Unsigned and in a Bind

July 16, 2008

Dear Dude,

My band just finished recording a full-length record and since it’s our first and we are unsigned, we have printed 300 copies of it independently. We have booked a big CD release show with bigger signed bands in a large local venue. We have enough CDs printed to last us a while, but we’re stuck with the hassle of having to get everything pressed and packaged at our expense. We’re attracted to the additional organization, promotion and “backbone” that a label can offer us, but the few deals we’ve been offered don’t seem proportionate to the amount of work/money we put into this record. What do you think the best approach to formally releasing a record in this day in age? Do you think it’s worth singing with an indie label that’ll “loan” us the CD printing, but take a lot of our profit and get us slightly better tour packages? Or do you think it’s better to keep it DIY until we find the “perfect” deal, without the hype factor and resources that a label has to offer?


Unsigned and in a Bind

Dear Unsigned and in a Bind,

This is a very interesting and complex question. In an effort to answer this in some kind of reasonably short fashion let me just preface what I am about to write by saying there is no one correct way to release a record (regardless of the era or state of the music industry). Different bands choose different paths and, just for the record, this Dude does not judge. That being said to DIY or not to DIY has always been a burning question. In 2008 a lot of the rules have changed and doing a record on your own can be both profitable and easily obtainable. So lets dig in!

I’m afraid there are really two questions: one – what do I think the best approach to formally releasing a record in this day in age is, and two – what do I think you should do in your current situation. Since the latter is more important, I’ll just get the first question out of the way. I believe that in the 2008 music industry climate current artists can have success releasing their own material or playing the music industry game. It’s almost an open market, I have seen bands have success both ways and both have their advantages. With the exception of Fugazi, I have yet to see a band self release material and sell more then their contemporaries who are signed to labels (sure bands like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead are self releasing records but these bands have already reaped the benefits of the label game). At the same time I can tell you for a fact that I would have made more money in the long run if I had not signed to a record label and rather self released all the material. So, in a sense you have to pay to play the game. Both have their distinct advantages but this brings me to my answer and more importantly my advice for you. My suggestion isn’t to pick a side but rather play both games. I think that the best way to grow a band in 2008 is to follow both routs and in turn use the strengths of both systems.

Look, you already have your record recorded, laid out, and pressed. You even already have a CD release show set up. At this point a record label can’t do much for you except promote the release. Honestly you could hire an outside promotions company to do the same thing and probably make more money. The real thing you don’t have that a record label can offer is distribution. You are not going to be able to get those CD’s in “real” stores and honestly it really shouldn’t matter that much at this point. To me the CD is a dead medium. You got to start thinking MP3’s if you want to move into the future and get your record up on the internet! Release it on iTunes, Music Exchange, or shit, even build a way to buy it right of your myspace page! You have to make that record available to as many people as possible, and with no record label involved you have to cover all the basses yourself. As a DIY artist the MP3 digital version of your record is way more cost effective. Think about it, no more pressing CDs, its all virtual and that means a bigger profit margin for your band.

I think your best bet is to continue playing shows and selling your self produced record while also pimping the music out over the web . The worst thing you could do right now is sign to a record label out of desperation. This has been the downfall of many a band. I say take your time, keep playing shows, sell your own product, and most importantly create that buzz! Because it’s that buzz that is going to attract a record label who will offer you a deal to do it right.

Don’t be afraid to do things for yourself in the beginning, you may just find the skills you learn are going to help make your band bigger but also keep you from getting taken advantage of later. There are many advantages to being a signed band and working within that world. You mentioned touring that is probably the one place that being signed is the most helpful. Not to mention the built in promotion that comes with record labels advertising your band along side of other established bands. But it’s by building your band, its fan base, and its integrity that you will be able to survive and take advantage of the things you will be exposed to and offered when you start playing the “signed band” game. The DIY skeleton you build is going to work as a base for everything forward and your going to need it to survive life under the iron fist of a record label.

The Dude

Aspiring Concert Promoter Extraordinaire

April 23, 2008

Dear Dude,

..there are a lot of up and comers here in the south….all looking for shows. How would I go about organizing a show without actually owning a venue? I wouldn’t be looking to make money…only get the bands some exposure and see some kickazz metal.

Thanks in advance,

Aspiring Concert Promoter Extraordinaire

Dear Aspiring Concert Promoter Extraordinaire,

I have played all over the world in venues that are not your conventional night clubs. I’ve played a bomb shelter, ex slaughter house, ex Nazi buildings, air port hangers, parking lots, a few different type of boats, castles…My point is where there is a will to rock there is a way to rock.

If you don’t own a venue then you need to find one you can rent out. This has been done very successfully by people all over the US and holds true for the rest of the world. The types of places you should look for are: VFW Halls, churches, art spaces, warehouses, vacant parking lots, record stores, coffee shops, and even house basements. My first few tours were spent playing mostly these types of places and there are many bands who only play these types of non-conventional venues. So get out there and get creative. A punk, metal, ska, whatever show can happen anywhere.

So after you’ve found your location the next thing you need to do is negotiate a fee for the hall space and time. You need about 5 hours from start to finish for a 4 to 5 band concert. Get something reasonable, something you think you can cover with an entrance fee. Also make sure to allot some money for PA rental (good tunes need volume). The type of PA you need is going to flux with the size of room and type of concert you’re doing. Be reasonable and be respectful. Make sure if you are doing a show at a non-conventional venue you remember to let your neighbors know rock is going to happen. You never want to be the guy who puts on a show and gets it shut down cause he did something sketchy. That will kill your reputation fast.

Next, you need to find bands. You mentioned “getting the bands exposure” so I am assuming you know some bands. Contact them and work it out, be fair and honest. Those two things are rare in a promoter but that is not to say they don’t (or shouldn’t) exist. I have made many friends and met many legendary dudes who’ve helped build their local punk, hardcore, metal, scenes all over the world.

You will see that a DIY show in 2008 can still happen. As soon as you start to get a local buzz and people are hearing about this new, sick spot, all the local bands will be in touch. Booking agents will start calling or emailing you. It’s just how it works. If you can tap into the local audience and find the bands people love then you can put on some sick concerts! Just make sure once you become a big time concert mogal you remember all those local bands you started with!

The Dude