While the D.I.Y. ethic and aesthetic is a wonderful thing, it can only take you so far. Unless you are fortunate enough to have a band whose members also happen to be professional publicists, agents, booking agents, or any of the other people whose services will prove invaluable to your career, there will come a point when you will have to invest some money into your band if you actually want to be a professional musician.
I love musicians and firmly believe that music is the most important thing in the world. Musicians are left-brained people who want to create. They are compelled to get the thoughts, ideas, and feelings out of their heads and are fortunate enough with the ability to manifest these inhibitions, musically, in ways that many of us can relate to and enjoy. This, of course, is a wonderful thing, except many musicians don’t realize that they are very central to an economy whose success relies on the music that they produce. For many artists, they simply don’t understand that there comes a time when you have to spend money on your career. For many people, it simply comes down to grasping the learning curve. This is the case with any profession; as you advance, you will tend to learn new things, make a zillion mistakes, and come through all the better for it in the end. The problem with many artists is that they develop a sort of stagnation in their mentality. That stagnation will not only limit creativity, it will also limit the potential of the band itself, instead of promoting the experimentation and growth of their sound.
When a band finds themselves to have reached a stage where their single has generated a bit of buzz, or they are consistently selling out at local venues, it may be time to have a band meeting about hiring someone to help with publicity to assist the band in moving in a progressive direction. I am constantly approached by musicians for advice about getting over any proverbial humps that they may find themselves stuck on after having attained a certain level of success. I always tell them the same thing; hire a publicist or a marketing firm. In turn, I’m always told the same thing in response: “I/we can’t afford it.” Let’s break this down for a moment. Think about how much money is spent on gear and equipment, traveling to gigs, merch, studio time, pressing CDs, and the time the band spent working on all of these aspects. That is a lot of money, as well as a lot of time spent. Clearly money is being invested in the music, right? If upwards of thousands of dollars, literally, have been spent to get the band to where it’s at now, it almost makes sense to think that after such great investments of time and money, artists would be willing to hire sky writers to spread the word about their work, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.
You needn’t hire a Madison Avenue advertising agency and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on some elaborate campaign. There are more publicity, PR, and marketing firms that cater to the music industry than one can count on hands and feet. The wonderful thing about this is that there are many people who can help you determine the best course of action, and some are accessible at a budget you may more comfortable with. No one is suggesting any band members go without food and instead pay to have a press release written. A large misconception that artists seem to have is that they need to keep a high-priced agency on retainer, and that simply is not the case. While it’s certainly an option, if that’s what is needed, for most who work as professional musicians, a “pay as you go” option with a person or agency will work just fine. Look around online and talk to colleagues about who they’ve worked with for marketing and promotion. Most of the time you can meet with people for consultations to mutually determine the best courses of action that will meet your needs. Remember, you aren’t just paying for the time of person with whom you’re working. You’re also paying for their creativity and, most importantly, their network of contacts. Even if you pay for a one time service and it’s something as simple as a press release, that marketing agent or publicist will have access to people in the media and the industry that you simply have not acquired yet. They are also being paid to dedicate their time, talent, and resources to you. While they’re doing that, you can work on new material, get more practice in, or even have a moment of downtime. If you have spent the money to record an album, paying someone to send out press releases or get some radio interviews seems like a logical next step.
Led Zeppelin never released a commercial single and were ‘indie’ before anyone else knew what it meant. Despite that, everyone knows a handful of their songs, whether they like them or not. They’re one of the most legendary bands in the history of music, and there is a very good reason for that; Peter Grant. Their manager, the aforementioned Mr. Grant, knew the importance of marketing the band the right way and promoting them in the right places. He had absolute control over everything Led Zeppelin did, but knew the importance of spending the time and money the right way to make it back, tenfold.
Not every band is going to be Led Zeppelin, however, that ethos should apply to everyone. Realizing that, at some times, it will be in your best interest to outsource creativity will only work to your advantage and expose you to a larger audience. After investing countless dollars on the fun things, like drums, guitars, and recording, it makes little sense to become cheap when it comes time to promoting your career. You’d never let a PR agent handle the guitar parts on your record; so, why let a guitar player handle the PR for your album?