Starting out is one of the most difficult decisions you will make as a band. You’ve got no following, no cash coming in, and probably not very many gigs. There are many mistakes bands make when starting out, but some carry more volume than others. Be sure to read on, as avoiding these mistakes can propel you ahead in months rather than many years.


Mistake #1: Not releasing content

This is one I see all the time. Many young bands and artists are so concerned that their music isn’t good enough yet, and they sit on it. Not only is this not going to get you any fans, you’ll probably never release it since you won’t be inspired about it later on when you return to it. Your following is most likely going to grow slow. The fans are not going to just come to you, you have to make it happen.

Trying to create some viral piece of content may seem appealing to you, but the real chances of it actually happening are slim to none. Don’t let that discourage you. I believe you should make as much content as you can to promote yourself, and if one of these videos or songs happens to go viral, more power to you. But it won’t happen if you don’t release anything.

If you’re worried about production quality, here’s a tip: don’t worry. Millions of videos are created all the time that are just shot with a standard smart phone. These videos often look more genuine and tend to do better.

How to avoid this mistake? Create a schedule with you and your band. Whether that list is super ambitious or just posting a quick update video every week, keep to it.

Some ideas for easy content

  • Quick acoustic covers for Instagram, shot with your phone
  • Comedy skits
  • Show off fan art in a video
  • Create a video showcasing merch you’ll have at shows
  • Create a video showcasing the gear you use on stage
  • Behind the scenes videos of recording, touring, life
  • Start a vlog on your band’s YouTube channel
  • Unique re-arrangements of your songs: acoustic, remixes, re-imaginings
  • Live Q and A streams, hangouts with fans

The positives and negatives with viral content

Let’s start with the negatives. We’ve all seen a lot of viral content as of late. Remember the yodeling kid in Walmart? He just signed a record deal with Atlantic Records.  How about the infamous “cash me outside” girl, Danielle Bregoli? She, too, signed a deal with Atlantic Records. I personally believe these types of deals lead to eventual failure (and I’ll explain why in a second). They seem to be picking up memes at record pace, only to flip them over in less than a year or even a couple months. It’s a short term money grab. That being said, viral success can launch careers.

Viral traffic isn’t organic in the sense that it will continue to thrive over time. Natural organic traffic derived from search engine optimization tends to last for years to come, depending if a specific piece of content is consistently updated. Viral traffic (usually from YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter) has an initial spike followed by a slow wind down until there is virtually no traffic to the content.

Let me explain further. We have all seen graphs and charts that show upward mobility. Here’s a picture of our website traffic for the last 12 months from Google Analytics.

Google Analytics Traffic Stats

The first thing to note, is that the website didn’t really start seeing traffic until November of 2017.  It’s during these high volume retail months of November and December that websites tend to see a big spike in traffic. But that spike doesn’t even compare to now. The website is constantly growing due to new content and search engine optimization. We do almost zero social content and serve 5,000 unique visitors a month on our website. Now, let’s see an example of viral content.

Viral Content From A Video Game

Actual statistics from one of our YouTube song uploads

The above graphic shows statistics from one of our song uploads on YouTube. It was placed in a popular video game, Pro Evolution Soccer 2016, thanks to the incredible help at our record label. It’s important to note that audio uploads to YouTube (without a music video) tend to not do as well anymore, since the rise of Spotfiy and other streaming platforms.

The song itself didn’t do much upon its release. We had just gotten signed at that point and, although there wasn’t tons of traffic going to it, there was some. After a year had passed and the new video game came out, we saw a major spike in view traffic to this one song upload. Now, 2,000 hits a day may not seem like a lot, but the video has over 1,400,000 views to this day and is our most popular upload to our channel.

Now I do understand that music is topical and that web traffic can be in a constant state of growth for many years to come, but I still believe natural organic growth for a band will serve you better in the long run. Our band experienced viral success on a much smaller scale, but it also wasn’t associated with a negative connotation.

When I listed to those two recently-signed artists above earlier, you most likely remember them as being memes. Viral traffic is shared most often when the content is either funny or outrageous. We can see a link here in both of those examples. So rather than being celebrated immediately, the project spawning off a viral video will automatically have a negative connotation in the public’s eye, regardless of what kind of spin you put on it. It won’t matter how much production money is spent.


Mistake #2: Not interacting with potential fans after a show

Lots of bands and artists slip up on this one, too. Now, I could understand it if you’re just the type of person that isn’t comfortable in these types of situations, but leaving a positive impact on people you perform for can do wonders for your initial growth as a band.

Who knows, someone in the audience that night could be a popular YouTuber who decides to put your music on in the background during their next video and credit your band in the description. We had this occur with a lot of people who played Call Of Duty and a popular skateboarding channel.

