We're gonna start 2011 by being servicey. We have seen too many talented bands (and the PR people they pay) squander opportunities and/or generally make our lives in the music press difficult. We thought we'd give you our (100% unsolicited) advice on how your band can go about making everything even more difficult for yourselves, your fans, and, well, us, in 2011.
Here's the Top Ten Ways to Make Your Band an Epic Fail in 2011:
10. Regarding a website as optional
Look, people: if you are a band or musician and you don't have a website, you are making it impossible for fans, blogs and journalists to figure out who you are, what you sound like, and, especially, where the hell you're playing. This should be so obvious as to go without saying but there are a ridiculous number of bands out there that either a) don't have a website or b) simply link to their label's website without knowing (or caring?) that the label hasn't bothered to post anything about upcoming shows recently. Or even ever. And by website, by the way, we don't just mean a Myspace account. At one time, a band could just get away with MySpace, provided it updated its upcoming shows regularly and provided reliable contact information; this is no longer the case, given that it is bleeding money and the music interface redesign has not gone over as well as hoped.
9. Having a website but failing to include any relevant information.
We cannot tell you how many times we have thought about including a band in our Picks section, and been unable to do so because the band has neglected to post relevant or timely information. If you're playing, tell your fans when and where, and how much it is, for God's sake. If you have an album out, include easily accessible info about when it came out or will come out, the tracklist, and the label. If you have PR, tell us who it is and how to contact them. If you don't have PR, tell us how to get ahold of you if we have questions. A surprisingly large number of sites contain no information about PR, upcoming shows, or upcoming albums, and it's sort of unfathomable.
8. Making it impossible to find high-res PR photos.
Commercial music-oriented blogs and sites, like any other commercial blogs or sites, are content-driven. Bloggers are required to post frequently, and write quickly. A blogger or web editor who wishes to run a post on a band almost always needs to accompany a given post with a photo, but bands often make it impossible to figure out which are their PR photos. This puts the blogger in the unsatisfactory position of either a) not running the post on the band or b) having to simply guess at which photos are PR and which aren't, thus running the risk of using a photo without permission. [Ed.'s note: Memo to a local band that rhymes with Bo Page--you might think it's cute do do promo photos covering your face, but guess what? Nobody else does! Save those for the scrapbook and get some actual face-showing promo pics done, mmmkay?]
7. Sending us a CD with no identifiable characteristics, accompanied by a biography on a completely separate piece of paper.
No, seriously. People do this. Lots of people. Look, we get tons of CDs from bands hoping to be included for review or picks or whatever. As we get the mail, we open it and put it in a big bin to go over at editorial meetings, once every few days. By the time we sit down to go over everything, the bin is filled with maybe fifty CDs, and fifty pieces of paper containing contact information and a biography of the band. If the CD is clearly marked, it's not a big deal to find the accompanying piece of paper, should we have an interest. However, an unfathomable number of CDs are unmarked and in plain sleeves or clear jewel boxes, making it impossible to figure out whose music it is or why we should care.
6. Never bringing anything to your shows that might lead fans to remember who you are or where to find you.
Unless you are Lady Gaga or Madonna, you probably play shows with more than one band on the bill and fans are probably not necessarily familiar with all the bands that are playing [Ed.'s note: slightly unhygienic white dudes in T-shirts? They do look alike!]. The people in the audience therefore might be there specifically to see you; they might be there to see someone else but accidentally see you and happen to like you. But if you have no buttons, pins, CDs, teeshirts, business cards, or flyers, fans will have no way of remembering who you are or where to find you ever again.
5. Believing in this newly packaged narrative of the American dream.
Bear with us and hear this out. Admittedly, this is a difficult time for bands. The narrative surrounding bands like OK Go has led to the idea that if only bands are awesome enough, they'll make a great DIY video with treadmills or whatever and it will end up going viral on YouTube and then because these bands are so awesome, they'll be rich and famous simply because they are so very awesome, and not because corporations and record labels are telling fans what to like. Remember, this is the internet, which magically erases all social hierarchies and internet users decide what they like for themselves without help from record labels or big corporations. Thus, the democratizing force of the internet, acting in combination with the free market, will simply reward amazing bands who have an amazing product by giving them tons of views and success will follow! The problem with these narratives (both the one about bands and success, and the neo-classical economic theory one. And the one about a democratic internet) is that they are all completely false.
