Party like a rock star

Feb 112004

Many talented bands have come and gone without ever living up to

their potential, pawning off their instruments for keg money before

a single woman had the chance to throw her bra up on stage in a fit

of raging passion.

But it doesn’t have to end like that. Today, bands are presented

with numerous outlets to help them charge through industry

roadblocks and make it to the top.

Promotion companies such as Suburban Home Records, Soda Jerk

Presents and INDIEgo, are always ready to transform bands from

smalltime local talent to national icons.

If a band or artist chooses to acquire the services of a

promotion company, first they must successfully catch the interest

of that company. Enter the all-powerful demo tape, which often

makes or breaks a musician’s chance at glory.

Promoters put their own name on the line every time they choose

to back a band. For this reason they have good cause to be

extremely selective.

“We owe it to the fans not to put on a bad show,” said Mike

Barsch, owner of Soda Jerk Presents.

Promotion companies have countless artists knocking at their

door everyday.

“I have piles of demos on my desk,” Barsch said. “It can take

half my day just sorting it all out.”

Substandard demos are quickly weeded out. No “Stairway to

Heaven” cover will impress these guys. Putting time, effort and

money into preparing a quality demo is crucial to receiving

recognition from any company, Barsch said.

“It can’t sound like you put it together in someone’s basement,”

said Dan Rutherford of INDIEgo. “A solid recording is your best bet

at getting things moving.”

Bands that make the cut can then purchase the company’s

assistance in areas such as multimedia publicity, retail promotion,

tour support and distribution.

Many promoters also emphasize the use of Internet publicity,

which has been a growing influence in spreading awareness of

independent artists.

When all of these strategies are utilized, bands drastically

increase the likelihood of recruiting more fans, which leads to

more ticket sales, which leads to more tour dates and ultimately

the rock star lifestyle.

But there’s much more to the music industry than signing

autographs and trashing hotel rooms. In fact, the road to stardom

is tedious and complicated.

“You’ve got to pay your dues,” said Reed Tyler, a member of the

up-and-coming band Cool By Association.

Tyler and his band represent a distinct part of the musical

population because not only are they growing in popularity, but

they also do all their own publicity.

Many other bands have also made it through the adolescent stages

of stardom without being guided by a paid promoter, proving that

such companies are not always a necessity.

“It can get frustrating but we like knowing that we have control

over the future of our band,” Tyler said. “You can be independent

and be just as successful.”

It’s imperative that any band with aspirations of success

reaches the stage where they can leave Mom and Dad’s garage and

start performing at local shows.

Most bands without hired promotional workers typically spend the

bulk of their publicity efforts appealing straight to venues, but

venue hopping is an agonizingly slow-paced way to gain


After an initial period of success bands may get the chance to

play larger shows, which help to create “regional buzz” and build a

steady following, Barsch said.

A good relationship between a band and its audience helps to

boost “word of mouth” growth and encourages a more intimate and

memorable show.

Cool By Association spread its presence to the point that

promoters now seek them out. A band with newly acquired audience

momentum can have just as much impact on a show as a band with

years of faithful followers.

“When we play at events like the Warped Tour, people act like

we’re bigger than we really are,” Tyler said. “We just got so used

to playing smaller local shows where a lot of the crowd were our


For bands that do choose to acquire the services of a promoter,

the relationship they establish with their promoter is just as

crucial as the relationship they form with their audience.

The band/promoter connection can be vitally influential in

accelerating a band’s growth rate. Most promoters prefer to

establish a friendship with the bands they work for.

“I’m friends with around half the groups we represent,”

Rutherford said. “And I’m also friends with a lot of publicists,

which makes the whole process easier … If 10 albums are sent to

KCSU by garage bands and three albums are sent there from me, my

three will most likely be the ones that make the air.”

The music industry is the epitome of the statement “it’s not

what you know, but who you know.”

“There’s no question that it helps having the right friends,”

said Vincent Plummer, a vocalist for The Mercury Project, after a

triumphant show headlining buddy-band On Second Thought.

Not all independent artists have this type of fortunate social


“Be prepared to be broke,” Plummer said. “It’s easy to think,

‘we’ve played a few shows, now we’ll get big,’ but it takes so much


Independent artists typically have an extremely limited chance

of bursting into the business and the road to stardom is often

paved with poverty. Seventy-five percent of independent musicians

receive less than 2 percent of their income from their music,

according to The Musician’s Report for 2003, an online survey.

“It definitely isn’t easy,” said Virgil Dickerson of Suburban

Home Records. “It all depends on the talent and effort you’re able

to bring to the industry.”

Don’t abandon those dreams of skin tight leather pants, luxury

tour busses, groupies with loose ethics or any of the other perks

associated with the life of a successful musician, because with

dedication, quality performances and a little luck, the dream might

not be so far away.

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