"some music was meant to stay underground..."

OpEd

Simple Ways To Publicize A Band More Effectively

As we've entered the cyber age and immediate access to information, the amount of bands with a DIY ethos has exploded. In these times, it is no longer necessary to have the agonizing wait of being discovered by a record label to start a band's fanbase and get known. But, with that ease of being able to post one's material comes other self-apparent facts. A band is now part of a much larger macrocosm of over a hundred thousand metal acts, and must do what is necessary to publicize itself and put it's offerings at the forefront of others' minds. A band must now be in charge of its destiny, at least in the beginning.

Simple Common Sense

A lot of what a band must do is simple common sense and costs next to nothing. You would be surprised, though, as common sense doesn't seem to abound these days. Groups need to look at it this way - the means to get noticed is to have a steady amount of news articles printed on as many blogs and webzines as is feasible. And how does one go about doing this? Well, there are many ways to facilitate the process, but first you must look to yourselves as the answer. Make your information and pages as complete as is physically possible.

News bloggers and posters, when not getting publicist and record label feeds, get the lion's share of their news by individually scouring pages, likes and links on such sites as Facebook or Reverbnation. These sites feature at least half of all the artists out there on their respective band pages, as do the community groups that represent interests and genres. Post your band in these groups to get noticed. When I see a group or a genre page post a new release from a band, I will go research them. After I bring up the about/info or bio feature, I am often dissapointed in the dearth of information provided.

Before I get to that, I must mention that it's a good idea to put information simply so that if it's not in English, it can be easily translated. I prefer things in English, obviously, but I am not the type to be an Anglophile and expect every other nationality to conform to the "universal" language of English - but it really is better if you can make some of the more important wall posts and biographical info more user friendly. Online translators are horrible about groups of words and colloquialisms, so put your important band facts simply and to the point, so anyone can understand them when converting languages.

Presenting Your Facts

A large percentage of bands will not bother to list their discography in their bios, which means more steps for the journalist. Then we'll head over to Encyclopaedia Metallum, the home of 50,000 bands, to get that information. Sometimes even that site doesn't have an archive on many of the bands, showing you just how big the scene is. The next step is going to YouTube, where usually at least one track is uploaded from any given album. All the while thirty minutes has gone by doing this research, which is tedious. In an ideal world, we'd know the discography of every band. We're not computers or algorithms, and as humans knowing a few thousand is even a stretch to ask.

See, with news articles we like to be able to include some biographical information to "flesh out" the paragraph in the story. These news articles are ultimately a way of selling yourselves and painting a picture for a listener who may not be familiar with your material. When you don't present enough information as a band, oftentimes a news writer will bypass your group and post another news article from a band that has enough information to make a good quick news blurb.

It would be highly mundane to simply put "Here's a new song from Coathanger Abortion" and not include at least a few sentences about the band. I know some of the tabs such as "sounds like" and "influences" stir up some humorous responses from bands due to their cheesiness, but some of the answers are a bit much. Under "sounds like," one band put "you tell me you douchebag - listen to the record" and another put "gay porn" under influences. Save that for your wall humor.

Being Descriptive

Also, I find that a band's line-up is seldom put on many biographies. Simply putting "Jack, Tony, Lucifer and Kerry" without their roles/instruments makes it hard when you want to reference a brief sentence on the guitarist or what not. It costs nothing to edit your page and do a bit of data entry, even if your line-up changes frequently. Keep updating your discography as well, especially adding the release dates for new material. Oftentimes we will go down on your timeline to see how "new" the album was. For instance, I notice that Balam Akab posted its new track "Guerrero Jaguar" on March 14th on its wall (just an example). Maybe it came out six months earlier and the artist just keeps reposting it to promote it with all the fans on the page.

This leads me to those upload dates on YouTube. When your band uploads a video to that site, it is a good idea to put when it was actually released along with the album title. I check the name of the person/entity uploading it, and if it's not the band (which is usually pretty self-evident by the user name) I don't expect it to be news. Some guy at his home CD player will post something ten years old and rarely give much info with it, except some superlative. Half the time I will see an old video with the cover image of the new album, which is usually easy to dismiss when not posted by a band.

Since there are tens of thousands of bands out there, don't expect us to know everything - assist us with the process. Being descriptive in the information you put there is imperative. Also, it's a good idea to post some studio videos with good quality sound since live videos often suffer from bad audio quality and spastic cinematography. Watch all your settings when uploading, too. Out of every twenty videos I go to feature in a news article, one of them has "embedding disabled by request," which makes me have to link it instead - which isn't as effective. You don't have to have official videos when you feature your band, but it does get you featured in the news once more.

Distinguishing Your Band

I know this is metal and I'm all for humor, but get serious about your band page. Don't put under location/hometown: "satan's asshole" or "the depths of hell" or somewhere not descriptive of where you actually are, like leaving it blank. While this may amuse some fourteen year old kid or a guy who's had a dozen beers - think. A person researching you to post a news article or enter your band into a data base will have to put "unknown" under your location if it can't be found there. A few times I have had to head over to MySpace to find the actual location of a band due to this. Be complete with your biography and edit it frequently. Remember to put the state as well, since I have seen plenty of biographies where the hometown is listed as Springfield or Portland. That leads to the question: Illinois or Massachusetts...or is it Maine or Oregon?

Also, when there are several other bands that share your name, you need to distinguish who you are by making your band easy to search for. One hint is to put (Official) next to your name or another is to put an avatar with your logo or an image of your group's latest release. The other day I was looking up a band and had to scroll down three pages to actually find the group. After loading quite a few pages, I was able to figure it out through the process of elimination. The other bands were techno-pop or had an image of 50 Cent as their picture. While that's pretty obvious, it isn't always. I saw a big doom metal site put the wrong link on their record review, to a different heavy metal band with the same name. It happens, and even the best news writers are fallible in their haste to expedite an article.