OK Go was not just some little neighborhood band from Chicago who made a cutesy DIY video and were surprised to find themselves catapulted to fame; they were signed to a major label at the time of that album's release. The album got terrible reviews, but they still performed at the MTV video awards in 2006, and then the album started selling more units and everybody saw that video with the treadmills. The story of OK Go is part and parcel of this idea that if only you are incredible, and give away that incredibleness for free on the internet, you'll get somewhere. Don't believe it.
4. Not treating your band as you would any other business. If you just want to screw around with your friends at a practice space a couple times a week, and play the local Shitty McCrappy's Irish tavern here and there and make enough money to just pay for the practice space and new guitar strings and drum sticks, there's nothing wrong with that. But if you want to achieve some level of success beyond playing to a packed out night at Shitty McCrappy's , you'll have to work a little harder than that. For example, Flying Lotus, who is a genius, is up every day at 9 am working on his craft. The people who have found success in music are inevitably the people who have either been total geniuses, or hard workers, or both. So if you want your band to reach the echelons of regional, or even national acclaim, you have to work at it. And, while we're on this subject: businesses advertise. Does your band? There are indie websites and zines and magazines out there that are distributed to tens of thousands of music fans and offer advertising at really reasonable rates. Why not take out an ad in order to tell people about your record release party, and see what happens?
3. Never listening to other people's music and having no idea about the founding bands in your genre.
It is not a coincidence that Madlib and Oh No and Gaslamp Killer are voracious listeners and world-class collectors as well as world-class musicians. If you play in a punk band, for example, and you've never heard of the Slits or the Sex Pistols or Crass or the Nuns or anything, you're depriving yourself of the ability to contextualize your music and the potential to engage in any innovation. One of the best music journalists in the country once told me that in order to be really fluent in a genre, you have to know at least twenty bands in it, And by "genre", he didn't mean something broad like "punk"; he meant like, "British punk in the 1980s" or something. And after you know twenty of those bands, then you should know which twenty bands influenced those twenty bands.
2. Buying into bullshit about appearances over substance.
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Are you Katy Perry? Probably not. In that case, you should probably focus on the music your band is making instead of what the people in your band look like. These are not, of course, mutually exclusive endeavors. You can do both at the same time in theory; in practice, however, bands often focus on one at the expense of the other. Example: if you need, say, a guitarist, and the best guitarist you can find is also overweight or old or fails in some other way to conform to normative standards of beauty, and you reject him or her just on those grounds alone, then you should potentially reconsider your priorities. Same too for rejecting a potential member simply because you don't want a "girl" in your band, and yes, we've heard of this happening more times than we wish to recount. Foundational or critically acclaimed bands that have included female members, or even been led by women, include the Slits, Sonic Youth, the Velvet Underground, Stereolab, the Feelies, PJ Harvey, the Pixies, the Breeders, the Pandoras, the Runaways, the Raincoats, Thee Headcoatees, (Australian) X, X, Mika Miko, Blondie, Hole, Autolux, ESG, Chicks on Speed, Shonen Knife, the Vivian Girls, Suzi Quattro, and many many many more than we ever could name.
And the Number One way to make your band an epic fail in 2011 is:
1. Don't let everyone contribute to his or her full potential.
Unless one of the people in your band is a millionaire, you are probably a small and underfunded organization with a limited amount of time and energy. So if your bass player, for example, also happens to have some web design skills, you're an idiot for telling him not to design your website because you think he'll clutter it with too many little animated gifs. Or because you figure you're just going to wait for the day that you're signed to a label and can rest on your laurels because the label will have taken care of all of it. A small and underfunded organization can survive and even thrive if it uses the talents and energy of everyone involved. So use them to your advantage and see how much farther you can go!.