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HOW TO SHOWCASE FOR INDUSTRY

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If you’ve got a decent demo, you’re probably itching to get it into the hands of the right people at the right places. But before you go sending your music into the black hole that is a label’s A&R department, consider this: Instead of wasting postage by mailing unsolicited material to ambivalent parties, why not organize a showcase? Think about it—your live show is your strongest selling point. It also allows you to connect with industry folk face-to-face instead of through email or over the phone. Besides, at the end of the day these people all want to see how good you are without the gloss of studio production and to see how many people you can draw.

Whether you’re trying to win a record deal, land a publicist or booking agent or beef up your press kit with some good reviews, a showcase is a powerful tool of persuasion. Here’s how to put on a good one and reap the benefits.

Put together a killer bill. Pick four bands who have a solid fan base and are generating buzz. You’ll want them to be able to bring out as many of their contacts at labels, media outlets and agencies as possible, not to mention their fans. Choosing bands for your showcase is critical, so be strategic. Make sure your lineup is cohesive without being redundant. Don’t pick acts who are going to completely outshine you, or are so bad that they drive all the industry folk away.

Find the right venue. Size and sound are key here. Estimate how large your audience is going to be and find a space that will accommodate everyone and feel full. Make sure the sound system is up to snuff and you’ve got a knowledgeable sound guy—you don’t want to lose any industry interest on a technicality. Also, shoot for a venue that has some cache. Industry people are more likely to show up at a club with an established reputation over some Mexican restaurant with a stage.

Cast a wide net. There’s no use putting on a showcase if you’re playing to only one industry rep. Make sure you invite enough VIPs so that if only a third of them come, it’s still worth the effort. Reach out to everyone on your wish list, and get people to confirm they’re coming. Your showcase should ideally be taking place in a music hub, e.g. New York, L.A., Nashville, Chicago or Austin.

Get your fans (and their friends) to come out. Call in all your favors, beg, plead, do whatever it takes to fill up your venue. Make your showcase free admission. You’re trying to woo industry players, not make a profit.

Bring it. When you step onto that stage, you had better own it. Showcase sets are normally 20-25 minutes, so pick 4-5 numbers that are sure to kick ass. Practice them until your fingers and ears bleed. Make sure your transitions from one song to the next are as seamless and quick as possible. Don’t indulge in unnecessary stage banter, but don’t be too aloof. In general, less is more. Just make sure your “less” is still charming.

Hang out. Industry people are notorious specters, able to slip in and out of audiences without being noticed. Keep a guest list at the door so you can see who actually came. Do a little research before the show so you know what your invitees look like. If you spot some VIPs, greet them, chat them up, maybe even buy them a beer. The more you connect with the industry reps off stage, the better the chance you’ll connect onstage.

As always, follow up. Send a thank you to everyone on your list who came. For those who didn’t, reach out with a “Sorry you couldn’t make it …” and invite them to the next show. If at first you don’t succeed … well, you know the drill.

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HOW TO PUT ON A HOUSE SHOW

OSBlog_HowTo_HouseShowThe term “house show” typically refers to one of two scenarios. The first one is a house party favored by hardcore/punk/rock kids. Usually there’s a band in the living room or basement, a keg on the porch, a lot of noise, a lot of sweat and a lot of bodies passed out on the floor the next morning. The second scenario is a small gathering, almost a private listening party for an acoustic performance. This is the listening party we’re going to help you organize. Though the first type can be fun, there’s a lot less collateral damage and a lot more attention on your performance (generally speaking) with the second. Here’s how to make a successful house show happen:

•    Pick the right performer. You’re going to want to choose a band or an artist whose music translates easily to a small acoustic setting. Decide if you want your show to be an introduction to an undiscovered talent or an exclusive listening party for a more widely-known act. If it’s the former, you can keep ticket prices on the low side. If it’s the latter, they may want a guarantee. So think about how many people you can probably get to attend in each case.

