This industry is clouded with unspoken rules that define your band’s career every day. I’ve seen the frustration on both sides of the fence. Artists frustrated because they crossed a line they didn’t know existed and got shot down by a promoter/agent etc. and industry cursing a band because “THEY DONT UNDERSTAND!!!” Perhaps this keeps happening because no one has ever explained the inner industry politics to these artists. No one has ever said, “this rule exists to preserve this and when you are ignorant to it, it pisses everyone off!” Instead we go on cursing each other rather than working together.
Hopefully this will demystify some of the industry inner-workings and help create a common ground! Working on the industry side for so long, these are some of the most common conflicts I’ve seen happening again and again. There are loads more out there I’m sure, so feel free to add yours below in the comments section!
#1 Always Show Up On Time
Why it’s so crucial?
When you don’t show up on time for a meeting, load in, an interview, etc. it comes across like you don’t care. If you’re a developing artist, this raises serious concern with everyone in the vicinity of the situation: the promoter, the production manager, the media outlet, the industry person, the manager, etc. Being late makes them question if you are really taking this music career thing seriously and if they are the fool’s for being on time for a band that doesn’t value their time in return. No one wants to feel like a fool. Even worse, you will likely lose their respect in the process. As small as it may seem, lots of people and energy goes into creating schedules for artists. When the artist disregards the schedule, it casts the artist in a very negative light in the eyes of an industry person. And next time, they’ll move on to a more reliable artist.
Lateness also affects more than 1 person usually – pushing back a whole schedule disrupts other bands, curfews, wages, etc. So there is a much larger operation in place. But of course lateness happens once in a while – something crazy gets in your way and it’s not humanly possible to be on time. What to do in those cases? Immediately (at least 15 mins. before the expected time of arrival) call all the people affected and express your EXTREME gratitude and apologies for the lateness. Give a clear and accurate time of how late you will be so they can assess and make changes. DO NOT make them chase you for this info! When you arrive re-iterate how sorry you are for being late.
#2 Filling the Room with Fans is the Only Leverage You Have When it Comes to Booking a Gig
Actually. When you’re reaching out to a promoter or booker for the first time they don’t care if you sound like Hendrix, bro! They want to know how many tickets you are worth. Tell them quickly! When you’re just starting out even saying, “we were able to draw 50 fans at our school battle of the bands last week” is helpful. Present some kind of metrics so you’re talking their language. Why is this is all they care about, you ask?
Well, because this is how they survive. They get paid based on a percentage from bar sales and/or ticket sales. Without that they cannot feed their families and would have to live on the street! And that would suck! Being sensitive to this will go a long way.
#3 Overplaying Your Hometown Will Screw You with #2
When you’re starting out, the most important thing is to be strategic and pace yourself between shows. Your frans (friend/fans) will not come to see you every other night; they are busy with other things! It is just reality. So if you only play once every 2 or 3 months they will save the date in their calendar and ALL of them will come out at once. Therefore you will get impress the promoter and bar when you bring all those people to help you fill the room!
#4 Promoters Don’t Like to Share with Each Other
So you are gaining some steam and every promoter in town wants you to play their venue! Yahoo! Great news. BUT there’s some politics with this. If one of the bars or bookers in town took a chance on you 8 months earlier (example time frame) and helped you gain the momentum you have now, going to the other booker in town would piss them off and hurt their feelings. They are feeling invested in your career and proud of you, and then you go and take it away from them to play a show with their competitor? This creates lots of tension and they curse your name and say things like “I’m never helping that band again!” They drag your name through the mud with other locals and industry. This is no good…
Why do they care?
Well because they need to grow their business. Their job is to pack a room and sell concert tickets. When they started helping you out 8 moths ago you could only draw 10 people. You lost them money, but they helped you anyways. They put you on support shows or did extensive postering campaigns to help you grow! They invested real dollars in your success in the market so they could help get you to 100 tickets. Their reason in doing so is so they could fill that room and profit from your growth. You are an investment and partner of theirs now. Sure it’s not so formal, BUT it is an unspoken arrangement and if all goes well you will make each other lots of money for many years to come. Going to one of their competitors once you are able to draw irks them because of this.
If you do get offered a gig and you’d strategically like to do it with one of their competitors, the right thing to do is to talk about it with your promoter on record first and ensure they’re all cool with it.
Make sense? Play nice!
