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Thursday
Dec062012

"Can We Get In Pitchfork?" 6 Philosophical Reasons Indie Bands Fail

“Can we get in Pitchfork?”

I’m lucky enough to be exposed to an extremely wide variety of independent bands, and it often seems the difference between a band rising fast, sinking like a stone or staying motionless in place comes down to the ideas and beliefs held by the band members themselves. Just like in life, ideas, philosophies and belief systems can cause us a lot of trouble internally and externally, leading us to do and think all kinds of irrational things. Some of the following list will be concrete things that many artists tend not to think about, and some of it will include harmful ideas they hold dear.

All of them I see first hand, and often enough to be inspired to share this article.

1) “All or Nothing”

Possibly due to growing up with long-held cultural expectations going all the way back to Elvis Presley and the Beatles, our collective idea of what it is to “be in a band” or “to make it” generally involves visions of superstars gracing the stage in front of 50,000 or so obsessed followers.  It’s fine and good to have an image in your mind of your goal. The problem is, this goal, if held too close and without the proper neutrality, can taint all the building blocks along the way and cause bands to implode early when they were just on the verge of getting somewhere. Artists who start off wanting everything almost always grossly underestimate the work involved, and this leads to disillusionment and despair. There’s no such thing in reality as “all or nothing”. You are where you are so start from there.

2) “I’m a True Artist”

This is a true poison. If you’re an honest, true artist, I congratulate you. In my view, you’re a wonderful thing for this world. However, just BE an honest artist. Don’t THINK you are one. It will get in your way, trust me. It’s the same as the man on the path to enlightenment who thinks “I’m a great yogi”. He won’t achieve his goal. Thinking “I’m a true artist” tends to solidify subconscious beliefs about lack of success, “the Man”, and the army of commercial sods out there that you’re up against. It can make you feel alone in a music industry that sometimes seems to be a more dangerous environment than the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Don’t let yourself get polarized. The Doors are considered by many to be true artists, and yet they also had the business drive to make it. They called in to Los Angeles radio requesting “Break on Through” to get their foot in the door. They didn’t expect anyone to find them because of their unique gifts.

3) “We have no money”

That may be true, and everyone has their stories as to why they’re in that situation. People have stories about why they’re in ANY given situation; why they’re lazy, why they’re sick, why they’re angry, why they don’t trust people, why they are religious, why they are stressed, why they believe humanity is doomed…and many of our stories are quite rational and justified. We re-enforce them by repeating them over and over to anyone willing to listen.

But it doesn’t help.

The tough thing to accept, and this really is a bitter pill to swallow, is this. No one cares about your story. They may understand. They may empathize. But no one really cares. Once you know that, once you TRULY know that, it’s liberating. You can face who you actually are and where you actually are with courage instead of excuses.

Your band is a BUSINESS. In no other business are people allowed to say “I don’t have money but I want success”. The landlord would kick you out in a second. It’s only independent bands who have such an issue with investing in themselves.

4) “Can we get in Pitchfork?”

I’ve been asked this question by many artists who are just starting out, and of course, there is always that chance. However, there seems to be a looming expectation attached to the question that has some troubling residue. One artist advised me that he would accept interview requests from publications like Pitchfork or Rolling Stone, but I would have to get his permission for “smaller publications”. Do you see the issue here? If you don’t embrace and respect ALL the media, including the tiniest independent music blogs, you’ll most likely be very disappointed with your results. Most bands contact the top 50 music blogs after finding a list somewhere and ignore the rest of the blogosphere. In their minds, they’re simply too good to waste their time on small publications.

5) “We’re very coachable. Mold us!”

Not everyone will agree with me on this point, and it’s fine because my point of view is subjective, and based on the kinds of music I personally value. I often receive submissions from bands who quite obviously try to sound like their idols, whether that be Creed, Jack White, Lil Wayne, or Nickelback (shudder). While this can end up being a successful strategy for some, most media personnel will just see you as a clone. If you really get to know publications like Popmatters, Consequence of Sound, Pitchfork, and Filter Magazine, or checking the latest festival lineups, you’ll see a trend happening that leans heavily towards the innovative.

