Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Da Do Do Do - Da Don't Don't Don'ts !

It's hard out there for bands starting out, so don't make it any harder 

I’ve been an artist, worked for record labels and in artist management. I’ve lectured in Music Business & Professional Practice at Salford University and run Freeflow UK, an initiative to support up and coming artists in the NW of England.  Currently I’m the Northern correspondent for The Hit Sheet magazine, Editor of the Eartwister music blog and DJ whenever I’m paid to.

In the last month my inbox has been littered with requests for reviews, invitations to live shows, and video links that have all too often left me bemused.  Such has been my frustration I thought I’d share a few thoughts on how your musical world looks from the outside-in.

If it’s ok, I’d like to start with the biggest stick in the box. The internet is both a wonderful and dangerous beast, just ask the folks at Wikileaks. In music terms it’s become the indispensable tool for artists and consumers alike, as much part of the fabric as TVs out of hotel windows, huge major label deals and Top of the Pops ever were.
For all artists, the opportunity to communicate directly with their fans, promote their brand and sell their wares has become a truly powerful weapon. With such a weapon at your disposal, the pressure on young bands to pull the trigger is often overwhelming. If you’re not posting, tweeting, updating or adding content it must feel like you’re standing still.  The tendency then, is to rush.

In no particular order, let’s start with You Tube.

When reviewing a new band or artist I always do a You Tube sweep.  You Tube is an area that many new bands manage badly and is often very revealing.  The simple rule is to only post content that you’re happy for everyone to see.  Two examples here should make my point. I know of several bands that play parties and weddings on the side to supplement their income and earn money for studio time, equipment and fuel to gigs etc. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong in that, we all have to earn a coin. The trouble is that some of them trade under the same name when performing in two different guises. Do you really want footage of your drunken rendition of ‘Knock On Wood’ to appear above the latest original you’ve slaved over in your You Tube listings? Keep the two separate, first impressions and all that…..

Likewise, many acts like to record their rehearsals, but posting this footage is a no no. It’s the sort of footage you only give fans access to once they’re hooked, and only then if it shows you in a good light. If I wanted to watch you practise and mess about with a half arsed cover of ‘This Charming Man’ I’d pay to watch you rehearse, I don’t, keep it private. Remember that the competition out there is fierce, it’s a buyers’ market and stats show that press, radio, labels and punters form an opinion in the opening 30 seconds of a You Tube video.


Don’t bands make demos anymore??? When I put my reviewers hat on it has two distinct settings. Demos: When bands send in demos I understand that this is work in progress, they are getting ideas down and the recordings may lack gloss. The chances are they were done on a tight budget or even a home studio and almost certainly un-mastered. That’s not a problem, it gives us an idea of what the band are about and we know there is more to come. It’s actually exciting to get demos. You know you’ve caught a band on the ground floor and it’s great to watch them progress.

Singles & EPs

As I’ve alluded to, it seems these days the moment a band leaves their first studio session they stamp a label on the recording announcing it as a single release. 

Once I hear the words single, EP or album I’m automatically expecting the finished article and the quality that’s associated with an official release. So, when recordings lack the quality you’d expect in a finished article you’re often left disappointed.  Only when a band believes they’ve achieved the best they can with a song/recording would I release it as a fully-fledged single. I've talked to countless acts a year after releasing their first recording as a single who say, “I don’t know what were we thinking, we’re a completely different band now”  You can release and sell Demos on iTunes as well you know, there’s no shame in it.  

Blueprint Studios have hosted the likes of: Elbow, Justin Timberlake, Smokey Robinson, REM and many many more. A few basics from this illustrious establishment.` 

'Work out a budget of how much money you have to spend. This way we’ll be able to advise you on how many tracks you will realistically be able to complete to a high quality standard. It is better to record fewer tracks to a high quality than to rush through loads in a small amount of time.

Make sure you are ready and all your material is written and arranged. Don’t waste valuable time and money in the studio on things that can be done at home or in the rehearsal room. This point can’t be stressed enough.

