101 Secrets to Indie Rock Success 




Illustrations by Mike Force



1. Use Twitter and other forms of social media, but use them wisely.
You want to promote yourself, that’s perfectly acceptable, but be careful not to overdo it. It helps if you’re good at jokes to break up all the self-endorsement. (Look to @Tanlines and @ HarlemWhateverr to see how it’s done.) And, hey, if a publication says something nice about you, retweet that shit! You didn’t even write it!

2. Play shows at whatever venue, on whatever bill, whatever day of the week, at whatever time you’re invited to play. “It’s hard being an opening band,” Win Butler told us once in the back alley of a venue in Kentucky while debating whether he should splurge on a hotel room that night. There’s a reason it seems like every band has a story about playing for a room with three people in it: it happens a lot. Later those experiences may become badges of honor. In the meantime, you’re not really in a position to turn your nose up at certain venues or bands offering you a spot on a bill.

There are incentives for playing too: the bartender’s brother could work at Sub Pop, someone could be prompted to give your Bandcamp page a listen after seeing your name in a show listing (including writers at a certain biweekly arts-and-culture guide, ahem, who notice you’ve repeatedly opened for bands they like).

Take of-the-moment buzz-makers DIVE, for instance. By playing so many gigs over the last few months, they’ve made it nearly impossible for local music writers to ignore them. Playing shows might be your best shot at getting noticed. At worst, they’re band practices.

3. With that said, as more and more “bands” consist of one person in their bedroom on their laptop, it’s important to really think about and conceptualize a live setup before heading to the stage. Think about how your songs are going to sound outside the confines of your apartment and ways to make it a dynamic, fleshed-out performance.

4. If you’re debating whether to wear goofy costumes, the safe bet is not to wear goofy costumes. Unless you’re really going to own it (and are prepared to always be associated with it, see: Kevin Barnes’ bedazzled horse), stray away from theatric outfits, props and all that.

5. Aim to be like The Pains of Being Pure at Heart in interviews: smart, self-deprecating, excited. You can also just be yourself (you actually should just be yourself). At the very least, don’t act like talking to press is the biggest drag of your life.

6. If you’re selling two songs on the internet, or even if you’re just giving them away, please, for the love of all that is sacred, stop calling it a digital 7”. It’s just a coupla MP3s, which is fine.

7. Actually, it’s not. Save some money, pool it all together (this is when it helps to have an actual band—your laptop probably sucks at saving money) and then press a real 7”. It will feel good, you’ll have something to show your kids, and your parents will think you’re slightly less of a joke .

8. Regarding CDs: No digipaks till you have a label, or we’ll roll our eyes and make assumptions about the size of your trust fund. As for traditional inserts: four-panel, full color on the front, just one on the back. It’s all you need. But spring for the clear tray. The black one is gauche.

9. Don’t underestimate the power of a good sticker. Print ‘em up and make sure one appears in the bathroom of the bars that are most in keeping with your style. It’s quaint and old-timey and awesome.

10. If you put out a record exclusively on cassette, that’s cool, but realize that not everyone owns a tape player. Include a code for digital download.


"We really like it when you drink onstage."

11. You can go ahead and lose the MySpace page. Bandcamp and SoundCloud are user-friendly, which is key for users trying to actually listen to your music.

12. Don’t have a bad band name. That’s all we can say about that.

13. Support local bands that you admire. Go to their shows. Email them and ask if you could open for them sometime.

14. Stage banter is a tricky thing. If you’re not good at it, that’s ok. Maybe you just shouldn’t do it.

15. Honestly? We really like it when you drink onstage. Especially if it’s wine, poured into a glass from a bottle you keep on top of your amp.

16. But remember, if you’re gonna drink, you have to have at least two so that the first doesn’t look like it was a prop.

17. Only girlfriends and/or boyfriends on the guest list. Everyone else pays. It’s for your own good, and the good of the venue. (This doesn’t apply to us. We’d rather not pay.)

18. Silverface, not blackface. The difference in price cannot be justified, and the difference in sound quality is negligible, especially when compared to more recent offerings.