This goes against what most music promotion guides tell us. They tell you to be coachable and to listen to industry guidance. Write radio friendly songs. But I don’t think that’s true. You need to be genuine, and it’s not genuine to copy someone or try to cater to an industry for financial or vanity reasons.

Don’t compromise your art. Run with it. Do something vital, dangerous, meaningful, and most of all, honest.

6) “Wait in line and you’ll get your share”

With the prevalence of endless music authorities of every kind, independent artists have in some cases adopted a “wait in line” mentality that can be quite harmful. You’ve submitted your music to every blog on Hype Machine and applied for every opportunity on Sonicbids. No one has responded. Now what?

Most music publications receive hundreds of submissions per day. More than likely they won’t even listen to your music. Some blogs appear to be open to independent artists but are effectively shut down to the outside world. The idea of sending your album to all the respective “review queues” and waiting for something to happen, playing by the rules as it may be, just doesn’t work.

There is a commonly held subconscious belief amongst musicians that pictures a level playing field of sorts. The music industry, as we like to think of it, is a giant, endless panel populated by A&R representatives ready to listen to every band, one at a time. But the reality is that very few people have the time or will make the time to listen to your music, let alone spread it in any way. You need to understand this and take control of your own progress.

Reach out personally to any genre expert who could possibly help you. Take the time to personally connect with as many people as possible. Hire freelancers to get on your side and possibly cover your band’s new release. Offer something in return. Donate to blogs you respect and they will appreciate it. If you support them, they are much more likely to support you. Yes, I said it. It’s the truth. Most bands think each website has a whole bunch of writers waiting with all the time in the world to write blogs about them, but people generally want something for their time, whether it’s money to keep doing what they’re doing, cross-promotion, acknowledgement of their work, or just an actual human conversation instead of a robotic press release.

Advertise. Research micro-job websites. Reach out to respected licensing companies. Contact writers individually and let them know which of their pieces you enjoyed rather than going through the main channels. Start a blog of your own and offer cross-promotion. Follow up when appropriate. Target non-music specific publications that have music sections.

There are thousands of things you could be doing while you’re waiting in line, but never just wait.

 

Author info: James Moore is a Canadian music promoter and author of the best selling “Your Band Is A Virus” music marketing book series (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ADPGIXK), aimed at educating musicians on the topic of effective self-promotion. He is also the founder of Independent Music Promotions (www.independentmusicpromotions.com), a music promotion/PR company working exclusively with “artists with depth” worldwide.

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (24)

Words of wisdom & encouragement for budding artists, that's what I come here for! ;)

Thank you James! x

December 6 | Unregistered CommenterDreama

In regards to #4, Fitz of Fitz and the Tantrums, always talks about and thanks all the bloggers that shared their music and helped them, even if the blogger had 10 readers, that's a possibility of 10 more fans.

December 6 | Unregistered CommenterMarion

James, Great article!
It seems like so many of the new unsigned bands I come across have this sense of entitlement that makes them better than the other 2 million bands that are just like them. Then when reality starts setting in after a couple years of getting no where they act like life is over and everything is worthless.

I feel like its hard for musicians especially Indies to bridge the gap between "Making it" and working hard for it. Its probably the number one thing that pushed me out of the industry after 15 years. As a manager of artists I found it very difficult to be around people who couldn't make sold commitments to a musical career, they wanted it to be all fun and games, and this industry is anything but that!

Thanks

December 6 | Registered CommenterAaron Small

i will do an interview with anyone that wants to talk to me :-) haha ... there's no such thing as a waste of my time if it's talking about my music.

December 6 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Rosen

Great article! I'm interested in learning more about what artists can do with micro-jobs websites.

December 7 | Unregistered CommenterAndriea ISH

Really great post. I really love the one about. "We have no money". Well.. get another job!. When I speak with potential clients I get right to the point. You need to spend money and not on just your demo\album but on marketing & promo. This is a business, pure & simple

That being said, I do find point 5, a little interesting. This is a business. Musicians need to listen to people who either have already been there or who have brought other people success. Depending what market you are trying to enter you may have to create a radio friendly song, it is that simple. This is a BUSINESS. I can't stress this enough. This does not mean you are a sellout and I am not saying that your "Radio Friendly" piece should be out in left field. I am saying not to remove options that will help you get to where you want to be.

