Local musicians: Are you winging it? Are you ready to succeed in music but intimidated by logistics?
Maybe you've pitched to venues but never heard back. Or you've wanted to record a banger but fear the expense. Or perhaps you've hoped to get featured in this very paper but have never made contact, and aren't sure how. What do you do?
We sought advice from local industry pros — everyone from venues, managers, and labels to PR, media, and musicians themselves — on what local artists should be doing to be more presentable, professional, and honed in their craft. What venues expect when you arrive, what editors want to see in an email, what labels respond to — even how to approach your "look:" It's all spelled out here by 15 folks telling it like it is.
Here's what they said.
Advice from venues
EMAIL: First, bands should stop leaving their CDs at venues. I appreciate the sentiment of meeting in person; however, the CD often gets lost, broken, or thrown away. Sending music links over email is always best. Emailing is best, period. Please don't call the venue trying to talk to the booking agent. It might seem personal, but it's a waste of time. Booking agents need an email trail to look at the conversation or notes so as to not miss any important information. If you insist on talking over the phone to book a show, which usually means incessant phone calls, I will not take you seriously and will be annoyed.
INFORM: When sending the first email, more information is better (website, social media, videos, press, notable bands you have played with, venues you have played, etc.). I shouldn't have to ask you to send me your music when you are trying to book a show. Stating the name of your band isn't enough, unless you and I are familiar. This happens more than you think.
PROMOTE: I am thrilled when a band is proactive in promoting! It's extremely helpful when a band asks for a press list soon after being booked. Most venues have a press list on their website as well. I prefer musicians to promote on social media, make Facebook events, etc. and then I, along with the staff, promote and share. If you can send physical posters to the venue, please do so. If you can put up posters around town (in legal spots), even better! Digital posters work great, too.
COMMUNICATE: Do not ever add a band to a bill without consulting the agent or venue. That is never a fun surprise. Tin Roof has a 12 a.m. curfew, and if a band is added to the bill unknowingly, this can really mess up the schedule. Communication is, as always, key.
DAY OF SHOW: The day of your show, if you come early to hangout that's cool. We are a bar after all. Just remember Tin Roof, like other venues, is a bar. Please don't load in your equipment and jam or practice. The bar is not your practice space and will most likely drive away customers. If you are running late, we understand. Let the venue know what's going on and your ETA. It's no fun guessing when the show will start for questioning customers.
• Please don't assume that you have a guest list. That should be discussed ahead of time. Tin Roof wants the bands to make money! We are OK with a guest list. However, remember we have to cover paying a sound person, door person, admission taxes, cost of band beers, etc. Don't let your friends drink your band beers. That's lame. We all need to make money. And please respect that we are a 21+ venue.
• Stay for the rest of the show after your band has played. Show interest and support the other bands and have a great time!
• Please take your equipment home with you unless otherwise discussed. Tin Roof has events all the time, some of which are during the day. No one wants to work around your equipment or worry about breaking it, etc. Also, shipping equipment is a pain and expensive. Furthermore, make sure not to take equipment that isn't yours. Replacing microphones gets expensive as well. It's usually a mistake, but worth mentioning.
If you follow all or most of these suggestions, you should have a successful show and will most likely be booked again!
- Callie Cranford
The Royal American
We receive as many as 30 unsolicited booking emails each day, so short, sweet, informative, and to the point always works best. We check out every submission, but unfortunately, we can't respond to them all. Please don't call the venue or send us messages on Facebook. You will hear from us if we are interested in booking your band.
Things I look for in the email or initial pitch:
• A working link to your best song. Even if it is a rough demo, don't worry. I can hear through it — that's my job. I can still tell if the song and the musicianship are good, even if you recorded it yourself on your cell phone. And a working link is key. Bands send dead or expired links all the time and that does no good.
• Your recent history in the Charleston market — i.e. where you've played in the past six moths and how many people you brought.
• Any fun press you may have gotten (like maybe PASTE premiered your latest song), or any cool shows or tours you've recently been a part of.
• Keep it short. I don't need to know what the inspiration for starting the band was back in college, or the names of all the members, or where the name came from, etc. We can talk about that over beers six months down the line after you've sold the place out.
• Mass or group emails get deleted (i.e. "Our act would be a great fit for 'insert your venue'"). Know the venue you are approaching. For example, there's no need to email us over and over again if you are a cover band. We don't book cover bands.