•    Determine a good ticket price. If you think you can get 30 people to come, charge $10-$15 per ticket. There are a lot of performers who would be content to make $300-$400 for an acoustic show. If you’ve got a band or an artist with a big following, you can generally charge more and people will be happy to pay it.

•    Consider your space. If you don’t think you can fit 15 people in your living room, you probably aren’t set up to host a house show. If you want to have the event take place outside, make sure you OK it with the neighbors first and have a contingency plan if it rains. Generally speaking, house shows usually have an audience of 30-50. Balance is key here. You want your event to feel intimate and special, but you also want it to feel well-attended. Whatever number you decide on, make sure everyone will be comfortable as they listen to the performance.

•    Sell tickets. It’s important to get people to pay up front, so that when the actual performance day comes they’re less likely to cancel and leave you in your empty house making awkward small talk with a pissed-off musician. We suggest you print up tickets and keep them on you at all times so that if someone expresses interest you can strike while the iron is hot. (Not literally.)

•   Get your place looking hella tight. If you’re not a great house keeper, you may want to consider hiring someone who is. Nobody wants to pay money to go sit in a dump. Make sure you’ve provided ample seating— couches, chairs or even pillows on the floor. Light some candles to create ambiance. Provide wine or beer and some light snacks. And, for the love of Pete, clean your bathroom!

•    Collect emails. This one is self-explanatory. If your first house show is a success, people will want to come to the next. Duh.

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HOW TO PUT ON A BENEFIT SHOW

OSBlog_HowTo_BenefitShowWorld hunger, homelessness, disease, baby sea turtles—most of us have donated to a charity of some sort in our lifetime.  There may come a time when you are inspired to organize your own charity event, and putting on a concert can be one of the most cost-effective ways to raise money. Whether you’re in a band or just a music fan, a benefit show can be as fun as it is altruistic. And it sure beats giving blood. Here are some tips on how to put together a successful event.

•    Come up with a concept for the show. That includes creating a catchy name and designing a logo for it. If you’ve got an interesting theme going on, you can attract more people to your show. Make it a “green” event, make it a costume party… just make sure it sounds like a blast.

•    Book a venue. Look for places that are willing to give up their cut at the door and leave their profits to bar sales. Or, even better, contribute a percentage of their sales to the charity. There’s a tax write-off in there for them, plus the promise of great exposure and a packed house.

•    Put together a bill with 3-4 bands. Think quality — you want the show to be cohesive and enjoyable. But also think quantity — you need bands who have a large draw to attract as many attendees as possible. Let the bands know they’ll get great publicity, free booze and maybe even a tax write-off for participating.

•    Create merch to sell at the show. If you’ve got a logo, why not put it on a t-shirt or mouse pad and make more money than you would simply with ticket sales?

•    Set up a PayPal account for donations. Not everyone is going to be able to come to your show, but that doesn’t mean they still can’t contribute. Setting up a PayPal account will make donating easy, and you can create buttons to add to blogs in the hope of spreading the donation efforts virally.

•    Market. Once you’ve got your venue and bands, it’s time to get the word out. That means invites through your social networking sites, email blasts, fliers, even mailed invitations. Make sure you allow at least a month in advance of your show date for marketing and publicity. Write a press release and send it to newspapers, Web sites and blogs. Make sure you follow up. See if you can get media outlets to donate ad space for free.

•    Educate the masses. People want to know who they’re donating to. Set up an information booth at the event and include literature on your organization so people know how to get more involved.

•    Collect as many email addresses as you can. Two reasons: you’ll want to send out a thank you to everyone who donated and you’ll want a mailing list for your next charitable venture.

Rock on, philanthropists!

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HOW TO LAND A BOOKING AGENT

Chances are you’ve got an ongoing fantasy that involves you playing a concert to tens of thousands of screaming fans and blowing their mind with your killer stage prowess and pyrotechnic display. Maybe you’ve even taken the time to mentally write up a rider for after the show. But where you get stuck is trying to figure out how to get this scenario from inside your mind in to real time. There’s really only one thing standing between you and the glory of the arena. And that’s seasoned and savvy booking agent.

