Archive for January 2010

Local Band Wars: Unite Your Fanbase, Light a Fire in the Scene

January 29, 2010

A local radio station picked up on this band feud and made this header for the station website

I think the headline says it all.

Hip-hop has been doing this for years.  And aside from it getting ugly from time to time, it really generates a TON of interest in the feuding artists and the scene in which they reside.

Why can’t other styles of music do this? Welp, they can.  And they are.  At least a couple that I know in Columbus, OH are – the George Elliot Underground and Chelsea Automatic.

Don’t get your panties in a bunch, I’m not suggesting to go out and pick fights with other bands. We’re all hypocrites, but I’m not that much of one.  I’m about lifting up the entire scene and promoting each other.  Promote the other guy more than yourself.

That’s what a friendly band feud does.  The only trick is to keep it “friendly.”

As the rumor goes, GEU and Chelsea Automatic were hanging out one night and tossing around some ideas over a few beers.  Without too much thought as to what the result would be, someone suggested a band war.

The trick was to use it as show promotion to promote a bill where both bands were playing.

The next day they started posting insults on each other’s Facebook pages, each time linking to the other’s page so all the fans on both sides could see it:

“Chelsea Automatic takes their vitamins and drinks their milk.  George Elliot Underground eats wieners.”

“Via GEU:  The four d@uche bags on the Jersey Shore could write better songs than Chelsea Automatic.”

Can you start to picture what happens next?

1.  Fans unite to support their band

2.  Noise is made in the scene

3.  Content is generated in the form of videos, pictures, fan shirts (Team George/Team Chelsea).

4.  Content goes viral

5.  Local media picks it up

In this case a local radio station picked it up and created a page on their website where fans could vote and show their support and experienced over 400 votes in 24 hours.

Here, think of it like this:  The 50 Cent and Kanye feud to sell more albums.  Same deal here, but on a local level.

The key to success is building the “feud” around an event with both bands in attendance.  Whether it be a co-album release, co-billed show, festival, etc.

Do this:

  • Buddy up with another local band.
  • Book a show together to have something to build the feud around (3 months out or so)
  • About a month before the show start leaving messages like the ones above on each other’s pages, websites, etc.
  • Pick up the frequency of the content as the event draws nearer.  Use videos and pictures.  Old school wrestling promos are perfect.  People can share them and spread the message.
  • Creating a micro-site for the war.  Install a voting poll option.  Look at this page:  UndergroundColumbus.com/columbuswar
  • Once the war starts to pick up steam, reach out to your local media contacts/bloggers/twitterers.
  • Play the show

A little sidenote:  I actually work for UndergroundColumbus.com.  I got an email from our P.D. stating that he ran into the feud online and thought it was hilarious and he wanted us to cover it.  So, I’m not making this up.

The scene needs ignited every so often or it will never grow.  And I mean the ENTIRE scene.  You don’t necessarily have to stage band fights – get creative and try something different.

But whatever you do – lift others up around you.  You’ll be amazed how much further you go than if you stick to yourself.

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tweety tweet:  @davemhuffman

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Don’t Forget About Your EMAIL List.

January 26, 2010

I’m not going to get all blow-hardy in this one.  I just wanted to remind you that EMAIL is still the king of online communication.  Well, maybe “communication” is too broad of a word, but a study by eMarketer shows that it is still the king of content sharing and conversion.

Check this out.

Look at that.  Email still blows the rest of them out of the water.

What does that mean? It means you need to dust off your mailing list and start taking it seriously again.  It means you need to work on your headline writing so you can actually get a good open rate (between 20%-30%).  It means you need to have a good delivery system so you can get creative with the design and insertion of content.

Anyways – I said I’d keep it short, so here’s what you do.

1.  Get a good email management system.  One that can keep track of and sort email addresses by city, state, name, gender, etc.  Also one that makes it easy to create nice looking newsletters.

