The Campaign…

In a thread elsewhere, a shy solo artist told about being invited to play at the International Pop Overthrow Festival when it touches down in Liverpool, England, at the famous Cavern Club. After some trepidations, he agreed to do if he could put together a band in time, since he didn’t want to do a solo show. Unfortunately, his efforts on the band enlistment front were unsuccessful, but the organizers assured him he had a place on next year’s roster. This is essentially what I wrote in a coffee-fueled post in that thread:

Well, next year, then… start preparing now.

Figure out a way to raise money in advance to pay expenses. And I don’t mean working overtime at the dayjob, although I’m an advocate, in general, of keeping same.

If you plan it out now, start looking for people now, do some gigs with the understanding that anything over gas money goes to the transpo/festival fund, put together a point-of-play-sales CD and other merch (assuming that’s permissable to the festival folks)… you can do the album as both online sales and CD and sell them while you’re ramping up.

First put the album together, sell it through Bandcamp or someone else who makes it easy, finalize the order and graphics while everything’s still virtual. And consider CD-R dupe rather than full-blown stamped replication. That way you can keep your up-front costs as low as possible (shop hard, I’ve seen some very cheap stuff, around $2.50 US for a sale-ready, color printed CD/case, in runs as low as a 100).

Don’t overbuy, though. It’s hard selling. You might keep the run really small and see how sales go at your local shows. Shows are one of the best places to sell physical product and merch, since you’ve got people with their wallets in their pockets, they’re in the mood for music, and they might even be lubricated with a drink or two.

With regard to your ramp-up gigging: beware of geo-burn out. Your friends will all turn out the first gig or two. Don’t count on that continuing. They’ll be home watching the kids or down at the darts tournament after that. You’ve got to build out. Getting out of your immediate metro area is important. Spiral out if you can, since it’s mighty lonely playing a gig with no one there who knows who you are. Keep your ear to the ground. And send out promotional materials online. Make sure every local paper and culture weekly in a two hour’s drive knows your story.

Not all gigs will go well. Some will suck. Usually the ones that suck worst will follow those that come off best. You will feel like an investor watching his stock portfolio crash from I-shoulda-sold-it-all-when-I-hadda-chance heights to wallpaper. But that is part of the game. You had nothing when you started out. Even at the worst of it, you’ve gained valuable experience… you’ve paid some dues. Keep paying them.

Your story, is, of course, your chief asset at this time.

And your story  (don’t blush — and don’t get caught saying it about yourself, let others do it and develop a way to say put it between the lines when you’re talking — you want to come off as kind of shy and new to the racket — should be easy. )  — your story is this:

Your music is quirky, original, catchy, smart, funny, and so cool that some guy in a faraway city asked you to be in his festival. And you woulda but you couldn’t put together a band. Because you were so quirky and cool, see. But now you’ve found the really cool guys who understand you and you’re ready to storm the world. (Or the Cavern, anyhow.) I think you get the drift.

Be shameless — but do not, do not get caught looking shameless... You need to look all, Aw shucks, ’tweren’t nothin; ma’am… just som’in I whupped up sittin’ on the back porch.

Meanwhile, put in that sweat equity to get the story out. Newspapers want content but aren’t always crazy about paying for it. That’s where a well written press release comes in. You want to lay out the skeleton of your story in a way that they can write their story the way you wrote your first term paper: changing a few verbs, swapping out some names for pronouns or vice versa, maybe writing their own lede. (But make sure you lay out the story hook, just in case they don’t have time to.) Some will probably run it just as you send it.

This narrative is the hook you will hang your campaign on. Your underdog status should endear you to all but the hard hearts and shiny suits of the music biz — but if your story is compelling, even they will recognize a good marketing pitch.

That said, your goal is not trying to be the next Beatles — or the next Lady Gaga, for that matter. But play the game hard and well, and I think you will find that the game itself to be worth the effort. If only to tell the grandkids that you once played to an enthusiastic crowd in the venue that gave the Beatles their start…