19. Similarly, get the reissue, not the original. In almost any situation.

20. Get a live drummer. Do it. A massive hang-glider of personality is needed to coast over the vast hole you’ve dug for yourself by performing against canned iPod beats. (And you are maybe not that charming?) Only the quietest and most devastating of whispery chanteuses can afford to forego “intimacy” over impact. And she could probably use a drummer.


"Despite what you’ve heard, record labels still matter."

21. If you’re a drummer, you can sit down now.

22. “Thanks, we have two songs left” is a boring thing to say, and it seems like acknowledgment of the fact that everyone is waiting for your set to be over. Stop this now, please.

23. “Does everything sound ok out there” is a perfectly reasonable thing to say at a loft space. But if you’re at a place with a legit soundman, well, think of someone grabbing a microphone and asking a room full of people if you’re doing ok at your job.

24. If you have sound problems during a show, roll with the punches. For the most part, audiences are surprisingly understanding, and if it’s not something that can be easily repaired, find solace in the fact that the untrained ear probably isn’t even able to tell that your monitor blew out.

25. Despite what you’ve heard, record labels still matter. Being in a band is hard work and it’s expensive and the business side of it is potentially really complicated. But even more importantly, it’s always good if a reputable label is willing to vouch for you. This is common sense that has come under unwarranted fire of late.

26. And if you don’t have a label, consider hiring a reputable publicity company to work your record. There are many to choose from, at just as many different price points. Ask around—you might find one that’s willing to work with you despite your free agent status.

27. But if you can’t hire a publicist to do the legwork for you, remember: critics’ tastes and areas of expertise vary. For example, Pitchfork editor Brandon Stosuy is super into metal; our own Mike Conklin is really into old-sounding people. Pay attention to who’s covering what in the publications you’re hoping to be reviewed by. Seek out the writers whose palates seem most aligned with your music and focus on reaching out to them.

28. If the whole point of a mass email sent to the world is that an old song of yours has been remixed by someone marginally famous, do not even send that. Don’t let your publicist bill you for sending that. It is totally meaningless.

29. This should probably go without saying, but if you are sending music to bloggers, writers, and critics of all stripes, don’t send anything as an attachment and make sure outside download links will result in an MP3 that is properly tagged and labeled.

30. When sending press materials via snail mail, there is no need for a folder. Or for glossy hard copies of photos. We will not scan them onto our computers. Trust us on this.



31. In regard to those press photos, no brick walls and no fields of grass. Sorry, those are taken.

32. You know those recycled CD mailers that are padded with that weird mix of shredded paper and dust that invariably makes a huge mess when we open them? Yeah, they’re the worst.

33. And those super-strength plasticky ones you need scissors to open? Yeah, those we just don’t ever open.

34. The thing where your publicist gives Pitchfork an exclusive on your stupid new video, then emails everyone else about it an hour later as if we haven’t already seen it? That sucks, make them stop.

35. Refrain from responding to negative comments about your band on BrooklynVegan. Lots of bands don’t have anyone saying anything about them at all. Be grateful.

36.If some member of the press asks you to do an interview via email, do not give one-word answers or try to sound dismissive and cool like you’re in the Replacements or something. Either engage for real and offer clear, thought-out responses, or choose to be sort of a dick—we’re honestly ok with either, but if you’re gonna be a dick, at least put in the effort and do it well.

37. But maybe don’t be a dick. Keep in mind, we also book a pretty big local festival. Just saying. (Kidding! No we’re not! Ha!)

38. If you say “for fans of The Hold Steady” or somehow mention another well known band in the subject of your email, we will know immediately that you are way crappier than that band.

39. You don’t need a manager until you have too much to manage.

40. That said, keep tabs on the people you pay to help you. We know a band who hired a reputable PR agency to help with the press campaign for their debut EP. Money was exchanged, a list of contacts was compiled. After following up with a few writers they personally knew on the list, the band came to find no one had received their record. Eventually, the publicist admitted to the mistake: they were never mailed out.


"It’s ok to license your music."

41. There are more opinions out there than just Pitchfork’s. If they give your album a 5.2 or don’t review it at all, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other people, even critics, out there who will love it. Don’t let one website determine your self-worth as a band.