2.  Focus on getting people to sign up and make it easy for them. DO NOT BE PUSHY ABOUT IT.  Just make sure it is available to them.  It also helps to have someone walk around the club during your performance politely asking attendees to sign up.  If you have a sign up widget at your site, DO NOT MAKE PEOPLE JUMP THROUGH TOO MANY HOOPS TO SIGN UP.  Email should be the only “required” piece of info.  Make the rest of the socio/demographic info optional.

3.  Back up your list. Export your list to a disc, jump drive, or whatever.  Just make sure you have a copy in case the interwebz decides to go up in flames one day.  Ok, I guess you wouldn’t need email then, but you know what I mean.  If your Fanbridge account goes ka-blewey and you have 3,000 emails stored only there, you’re screwed.

4.  Write Better Headlines.  You’ll be working on this for the rest of your life, but the point is that you realize the fact that you need to work on it.  Any old shouting email headline won’t work.  We’ll go deeper into that later, but for now check out this Copyblogger post on How to Write Headlines that Work.  While you’re at it – sign up to receive update for their blog.

5.  Size, or uh Length Matters. Most say length of the email matters in that if it’s too long, people get bored.  I partially agree with this.  I say a long email is okay from time to time so long as you tell a nice story and the content is relevant.  That said – you can’t overload people with content or they’ll just get paralyzed by it and shut down.  So just play it safe and keep it short and sweet.  And remember – YOU ONLY GET THE FIRST TWO SENTENCES TO GRAB THEIR ATTENTION AND KEEP THEMSo say what you mean and get to the point early.

6.  Use Sparingly. Send your email blasts no more than 2 times a month.  One of them should be a market specific email based around the city you are playing in that month and the other should be an overall “Update” with some added value stuff in it like new photos, videos, free music, etc.  Experiment with this though.  I would use it more frequently around big events like our festival or a cd release.  Again though – every email had an angle.  I didn’t just send emails to say “C’mon!  Come to the Show!” People HATE that sh*t.

Anyways – those are some of the basics.  Just use the Golden Rule when delivering email, make it easy for people, add value to the relationship, and you’ll be ok.

Shoot me an email if you have questions and want to go further:  freelymarketing@gmail.com

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Let’s tweet, tweet:  @davemhuffman

How to Make Money on the Road (Hint: Don’t Spend Any)

January 23, 2010

Me in the kitchen of a venue: I always found a way to eat for free (almost always).

All too often I hear guys complain about never making any money on the road.  All the while, in the same sentence, I’ll hear them mention hotel rooms, allotting money for eating out, drinks, etc.

What?!  So, you’re complaining about “not making money,” but you’re spending it all?

I know, I know…it’s hard not to spend it.  Especially when you go on a two week run.  I’m not totally innocent.  I would splurge from time to time and get a room or go buy a nice meal somewhere.  Sometimes you have to splurge for the sake of sanity.

For the most part though, you have to keep that money in your pocket.  And, for the most part, you won’t be making much to begin with.

Below are some basic ways we came home with cash:

1.  Have A Plan: In some cases you’ll be getting a guarantee.  So add those up and estimate that as your operating budget for the trip.  The shows where you receive door shouldn’t be factored into the budget.  For all you know – no one will show up and you won’t make a dime.  In fact, you might have to float the $150 fee for the sound guy.

Basically, just be prepared and anticipate costs before you leave.  Make sure everyone in the band is on the same page.  If your guitar player is expecting to get paid on this trip and the budget doesn’t allot for personal cash – you will have to have a talk with him/her.

If you are going on a 2 week run of traded out shows with no guarantees…then you’re strategy is going to be completely different.  Bottom line is:  Just have one and be ready.

2.  For Food: A loaf of bread, jar of peanut butter, some generic chef boyardee meals, and possibly a free meal at the venue if you can work it out.