How to avoid this mistake: After you’re done performing, pack up your gear and wait until the end of the show. Watch the band after you to support them, as well. After the show is over, head to your merch table and say hello to everyone who comes up to you. If you’re nervous about going up to anyone after the show, don’t be. Most people will be thrilled to chat for a second after they just had seen you performing on stage.

Pro tip: Keep a sharpie on you at all times when you head to out to chat with people. It will come in handy more than you realize.


Mistake #3: Not starting an email list

With social media dominating most of young people’s time, I think a lot of bands forget about the insane value starting an email list can provide. Emails are still considered to be one of the most effective forms of marketing to this day. In fact, in 2016, Adestra conducted a study on consumer’s opinions when it came to email and other forms of marketing. Nearly 68 percent of teens and 73 percent of millennials stated that the actually preferred communication from a business (or a band in our case) via email. If that alone doesn’t convince you to start an email list, I don’t know what will.

How to collect emails for your list?

There are two ways you will be collecting emails for your list: what I like to call “on-site” and online. On-site emails will be collected at the merchandise table. I recommend getting a cheap clip board and downloading this free document you can print off at home to use at shows. No strings attached. When you have fans at your table, you could offer a free download card of your newest song in exchange for an email sign up. It’s a very cost-effective strategy when you’re just starting out.

Online emails will be acquired via your website, and on all of your social channels. You can gain a large volume of subscribers by running contests, free download campaigns, merchandise giveaways, and other creative ways you can think of to build your email following. Almost all email services allow you create what’s known as a landing page website URL that you will collect sign ups from. You can post this link across all your socials to get your initial subscribers.

How to avoid this mistake? Sign up for an email marketing service. We personally use AWeber and believe it’s the best email marketing software for the money. They are currently running a free 30-day trial for their service. Try it out and give it a shot!

Some ideas for content to send out to your email list

  • New blog posts on your band’s website, if you post them
  • Any time you upload a new video to your channel
  • Upcoming show dates
  • Fan art appreciation
  • News about your band
  • Links to all your socials

 

Mistake #4: Ignoring the tremendous growth of Spotify

By now, everyone is aware of Taylor Swift’s anger at the Swedish company Spotify (even though apparently now they’re all good). Too many people are losing out on reaching thousands of new fans by decrying their musical activism, arguing that Spotify doesn’t pay musicians a fair royalty. While I do agree with you, I think you need to ignore this if you’re a small artist.

According to Digital Music News, Spotify pays just $0.00397 per stream. So in order to make $1,000 a month from fans streaming your music, you’ll need to get 251,889 plays in a month. It’s not too much of a hurdle, but it should still pay much more.

The real value of Spotify is the playlist system. If you can land three or four bigger playlists in different genres, your monthly listener count can skyrocket. One of my good drummer buddies, Rob Ernst, is in a group called Lauv, who had an insane amount of success with Spotify, getting over 100,000,000 on a song in 2017.

How to avoid this mistake? Make sure the digital distribution service you use offers placement in Spotify. Keep it checked; you’ll want your music there.


Mistake #5: Sending unsolicited demos to record labels

I honestly can’t believe how many artists and bands still attempt this. Record labels have thousands of emails and hundreds of solicited demos that won’t even get listened to. Your album will for sure make the trash can.

It’s not all bad is it? The real truth is, most bands and artists don’t need a record label until a record label approaches them. For one thing, the days of gigantic signing bonuses are basically over. I would estimate that most signing bonuses are between $50,000 and $100,000. So if you’re in it for the money, get out now.

A record label will help you with the production budgets for music videos, photos, etc, and finding a touring agency. They tend to overspend on a lot of budgets and often times you can get a better quality product with someone local who know and work well with. As far as finding a booking agent, you can try to work with a smaller agency, else you’ll have to be calling clubs and booking shows yourself. Most agencies won’t have the desire to work with you, as they make a cut off the top (say 10%) of anything your band makes. If you aren’t making money, they aren’t either.

There are more artists today that are independent and are keeping 100% of their royalties. If you can manage this, you’ll be set. Most record deals today are what’s known as 360 deals. Traditionally, the record label would only take a percentage of money from the recorded music.  Today, a 360 deal involves the record label taking a share in nearly all income streams for your band (merchandise, publishing, endorsements, touring). Some bands go ahead with the deal anyway, in hopes of making tremendous amounts of money and not having to worry about it. In some cases, not signing the 360 means no deal.

How to avoid this mistake: Don’t waste your time emailing record labels. Instead, use this valuable time to create content, write new songs, interact with your fans, and most importantly, stay positive.


Have you or your band made any of these mistakes bands make? I know we did when we were first starting out. Let us know in the comments down with any other questions or concerns. Thanks for reading.

Posted by Nick Cesarz

Nick Cesarz is a touring drummer and music producer from Milwaukee. He has been playing with the area band Vinyl Theatre since its inception in 2013.

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