Why Local Bands Never Become National Bands

Local Bands
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I’ve always hated the term “local band.”

It’s usually taken as an insult even if it’s not meant to be.  It infers that no one outside of the confines of your hometown has ever heard of you.  Not “no one” in the sense of “no one has ever heard of Aleppo.”  Clearly, many people have, even if most people (or a presidential candidate) haven’t. I’m talking literally no one.

Even in our globally connected world where internet stars with day jobs are commonplace, people still heavily use the term ‘local band.’  But what really defines a ‘local band’ in the NEW music business?

A local band is a musical act that has not built a fan base outside of their home state.   And has no plans to.

There are the “weekend warriors” who are musicians with day jobs and “tour” only on the weekends — typically visiting neighboring cities.  Local bands occasionally cross state lines.  But this does not qualify them to remove the “local band” medal of shame unless they are structuring their game plans on bigger and better.

Believe me, I had that medal strangling my neck for a couple years before I figured out how throw it into a SoCal brush fire.

The thing is with local bands is they don’t seem to be able to see 5 feet in front of their drink ticket covered eyeballs.

Now, this isn’t to say they cannot and will not ever become national acts. Remember, every national act was once a local act.

But, the problem is most local bands bitch about why they aren’t getting the ‘breaks’ they think they deserve to be getting without stepping back and understanding why they aren’t able to move their careers further along. In the new music business, luck has nothing to do with it.

You make your own success.  Sure, there are  little victories here and there that may seem like lucky breaks, but luck is simply when preparation meets opportunity.

Most local bands simply don’t have the preparation part down. And there’s no excuse for that.

I once lived with 5 musicians in a house in Minneapolis.  We were each in different projects and traded off nights of the week where our bands would rehearse in the basement.  One of the guys I lived with, Michael, had a 9 to 5 office job.  He went straight from college graduation to this pencil pushing position.  He was also in a local band that played a residency at a bar every Thursday night.  Every day he came home from work at around 5:30, ate a quick dinner and then locked himself in his room with his electric guitar, popped on his practice headphone contraption and practiced until he went to bed at midnight. 6 hours.  Every night (except Thursdays and band rehearsal Wednesdays).  While parties happened on the other side of his door he was hard at work.

When he started his day job, he was a mediocre guitar player.  But a year later, after spending nearly every night practicing his ass off, he quit his job and helped take his band from being just a local bar band to touring the country, selling out venues most places they went.

This didn’t just happen either.  And they received very few “lucky breaks” (if any, honestly).

To ‘make it’ in music requires an obsessive desire to be great.  Not famous.  Great.  And most musicians are, simply, not great.  They’re good enough to bring friends and family out to their local shows, but not great to the point where they are simply undeniable.  You can have the business skills of Troy Carter, but it means nothing if you don’t have a product that people want.  The product, in this case, is your music.  Whether it’s your live show or your recorded music, some aspect of your project needs to be great.

And it’s not about natural talent.  Michael had less natural talent than many of his counterparts.  But he worked harder than them and quickly surpassed them.

“People don’t understand that when I grew up, I was never the most talented. I was never the biggest. I was never the fastest, and certainly was never the strongest. The only thing I had was my work ethic, and that’s been what has gotten me this far.” – Tiger Woods

So, stop pushing your shitty product.  Get better first.  And start pushing when you’re ready.

Yes, play out as much as you can. You can never have too much experience.  Early on, you won’t be paid much for these performances because you don’t deserve to be, yet.  Don’t take this as musicians don’t deserve to be paid.  Shitty musicians don’t deserve to be paid (yet). Know your worth.  If you literally have no one willing to pay you to perform (or buy tickets to watch you perform) you are probably not ready to be paid.  So stop bitching about not being paid and get better.

But all you shady ass pay-to-play promoters out there, this does not give you a pass to convince naive local bands to pay you to get on a stage for experience. This is a slimy practice and you know it.

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All you local bands paying to play. There are better ways to get experience that doesn’t perpetuate this practice. Play charity events. Play teen centers. College events. Offer to play at bars for food and drinks. Don’t force your friends to buy tickets to come see you suck.  They aren’t going to appreciate that.  It’s a lose-lose for everyone involved (except the promoter who makes out handsomely).

How do you know when you’re ready?  Well, you’ll know.

Eventually there will be more people in the crowd digging what you’re putting out who you don’t know than you do.  Randoms will go out of their way once you finish to come up to you and tell you how much you moved them.  Randoms will ask where they can find your music.  They’ll start to follow you on all social channels and want to see you again.  At that point, you’re ready to take your show on the road.

How do you know when you recorded music is great?  Well, this used to be extremely difficult to get an honest response from anyone.  Your friends and mom will always tell you what you want to hear.

Use market research platforms like AudioKite, Sound Out, Tunecore’s Fan Reviews, ReverbNation’s Crowd Review or the “industry professionals” on Fluence or Music Xray for unbiased opinions.

If you’re consistently scoring in the bottom 50th percentile, you’re not ready yet.  That score means that you are worse than 50% of all music ever reviewed on these services.  And a lot of music has been reviewed on these services.  Once you start consistently scoring in the 90th percentile and above, then you’re ready to take all the business knowledge you’ve learned from doing your homework and start turning yourself into a nationally known and respected artist.

19 Responses

  1. Nick Rubright

    “…luck is simply when preparation meets opportunity.”

    Awesome quote. I wish more people thought like this.