After a couple days you’ll want something besides peanut butter and generic chef boyardee, so do this:  Pull into a hotel in the morning.  Have one or two guys from the band walk in, comment on the weather, talk about how well they slept last night, then raid the continental breakfast.

We lived like kings on the road because of that.

Some places lock up the breakfast now, so we may have ruined it for everyone, but you could still give it a shot.

You can also sparingly hit up the $.99 menu at Wendy’s.  Every other day or so, we would grab a small chili and a baked potato and spend less then $6 as a band.

And let me tell you – when you’ve been sparingly eating nothing but peanut butter for a few days, a chili and baked potato taste like heaven on earth.

3. For Lodging: You’ll always find and meet new friends at the show.  Stay with them and get to know them.  I’ve met some of the best friends of my life doing this.

If you’re anti-social, sleep in the van.  If you don’t have a van, sleep in the car.  We toured out of a Hyundai Sonata for over two years.  All 3 guys in the band were over 6’2″, we had  a P.A., all of our instruments, and bags.  Sleeping in that thing was hell on earth.  So don’t talk to me about “being cramped.”

There’s no excuse here with me.  Unless your drummer has really bad gas and you’re passing through Minnesota in December and you can’t keep the windows down 😉

4.  For a shower: You don’t need a shower.  Ok, yea you do.  Either steal one at your new friends house or pay $5 to take one at a truckstop.  If you’re sleeping in the car and eating peanut butter all week – you can afford a $5 shower from time to time.

5.  For Drinks:  I almost didn’t put this in here because I guess it’s not TOTALLY essential, but I love to drink so I think it deserves a spot at the table.

Look – like I said, I love to drink.  However, I rarely spent band cash on drinks.

Usually, after soundcheck, we’d find out if the bar let the band drink for free.  If so, we got our drinks.  If not, we got a round of waters and waited.

Why would we wait? Because by the 2nd set at least one person in the bar would start buying us drinks.  In most cases – we would never even have to take advantage of the free bar.

And in the cases where there was no free bar and no free drinks from the patrons, we’d seriously not drink a drop.  I’d say that happened 20% of the time or so.  If you can’t handle not drinking 20% of the time then you shouldn’t be out on the road anyways.

Just sayin’.

That’s about it.  Oh wait, one more thing:

6.  Take Care of People and They Will Take Care of You:  This is more of a long term approach, but if you plan on hitting the same circuit time and again you will eventually make some great friends along the route.  If you truly show you care about those people, they will take care of you along the way.  Remember though:  It’s a two way street. They may kind of like your music at first enough to approach you, but the real reason they latch on is because of who you are as a person.  So put your ego away and really get to know people.

Be kind and be generous and it’ll come back to you tenfold.

And now…that’s it.

This takes some REAL dedication and mental preparation on your part.  Some studies of the brain suggest that the very thing that makes you so good at as an artist is the very same thing that makes you so bad at business.  They require two totally separate sides of the brain.

So work on it.  You won’t always get it perfect.  The key is getting it right more times than not.

What are some ways you’ve saved money on the road?  Instead of sleeping in the van or car, has anyone camped along the way?

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Tweet:  @davemhuffman

4 Ways to Getch Yo’ Taxes Right

January 21, 2010

I remember it like it was yesterday.  There I was in H&R Block, I wasn’t yet a full-time musician.  I’m filing for my “real job” when the lady says “I remember you saying you played music – did you know you can claim expenses from that?”

Really?  I couldn’t believe it…no one had told me that before.

So, without a receipt of proof in hand – I forged ahead claiming mileage, equipment, and any expense I could think of.

Fast forward to about 2 years later and I’m better at keeping receipts, but not keeping them organized.  The band is also grossing close to six figures at that point (the net isn’t even close to that) so we are paying out to all kinds of things:  engineers, musicians for hire, things for our festival, insurance, recording, merchandise…

The only thing I kept were copies of cleared checks and bank statements.

Fast forward again to last September I was audited by the IRS.