I really love point 6. Don't wait for something to happen. You make it happen. I manage my wife who is in the Christian Music Genre. She was singing in mega-churches before she even had an album. Why? Because we networked, made contacts and built Relationships. We did not feel like we were entitled to anything and we worked with what we had.

December 7 | Unregistered CommenterRichard

Yes, after achieving a great success they feel very alone, first they run for success and popularity and after achieving it they get irritate because their left no personnel life, personnel emotions, relations for them and in results they use drugs for mental peace and become drug addicted. The same thing happened to “Kurt Cobain”.

December 7 | Unregistered CommenterDylan Chumleigh

Thanks for your kind words, everyone. Hi Richard, your comments on point 5 are 100 percent valid in some, perhaps most cases. However, what I'm referring to when I describe the negative side of always seeking guidance, I'm referring to the truly innovative artist who may be confused by what we're all saying to him or her collectively. Many of the artists I personally listen to...there is no one else like them. It comes from the heart, and no one can teach or mold that. No one could have shaped Tom Waits, for example. He had his influences to be sure, but he ventured out on his own path, and this, I feel, is what is needed more than anything else today. For artists to stand on their own! Not to rely on an advisor or a coach. Of course, there's nothing wrong with accepting advice from someone you respect. I'm not arguing against that. However, artists who know their work is strong should think not in terms of authority structure but of partnership, or deciding what works for them.

I think the innovation factor is different in say, Idol pop, country, religious music, but I can't say as those are outside my field of knowledge. But, the artists I'm aiming to reach with the article and my book are the ones who perhaps feel frustrated that most music marketing info seems to direct itself towards mainstream artists and not provide a conversation for ones who have an inner vision of something beyond just becoming successful or scoring a licensing deal, because if there is nothing truly moving and innovative about the music, those are merely financial outcomes, and it would almost be better to just go into business rather than pollute the music world in some cases.

I think, for mainstream artists as well as ones whose genres are quite defined and they want to do well within those guidelines - they should definitely seek as much coaching as possible. That's just not what I want to encourage in my own subjective pool here. I like it when artists have something truly revolutionary to bring to the table.

December 8 | Unregistered CommenterJames Moore

My son is in a band 'Cancel the Astronauts' up here in Scotland and I.m going to send this article to them - I get the feeling that because they think they are good (and I believe they are) that they will get their 'reward; - its time they woke up and put a little more effort into what they are doing.The' no money' comment is so true - when the band had their album launch recently I walked into a pile of very well made promotional flyers sitting at the ticket desk!!! Then they wondered why they didn't sell many CDs! They also rarely play outside of Edinburgh (they did venture down to London once) Yet conversely the band his girlfriend is in' Kid Canaveral' financed a trip to Texas to get exposure have down gigs in France,organize a special Chrismas gig every year -and surprise surprise are getting somewhere. Sorry about the 'name dropping'

December 8 | Unregistered CommenterJim Craig

Yawn yet another measly article written by an expert which of course is a nonsense and contradictory. We are not fooled. Your article, like others by similar vultures with agendas (to sell your services or books). There is only one rule for indie artists, THERE ARE NO RULES!
Do what you like. Success will not come via the establishment or via these expensive experts.
Your success will come from YOU! Start small and build with what you have.

One of the points that really wind me up is the patronising notion that "this is a business". Well it is and it isn't. Music is primarily art not a business and even as a business it is a really poor business with one of the highest failure rates in all industry.

I find that the so-called experts are notorious in ripping off artists and should be ignored so that they go out of business. As artists we should wake up to the fact that we can truly write our own rules and make our own way. Personally I would focus on making great music (according to my own definition), and expose it to people in an affordable manner, using whatever means available. Market testing is marketing so try whatever you can do and build one by one. Ignore all these experts who want to sell you something because they will get richer and you won't get anywhere you wouldn't on your own.

December 8 | Registered CommenterKehinde azeez

I do realize that, while many of the points were out of context, this individual's perspective is exactly what I'm framing in the article, so I decided to respond.