Here’s the thing though —a deal with an established booking agency is notoriously hard to come by. There’s no real “system” for getting in—if you’re not on a label with big booking connections then it comes down to a booking agent seeing your show and liking it so much he/she decides to rep you. But don’t throw your guitar against the wall just yet. There are some things you can do to get yourself in a good position to attract an agency.

Go DIY and book your own shows. This is important for two reasons. One, it gives you an important crash course in what goes into booking and promotion. And two, it introduces you to club owners, who in turn can direct you to their bookers. (Just to be clear, there are two types of booking agents: those who work on behalf of venues, and those who work for artists.) When you’re booking your shows, try to recruit bands who already have their own booking agent for the bill. It just increases the likelihood that an agent will see you perform, and possibly want to work with you.

Be awesome. Playing great gigs will get you in good with the club bookers, who may toss some amazing show opportunities your way, or put you in touch with their colleagues. Booking agents want to see that you can consistently draw a crowd at your shows. So having an active and reliable fanbase is key. Also, try to make each show you play a step up from the last.

Network like a mofo. Go to as many shows as you can and meet as many people. Talk to bands who have bookers—are they happy with the agency representing them? If so, ask for a contact. Reach out with a stellar press kit that includes a tour sheet. Invite agents out to your shows. Be bold and be aggressive. Who knows, you may be in that arena sooner than you think.

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HOW TO CHOOSE A PUBLICIST

Your band is so awesome. You’ve got a killer sound, an original style and an incredible live show. Seriously, your friends tell you this all the time.

Only problem is, the rest of the world doesn’t know you exist. That’s where a publicist comes in. A publicist is responsible for communicating your music, your message and your brand to the outside world, and getting said world to buy into it. How’s it done? Through a very wide, intricate network of media contacts unknown to mere mortals. Publicists live and breathe by the numbers in their iPhone, emails in their address books and the ongoing coffee, cocktail and club dates on their calendar. They are both arbiters and mavens —able to secretly introduce media folk to the next big artist, while letting them take full credit for the discovery. A great publicist should be (a) incredibly persuasive, (b) incredibly likeable and (c) incredibly credible. Here are some tips on how to locate and secure your personal hype machine.

  • Look at who is repping your favorite bands. Is it Nasty Little Man? Giant Step? Big Hassle? Girlie Action? Check out the roster for each PR company Web site. Do you think your music fits in with their niche? Then shoot them an email with a link to your EPK and ask for some feedback.
  • Be tenacious. For every band, there’s a publicist. If your dream PR company isn’t willing to take you on, ask for some referrals to other agencies. Don’t get discouraged if Bjork’s or Jay-Z’s PR agency is too expensive or too busy to take you on. Great press doesn’t have to come from big agencies. So keep your options —and mind—open.
  • Ask to see their work. Any good agency should be able to provide you with statistics, clips and screen-shots of their recent campaigns to give you an idea of how much media placement they’ve been able to get for their clients.
  • Request a marketing plan. It’s really important to see the agency’s vision for your campaign to make sure it’s in line with what you want. Are they hitting the right blogs, Web sites and magazines? Do they have the right contacts to get you where you want to be? You need to set expectations and goals up front so that you can determine success at the end of your campaign.
  • Negotiate. Sometimes, if a PR agency is really into your music and thinks that you’re destined for greatness, they’ll take you on for free up front with the understanding that they’ll recoup their costs once your career is up and running. But most of the time an agency is going to establish the length of your PR campaign and hand you a price tag. Don’t ever pay all your money up front— you want your agency to have something to work for. If the price is steep, see if you can work out a payment arrangement that meets your needs. The right agency will try to work with you as much as possible.
  • Hold up your end of the bargain. If your PR person sets up a phoner for you, you better be on the line on time and on point. Make yourself available for as many interviews as your PR person can get. Making you look good is your publicist’s job—don’t make it hard for them!

