Thursday, February 20, 2014

How to Get a Record/Distribution Deal - One Man's (moderately educated) Thoughts

A musician in a new stoner/doom band wrote me asking if I could give him any advice on how to get a distribution deal. After telling him about Heavy Ripples Distro, this was my reply.  I thought I'd share it here to stimulate discussion. Feel free to share if you find any value in it.  This is not the final word, and many will find fault here and there, but it is what I've surmised after running the Ripple Effect for almost 8 years now and having my own record label for 4 years. 

It's very hard for a band that's not on a major  label to get noticed by a Distributor.  And it's very hard for a new band to get on a major (or even Independent) label. It always helps to know people, to make a friend in the industry.  This is not always possible, but it does help to get a manager. Somebody to open that door.

So this really becomes, how do you get noticed?   How do you get a Manager/Distributor/Record Label to notice you?

1) Be as professional as possible and make a very professional product. Treat people you encounter, even the assholes, with respect and kindness. Treat your music, your job, and fellow musicians, club owners etc, with respect.  Lose the attitude.  The world does not "owe" you anything because you learned to play guitar and write a song.  I don't need to hear how hard you practiced and "took lessons for years."  You have to earn it every step of the way.  And the first step is in that professional attitude and respect.  It's not always easy but it will win in the long run.

2) Work your fucking ass off to promote yourself using any channel possible. Get a pro PR agent if you need one. Don't think posting something on facebook is getting the "word out there." Very few of your FB fans will ever see that post. Explore new channels, go to local radio, be friendly to the blogs, and webzines, podcasts, and online radio.

3) You must gig your ass even more fucking off. You gotta play, play, play. Everywhere. Anywhere. Play. Engage your fans. Offer a great show. I've heard people complain that there's no value in playing some crappy bar for one fan and a bartender.  But one fan at a time can build something and that bartender may talk to other bartenders or bar owners. You gotta play. Did I say play?

4) You gotta create a buzz for your music. You are the only one who can do this. A Label can't do this on their own. They need a band who's dedicated and committed. Work hard and steady. Always. Being a musician isn't about recording an album and sitting back and letting the adoration flow. Now comes the real work. Create that buzz. Once the buzz builds, Distribution and Labels will follow.

5) Buzz can be built by bands that don't tour or gig that often.  A killer video works.  But that's not always easy.  You can't just say "I'm going to create a viral video."   Yet, you can do this, by being creative, provocative, unusual.  And putting your video up on YouTube with a mention on your facebook page isn't "promoting your video".  You gotta work the heck out of it--multiple video channels, press releases, get a promo agent for it.  Work it.  It won't likely go viral by itself.

6) Get a book like "Your Band is a Virus" written by James from Independent Music Promotions and treat it like a bible.  It's full of helpful (and often free or affordable) ways to promote your band.  Get that buzz going. 

7) There's no substitute for blind luck, being in the right place at the right time, meeting the right person.  You can't plan for this or bank on it, but you can increase your chances by attending music conferences (yes, most are worthless wastes of time--but you only need one good one), being sociable, putting yourself out there in forums and groups, and again, treat people with kindness and respect. 

8) And of course, it goes without saying, you gotta play damn fucking good music and play it damn fucking well. Without the music, you're just Justin Bieber."

Of course, it's a lot easier to say "build a buzz" than it is to actually build that buzz, but it doesn't matter.  Buzz is what brings you to other's attention.  You have no choice.  If you're trying to get noticed, get a label, get distribution, get a manager, you have to give them a reason -- a belief-- as to why they should work with you.  In this day and age, a good album simply isn't enough.  You have to approach your music as a business and work your ass off as much on the promotional/playing aspects as you did on the creation of the music itself.

It's not easy.  It's not fair.  It's certainly not a perfect system.

But then no one ever said being a musician was going to be easy. 

Now go ahead, flame me . . . 


1 comment:

Jonathan Higgs said...

Great article and it crystallizes some of my thoughts. With my band (Monsterworks, which has been reviewed on Ripple - thanks Penfold!) I think our main disadvantage is not playing live that much. We used to more often but it started to run me down. There is nothing truer than that "one fan and a bartender" comment. It was not quite that bad, but because of various reasons, playing live was almost as much of a Herculean effort as rehearsing for a new album. If I am to pick one, I pick the album because that is fresh and recorded music is immortal, whereas a shit gig isn't.

Anyway, that's just whining on my part. I know playing live is important, although I think for us, maybe coming up with an ace and genuinely unique promo video and pimping the hell out of it is probably more realistic. If I had a spare million dollars that is what I would spend it on.

Anyway, sometimes I have to be reminded of these things. Although, in the end, I make music and albums because I get a kick out of it. It is the sheer pleasure of metal and not expectation that I will be a rockstar. That dream is a pretty unrealistic proposition these days.

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