DIY: Music Promo

Neil Conway on promotion for musicians.

DIY promotion for musicians eh?

First of all, I don’t recommend that you reeeeally do it all yourself. Do you realize how much work that is?

Unless you’re a one-person graphic artist, web designer, press writer, promoter, secretary, telemarketer, photographer, networking sociopath and business manager, you’ll eventually need some help. You probably don’t have money to pay all these people, but you can try to divvy out the work among your band mates and friends. As far as I’m concerned, getting your friends to help out is still DIY. It’s not like your making an ashtray or home brew or something—the music biz is nuts!

But it doesn’t have to be so complicated at first.

Before you get ahead of yourself with websites and press releases and all that, remember that the best way to promote music is to make “good” music. Better yet, what you need is a stellar show. People might be lured with nice posters, media coverage, a slick demo, and the likes but if you don’t deliver the goods in a live setting, they ain’t coming back. Sure, fire up the hype machine in advance, but when you start doing shows it is imperative that you don’t suck. Even if you get way better soon afterwards, some people will remember you as the band they didn’t like.

Word of mouth can go either way.

Now everyone will go about it differently, but essentially what you are doing is branding. I hate to admit it, but when it comes to music, image is key. A band to be jealous of for this? The Idlers. Even if you’ve never gone skanking to their beat, you know they’re around. The same dude designed their album art, website and all those impressive posters. Not only does it all look great, but it draws a consistent picture of the band as a fun bunch of cartoons. So come up with a logo and take some band photos (not that I’ve ever done that myself, but it’s still my advice.) You want to appeal to the people who will like your music—so stick to your style. Know your market and target it.

It’s like darts.

There are lots of resources on the internet and in books that give you the specifics of how this racket works. I’m not claiming to know what will make you blow up on the local scene and beyond, but here are some pointers that may or may not apply to you:

Record a 2-3 song demo of your deadliest gear.

Build an online presence through sites like MySpace, Facecrack and YouTube but keep an eye on your watch/calendar—you could get sucked out of reality.

Get your own damn website and make sure there’s music on it.

Design a “one sheet” with your bio, photo, press quotes and contact info on an 8.5 by 11” page.

Send it with your demo to apply for those sweet sweet gigs and grants.

Send it with your album to radio stations and publications for review—but narrow it down. Indie kids: it’s so easy to send to all the Canadian College Stations—just do it! Then do some radio tracking. It’s not hard to make those charts. They need your Canadian content. Go to right now.

Expose yourself to new audiences both on tour and at home.

Join associations like MusicNL and NLMA or even the ECMA if you’re a keener.

Network with other bands and promoters and follow up on those contacts.

Keep mailing lists. Send press releases and news but be sensitive to spam.

Have some good taste and new ideas—yup.

The world is a sprawling maze of opportunities and dead ends. You could spend the rest of your days applying to the wrong festivals and posting links about your reggae band on punk rock message boards. You could stand on the street corner and profess your awesomeness. There’s no limit to what you could be doing right now, but before you do anything, think about it, talk about it, argue about it, sleep on it, and then think about it some more.

The single best advice I was ever given was “work smarter, not harder.”

Illustration by Kira Sheppard.

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