101 Secrets to Indie Rock Success

01/18/2012 4:00 AM |


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.


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.