#5 You Don’t Want a Manager if They Don’t Want You
A good management relationship was never born out of a cold email saying, “Hi we are looking for management.” I think I can say that with 100% confidence. Finding the right team is an important process for each band. As you grow, the right people will be attracted and present themselves to you. It is then your job to decide if they are the right fit for you, and sometimes they aren’t. Making the wrong decision at this stage of the game will only cause you extreme and utter hell. Who you let represent your band to the industry is SO INCREDIBLY important. They need to be your bestie, as close as your sister. This is a business partner you are talking about. You have to go through the shitty lows and the awesome highs together. You need to be as thick as thieves. You don’t want to work with someone if they don’t want to work with you… don’t even bother begging them, it won’t work out in your favour!
When management and artist visions are not aligned you see managers going off on their own plans and sometimes upsetting important partners that could help your career. Promoters, potential agents, labels, etc. 100% judge whether they want to work with you based on if they can stand your manager. They represent you, and vice versa. Be patient and the right partner will emerge.
#6 The Industry Will Always Take Care of Their Own First
You see it all the time - bands tour with bands from the same label, bands choose their buddies to open for them, or agents put their own roster up for support before accepting submissions from other outside artists. Everyone has their own business interests in mind in these situations and this is how it will always be. Don’t be surprised or resentful, learn how to expect it and focus your energy in the right places with this knowledge.
Why they do this?
To become more successful. If one of their mega successful artists is touring and can take out one of their smaller acts, this is pretty sweet for the manager/agent/label. They helped build the success of the huge band, so why not share that love with the smaller band? This will help develop the smaller band quickly and they will get to reap the benefits of it twofold. Cross pollinating artist fan pools works in the favour of both artists, so what’s not to love when you’re the manager, agent, or label in this situation? Appreciate this strategy! It will never change.
#7 Don’t Include Typos in Your Industry Outreach Emails
Chances are the industry doesn’t want to be reading your email in the first place, but when you can’t spell or write anything clearly they will immediately click ‘delete’. It shows a lack of respect when someone doesn’t take a second and spell check. It ties into how you value their time and energy. It also takes away when you need to clarify statements and industry people like clarity! If you know you aren’t the best at writing then have someone else in the band look your drafts over and edit before you send. This will go a long way in presenting yourself as a professional and will leave one less reason for the industry person not to read your email.
#8 Nobody Feels Bad for You or Wants to Hear About Your Hardships as an Artist
We get it, you work hard. So does everyone. Your manager is there to pat you on the back and help you get back out there and one day your tour manager, personal assistant, and masseuse will help too. Everyone else – your label, your agent, your publicist, etc. don’t have time for whining. It’s grind, grind, grind.
Why don’t they care?
They’re too busy trying to help you succeed. Pulling them away from that and into a negative complaining vortex is not conducive to progress or growth! Stay positive and inspire your team to push harder!
#9 If You are the First Person Telling an Industry Person About Your Band, You Might as well Have Not Told Them Yet
Industry people want to hear about new music from trusted sources – buddies, social media, their favourite radio station, etc. Not from only the band themselves. Why?
This validates and legitimizes your music for them. You are in the band so of course you think you’re awesome, every band does and should. If an outside source says so then an industry person will take a closer look. Think about how you can incorporate that strategically into your outreach plans.
#10 Before You Open Your Mouth in a Conversation Your Value is Stamped All Over Your Head
The way you carry yourself goes a long way. Industry people have been around the block and can pick up on subtle things. Before you say a word to them they have an idea of what you will ask for, your level of competence, and your value in the conversation. Is this right? No. But, see it as a chance to surprise them. You will get cast in the “artist emailing from their Mom’s basement” role if you act like that. It’s industry peoples’ jobs to foresee the future, so they are intensely tuned into small intricacies in personality and band dynamics that you wouldn’t even know existed. And even though their spide-y senses are usually right, sometimes they’re not. Take pride in being underestimated and blow people away every chance you get. And I don’t just mean on stage - blow people away with your attention to detail, respect for their role and job, punctuality, organization skills, and business savvy.
#11 Honest Advice is Hard to Find
Unless you truly and clearly ask for it, people won’t give you the honest advice you need to grow. They will shy away and avoid hurting your feelings. Industry professionals are faced with this all the time. Often you will not get a reply to your email or if you do, you will get something like, “I am just too swamped to help you right now, best of luck!” But what they’re actually saying is “I don’t dig your sound, bro”, “learn how to sing”, and/or “you’re not ready for my attention yet.” If you want the honest feedback and can handle it (and use it constructively) then ask straight up. Once you get that feedback don’t let it destroy you or throw you off track, it is just one person’s opinion. Ask yourself, “what about this feedback do I agree with?” And make small changes accordingly.
