In addition to working at ReverbNation both as a Customer Support rep and a copywriter for the Marketing department, I have spent the last eight years playing music in the Triangle music scene (Raleigh, Durham, & Chapel Hill). My bands Lilac Shadows, T0W3RS, and Soft Company have toured the east coast and released several full-length albums, EPs, and splits with other area bands.
Everyone acknowledges that the Internet and social media changed the game for independent musicians, providing powerful tools to engage current fans and reach new ones. But while this hyper-connectivity and one-click sharing encourages us all to think on a global scale, I’d like emphasize the value of thinking small — specifically, how important your own local music scene remains.
1. Create attainable goals for your band
When a band is first starting out, it’s easy to think big. Dreams of selling out Madison Square Garden and touring the world are part of the luster that attracts so many people to music in the first place. Setting your sights on such a large notion of success, though, will likely hamper one of the aspects of playing music that I have enjoyed the most—being a local musician.
For me, the local scene is the best place to create goals for yourself and establish a musical identity. These can be realistic goals—book a show at your favorite place to see live music, play with a local band you look up to, get your new album reviewed in the local press—rather than just holding out for the day that you “make it big.”
2. Make friends with other musicians and bands in your area
When I first moved to Chapel Hill back in 2007 I immersed myself in the local bands, bars, and venues. I started going to every local show that I could, introducing myself to the bands after their sets, buying them a beer, discussing a particular effects pedal that they used—anything to create that initial connection.
The important thing to realize about your local scene, unlike when you see a band at Madison Square Garden, is that the people in those bands are just like you—they probably work another job to support their passion, and they’re usually just as eager to share their music and be a part of something as you are.
3. Don’t get frustrated with slow results
For a long time, I assumed that if my music was good enough, we would succeed. Unfortunately, that’s not today’s reality—there are simply too many talented bands to be noticed on the strength of your music alone. I would look around and get frustrated as to why some bands got themselves on good bills and my own band did not. It was only later that a much wiser friend of mine explained to me that “no band is an island.”
Within a local scene people tend to want to play with either bands that they really like or bands that their friends are in. Solution? Make good music and be friends with other musicians! This might sound like an oversimplification, but I have really found it to be true.
And if you can’t name any other local acts in your area, then you need to spend some time in the clubs and venues in your town. There are always new bands popping up, and it’s your job to find them and support them, just as much as they need to support you. In fact, some of my favorite bands of the last five years have been local bands (check out this playlist to hear some of my favorites — tracklisting below).
Try thinking on a micro level first, and then as you create a dedicated following in your own city, you can branch out to the rest of your state and region, and so on. You can’t expect to be able to go on a worldwide tour if you can’t play to an enthusiastic crowd in your own hometown (or if you do, be prepared to lose a lot of money!).
4. Use ReverbNation as a ladder, not a silver bullet
From my time in ReverbNation’s support team, I often saw people viewing our services as their only basis of promotion. Yes, ReverbNation is an incredibly powerful place for independent musicians without the access to the inner-workings of a large record label or PR team. However, ReverbNation was not created as a standalone tool. It can be tempting to get lost inside the digital world of social media and online communication, but unless you combine the resources of ReverbNation with a solid foundation in your own local community, your marquee dreams might never make it out of the garage.
We will return in a week with tips from venue owners and talent buyers on how to stay connected locally, and how that can improve your chances of being booked for shows.