25 Tips for Independent Bands
I Know the Struggle of the Indie Musician & I Want to Help!
Let Me Introduce Myself...
My name is Meagan Earls (also known as PonchoMeg: The Modern Bohemian) & I am the lead singer for the Lansing, Michigan based, rock n' roll band, Odds Fish.
But I'm not just the lead singer. I also write the lyrics, book shows, run our social media, write our bios & blog posts, manage promotions & ad campaigns, take photos, handle merchandise, & much more. So, I happen to have a lot of experience to offer up on the subject of independent bands. Odds Fish seems to be gaining momentum & doing pretty well thus far too, so it must be somewhat valuable experience as well.
So hopefully, these tips that I've derived from my experiences as a highly productive member of an independent band will help other indie musicians & bands as well.
Without further ado, here are the 25 tips for independent bands:
25 Tips for Independent Bands:
1. You Need "The Essentials" if You Want to Have ANY Level of Success
What do I mean by "The Essentials"? Well, I mean you need to have:
B. A Solid Work Ethic
C. The Means & Opportunity to Move Forward (Money)
Without "The Essentials," nothing else is possible.
Let's look into each of these a little bit more, so that you can get a better understanding of what I'm talking about...
Talent is not just about natural born abilities, though if someone IS naturally gifted, it helps. Talent truly takes work as well. Musicians who act like focused rehearsals are unimportant or who bulk at lessons, seminars, educational literature, etc. will never truly be as great as they could be, especially if they already arrogantly believe themselves to be the best around (which is a trap people can get in when they are the "big fish in a small pond.") But sadly, many musicians still don't understand this & think that arrogance about one's natural abilities is the same as confidence in one's talent... but it's not.
My advice to help with this, would be to just think of it this way: you should never think that you're at the top of your game & can't improve, as that is limiting & leaves you with nowhere to go but down. Instead, always strive to enhance & grow your talent, whether it comes easily to you or not. That leads us to...
No matter how talented you are & how much you work on just your talent or your craft or your art or whatever, if you're not willing to do all of the other work that comes along with being in an independent band too, then the likelihood of your success as an independent band is not going to be very high. The good things in life don't come easy... you have to work for them, & that goes for being in the music industry ten fold. So don't rest on being talented & think that that's all you're required to contribute to your independent band - that's arrogant, & it wastes the time of everyone around you. Work hard, be committed, go above & beyond, learn more, & then work even harder. Not many people just get their dreams handed to them; we HAVE to work for them!
THE MEANS & OPPORTUNITY (AKA: MONEY)
Sadly, gear costs money. As does recording, quality photography, advertising, & you know... just being able to eat & have a roof over your head. Unless you are independently wealthy or have people, like parental units with super deep pockets, backing you financially, you're probably going to have to have other employment (at least for awhile) in addition to your band; you should have some form of savings; & hopefully, at least a few people who can invest in some way to help you out (whether their investments be money, hype, donated services, a nicely timed retweet, a place to crash while on the road, or more importantly, a place to shower while on the road!)
If you have no gear, no job, no savings, no money, & no means of communication or transportation, you might as well have no band, because you won't be able to do the things you need to do to invest in your band. Now, there may be exceptions to this, but honestly, breaking into the big time in the music industry is already quite a challenge, so why set yourself up for a greater challenge by relying on the even smaller chance of being an incredible exception? If you are able bodied & mentally sound enough to be in a band, get a job already! Save some money, get good gear, & stop perpetuating the idea that the starving artist is the only true artist. Most starving artists are just that - starving.
OTHER THINGS THAT MAY BE CONSIDERED ESSENTIAL
- Quality Gear
- Original Music (Expertly composed, unique music is best, of course, no matter the genre, & it is good to have at least 30 minutes worth of material before performing publicly.)
- Band Contact Source (email, phone number, website, social media page, etc.)
- Recorded Music (Plus, a way for fans, bookers, media professionals, etc. to hear the recorded music!)
- Social Media Presence
- Business cards
- A Professional Website
- E-mail List
- Full PA , Mini Stage, & Lights (Some venues want bands to bring their own or don't have performance essentials at all. Most of these venues are to be avoided, but there ARE some gems among dive bars & DIY venues, so having your own full performance setup can be helpful for being able to snag opportunities at the good places. It can also be helpful to have at brand new venues, outdoor venues, house parties, & backyard jams.)
2. Social Media is Very Important for Independent Bands - Make Use of It!
Social media websites & apps have become so important for independent musicians these days... Here are some big ones that your independent band may want to utilize:
And here are a few unconventional ideas... try to keep an open mind, as connecting with fans in unconventional ways often works better than using the tried & true methods...
