Indie Band Strategies, goals and tips

By Mike Ippersiel

[ad#inpost]Everyone needs a strategy. Whether you're on a reality TV show, trying to survive a Halo 2 death match or starting up an indie-band, you need to have some goals and an idea of how to get there from here.

As I mentioned in my article Why You don't Need a Record Deal, the strategy of trying to get a major label record deal is becoming less attractive each day. Doing it yourself with a viable online presence is a good alternative, but you need to do more than just put up a dot.com site and cross your fingers.  You need a plan.

For starters - how do you plan to earn money?

In the 'good old days' (he said sarcastically) artists earned most of their money from CD sales and royalties from radio play with some extra scratch coming from touring and selling merchandise. That was a viable strategy until CD sales started to plummet with the onset of MP3 downloads. As a result, even established artists are feeling the pinch from the loss of CD revenue. Touring is now becoming a main source of income for major acts and serves as a partial explanation for the increase in ticket prices.

What does this mean for the independent band or artist?

Unless you're established enough to gain interest from a major label, chances are you're working on building up your fan base.  While your end goal may be to 'conquer the world' with your music, you need to set some attainable targets to get on the right track.  No single strategy is going to take you from nothing to a superstar; you'll have to set attainable goals (like selling out your local 150 seat venue) and revise them  as necessary. 

The following tips can help you to get started in the right direction.

Instead of saying “I want lots of shows this year” say “I want fifty shows this year” or “I want an average of 5 shows per month”.

Break down goals to smaller tasks.  To achieve fifty gigs this year you need to start by booking just one. Another task could be emailing other bands to see if they need an extra band at one of their shows. Remember that a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.

Focus on the outcome of your actions. Booking shows for your band is not fun for most musicians, but if you want to play it’s inevitable. Rather than waste energy avoiding it, focus on the end-result of your actions rather than the actions themselves. Don’t think about how much you hate making cold calls to clubs; think about how happy you are when you add a new gig to your web site.

Write songs and play out as much as you can - not only will this help forge the sound and chemistry of your band - it gets your name out there as part of the scene.

Whether it's with an antique ghetto blaster or the latest version of Pro Tools, you need to hear what you sound like when you're not performing the music yourself.  Do yourself a favour and rent or borrow a camcorder so that you can SEE what you look like while you play - this is crucial to polishing your live performance.

Promote yourself. Once you’ve chosen a name, get it out there and on everything: t-shirts, a back drop, the bass drum, on posters, handbills and stickers. Online, make sure your website is up to date, that you put gigs on relevant sites (i.e. overhear.com). Also consider putting up live footage on Youtube or Myspace to give people a taste of your show.

Sell your music. It’s easier than ever to burn CDs, or upload MP3’s to the web.Check out Paypal for some free tools to get started.

Pat Yourself on the Back. It’s easy for most of us to get hung up on the things we did wrong or could do better. Being self-critical is great as a tool for improvement, but don’t forget about all that you’ve achieved. Celebrate the small victories whenever you can.

Live Dangerously. Once you’ve been performing for a while you may think you’ve come up with the perfect set. Avoid the temptation to fall into a rut with a set list that you can do in your sleep. Switch it up every now and again, throw in a new cover or pull out an old tune and live dangerously. Give the audience a reason to see all your live shows, make it a different experience than listening to the CD.

Be Patient. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was U2, Metallica or The Rolling Stones. Persistence pays off - this is also called paying your dues. In the immortal words of AC/DC ‘it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll’ (sorry, I couldn't think of any appropriate Red Hot Chili Peppers Lyrics off the top of my head!). The only thing in common with those that succeed is that they didn’t give up.

As a result of all of this effort - you will earn money and meet any realistic goals slowly, but surely.
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