Advice for small bands. Up to you if you take it.

This pamphlet came out of a lecture I gave at Leeds School Of Music on SMALL BAND PROMOTION AND PROFESSIONAL TOUR MANAGING.

I have worked in the music industry, as a recording and performing artist, tour manager, manager, merchandise designer and merchandising crew for the past 30 years (primarily with New Model Army, latterly with New York Alcoholic Anxiety Attack and Utopian Love Revival, during which time I have travelled constantly all over the world. Aside from this work I am a professional tattoo artist with my own studio, an illustrative artist, a published poet, spoken word artist and spoken word recording artist, a multi-nominated award-winning author shortlisted for The Orange Prize for literature in 2005. Visit www.joolz-denby.co.uk or Facebook: JoolzDenby

Short Biographies – New Model Army: NMA were formed 33 years ago and are considered Europe's premier underground cult band: they have sold over a million records, worked constantly since their first gig selling out tours, headlining major European festivals and attracting literally thousands to their intense, driven, melodic rock music; they are often referred to as 'legendary' and are a major influence on many contemporary rock bands such as Queens Of The Stone Age, Sepultura, and many others, especially in America, where the frontman and songwriter, Justin Sullivan has also played many successful solo tours. New Model Army have recently recorded their 11th studio album and will soon embark on another world tour. Visit www.newmodelarmy.org

Utopian Love Revival are the North's most creative and original American-style lo-fi Garage band with numerous releases both physical and digital. They gig regularly and are noted for the quality of their music, their videos, stage sets and brilliant performances. Check them out on YouTube, Facebook & Twitter.

 

Band promotion:

Consensus: bands are comprised of a number of temperamental individuals – they must all agree first on the approach taken for their promotion. Band 'business' meetings held at regular intervals where all non-musical business can be explained & discussed calmly and thoroughly are invaluable.

Designate: Find a person, preferably NOT a band member, to undertake promo/booking work. The musicians are too close to, and too emotionally involved in their work to give a reasoned, business-like account of it to a bored, disinterested promoter/journalist/etc.

Reviews: Get reviews by getting – however you can – journalists to your show, starting small & local then building towards the nationals. Do not forget you are as yet, a small band, not U2. Journalists get literally dozens of emails, press-packs etc DAILY from bands who think because they've done one gig at the local venue, they're the next global super-group. Be modest but calmly confident; boasting and lying about what you've done as a band is extremely counter-productive.

Remember though, you cannot – ever – control what journalists write. If for example, as is often the case, the review doesn't mention the individual band-members' amazing performances but unfortunately dwells at length on the singer, this is par for the course and is the same in every band no matter how big or small; journalists love frontmen. It's distressing for the other band members, but they must accept it with good grace or change professions.

Record Companies: always consider DIY releases – it's more work for you but is the way forward given the state of the music industry. But if you're still living the dream, and want a company, don't give up – send CDs, send press, send pics and keep on sending them – never refuse to go anywhere if you can speak to a record company exec face to face. Remember, despite what others may say in the media in order to seem 'cool', it is ALWAYS best to try and work with the record company rather than against it.

Budget: think carefully and do things in a lateral way: Be careful not to waste any money you may have on things you haven't thought through carefully. For example – there are now hundreds of Internet companies out there trawling for inexperienced/unwary young bands that they promise to promote/get gigs for/get the band's CD to a record company – for a fee. They are all moneymaking concerns and the money is for the website owners, not the bands. In other words, they are a rip-off. Be very careful whom you give money to. A band website is invaluable as is a creative use of social media.

Image: a consistent image is useful but must be very carefully considered – too heavily, obviously 'styled' is only suitable for a mainstream pop group, unless it's ironic as in the White Stripes. Getting the band to all have matching haircuts is pop-industry only. It never pays to look like you've tried too hard – it smacks of desperation. Instead strive for an unstructured but cool 'look' suitable for the music played & try to get the musicians to understand why it's important (one of them will always resist & try and be 'different' in order to assert their 'individuality'. Try and tactfully make them understand a band is a team, not the platform for one person's ego; that's called going solo).

Press pack: containing reviews, biog, photo. Put this together neatly on a PC, make sure it's short & punchy. If skint, get a photography student to take high contrast black & white photos of the band – anything else is useless. Fuzzy pictures you did on your phone are completely pointless, as they do not print up properly in magazines or newspapers. Make this pack look attractive, interesting, and different.

Interviews: very tricky but completely necessary: remember interviews are there as a platform for band members to sell themselves & their music, but in a cool way; never babble, beg, grovel, boast, lie or whine. Don't get carried away, don't bitch other acts, it's not cool & it just makes you look childish and spoilt. Don't reveal anything too personal; remember, whatever you say will be read by hundreds of strangers – do you want them to know very personal, private things about yourself?

NEVER TRUST A JOURNALIST. They want to sell their magazine/fanzine/paper. They have no personal interest in you whatever; it's just their job. They may quite like your music but their over-riding drive is to make money. They may seem really nice and sympathetic, or try to provoke or goad you to be 'controversial', the result will be the same if you fall for either trick, you'll give them what they want. It's your choice if you want to be outrageously provocative or slag others off etc., but you will have to live with the consequences. DO NOT FORGET there is no such thing as 'off the record'. Ever. Whatever the journalist may say.

