so I might be able to catch his performance. His response was “anywhere that pays.” I still don’t know where he actually performs. Promoting your music doesn’t work too well if you can’t tell someone where they can go to support you. 

Roots and Branches of Americana Taping

Tuesday night I was invited to be a member of the audience of a live-broadcast radio show. It was New Braunfels radio station KNBT’s Roots and Branches of Americana, hosted by Ray Wylie Hubbard. The set-up is, there are 2-3 performers who sit up on stage, perform a few songs and in between Hubbard interviews them. Pretty simple.

One of the performers did a song and afterwards, Hubbard asked him where he was playing next. He didn’t know. I looked him up (because I recorded 2 videos of him and wanted to get the song names), come to find out he’s got 9 gigs in the next 3 weeks, and one of them is in the town where the radio station broadcasts out of. You know, KNBT is a REALLY big deal in Americana music circles. This is where many artists consider having gotten their start. All this is to say, it’s not a Podunk radio station in a town where nobody is listening. If you get a chance to be on the show KNOW WHERE YOU’RE PLAYING NEXT.

Now, I’m not saying anything negative about the music.  I loved all three performers from the Roots and Branches gig (walked away with 2 autographed CDs, including the person I mentioned above) and I’m sure the Hip-Hop guy would be great live. That isn’t the issue. My issue is, nobody is going to be able to see you live if YOU don’t know when you’ll be playing.
These are just two examples of things that I saw this week. It happens more than you know. Musicians on every step of the fame ladder fault at this one, so to the two I mention above, just know you’re not alone. But, as a professional, it is something that should be second nature to you. You should always know where your next few gigs are going to be. ESPECIALLY if you’re doing a radio show.

Eh... saw this and thought I'd share.

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/

July 14, 2011

Week 40: Wasted Potential

(This is Week 40 of my Fifty-Two Weeks of Music Do-It-Yourself Music advice)

Don't Waste My Time
and Your Potential

If there’s one thing that bothers me in the music world, it’s wasted potential. Bands that just don’t try.

I’m not talking about bands that make great music effortlessly, I’m talking about the bands who have a good thing going, but for some reason they don’t work on promoting themselves. 

They don’t release songs, cut an album, work on postering, cultivate a following, get press, learn about bands they’d play well with, invite people to shows, have a Facebook and Twitter account OR Website.

Band who Wastes Potential
1. Has a great album and is not doing anything to promote it.
2. Even when asked about the band, doesn’t like to talk about it.
3. Have no idea when and where the next gig is, when asked.
4. Pulls a no-show with no excuse for a scheduled interview.
5. Shows up, performs, and leaves without interacting off stage.
These are usually the bands that complain the loudest, too. I call these bands the product of living a life of entitlement. Band members EXPECT things to happen for them because they’ve never had to work for anything in their life, so why should music be any different? 

OK... Before I get into calling people “whippersnappers” and shake my tiny fist at the young’ns I’ll digress. 

Fact: Nothing is owed to you.
Fact: You have to earn your fanbase.
Fiction: As long as you play well people will come.
Fact: If you don’t draw people into shows, the venue won’t invite you back.
Fact: There are a lot of options out there, you are in charge of making people aware that you are playing. You have to make them decide that they should not only choose your band over every other band playing at a multitude of venues, but also choose you over going to a movie, bowling, sitting at home watching Netflix, wandering around downtown, or hanging out in their backyard with a beer and a couple of buddies.

Don’t waste your potential. It’s VERY easy to get the word out about your band… and it can fairly inexpensive as well. As I stated in an earlier article, even if you have to hand-draw a show flyer… badly, it’s better than not doing anything at all.