- World of Warcraft
- Pokemon GO
- Call of Duty
These are all VERY social (or can be) & can be great opportunities for you to share your music, as long as it is done in an organic & authentic way. Don't just join these communities to spam them - if you are in them already or have been interested in joining already, great. If not - don't join just to try to manipulate people into listening to your music. It is dishonest, distasteful, & rude. Plus, people will see right through you, hurting your band's brand.
3. Make Use of "Music Sites" for FREE:
There are several websites aimed at independent musicians & bands that offer free (& in some cases free & paid) services. Some you may want to consider include:
- Indie on the Move
- Gig Salad
- Bands in Town
Seriously, use them for free, at least initially. If you find that you really like the site/sites & are getting results, then consider paying for services (if packages are available). But don't just pay for every music website that offers promotion or booking opportunities; see if they work for you & your band first. Otherwise, you're just wasting money.
On a personal note: I love Indie on the Move - it is especially good for finding venues & bands when one has to be one's own booker (as I am). My band has even booked shows directly through them before, which is NOT true of all of these websites. This is not a paid ad, by the way. This is literally just me gushing about Indie on the Move because I love it.
4. Live Performances, Interviews, & Radio Plays are all SUPER Important:
Independent bands need ways to get their names, their music, & their reputations out there. The best ways to do that include live performances, interviews, & radio plays.
- Mixed Art Performance Venues
- Music Halls
- Art Galleries
- Parks / Gazebos / Amphitheatres, Other Outdoor Venues
- College Campuses
- Student Radio / College Radio
- Local Television
- Music Blogs
- Internet Radio
- Print Magazines
- Local Radio
- Student / College Radio
- Internet Radio
- Mainstream Radio (Good luck!)
On a personal note (again...) I want to thank LCC Radio & Neue Rebel Radio for being supporters of independent musicians and bands, like my band Odds Fish! LCC Radio was the first program we went on as Odds Fish (before we even had our first public performance!) & Neue Rebel Radio gave us our Internet Radio debut.
It's not as hard as it seems to get on local, college, & internet radio; you just have to do your research, understand the terms, & contact the right people (or sometimes get contacted BY the right people!) Getting on mainstream radio can be a bit more of a challenge, so start with the smaller ones, the schools, the hometown stations, & the true internet gems & then work into breaking into the bigger markets.
5. Be Willing to Do Unconventional Gigs:
Sometimes the best gigs are the unconventional ones...
- Record Stores
- High Schools
- House Parties
- Business Conferences
- Charity Events
- Youth Centers
- Street Corners (Get a busking permit!)
- With Duncan & the Crew under the Bridge
When Talent & Hard Work Come Together in a Performance - it ROCKS!
Take the Poll!
Which of "The Essentials" is MOST Essential?
Talent, Work Ethic, Music, & MORE! Lillie Lemon Shows us How it's Done!
6. Make REAL Connections:
Be authentic in your interactions with others. You CAN be a rockstar, a business person, & yourself, all at once - you just have to be true to yourself & fully authentic. If you're not being authentic, someday people WILL figure it out, as people can often sense "fake" people. Don't be a fake person. Be real. Be YOU!
Once you have mastered the art of being yourself, making real connections comes more naturally. People are people after all; it doesn't matter if they're in an internationally acclaimed band, or if they're a record label executive, or if they're members of other independent bands, people are people! They have hopes & fears & dreams & stories, just like the rest of us. Remember that, & don't get intimidated & resort to what you think that they want; just keep it real.
7. Hand Out Freebies to Promote Your Band:
Great things to hand out while you're out & about or at shows of bands that are similar to yours include:
- business cards
- download cards
- demo cds
8. Have Cool Merchandise:
Some independent bands miss the importance of having merchandise at all, let alone having cool merchandise that fits their brand & their audience, but cool merchandise is really a must, especially if you want to tour. So, here are some ideas; but there are MANY more. Be creative!
- Beer Cozies
- Bumper Stickers
- Coffee Mugs
- Tote Bags/Reusable Shopping Bags
- Download cards
- signed photos
- Teddy Bears/Other Stuffed Animals
- Hacky Sacks
- Guitar Picks
- Drum Sticks
- Memo Pads
- Temporary Tattoos
The possibilities are practically endless! Just be sure to do your research on your producers/suppliers so that you get the most economical rates & don't get burned!
