Awhile ago I wrote an article called “Promoting Your Metal Band Online“, which, aside from being one of the more popular articles on my site, has prompted a LOT of emails from struggling musicians over the years. I thought I’d write a bit of a follow-up to the piece after receiving this question a couple of weeks ago:
Dear Steff Metal.
I’m currently recording my own songs for a black metal project and I’m damn happy with the results so far! The only thing is, I want this to be a project like Xasthur or Leviathan (no live performances), and I wondered if you had any advice on how to spread my music and stand out from other bands. Cheers!
This is a great question and covers an aspect of music not often discussed in band promotion circles – how to promote a record without live shows. Rest assured, black metal isn’t alone in this – ambient, electro and dance music all face the same issue. In many ways, bands who don’t tour have an advantage – they’ve got more time available to promote their music in other ways.
The first – and most important – aspect of promoting your music is to create a truly memorable record. The albums that people get excited about are those who don’t follow the pack, who stay true to the concept in their head, who aren’t afraid to step away for the norm.
Don’t cut corners, even if it takes you another year to finish your album because you’re finalizing the compositions. Don’t sign off on that thing till you’re 100% happy with how it’s sounding.
Let’s say for argument’s sake that you’ve created a truly grymm, epic and br00tal record. Now you’ve got to get people to listen to it.
The first thing you should do is take a piece of paper and brainstorm all the different ways you’ve heard of new bands. Go on, list them all. I’ll wait.
When you’re finished, your list might look a little like this:
– heard on local metal radio show
– heard on internet podcast
– browsing bandcamp
– enticed by wicked album cover in record store
– mate told me
– heard on Last.Fm
– read review in zine
– users in metal forum keep talking about them
– heard on a DJ set at local metal bar
– read about them in Revolver
– read about them on Steff Metal
Your list might include more ideas. No problem – the more, the better. Assuming you’re a pretty typical metalhead, you discover new bands in much the same way the rest of us do. So this list is basically a blueprint of your marketing plan.
Here’s what I’d do:
Get the Best Cover Art You Can Afford
Think of the cover art from some of your favorite albums – what makes them stand out to you? What do the images invoke? How do the artists use colour, shade and composition to depict a story? How does the font interact with the picture?
Whether you produce the artwork yourself, hire a designer, bribe a friend, buy licenses to use art from the web or use royalty free images, give a long period of thoughtful consideration to the cover art. For many people, a great cover will entice them to listen to the album.
Here’s an article I wrote on Working with a Designer on your Cover Art.
Get Your Ass Online
Build yourself a website – a proper one with a domain name you control – this costs around $10 bucks a year, and maybe another $10 each month for hosting. That’s a negligible cost. This site is built in WordPress, and I recommend them, because it’s easy to use and understand. You can get plenty of free templates until you can afford to hire a designer. Or get a mate to do it for a box of beers.
Next, set up a band page on every musical social networking site there is. I don’t expect or encourage you to actively focus on each and every one of these sites, but I think it’s a good idea to have a profile on every one, to be certain you’re noticed by browsers. As you’re updating these social media sites, consider which TWO you’d choose to use on a regular basis – my picks right now would be Facebook and Bandcamp, but this could change at any moment depending on the state of the internet.
Finally, link all your pages to each other and to your main website. Write a Killer Band Bio. Make sure on every single one of these pages AND on your personal website there is a way for browsers to listen to your music. Streaming is the best way, but imbedded music videos are also popular.
Find People Who’ll Talk About You
This means getting your name in as many metal media outlets as possible. Blogs, magazines, radio stations, zines … if it’s even remotely connected to metal, you want to send them a message about your band.
I recommend creating a folder on your computer called “Press” and inside that folder keep a list of names, addresses, URLs and contacts for any media outlet you come across. Chuck them all down there, and once a week, pull out five names and email them about your band. Write down in your file when you send out those emails and if you haven’t heard anything back from those outlets in a month’s time, email them and asked if they received your stuff. It’s a statistical certainty that you’ll have 67% more success by following up. Trust me, I checked.
When you email folk, write yourself a little blurb or press release, add in all your websites, contact details, the names of all your band members (I can’t tell you how often this is left off) and a link to a download or stream of the album you’re promoting. Personalize each message by addressing it to a person (not just “dear Sir” which always gets my heckles up) and giving a little line to explain that you enjoy their site/show/publication and you’re looking for exposure for your band.
Work Your Local Audience
Another statistical certainty is that your first group of die-hard fans are going to come from your hometown. They’ll probably be the same group of neaderthals who beat you up in high school, because that’s the way these things work, but still … they’ll be fans, and they’re much easier to find if they live 10 metres down the road.
Make friends with the big names in your local scene. Hand out free CDs to DJs, club owners, bloggers, reviewers, and those weird people who seem to be BFFs with everyone. Make your album VERY easy to purchase – get it into local music shops, on the counter at a milkshake bar … anywhere potential fans might congregate.
Make your basic album very cheap, or very free, to buy or download. The chances are very low that you’ll make money on a BM release anyway, so focus on building a solid following of fans first. Once you’ve got that audience you can leverage it to earn money.
Consider Label Representation or a PR company
While many metal bands are doing just fine and dandy without a label or a PR company, if you’re signed up with a good team, they’re worth all the cocaine and hookers in the world. Labels lend credibility and their own networks of loyal fans. They also have contacts at bigger publications and access to people who can further your career in unfathomable ways. Ditto PR companies – especially in metal, since it’s such a close-knit community.
Create A Killer Music Video
Viral video is becoming more and more important to the success of musicians, and metal is no exception. If you have even a minuscule budget for promoting your music, I would spend it on making a music video for the best song on your album. It obviously won’t be you playing live, so have a look at the videos of other studio-only BM bands for inspiration.
I’d suggest finding a mate with more video skills than you and giving them creative control. If the results utterly suck, you don’t have to use them.
Create Limited Edition Merchandise
Since you won’t be selling a lot of t-shirts at concerts, you’d better have some seriously killer merch available through your website. Many black metal fans are avid collectors of limited edition merchandise and memorabilia, so small edition prints, tarot decks, picture discs and even cassette tapes could be a goer. Also, t-shirts, long sleeves and patches are pretty much a must. Make this stuff as high quality as you can, and you might find you have enough funds to finance your next recording.
That’s right – your next recording.
Put Out New Material
Without the prospect of seeing you live occupying their minds between releases, many fans might forget you exist. Don’t give them the chance, and release new material frequently, even if it’s only a two-song demo. The more music you have out there, the more chance people will stumble upon it and enjoy it. And every new release means another media campaign – more esposure.