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.
As someone who has been working in music since before the great music industry fall of 2008, I have seen folks, including myself, desperately trying to figure out how to keep making a living, and how to spend money wisely. Bands who once could afford a manager, booking agent, licensing, PR, etc, now can only afford one, and try to push the boundaries of their hired help to do as many of those as they can. Part of me wants to help in this way – sure, I'll help you book a show or two. Sure, I'll help you find a photographer. I care about your band and want it to succeed. However, when do you say no without offending anyone that you're trying to help?
It's funny how the publicist always gets turned into band mom, or, more aptly, the momager.
You have three choices: 1. Politely decline all side tasks offered (“I'd love to help you but it's beyond my expertise, you should contact This Other Person.”) and keep on truckin'. 2. When you start working with a band outline what your fees as a publicist cover and say that your charge $100/hour for consulting beyond that. 3. If you can anticipate that you will say yes and/or get suckered into stuff, just charge more from the outset – say $300 more per month.
Recently a friend told me I have some good songs and some sucky ones. I record in short bursts and find some merit in the transparency and imperfections, which admittedly are frequent. I want to do studio recordings with time and care, but I'm broke. would it even be worth it? Am I onto something or nothing at all?
Perhaps you know this, but I “follow' you on Bandcamp so I am acquainted with your very lo-fi and very prolific output, so yes, you are on to something. Though “on to” and “something” are obviously subjective terms. Most bands have both good and sucky songs; your friend is just pointing out the obvious. Who is this friend offering unsolicited advice, anyway – Irving Azoff? Who cares what your friends think. If you wanted to make popular music, you wouldn't be putting out cassettes with 26 tracks on them that sounded like they were recorded on an answering machine. Tell your friend it's art and that they can fuck off and go listen to the Foo Fighters if they want to hear smooth music.
So, my first EP got a lot of attention when I released it a couple years ago. I wanted to give it away because it didn't cost me anything to make. I wanted to get it to as many people as possible. So I didn't copyright it. I gave it to the FreeMusicArchive and set a $0.00 price on BandCamp. I saw a lot of downloads and the occasional $5 donation here and there. I also received a lot of love from blogs I respected from all across the board. Radio stations added it to their library playlist both locally and internationally. When it came to release my full-length LP this year, I decided to copyright it as well as putting a $5 price tag on it. The response was overwhelmingly positive, more blog write ups and shares on social media. But a month or so after the LP was released I saw a significant dip in sales and interest. How do I keep listeners coming back to the site? How does one maintain word of mouth through the internet once the initial drop has happened?
Sure, you could make it free, but I think the more useful thing to do is go on tour and hire an experienced tour publicist if you can swing it. Make sure you have a proprietary site with a press page – hi-res photo, a half decent bio, links to these nice reviews. Tour press always favors folks touring on a release, but tour press is ultimately tied to dates and not album hooks. Hit cities or college towns where you did well with radio and capitalize on it with regional, local, daily and college press. If you do not have the bucks for a tour publicist, just ask every promoter for a press list and advance it yourself. If you only have a teeny bit of money, buy a press list from a trusted publicist and hire an assistant/paid intern who is savvy and wants to break into the music business to help you with such a task.