#12 Take Care of Your Health
I know you’re really bad ass in a rock and roll band raging every night… but if you can’t get on that stage and totally kill it none of this works. Your health is so incredibly important and getting sick will cost you and everyone on your team money. Cancelling shows because you’re sick should be absolutely end-of-the-world-death-bed situation. It is on you to make sure you can deliver night after night. How cool of a rock star can you be if you’re too sick to tour?
#13 Trashing the Band Room or Hotel Room Will Get You Blacklisted
If you are lucky enough to be awarded a band room and/or hotel room, you better thank your lucky stars! Trashing the place shows a huge disrespect for the promoter and partners involved. You don’t make them enough money yet for them to have to put up with that bullshit and the extra fees associated with your damages, so they will just never book you again at their bar or in their city. Who’s partying now, huh?
#14 Knowing the Basics of What Each Role in the Music Industry Entails Will Help You
Understanding each person’s role and goals will provide you with a magical advantage. Whether it’s a front-of-house tech, production manager, promoter, publicist, agent, music director, music supervisor, producer, engineer, venue owner, bar manager, manager, label head, A&R rep, marketing director, business manager – they each have clear and specific roles. To work with them fluidly and get in their good books it would be ideal for you to have an understanding of what their concerns and needs are to do their best work. I know it can be confusing at first and no one ever properly lays it out, but read lots and ask lots of questions and it will become clearer. I’ll have to revisit this in another blog post!
#15 Remind the People Who Fight for You Every Day That You Need Them
This rule is more idealistic, but if you embrace it, it will work wonders for you! Go overboard on your appreciation and respect for your team. The amount of work it takes to develop an artist is ungodly and they could always be doing more. Show them you really understand that and they will want to work even harder for you. Handle conflict with grace and poise and always have their backs through the tough times. Offer to help, even when you can’t. It’s just the thought that counts sometimes!
#16 Showing Extreme Focus in Your Goals is Infectious
Going back to these spidey senses… industry people have a good idea when they meet you for the first time how dedicated you are. If you mention in a side bar that you just started law school then chances are they will quickly see that as a red flag that your band might not be a very wise investment for them. I hate to say it, but babies are red flags too sometimes. When you’re developing a band it needs 1000% of your commitment and if you want that level of excitement from the partners you’re connecting with, you have to lead by example. There are so many bands that need an extra push, and the most focused ones will be the ones awarded with such opportunities. What’s even worse is a lack of intense dedication seeps into everything you do… a band that is hungry, with no backup plan and everything on the line stands out next to the former in the eyes of an industry person. It’s just the way it works.
#17 It’s Never the End of The World
Opportunities will come and go. It’s usually unlikely that 1 thing will make or break your career. It is a series of fortunate events that help you gain to momentum. Don’t waste time feeling sorry when you loose that sweet support spot to a different band, it just wasn’t meant to be, focus that attention on the next potential opportunity!
#18 You Will Always Get Paid Last, if At All. And You Will Have to Pay for Everything
Just like every business owner, you need to front the entire overhead and upfront expenses AND you will get paid back last. Not to mention turning a profit… that will take even longer. The good side on this rule is when you make it big you will be the one that profits the most and hopefully biggest, so just hang in there and try not to think about it too much!
#19 It’s Ok to Fuck Up if You Say Sorry
You’re gonna make mistakes. These are only some of the rules and there are many. When you realize you made a mistake quickly apologize and move past it, pull the “I’m just learning” card and all will be well again. Pretending you didn’t screw up will just make you look like an idiot. Be humble and in the long run you will build stronger relationships for it.
#20 Incredibly GREAT Music Can Override All of the Rules Above
Well, ain’t that a bitch…
Thanks for reading! Let me know what rules I missed @SARIDELMAR and good luck!
Sari Delmar is the Founder and CEO of Audio Blood, a full-service artist and brand development company based in Toronto, Ontario. Through unique media and promotional packages, Audio Blood continues to be on the cutting edge of music marketing and promotion. Sari has been invited to speak on panels and conduct workshops at various industry events such as Canadian Music Week, East Coast Music Week, and Nova Scotia Music Week, to name a few. Read more from Sari on SariDelmar.com