The smartest advice to bands trying to get ahead is coming from Daniel Hopkins, who writes a column called “Ask a Failed Musician” for Village Voice Media and published locally in Phoenix New Times.
His columns are reproduced here by permission of Village Voice Media and we appreciate their courtesy.
Ask a Failed Musician by Daniel Hopkins
Ask a Failed Musician is a new column in which Daniel Hopkins helps struggling musicians make sense of their careers and offers advice. Whether or not it will work, who knows? It obviously didn’t work for him. But then again, he was on Kimmel once, so there’s that.
To kick this thing off, rather than answering a troubled musician’s query, I’ll simply give advice to all new bands who are embarking on a musical venture that will result in probable good times and almost certain commercial failure.
Don’t put out an album. Seriously. Stop it. Established bands backed by massive marketing machines like U2 or Radiohead can afford to do it. You cannot. Here’s the scenario:
You and your bandmates work for a long time to make an album. Some bands can do it in six months, others take longer than a year. It will be expensive, too. You release the album and maybe someone in the local media reviews it.
Then, after a few months, it sinks in: Nobody cares anymore. You have no new music to put out because you just threw every song you had on some expensive record, and you’ve dropped below the radar.
Sure, you can trick things up by playing the occasional high-profile gig, but how do you keep the public interested long enough to put out another album?
You don’t. But here’s another solution:
Put out singles, or at the very most, EPs. Putting out a new set of two or three songs every three months is more likely to keep people interested. Put the music on Bandcamp or Soundcloud so people can stream it. Don’t worry about giving away your music. If you’re a new band, you’re not going to make much money on it anyway. You need to build your audience, and the best way to do that is to stay in their periphery.
That’s how I almost didn’t fail. My band would give away free CD-Rs at every show. It didn’t necessarily work for us, but it might work for you.
If you want to make money, contact an independent licensing company like Blue Water Music and see if you can get a track in a commercial or TV show. “That’s selling out,” you might say. Well, once you’ve failed at music long enough, you realize there’s no such thing as selling out.
Of course, if your music is bad, my words won’t be of any help. After all, I was only on Kimmel once.
Write in to Ask a Failed Musician here. Ask anything you like. I will do my best to help you not fail also.