So you’ve played the local circuit. Perhaps you have previously booked your own DIY tour or maybe joined an established artist on a run of dates. You feel like your live set up is on point and you’re ready to perform in front of a booking agent; but how do you do it?
Having had success in achieving this whilst being an independent artist, as well as having first-hand experience of working at a Booking Agency. In this article, I’ll be advising on best practices to maximise your chances of showcasing yourself in front of an agent.
Much like the rest of the music business, the A&R department from any avenue of the industry acts on two things. Hearing great music and the knowledge that an artist has started to build a team around them. The latter point is frustrating, it’s a chicken or the egg scenario but remember, you have total control over the first point. So crucially - and this should go without saying - make sure that only your best quality songs and recordings represent you online.
Now you’re probably used to looking out for support slots by paying attention to show announcements from your local promoters and venues. Say you’ve spotted a show with a headliner that you feel your project would compliment as part of a bill. Well, if that show is part of a tour, nine times out of ten that artist will have a booking agent. The best way to find this information out is by looking at the ‘About’ section on the artist’s Facebook page. Let's say hypothetically that you’ve approached the promoter and you’ve been invited onto the bill at your local venue… now it’s crunch time. I’ll let it be known that an Agent will most likely appear at either their artist's hometown show or a show in the city that the agent resides.
When I was an independent Brighton based artist, I had undertaken all of the aforementioned steps and as luck would have it, the agent that represented the headline band lived and worked in Brighton. So it was time to reach out. Now agents have very full inboxes, they are busy people and maybe not always looking for an artist to pitch to them. So the best thing you can do is keep your email concise, compliment their roster and attach links with a brief bio in the form of a one-sheet. You, of course, want to invite them down to the show also! Whilst you may not hear back right away, you can be sure that the invitation would have been received. If you haven’t heard anything back a week before the show then a polite follow up won’t hurt. And that just so happened to be how my independent band ended up playing in front of a booking agent.
Some years later I would end up working for that very same agency and became involved in scouting and A&R co-ordinating. What I can say is that finding new talent is always at the forefront of an agents mind and they have many streams in which they keep across new and emerging talent. The most important of which are networking with industry contacts, listening to BBC Introducing, Emerging Talent Spotify Playlists and reading independent music press.
Having a booking agent want to work with you will open a lot of doors and could be the catalyst that enables you to quickly have an entire team around you. They are the gatekeepers to good shows, tours and that all-important show guarantee fee. So when you do catch wind of an agent who wants to come and check you out… do. not. waste. that. opportunity! Rehearse four times more than you ever would and make your friends, family and fans understand the importance of their attendance. An agent will only come and see you once, so if you’re opening and playing to an empty room then I’m afraid you will witness them walk out the venue as you perform. And no one wants that, do they?!
Creating the ultimate band name (or indeed album or song title) can be a right headache. You might have a great concept for your band, project or artistic direction. The songs might be demoed and ready to go. But there's a stumbling block. You can't quite figure out (or agree) how to articulate what your band or artist name should be.
You just need a name. It can't be too hard to pinpoint, can it? You start by writing down a list. Nothing really leaps out. The more you work on it, the more desperate and uncool the names seem to get. So, you ask the rest of the band, friends and family, for suggestions. How hard can it be?
Two long weeks and several heated arguments later, you end up accumulating an even longer list of lame band names than before. You're teetering on the brink of madness, picking the least rubbish one to get the whole sorry business over and done with.
Just stop for a moment. This is your chance to make a fundamental difference to the potential of your band or project. There's so many bands and artists out there. You have a massive opportunity here to construct a name so unique that people just have to check you out.
Here are some processes and exercises to make your search for a truly epic name that bit easier:
Do you want to be specific and tell the world who you are? For example, generate acceptance in one specific genre at the expense of the wider public, like American heavy metal band Metallica. Or do you want a band name is more generic, that won't offend or put people off? Therefore, allowing your music to be judged on its own merits like pop rock band, Maroon 5.
There's no right or wrong here. This first hurdle gets to the heart of where you see yourself as an artist. And also how well you understand your target audience.
Tip: Try writing two separate lists of potential names, looking at both approaches and seeing what works for you and your music.
The answer to your problem could be staring you in your face. Dig out your band's lyrics. Pore over every line. You wrote this stuff. It came from your subconscious and there is a purity about that. This may inspire a band name that's truly authentic. Have a look through your work and see if a phrase or a set of words leap out at you.