Do you think you’ve wasted potential? Want to change?
  • Do you have a Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and Twitter account?
  • Do you update them and use them?
  • Do you have a website? Updated?
  • When is the last time you invited people to a show in person?
  • When is the last time you emailed or called a radio station to ask to be on a show to promote a gig?
  • When’s the last time you uploaded a song to YouTube?
  • When’s the last time you posted photos of your shows?
  • When’s the last time you called or emailed a magazine about your gig?
  • Do you walk the streets telling people about your gigs?
  • Have you handed your demo out to people you respect and admire in the music business?
  • When you do get press, do you announce it to your fans?
  • Have you ever actually written a press release about your band?
  • Do you know the names of 5 music writers in your city? Have you contacted them?
  • Have you been available to play benefits and festivals, even though you don’t get paid?
  • Do you carry a few CDs or demos with you wherever you go… and hand them out?

If you’re not thinking about pushing your band forward, why should anyone else?

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/

July 8, 2011

Week 39: What goes Around....

Treat Every Interview Like It's For Rolling Stone.
aka: What Goes Around Comes Around.

I’m an entertainment writer. My specialty is music. Friends who aren’t completely into music don’t get me. I don’t have the newest CD that is being promoted on radio. I couldn’t really name 3 of the top 10 songs on the charts right now. I don’t know when your favorite band is coming to town. I can’t tell you who won American Idol (and I stopped watching The Voice when Austin’s Nakia was no longer on). So… how can I be an entertainment writer?
Monte Montgomery - Look him up.

Here’s the deal. 15 years into me being a writer, 10 years as a managing editor of an entertainment magazine and 4 years as an owner of an entertainment magazine, I’m not interested in interviewing the “Rolling Stone Big” bands out there. When I talk music, I tend to talk about bands that are local Austin, Texas bands, many of whom still have day jobs to make ends meet. I actually KNOW the bands I write about. I’ve talked to many of them before interviewing them. I usually attend a show and see how a band is live after listening to their music to see if it is a project I’m interested in writing about.

Now, could I interview big names? Sure. I have all of the connections to do so. The only person I’ve failed to interview that I really wanted to is George Strait… and it’s easier to watch a movie while texting in Alamo Drafthouse than it is to interview that man.

So, why did I choose to take this path in my writing career? I’ll explain it to you by telling you this story.
College me w/ Robert Earl Keen

In 1996 I was a college student trying to learn how to be an entertainment writer. I’d been a writer for a few years, but when I moved up to attend college in San Marcos, Texas (Southwest Texas State University... GO BOBCATS) I joined the student newspaper. I ended up writing for the official entertainment magazine (Galaxy Magazine) of SWT.

The first time I secured a major interview with a big name (NOT anyone pictured BTW), I called them up and they treated me like I was some 3rd grade dropout they were too good to talk to. This happened a few more times in the next few years.. and it always seemed to be the big names that did it.

Now, I understand, when you’re a star, or a star on the rise, you’ve got to schedule interviews in blocks. You could do 30 a day, in 15 miute intervals. You get the same question every call. By the 4th call you’re sick and tired of talking about your influences, the meaning behind your one radio hit, and what it was like to hear your song on the radio for the first time. I get that. It’s not lost on me. BUT… every time you treat a media person like crap, you are setting yourself up for a negative write-up AND you’ve lost a champion for your band. Forever.

One-Eyed Doll and I in 2008.
I chose to write about the “undiscovered” bands because I felt that they got it. They were still hungry. They appreciated me taking the time out of MY day as much as I appreciated them taking the time out of their day. It was mutual. Nobody loses, everyone wins.

Now, have I encountered some indie bands that are still unknown that give me the cold shoulder and make conducting an interview sound like they are being inconvenienced? Sure. You’ve just never heard me talk about them because I’m not the guy you can walk on and then have me promote you. I’m a firm believer in the idea of “No publicity is bad publicity as long as you spell my name right.”

I booked Nellie McKay in 2009.
Very interesting in person AND music.

If you’re reading this, chances are you aren’t one of the people I just referred to. And if you are, well, be aware that the newbie college reporter you just gave the cold shoulder to may just end up owning an entertainment magazine in a major music city someday. A magazine where you’ll never be mentioned.

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/