Being in an indie band isn't just about writing and playing music. If you want to get people listening, you also have to be your own manager and promoter, usually on top of working a day job. With so much to do and so little time, it's no wonder so many talented indie musicians don't get the attention they deserve.
It's not impossible to DIY and succeed, though. If you're faced with the often daunting task of self-promoting your band, here are some tips to keep in mind to help get the best results.
1. Get organized - Before you reach out to anyone, make sure you have a bio sheet, sample tracks and everything a writer, DJ, or someone you want to book your band might need. Having an electronic press kit on sonicbids.com can be extremely helpful to anyone thinking of writing about or playing your music.
As far as sending the music itself, ask if your contacts would rather receive a physical copy or digital files. A lot of people prefer to get album and song samples digitally, so always be prepared to have your music collected as mp3s in .zip files that you can easily upload for download on free file hosting sites such as rapidshare.com, mediafire.com and sharebee.com. Make sure all tracks are tagged and numbered properly so your contacts will know what they're listening to and won't have to struggle to find the details later.
2. Know who you are and have something to say - "I'm always amazed when I ask someone about their band or music and it becomes a struggle for them to describe it accurately in any way, shape, or form," says Rikk Currence, one-half of local duo JoyFocus. "If you don't know what your sound or band is all about, then how do you expect clubs, agents, managers, labels and most importantly, fans, to know? Take the time to really discover and then clarify your musical identity. Once you do that, the who, what, where and how of getting your music out there will become much clearer."
3. Use online social networking to the max - Pretty much every musician has a MySpace page, but now there's so much more available to promote your music online. Twitter, for example, lets musicians connect with fans on a more personal and casual basis through short updates and replies - just be sure not to sound too promotional. Cllct.com, a community specifically for music lovers and artists, can give you access to a more targeted and musically-passionate group of people than general social networking sites. Starting a blog on popular, free services such as blogspot.com or wordpress.com - and updating it regularly - also helps ensure that you keep hold of people's attention.
Karl Ostby, singer and guitarist in Chicago indie rock band Pet Lions, recommends Facebook as a way to get people out to gigs. "I think Facebook events are basically the new word of mouth for local bands," Ostby says. "Those still help us spread the word about upcoming shows and they're a lot more convenient and more personal than putting up posters all over the city. Our friends can invite their friends and so on. We made sure to bring out some good crowds at out first few shows, and that made booking future gigs much easier."
4. Keep it fresh - Social networking and band Web sites can be highly effective, but only if you update frequently. "Give people a reason to come back to your Web site and MySpace page by updating your content," says Eric Georgevich, singer and guitarist in Chicago indie rock band King Sparrow. "Write a blog, add a new picture, or highlight an upcoming show. The trick is to spread out these updates so there is something new every couple of weeks."
5. Be patient and follow-up - Almost everyone has become used to expecting responses to e-mails right away, so it can be frustrating to submit your music or send a note to a writer and get no response. Be patient. "The reviewers are usually completely swamped with submissions, so it will probably take a while before they get to your CD," says Georgevich. Give them two to three weeks before your first follow-up and then follow-up weekly after that. Remember to be polite, professional and patient."
6. Send more than one copy - Georgevich also suggests sending music reviewers more than one copy of a CD. If they like it, they'll have one or two extra copies to pass on to someone else, which could lead to additional fans and promotional opportunities.
7. Don't fight comparisons - Unless you're in a cover band, it's safe to say that you want your band to sound original and have something new to bring to the scene. Comparisons to other bands, though, can be a necessary evil. They're what many people use to decide whether or not they want to listen to a particular band, and what writers use to get people to understand what they should expect. If someone compares your band to other bands, don't take it as an insult. When accurate and within reason, comparisons are more of a help than a hinderance.
8. Expect criticism - There's always going to be people who don't like your music, including journalists, DJs, bloggers, or anyone else you try to get listening. Even if your first review isn't positive, don't get discouraged. If you are confident in your music, you won't let the criticism get to you - it might even help you make your music better.
9. Ask for help - Just because you don't have a label to help out with promotion doesn't mean you have to fly solo. Friends, family members and fans are almost always willing to help, but they probably won't volunteer if you don't ask. Have a friend who loves writing? Get him to take a stab at a band bio or press sheet. Does one of your fans know a music blogger? Ask if she might be able to get your music reviewed. The DIY musicians who aren't afraid to ask for help are almost always the ones who get the furthest with promotion.
10. Keep up momentum - "Being stagnant is the worst thing that can happen to a band, other than breaking up," says Georgevich. "Come up with a business plan that spans out six months and clearly defines your band's goals. If possible, try to coordinate your shows, CD releases, studio time and press quotes so that you have something new going on every month."