Don't forget to think about your location too. Where does the band live? Where are the special places that mean something to you on a personal or professional level? You might just get a band name out of it (see Cypress Hill and Boston). You might get a few song or album titles from this exercise, like The Beatles 'Strawberry Fields' and Paul Weller's 'Stanley Road'. Take the band Blossoms, for example. They named themselves after their local pub in Stockport. If you think about it logically, there is a goldmine of ideas here. Plus, it makes you look back and consider where you came from as an artist or band.
Go through your bookshelf and pick out ten books which mean the most to you. I would, however, caution against using the actual book title (unless it's super obscure and out of print). Otherwise, you run the risk of playing second fiddle to a more famous book. Once you've picked your book, try googling quotes from it or looking through the pages to see what comes up. As I write this blog, I am doing this using Ian Banks' 'The Wasp Factory' for inspiration. In 30 seconds, I've found a line that really stands out and has some resonance to me.
It's a rather dark and menacing line which comes from the main character - “My enemy is twice dead, and I still have him”. It just sounds cool as you roll it around the tongue. I am wondering if the words "Twice Dead" have potential as a band name. It's strong enough to add to the list of contenders perhaps. It might even evolve as there is room to add another word or two. Anyway. You get the idea.
This process forces result and beats sitting creatively constipated. Like song writing, when inspiration fails, process and work can bridge the gap. Keep everything moving until inspiration strikes.
While we are on the introspective tip, go through any letters you have written. It could be important emails, school reports, press and social media posts. Look for stand-out phrases that could be recycled. There is a sense of authenticity in band name that you may have already created in an unknowing way.
Contrast and clever juxtaposition can produce band names with gravitas and timeless quality. The greatest example of all is 'Led Zeppelin'. I don't think they would have made this blog if they had continued to call themselves 'The New Yardbirds'. My old band 'Little Angels' always struggled to be taken seriously in the rock press. Much of this might have been because the name was a double light construction. It lacked contrast or weight implied in a light/ heavy combination such as 'Flaming Lips' or 'Iron Butterfly'.
Try a few variations yourself. It's an approach that is overused (but still great). It certainly lends itself to rock genres very well (ref. Steel Panther, Def Leppard etc.). My challenge to you is to try and use that idea outside the rock genre. Does it work? You tell me. Got to be worth a shot.
The theory for this is: one abandons the element of control and we simply trust the universe to give. I've tried this a lot and I think it's a bit like doing scratch cards. You'll get a win eventually. Unlike the scratch card, when you do win, you'll need to recognise greatness when you see it. It's easy to become jaded and miss a good band name in a mood of despair. Don't be too judgemental. Come back to a name a few days later if it calls you back. Perhaps, the name will find you rather than the other way around.
If you look online there are several random band name generators. I've done this a lot. It has never worked for me and I've never seen it do the job for anyone else either. But it is fun. I'll try it right now and give you the first four to see what happens. You know how it works. Type in some responses to questions and let the algorithm do the rest. Here goes nothing...
The results are in and the top four are:
You can have those if you like. You're welcome.
Why doesn't it work for me? I think it's down to the transactional online process. It makes me feel unconnected to the suggestions. There's not enough soul in the process. I'd feel differently if I randomly opened a dictionary or scatter clippings from a newspaper to see what lands. I would feel more of a physical and creative connection to the band name suggestions. Daft maybe, but that's how it works for me.
So, try the online band name generator by all means, but consider more organic ways of random word and phrase creation. See what turns up. And trust the universe. It might just provide the goods.
In recent times, there has been a growing trend for longer and more abstract band names such as 'Cellar Door Moon Crow', 'And So I Watch You From Afar' and 'Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band'.
These names are really fun and require a certain level of confidence on the part of the artist to pull off. When I see names like that, I think they show creative courage and I always have to check out the band. Very often the music is similarly risky and ground-breaking, so your project and the name really have to match up creatively.
This concept helps with one of the most annoying aspects when coming up with a band name. The fact that all the obvious ones are taken, and most of the not so obvious ones too. These days all it takes to form a band is think of a name and set up an Instagram account. It's monumentally annoying when you have a great concept/name and some pub band in Australia has already claimed it. You could take the view it doesn't matter, and for the most part it doesn't, but even small artists get mighty territorial and even litigious over this. It's hassle – and confusion you don't need around the project.
Here are some useful templates to try:
And here are some conceptual approaches to keep the band names coming. How about:
I could go on and on. My main point is that the creative process can be stimulated by process. You can, of course, come up with your own. However, what it boils down to is putting the work in. As always in music, most people don't do this and they settle for something average far too quickly.
Your band name matters so make it count.
Here's a few useful links to online name generators:
If you're serious about a career in music and want to know about our courses at WaterBear, the college of music, click on the link here.
I will tell you the three deciding factors in your band’s success. However, the important take away is to acknowledge any shortcomings and do something about it. I know you want your band to be in the elite group of bands that do make it.