When you arrive at the venue:
• Please read the Advance Sheet we send you, and arrive on time.
• Introduce yourself first — please don't just start loading in and setting up.
• Once load-in is finished, put all your cases and gear in a tidy spot (specified by our sound guy). Be respectful of our space.
• Always ask before setting up merch, and we will show you our designated spot.
• Our sound engineer is running the show, and what he says goes. He knows the room, as he runs sound in it every night. We can and do accommodate a ton of production requests from bands, but at the same time, if we ask you to turn down your amp, there is a reason for it. Please listen to us and work with us — our job is to make your band sound as good as possible, and we take a lot of pride in doing that.
Promo: Also, creating a buzz on the street, or online, will certainly get my attention. If people are talking, that's always a good thing.
- Jonathan Boncek
Charleston Music Hall
For a Pitch: If you do not have a video, then it is not worth sending a pitch. That sounds harsh, but it is the truth. Also, please have real numbers of how many tickets you can sell in the market and at what price. The Music Hall is tough, as we seat 955 humans. I would strongly suggest a band should sell out the Pour House before moving to the Music Hall. If you have less than 300 people in this room, it just is not the best feeling. Over the years we have tried to make local shows work, to some success, but again it is very tough to get an audience to come out in Charleston to experience new music.
Day of Show: Friendliness and patience. Also, as my father always says, "proper preparation perpetuates perfect performance." Be prepared! Have your set list printed out. Have your guest list ready. Let us know ahead of time if there are changes to your stage plot. Above all, just remember that we are all in this together. We will try to be as friendly and patient with you as possible, and we hope you will do the same.
Performance: Always get on the stage and play as if you are playing to a sold out Madison Square Garden.
Advice from Labels ProducersMatt Zutell
Respect your brand: The people who stand out to me are the artists who understand the importance of their branding, or how they're coming across to others. Oftentimes, the "look" or aesthetic is the first thing that's noticed when looking at an artist. If they don't take the effort to garner consistent/quality branding, then I'm prone to believe their music has been given that same lack of attention.
30-second pitch: Aesthetics are not the only thing to consider with branding, however. I receive a decent amount of emails from artists looking to "get signed" or be "taken to the next level," and I can tell right away from how they present themselves in writing if it's something to take seriously or not. I've gotten emails from artists telling me to check them out, but they don't even include links to their music or socials. In this day and age, you need to make it very easy for people to access your brand, a.k.a. you. I recommend coming up with some sort of digital "one-sheet" that highlights you as an artist. Think of it as your 30-second elevator pitch. Chances are, the people you're trying to get in touch with are busy. Stand out by making it easy for them to see your potential — or the success you've already been having.
Adjunct lecturer at College of Charleston and faculty supervisor of student label 1770 Records
Like it's your job: I come from the indie label world, and even though the music industry has changed a great deal since I got my first label job in 1999, the things that I think are really important for musicians to do if they want the attention of a label aren't really that different now than they were then — at least from an indie label perspective. Simply put, your music has to be your job. You've got to be willing to get down in the trenches and really put in the hours to practice, write, play, promote, and build relationships. If you treat it like your career, other people will take you seriously.
Engage your people: Engaging with your audience is always important. Obviously, today, we tend to think of that in terms of social media, and there's no denying that being active on social media matters. To engage with your audience, you need to find the voice that works for you. Authenticity matters much more than any pre-prescribed social media formula. If you're a shoegaze band on stage and sound like infomercial pitch people online because some book told you to, that disconnect will diminish the value of the engagement you build. And don't forget to connect offline as well. Old-school tricks, like sending your mailing list a postcard with some tour dates, will make your fans — and prospective labels — get noticed. The things you do to engage your audience shows a label that you're ready for prime time.
Watch your frequency: Think carefully about the shows you play. Be mindful of the impact of playing too many free cover shows on your ticketed, original music shows. Labels, managers, promoters, agents, and of course, your audience, need to see you as an original music artist and not a cover act, if you want to be a career musician. I know cover gigs often pay more than your own shows when you're just starting out, but the long-term price of that could ultimately be your music career.
