It’s supposed to be all about the music, right? Well, it turns out building a successful band takes a lot more than a decent melody. You’ve been writing, practicing, networking, booking and selling merchandise, and it’s starting to pay off. You’re building up a fanbase and maybe even getting some good press.
This is the middle of the journey, and it has its own unique challenges. We’ve put together a list of some of the most common (and annoying) problems musicians face, and our advice for how to turn them into opportunities to reach new fans and build a name for yourselves.
Struggle #1: The local music scene seems cliquey.
Depending on the size of your city and your genre, it may feel hard to break into the local musician community. Maybe your band just relocated to a new city and you don’t know where to start. Everyone seems to know everyone already and there’s no room for another name on the bill.
Fortunately, you can take steps to make your band known in the new scene. Look for local hangouts where other musicians congregate and introduce yourself. Spend some time getting to know them—after all, you already have a lot in common, and it’s more than likely that they’ll be willing to help you out. Alternatively, you can also connect with nearby bands through social media, which also helps you find potential new fans.
Don’t forget that most bands have been exactly where you are now, working to make a name for themselves and gain exposure. You’ll have to put in some time, but local musicians (generally) love to help each other out. Go see some shows, hang around afterward and introduce yourself. Let the bassist know you really loved his performance. Even better? Plug other bands during your own shows. They’ll be grateful, and they’ll remember it if they’re looking for someone to share the bill with. Community is the key here.
Also, think bigger than just your city. When you meet bands visiting from out of town, offer to host them. There’s a pretty good chance that they’ll reciprocate, and the next time you’re on the road, you’ll have a free place to stay.
Struggle #2: You’re getting low show attendance.
It’s a huge bummer to play to an empty room, especially if you’ve been steadily drawing crowds and record sales are strong. Low-attendance shows can come out of nowhere and really kill your confidence. Of course, there’s so much to say about how to draw audiences, how to market your music and get the word out about shows. Social media is one huge asset for letting people know about upcoming shows, and with the right strategy, it can help you fill a room on short notice. One tip that might be less obvious: Make sure the venue is the right fit before you commit.
Here’s an example: Maybe the booking person at the biggest, most popular venue around heard you play, and they want to book you last minute for a weeknight show. It’s a huge opportunity, and a much larger venue than anything you’re used to. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Your band won’t have the time or resources to draw in a crowd that will fill that venue, and an empty room is not going to get you invited back anytime soon.
Better to fill a small room with fans and energy and gradually build from there. Sometimes the better move is to say thanks and put that contact in your back pocket for when you know you can fill that space.
Struggle #3: People don’t buy records like they used to.
The good news is this is an industry-wide problem, so you’re in good company. The bad news is that there’s no easy answer. Bands make less money from album sales these days, whether it’s digital files or CDs and vinyl. It’s essential to put out new material and have it available for sale, review and airtime. But studio space is expensive, and many bands lose money on records they’ve already poured lots of cash—not to mention hard work—into.
While there’s still a lot of pressure to release solid albums, many bands can’t rely on them to make a living. Your best bet is to diversify. That means any band that wants to be successful needs to:
- Have hard copies of albums to sell at shows and to distribute to press
- Sell digital versions and hard copies of albums online
- Utilize all the popular streaming services out there, like Spotify, Pandora and Bandcamp
- Promote your music through social media to ensure you reach as wide an audience as possible
Struggle #4: You’re reluctant to accept help.
You may be thinking “I’d have no problem accepting any help that came my way.” And you might be right, but many musicians can get caught up in what they think their musical path should look like. They end up missing opportunities where they could meet new people, promote their music and build their fanbase, all because they thought they’d be able to do it on their own.
I talked with P.T. Banks, a musician from Austin, TX, and he said there’s nothing like your community to help you succeed, if you’re willing to let them.
“I refused some managerial and financial help early on in my career because of pride,” he said. “Working on your craft is the most important thing, but accept help and let people believe in you.”
Maybe that looks like setting up a Kickstarter to get your new album recorded or accepting when friends or family offer to support your music financially. Getting to the next level may be as simple as getting out of your own way.