Hi Kehinde, you're actually quite right about authority and on the point that "there are no rules". I stress that all the time. For my part, I'm simply doing my best to speak clearly from what I've seen, and nothing more. I'm not an authority of any kind. Bands hire me to work hard for them and I do so. I also share my knowledge of DIY marketing in books. They're $9.99, my friend. I'm not raking it in, nor am I in the business of ripping anyone off. Sorry if my work may not have goldmine points like "Do what you want", but I do my very best. My main point here was that it is in fact necessary to spend money in most cases as even a self-sufficient DIY band because you need to be seen in the public eye - period. I get the feeling you wrote me off as an "expert" but merely skimmed the article, missing the context that it was aimed at real, DIY artists.

You're point is dead on, although it loses steam calling me a vulture without researching my work, googling my artists, and seeing the type of actual results I get. Everyone is an individual, and to say "the so-called experts" you're putting everyone in one pool away from yourself, who it's insinuated is more pure, more honest, superior. That's lazy thinking. You may as well call us "the man". The actual is the real, not throwing around words on a message board. In a monetary system, there are many who target others, but it is this due diligence on each individual's part that I mention which is critical; do good work and deliver on your promises.

If every artist did their own promotions, you're correct, I would be out of a job. That's not the case, and it's an extremely hours intensive job. I think your underlying attitude is that artists should not pay anyone for any service, which would put you in a position of great privilege, royalty even, in society.

Your mention of "this is a business" being patronizing is out of context. I don't say it in the context, as you'll notice from the "don't be coachable" point (which is in line with "there are no rules" by the way), of "it's a business so sell yourself out and just try to earn money". I think artists would be better off in real estate if they were going to play soulless drivel. I say "this is a business" to artists who expect a handout from ANYONE, whether it's the t-shirt manufacturer, the club, the promoter, their parents, anyone. You have to stand alone and be self-sufficient.

Music IS primarily art. You may have noticed that the premise of this article, though, came from real things that have happened. I have had artists ask me to work for free or on commission. It's a perspective that needs to be addressed, as many people don't understand the nature of promotion, and it seems you may be one of them., given your suggestion (now I suppose you're a so-called expert in laying down this rule) of "making great music and exposing it to people in an affordable manner". "Try whatever you can and build one by one."

You know, we're talking about real artists here who have real challenges and real questions to answer - people who want to discuss where they're at on the deepest level. I don't think it helps many of them to offer "try whatever you can" type language. How are you going to contribute to the stream? Throw a pebble in with "make great music"? We all know that. You're just skimming the surface. The underlying issue is the intensive negative attitude problems and misunderstandings such as some shown in your post. Issues with the elusive and non-existent "Man". Good luck trying to find him because he's more of a consciousness than anything else.

December 9 | Unregistered CommenterJames Moore

Uhm, I was reading this and found great amusment at the inconsistencies; so glad I took a break from mowing the lawn. But let's see if I understand you correctly.

1. By "... the difference ... comes down to the ideas and beliefs held by the band members themselves. Just like in life, ideas, philosophies and belief systems can cause us a lot of trouble internally and externally, leading us to do and think all kinds of irrational things" you mean that a band is NOT necessarily a group of people having different belief systems; but, strangely enough, are able to work together for the common purpose for which they are established. OR are you saying that those with the "means/money/ability" to do their part in promoting said band, have belief systems contrary to that of the band?

2. "The Doors are considered by many to be true artists..."; yeah, and there are also many who consider Morrison to be a better songwriter than John Lennon. Nuff said.

3. Most everyone in the "music" industry (it's truly beyond me why it's still called that) - whether they knew him or not, or listened to his music - will thell you that Kurt Cobain was a genius who had this unique take on music, yadi-yadi-ya.... And, as if to confirm his own healthy belief system, Cobain himself even went so far as to say that "once you know the power chord, you don't need anything else ... I don't play like Segovia, but ... he can't play like me." What KC neglected to say was that Segovia actually played that way when he was 3 years old! But, the lad - because we are speaking of life, after all, grew up. But, when was the last time you heard anyone sing a Cobain song? I'm sure one can find in the industry someone who'll regurgitate, a song title like, "Teen Spirit", but go ahead, ask the local shopper at the mall to hum a few bars. Better yet, have them name you a Beatle and Nirvana song - let me know which you get first. Sure, I'll wait. Still waiting. Yep, still here ...