    • JS

      Heard this line from Neil Peart of RUSH years ago and it never left me

    • Richard Pickel

      Tiger forgot to mention that his father started him out in the sport when he (Tiger) was still in diapers, purchasing a house at a golf course then spending probably hundreds of thousands of dollars more on golf club memberships and swing coaches and sports psychologists and equipment and greens fees and driving range fees and travel and food and lodging and, and, and, to give Tiger a huge head start and advantage over, to round it off to the nearest whole number, 100% of the earth’s population. That helped. Actually, in his trophy acceptance speech after winning his first tournament on the professional tour, he said (approximately) “Everything I’ve done in golf, I owe to my father.” That made me respect him more. Later, Dale Earnhardt Jr., as a guest on a show on a national sports talk radio network mostly devoted to discussion of football, basketball and baseball games, players etc., said “The only reason I’m here is because of my father.” Not because his father had asked him to be there that day. Again, that made me respect him more. Many do not like to admit that similar huge head starts and advantages helped them to become unusually successful, at least in their careers and finances. Hi, Donald Trump.

  2. Wiguan

    Thanks, Ari.
    This post have gotten deep into me more than your other post.

  3. Dale Peters

    I perform 3-6 nights a week in San Diego, CA as a “Local Artist”, more specifically, a duo known as The Heart. We have only been doing this for one year and we generate an income between $6,0000 – $7,000 per month, strictly from performing as a “local band” in our home town. This income does not include merchandise sales nor royalties as we don’t have merchandise or songs for sale at this point.
    I would never discourage artists from touring and putting yourselves out there to share your art and talent on a larger scale, but you have to start somewhere and you have to develop an act worth taking outside of your hometown. Most major acts that you know of today started as “local bands”. Imagine Dragons is a perfect example of this. Before they were the international phenomenon that they are now, Imagine Dragons were a “local cover band” in their home towns of Utah and Las Vegas for years before they made the jump to LA and began branching out and touring off of their own music. I know this because I met their singer Dan Reynolds, in fact, shared the stage with him, while he was performing covers and originals at the House of Blues restaurant in the Mandalay Bay, AS A “LOCAL ARTIST”, before they made their big break.
    Again, I’m not trying to discourage any musicians from touring and putting yourselves out there for the world to see…I’m encouraging you to learn to walk before you can run, so that you don’t trip along the way. Learn your business where you are comfortable and where you have contacts. THEN nurture it grow and branch out from there. This will make success easier for you to harness.

  4. TruthSeeker

    I disagree with the idea that being in the bottom 50% of any of your “market research” sites means anything. The vast majority of people judging the music on any of them simply don’t understand many niche genres. If you are aiming at the pop or rap/hip-hop market, fine – use those sites. But if you have music in the realm of Zappa or King Crimson or similar those sites will crush you.

    I believe it was R.E.M. (although it may have been another band of their era & stature) who actually submitted some new recordings to their own label under a pseudonym (that means “fake name” for the uninformed) and were rejected. And not because they sounded too much like R.E.M., but because they didn’t sound *enough* like them in the opinion of the A & R guy. There’s more to the story, but I can’t remember it all now, but it really illustrated how fickle & peculiar the music industry is.

    Point is, find people in YOUR genre to help you polish your sound; play every gig you can; aim for the stars; don’t listen to those who would crush your dream; don’t believe everything the so-called “new music gurus” (online music consultants) say – even me!

  5. Nelson

    What they need is distribution. Once you see where fans are BuyingThis(tm) it can be delivered in any format #local2global #gotdistro

  6. Nelson

    Being in L.A. I have heard too many times “all we need to do is get him some songs, and have him work on his stage presence and wardrobe and he will be a star” oh ok, so you want to create a whole different person.

      • Richard Pickel

        The other three just about fell down laughing when the first one of them to get one showed up with his. But it was already becoming a popular new style elsewhere on the continent.

  7. Shit Boy

    Wasn’t it the multi media artist , Yoko Ono , who recording of a : ‘ Flushing Toilet ‘ on a , John Lennon album that got a great licensing deal. Here’s the thing , some people find the eXperience of a flushing toilet to be relieving , soothing as well as a necessity to life itself . And we can classify those people as a niche audience that create the : ‘ Long Tail ‘ theory on the shelf. Greatness can also be defined by the taster of the tasteless who can honestly claim from the deep heart that , Dr. Dre is a better musician than , Ludwig van Beethoven and the concerto writing legend himself. . .

  8. FZ

    Good article, but slightly bullshit. You need luck, and lots of it. Look at all the people that do exactly what your friend did – play nightly after work, get really good, etc – and still don’t “break”. It’s too easy to just say “they aren’t good enough if they aren’t drawing”. It’s increasingly difficult to get people to come to shows if you don’t have some sort of gimmick. Live music is a chore for people now.

    • Random comment

      “Good musicians” don’t necessarily create music people want to hear or enjoy hearing. There are many amazing musicians but relatively few of the millions will be household names. Maybe it’s a pareto principle thing, 80% of what people are listening to comes from 20% of the musicians?

  9. Jesus

    I always hear people say, “Support Local Music!” My reply is why? I will support a local band if they are good but not just because they are local. Local bands most often suck ass. The good bands become famous on a national level.

  10. Cornelius

    Get married. Buy a house. Have kids. Work a full time job.

    You’ll be happy to play those local gigs, because even doing that is a challenge when what, for many, is life kicks into gear.