This post is excerpted from Martin Atkins’ book, Welcome To The Music Business, You’re Fucked. In it, he waxes poetic (in his own twisted way) on various topics as they relate to being an independent music artist, including…
Having a strategy
I know people who spend more time planning Thanksgiving dinner than their careers.
I love Sun Tzu’s quote from The Art of War, “never take your country to war unless you are sure of the outcome.” Well, let’s change that to, “never take your band to perform in Cleveland unless you are sure some people will show up!” Actually, it should be, “never arbitrarily decide to take your band anywhere except where your fans already are and you have demonstrated that there are enough of them to start something (even if its just a hand of poker).” OK?
There are so many ways to track your fans. Bandcamp.com enables you to exchange free music in different quality formats for an e-mail address and the very, VERY important ZIP CODE. YouTube is now the second largest search engine and has amazing tools to help you look at your data geographically. TopSpin amalgamates many of the features that are out there into a new platform. The Orchard has their heat map. MySpace is frantically adding tools to help bands, and there’s also Reverbnation, Nimbit, and add-ons from North Social and many, many more… USE THEM.
Yes, this is a double edged sword. Stay on top of the newest innovations, platforms and tools, but don’t be a slave to them. USE the tools that work for you, don’t let them use and consume you. That’s part of the new requirement of an artist: surfing on top of the storm of innovations, using the ones that work for you to underline and reinforce your vision, not diluting it with pre-packaged templates that are in someone else’s shrink-wrapped, stackable voice.
This is very simple, if you don’t know YOUR unique business, how can you possibly know the qualities you want in (say) an agent? Or the number and type of shows that work best for your band? If you haven’t done the research (in the form of live shows), how do you know what your most popular songs are?
Sure you can look at your downloads and plays, but it’s in front of a live audience that you can FEEL just how good a song is. Playing a song live is where you’ll find out where it drags, where it works and where it doesn’t. If the audience stands up and walks out – there’s a hint for ya… Push as hard as you can and learn as much as you can before you bring more people in to help.
The first shirt you design and order will be a shirt that doesn’t sell very well in the wrong sizes and the wrong colors. You’ll know as soon as you set it out on your merchandise booth that’s it’s NEVER going to sell, but you’ll keep trying to sell it anyway. That’s natural. You paid for them and you should sell them all before you order more, right? NO!
As soon as you realize it’s a design that no one wants – ditch it! It pollutes the vibe of your merchandise booth, AND it traps you in the past. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was that you realized it was a bad, poorly executed design. It makes no difference whether it was one week one year or one minute ago… it’s time for version 2.0! That’s the value of the first bad shirt – using it as a learning platform for the next one.
Practice this with your songs too!
Performing – not just playing
Stop gazing at your shoes. Put on a show. People go to see a show, not to hear a show. Watch a video of your performance and do more of the good stuff and less of the silly stuff. (Unless the silly stuff is amazing silly stuff then ignore my advice.) Play songs people want to hear, not just your newest ones. The audience won’t know them, yet, and they might not like them. Just because the songs are new to you doesn’t mean jack. Familiarity is important. You are working for the audience, not the other way around.
Practicing for Catastrophe
It’s not about being able to put on a great performance when everything is perfect (monitors, underwear, quantity of whisky, stage height, lights, PA system, dressing room, availability of toilets, crowd response, etc.). It’s about being amazing when you absolutely shouldn’t, and any self-respecting, spoiled artist would have thrown down their instruments and stormed off stage in a huff.
Practice at being great in impossible situations. Laugh in the face of adversity, practice in three inches of water with only four strings on your guitar, piss dripping on your head, being electrocuted by faulty wiring and the microphone cutting in and out while the drummer is angrily throwing lit cigarettes in to your backpack which contains charcoal and lighter fluid in the event of an impromptu barbeque. Give yourself electric cattle prod shocks every time you gaze at your shoes and smile, smile, smile.
Because that’s EVERY gig you’ll ever play. The last thing you need is a plush, luxurious rehearsal space with reliable equipment.
Martin Atkins was a member of Public Image Ltd and Killing Joke. He founded industrial supergroup Pigface, The Damage Manual, and Murder Inc., and has contributed to Nine Inch Nails and Ministry. He is the owner of Invisible Records and Mattress Factory Recording Studios (est. 1988). He is the author of Tour:Smart and Break the Band, is a syndicated blogger, and teaches at Madison Media Institute in Madison, WI. Martin is a producer, drummer, documentary film maker, DJ, and father of four. Whatever the future of music is, you can pretty much bet that he’ll be in the middle of it.
The content in this post was excerpted from Martin’s new book, Welcome To The Music Business, You’re Fucked. Click here to download your free PDF copy now.