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So you wanna be in a rock band?: How to make indie work

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Lifestyles | January 26th, 2009

Back in 2003, when I was still a teenager, and when I was convinced that being in an all girl band was a good idea (how we learn as we age), I devised the plan to create my own indie label, HER Records. I did this in order to release our debut album in a more professional manner, in hopes of attaining major label attention. Taking note of the fact that competition in the indie world (well the music industry, in general) is ridiculously steep, I wanted to create a package - something to sell the record labels that would stand out from the rest of the pack.

Several years later (but with a different band mind you), after a great deal of learning, growing, and touring, this dream of mine finally became a reality. But after years of enduring abuse, and a lack of support from our so-called record label, it is clear to me now that self-representation is really where it's at (and I'm sure you're aware that I'm not the only artist who states this case).

But you learn through experience right? And had it not been for our “getting signed” and “selling out” as they call it, I wouldn't be where I am now, and I certainly wouldn't be able to offer you the insights that I've learned.

Taking into account the current climate of what many foresee as the very crumbling of the music industry's infrastructure, it only makes sense to consider the viability of going indie. At this point in time, because of the widespread accessibility to artist-friendly services, it is more feasible (and cost effective, and beneficial in so many ways - I could go on and on) than it's ever been in the past.

But, before you decide to go out and choose a name, logo design, and a MySpace url for your new cutting edge independent label, if you want to be taken seriously and as a professional, there are a few essential steps that must come first.

Step #1:
Network, network, network

As an indie artist, funds, as we know, are limited, and so it is essential, right from the beginning to establish loyal and mutually beneficial relationships with various providers of services (ie: photographers, publicists, producers, distributors, website designers, instrument repairmen, entertainment lawyer...) which you will require at different times in your career. If you are able to learn any of these crafts yourself, all the power to you - it'll save big time on expenses, and is one last thing that you'll have to worry about.

Now approaching a high end service provider that typically works for major label artists won't get you anywhere, but that does not necessarily mean that you'll be forced to sacrifice on quality. There are tons of extremely talented people out there that are working to establish a name for themselves just as you are, and if you can create long-standing alliances with these people, it'll be one of the best things you'll have going for you.

For example, when my band ANTI-HERO first got going, we, obviously, didn't have a lot of cash on hand, but desperately needed professional photos for our website and for promotional purposes. We hooked up with an aspiring photographer (fresh out of Fanshawe's photography program, in fact) that was willing to work with us for a reasonable price, and to this day, I can honestly say that he produced some of our favourite images. After establishing his portfolio by working with bands such as ours, he has gone on to become the head photographer and editorial designer for L'Oreal. In this relationship, we each helped each other: he gave us fantastic photos at a low cost, and we helped him build his portfolio and get other jobs through referrals. But taking advantage of the very talented student community at Fanshawe isn't the only way to work the connections, attending concerts, and talking up established bands, as well as, building a rapport with local venues is also strongly recommended.

In fact, if it weren't for my long standing relationship with Call the Office, we wouldn't have been offered so many jealousy-inducing opening spots throughout our career, nor would we have been able to shoot our music video, on location, with a full staff at our disposal (free of charge, I might add!).

The most important key to establishing these networks of individuals is 100 per cent sincerity. If they scratch your back, you better make damn sure that you scratch theirs back. It's all about creating a relationship, much like a romantic one, that serves both partners, and fulfills some sort of need. To put it bluntly: keep the promises that you make, and make absolutely sure that you always (and I mean ALWAYS) thank those who help you, especially when you reach a certain degree of fame. Put in other words, never forgot those who helped you get your start, you never know what those relationships may do for you in the future.

Case in point: to make a long story short, if it weren't for my befriending of a small indie band when I was 15, I would have never gotten certain touring spots for my later band ANTI-HERO, nor would have I been introduced to our awarding winning producer who in turn hooked us up with the talented man responsible for our mastering. When ANTI-HERO first came out, and had yet to establish a rep and fanbase, it was strictly by “name dropping” our producer that we got our first major gigs.

Next week: Step Number Two: The Necessary Startup Expenses
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