Inexperience is not a dirty word: Lastly, this may seem like a no-brainer, but be nice. Be respectful of the people in the venues who work your shows, the other musicians you play with, and the people at the labels you approach. Be on time. Respond to emails. Meet deadlines. Inexperience is not a dirty word, so don't be afraid to ask questions. These are some of the things I hope 1770 lets musicians get experience doing, because they really matter. At its core, music runs on shared passions and relationships — never forget that when you're doing business.
Get Paid: The No. 1 obstacle the Charleston music scene will have to overcome in the next few years is building a solid music economy. The foundation of this economy is musicians getting paid when they play. From buying strings to shooting music videos, musical endeavors require resources. For all the artistic value you place on your craft, there has to be some sort of monetary value that you attach to it as well. This is the single most important thing that I can convey as a business representative of South Carolina musicians.
College musicians, I'm especially talking to you. Your world exists in a swirl of responsibilities and thousands of dollars being thrown around in hopes it pays off years down the road. Playing music is one of the most wonderful sensations to exist. I completely understand that you couldn't care less whether or not you get paid to play a house show. But in an economic sense, performing your craft for free lowers the value of Charleston music.
If you get asked to play a show and money isn't mentioned, mention it. Whether it's the audience paying you via the door, the promoter paying you via a guarantee, the bar chipping in with a tab, add it all up and figure out if this show is worth it. The frequent example of people not valuing your work is when you get asked to play for "exposure." Exposure actually has a value, it's just really low in our age of social media. Figure it out.
Only Publish Good Recordings: Y'all. No one other than you wants to hear your demos. I promise. Your friends, your family, the venue you're trying to play, the label you wanna pitch to, the Spotify listeners you want to accumulate, the radio station you dream you'll one day be on, all want your songs to sound good! Miss me with that "artistic choice" B.S. Think about how long it took you to become the musician you are from when you first started. Why in the world do you think you can record quality tracks when you just started in your bedroom as an audio engineer? Don't worry — you can do this on a budget. It is possible to spend a mere $425 on a quality single: from two days in a studio ($150-$450/day locally) to mastering ($35-$150 locally) to copyright (make that song unstealable for as low as $55) to paying an aggregator to get the single streaming ($55). Does this sound like a lot? How many shows would you have to play before you could pay that amount? How much would you need to be paid per show to make this happen? Now that you released this song, how much has your value increased? How much do you need to be paid for your next gig? Are you following me?
Video is King: It's 2018. Audio-visual stimulation enraptures the attention of human beings more than any other form of media. If you don't have some sort of plan to take your professionally recorded track and make it into a sweet video, you're already behind the curve. Even something as simple as a lyric video will do. Just Make. It. Good.
Again, let's assume we're on a tight budget and gonna keep it basic. You storyboard the track and you can shoot everything in one location during golden hour (first or last hour of daylight in a day). How much is the videographer's day rate for shooting? Are there actors? How much do they charge? Who's providing transportation? How much is the gas? After the shoot, everything has to be uploaded, edited together, timed to the music, and color balanced. Is it a lyric video? Gotta add those in too. Do you trust the videographer enough to assume there won't be any edits? Budget for those as well. All in all, you can spend anywhere from $250 to $1,000 to way more on a video.
By the time you've gotten paid, recorded the track, and released the video, you have demonstrated your ability to generate and invest funds, plan and execute projects over time, and that you give enough fucks to be taken seriously. This is the thing you send to venues and labels. This is when you've reached the ground floor of being a professional musician. This is when the music career can start. You know what that means? Get. Paid.
Advice from a Publicist
(Matt Monday, Salis)
• "Hire a publicist," is my first thought, but I know that isn't usually an expense for local musicians. So if you have to be the artist/self-managed — start off with a SWOT Analysis [a strategic planning technique used to help a person or organization identify the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats].
By creating the SWOT you can identify with your target audience, competition, and strength/weaknesses as a local artist. There is an ongoing conversation about the hip-hop scene here in Charleston (or lack of), so when these genre-based artists reach out for my services, I always advise them to: Build and maintain professionals relationships (non-music related). This is an opportunity to network and share your artistry with people of different professions. This not only helps build your fanbase, but it can lead to assistance for other professional services that could be beneficial to your music career (i.e. legal, investors, venue).
• Informally introduce yourself [via email] to local bloggers and writers. Artists should do this before sending any music for review via email ... However, don't expect a response.