42. It’s ok to license your music. There will forever be other bands/critics/anonymous blog commenters/possibly Patrick Stickles shunning you for “selling out,” but it’s a tired argument in this day and age, and, truth is, you deserve to make enough money to pay your rent.

43.(Unless you’re terrible, then just stop doing this and get a real job, hippie.)

44. There will probably be a trip-hop revival sooner or later, right? This could be cool or awful. Don’t blow it.

45. Saxophones don’t have to be smooth, you know. They can be cold and alienating, like the first Roxy Music record. They can simultaneously be head-nodding and brutal like James Chance’s no wave disco. You bought that thing, now fuck with it.

46. Get tougher, in general. There are still a lot of songs getting written explicitly about benign sunny days. Let’s cool it with those.

47. Did y’all take a vow not to write funny songs or something? Most of the stuff that isn’t crazy serious and earnest lately has seemed super vague, bordering on blank. Wits out. Tongues snugly in cheek. Ever listened to an Elvis Costello record? How about the Television Personalities? The Kinks?

48. Playing instruments on a stage isn’t all there is to a performance. It’s got to rise to the level of a show. There are different ways to put one on, but just playing instruments, even quite well, isn’t enough.

49. As lame as it sounds, consider taking a lesson on your instrument. There are some really great, cool teachers here in the city, and it never hurts anyone to learn a few new tricks—least of all the people forced to listen to you lifelessly playing the same few chords or that one plodding, shitty drum-fill you resort to all the time.

50. If you’re some local singer-songwriter we’ve never heard of, sorry, but we don’t want to be your Facebook friend, even if you tell us you really liked that one piece we wrote about the Decemberists or whatever.



51. Buy a decent stereo for home use. If you know where to look (Craigslist, various home audio forums), you can get a receiver, a turntable, a CD player and some good speakers for little more than $500, and it’ll make a world of difference in how you think music should sound. Your laptop is doing you no favors.

52. Brooklyn has one of the most thriving DIY scenes in the world. Utilize it. DIY promoters, bookers, labels and, most importantly, audiences will likely be more open to taking risks on unknown bands and more forgiving when you flub your guitar solo at your second show ever.

53. You live in NYC for a reason, right? Embrace it. Go to shows, shop at brick-and-mortar record stores, talk to people. If you don’t, you might as well be a band in South Dakota. It’s cheaper, and they have the internet there.

54. If you have the means, try to get down to Austin for SXSW at least once. Between traveling expenses and the unspoken agreement with showcase presenters that you’ll play pro bono, you’ll likely lose money in the end, but considering the opportunities that could arise from it—all that elbow rubbing!—it might be worth it. You just never know.

55. If you ask nicely for us to re-tweet something about a show you’re playing, we just might. We also might not, but we probably won’t make fun of you for asking.

56. Try not to leave too much stuff in your van overnight. You’re gonna be so pissed if all your shit gets stolen.

57. You should make t-shirts, yes, but also maybe sweatshirts! We suggest crewneck for a nice change of pace. (Unless you’re in a hardcore band, in which case you’d get beat up for such a thing.)

58. Should you choose to cover a song, please do so without irony.

59. Pay attention to the other bands around you, but not too much. Great scenes are made up of originals, not carbon-copies of one another.




Andy Bodor
Co-owner and Booker, Cake Shop

60. Try not to have your “manager”/best bro stand over the shoulder of the sound guy and offer “advice.”

61. Try not to have five minutes of epic intro music before walking out onto the stage if you’re the first band on a five-band bill playing your second show ever. Gotta earn that stuff.

62. If you’re anyone but the headliner, don’t have your last song be an extended white-noise jam during which you destroy the house backline and/or stage, then walk off with your guitars still feeding back. Again, gotta earn that stuff.

63. Know how your instrument works and how to plug it in. If you need a DI, know what it is, how to ask for one, and what it does. If you know what a DI is, don’t show up to a DIY venue and ask for 20 DIs and complain about the subs.

64. Try not to put 30 people on the guestlist for an 100-
capacity room.

65. Don’t treat Webster Hall like Shea Stadium. Don’t treat Shea Stadium like Webster Hall.

66. Stage banter should be at most 10 percent of your show. An even lesser percentage should be tuning.

67. Try not to ask for a drink from onstage when there are six people in the room.


"Don’t send mass emails to bookers."

