Every artist wants a magic bullet. I know this because I’ve heard so many bands ask what’s the one thing they can do that will push them forward to greater prominence, financial feasibility, and, ultimately, fulfillment in their life as an artist.
I wish that I could tell you that, as a publicist, I have all the answers, but we’ve worked with bands who executed massive release seasons, as well as bands that literally imploded mid-campaign. So, while I do like to think that we offer a lot to the bands we work with, it’s clear that more goes into running a successful band than meets the eye.
Last month I attended the Secret Knowledge Conference at the Jupiter Hotel. If you’re not familiar, Secret Knowledge is a Portland organization that puts on classes and events aimed at helping creative people make a living. The conference was a full day of talks and panels covering a wide range of topics, from interacting with the press to handling taxes as an artist, publishing, crowdfunding, and even financial planning for creatives.
Let’s be honest here. Most band photos look like a police lineup of ding-dongs.
If you’re concerned that you may be among the majority of bands with weak press photos, today’s your lucky day because this post breaks down some great ways to achieve photos that depict you and your band looking like the geniuses you are.
Lighting and Treatment
Lighting and color tone are often overlooked details of band photo.
Before you plan your shoot, find some band photos that you like. I recommend simply searching for bands you like and collecting 5 or so shots that portray a vibe that’s similar to what you want to achieve. Take careful notice of colors, clothing, posture and facial expressions.
Band Bios Are The Undisputed Worst.
Bands hate writing them almost as much as other people hate reading them. According to recent estimates, 99% of amateur band bios are 5+ paragraphs of long, useless, cringe-worthy filler.
Before we dive in, I’d like to state for the record that I recommend having someone outside of your band write your bio: ideally someone who has read plenty of other band bios, like a music writer, publicist, or someone who works or has worked in music promotion. The hope here is that whoever you choose to do this possesses two things that you might not:
1. A strong understanding of the purpose and function of band bios.
2. An outsider’s perspective on your project’s strengths, weaknesses and cultural relevance.
Around this time each year, I start to hear twinges of panic in the voices of new bands who are reaching out to us for the first time.
In many cases, the band will have recorded an EP in the summer, with plans to release in the fall. By the time October rolls around, they’re finally finishing up the mixes and they almost invariably want to put the music out ASAP, but they know the end of the year is fast approaching. The question then becomes “Could we put this out in January?”
Release planning is something nearly every band we speak to needs help with. There are thousands of reasons why releases get pushed back or derailed. Here’s what I know about planning the release of music around the holidays, and how to keep your band productive and motivated while you sit on your unreleased material and wait for your well-planned release date.
As I hinted at before, December is generally a “dead month” for releasing music. But not many people understand exactly where the “dead month” boundaries are and how to work around them.
I was originally going to make this into a long Q+A post covering a few different issues but I wound up getting way into this topic, so I decided to dig in and save the other questions for another time.
So here we go:
“I'd like to hear your take on releasing EPs versus LPs.... versus Singles as well, I guess!”
The first and most straight-forward answer to this question isn’t so much about what works best, but when to release different types of releases and how to leverage your music for maximum impact. That’s right. I said it. Maximum impact.
One of the most rewarding parts of my work as a publicist is the time I spend at the very beginning of a record campaign helping musicians think critically about the long road ahead. Part of my job during this stage is to help musicians reverse some of the flawed logic they may have picked up along the way. Working against me, of course, is a vast wealth of misinformation easily available to anyone with access to the internet, rockstar biopics, disgruntled friends in other bands, the list goes on.
The following are some of the misguided sentiments I’ve heard from bands during the early stages of our engagement with them:
“Forget playing shows, it’s all about press and social media.”
“Forget social media - if the music is good enough, people will respond.”
“I can tour, but only if the tour pays enough.”
Let’s look at these more carefully.
The Golden West, the debut full-length from San Francisco’s NRVS LVRS puts perfectly to lyrics and music what has been an issue central in the minds of the west coast music community for years. Lots of bands, particularly in the Bay Area, have written songs and albums about the huge cultural and economic changes we’re facing, but never have they seemed to push past the glib neo-punk “fuck tech" narrative. Indeed, not until hearing The Golden West did I feel that I’d heard this story told in a way that rang true for me.
Rising rents and reckless development in our beloved cities shine bright lights on the scars we’ve gathered over the years from a life dedicated to creating music, which may have become the least lucrative, most expensive art form and lifestyle. This illumination calls into question the values we’ve upheld and pull out from under us the very cultural context we operate within.
We’ve been trying to work with the Oakland band Bonnie and the Bang Bang for over a year. And on several occasions we have might have tried to destroy them.
Let me explain.
No one is more responsible for the plight of the musician than the musician. Or more specifically, the unavailable musician. And even more specifically, the musician in your band (see: drummer) whose efforts and resources are split between too many projects, causing each of the aforementioned projects to fail, or worse, stagnate.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. There’s a small number of wonderful, highly organized men and women who are capable of keeping several bands in the air - the question was - could Robby Cronholm be one of these musicians?
It’s been two years since we moved to Portland, filed as an LLC with LegalZoom, paid LegalZoom to become our registered agent, figured out that we didn’t need an external registered agent, spent hours on the phone with LegalZoom trying to get our money back, and finally hired a real lawyer.
Since then we’ve been fortunate enough to do PR and development for over 40 great release campaigns. We’ve had huge victories and painful failures, but at our company’s core, we’re still just two small, sometimes unbathed people sitting hunched in front of computers 50+ hours a week. Breakup has been and continues to be a dream come true.
As you may have noticed, we’re starting a blog. We have the pleasure of sharing the wonderful shows and press coverage our bands enjoy, but seldom do we get to let the world see “the love behind the scenes”. Our new blog will be aimed at offering insight into the work we do alongside our bands, and what the music we champion means to Alex and me.