4. Ooo, I really like the, "It’s fine and good to have an image in your mind of your goal. The problem is, this goal, if held too close and without the proper neutrality, can taint all the building blocks along the way and cause bands to implode early when they were just on the verge of getting somewhere". ALL, I say, ALL goals have the inherent trait of being NON-NEUTRAL. If you want neutrality, go to Switzerland - and don't get involved in the business - yes, busy-ness, of life. The moment you have a goal, you cannot be neutral; why, you ask? Well, BECAUSE some IS at the other end of you keeping that goal, and YOU are at his goal).

5. "The tough thing to accept, and this really is a bitter pill to swallow, is this. No one cares about your story." Hope you don't mind - I have to go and do the lawn now.

December 9 | Unregistered CommenterKtach

I've dealt with bands and muso's who dont even know which end of a guitar goes up, and now it seems a few of them figured out how to use a keyboard.

December 10 | Unregistered CommenterAveratu

Hi Ktach, thanks for taking a break from your chores to comment. I'll do my best with what you've written here but I think you were more sharing ideas about certain artists than responding to my article(?). I realize there was some sarcasm in the comments, and I'll try to avoid that here!

1) I apologize, but your questions don't seem to make much sense here. The original article made the point pretty clear. Not sure if I understand your point.

2) I think this point is straying from the "do it yourself" point of the piece. What you think of Jim Morrison is your own deal, and totally fine.

3) Same thing....looks like you don't enjoy Nirvana. I don't know what this point was in response to. Fair enough.

4) Yes, this is a thick point and counter-intuitive for a lot of people. It's a big one to go into, but if your instant reaction is "What??? Neutrality!?? No way!" than the conversation is pretty closed. If being polarized about your goals works well for you, then no one should tell you differently. You'd be right in your own experience.

5) I believe this point is true. No one cares about your story. You know that's the case whenever you appeal to your family or friends about your latest project. It needs to benefit them. No one cares what you've been up to, why you failed, why you're in the shoddy position you're in. Once you realize that, you're free. Best example being, we all have someone on our Facebook profiles who whines all the time about their lives. You may not want to admit it, but you give up on them after a while, don't you? After a certain amount of time, people have to lift themselves up and being positivity to the world, or else they get left alone.

December 10 | Unregistered CommenterJames Moore

Best article I have read in a while, thanks.

December 10 | Unregistered CommenterDan Sullivan

This is one of the most moving pieces or articles that I've seen posted in a while. I was entranced right away. Mainly because I can identify with feeling stuck and trying to get my own band moving, this article gives me the feeling of insight and help from someone in the industry. Thanks a bunch for sharing. It's a new age for the music industry and it is tough! Also, just on a side note, I couldn't help notice the trolling going on over this article and I just wanted to say that your rebuttals are very well put together and elegant overall.

December 10 | Unregistered CommenterChristian Britt

Hi Christian, thank you very much! That "stuck" feeling is common to us all at some points. I think the main thing is the positive neutrality, because then, even if the band doesn't go as far as you would have liked, you're not tortured/beating yourself up over it and can enjoy every success along the way. It's really just living in the moment and working hard instead of projecting these massive expectations onto the future.

As far as the trolling, I appreciate that - the devils advocate comments are actually a very good thing for the piece so I'm glad I responded to them. They give it more legs, so if anyone else wants to complain about Jim Morrison or call me an authority of some kind (I'd love to know what that pays!) please feel free! The main thing is the ideas in the post reaching new people.

All the best with your band!

December 10 | Unregistered CommenterJames Moore

Lost me at "Nickelback (shudder)" The personal bias comment was uncalled for and dilutes what you were trying to achieve. Your age demographic is showing

December 11 | Unregistered Commenteredge

I totally agree with 99% of this article. Why does nearly every band think they will magically appear in Pitchfork out of the gate and bypass all blogs? Pitchfork needs a buzz before they will even email you a "pass" on something.

I know being in a band can be a business, but sometimes necessary things like Publicity can be expensive. I have worked as a publicist for many years and the company I worked for STARTED their rates at 1,200 A MONTH! Its a hard thing for most to afford and can be very discouraging. I left the company to start my own Publicity business and my rates never go above $250. A lot of these companies that "help bands" don't realize they still have day jobs and rent is due next week.