9. Add Your Events to Calendars Online:
To ignore the power of the internet is not wise for an independent musician or band these days - many people find events in their city through online resources, such as the ones I am about to share with you.So, by adding your events to them, you are only helping yourself by getting the information out to that many more people. Here are some places you should add your events to online:
- Indie on the Move
- Bands in Town
- Event Brite
- Your Website &/or Blog (either through a page or a widget)
Some communities also have local calendars or online calendars for local publications. (For example, in Lansing, where my independent band is based, we have 517Living.com as well as online calendars for several of our local papers & magazines.) MAKE USE OF THEM!
10. Have a Blog:
Having a blog makes you able to connect with your audience much more. First of all, it gives them insight into what you're all about, secondly, it allows you to get insight into your audience & what THEY'RE all about, & finally, of course, it is a valuable & entertaining resource that can also boost the online performance & reputation of your band. So, a blog is a good idea.
What does an independent band blog about though? Well, here are some ideas for you:
- Band News/Updates
- Personal Stories
- Behind the Scenes Insight
- Show Information
- Band Influences
- Social Media Updates
- Tour Info.
- Stories from the Road
- Band Tips
- Music Advice
- Song Showcases
- Band Stats
- The Music Industry
On a personal note: My original blog, "PonchoMeg: The Modern Bohemian," & the other "PonchoMeg" blogs are all on Blogger, but my band Odds Fish uses Wordpress for our blog. I found that Wordpress was a better fit for what we as a band needed, as opposed to what I originally needed as a freelance writer when I started back in 2009. So, that shows, that you simply have to find the blog service that best fits YOU & your band, whether it is one you have used before, or not, or whether it is Wordpress, Blogger, or another option completely. Do what's right for you.
A Few Samples of Independent Band Blogs
11. Be Proactive with "REAL Life" Public Promotion:
Promotion can't ALL be done on the internet, or through glamorous performances & interviews, you know... Some promotion is just the day to day, mundane, gotta do it, kind of stuff... But here are some ways to be proactive & promote in the REAL world.
- Always have business cards on hand (& tickets & download cards & cds & stickers, ideally!)
- Leave business cards/postcards/flyers at businesses (or anywhere, really...)
- Hang up posters & hand out flyers
- Send posters to out of town venues
- Utilize word of mouth advertising - talk about your band for goodness sake!
12. Design Cool Concert Posters or Have Cool Concert Posters Made:
People are more likely to be drawn to posters that are really well done & stand out, PLUS cool posters are so easy to use to advertise online. So, even if you feel like the hanging of concert posters is a dying art, (even though I am telling you it is not) it is important to remember that they have more than one use. The imagery can be used for printed posters that you hang in the "real world" OR the imagery can be used online on websites, blogs, & online calendars. Either way, it probably still has to stand out from the crowd to get noticed though, regardless.
13. Make Promo Videos & Other Random Videos:
Music videos & lyric videos are fully expected these days, but there are other videos that help independent bands as well. Here are some ideas for some:
- Teaser Videos (for events, song releases, etc.)
- Song Clips
- Joke Videos
- Cover Song Performances
- Rehearsal Videos
- Studio Footage
- Video Blogs
- Behind the Scenes
- Acoustic Versions of Songs
- Art Videos/Films/Shorts
14. Have Contests & Giveaways:
Contests & giveaways are awesome, but independent bands never seem to know what to give away, so here are some ideas:
- Concert Tickets
- Prize Packages of Band Merchandise
- Autographed Items
- Massage Package (from a professional, not the band)
- Gift Cards (especially if it is for a venue you play often or love)
- Private Parties
- Music Lessons with the Band Members
15. Make Use of Bookmarking / Content Sharing Sites:
A few suggestions...
Be Sure to Share Good Content - Everything Needs to Have Value & Work FOR You!
16. Submit Your Material to Lesser Known Blogs, E-Zines, Radio Stations, etc. & Get Interviews & Plays that Your Competition Isn't:
I'm only going to give you a few ideas, because the main idea here, is that you are finding "lesser known," almost "off grid" opportunities, & if I talk too much about some "lesser knowns" that are close to being "well knowns," they may just turn into "well knowns" & that defeats the purpose. But here are a couple of suggestions (use them wisely):
- I'm Music Magazine
- Indie Rock Cafe
- Indie Music Filter
- Neue Regel Radio
- Q 108 Kingston
17. Pay for Advertising:
Paying for advertising kind of stinks, but every so often, it really helps. So, here are some ads we think you should spend that band money on:
- Facebook Ads
- Reverbnation Promotion
- TV Commercials
- Newspaper Ads
- Radio Spots
- Magazine Ads
- Ads in brochures, newsletters, & apartment community papers
- Custom Ads/Promotion Work on Fiverr
- Flyers (maybe with coupons?)