Kanine Records

68. Make sure you are ready before you start playing out. The best thing to do is have your album completed, great photos, bio, artwork, image, an amazing and tight live show—basically the works. So when you come out of the gate, you come out slamming. Most labels/press/music tastemakers go see bands when they first come out. And if their live show sucks at the beginning, we dismiss them before they get a chance to develop. But to be honest, that is their fault. That is what practice spaces are for.

Ashley Ayers
Publicist, Tell All Your Friends PR

69. If you mass email publicists, agents, managers, labels, etc., always bcc.

Peter Agoston
Agent, Panache Booking

70. Any artist should treat their craft like a new plant. Learn to nurture it by not overdoing or underdoing anything. Trust your intuition and be careful in relying on a manager. Learn to be your own manager first. If you have the opportunity to work with a booking agent, choose someone you can trust—someone that provides both guidance and insight and who is ready to listen to what the artist may need. Determine your collective goals and see them through, with patience, as it could be a slow process. Train yourself to be disciplined.


"Have realistic expectations and be humble."

Jify Shah
Talent Buyer, Cameo Gallery

71.Understand your scene and the key players involved. Get to know bands in the neighborhood and be critical. Try to connect with ones that are doing well and share similar musical influences or fanbases.

72. Have realistic expectations and be humble.

73. Don’t force people to “like” your Facebook page in order to listen to your music.

74. Don’t send mass emails to bookers.

Anonymous Talent Buyer
at Brooklyn venue

75. DELETE YOUR MYSPACE PAGE. Create and maintain (on a daily basis) a Bandcamp or SoundCloud + Facebook page instead.

76. Play your friend’s party, DIY spots and small bars before trying to get a show at a club that holds more than 200 people.

77. Do not contact a venue asking to ONLY play on weekends.

78. When contacting venues, have a lineup of other local bands in mind for a show you want to put together or else have your eye on a show that is already booked on the venue’s calendar. This helps speed things up tremendously.

79. Be aware of the type of music each venue books. Do not contact a rock club if you’re in a jazz band… c’mon now.

80. Promote your show! If the only draw you have is who’s on your guestlist, you’re not going to be asked back to play another show. As an opening act, you should be drawing at the very least 10 percent of the capacity of the room, i.e. 300 cap = 30+ person draw GUARANTEED.


"Be polite to your coworkers."

Hunter Giles
Founder of Infinite Best Recordings, manager of Twin Sister and Ava Luna

81. BE POLITE TO YOUR COWORKERS. That is, while you’re in band-mode, be courteous and respectful to everyone you encounter, from industry macher to dorky fanboy. Sounds simple, right? Prove it! Bands are forced to interact with so many different kinds of people, often in loud, dark rooms, many times under the influence of various substances (or a post-show ego-high). It can be easy to lose your head, talk shit, mouth off. Sound guys, bookers, bouncers, promoters, lawyers, managers, publicists, label folks, fans, photographers and (especially) other bands... they all look the same in the crowd, they all are your current or potential coworkers, and if you just got off the stage (or are currently on it), they are all secretly watching you to see how you interact, whether you’re a nice person or a total dickwad. I can’t tell you how fast word gets around when a band or artist is less than kind, and I’m continually amazed at how many people remember you if you make a little extra effort to be nice.

Nicolas Vernhes
Producer/engineer, Rare Book Room

82.Try to work with an engineer or producer who clearly understands your sonic vision. If you can, take them out for a beer beforehand (who doesn't like free booze?) and talk about what you want to do. If said vision is still verbally murky prior to crossing the studio doors (hopefully not due to the beer), make sure the engineer gives you a strong sense that they will at least pay very close attention to your particular needs and requests for a certain aesthetic/type of sounds. It's your music, not theirs.

Michelle Cable
Founder and Agent, Panache Booking

How to draft a booking email that will actually be read:

83. In the subject line, make sure you state the name of your band and the date you are inquiring about. If you are on a recognizable label, you could also mention that in the subject line.

84. Keep the email as concise and to the point as possible. Whoever you are emailing is most likely at their office reading your e-mail and has no time to read a novel.