Through thirty years of experience with working in music, I have found that you need to gauge how receptive a band is to feedback. Often, I discover a lot of bands are not looking to change their habits. They want to tell you why what they are doing is fine. That can be quite hard, and you have to go with it. However, in today’s video I’m not going to do that, I’m going to tell exactly how it is, it is up to you what you do about it.
However, before discussing this, there is another point I want to make. The effort and time that you put into a band or solo project is never wasted. You pick up loads of skills that will stand you in good stead for the rest of your professional life. I was twenty-three when Little Angels split, and I use the stuff I learnt thirty years on. These are lifelong skills! If you approach music like a hobby, those years will tick by and you’ll look behind you and say, ‘what was that about?’
This is easy to quantify and measure. You need to think about what you have achieved over the last twelve months. How much activity has there been? Are you implementing audience building exercises? Is there music being released or series of gigs?
Your activity needs to focus on building an audience, improving your music and the work that goes into building a brand. Now, imagine your bands activity is on a graph, there is a starting point (now), and there is the five-year goal on the other end of the graph. Five years is a good indication of whether it's going to work or not. If it is not happening after five years, then it might not be happening.
Let’s take a hypothetical example of success; touring the UK as a headline and playing the 02 to 2000 people. That’s our London show, and we want to have a fanbase of about 10,000 people. It’s perfectly achievable for a good band, and you might be able to do it even quicker.
Now, how can you tell that you are going to achieve that? Firstly, you need to look at where you are currently and how much activity you have done in the last month. Things like gig’s, building an audience and developing your music. These are all the activities that go into building a successful brand. If we multiply that by twelve to get the year, and then a further five, this will give the likely progress you will make in five years. Is it on course for the 02?
If it does not add up to getting the 02, what can you do about it? Now, I appreciate that this equation is a bit ‘pack of a fag packet’. However, this measurement of progress stands up time and time again. Pace is what gets bands through, the trouble is there is a compound effect. If you are a bit lazy this month, then you’ll have to do twice as much on the next month, to catch up with the bands with drive and ambition.
This is a tough one to change, after working with generations of musicians I have realised that drive is a very hard thing to teach. I can’t do this for you, you need to do it yourself. Equally, for you, you may be super driven but have band members that are not. They simply do not have this inbuilt sense of urgency. Now, if that’s lacking and everyone is super chilled about the lack of activity and think it will transpire into a career - they are living in Walter Mitty land. That is not how it works.
You are going to call a band meeting, and you are going to say that these are your career expectations. You are either with me or not. At this point it’s very common for a band to talk a good game. You need to put in some very specific goals and test everyone out over the next three months. If you haven’t made significant progress in three months, then you need to make some hard decisions. These might be people that you are friends with, but life’s short and you can’t afford for years to go by without making progress and learning enough. Thats a problem, so sort it out and get a business that works.
When you are involved in music everyone has an opinion. You have to look around you, music careers are pretty quantifiable, and they are fairly easy to predict - there is an established way of going from point A to B. You need someone in your team who has done it, and has done it fairly recently. Listen to that person on how they did it. Otherwise, it’s like trying to drive to Scunthorpe without a map. You’ll probably end up in Burnley or something.
So, who is it near you who has done this and are they helping you construct a plan? It’s all about getting from A to B without going around in circles. You need a navigator.
When I chat to managers, it's amazing how many bands come, pay the money and explain why the person giving the advice is wrong. It happens the majority of the time, as the band just wants to accept that everything is fine. When you explain ‘oh yeah, it’s fine because’, ‘it doesn’t work like that for us because’. It makes you feel better at the time, but it’s a false sense of security.
Now, these people are giving their opinion but it’s an informed opinion. It amazes me how readily they will take pub talk as advice, and usually it’s just stuff that makes them feel better at the time. The music business will challenge and push you. Most bands will not listen and therefore will not make it.
Now, you know what a good song is from a point of a consumer. You buy good records and cool stuff. We tend to get that bit right, but we don’t apply the same standards to our own band. When I was in a band, we had a team of A&R people kicking our ass. We had to go back and write until we had the single. Careers were made and broken with the Radio One playlist meeting.
We don’t have the gatekeeper anymore so bands can put out what they like. However, the top performers and artist tend to have an inbuilt sense of quality. You need to push yourself and have someone kicking your ass.
A bunch of good songs are of no use to you. You need a career defining track. In old money we would call it a hit record. That’s what you need to push through. Pure genius tells the world, where you have been and where you have come from. You need to separate craft (sounding good) from art (saying something). If you understand that difference that will get you through.
