IT's a difficult time out there, economically, with austerity the word of the political day. And, with an ever-growing number of bands cutting tracks, what can you do to make sure your hellraising, hard rockin', ass-kickin' outfit of rock 'n' rollin', headbanging, axe-wielding mean mothers stand out from the crowd.
On more than one occassion Belfastmetalheadsreunited have been asked for some PR or marketing advice. Some know, as principal writer for the site I cut my teeth with six plus years full-time journalism, before 15 years in PR; some even know I have been part of an award-winning PR team.
But, sometimes advice given to a band for free, isn't always valued the way paid advice. Nevertheless, I cringe at some the basic errors that bands make as they try to make sure their work receives the right audience at the right time. Of course a large part of that is if you manage to get signed by a major label and they help out with the hard business of distribution.
So, below are some hints and tips to help out as undergo the metal odyssey of a crowded media marketplace, all the more complicated by that 'tinterweb beast.
Put it bluntly, following these tips won't get you a major deal and a million-selling, but they might help you.
Right, if you don't known what a one sheet is, now is the time to learn. You will not get anywhere quickly without a one-sheet. As the name says it is information about your band that can fit on to one sheet of paper, even if it is in electronic version.
At the top the basic details: list who you are, what the album is called, catalogue number, etc and possibly where you are from. Nice to put a picture of yer ugly mugs beside it, or the cover of your latest album or ep release.
Then simply describe yourselves in three or four concise paragraphs, and details of the release. Put web links and contact information at the bottom. Using a text box list the band members (and what they play), the track list of your release and any relevant discography.
You want the groupies to know who you are don't ya? Okay, that suonds very 1980s and your missus might kill ya if you're caught, so be careful out there; still it is important for the hordes of autograph hunters out there to recognise you.
If you can't afford a professional photoshoot then get hold of a decent SLR and have someone who knows how to use at least the autofocus. And remember of you're a death metal band don't go all smiley. Equally, no matter what genre of punk, hard rock or metal you are in, do not, under any circumstances scowl. It makes you look like a neandrathral with a headache.
Wear your stage clothes for the pics! Sounds simple, but that's how people recognise you (and if you don't have clothes that you regard as stage clothes then....get some now and set them aside as your live gear).
Pick a good backdrop for the shoot. In Northern Ireland there are dozens if great locations if you don't have access to a studio. Giant's Causeway, Dunluce Csstle, Giant's Ring, Loch Erne, Loch Neagh, bridges across rivers (Foyle Bridge?), industrial sites...take your pick for the pic.
Everyone thinks of themselves as a great writer. You're not. Lyrics, yes, blurb no. Even after writing every day since I left the hallowed institution of advanced drinking, called university, I learn something new about writing every time my little fingers grace a keyboard. Get a mate to look over what you do, have band colleagues check it out, and use all the writer's tools: metaphors, alliteration, etc etc but no adverbs!
Hype kills. Every music journalist despises bands who claim they are the best thrash/rock/death/black/industrial/old school act to pick up an axe. You are not. Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, Amon Amarth, The Answer, Behemoth are all rightly at the top of their genre. Do NOT under any circumstances claim to be the best ever/the definitive/greatest exponent. You're at the start of your journey to stardom - you're not superstars yet!
It helps if you can reference acts that you are similar to. If you look at the reviews section of many of the major magazines, quite often they'll tail the review with a simple line: For fans of...
They're all scum, right? Wrong. Unlike the tabloid press, most music journalists are generally interested in the music. And if they work on Metal Hammer or Terroriser they're not likely to be into Kylie Minogue. That also means they are very discerning. While blogs tend to be more effusive or more vicious, again most are fans first, bloggers or magazine reviewers next. First off, if you get a bad review, get over it, suck it up and use it to motivate yourself for your next show.
Next, develop relationships with music journos - no not that type of relationship! Make sure you know they're Twitter names, like them on Facebook, find out they're email address to send tracks to, or even if you have a hard copy of your latest release ask if you can get their address to send it to them, they appreciate it. Don't get downhearted if they don't review it, but a polite request for feedback can produce wonders. Remember - polite.
While the main music magazine writers get paid, most blog sites get a pittance, or nothing at all for their efforts bar the music to review or a +1 into a gig.
This is the area where so many bands screw up - thankfully very few in Northern Ireland make the mistakes other bands to. The community nature of much of the music here means that there is a mutual support.
Do NOT beg for people to check you out, listen to this, listen to that. If you have content to share, just say it. Think, what sounds better: "Check out or fantastic new music video!" Or: "We've just released new video - what do you think of it?"
The latter line invites people to watch it and give you feedback. And then you can re-tweet that or give it a like on Facebook.
Find out who is following you and liking you. Follow them back, apprecite it and send them a thank you.
Other bands are in the same position, roughly, as yourselves. Follow them, like their content and make sure you mention when they are gigging - that usually means they'll return the favour.
People follow/like other people who share good content - therefore make sure you are regarded as a good source for other 'stuff' and it pays off.
Do NOT ever, ever post/tweet anything involving nudity, anythingm sexist, rascist, sectarian or otherwise stupid. It will cost you, it could lead to being unfollowed, and people mouthing off about you. Such posts are not big, and they're not clever.
And do NOT pester anyone. It sounds desperate.
Yeah - it's called show business, and while you're delivering the show, the business side can slide. Set aside some time to make sure that you are taking care of business. Simple things help you a lot. Does your band have a bank account? It helps organise your finances - and means you can out aside the money for buying merch, for example, or petrol money for going to play gigs. It really is simple. If travelling to a gig costs £20 in petrol, withdraw that, and deposit the fee you receive (if any) together with merch or CD sales.
Yes, I know you want to practice every spare moment, but a fortnightly band meeting to agree the finances really helps everything stay on an even keel. Agree who and when you're posting items on social media, which journalists you're contacting and sending stuff to.
Management? Do you need it? Can you afford it, or are you better doing it yourself? And, should you decide that you need management, some basic rules. Never pay an up front fee; check out their track record; ask for references from other bands; get everything in writing; and, make sure you have someone professional, or experienced to check over any contract before you sign it.
Equally, be very, very careful should a label approach you. Membership of the Musians Union is a valuable investment. You can benefit enormously.
Equally, think carefully before you agree to any marketing or distribution deals.
Your music should stand up large enough for you to gain some form of acknowledgement, the rest is common sense.
Be polite, be courteous ["Thanks for that review", "Hey, thanks for following us.Here's a link to our latest single", "Cheers man, that was nice of you"].
And then, rock as hard as you can, to quote Metallica, "bang that head that doesn't bang" and enjoy yourselves! You know your music is good, you know that you are always learning, and when you tip that first post-gig beer back you will know that not only have you delivered a 'cracking' set, but that all that time on Twittter, Facebook, contacting journos and sharing other bands' material will mean that you are amongst friends
If you have other tips you want to share with other bands, or friends, post them in the comment box, or if you want to contact me directly, my email addy is here.