This article is part of a series of interviews between Vue Weekly and Mark Feduk, Terry Tran and Ken Beattie about some of the survival techniques employed by musician's in the modern music industry. (circa 2008)
VW: What’s first?
MF: Start an email list right away, at your first shows. Have a sign-up sheet out and track where names are from—which cities, which shows. Get organized at the beginning with whatever database program. That list can be another gold star when you’re trying to book shows—you can say you have 500 people on your mailing list. Sort by city and province, make a note of who’s extra-supportive, who wants to be a friend to the band. You may be able to crash with them or they’ll bring you real food or work your merch table down the road.
Ken Beattie: The first person you should hire is a publicist. I’m not saying this because I’m a publicist—I mean even before you can hire anyone, that’s the role you should take on yourself first. You need to create some sort of buzz. Obviously, be concerned with your art, but after that—what’s going to attract a manager or label or whatever to you? Press will. Radio play will. Even if you make cold calls, being able to say that you have press helps. So I’m a publicist because I believe that.
VW: How do we build a following?
MF: Fans want to feel involved and be friends with the band. A lot of bands don’t understand that. Part of your work is to be down to earth and approachable. After shows, don’t just go up to your room. If it’s a good show, say, “Come talk to us, we’ll be over by the merch table, come say hi.”
KB: Even if no one knows you, there are things you can do. Burn up a bunch of singles or an EP of your demos, hand that out to everyone at your show. Make people buy in early. Everybody has those stories, of when Chad vanGaalen had handmade discs he was giving out or whatever. That person will be a fan forever—there’s an emotional attachment beyond the music. It’s really important that artists connect with people and say hi. If you have something in your hand you can give it out and say, “Hey, thanks for coming out to the show, we’re working on a record, these are some of the songs we’re working on, there’s more on our MySpace, if you like it you can leave your email and we’ll let you know when we’re playing another show or the record is coming out.” Give them a reason to come up to you, and make the most of that contact.
VW: When do we get “people”?
KB: It’s good for bands to self-manage at the start. For one thing, it makes them realize what it takes, so when they do bring another person on board to take that over, they aren’t in the dark about what they’re supposed to be doing and can stay active and in control. I may have five or six things sitting on my desk and I love all of them but I can only work with one, who’ll I pick? The truth is, you’ll pick the band somewhat further along, someone who has a band member who takes the reins. If you’ve done two to four tours across Canada, if you’ve made a couple albums, if you’re making money and are stable and working on another album, maybe it’s time for us to step on board. But people want to see a certain level of accomplishment, of self-sufficiency. Just remember—there’s a lot of great, talented people we can work with. Distinctions make a difference: if it’s a choice between the band that’s easy to work with and the one that isn’t, you can guess who people want to work with.
VW: What’s the minimum we should have for publicity?
KB: Decent photos. Not a hipster shot where you’re a mile away. I’m not saying you can’t have those shots, but they can’t be the only ones you have because they look awful in some papers. You can have your creative images, just be sure you have straight-up close ones too, 300 dpi jpeg. Have your album cover available in that format as well. Don’t waste money on hard copy photos—you only need digital images. Craft a press release of some sort. People need something to write about: a bio, some descriptive info, band member names and instruments, who does the songwriting. Web presence: Facebook and MySpace for sure, and maybe your own website. MySpace may be dead and over to you, but I guarantee, everyone else goes there to look for something. If some media person somewhere is looking for what’s on this week so they can put an image and a couple of lines about it in their “best bets” section, if you have everything they need digitally—images, some band information, and maybe some songs up on MySpace—and it’s easy to find you, boom! It’s your show in that slot, with a photo, as a “best bet” for the week. Things come up at the last minute in papers, a story or ad falls through or whatever, and you could be in that space and not even know about it. And then you have your foot in the door: you can say, “Hey, we were in ‘best bets’ in Calgary.” And if you’re really smart, you find out who put you in that slot, and you email or call and say, “Hey, thanks for putting us in your ‘best bets’ last week. Can I send you a CD? Would you like to come to our show?” Always ask, “What can I do with this foot that’s in the door?”
VW: That’s all a publicist does?
KB: We make sure the right people hear you. It’s all about relationships—you’d hire someone like us for our relationships with the media as much or more than anything else. Some places get 100 albums a week. Think about something like CBC—how do you cut through that? If you’re a band, you can do the research yourself and find out who all the weeklies are in all the cities across Canada and maybe beyond and you can research all the college radio stations and you can find all the media contacts. But a lot of people don’t have the means or time. And even when you do, and if you do all that work and find all that out, how do you get to the top of the pile on their desk? It’s really tough to cut through that. If your album isn’t coming from a reputable person who they know, someone who knows them—not everyone I send your record to may like it, but most people I send it to will listen to it. We’re working with albums we really love and we put them into the hands of people we’ve built relationships with, who we think may also love them. If you can get some radio play or some reviews in early, we make a new press release that reflects the interest there and send that out again, and it builds. We have a strategy, we stick to it, and it works. That’s why we have 40 or 60 people calling us up every month wanting to work with us.
VW: Really—what’s the secret?
KB: Look, this may sound like I’m over-simplifying, but if you’re loyal and respectful, you’ll get ahead. Remember your manners, remember people who gave you those chances, and you’ll create your own breaks. And you just need two or three of those breaks to start building something more substantial. Keep making contact with people. Most people in music are here because they love music. Understand we’re all humans. Be decent. V