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Top 5 Things to Avoid as a Beginning Band

So you and your friends have gotten together and formed a band.  It seems like the perfect idea.  You write good music, are really good friends, and want to work really hard to make it as a band because who wants to work in a dead end corporate job when you could be living off your dream.  I get it because I’m right there with you.  BUT, if you are serious about this, you need to start somewhere and I write this with the hope of having you start out better than where I was (which was square zero).  So here is a top 5 list (in no particular order) of things to avoid so you won’t have to make the same mistakes that I did.

1.   Paying money to Record your music in a professional studio

This is a huge waste of money and time for you in the beginning.  Why?  Because you are going to spend a lot of money for a level of quality that you don’t need at this point in your career.  More importantly, you could spend less than what you’d spend at a studio to setup your own home studio and produce records that can compete with any song.  Here are the facts.  If you go to a recording studio, at minimum they will charge you $30/hr to record and will make you sign up for at least 6 hours of recording.  This does not include mixing which is arguably THE most important part of the process (a good song poorly mixed will sound awful just like a mediocre song mixed perfectly will sound great).  Mixing will be at least another 2 hrs at the recording rate and that mixing won’t even be high quality.  I doubt that the studio will be able to add in other sounds such as soft strings or be able to do nice studio tricks.  Also, if you notice mistakes in the recordings, it’ll cost you money to rerecord parts and fix.  Assuming, that you record your first couple of songs perfectly, and it only takes 8 hrs of studio time total, you’d have paid $240. It doesn’t sound like much until you consider that a beginning band can hope to record at most 3 to 4 songs in that span.  That means that each song cost you at best $60.  Instead, you can take the money you would have spent on recording, purchase a decent mic online or at guitar center, purchase mixcraft or any sound production tool for your laptop (there are free ones as well), and purchase a preamp (cost of ~$200).  Now you have everything you need to record as many songs as you’d like.  Will your recording quality be as good as the pro studio? No, BUT the average fan can’t tell the difference and doesn’t really care where the song was recorded (Heck our bassists uses just a USB mic to record his bass and vocals, no one has complained about quality so far).  Also, by the time you mix down to a mp3, most of the sound quality you get with a professional recording is lost as the mp3 strips out a lot of the sound quality.  So save your money, make your own recording studio and learn how to do it yourself.  You’ll save yourself a lot of money in the long run and be able to make a lot of recordings.

2.   Sending your music to radio stations to get airplay (Internet or Independent)

This approach is a waste of time because no one listens to independent radio stations anymore and most internet radio stations don’t want your music.  The independent radio stations are going under.  Think about it.  When’s the last time you’ve listened to the left side of the dial like 86.3 or 87.4?  Heck, when’s the last time you’ve listened to most radio in the car without being exasperated about the music selection?  The days of radio are long gone and most people are starting to switch to listening to their ipods, smart phone apps, ipads, etc.  So I doubt you’ll get significant exposure with the stations.

With internet radio stations, they are trying to get popular, so they don’t want to pump music of a band no one has ever heard of.  They play music that people like to get more people coming back.  No one knows your band therefore there’s a good chance no one wants to hear your music.  Therefore, they aren’t likely to give your song the airplay it needs to catch on.  In other words, the effort spent on this avenue isn’t worth it.

3. Using Sonicbids and other websites designed to exploit your dream

First off, please understand that sites like Sonicbids, CDbaby, Reverbnation, Bandvista, and all these other sites/tools claiming to want to help you succeed are really in the business of making money for themselves.  They don’t really care that you are hardly making anything.  To examine this claim I will use Sonicbids:

OK, first off, you are a new band.  You need fans.  Fans will buy your music.  They will see your shows.  They are your life’s blood.  So whatever you do needs to be building that up.  Enter Sonicbids.  You first have to PAY them for a membership.  Then they offer you all these wonderful opportunities.  Here’s the catch: they charge you to APPLY for the opportunities.  That’s like paying for every job interview.  So here’s why this is a problem for you.  More than likely you won’t get the gig.  Assume fifty people apply for the gig (reasonable especially for the good ones).  That means you only have a 1 in 50 shot at each gig.  That’s not so bad as long as you get something out of it.  But each application does not get you exposure….in fact the gig probably won’t get you much exposure either, which is what you really need.  So you just paid 5 to 10 bucks to get essentially nothing in return.  And you do this over and over again for every gig that you bid on.

That is a big waste of time in my opinion.  Here’s the kicker, sites like these claim to be what you need to succeed, but they are not banking on your success.  Let’s consider Reverbnation for this one.  Reverbnation has millions of band pages.  They aren’t expecting many of these to blow up.  In fact, they expect only a fraction to blow up.  If a large percentage of artists did blow up, it would cost them too much in hosting fees to really support the site and have it function properly (huge suction of bandwidth).  Therefore, if Reverbnation really was the only tool you needed for success and it made it so easy to reach your fans, it’d be an exclusive club because it would cost them too much to give everyone a chance at it.  In other words, it’d cost them too much to support everyone if it really was all you needed for success as a band.  Hence, they wouldn’t let everyone use it.  But they do let everyone use it; therefore it is not the only tool for your success.  Hence its claims are false.  Hence, it’s a waste of time.

