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
“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
“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
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
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.