The result was them claiming that I owed $28,000.

And guess what?  I hadn’t a clue where any of my records where.

Listen, I know you don’t want to read a post about taxes, but I’m serious when I say it can ruin you if you don’t learn the basics of what to do to keep your records straight.

Here’s what I’ve learned throughout this experience.  Keep in mind – I’m still no tax professional, so find someone who is.  I’m just giving you ways to be proactive.

1.  Keep EVERYTHING

A lawyer friend of mine once said “You know why a piece of paper is 8.5 x 11?  So it can cover your ass!” Keep all your records of money spent, money paid out to people, money you made, etc.

Some people will say “Just keep the receipts” or “you only need to print your bank statements.”

Again, I say KEEP EVERYTHING.

I had check copies, corresponding bank statements, and mileage records.  The IRS wouldn’t take it.  Why?  Because they do whatever in the holy hell they want to do.  So you have to be prepared to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

For any lawyers reading – the IRS auditor actually used those words as if I was being tried for murder.

2.  Keep it ORGANIZED

I can’t tell you how nice it would have been to just go grab my ’07 and ’08 records out of the filing cabinet upon receiving that letter from the IRS.

Get organized.  It will save you a ton of backwork should they ever come knocking.

3.  You Cannot Write Off Everything

No you can’t write off that dinner with your friends and call it a “client meeting.”

No you can’t write off your new couch and call if “office furniture.”

Your safe as long as you stick to things that directly affect your business.  Things like new equipment, work for hire (make sure you 1099), mileage, promotional materials.  Your tax professional should have a list for you.

4.  Keep a Mileage Book

At first I used to keep gas receipts, then I was told you “get more back if you track your mileage.” And in the same sentence, I was told that a “mileage book is not needed…just keep track of your shows and the cities you played in with mileage.”

Welp, the IRS wouldn’t accept half of that.  Turns out they wanted a mileage book.  It’s tedious, but it’s worth it.

I’m going to stop there.  With this post, I really only intended on making you see that taxes are not to be underestimated.  You need to take them VERY seriously.

If you don’t think they will audit you, you are wrong.   I promise you, your chances of getting audited are much better than you think.  And nothing will kill your Indie career faster than a $30,000 IRS bill.

They made Uncle Sam point at you like that for a reason.  To let you know that they will find your ass.  And the backwards thing is:  they mostly go after the little guy.  The guy making $175 a pop in the corner of a smokey bar somewhere in Ohio.

Be ready for ’em.

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tweet wif’ me:  @davemhuffman

Management or NO Management? That is the Question.

January 19, 2010

This is the only real management photo I could find. SOURCE: http://www.escapecrate.co.uk

Here’s the short answer to that question:  It depends.

I just blew your mind all over the place with that didn’t I?  Well, it’s true – in so many ways.  It depends on what type of career you’d like to have with music, it depends on whether or not you mind parting with 15%-20% of your profits (even merchandise profits), it depends on what type of manager you can get, the list goes on and on.

What I’m trying to outline here is that it’s just not as simple as hiring a manager.  In most cases, blindly doing so could mean the end to any possibility of you ever really getting ANYWHERE with music.

IF YOU WANT A CAREER

If making money and having music be your ultimate “day-job” then the answer here is two part.  DO NOT get a manager at first. Instead, do everything you can possibly do, either by yourself or with the help of friends.  I’m serious when I say there really is no other route.  You’re going to be making peanuts those first couple of years and with putting almost everything you make back into the business to help it grow, you can’t afford to split any of it with someone else.

Plus, and here’s the real benefit:  By doing things yourself those first few years, you gain valuable insight into what type of manager you REALLY need.

Do you need a booking manager?

A business manager to keep track of your finances, etc?

Do you need someone mainly with industry contacts that can help with publising, etc?