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HOW TO WORK FOR YOUR FAVORITE BAND

Are you the first person in line at your favorite band’s shows? Do you enter every contest and promotion they run? Do you fall asleep listening to their music? Do you reference the members on a first name basis, even though you’ve never met? Chances are you’re a superfan. And there may be a job in it for you.

Most people currently working in the music industry are (a) musicians or (b) fans. They ended up in the biz either for the networking opportunities, the chance to work closely with amazing talent, or some combination of the two. If you can relate, you may want to seriously consider a career in music. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • There is a difference between a superfan and a crazed fan. If you don’t think you can muffle a scream when you see a famous rock star, this probably isn’t the job for you. Groupies, teenyboppers and stalkers do not pass GO. Music industry folks are enthusiastic, of course, but they’re levelheaded and business-minded first and foremost.
  • Know what you want your job to be. Is communication your forte? Consider going into PR. Do you love writing? Look into music journalism. Do you want to put together incredible shows? Check out booking agencies. Are you mostly interested in representing bands in every aspect of the business? Maybe you’re management material. Do your research beforehand so that you end up on a career path that will make you happy.
  • Go pro bono. The most effective way to get a job is to first work for free. See if you can get a college internship at your favorite management company, music label, radio station or PR agency then wow them with your skills. Join the street team and kick some ass. Another tactic is to build up a name for yourself by starting a really great fansite, music blog or the like. If you’re a graphic artist, build up your portfolio by doing some posters or album covers for some of your friend’s bands. It’s not uncommon for music labels and managers to look to fans for support roles in the business, such as creating cool skins for social networking profiles, updating the news section of artist sites and designing promotional materials.
  • Make friends in the industry. This old adage is true — it’s all about who you know. So go to as many events as your calendar can handle — record releases, showcases, listening parties, meet-and-greets, etc. Network like it’s your job — one day it may be.

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HOW TO BUILD YOUR FANBASE AT SHOWS

You’ve already learned how to build your fanbase online and start your own street team. Now it’s time to plug the knowledge you’ve gained sitting behind your computer into the real world. And for a musician, it doesn’t get more real than a loud, crowded club guarded at the door by a lethargic dude with a clipboard asking, “So who are you here to see?”

Your live performance is your single, most powerful selling point. If you blow it, your hardcore fans will probably forgive you but most newcomers will be turned off for good. However, if you nail your live show, you’re looking at a goldmine for recruiting fans and selling merch.  So you better have a plan for capturing the hearts, minds and email addresses of all your new friends. Here are some ideas:

•    Enlist your street team. You’re going to be distracted pre- and post-show, so it’s essential that you have your team there to handle the business side. If you don’t have a street team, recruit your friends and family. Just be sure to give everyone enough advance notice (at least two weeks).

•    Always have a mailing list sign up. This can be an old school sheet of paper, or an Excel spreadsheet or Word document open on your laptop at the merch counter. While you’re on stage, make sure you use your mic to advertise the sign-up sheet.

•    When you’re asking for email, get wireless info, too. Capture as many cell phone numbers as you can so that you can alert people to news and events in multiple channels — both online and text messaging.

•    Use rich media to engage your audience. There’s always some down time between sets, so take advantage of it. The audience will be looking for something to do. One cool idea is to set up a projection screen using iWall or FireText. Both programs allow people to text into a central number and see their text messages displayed on the screen. Ask them what song they want to hear first and let them text you their answers. Not only will you capture useful cell phone numbers, you’ll also be learning interesting information about your fans.

•    Have your team canvas the audience after the show. Grab an iPhone and walk through the crowd asking for emails and cell numbers. Be as respectful and friendly as possible. The people who loved the performance will most likely be receptive to signing the mailing list.

•    Do an in-show contest. Have some fun and announce that the first 10 people to sign up on the email list will get a t-shirt. Offer a free download with a mailing list sign up. Or do a drawing for a free CD. There are countless promotions you can do to recruit new fans, so be creative.

•    Use your laptop. While people are at the merch booth, ask them to log on and add you as a friend on your primary social networking site. Get their Twitter or IM info. But always make sure you’re respecting their privacy. If they’re not game, don’t push it.