Organizing Your Wall

This now leads me to the organization of information on a band's Facebook wall. First, don't wait ten months between posts. Surely you have something to say that would interest all the people that like your page, and will keep you current in the process. The more successful bands make at least a post a day and keep your interest in them. Don't overpost, since people don't want clutter on their walls, but don't let the interest wane either. We also scroll down the wall to check for tour dates, and the really proactive bands make it so helpful when they organize their tour dates under a tab on top next to either the music or band page tab.

If a band constantly updates its gig schedule, it's easier for us to copy/paste and disseminate that information. This tab also notifies the fans when the band hits their town, through the tracking feature. Besides putting tour dates under this tab, try to put a nice printed list of them as a wall post, too. The tour date list under the tab is very hard for a writer to copy and paste, since we have to delete the "share," "rsvp," "tickets" and all the creative white space in the columns. Usually, I am scrolling down to older posts of individual gigs and writing each one down to compile my own list to post.

It's frustrating when we see an image of a tour flyer without the information typed out next to it, because most of the time the bottom part of the image is cut off which would otherwise contain the venue information. To top it off, many of the shows don't include what city they will be in. For example, you will see "Head to our show at Ron's Keg House on May 10th." I end up assuming it's in their hometown of, let's say, Austin but still do a search to see where that place is actually located. Bands need to realize that their page is not just being viewed by mostly the 547 people from their area that like them.

Streaming Your Music

Getting your music viewed by others is just as key an issue. We post teaser videos and new uploads by embedding the videos and the players that stream music. These are real gems to any journalist, because they give life to any article. Years ago, no one could stream music when they bought a metal magazine (unless it came with a CD sampler) and nowadays it's the norm. It has gotten to the point where I feel that most record reviews have become pointless. I mean really, when people can stream the music and make their own judgements - it might only be best to have a circle of journalists in a forum discussing the album in question. People expect to hear music or they'll move on. The average listener tires of long paragraphs without music or something to break up all the text.

If you do not share a bit of your music to infuse into news articles for others to sample your tunes, you're as good as dead. That does not mean letting everyone download and stream your material, for that is one element that is killing the scene. I personally feel that when musicians are getting their start as an act, the first EP or full-length streaming is a way to get your material known, akin to modern day tape trading. You don't have to relinquish all of it, just a few songs or even samples when putting it on CD Baby or Amazon. Trust me, enough people will eventually be uploading tracks of yours to YouTube or putting illegal mediafire download links, but that takes time and hopefully the major influx of fans that would buy your album will have already done so.

If you are going to upload your studio videos to your Facebook page, try not to put them on the Facebook video format. The embed code is much more involved for us to post these videos. It is not easily obtainable by clicking a button like it is on YouTube or Reverbnation and involves wrapping html code around the video's URL. When putting it on YouTube, make sure you add as many relevant tags as possible, such as "black metal," "Norway" or "Umskiptar," (as it relates) to give a few examples. These tags put you in a far better position when a listener does a search under these categories or of similar bands. These tags are very important in terms of Bandcamp, too. Bandcamp pages, especially record label ones, throw down plenty of deceiving tags, which needs to change. The tag will show the location of the label and not the band, and this is highly misleading.

Digressing to the previous subject of music, I suggest an organized streaming service such as Bandcamp to do it. MySpace is fairly good, but doesn't present it in "album" form, but just as individual tunes from all different periods in a band's history, which is atrociously unappealing. Put your release dates (digital and physical) on the album and stream only a few tracks, or even one at a time. When you stream one lone track, it gives it "single" appeal and doesn't overwhelm a person. In the next couple of weeks, stream another. People are less likely to download music when it's only one song. Plus, it gives your band more opportunities to land in the news. When a band streams a whole album at once, that's its one and only news article for that album unless you all of a sudden have something relevant again - such as a series of tour dates. You want as many angles as possible to throw your name out there and be newsworthy. More exposure is gained this way.

Publicizing Yourself

If you present well-written, organized band pages on various sites you'll go a long way towards publicizing your band. This work is quick and easy to do, although acting as your own publicist can be tedious, which is why many artists opt for a record label. Companies can get you on bigger tours, have contacts in the industry and can help with the costs incurred with producing a recording, giving you that added boost. If you do or don't have a label, though, another good means of getting your name out there is via publicists. There are many good publicity firms that have a rolodex of contacts at their fingertips to get you in the news. These firms have regular contact with hundreds of webzines and the email addresses of several journalists, so that your news won't end up overlooked from the hundreds of feeds. If a band had to do this itself, it is substantial legwork and very tedious.

You can hire a publicist to work your album for a minimal amount over a three month period and the end result will be your news showing up on several blogs, many people reviewing your record and several appointments for you to do interviews. An interview gives you well over four times the exposure of a simple news article due to its length, and engages a fan better with forming an image of you and your music. Never turn down an interview, even though you have to usually do all the work whether typing responses or answering the phone. I recently sent out a list of interview questions to a band, and after two follow up communiques from its publicist, they never sent back any answers to the questions. Who loses out here? Not me. Makes you wonder why they even hired a publicist.

Nowadays, selling onesself is key although at times when looked at from a new band's stance not all of it is common sense. A group may understand music and composing, but not the overall elements of getting its name to the forefront. Those of us in the media are used to this vantage point and know what facilitates the process. At the end of the day, bands must rely on their own wiles to make sure all the information is out there. Be self-reliant and make the beginning part of the process flow, and the rest will come far easier.

sonictherapy's avatar

Vicky Willis has been a freelance journalist and former college radio disc jockey for almost twenty years. She has been contributing to Metalunderground.com since 2010.

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