101 Secrets to Indie Rock Success

01/18/2012 4:00 AM |


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.


15 Comment

  • This is so awesome I’m linking to it from my venue’s booking info page. Thank you.

  • I was expecting a list filled with snark and ironic posturing, but this was a fantastic surprise. Thank you, L Magazine.

  • I think this article is very helpful. I’ve actually had the pleasure to book with Andy and I can say as an artist that I def appreciate when both parties respect each others hard work. The music world is tough.

  • @Natural: Whoa, whoa, whoa, there’s certainly *some* snark and ironic posturing in there! Thanks for the nice words, and for reading, obviously.

    You too, M. Romeo.

  • my kids are in a (fucking awesome) band in nyc and their manager posted this on facebook. i’m a magazine writer and editor, and the piece makes me wanna hire you guys. nice work.

  • some things never really change though eh? How about T-shirts are they in or out now? Or how about postering?…I did a bunch of that as well..in crapy weather once upon a time..

  • @Ninths: As per #57, yes, t-shirts are still a-ok by us. And postering! A total oversight on our part — postering would definitely be nice touch, like a reenactment of a scene from Singles or something.

    @Clint Willis: Oh, that’s really very nice of you to say. Glad you like your kids’ music. Though to be safe, I feel I should refer you (and them) to #38.

    Thanks for reading, everyone.

  • It seems like the “advice” from Captured Tracks really only applies to them.

  • #23. Go ahead and ask. I’ve been to dozens of shows where there vocals vanish. I felt sorry for a band from Scotland who had good 3 & 4-part harmonies and the venue messed up the vocals. Sometimes there’s too much riding on making a good impression. Feedback is good. More is better. Don’t be afraid.

  • As someone who does PR work for one of the venues in town (as well as freelance for a lot of musicians) I can not tell you how dead on this article is. Heck, I even learned a new thing or two. Thank you for this!

  • @Doug Kresse: I am willing to bet that asking the crowd how it sounds will not in 90% of shows make the sound any better. If the sound-person hasn’t figured the bands’ sound out on their own, they probably won’t and just aren’t that good at their job and/or are having technical problems. If they happen to be missing something crucial about the sound of the band, go tell them discreetly. It’s insulting to call them out from the stage and won’t yield the results you hoped for.

  • This is a bunch of bullshit:


    Check that guy, ask him if MySpace didn’t help.

    MySpace is still in the top 10 Social networking sites, beating out Google+, according to Nielsen:
    (Scroll down to the chart were MySpace is mentioned.)

    MySpace is #16 on Seomoz:

    And is in the Top 7 trending brands on Twitter:

    According to Google’s own stats, MySpace is still in the top 100 sites worldwide, ahead of Tumblr & HuffPo. Surprisingly, Reddit is nowhere in sight:
    Just looking at that list and counting Social networking sites, MySpace comes in at number 5.

    And it’s still beating out Tumblr & Google+ according to CommScore:

    MySpace TV is also mentioned postively in these articles:

  • Tom, is that you?

  • Most of the tips in here are pretty spot on, and should be pretty obvious to any musician who lives in the city and has played at least a handful of gigs.

    With that said, there are a couple of tips that contradict other tips you make.

    1 – “play as many shows as possible every day of the week.” The fact is unless you’re on a decent bill with bands that are in a “scene” you are trying to get in, and there’s actually going to be people there, most likely you’re not going to get any real “exposure.” In other words, Mike and other buzz bloggers will most likely not be at Trash Bar on a Tuesday, let alone a more DIY spot like Death By Audio or Party Expo, and especially won’t come if it’s a bunch of bands who they’ve never heard of (or been tipped off to), and more-so the case when all of the bands are completely different, did little to no promo, and the bands have little musicianship, fanbase, etc.

    On top of that, as many venue bookers and promoters will tell you, if you don’t bring people to your shows, they’re not going to want to book you again, even at the DIY venues these days (esp the Todd P associated ones). There are so many bands and venues in the city, shows to see, let alone things to do, and on top of that, most people (who are not avid live-music attendees), don’t see more than 2-4 shows (even small ones) a month. So if you send your friends invites 10 times a month for them to see you play your exact same set on a Monday night at 11pm, most likely they will not come (and thus venues will not be as likely to book you as much).

    2 – “license your music.” So at one point you say that you should license your music, which you neglect to mention means enabling large corporations to play your music when selling their product or during their tv shows, in order for them to either associate your sound with their product (i.e. indie cred with cars). While you do in fact make money from this (although you most likely won’t be able to do this without some prior relative success), your art will forever be associated with something that either has nothing to do with it, or worse, is against your/your artistic ethos and values.

    At the same time, you write that you are sick of vague tongue-in-cheek lyrics, and songs about bland sunny days (or something like that), and that you’re more interested in bands taking a tougher tone, which I think you meant to say, “talking about actual emotions, events, society, politics, the world, your experiences,” as opposed to fluff.

    So are you looking for bands to write songs about the juxtaposition of the relative misfortunes and economic outlook of 20-somethings with college degrees against, the misfortunes of the people whose neighborhood’s are being gentrified and are actually living at below poverty levels, to then go ahead and license their song off to Bank of America for their new commercial, while this very same institution’s actions were clearly responsible for a lot of the economic and social injustice that their song is supposed to highlight?

    Please clarify.

    My personal opinion is do what Steve Albini says and don’t look at music as a way to make money, because it will diminish your message, artistic creativity, your ability to go against the grain, and more importantly, put money in the hands of organizations whose interests are completely against yours.

  • Ooh wee. good advice I plan to use. Not all of it but some of it. Thank you contributors.