•    Make the rounds after your show. The best way to make a lifelong fan is to make them feel special. Take the time to have a conversation. Always drop by the merch booth to sign CDs and chat people up.

•    Once you’ve got their information, don’t sit on it. Basic direct marketing research shows that a person is never more interested than at the moment they sign up for something. As soon as you load up your email addresses and cell phone numbers, send out a blast that thanks everyone and offers them a “next step,” whether that be buying a CD, joining the street team, reading a new interview or sending their friends a link to your music. The only way to keep fans interested is to keep them engaged.

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HOW TO START YOUR OWN MUSIC BLOG

Music lover/audiophile/MP3 junkie seeks interactive outlet to share news, downloads, reviews, videos, photos and whatever else strikes his/her fancy.

Sound like you? Then you’re probably ready to get serious with your own music blog.

Blogs can be great creative outlets for passionate fans. If done well, they can enhance your résumé, help you create a brand and even make you some money. The three most popular blog generators are Blogger, WordPress and TypePad. All three are free—the only cost is the time you invest. Here are some tips to help you get started to create the next Pitchfork.

1. Come up with your theme. Are you going to focus on concert reviews? MP3s? Polish electro-pop? Pick a name for your blog that is memorable and unique. Choose a voice for your writing style and stick with it. And make sure your logo/site skin rocks.

2. Commit to a schedule. Always update your blog regularly so that your followers will continue to check back. Once you fall behind on your posts, you may fall off the radar of your readers.

3. Make sure you know what you’re talking about. Do your research, stay on top of trends and industry buzz, and make sure your content is engaging and timely.

4. Trick out your blog with cool (yet strategic) tech geekery. A new blog is a blank canvas, but there’s a lot you can do to make it feel immersive and robust. Add share links for different social networking sites, embed players, upload widgets. Whatever the new technology of choice is for your audience should be represented on your blog. Visit some popular music blogs and see what kind of rich media is currently rocking the blogosphere. Keep in mind that whatever you implement should always enhance the user experience, not detract from it.

5. Tag every post. Tagging helps with SEO (search engine optimization) and makes it easier for your stories to be picked up by Yahoo, Google, Bing and other search engines.

6. Get the grassroots growing. Once you’ve got some good content on your blog, start recruiting readers. Email your friends and family and ask them to forward the link on. Post your URL on your social networking profiles, and leverage your status messages, news filters and relevant applications to promote new content.

7. Make it rain. When your blog starts gaining traction and getting traffic, you can begin to recruit advertisers. See who’s buying ad space on similar blogs and reach out to them with competitive banner ad rates. Make sure you know your traffic stats. (The Web site Alexa.com can help you with that.)

8. Publicize your work. If the band or artist you’re covering has a label, publicist or agent, send them the link to your post so that they can share it with more fans. Remember, your traffic stats are key, so be proactive on the PR front. Supplement your content with partnerships and promotions. It’s the easiest way to get new eyeballs for your blog.

Hopefully you can put these tips to use in your great interactive gig in the cyber-sky. Blog on, bloggers.
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HOW TO DO AN INTERVIEW

Q: Your new record sounds very different from your previous releases. Does this mark a new direction for the band?
A: Um…uh…well…I don’t know. I guess.

Q: You worked with Producer X on this album. What was that like?
A: It was good.

Q: What’s next for you guys?
A: (Incoherent mumbling)

Laugh if you will, but there are plenty of artists who give interviews like that. Some even worse. It not only makes for bad reading/listening for their audience, it can turn off  potential new fans. Who’s going to listen to the music when it’s preceded by a bum sales pitch?

Your art is important, yes. But presentation is, too. So let’s get into some of the rules on how to conduct a good interview:

Ask for the questions ahead of time. Most people will gladly give you their questions before the interview so that you can prepare some thoughtful answers. Not everyone is able to give articulate, off-the-cuff answers. So do what you can beforehand to make sure you come off sounding well-spoken. Your reputation is on the line.