Be critical: of your progress. Always be positive and welcome positive, constructive criticism. Do not be afraid to abandon things that just aren't working. You always need an outside view of what you're doing, listen to trusted friends and colleagues. You don't have to act on their advice but it's very useful to hear it. Take time out to review what you've achieved & if it's working. If it's just not viable, try another angle & keep on trying until you succeed. Have faith in your 'product' – people will 'catch' your enthusiasm if it's genuine.

Relatives: It is very inadvisable to use your parents/relatives/best mate from school as managers, roadies (technical crew), RM or TM's (road manager & tour manger). It does happen in the industry (for example Paul Weller's father is his manager) but generally it's a recipe for disaster. Your father might be a brilliant guy and an expert in selling plumbing supplies but despite what he may think, he does NOT understand the music industry. Harsh though it may be, he is also of another generation and will not truly understand young people's music or their music culture. Also, your mother loves you very much but unless she is from a music industry background she will not understand it does more harm than good treating every gig you play as if it were an episode of X Factor or Pop Idol. Relatives are there to love and support you, not try to live their youth over again through you. Also, GIGS ARE NOT CONTESTS. There are no 'winners', or 'losers'. Your relatives naturally want to stick up for you but if they do so by ignoring, rubbishing or jeering at other bands it makes YOU, and only YOU look incredibly stupid, childish and amateur. Also, bringing a crowd of relatives to a gig is not a real audience. Do not imagine it is. It might ensure you get a cut of the door-take at the end of the night because 'lots of people came to see you', but they came only because you are their relative. It's the same as when you were in the Nativity Play at school; then you were the Baby Jesus, now you're a guitarist, it's no different to them. Your relatives are not 'fans' or a 'following', they are your relatives. When you go further a field, after a couple of gigs you'll be playing to real audiences – and they are few and far between at the beginning.

People: develop your people skills and always be courteous, friendly and willing to learn. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Remember to talk and interact confidently and pleasantly with anyone in any part of the industry – you never, ever know what power and influence someone might have – they may not look like an influential person to you, but you never know; one of the most powerful men in European rock music looks like a proper tramp & many bands have made the error of dismissing or being rude to him before they realised their dreadful and permanent error. Do not dismiss anyone because of their gender or appearance; for example, many older women that you may think of as uninteresting are actually very powerful movers behind the scenes (Sharon Osbourne is a case in point). Also, don't be fooled by loud-mouths, con-artists and chancers – if they seem false and flash they probably are. Look at their results, not their promises. Trust your instincts.
And most important of all – enjoy yourself & don't ever lose your sense of humour!

 

Tour Managing Top Ten.

(The Tour Manager is the person designated to look after the band's business, technical needs and interact with the venue when the band tours or gigs).

Tolerance: a good TM is tolerant and patient by nature and must develop those qualities to the maximum.

Empathy: A TM must have excellent people skills and be empathic and understanding of the band & crew's needs (i.e ill health, dietary, temperament, work needs, etc). A good TM can walk in other's shoes and see their point of view without losing their own.

Flexibility: A TM must be mentally agile and be quick to respond to problems; they must be able to think laterally in order to solve problems as quickly and efficiently as possible. Practice this by imagining scenarios and planning how you would deal with them successfully.

Knowledge: A professional TM has got to have a sound working knowledge of the industry from top to bottom – and sideways. No one will employ you otherwise. It takes many years, a keen memory, observational skills & a lifetime willingness to learn new skills.

Method: the TM must develop a consistent working method – chopping and changing from indecision and weakness is fatal and disruptive: bands & crews like stability and security, they must trust the TM.

Approachability: the TM must be friendly, always approachable and willing to make each individual feel worthwhile – but they cannot become too deeply personally involved with anyone. It's a lonely job because a certain professional distance has to be maintained. You're the band's TM, not their best pal. It's in their best interests and yours, to understand this.

Leadership: the TM should always try to recognise each individual on the tour's strengths and weaknesses, and in the working environment, learn to get the best out of each person: The TM should also know when to let people work on their own initiative – being a control freak is a hindrance. Also – share information, make sure each person knows exactly what's going on, when.

Finances: a TM must scrupulously and provably honest, have a working knowledge of music industry financial structures and practises, and a good knowledge of computing skills.

Confidence: a good TM is a quietly confident, well-organised and strong-minded individual: cultivate those qualities and learn to alleviate stress. If you're calm, all around you will be calmer and the tour will be calmer. You will be remembered as a reliable, committed worker prepared to go that extra inch for the benefit of the tour, and good person to have around – which means you will get work.

And of course – have a good sense of humour!

Joolz is now a Patron of the charity IDAS - a practical, grassroots organisation helping anyone who is a victim of sexual violence in the North of England. www.idas.org.uk

Copyright © 2018 Joolz Denby. All Rights Reserved.

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