As Chicagoans, we are spoiled with great music and great music festivals. Whether it is a local street fest with unknown but talented local bands, one of the many venues (Metro, Bottom Lounge, Park West…), Pitchfork Festival or the grandaddy of all commercial festivals, Lollapalooza, the Second City has to rank as one of the best music cities in the world. As a music fan the choices are too numerous to count. Often we are left with a sense of regret if we choose to check out Schubas while there is a great show going on at Double Door or we pick the wrong stage at Grant Park and find out that MGMT actually tried during their live set this year.
As fans, these dilemmas are pretty minor. As a band, getting noticed or better yet, getting booked can be overwhelming, frustrating and just flat out depressing. There is a wicked catch 22 situation between labels and bands these days and booking gigs is just one part of it. Labels and investors look for many things when determining whether to sign a band. The label will look at the number of units sold (digital/physical), the number of fans (facebook/myspace), the amount of press garnered, and the number of shows booked (taking into account the quality of those shows).
So a band is then faced with proving itself by doing a lot of work itself. The band and management (if management is in place) must grind it out to show that it can sell or give away a sufficient number of albums, generate its own press and social media statistics and book its own shows. Booking agents are out there but agents will only take a band onto its roster if the band has already proven itself by booking a ton of shows on its own. The band is left with the nauseating decision of whether it is better to not play at all or to play their uncle’s picnic just so it can “book” a show. All of this has to be done while also factoring in that touring and playing live shows may be the only source of income for a band. (You sure you want to be a musician?)
The best advice that we can give to a band who is in this type of crappy situation is to forget labels and booking agents. Just pretend they don’t exist. Once that impossible task is completed, the band can focus on a plan of attack. Let’s assume that the band is talented, has a local following and can book a few decent size venues on a regular basis within its home town. No band is going to make a comfortable living doing this, but being able to take up a residency at a solid venue in a metropolitan area is a really good first step. The band then has to find other bands from the same city and from surrounding cities and states and get them to play at their venue with the hope of reciprocity. Assuming that goes well and the bands from other cities like your band, you now have an invitation to play in a new city or state. As momentum grows, small local tours can be arranged all without the almighty aid of a booking agent or a label. The band has to team up within its own community. Take solace in the fact that there are a million other bands in the same situation as yours. When you team up you are that much stronger.
Now that you have a plan of attack (which may take several months or more to put together), you can attract more fans, sell more merchandise and book more gigs. Wait a second; isn’t that what labels and booking agents are looking for? Ah-ha. Obviously, this takes a lot of hard work, committment and organization. If those attributes are not your strong suit, you better quit the business or get a team together who can help. As we consistently tell our clients, being in a band is a lot of hard work. We turn down clients who are looking for a quick fix or for someone else to get them to where they think they want to be. If you are not committed to making music a full time job, it most likely will not happen for you.
Hopefully this was more motivational than depressing. Either way, we are off to Lolla to make some bad decisions about who to check out and marvel at hipsters in skinny jeans.
SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION (SORT OF) OF THE WEEK:
THE BOTTOM LOUNGE – CHICAGO
L4m is psyched to partner with one of Chicago’s best live music venues, The Bottom Lounge. The place is large yet intimate, the beer list is large and amazing and the staff is not large but also awesome. We plan on working with them to showcase both our clients and other bands who will eventually be our clients (or not). If you haven’t gone to a show there yet, shame on you. If you have, then you are super smart. Stay tuned for updates on our collaboration.