• Send a press/media release. The best way to compose a press release is to first answer, "who, what, where, when, why (or how)." Put the pieces together and make it flow.
• Compose a short blurb and include a short bio, picture, and social media handles. If you're a local musician and don't have a bio (at minimum 50 words), write one now. Then create a SWOT Analysis. It's time to start rebranding and becoming one of Charleston's most known musicians.
Advice from Photographers
Freelance photographer, has shot music for the City Paper, Post & Courier
Musicians are definitely the most fun and easygoing when it comes to booking and shooting, but I feel like they leave too much to the photographer — meaning you (should) know your style, you know your vision so you should be able to think of a location or bring any equipment that represents your music. My advice? Put a similar kind of thought into a shoot that you probably did into the cover art of your albums.
Now, I know one reason why some musicians are like deer in headlights — you probably assume the paper has its own angle and you don't want to overstep. You're also a little shy sometimes, but you should treat the shoots like a gig — it's all a part of your act. Come to it the same way you'd approach an hour-long set. Perfect example was hip-hop artist Damn Skippy and his crew very recently — they knew exactly what they wanted and it was the best musicians' shoot I've ever had. They picked the location, had coordinated outfits, used their van as a prop — and we had a blast.
Freelance photographer, former City Paper staff photographer
Too many artists don't think about their image being portrayed. The ones who get it, get it. I tell them to think about how they want to look in the eyes of their listeners.
You want the listeners to have a feel for your music just by looking at this image. So what type of people do you know who will listen? Let's shoot so it reads that way.
And then the album cover is a classic thing I tell musicians: Envision your album cover being a picture of yourselves.
In order to make it as a band, you have to have a great team. By make it I mean be able to survive off of your band/music alone. This of course is not the goal, nor should it be, for all bands and musical acts. It is crucial to have a solid team behind you who can advise, manage, and help sort out the day-to-day tasks. You, the artist, should be focusing on two things 1) writing amazing music, 2) putting on the most amazing performances possible. You need your team to deal with booking, record deals, videos, scheduling, press, and all the other tiny details that come along with being a band. That is not to say you should not have your input and hand in those things — you just need to accept help and understand the value and importance of your team.
Richard "Box" Bachschmidt
Former morning Host on 105.5 The Bridge, has been waking up the Holy City since 2004. Stay tuned to boxinthemorning.com for next steps.
• Have an elevator speech ready when you're asked about your music. "It's unlike anything else, ever" is lazy. It's OK to admit your influences. It'll will be easier for unfamiliar ears to "hear" where you're coming from.
• When sending in a pitch: I don't care if the album version song is six-and-a-half minutes, but get me an edited track that's between three-and-a-half and four.
• Include some sort of bio. Pretend it's a job interview. Look good, sound good!
Advice from Music Writers
Post & Courier's arts & entertainment reporter and co-host of The Fringe podcast, who's reachable for both platforms via email@example.com
Every day at Charleston Scene, I get hundreds of emails about things going on in town. To set your email apart from the masses:
• First, always include a picture, and I mean a hi-res, nice-quality picture.
• Second, keep it short and sweet in a typical news release format but full of facts (and maybe a splash of personality; I like to laugh, you know).
• And third, and most importantly, have a story you can tell through your brand and message, and hint at it in your email. Just another show announcement will likely get thrown into the virtual trash. What are you doing that's different from what everyone else is? What makes it newsworthy? What will get my editor to take note and not just someone like me who's actively involved in the music scene?Kelly Rae Smith
Charleston City Paper music editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Everything Kalyn said above is spot on. Also:
Tagging writers on Facebook and Twitter isn't the best way to get our attention. Be a pro and fire off a good email.
A good email includes the following info:
• Links that take me directly to a song via YouTube or Soundcloud or Spotify — just make sure there is a link that will within a few seconds allow us to take your sound for a spin. Don't make us dig. And don't say you'll send us more info if we're interested: you're the one pitching us. Send all the info you can.
• What is the song/album/video about? Why is it noteworthy? If it's an event, why are you putting on this show: Is it an album release? A benefit? A special night of female singer-songwriters? A drag show with punk rock music? A multi-genre lineup? A fuck-the-bridge-run or a fuck-yes-I-did-that-damn-bridge-run party?