- Band Merchandise (As all merchandise is technically promotional...)
18. Comment On/Contribute to Relevant Blogs, Online Communities, & Forums
Here are some great places to comment/contribute:
- Indie on the Move Blog
- BandZoogle Blog
- Sonicbids Blog
- Bandmix Musician Forum
- Yahoo Answers
- Facebook Pages
- Obscure Sound
- Digital Music News
- Other Music Blogs & Forums
19. Put Some Actual Effort into Your Stage Appearance:
You want to look authentic, but you also want to give people their money's worth & not gross them out with poor hygiene! So be you, DO YOU, but do a you that is kicked up a notch & more clean than normal. Nobody wants to shake hands with someone with dirty nails, filthy palms, bed bug bites, etc. If you are greasy & dirty: clean up! You can be grunge without being GROSS. Do it.
20. Listen to, Appreciate, & Support the Music of Others:
To me, there is no reason not to listen to independent bands, new music, established musicians trying something different, etc. I know the struggle! I wish more people were listening to MY music, as I'm sure you're wishing about yours too! So why don't more independent bands & musicians show support for each other? I don't know. To me, that's crazy!
So how can you find sweet new independent bands to listen to, you ask? Well, hopefully to start, you're already playing shows with some cool independent bands & staying connected...
But you can also find independent music in these places:
- Indie on the Move
- Amazing Radio
- Neue Rebel Radio
- Find Indie Music
IN THE "REAL WORLD"
- Go to shows of bands you like to check out the other acts
- Go to random shows of bands you've never heard of
- Buy CDs, records, & downloads & actually LISTEN to them in order to discover new tunes
- Get suggestions from bookers, bartenders, bands, family members, friends, etc.
WAYS TO SUPPORT INDEPENDENT BANDS
- Buy the music, listen, & spread the word
- Support them on social media (page likes, song plays, video views, retweets, post likes & shares, tags, hashtags, follows, etc. ALL help independent bands)
- Buy merchandise (or do a swap. I like to do a t-shirt for a t-shirt. That way, you can both promote one another.)
- Do multiple shows with bands you really enjoy working with. Don't just SAY you will, actually BOOK the shows!
- Recommend other bands to band members, managers, bookers & venues looking to you when they need to fill a bill, either along with your band or in place of your band if your band is not the best fit. (Helping to create a cohesive night that makes sense & draws a bigger crowd is better for you too in the long run anyway - the bands, venues, bookers, & fans will really appreciate it, which in turn gets you better shows. So you can support other bands & your own band simultaneously.)
- Be genuine in your praise & honest with your critique, but try to temper all of that with genuine positive support, even if a band you play a show with has a bad show or a meltdown on stage. Never be untruthful, but also try to avoid being hurtful. Independent bands have to deal with enough of that hateful, aggressive, criticism & cut throat competition already (as you probably already know) so don't add to it, please. Truly be there for one another instead!
It's Easy to Find Great New Music on YouTube
Independent Bands can FEEL the Support & Love & it Makes Us Better!
21. Use Your Other Natural Skills Combined with Your Musical Skills to Get Even Further:
Good at shooting videos, writing, public speaking, coding, etc.? You can combine other creative talents with your music talent in order to boost your band's reach & recognition. Here are some ideas:
- Create video music lessons, funny music related cartoons, top 10 lists about music, etc.
- Write content for music print publications, online e-zines, blogs, websites, e-books, etc.
- Be a motivational speaker.
- Build music websites for clients.
- Be a judge at a music competition, festival, or fair.
- Be a guest conductor at a local band or symphony concert.
- Teach private music lessons.
22. Make a Wikipedia Page for Your Band:
NOTE: I have not done this yet!
Apparently, people can make Wikipedia pages for their independent bands. I am not quite sure how it all works, so I am going to send you here:
23. Stay Humble & Grateful:
Never get so full of yourself that you forget about the struggles you are facing now. Stay grounded, act humble, & be grateful for every gift you receive. Not everyone gets to play music as a part of their life who wants to - if you are already performing your music to crowds that include strangers, you are already so lucky! Appreciate it.
24. Take Care of Yourselves:
It's not all "sex, drugs, & rock n' roll!" If you really want to succeed, you may want to take better care of yourselves, especially as you are not quite "ROCKSTARS" yet...