Be on time. Yes, there are plenty of musicians who show up late, call-in late or email their responses late to their interviewers. No, it is never OK. Always be professional and respectful to the people promoting your band.

Don’t be a buzz kill. Never turn on your interviewer. You’re probably going to get asked the same questions and have to give the same answers. It will get very redundant. But always try to give an enthusiastic response. If you’re dealing with a difficult personality, be sure to keep your cool and get the interview done as quickly as possible. However annoying he or she is, the interviewer is still the one with the power of the pen.

Don’t ham it up. A little levity is great. But unless you’re a stand-up comedian, keep the jokes under control. You take your music seriously—make sure that comes across.

Look sharp. If you’re on camera, you’ve got to be on point. In other words—dress the part—don’t scratch yourself in inappropriate places, stare off into space, yawn, make faces or look at the camera guy.

Be clear. Phone interviews are always tricky on the ears, usually because of telecommunication glitches, soft speaking voices or background commotion. If you’re in a band doing a group interview over the phone, always identify yourself by name before you answer the question. Speak as clearly as possible to avoid flagrant misquotes.

You’re not a robot; don’t sound like one. This is especially hard to do when you’re responding to questions via email. Many times you’ll loose the conversational quality of your personality in your written answers and come across as overly formal and stiff. Read your responses aloud before you send them in, and always spell-check!

Elaborate. No one wants to read a one-word answer to an interesting question. Be sure to flesh your responses out with as many details and specifics as possible. You’re telling the story of your life and your music, so make it a good one.

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HOW TO START A STREET TEAM

It takes a village to promote a band. So, now that you’ve grown your online fan community, it’s time to hit the streets.

Having a street team can be incredibly valuable. It eases the burden of promoting your shows alone, and will help you recruit more fans. Street team members can do anything from passing out flyers to promoting contests and, ultimately, getting more bodies to your shows. Sound good? Great—let’s talk about how to build your army.

1. Locate the passion. Who are your most avid fans? They’re the ones who leave the most comments on your profile, the ones who are always at your shows screaming all the lyrics, the ones who constantly want to know what you’re doing. These are the fans most likely to help promote your band.

2. Spread out. If you’re in a touring band, make sure you recruit street team members in cities you know you’ll be hitting. Having all your street team members in one place will result in duplication of effort. Start with two or three members in each city or town you want to target. If the job’s not getting done, go ahead and enlist more help.

3. Put together a sweet marketing packet. When you’ve got your street team assembled, send them a packet of flyers, posters, buttons, stickers, etc. Make sure you’ve got quality materials, and plenty to go around.

4. Decide on one meeting place. Choose a social networking site to communicate with your team, and create a distribution list or database exclusively for them. Send them all your show invites, links to buy your CD, news and so forth so that they can distribute to their friends. By keeping your street team connected through one source, you’ll avoid miscommunications and confusion.

5. Come up with a marketing strategy. Don’t let your team wallpaper the town with posters just for the heck of it. Set some specific goals and work to achieve them. For instance, if you want at least 100 people at your next show, give each member of your street team a realistic quota to reach, i.e. 10 confirmed guests each. If you want people to buy your new CD, have your street team send out an exclusive MP3 to the first 50 people who download the album. Don’t burn your team out by expecting them to do too much. Choose your promotions carefully and make sure the mission is doable.

6. Reward hard work. There’s nothing keeping your street team working for you other than a love of your music. And sometimes, love just ain’t enough. Your street team always needs to feel valued. These aren’t your employees, so don’t treat them as such. Give them easy and clear tasks, and always show your appreciation with a personal email, a CD or free tickets to your shows.

7. Decide on a manager. If you don’t have time to check up on your street team, elect someone to be a manager. This person will make sure that missions are being accomplished. He or she will ask team members to send pictures of posters that they’ve put up, submit names and email addresses for the mailing list, and so on. There’s no use asking someone to do something if you’re not going to follow up.

OK, those are the rules. Now go forth and build yourself a team!
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