I suggest doing what Corey Smith has done.  Suggestions below:

1.  Start playing locally

2. Then build a touring base by extending your base one or two cities at a time.  Keep it manageable though.  Identify markets where a scene exists that can help cultivate your music.

3.  Approach friends to help you with some of the duties:  gathering venue contacts, designing posters, website upkeep, merch table, etc.  Pay them from time to time.  But I’ll tell you upfront:  the best ones will help you because they love it, not because you are paying them. If you can’t afford to pay them, reward them in other ways.

4.  Once duties or a portion thereof are no longer manageable by you or your team, then and only then do you seek out and hire a manager.

5.  Start by hiring a manager to take over one portion of your duties.  For example, booking shows.  Try getting a non-exclusive agent and do not sign any contracts.  If you think the agent is going to be really good and they want you to sign something: MAKE SURE THERE ARE PERFORMANCE BASED CLAUSES FOR THEM IN THE CONTRACT and/or put a 90 day “trial period” in the contract.

The last thing you need is being stuck in a two year contract with an agent that sits on his a** while you book the shows and pay out 17%.

At some point, for your career to get to the next level you are going to HAVE TO focus harder on making better music.  If you are still booking shows and dealing with day to day business, your time will be severely limited.  In some cases, if you are playing out 4 nights a week – you’ll have ZERO time to write and release new content.

Here’s the deal in plain English: When your music career becomes un-manageable by you and the crew you’ve built THEN AND ONLY THEN do you look at hiring a manager.

Of course the threshold is different for everyone, Jakob Freely played 175 shows in 2007, released two records, fully promoted/organized/and held it’s own festival, and we did it with no management.  All with the help of everyone in the band a few great friends.

All I’m illustrating by telling you that is you can handle quite alot before taking the plunge and getting a manager.

A lot of the music industry resources for the indie musician are super dry and boring as hell.  Most are filled with the advice centered around the idea that you are gearing your entire career around that bad car loan-ish record deal.  However, some are REALLY good.  And some aren’t necessarily music industry books – but I’ve found them super helpful

Here they are:

1.  I Don’t Need A Record Deal! by Dayelle Deanna Schwartz

2.  Guerilla Music Marketing:  Encore Edition by Bob Baker

3.  The Indie Bible

4.  ANY BOOK BY SETH GODIN

5.  Making and Marketing Music:  the Musicians Guide to Financing, Distributing, and Promoting Albums by Jodi Summers

6.  Outliers:  The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell

7.  The Tipping Point:  How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcom Gladwell

I have an entire library, but that should get you started.

As always – you can email me at freelymarketing@gmail.com with any questions.

Direct link to photo source: http://www.escapecrate.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2008/03/champ_manager_93_box.jpg

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Let’s tweet yo:  @davemhuffman

STOP THE MASS PRESS RELEASE: Build RELATIONSHIPS with the Local Press

January 14, 2010

PHOTO CREDIT: SiliconValleyWatcher.com

Disclaimer:  I haven’t sent a press release in almost three years.  I don’t believe in them.  So I may be biased.  However, when I DID send one…this is how I did it.

Let’s just get this one out on the table:  NO ONE GIVES TWO SH*TS ABOUT YOUR PRESS RELEASE.

Honestly – put yourself in the shoes of a journalist or a blogger.  Now picture this shouting email headline in your inbox from this person you never hear from…do you open it?  Of course not.

Have you ever thought that maybe that when you send that press release, there is an actual human being on the other end?

Hell – if you’ve built a tribe/community/village of people interested in your ventures, DO YOU REALLY NEED TO SEND A PRESS RELEASE?

That’s another post.

Instead of mass emailing every journalist/blogger in town, follow these steps:

1.  Identify local journalist and bloggers that you would like to build relationships with.

2.  Reach out to them to introduce yourself.  DO NOT ASK FOR ANYTHING.

3.  Reach out to them from time to time with story ideas and leads that have nothing to do with you.      Make sure they are GOOD STORIES.