Here are some suggestions:
MIND: Personal Space & Time / Reading / Puzzles / Games / Trivia / Listening to Music
BODY: Exercise / Hydration / Eating Well / Warming Up & Cooling Down / Putting Safety First
SPIRIT: Mindfulness &/or Silent Reflection / Journaling / Hugs, Cuddles, Kisses / Time with Pets
ALL 3: Meditation / Dancing / Quality Sleep / Wine
25. Never Stop Learning:
Like I mentioned earlier, we must always strive to grow & be better, otherwise we have nowhere to go but down. So it is important to continue to learn about your craft, the music industry, music theory, instrument techniques, recording, performing, touring, music promotion, branding, etc. Never stop learning!
Being in an Independent Band is Hard Work... But it IS Worth it!
More Resources for Independent Bands
- Indie Underground
Discovering the Best Indie and Alternative Music
- Music Industry Blog
- Music Industry How To - 2016 - Business And Creative Advice For Those In The Music Industry
- Billboard - Music Charts, News, Photos & Video | Billboard
Billboard - Music Charts, Music News, Artist Photo Gallery and Free Video
- Rolling Stone
Get the latest Rolling Stone news with exclusive stories and pictures from Rolling Stone.
- Music Jobs | EntertainmentCareers.Net
Music Jobs, Record Labels, Music Production, Music Distribution, Music Management, Music Festival Jobs.
- Music Careers List | Careers in the Music Industry | Music Business Careers
Our list of music careers in the music industry. Research and discover music careers across all fields of the music business, including complete career
The most trusted voice in music.
- Music Blogs That Want Your Music - hypebot
Looking for ways to get your music heard by the right people? Included is a list of music blogs that actually want to hear from you! ___________________________________ Guest Post from Ditto
- Guitar World
The online destination for guitarists featuring artist news, lessons, gear reviews, album news, music videos, photos, transcriptions, lists and more.
- MTT - Music Think Tank
A group blog bringing together key thinkers in the realm of online music business.
- Bands On A Budget: Custom Merchandise for Bands, Brands, and Businesses
The leader in custom merchandise for bands, brands, & businesses. Order today and receive up to $125 off custom t-shirts orders & FREE shipping.
- Vistaprint | Business Cards, Postcards, Invitations & More
Vistaprint empowers you to design and customize affordable marketing materials for your business. Tell your story with business cards, postcards, invitations, signage, and more.
- Custom T-Shirts - Design Your Own T-Shirts Online - Free Shipping!
14 years, 50 million custom t-shirts, 99% happy customers! CustomInk is the t-shirt printing expert for your team, school, company, or any occasion.
- Sticker Mule: Custom Stickers That Kick Ass
- Find Indie Music - Discover New Indie Music
Home of the finest indie music! Showcasing the best indie bands, the best websites for discovering indie music, and providing resources for indie artists.
- Indie Shuffle Music Blog :: Discover New Songs And Playlists
Indie Shuffle is a music blog that helps you discover new music and playlists: indie rock ✓ hip hop ✓ electronic ✓ and more.
- Opportunities & Tools for Musicians
Music Clout is a website that list current opportunities and projects for musicians to learn about, and if interested, submit their music to for consideration
- CreateSpace: Self Publishing and Free Distribution for Books, CD, DVD
CreateSpace provides free tools to help you self-publish and distribute your books, DVDs, CDs, and video downloads on-demand on Amazon.com and other channels
- Discover and Buy Indie Music CDs, MP3s. FLAC, and Vinyl | CD Baby Music Store
Fall in love with your next favorite song or artist. CD Baby has over 3 million tracks for you to browse, listen, and buy.
- Sell Your Music Online - Digital Music Distribution | TuneCore
Musicians: Sell your own music on iTunes, Spotify, eMusic, Amazon Music, Google Play and many more! Keep all your rights and get 100% of the royalties.
- Bandzoogle: Band Websites that Work
Bandzoogle makes it easy for musicians to build a great band website. Sell music & merch commission-free. No web design skills needed. Try it free for 30 days.
- Odds Fish
Home page of Odds Fish, a rock group from Lansing. See what MY independent band's website looks like...
Thanks for Checking out my 25 Tips for Independent Bands!
I Hope You Enjoyed My Tips!
Well, that's it for now... all 25 tips for independent bands from someone who is actually IN an independent band! Which ones do you find to be the most helpful? Are there any that you passionately disagree with? Please let me know in the comments below!
Peace & Love & Rock n' Roll!!!