How Bands Grow + Dangermaker's New EP

September 23rd, 2015. Posted by Sierra.

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.

“Forget playing shows, it’s all about press and social media.”
From our perspective, if a band isn’t willing to play shows, there really isn’t any point in sending their record out. Music writers want to see that the bands they’re covering are serious projects worthy of their critique and attention. If a band doesn't play shows, it’s unreasonable to think that their music will be good enough on its own to ignite enthusiasm and support beyond the band's circle of friends.

“Forget social media - if the music is good enough, people will respond.”
There are many reasons to invest energy in your band’s online presence. This isn’t to say go out and deplete your band fund paying for followers or buying likes. The goal should be to find ways to engage the actual people in your life and community who care about your band. If you don’t do this for your own benefit, consider the publications you hope to get coverage from. As a band, you’re looking for coverage in blogs, magazines, newspapers, etc. What could you possibly offer publications in return? Readers.

Building your band’s highly engaged online community is a great way to have something to offer blogs. If I were a music blogger and a post I wrote about a new band was clicked on by 500 new readers and shared by 30 of them, I’d be very pleased. I’d want to make sure I wrote about that band again in the future.

“I can tour, but only if the tour pays enough.”
A tour that pays “enough” is likely the kind of tour that requires the help of a booking agent. Booking agents want to work with bands that have already built some tour experience.

While DIY touring can be financially, logistically, and romantically brutal, it’s very important to have as many dates as possible on the books during your release season. This shows publications that you’re an active band that’s doing cool shit. A lack of shows displays the opposite.

The best way I’ve come up with to solve this problem is to play one out of town show every weekend in nearby cities - ideally no further than 5 hours away - and try to get back to those cities every six to eight weeks. That way you can have tons of dates on the books, build your draw in multiple cities, and keep your employer and significant other off your drizz. This method also helps you avoid exhausting your hometown draw. Much like touring, booking and organizing this kind of schedule is difficult and may require that you train your bandmates in the subtle art of responding to emails.

The idea that your band will initiate enough traction to cause major growth by finding one easy avenue to focus on is simply not well-founded. The world of music is competitive and people who have opportunities to offer bands are looking for the complete package. And why wouldn’t they? It’s definitely a buyer's market.

Our goal at Breakup has been to clearly show that the bands we work with are viable candidates for sweet opportunities like working with labels, managers, booking agents, and other “level two” band scenarios.

I mentioned before that there is no one magic thing you can focus on to achieve this kind of viability. Indeed, there are five. The list below outlines what I’ve found to actually be the bare minimum required of a band in order to attract bigger and better opportunities:

Disclaimer: There are people in the world who are magically lucky beyond what they've worked to achieve. I don't recommend sitting around and waiting to become one of them. A certain degree of luck is always necessary when you're trying to get a project off the ground. You may as well stack the cards in your favor.

1. Well-developed music in a relevant genre (have good songs and decent recordings)
2. Strong, consistent visual aesthetic and a story that resonates with people
3. Strong, consistent draw at respected venues in your city
4. A steady stream of well-promoted, high-quality content (songs + videos)

My favorite thing about these elements is that they're all achievable with a little focus.

Everyone has a weak spot. For most people I’ve talked to, promotion and aesthetic seem to be the two big problem areas. Asking for constructive input from the people around you about how to improve in these areas is a good first step toward making your project stronger. Get some advice and then put on your follow-through pants.

But even all of the above can sometimes not be enough. Often times what’s required is waiting out the bands who were in line before you. This brings me to my final essential element:

5. Don’t go away.

Don’t quit. Don’t make a separate solo project that sounds exactly like your band. Don’t change the band name unless you really need to. Don’t make a new band with three of the four people from the original band. If you’re so prolific that you think you need a whole other band, you should put that energy toward recording and releasing with your current band instead. All those songs will afford you the chance to spare the world your B material.

Personally, don’t go away is one of my favorite strategies because so many great things happen when you just keep doing your thing. Your live shows get tighter. Your songs get stronger. You can build followings in nearby cities. And most importantly, if you kick ass for a few years, your chances of getting noticed increase exponentially.

The other cool thing about not going away is that once you go through the release cycle a few times, you start to learn what works, what doesn’t, and how long it actually takes you to get from point A to point B. For example, it took me a few years to realize that music videos almost always take twice as long to finish as initially planned. This discovery has saved our company a lot of grief when booking release shows and scheduling premiere coverage.

San Francisco rock and roll four-piece Dangermaker is one of my favorite examples of this principle in action. We’ve been working with DNGRMKR since the beginning of 2014. Last year saw a smattering of coverage for the band - all positive, but nothing earth-shattering. It took nearly a year before perennial San Francisco tastemaker Aaron Axelsen took notice of the group and invited them to play a sold-out show at the Shoreline Amphitheater for Live 105’s annual BFD Festival with headliners such as Modest Mouse, Of Monsters and Men, Cold War Kids, and Best Coast.

The band’s appearance on the bill, as with many local SF bands before them, elevated Dangermaker’s status as up-and-comers in the scene.

Their crowning achievement has been the unwavering production of air-tight singles and videos, starting with “You’re Not There”, the lead-off track of their debut full-length - Black Dream.

Right as the dust was settling from Black Dream, they followed up with “Something More” from the first “Light the Dark” EP last September.

In keeping with the band’s repertoire of frequent anthemic releases, they’re ramping up to release their third EP, “Light the Dark II”, which premiered on Vanyaland this past Wednesday.

Check them out at their release show this Thursday September 24th at Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco. If you bump into the band after their set, ask ‘em and they’ll undoubtedly tell you that the road is long and the incline is gradual, but there’s only one way forward.

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