Many of our readers are aspiring musicians or already recording and touring. But the music business is a dicey proposition in today’s world: record royalties are a rarity, and touring is necessary if you want to make a living. How can you be a metal musician and not wreck your adult life in the process?
In the past, musicians had to learn the hard way or just went back to the hardware store when they turned 25. Thanks to technology you can actually study up. One of the options is CreativeLive, which is hosting a class today and tomorrow called “The Working Musician’s Playbook.” Instructor and working musician Matt Halpen gave Decibel readers some tips on how to do it right.
If you are asking yourself, “who the fuck is Matt Halpern and why should I care?” I don’t blame you (I ask myself the same question every day). I play drums in Periphery, aka Pure Riffery, teach drum clinics all over the world, and I’m the founder of Bandhappy.com. I am fortunate enough to pay my bills by making music, so for anyone who would like to do the same, here’s my suggestions.
Understand what you’re getting yourself into — AND FULLY COMMIT
This business is hard, and you need to be prepared to invest a lot of time and energy. Realistically, it’s going to take years of hard work for your band to make it, so exercise patience and just focus on being productive every day.
Find the right partners in crime
It all starts with having the right bandmates. Some bands consists of a bunch of best friends, others consist of the right players. For others, it’s a business relationship. If you don’t surround yourself with people who you get along with, can communicate with, and who are dedicated, then you’re screwed from the beginning. Find people who can play, have the same artistic vision, and who are willing to put in the work. Dont be afraid to change your lineup early on if someone isn’t working out — it’s better for the group to weed out the weak links.
Have a direction, and be yourself
With more bands than ever putting their music out, it’s easy for your music to get lost in the shuffle. Your music should stand out from the crowd, and the way to do that is by having a point of view — being original. Don’t try to recreate what another band is doing. Write and play the music YOU love, the music YOU want to hear, and put yourself into the music. If you do this, and it’s honest, people will listen (especially if you have something to say).
Get on the radar of the right people aka “networking”
I hesitate to say “network” because it’s not about being a social climber who wants to “know the right people,” it’s about making genuine connections with people in the industry, and helping them even when it doesn’t seem like there’s something in it for you. Build real friendships and relationships with other bands, FANS, managers, promoters, venue staff, labels, etc… It will benefit your band in the long run.
Tour a lot, and give your music away for free!
There are exceptions to this, but for the most part, the coolest and tightest bands are the ones who tour the most and share their music with their fans for free! Give the music away, build an audience online, and then GO TOUR! Giving the music away allows you to reach fans without boundaries. If they like your music, the fans are going to support you when you come to town, AND they’re going to want to meet you – go meet your fans, build relationships with them and they’ll continue to support you.
Build the right team
Management, label, agents, etc — there is no formula for what “right” means. It’s different for every band, so you need to
figure that out for yourself — it’s about relationships and chemistry. Communicate what you need to the people you want to work with. If they’re the right team, they’ll be receptive and help you come up with actionable things you can do to reach your goals.
Put out a great first album (and be yourselves!)
With all the business talk, its easy to lose sight of what’s most important: your MUSIC. Push yourself and your band to make a great first impression by putting out music that truly represents and communicates who YOU are! BE YOURSELF and write what YOU want to HEAR!
Keep touring your ass off (on the RIGHT tours)
All tours are not created equal. Make sure you are getting on the right ones at the right time. For example, when Periphery was fortunate enough to tour with the Deftones, that really helped us out: we were introduced to a new fan base and it allowed us to be in front of large, receptive crowd each night. Again, that tour came to be because of a friendship and relationship between band members — be excellent to each other, and good things will happen.
Keep putting out great music
The sophomore slump is a real thing. A lot of bands get caught up in the mess of the industry and lose sight of MUSIC being most important, especially when you factor in your now-hectic touring schedule. Lots of bands start strong then fizzle. How many times have we heard “I only like the demo/first album”?” Don’t let that be your band. Focus on your music, your message, and again, BE YOURSELF!
Stay humble, hungry and motivated
Once you’ve “made it,” the work has just begun. Stay hungry.