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Would I Work with Your Band?

February 15, 2012

In our first of a tentatively monthly scheduled guest article we have our good and respected friend Rob MacArthur look into why people would (or wouldn’t)  want to work with your band. To give a brief biography of Rob he ran a local Halifax jam space called The Rock Garden as well as his own record label for years, he is also active with IOU Music, The Hub Halifax as well as his own business A Quiet Revolution a social disruption company.

Beyond this he is one of the best and most open minds in the music industry. He easily understands how to walk the line between creativity, professionalism and forward thinking. So without further ado, please enjoy:

“Would I Work with Your Band? Probably Not!”

So why would anyone else want to?

Don’t take it personally. What it really comes down to for me is time. Time is finite and has to be used wisely. And over time I have come to realize giving a band your time is not always the wisest use of said time.

The following are a number of points I have encountered or observed while running a rehearsal space for bands for 5 years, starting an indie label, managing/consulting bands and generally being surrounded by musicians. Lacking most of the following means well, really nothing: nothing will happen for you, nothing will be made financially, me or anyone else you want to help you will make nothing and so on.

All of these are warning signs when bands approach me for help –depending on the help they are seeking – that indicate I could be wasting my time. I love music, want musicians to be able to live off their music – but I also want to be able to help as many people as possible – myself included. And that means being extremely selective with the use of my time. Even if I someday “retire” from music, you show up at my office with a plan outlining all the following and you may force me to have an uncomfortable conversation with my wife.

And there are likely people you want to help your band that are even busier than I am – so if I am this selective, careful before you approach even more established players.

NOTE: The following is geared towards musicians who aim “to make it” – who want to make a career out of their band. If you are doing it for fun, happy playing local clubs the following is not intended for you – so save your time and read something else!

Otherwise: Could you make the cut?
Is your band worth the time? My time?

We’re just a bar band with no vision
You have to a) have a vision/big picture for the band or b) are willing to go all in on one that we create together. And understand the importance of doing so. Bands are hard work. They take time. Things often suck. That vision and the goals below are the foundation your persistence will be built on. 
No vision or dedication, you won’t even get my attention let alone time.

No SMART Goals
The more practical part of the above, is that you need to have goals. Real goals. Talked about. Written down. Worked towards. SMART ones (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Timely) Goals make it easy to decide how you will use your time. No goals = time wasted.

It’s not unemployment…
You accept that a band involves selling yourselves/music, you are entrepreneur. Yes, you can be an artist too, no you shouldn’t emulate KISS. But don’t waste my time arguing about this with me.

Regarding your vision for the band: Your band has to have a clear visual sense/design from the band itself to releases to the name/logo presentation. All visual presentation must be cohesive. Have quality/creative band shots. Think the White Stripes – 3 colors and a world of possibilities. Or the Ramones. One look, 30+ years, legendary status. But thought went into both. Watch The Great White North and End of the Century. And Anvil and Dig!. First two are re: visuals/vision/big ideas – second two are about how shitty it is trying to be a band – see point 1.

FREE the Music!!!
Yet you understand the value of giving away your music; having music everywhere. If you have a better idea for a faster way to get more people to hear your music please get in touch and let me know what it is.

What do you mean you hate traveling?
The ability/willingness to tour is key. Not being in school or tied to a job that prevents touring frequently/as required helps. This is where having goals comes in. [here’s a goal to start with: how much money do you need to make in a year? How about the band in full? Is there any way you can see/imagine the band doing that for you?] …there’s lots of ways if you know what you really want…

And the time saved by focusing is immeasurable.

No I won’t pay for your “trip”
When you are touring, you run a tight merch table: you have things well organized, you collect email addresses and mobile numbers, you track sales, you have varied merch/deals, you remind people while on stage said table exists!

The key here is collecting email addresses. Every time you go out and fail to do so you are slowing down the opportunities you have to establish a beachhead and grow a fan-base that will support you – on and off the road. Most bands run out of time before hitting a self-sustaining point. This is one of the biggest reasons why.