December 11 | Unregistered Commentermelissa

Hi edge, thanks for commenting. Did I really lose you there? Were you honestly right with me until my Nickelback comment? I doubt it, because your comments were quite brief and without anything to say about the actual meat of the piece. Playing the devil's advocate for it's own sake is a very limited affair, but you've helped this article reach more people so I thank you for that.

First of all, there is no age demographic to my writing. I chose 4 examples based on submissions I sometimes receive from people who try to sound like these bands. I could have very well chosen Flying Lotus and ASAP Rocky. The point is, impersonation doesn't get you far. You should have your own sound.

As far as the "shudder" comment, that was commenting on band submissions who seem like they are following the Nickelback, radio-ready strategy, and there are thousands of them. A whole culture of them in fact. Nickelback almost single-handedly created an offshoot of rock and pop music. To my ears, they're simply not pleasant to listen to. You can listen to them all you want and I have no issue with that. I'm passionate about rock music, and as such, I'm personally not a fan of Nickelback or Creed's brand of music. I agree with Dave Grohl on that matter.

But that's my niche. If I receive a submission from an artist playing that type of rock, I won't go near it because it comes across as dishonest to me. I work with music with depth only. (Anyone else's opinion on the matter means just as much as mine, and that's not a lot!)

Plus, when you say "it dilutes what I'm trying to achieve" - I don't know if you really know what I'm trying to achieve. I'm not trying to speak to all artists; only the ones who speak from the heart. The rest of the industry I'm not really interested in. Artists who are offended by me saying it's poor to try to sound like Nickelback are probably not going to agree with much of this article anyway. You may have noticed this article is kind of counter-intuitive to the industry pattern. If you want to be a mainstream band or artist and you're concerned with money first and foremost, you absolutely SHOULD be coachable. One hundred percent.

I happen to think that the world doesn't need a bunch more people solely with money on the brain, willing to release any drivel that will achieve that end.

December 13 | Unregistered CommenterJames Moore

I couldn't agree with you more, James. I've dealt with a number of "artists" whose music I liked, and for both their sake and mine, I'd reach out to them for interviews, thinking that they weren't big time enough to snub us, and we were small enough for it to increase our traffic marginally (we were seeing in the ballpark of 800-900 visitors a day at the time).

I kid you not, before I bowed out of dealing with these primadonnas and seeking out interviews, I got this at least 4 out of 5 requests:

"I'll do it for $50 for you guys since you're just not receiving enough traffic for this to be mutually beneficial. Just send it to my Paypal account."

What I could never understand is that some of these guys had fewer Facebook likes than we had daily traffic. Like you said, it's a culture, and I hope enough aspiring artists get a hold of an article like this before backhanding the guys who are working just as hard as they are. We're the hand that feeds them, not Pitchfork. Don't bite us.

January 2 | Unregistered CommenterMejdy Jabr

This is a guy that is prepared to tell it the way it is. I am a designer and marketing person and I knew before we released our EP it would be tough. the thing is we pretty much followed everything in this article and it is starting to work. You are just another piece of noise until some hears you. thanks for this.
roderic from brainyboxer.com

March 18 | Unregistered CommenterRoderic

So true, you have to be so proactive now as a band. How the industry has changed!

March 28 | Unregistered CommenterTTG

Thanks for sharing your experience and advice. This was an interesting read.

I think another point that struggling musicians need to keep in mind is the likelihood that they'll never 'make it', in terms of earning enough to live comfortably off music.

It's good to remind yourself, every time you feel that head getting a little bigger, that ego expanding, that you make music because you enjoy making music. That comes first, before everything else. You don't start doing it for a quick buck, and you shouldn't keep doing it for a quick buck, or stop doing it because nobody has offered you that buck. You might not make it because the right people haven't supported you, or you haven't 'sold' yourself well enough, or you might not make it because you're just not good enough.

Regardless, it should always be about the creation of art. If you can keep the joy that comes from producing music you love, then that Big Dream not coming true won't hurt quite so much.

July 3 | Unregistered CommenterJoe-M

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