How to start a band in 2012: Pro tips

By Columbus Alive
From the November 1, 2012 edition

Want to do it right from the start? Here’s wisdom about the nuts and bolts from the minds of people who know.

Tips for getting press from Chris DeVille, reporter at Columbus Alive:

(a) How should bands get in touch with the press?

-Find out who handles the music coverage for a publication and write them personally. Don’t try to talk like a hotshot, but also don’t hesitate to list off reasons your band deserves to be covered, especially concrete accomplishments. If you haven’t done anything yet but you’re just stoked on your music, say so and politely ask that they check it out.

-Read a few installments of a publication to find out how they usually cover music. For instance, Alive rarely does album reviews, so it would be dumb to ask me to review your album. Instead, ask me to write a band profile or a concert review, or at least a show preview.

-Try to time your request with some big event coming up — releasing a new album, putting on a big show, etc. But don’t wait until the week of the event because then you’re already too late. Ask publications how far in advance they work and be sure to time your pitch accordingly.

-Never act smug or entitled. Asking questions like “Why haven’t you written about me yet?” is a great way to not get written about. Being polite and persistent works much better.

(b) Some media materials every band should have when they contact me:

-Your music streaming, embeddable and downloadable online. People listen on the Internet, so give writers something to listen to. People read on the Internet, so give writers something to link to.

-A profile on Facebook or a clearly identified website. If you don’t have an online presence, you look like an imbecile.

-A hi-res band photo available upon request. This does NOT include your album cover or the flyer for your upcoming show, although you’ll want to have those too. But first and foremost, have a photo of your band that publications can use. Make sure it’s at least 1,000 pixels wide so it’s big enough for print.

NOTE: Please do not attach MP3s or photos to an email unless a writer gives permission. You have no idea how many times my Alive inbox goes over its size limit because some idiot sends me 20 megabytes of his terrible music.

Tips for home recording by Brandon Barnett, singer-songwriter with Ghost Shirt and mental health blogger at artistictreatment.com:

(a) We’ve all heard that there’s no “right” way to record, but seriously, is there a right way?

There is no right way to do it. There are some very slick (the new Whiles) albums and some very rough (GBV Bee Thousand) home recorded albums. Both records are fantastic. Both were recorded in places where people live. The Whiles record (Somber Honey) was recorded in a bedroom. That bedroom is stuffed full of some of the most high end mic, outboard equipment and computer hardware I have ever seen... still a bedroom though. Bee Thousand was recorded on a tape 4-track with a few crappy mics.

The “right” way to record yourself at home is to understand your songs first. What should they sound like? Would a rough "lo-fi" sound be amazing or take away from needed clarity of your arrangement? After the songs are written, after you have a good idea of arrangement, THEN think about what record you love that it should sound like. Raw Power or an Alabama record? Then scour the Internet to research how they got that sound and do your best to replicate with what you have. The right way serves the song.

(b) Does having nice equipment matter?

Yes.

If you are using a laptop and DAW software, then the first thing you need is a good interface with GOOD A/D converters. I use an Apogee Duet. The converters change analog (real) sound to digital (1s and 0s). If the converter sucks, everything will sound dull, lifeless. Even if you want lo-fi noise destruction, make sure it goes through good converters when slapping it on a computer.

I would recommend:

-Songs: Good, well arranged songs.

-Shure SM57 mics: Like Elliott Smith? This is all he used on his first few records.

-A decent large diaphragm condenser mic: Groove Tubes, Blue Mics and Audio Technica are some good brands.

-A good interface: Apogee One/Duet, Focusrite — do reviews online before buying.

-A laptop/desktop computer with some muscle

OR

-A sweet old cassette 4-track or 8-track: I'm using one now for writing and demoing. It's nice not to have a screen in front of you when first working on a song.

(c) Does the size or shape of the room you’re recording in make a difference?

The size/shape of your room matters a whole bunch... BUT — just use your ears. Unless you want to make super slick over produced music (in which case you should shell out 400-500/day at a "real" studio... you just won't see me there). You can go to Guitar Center and purchase some room treatment foam to deaden the room and make it sound way better.

(d) What are some important things to know?

The most important things:

1. Set up your space somewhere that makes you feel comfortable and creative... somewhere you don't feel self-conscious being nuts and trying everything out loud.

2. Focus on writing and arranging FIRST. Contrary to popular belief, you can't fix a mediocre melody/arrangement/lyrics by layering cool majestic sounds. Believe me, I've tried.

3. Try to write something every day. Being creative and knowing your process (both writing and recording) is a constantly evolving skill. Work at it and you will get a sense of mastery.

Tips for getting shows from Steve Boyer, booking manager at The Basement:

(a) What do you expect from bands in terms of promotion when they book a show at The Basement? How much? How often? Are both online promotion and old-fashioned posters necessary?

I just trust that when bands book a show at the Basement, they work and promote as hard as they can (as well as the venue) to make it a successful and enjoyable night for all involved. Although posters can be useful, and add a cool tangible aspect to a show, I've definitely noticed a change in how bands promote themselves. Acts tend to be leaning toward the Internet, using social media sites like Facebook, Bandcamp, etc. It's one of the easiest and efficient ways to get the word out about shows, and get their music into the hands of fans.

(b) How do you select bands for opening slots on national shows? What catches your attention about a band? What turns you off to a band?

I tend to select local support bands by word of mouth and reputation, history I've had with them on previous shows, and of course how the band's style fits with the headliner. Seeing a band that is tight live is always a good way to catch anyone’s attention.

More tips for getting shows from Jeff Kleinman, booking manager at Ace of Cups:

(a) What do you expect from bands in terms of promotion when they book a show at Ace of Cups? How much? How often? Are both online and old-fashioned posters necessary?

I usually make flyers for all of our shows and put them up over town, but I do prefer that bands do the same. Flyer at local record stores, coffee shops and places where people often hang out like The Dube. Online promotion seems to be the way to get people to know about shows, and I prefer bands promote on Facebook, and message boards like DoneWaiting. A healthy combination of posters and online promotion is definitely necessary and appreciated. It's pretty frustrating when bands complain that no one came to their show, but they didn't even take the time to tell anyone about it.

(b) How do you select bands for opening slots on national shows? What catches your attention about a band? What turns you off to a band?

When selecting opening slots for national shows I try to first think of bands that would match the bill, obviously. Usually we have one touring band and two opening acts. I always try to bring in two opening acts that come from slightly different scenes but would still appreciate each other. Usually that means having one band that usually plays bars, and another that usually plays house shows. Bands usually catch my attention by either having genuine enthusiasm about playing, or by having an interesting sound. I'm typically very accepting of all bands, and love giving new bands a chance to play the bar. A few things that turn me off to a band are when they are disrespectful to the standard etiquette of playing a bar (i.e. being late to the show, taking forever to set up/tear down [that one is the worst], not promoting shows, being rude to the sound guy). All of those things will usually put me in a situation where I never want to book that band again. As far as first impressions, I have this to say to all bands, DON'T SEND OUT "EPK"S THROUGH REVERBNATION! TAKE THE DAMN TIME TO WRITE AN EMAIL THAT SAYS SOMETHING LIKE, "Hi! We are (insert band name here) and would love to play a show at your bar! Here is a link to our music!" Also, if I haven't ever heard you before and you don't have ANY kind of music at all to send me (even a live YouTube video will do) then get some kind of recording before asking. I can't book a band that I've never heard of or even heard.