As important as establishing yourself online is, everyone has a hometown community they come from.
This is an excerpt from Ari Herstand’s new book How to Make it in the New Music Business (Second Edition)
You don’t compete in a NASCAR race before you’ve earned a driver’s license; similarly, you don’t book a sixty-date tour before playing your hometown. I’m a strong believer in establishing yourself at home before you hit the road.
Supporting your local music community is the single most important thing you can do for your career.
When you’re not playing a show, you should be out seeing a show. If you’re in a fairly big city, there should be various local shows happening around town nearly every night of the week. Get out to these shows and meet the community. You’ll soon figure out which venues cater to your style of music and which don’t. Start to frequent the clubs where you want to play. Get to know the staff and the patrons. The more you show your face, the more the regulars will warm up to you. Meet the other musicians and hang out at the after-parties. When you’re establishing yourself in a scene, you need to be out in the world, often.
We hear all the time about artists who start to break online who have played only a few shows locally. These artists completely ignore their hometown and believe they are above it. They may see some initial success in other communities (or overseas) where blogs and local tastemakers have taken a liking to their music. Don’t be like them. If you don’t lay the groundwork, eventually people may lose interest and then you’ll have no one to go back home to. You’ll have no support group. No hometown following. No home.
I want to make clear that the tactics I’m laying out to approach your local scene do not really apply to L.A. or Nashville. Or New York, to some extent. These towns operate completely differently and the ways to approach them are different than most other cities. That being said, even if you do live in L.A., Nashville or New York, keep reading, as you will gain some perspective.
How to Crack the Local Gatekeepers
No digital message or phone call can replace the electrifying experience of a physical encounter.
Every scene has them. The bloggers, the radio DJs, the music editors, the local Instagram stars, the club, and festival bookers. Gatekeepers are an elusive group of somebodies who once were nobodies.
What they all have in common is that they love the culture of music. They’re typically not musicians and have very little actual music (theory) knowledge. They know what they like and know what they hate. But becoming a local star requires that you crack this inner circle. At least somewhat.
- Hang Out with the Cool Kids
This isn’t a lesson middle school guidance counselors would ever reveal, but cool begets cool. Most gatekeepers respect other gatekeepers. The radio DJ will meet up with the music editor and grab drinks with the club booker. They are a tightly knit group who see each other at the buzz shows. So, find out what those buzz shows are and go there. Find a mutual friend of a friend to introduce you to someone in that crowd. The way you’re going to work your way in is not by handing them a CD or sending a cold email, it’s by being welcomed in by a fellow insider.
- Follow Them on Twitter and Instagram
You want a newspaper review? A blog review? A show at their venue? A song on their playlist? A song played on their local show? Step 1 is to get on their radar. You’re not going to break this crowd in a day. Or a month. It takes time. You have to start somewhere. Follow all of the local music journalists, club and festival bookers and radio DJs, and learn. What shows are they frequenting? Who are they tweeting? Most likely it will be other gatekeepers. What is their personality? Anyone is flattered when they are followed on Twitter and Instagram. After some time, start to interact with them. Favorite a tweet here and there. Like their photos. Comment occasionally. Reply to their Stories. Retweet them once in a while. Reply to tweets with something witty or brilliant. Above all, don’t creep. Following on Instagram and Twitter is totally acceptable. Friending on Facebook is not. You can search for mutual friends on Facebook, though, and ask for an intro the next time you’re all at a show together.
- Comment on Their Blog
You want something from them? Give something to them first. Read the reviews and comment (occasionally) on the articles. Most of the time they won’t get any comments, but if they see your name giving insightful (or just praiseful) comments to their articles, they will remember you when you meet in person. But don’t overdo it. Keep some level of mystique. Be flattering, not gushing.
- Go to the Spots
After you’ve been following them online for a bit, you’ll know where they hang out. Where they like to see live music. So go to those spots. And if you’re trying to get a show booked at a venue, frequent it. Go hang out and be a pleasant presence in their club. Tip the bartenders. Buy the band’s merch. Pay the cover price. Meet the door people and bartenders. If you get known as a positive energy in their club, they will be much more receptive when you eventually ask them for something (like a show or a review). Which brings me to my next point.
- Meet Them in Person
Again, no digital message or phone call can replace the experience of a physical encounter. Even just a thirty-second interaction with a few jokes (or shots) will get you further than twenty beautifully crafted emails. So get out often. The way you’re going to be a member of the scene is to get out into the scene. Physically.
- Don’t Bad-Mouth Anyone
The worst thing you can do is trash-talk. They may do it, but don’t stoop to that level. If you get caught up in the negativity, you will eventually talk sh*t about the wrong person or band, which could turn you into the punch line of their next meetup. Rise above and be a positive presence in the scene.
- Ignore Them
Or, you can disregard everything above and make killer music, draw big crowds and make them come to you. There’s nothing they love more than befriending the hottest band of the moment.
Don’t be sleazy about any of this. That’s a quick way to ruin your reputation. If you can be a supportive, positive presence in the scene, then word will get around. They’ll eventually want to meet you.
Believe it or not, venue owners, talent buyers and bookers want you to succeed. The reason they are in the line of work they are is the same reason you are: love of music. If they didn’t love live music, they wouldn’t have it. It’s too damn tough to run a music venue. Talent buyers (bookers), who many times are the owners of small venues, want to host great talent. But, more than that, they want a packed club of drinkers. A venue owner’s best night is a packed club, record-setting bar sales, a lineup of acts she loves, a respectful audience and no major catastrophes.
Always look at booking a show as a partnership between you and the venue. It’s never you versus them. If you have a great night, everyone wins. Put yourself in the venue owner’s shoes. If she books too many shows where no one shows up, she will go out of business. You must remember this every time you’re corresponding with venues. They are always on the defensive because they’ve been burned too many times. They assess the risk for every show they host.
If you convince a booker to give you a night at their club and no one shows up, they will never have you back. Everyone loses. So don’t book a show until you have a promotional plan set out.