Remember, we are not here to A&R your material but to record/produce it to the highest standard possible. However, we are more than willing to share our expertise if you request it.  Knowing what you plan for the recordings is always a help; demos, obtaining gigs or a single release etc.  If you’re inexperienced in a studio setting don’t over-stretch yourselves, the learning curve is half the fun and all bands get better with time.

If you’re working with a either an in-house producer or someone you’re bringing in, discuss production ideas ahead of the session. If possible pass on a rough demo of the songs or arrange for him/her to see you live at a gig or in the rehearsal room. It can also be useful to hand over reference CDs that serve as a good example of production styles you are trying to achieve.'

For more tips or to make a booking visit


When you’re starting out no one wants to waste good money (particularly in the present climate) watching you practise. Get it right in the rehearsal room first. When you think you’re there, try putting on a small invite-only show, not only for friends and family but try inviting a couple of local promoters along too. Friends and family will find it difficult to do anything other than blow smoke up your arse. A local promoter or similar will tell you if you’re ready to head out on the circuit and probably give you some practical advice on where to start. It’s in their interests after all to put on good bands, and from your point of view it can be very disheartening stepping on stage before you’re ready.

Ben Taylor – Events Manager at Sound Control -
On approaching promoters:

I've been on both sides, as a band and a promoter. It’s always tough, but to try not to ram quotes and blurb down the promoter’s throat.

My advice would be to get 1 or 2 recordings down, ideally on Soundcloud or something easily accessible for promoters. Keep your email fairly brief, explaining genre and any sort of promotional tools in your armoury. Most importantly, try and build a relationship with venues/promoters.

Gorilla marketing, teasers via a Facebook/twitter page; make it as interesting and exciting as you can for your fanbase, leave people wanting more.

Looking to get a review?

If you’re looking to get some press there are some pretty easy dos and don’ts. Firstly, (and I know it sounds simple) read the blog, website or publication you are approaching and like their Facebook page. There is little point in sending your hard-core electro meets Gabba with bagpipes to your local indie blogger. At best you’ll have wasted your time, at worst you could end up with a review that concludes with the words ‘Shit sandwich’.  Research the people you’re approaching, they’re certain to do the same with your band. If you’re a complete unknown try the personal touch rather than a mass generic email, (find out the reviewer's name for example) it’s likely to make you stand out from the crowd if you make the effort.

If you’re submitting tracks make sure there is a link to a stream (Soundcloud etc).  If a reviewer
requires a download or hard copy they are sure to ask for it. Having thousands of downloads in your inbox makes for a royal pain.

Supply accurate and relevant information. I recently completed a review that stated the band had been together for a year and had only 10 gigs under their belts and this was their debut recording. The band in question contacted me post publication to say they’d been together 3 years and this was their 4th recording. The info on their Facebook and other social media pages begged to differ. So, check the info on all your online outlets and keep it up to date. Better still; include the right information with your submission in the first place.

If you’ve not heard anything or seen your review published then it’s fine to send a follow up email, perhaps even two, but don’t go crazy. Stalking a reviewer is unlikely to help. They probably just don’t like your music and it’s time to move on. With luck, they’ll come around in time and you’ll have the last laugh, until then avoid badgering, it reeks of desperation.

Lastly, if you’re going to submit your hard work for review it’s wise to develop the skin of a rhino. If we all loved the same music the world would be a pretty dull place, but that does mean a glowing review is not guaranteed. There’s nearly always a line that if taken out of context you can use to your advantage. Other than that, stay positive and move on.

There is loads of advice out there for bands to get the most out of social media; the use of instagram live at gigs is a personal favourite of mine, particularly snaps of your audience from the stage.  For now however I think I’ll leave it there, the backlog of tracks I have to listen to is getting bigger by the minute. I’ll leave you with this; be as good as you can be, pay attention to the detail and don’t rush.

You can Follow Simon Ashby on twitter @SimonAshby1

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