4.   Paying to put your songs on iTunes or

So this one is only true in the beginning.  There will come a time when you will start selling your music online and it will definitely help to have the backing of a trusted platform like iTunes to sell your music.  But for you, as a band with no fans, that time is not now because you don’t have anybody who is going to come and buy your song.  I definitely think that is money that can be spent elsewhere and brought to better use.  The fact of the matter is that it costs about $20 to put a single on iTunes.  For every sale, iTunes takes out 30% and CdBaby takes out 8% of your 70%.  This means that you see about 64% of every sale.  Which means to break even, you have to sell 32 copies of that song from iTunes.  But if you are just starting out, not everyone will want to buy your single, you’ll be hard pressed to find enough people to break even and you won’t see much profit.  You need higher volume sales to really see the benefit, which only comes with more fans.  Invest your time and money in something else for the time being.

5.   Sending your demo to A&R reps and/or major labels

This is the BIGGEST waste of time yet.  Here’s why: labels don’t have the time or money to develop a band anymore.  They need finished products which is not you.  The name of the game for you is exposure and labels don’t want to invest in that anymore.  They are now looking for bands that already have large followings i.e. 10,000+.  So even if you have a great sound and a great look, if you aren’t proven, then they don’t want to sign you.  Well, let’s say the chances are very low.  And then if you do get signed, that begins a whole other nightmare.  Just research “band record label horror stories” and you’ll find that being signed does not solve all your problems.  In fact, you still have to deal with the major issue of getting exposure yourself and are even more on the hook if you don’t succeed.  When you are becoming established and already succeeding as a band, that’s when the labels will show up bidding for you (just be careful).

So this is the top 5 list.  I hope you enjoyed and I didn’t crush your dream.  The reality is that I’ve been at this for almost 3 years and I still haven’t cracked this whole thing yet.  It takes a long time to see success and I just want to keep you from making the same mistakes my band has made (I could write a book on that).  So keep writing, recording, playing, and persevering.  It will all work out.


Quintin Evans

The Cool Band

Check us out at our website at

Reader Comments (4)

Wow. While I'd agree with points 1, 4 and 5, you are way off on points 2 and 3.

There are plenty of stations open to playing unknown independent music. Saying that every station in the lower FM band is dying and there's no point in submitting to any internet radio really is a very negative and bleak thing to say. There are thousands of stations and podcast completely open to new material. Begging for it, in fact. The author's complaints about radio sound very focused on US-only and doesn't take into consideration there's a whole world of radio out there.

I'd also say the author's assessment of Reverbnation is off base. Reverbnation is, at its basic level, a FREE service. Yes, if you decide you need some of their marketing tools, there are fees. But for the most part, ReverbNation picked up where left off after it was purchased by the labels. Just because the market is saturated doesn't mean a band shouldn't have a home online to point fans to in addition to their own website. In fact many of the FREE tools on Reverbnation can be used to enhance a band website.

I understand the spirit of this article. But a lot of it seems really defeatist to me. All doom-and-gloom and "don't even try because it's a waste of time." Yes, music is a tough biz. Yes, the market for bands and artists is more saturated and competitive than ever. But if you don't get yourself out there and at least try marketing yourself a couple ways, you'll never expose yourself to potential opportunities.

May 17 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip

Yet you don't seem to mention the top five things TO do as a beginning band.

May 18 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

@Phillip I understand music is a tough businsess b/c everybody and they mama wants to do this thing. It doesnt mean that I've given up. The point of the article was to steer people away from things that dont have a lot of returns. So yes, you can spend your time trying to get on radio stations and setup reverbnation to look all nice and spiffy, but what does it RETURN for you? in my opinion, very little. The hardwork has to be done yourself and you should strive to make the most efficient use of your time. That's my entire point. As far as what to do Alex, I'll mention that in another post.

A correction. CD Baby only charges 9.95 for a song delivered to iTunes and 60 other stores (5 dollars for a barcode if you don't have one). There are no monthly or yearly charges. It's a very small investment for a band starting out and it makes it easy for friends to get your music on their iPods. If you believe the song you record is worth sharing and selling and your band can scrape together 15 bucks, it's a no-brainer. Having music for sale on iTunes and Amazon also lends credibility to bands when they are booking gigs and it is a requirement by internet radio sites like Pandora.

Getting your music for sale online also allows you to run promotions, discounts, contests and other marketing efforts. If you want to be noticed online I wouldn't recommend avoiding the places where music matters most.

CD Baby

May 23 | Unregistered CommenterChris

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