How Do I Make Sure My Album Is a Success?
By: Jessica Hopper
[Editor's Note: Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist, and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.]
My band Swearwords have been playing together for a while now-- we've put out two well-received EPs and have filled some of the crucial rooms in Chicago. This year, we'll be releasing our first full-length and touring the Midwest and both coasts. Any advice for keeping the momentum going and priming the pump before the next push?
This is a great question to be considering a few months in advance of your album release. Too often bands only think about doing things after the record is out, overlooking crucial set up. It is worth getting a head start, rather than scrambling once the thing is out. For the most part, it sounds like you are on track--doing a lap around the country for good measure, working on getting decent local shows. That is some of the harder work involved.
Start working on promotion around town--even if your album isn't due out until September. While you don't want to preempt all the press you want to get around the album's release, now is a good time to get on people's radar. Start inviting writers that cover local music, DJs who have local music shows and Chicago-area bloggers out to shows and working on introducing them to your band's work. Drop them a few-sentence email and let them know where you are in the process of making the album. For some journalists/writers, that is a part of the process they like to cover. Maybe you get a news item out of you being in the studio.
Let them know when you are anticipating releasing the record--even if it is six months from now. Maybe someone will want to have you in to talk about the making of new album on their show/podcast before it is out, debut some tracks. The thing you are working on is getting a trickle of attention going and gaining useful contacts.
You want to be consistent, not pushy. A simple two-line email inviting them to any bigger show you are playing about a week before the show is ideal. You do not need to invite them to every show. Things that can help develop a rapport: tell them if there is another awesome band on the bill, or that you agreed/disagreed (respectfully) with their review of a new record, respond to one of their tweets--just something that isn't like MY BAND MY BAND OMG PLEASE LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT MY BAND, all desperation robot style. You are paving the way in advance so that you have a direct route to them once it is time to drop the album.
If you would like to hire a publicist/radio/marketing for your album promotion, three to six months out is the time to start shopping for them. Ask bands you know, bookers, folks at small labels for recommendations, find out whom they usually hire (or if they do). If the new album is a departure from your existing material, having demos of two or three songs will be useful in this process, if you do not have the entire album already in the bag.
Network with other bands with more touring experience and see if you can't find folks who want to do weekends. One of the great things about Chicago is the Midwestern college town circuit. Play some shows with bands that aren't an exact fit with your indie rock pop sound. Make yourself known to other scenes, other fanbases.
Your website is pretty solid, utilitarian. Like that Downtown Chicago in glowing reggae colors graphic. Make sure you have a few songs that are downloadable, a press photo that is downloadable (both high and web resolution) with the band members ID'd left to right, and a bio that is actually about your band. The amount of bios I get from bands where there is no useful information--the names of members, where they are from, who produced the album, what they might sound like, how many records they've made previously, how long they have been together--is staggering. If there is anything special about the album or the song that one might not instantly derive from listening--a concept, theme, inspiration, it is useful to mention that as well. Make sure your online shiz serves you well and is functional and all connected.
Since you are investing a lot of effort and (probably) money into your band at this point, make sure you have all your insurance ducks in a row. Everyone in the band should have renters insurance; having gear stolen can jeopardize your existences as a band (see also: fellow Chicagoans Nude Sunrise, currently trying to raise funds after being robbed of all their gear). Renters insurance is, like, $8-12 a month if you tack it on to an auto policy. Go visit your insurance agent and make sure you have a policy that covers your van being broken in to, and make sure the policy accurately reflects what it would take to replace all your gear. Ask all the annoying what if questions you can think of. Document your gear: take photos, get serial numbers, and any documentation on it. Make a couple copies of all that business and each of you stash one in a safe place.
All that stuff is the unsexy end of the hustle, so make sure to throw in something fun. Start a tumblog, screen some shirts, start a band zine, make a mixtape for your fans, come up with a contest that happens at your shows, play a birthday party, do an elaborately staged publicity photo or, perhaps, nurse a rivalry with another band. Everyone loves a good beef.
Good luck with your album and have a safe tour.
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