Please create a Facebook page We (and listeners, radio peeps, etc.) will research you — so make sure that if nothing else, like a website, you have a Facebook presence, and complete the About page thoroughly, complete with an email address, genre, names of band members, and bio. It's so easy and useful.
Where does your music live? Every artist needs a place where your music lives. Personally, I love Bandcamp the most for emerging artists: it allows plenty of space for a bio, lyrics, and info on where the music was made and who collaborated. It's also a great place to sell all of your merch and make that moolah.
Advice from a Stylist
Design consultant (Dewberry Hotel, The Dog Wash), professor (Art Institute of Charleston, Fashion Department), stylist (Jessie McCartney, Upright Citizens Brigade)
• What you wear is very important; it is an extension of what you do and how you do it. I tell all my students and clients that clothing is your arsenal to the world!
• The more you participate the more you are present.
• I also tell my students and clients that style is not limited to clothing; you have the option of designing every aspect of your life. It is yours — your method of communication, your living space, utilization of technology (yes, I'm certified as a superintendent of schools and worked 12+ years in public service designing technology, policy, and communications for school districts helping them become the source of information, not a target). You are only as good as your taste. And as Metallica has advised many times, many ways, "Have no regrets."
Heart to Hearts from Prominent Local Artists
- Jonathan Boncek
Always evolve: In a world where art is everywhere, all the time, my advice for young artists is to be their authentic selves, for them to incessantly hone their skills; become perfectionists. I would encourage musical artists to root their art in real experiences, emotions, and beliefs so that the listener can not only connect to what's being delivered, but also to their inner. Have conversations with people, read new things, and stir up your spiritual self. I believe these things will deepen the well that we, as artists, pull from. A well that waters our most authentic selves. This is the age of expression, renaissance, technology, and innovation. I believe that when you live, think, breathe, and sleep as your most authentic self — the self that informs your art — those who you are aiming to reach are more likely to connect with you, relate to you, and respect you: to support you.
Continuously perfect: Next, be a perfectionist. I use the word perfectionist more so in the way we use the term "more perfect" when we describe the goal of a society. Of course it will never be without flaw, but the focus on constantly improving, challenging, growing, and enhancing your art should always be a priority. Write, write, and rewrite. Perfect your tone, cadence, and breathing when recording. Develop a style. Surround yourself with musical people, and make sure your musical compositions are mixed and mastered!
Respect the performance aspect: As it pertains to your performance art, your wardrobe, your presence, and your music should all converge to captivate your live show audience. Your live show should be meticulously planned, rehearsed, and perfected (emcees, please use show tracks with your vocals muted!). The live show is a moment to show the people in the venue the unique art you've created and the genius of your delivery. Take them away to your creative world, be filled with emotions, be vulnerable, mystify them with your musical stories, and your meticulous mastery of it. And then, land them right back in the seats they forgot they were sitting in for the past 40 minutes. There are few things more memorable than a great experience of great music. Remember that art is an alchemy that allows others to learn how you see the world, and that truth can be enhanced by giving the necessary regard to how the world sees you. Be intentional.
- Jonathan Boncek
Do your research: I don't know what anyone personally needs to be doing with their craft, but I can say that what helped me is that I've always been someone who loved "studying the field." I think it's important to try and get every piece of information you can about any field that you're in. Books, magazines, YouTube videos. I watch and read everything. Then, break it down into subfields. If I know I'm trying to play at restaurants/bars, I have to approach it from a bar owner mindset (which most bar owners/managers appreciate). So I read about owning bars or managing bars — this way I can speak their lingo. I study them, dress like them when going to meet up with them, to make them feel comfortable.
Follow your inspiration: The next biggest help for me as an artist was "stealing." With the internet you can literally find hundreds of different ways to broaden whatever idea you have (because nothing is new), and from that point, put your own twist on it. If there is a successful artist lighting up a path that you can walk, there is no reason that you should not follow in their footsteps. They are the ones who are making room for other artists in your field or like you to be better.
Connect: Finally, connections. I get nowhere if I'm not trying to build a relationship with the people I want to work around. Sometimes it may seem like they aren't trying to be "buddy buddy" with you, however, it doesn't take all that. At the start of it all, just showing up and constantly being around the bar owners, promoters, venue bookers, festival organizer, will get you into more doors than you realize — as opposed to just showing up and expecting someone to give you something because you're good!