Wait – what band do I work for again?
You aren’t each in 4 other bands. Or ideally any other bands. If you are, explain how the other bands help you achieve this band’s goals. And how I get paid if I am your manager/label/whatever when you split your time between multiple projects but I just work with one.

While we are at it, provide me a list of ten successful bands [signed to a significant indie or bigger] that started out with members in a number of bands each simultaneously. Or professionals at multiple companies, students in multiple schools/programs …probably a few out there but…

Review the goals comment in light of this point again too…you might just be doing music for fun.

You hate change huh…
An open mind to new ideas and trying new things = key. This means your goal too is not to sign to a major label. I personally will not help anyone do this. I want to help artists find a way to make a career from their music, majors couldn’t care less about that/you. Again with goals in place, the purpose is to achieve those, not follow others in the way they do things.

Two of three quotes I run my businesses by:

“If you want to learn how to build a house, build a house. Don`t ask anybody, just build a house.” – Christopher Walken

I.E. To make the most of the time your band has together you have TO DO STUFF. Make music, perform, create cool merch, make interesting videos, be active.

But! “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.” – Frank Zappa

If you are just going to do what everyone else does – who cares. You’re creative, so show us. This will also make better use of your time, get you more attention and if you combine this idea with your goals, it makes things so much clearer.

Music Fan Funnel/Strategy Builder – you have one right?
This is the fan funnel I use for music. The goal being you find the right fans and move them from discovering you to supporting you financially through the various stages of fandom.

All my plans for artist are based on this. Pretty much a requirement that you agree to these stages to work with me. But you should have your own funnel whether you agree with this or not. It serves as the framework to build a strategy to achieve your goals. Again, saving you time and effort.

An example: all marketing/promotion materials (hitting folks at Pre/Awareness] have to direct people to somewhere they can HEAR your music [called a Call-To-Action]. All sites/events they can hear you need a CTA for those that like you/the music to be able to indicate/share this fact with you/others …and so on.

You need me to for what?
Not the end all and be all but: You will embrace social media in a manner that embraces the above funnel while being true to yourselves.

Here’s the third quote I run my businesses by: “Find the others” – Tim Leary

When you have goals, it becomes very easy to decide who you need to find. If you were a solo artist, and wanted an annual salary of $30k – that’d be 500 people donating $5 a month (well a bit more to cover any fees). But see that, I just gave you a financial goal, a target and the numbers to reach it. There’ll be a billion people on Facebook alone this year. Where are the 500 you need? Looking at your career this way will save you time and stress. Why try and sell a million records only to be broke and working a shit job?

Why can’t you find it….?
BandCentral, Bandize and Marcato are 3 sites for organizing bands. Get one. BandCentral is the most impressive right now/my current favorite. But just have one. Anyone of them. And put ALL your band info there. There most impressive thing any band will be able to do in the future to win me on their side after I get into their music is to have them send me an invite to one of those sites and see a band organized. And maybe you want a manager or help to do this in the first place, that is understandable, but bonus points to any band that shows up with this already.

Google Docs, 37signals software – there are countless other options – how you organize things is not as important as organizing things!

Things = music/Mp3s, lyrics, reviews, images, contacts, past/present tour dates, accounting, plans/goals, to do lists, login details, stage plots i.e. everything that has a digital version that is band related.

The amount of time your band/team will save is amazing. More time for music, more time for business, more time for enjoying life.

Finally: What do you expect me to do?

The above might seem harsh, but if you aren’t capable of doing much of the above why should I – or anyone else – be expected to do so for you.

There will always be aspects of the above different bands need help with – that is to be expected. But if you want help, expect to do as much as you can yourself and you will find the efforts reciprocated.

The more you do, the more impressed any industry folks will be.

And when you do approach them – make sure you know exactly what it is you want and expect of them – saying can you help me isn’t much help.

Again, if you do most of the above – you shouldn’t have issues figuring it out.

So if you need help, get in touch, but you’ve been warned.

All the best.

-Rob MacArthur


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