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« Matt Solberg's “Strategies For Rock Success” »

[Matt Solberg sang and played guitar for Streganona, a legendary Hyde Park rock band circa 1994-97. He now plays in From Monument to Masses in San Francisco. Matt is a pro when it comes to independent rock techniques and tactics, and I find myself coming back to this document pretty frequently. It was originally posted to the Hyde Park Musicians mailing list on April 19, 2002.]


hi everybody. I haven't posted anything in a while, but this topic made me think. also, Jason Fricka Fracka Shanfield solicited my thoughts, which was nice of him. it's actually something I've been ruminating on a lot lately. especially after last night when I saw Tarentel bore themselves to death at the Great American in SF, and I wondered why so many people come out to watch that kind of crap.

despite all my theorizing, most bands' success or lack of it remains a total mystery to me. I can only tell you about some strategies that have worked and continue to work pretty well for my bands. [this'll probably sound like industry bullshit from a Guitar Center magazine, but I'm being totally honest. I don't *really* know anything about this stuff, but I'm going to write it authoritatively, as if I know everything, because it's easier that way -- don't have to bother with all the "I feel" statements and crap.]

* buy a van... an american van from before 1982.

* belong to an online community, like this one, where you can list your performances, and hear feedback on your shows and recordings. don't talk about your band. leave that to other people. if nobody likes your music, it's because you're in the wrong online community.

* compile lists w/ addresses, phone numbers, contact-people, etc. of every independent label you've ever liked. every independent record store you've ever bought a good record from. every person you know who plays music. every booking agency that books tours for bands you like. every music zine you've ever read. every club you've ever wanted to play at. chances are, your taste has drawn you towards the same kinds of organizations (labels, press, clubs) that would like your music. find those organizations, and find even more of them, and list them all in a database. if you obsess on it for just one weekend, you can compile a pretty stupifying list.

* form alliances with other bands - not necessarily the ones that sound like you - but the ones who want the same things as you. play lots of shows with them. be best buddies with them.

* make the best possible recording of your band, and finish it as quickly as possible. push it through to the public before you go and change your shit up. if your songs suck, the sooner you find out, the better. if your recording sounds crappy to people, the sooner you find out, the better. stuff like overdubbing and pro-tools make it possible to polish a piece of crap for months, and once you're done polishing, you have a shiny piece of crap that cost you lots of time and money that no one wants to listen to.

* maintain a website with downloads, pictures, and an easy URL.

* MEET BANDS. I mean, who the fuck else are they going to talk to? all they do is stand around and look cool and unapproachable, but you know they really just want you to talk to them and compliment their cool parka. so do it, and then slip them a CDR. always keep a grip of CDRs in your messenger bag. I know you have a messenger bag. I know this, because I too have a messenger bag. we are one.

* make a package with your CD (or a CDR of it if you can't afford to give away CDs). bookers don't listen to tapes anymore. don't overstuff, but put in a sticker, a little 1" indie button, and a ONE-SHEET. include a little handwritten note that says "Hi! I'm nice. We're friends now."

* ONE-SHEET = one sheet of paper that displays your coolest band photo, a brief description of your sound (including comparisons), a brief "bio" which should be kind of "band resume" with bands you've played with, bands you've been in, and any other wanky shit you wanna throw on for padding, and also a section on what you've released, what you plan to release, where you've played, and where you intend to tour. top it off with extremely clear instructions on when you're available, and how to get a hold of you. website link is a plus. (it's important that it's only one sheet. hence, the name "onesheet". bookers have patience for about 1/2 of one sheet.) don't send press unless it's AP or Maximumrocknroll or some such mag. bookers don't give a fuck if you've been written up in your school paper, or your friend's zine, and will just find it annoying.

* until the rates go up in June, you can send the above contents in a padded envelope for $1.03 a piece. send those fuckers to every single address in your list. and send the recipients an e-mail beforehand to tell them it's on it's way (from your band's e-mail address) and include an abbreviated version of the onesheet in the e-mail text.

* play any halfway appropriate show, anytime, anywhere, until you notice someone you don't know who has come back a second time. if this happens, it means you might have a fan. or a stalker. either way, it's flattering.

* learn the rules of engagement with club bookers. they're wily. don't get aggro with them, cuz they'll get mad at you and never give you a chance. just be gently persistent. again, the little aforementioned package can be your salvation. they say "how 'bout this night" - you say "thanks, I'm not sure, let me check with my band." nothing pisses bookers off more than backing out of a show you agreed to, cuz you never cleared it with your flaky bandmates. then get back to them ASAP and tell them yes or no. ask them "is this confirmed?" - be very clear about getting CONFIRMATION. concise articulate communication with bookers is a must, and takes some practice. at first they'll give you a crappy night, opening for no one you know. this is your test. promote the fuck out of it. the more drinks they sell that night, the more likely your next gig there will be opening for someone you've heard of.

* promotion. word of mouth is best. but there's no better promotion than playing events that promote themselves. flyers are fine, but they better be some cool fucking flyers, applied with anarchist tactics to shockingly creative locations, if you expect anyone to read them.

* let the local papers know who you are. exploit any friendships you have with people who write, do radio shows, or work in records stores.

* record store clerks are the gatekeepers of cool. they hear everything, and they are in love with their power. pay attention to what local shows they're going to see. meet those bands. give them a CD. keep in touch with them via e-mail, but don't spam them. see if you can land a show with them. then the record store clerks will hear you, pull your CD out of the consignment bin, and play it in their store. not because they like you necessarily, but because you played with a band they like.

* consider the other gateways to cool... artists lofts... collectives... gender studies parties... get invited, and bring your messenger bag full of CDRs, stickers, and handbills for your next show.

* be nice to audience, other bands, even bouncers and bartenders. you want people to say "damn. what a fucking nice band." don't whine about not getting the choice spot in the order of bands -- you generate good karma, and the out-of-town band that gets the choice spot, will give you the choice spot when you play in their hometown.

* tour. even just a weekend. book it yourself, if you have the stomach for it. otherwise, you may have an equal amount of work in getting someone to book it for you.

* I guess the most important thing is to play good music. but how do you do that? fuck if I know. that's a subject for a whole new thread. maybe a whole new list. play what the people want to hear. but challenge them to hear it differently. and do it louder, harder, quieter, sadder, meaner, happier, more pretentious, more intricate, more minimal, more whatever than anyone else. Rule.