The Music Biz -

The 80% Rule

By David A. Barber
Author of Gigging, Everything You Need to Know About Playing Gigs (Except How to Play Your Axe)

In every music community across all genres there are approximately 10% of the acts that are really good. They get all the best high-paying gigs and some may even be worthy of major label attention. There are also around 10% who are terrible. They should just give it up and quit because they just don't have the skills needed to ever succeed in music. Then there's the 80% that make up the rest of the scene. A huge gray area filled with acts at varying levels of mediocrity, some talent and maybe a couple good songs. Some of these bands are improving and will eventually take their place in the top 10%. Most of them wont. Most of them will break up. A few will continue playing on despite themselves and some may even get worse, sliding down into the bottom 10%.

Where is your band? Probably some place in the middle. Hopefully improving. How can you make sure you're getting better? Here's a few characteristics we've noticed of bands that are improving:

Play as much as possible. Play gigs, rehearse a lot. The more the better. The more a band plays together, the tighter they get. The more often you play in front of people, the better you'll understand how the crowd will respond to your music. We've seen mediocre sounding bands hit the road hard for a year and then come back to town and blow everyone away. Why? Because they played so many shows in front of new fans, that they had to learn how to win them over in one set. They learned which songs got people dancing and which ones didn't. They changed some songs up, so that people would respond to them differently (mostly so they'd stay on the dance floor. - Not all music is supposed to be danceable, so this doesn't apply across the board, but if people are on the dance floor, they are probably having fun. If they're having fun they'll want to see your band again). They came back from the road tight, polished and professional. You don't have to go on the road to do that, but you do have to play a lot of gigs. This is an old cliche, but it's true of the top bands: Play every gig as if it were the most important one of your career. You never know who's gonna be out in that audience. Could be a reporter from the Rolling Stone, a major label A&R Scout or a rich guy who might hire you to play his company party. Even if it's just a couple new fans, they might buy your CD and tell their friends all about the cool new band they heard.

Promote your band and your gigs. We've seen nine member acts where not even one guy could be bothered to go out and hang up a poster. It's guaranteed that people who don't know who you are or where you're playing won't be coming to your shows. Assign at least one band member, friend, relative or fan to get the word out. There are countless ways to do it, and we've written about a variety of them right here on this web site, but here's a few of the most obvious to get you started: Posters, flyers, handbills, (every band member should have a handful of these things always available to put out wherever he/she may be). Work the Internet: Your web site can be a powerful tool to let people know where you're playing and what you're doing. make sure you are also collecting email addresses so you can contact these people later. Have a profile on Myspace or Fcaebook with a few mp3s. Use the blog, the calendar and post info. about every show. Build that friends list with people who like the music and make sure they all know when you're playing. Post on message boards and anywhere else you can. The internet is the cheapest and easiest way to get the word out.

Be seen. Most of the bands at or near the top are well known on the scene. After rehearsal they go to the bars and clubs they play regularly and listen to other bands, meet them and make friends with them. People always welcome that guy with the spikey hair from that well known band. Work it. Make your shows the place all the region's hipsters want to be seen at. Along the same lines - making friends with fans or industry pros - or anyone - can make the difference between "Let's go see a band play," and "Let's go see my friend's band play."

Invest in your band. The bands that do the best usually take some or all of the proceeds the band brings in and they plow it back into the act. Money is needed for studio time, CD production, posters, web sites, etc. Bands on their way up commonly have a band bank account where anywhere from 25% to 100% of the money the band takes in gets deposited. If you're a band made up of musicians who need the income from $300/night gigs to pay rent and buy food, your never gonna have enough to produce a CD. If you don't have CDs to sell, you're missing out on another source of income. It's a vicious cycle. The good news is that once you get to where there is a consistent $1500-$2000 coming in from corporate and other high-end gigs, there's more money for everything. In the mean time, get a day job, try teaching, see if you can make money as a studio player, just don't rely on gigs to make a living.

With some good songs, practice and hard work, you can get your band into the top ten percent and keep it there long enough to get the attention of the record labels and other industry honchos.


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