7 Points to Get Your Band to the Next Level


Over the years I’ve seen lots of articles about “things you’re doing right or wrong as a musician,” or lists of band “do’s and don’ts,” and honestly, I think they’re all entirely too obvious; i.e. things you should just know as a musician. For example, everyone knows it’s probably a good idea to be on time for a show.The point of this article is to highlight some do’s and don’ts that are not as obvious, but are ever more important to your musical success. (The following points are my personal opinions about how to be successful, and come from 12 years of observing bands and promoters in my scene.)

1) Realize the reality of your situation…

First you must realize what year you’re in, and take note of the context in which you’re trying to do what you’re doing. You’re trying to make a career out of music in the early 21st century. It’s no secret that the music industry has taken a hit, and that your distribution options are rapidly changing. You’re going to have to rely on yourself because previous parties that could afford to take the financial risk on your product can ill afford to now. (They have to go with what’s trending, so success will be extra hard for you if you’re not riding the tide). You will have to work harder than the musicians before you to compete with what’s out there, and with the sea of music getting deeper every day, this will only get more difficult. You will have to work harder to stay relevant in a musical culture that expects originality and innovation at every turn, and probably worst of all, you will have to accept that you and your band, in all likelihood, have a short shelf-life. Everything from here on out will be based on these assumptions, and they WILL help you.

2) Develop an online presence…

This may be the most obvious point in the article, but it is incredibly important. The days of “being discovered” at a show are pretty much over. You are infinitely more likely to be noticed or discovered online via social networking sites and YouTube. This is not news to you, or shouldn’t be. What is news to a lot of bands however is how to take advantage of online merch stores (e.g. Bigcartel.com), setting up Paypal accounts, or using other e-wallet applications, and using online outlets for digital distribution, streaming, and sales (like Bandcamp.com or CDBaby). It’s best to think of an online merch store as a traffic hub; you’re not just going to sell shirts and CDs… You’re going to sell tickets, signed memorabilia, posters, and maybe even super rare personal items like show-used beanies and t-shirts to get fans interested. What you want is traffic, and with an online store you can share a simple link with everyone in your online social network. It’s fast, accessible, and it LEGITIMIZES YOUR PRODUCT; i.e. it shows people that you are serious about what you’re doing, that you’re a professional, and that you’re not a total dunce with regard to the music industry. (Keep legitimacy in your mind, always. It will keep your brand alive.)

Digital distribution is your friend, so it’s best you learn how to sell your music electronically through every outlet possible; iTunes, Amazon, Spotify… All of these can help you make money. Bandcamp.com is also a fantastic resource to help with digital sales. If you’re going to be doing this on your own, you will need to be able to sell music when you’re not touring or playing shows. These avenues all help bring in the doe so you can keep going.

3) Learn how to do other things…

Now that you’ve accepted that you’re all alone in your musical pursuits, it’s time to acknowledge what that means. You will be responsible for everything. Yep, all of it. Music writing, music producing, graphic design and video production, promotion, tour managing (including finances), merchandising, communications… Fucking. Everything. It is absolutely in your best interest to learn how to use Adobe computer programs for graphic design and video production. Likewise it’s a good idea to learn an up-to-date music software with which you can record, mix, and master your own music. This pursuit is by far the most irritating , and often keeps bands from reaching the next level. It takes a lot of time to learn a program that you’ve never touched, especially when computers are not a strong point for you to begin with. However, it is absolutely worth it. Discipline yourself to sit at the computer for an hour a night to learn new programs, and when your new website is up and running with badass competitive content you’ll feel oh so good. (Especially since you didn’t have to pay your next two month’s rent to have someone else do it).

4) Learn how to do other things WELL…

Now that you’ve learned how to do those other things, you have to get good at them. Just knowing how to use Photoshop isn’t going to cut it in today’s music market. You have to make things look professional so that your brand can stand out from all the bullshit. This means no skwooshing or stretching logos; no using pixilated images for show flyers; no using the same damn fonts that everyone else is using. This goes for everything you’re going to learn. Remember, you have to have a competitive product that demands legitimacy, or no one will take it seriously.

5) Pre-sell online…

It’s no secret to promoters that local bands are a great resource for ticket sales on national bills. Local bands also use the ticket pre-sell as a chance to play with some of their favorite bands. But there is a better way to pre-sell: Online. I can’t count how many people I see in a month’s time who are saying, “I’ve got tickets for X! Hit me up on Facebook or text me so I can bring you one!” If you have an e-store, put your tickets on there and provide your friends and fans with a link. It’s instant, and you don’t have to deal driving 50 minutes to wherever to deliver a ticket. It’s also much more convenient for the fan, which means they’ll be more likely to buy the ticket through you (remember, you aren’t the only ticket vendor for that show). Once the ticket is purchased online, just use regular mail. Stamps and envelopes are cheaper than gas, and again, it makes you seem more professional. LEGITIMACY!

6) Compete like you want to win…

I’ve talked a lot about competition so far, and that’s because, like a sport, music is extremely competitive—only the strong and dedicated survive. If you want to be a professional, you have to compete at a professional level. You’re out there to make music, sure. But you’re also out there to squash the competition and get ahead. This means no posting music that isn’t ready to be heard. DO NOT release a song that’s in its demo stages (unless it’s accompanied by the actual product, and it’s just a bonus). If you want feedback on things you are working on, ask a buddy to have a listen in private, or only give certain people access through email. But don’t unleash it for the world to hear. They will not forget it, and they most likely won’t come back. This is also true for anything visual. Just compare your work to the bands that you know and love. Is your logo as appealing as theirs? Does your album art look as awesome as their album art? Do your band photos stand up to those you see all around your room, or in the articles you see online? If the answer is no, DON’T USE IT! There are hundreds of bands right now posting awesome photos and new awesome t-shirt designs online. You have to give people a reason to prioritize your shit over other bands’, or you’ll have a really really really tough time. This is also good for a music scene. If every band is stepping up their game and presenting a professional and legitimate product, the scene becomes an arena for next-level musicians. Having a large fan base in a competitive scene gives you credit, and is a testament to your hard work. Also, just have some pride in your product. You know when something meets your standards or not, so don’t settle. If you’re not 100% happy with your product, how can you expect others to be?

7) Solicit and Advertise…

Like I said earlier, your band has a shelf life, so it would be in your best interest to grow as quickly as possible. You won’t do this if you’re relying on local shows only to spread the word about your band. Look for opportunities to get onto e-compilations; pay to have advertisements on social networks; email online radio stations and see if they’re willing to play your music. Like any other career, you need to keep a resume, and solicitations help build that resume. Getting onto an e-compilation might not seem like much on its own—getting onto 12 e-compilations shows that you’re putting in the work and getting things done. Also, when you have a product that you need to push, you need to have some kind of proof that it’s worth the money people are going to pay for it. Ask to have your music or live show reviewed. Seriously, just ask. Chances are the reviewers have similar tastes like you, otherwise you wouldn’t be asking them. They want to hear awesome new music as much as you want them to, so email away. (I said email away; not BLAST away. Send a professional email asking for a review, and then follow up a week later. Some reviews take a little while, so be patient.)

This list is by no means exhaustive. There are tons of points I didn’t go into, but to me these seem to be what’s holding back independent bands the most from getting to the next level. Your music is your art, so take it seriously. You have a responsibility to yourself as a musician, and to your fans to give them the best of everything that you do. And honestly, if you’re that guy who skwooshes or stretches band logos on flyers, you should be ashamed of yourself. Stop it.

James Wicks is the frontman and guitarist for Tarim. You can check out his implemented advice here:


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