4.  READ THEIR WORK.  Shoot them an email letting them know if you enjoyed it, but don’t be a bugger.

Now guess what happens?  You’ve not only started to build a relationship with this person, you have also turned yourself into a trusted street source for local stories.

Now send your press release.

But send it to the individual.  With a personal note.

And do not send it as an attachment.  Copy and paste it into the body of the email.

If they run it or post it in their blog – send a handwritten thank you note.  Maybe slip in a $5 gift card to Chipotle or something.

Bob Baker and Seth Godin, among others, have been preaching this for awhile, this isn’t my idea – I’ve just used it with great success.

But basically the idea boils down to this:  You have to GIVE to GET.

Again though – think about spending more time building your community of like-minded followers and you’ll never be beholden to press or radio.

I write a little bit about building your community in The Roots of New Music Marketing:  Throw Out the “Marketing.” But it really does deserve it’s own series of posts.  Enough rambling…sorry.

Link to source of photo:  http://www.siliconvalleywatcher.com/mt/archives/Die-Press-Release.jpg

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Let’s twiggidy twizneet:  @davemhuffman

The Nashville Effect and Growing the Local Scene by Getting Out of Town

January 11, 2010

YOU can help grow the local scene!

Sounds counter-intuitive doesn’t it?  Well, it would be if that is the ONLY thing you did…you wouldn’t be local!  That’s obvious.  What I mean is in addition to playing live locally, showing up at the shows of other bands to support them, starting a collection of local music, or getting that artist collective started – the best thing you can do to shed light on our scene is to show up in another scene.

I’ll try to make this as simple as possible without going too in-depth:

1.  Build a local following (It doesn’t have to be large)

2.  Contact like-minded bands in other cities to “show trade”

3.  Open for them and return the favor by bringing them to your town to open for you (this is the show trade)

You guys know what a show trade is, I’m not trying to preach the obvious.  However, have you really ever thought about the benefits to our local music scene when you do this?

Been to the Dock or the Keys lately?  The Andy Shaw Band and Skilless Villains make the trips from Columbus and Dayton on the regular because they now LOVE playing in Chillicothe.

What does that do for me Dave?

It does a ton for you.  The main reason being that having a more reputable scene behind you means you get taken more seriously when you call a venue.  I call this The Nashville Effect.

I could do nothing more than live in Nashville, write songs, and busk on the street all day and when I call most venues to say “I’m a Nashville based singer/songwriter” a lot of venues are going to take me more seriously than if I was a “Toledo based songwriter.” Because the Nashville scene is WAY more reputable.  I know that is the extreme, but it can happen for us in Chillicothe.  Nashville didn’t come out of the womb churning out hits 😉

So get out of town already.  If you are not expecting to make some cash, then it’s really not that hard to get into a venue out of town.  Heck, you can’t play every week in Chillicothe anyway or else you’ll wear out your welcome and no one will want to come see you.

Below are some venues for you to start with.  You can either try to get in yourself or message their regular bands for a show trade.  I would opt for the show trade – you’ll get in MUCH faster.  In some cases, you could be hunting these venue owners down for a year or more JUST TO GET THEM ON THE PHONE.

  1. Scarlet and Grey Cafe – Columbus
  2. Oldfield’s on High – Columbus
  3. The Treehouse (formerly Andymans’) – Columbus
  4. Jackie O’s – Athens
  5. Canal Street Tavern – Dayton
  6. Trolley Stop – Dayton
  7. The Empty Glass – Charleston, WV
  8. Stanley’s Pub – Cincinnati
  9. Merry Arts Pub – Lakewood
  10. Coffee Amici – Findlay

Hope that helps.  I’ll talk more about touring strategy in another post.  In the meantime, start contacting these venues and shoot me an email at freelymarketing@gmail.com if you need any help/advice.  Good luck!

Let’s conntect on Twitter:  @davemhuffman