85. Make sure your band name and the date you are looking for is visible within the first half of the message. [Editor’s note: see number 79.]

86. Include two to five noteworthy web links that pertain to your band. These could be your artist site, Bandcamp, Facebook, media press links, record review links, etc.

87. Do not attach files or mp3s! This is extremely annoying and clutters one’s inbox.

88. If your band is on a label, touring around a release, or has a publicist working a campaign, include that info. Keep it to a couple of sentences.

89. If your band has shared the stage/toured with other recognizable artists or played noteworthy festivals, you can mention these here. Again, keep it to a couple of sentences.

90. Make sure that in one quick glance or perusal of your email, the key information stands out and is easily spotted.

91. If you have a short, decent press quote or two, you can insert these at the end. The publication or entity you are quoting has more influence then the strength of the quote. Keep that in mind; quotes from entities like Pitchfork, SPIN, NPR, NY Times, Village Voice, L Magazine [Editor’s note: aw, shucks] will probably pique some interest and possibly a response.

92. And one more thing! A last reminder to keep it concise while still being as informative as possible. Probably no longer than this tutorial.




Taylor Brode
Label Manager, Sacred Bones

93. Do not blindly email, mail or call labels if you want them to listen to your demo. Instead have a long hard listen to that label’s releases and decide if your band really makes sense for them aesthetically. And before you send any demos anywhere, you should ask yourself one thing: “Does my band want to be a band full-time or is this just a hobby for fun?” If your answer is the latter, you should look into self-releasing your record. You can’t expect a label to work full-time on your band if you don’t. If your answer is the former, you should try to find an organic in with the label before you blindly solicit. It’s like applying for a job. The label is more likely to respond if you are friends with people on their roster and their bands like your band. I’d say 99 percent of the bands we sign come from friends or roster artists referring people to us.

Sarah Moody
General Manager, Hardly Art

94. I think the key in gaining interest—whether you’re working with a physical or digital demo—is to not beat anyone over the head about it. If the music is good, it should speak for itself. If the live show is good, that’s even better. We look for bands who are making music that we’re excited about and think should be heard by a larger audience. I don’t know if it’s possible to whittle the specifics down further than that, other than we generally try to avoid working with total assholes. (Pro tip: never send an MP3 attachment unless prompted.)

Mike Sniper
Founder, Captured Tracks

95. Don’t have a manager or lawyer send an email, that goes in the trash.

96. Don’t send a demo with a UPC, that gets thrown away.

97. If you’re sending us a demo, don’t already have records out.

98. It always helps to put some thought and care into the email or CD-R to make it personal and show the artist’s affinity with the label.

Mat Hall
General Manager, Luaka Bop

99. We listen to everything that comes in. I was happy to see that was the case when I came to the label. We know immediately if it’s not right for Luaka Bop, so it may only get 15 seconds before someone yells to turn it off, but we listen. Sending out a demo is not going to hurt you if your music is any good and you send it to the right people in the right way—as a link to the music hosted somewhere else instead of crashing my email with unsolicted MP3s. That makes me want to stab you in the face. But even then, if something great arrives unsolicited in the mailbox it’s a rare treat.

Mike Schulman
Label owner, Slumberland

100. Show that you really know and understand the aesthetic of the label you are approaching. It’s so cheap (like, free) to send out demos digitally that I’m sure it’s tempting to carpet bomb every label out there, but nothing turns me off more than getting something totally inappropriate for the label with a boilerplate note stating how much you love Slumberland and how perfect you are for the label. All of the indie labels I know and respect very carefully select the bands they work with, and as a band you should just as carefully select some labels you really want to work with and approach them in the most personal, genuine way possible.

Pieter Schoolwerth
Founder, Wierd Records

101. I get so many links, videos and promos, both to my address and discs and vinyl delivered in person at the weekly party, it’s pretty impossible to keep up. But I always make an effort to listen to absolutely everything I get. I’m not a huge fan of download links, nor do I usually react very well to mass emails, but physical promos in the mail with hand-written letters and artwork are always the best and most inspiring, and say a lot about how much conviction a band has in getting their music out there into the world.


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