People fail to appreciate that a set needs to be considered in its entirety. They rehearse the songs and perceive the silence in-between the songs as separate to the gig. It’s not!
On a good day, you can have interaction with the crowd that flows naturally and easily. However, I wouldn’t bank on it. Chances are, the gig won’t be perfect, the sound won’t be right, and there will not be as many people in the crowd as you’d like. While all these thoughts are buzzing around your head, you’ll find yourself underprepared and you will get caught out. You may do something uncool, or worse encounter a technical problem. You may even be tempted to say the worst thing to the audience - ‘does anyone know any jokes?’
This will say to the crowd, 'the band is amateur will you please go to the bar and spare us all this painful embarrassment.'
My advice is to just precisely prepare what will be said in-between songs. I’m talking everything from guitar changes to tuning breaks. Plan what you are going to say, this doesn’t mean you can’t be spontaneous, but you always know you will land back on the script.
Expect that things are going to break. Strings are going to break, amps are going to blow. Don’t start thinking ‘oh that’s weird, I didn’t expect that to happen.’ Music equipment will break. Everything needs a spare. If you know you are going to bust a string, what do you do? I’ve seen big gigs where all the members are banking on a good show, then someone breaks a string, and there isn’t a spare guitar - it’s nuts.
This is not fair for the other bands, and the knock-on effect to you is it demonstrates that your act isn’t professional. It is a small scene these days, and bands need the support of other bands to get through. This is why, in the present day, you find a much nicer breed of rock star then you would in the 1980’s. To get through, you need teamwork, and you need support. If you blow that by overrunning, it’s massively uncool, so please don’t do it!
Drummers, I’m talking to you! The singer has got the stage and can control the interaction with the audience, it’s a massive responsibility - and it’s a tough gig. As a drummer, you need to play your part, you control the endings of the songs and the tempos. You must realise that your job isn’t to just play drums but the control of the way the set feels.
Nothing kills the vibe of a gig quicker than a singer introducing a song, and the song doesn’t start because the drummer is fiddling with the poxy hi-hat. This drives me nuts, and at the point, I’m gone - it is more interesting to have a drink at the bar.
If you don’t understand how fundamental this is, you are missing the point of the show. It’s not you playing through the tunes. You are in the entertainment business. The crowd have not paid money to see you fiddle with your hi-hat. If you have a technical problem, you work out how to deal with it without alerting the of the band and the audience. I’ve seen all sorts of technical problems happen for drummers and pro’s deal with it, without anyone noticing!
Drummers need to watch the crowd and feel for the right moment to start a song. A gap of one or two seconds is enough to kill the vibe, whereas if you get straight on it, the excitement builds. Monitoring the level of excitement is like controlling the gears. Start in the most exciting way possible, and be in the right tempo. Count in the right tempo of the track, you’ll be surprised how many people don’t do that. You also control the outro or ending of the set. If you have a little bit of a jam to end, then it's your job to gauge the feel. The audience, and finish it at the right point. I’ve seen a lot of jams where it reaches its peak, then it carries on and on until it peters out. That's your fault - take charge of it!
Often when you are on a multi-band bill, you do not have the luxury of putting a backdrop up. You may be on a borrowed kit, so you can’t use the bass drum skin to display the band name. You need to repeatedly tell people who you are. Tell people ‘we are the blind donkeys (or enter a band name), and we will see you at the merch stand’.
The whole point of doing the gig is to build your audience, and you need to consolidate the great stuff you have done on stage. People are into the band; you will seal the deal when people discover what amazingly cool people you are and you will sell some merch. If you do this well, you will break even on your support tours and make money on your headline tours.
Let's discuss the six-million-dollar question “How do you manage pesky musicians?” This is why bands are so hard to form and keep together. The worst thing is, when it's all going really well it can collapse due to internal pressures. Nobody talks about this stuff, let's think about how we can do it effectively and minimise the negativity.
Bands tend to form, and it either works organically or it doesn’t. People in business are not keen on that, they invest substantial sums of money and do not want their investment falling to pieces. Consequently, professionals have become better at understanding the internal politics of teamwork. Therefore, strategies have been developed to better manage teams. Let's start applying these to our bands and musical projects.
Here is a tool to facilitate better teamwork. It's really easy to complete, and it will explain the mechanics behind your band chemistry. Click through to the below link;
This will take you to Dr.Meredith Belbin’s test. The Belbin test has been designed by teamwork researchers. It’s a tool used to analyse your role in a team, both as an individual and a group. It evaluates the combined strengths and weaknesses that holistically affect a team. It’s an amazing way of taking an objective view of your band. What's more, it’s a little bit of fun, what do you have to lose? Try it out and see what you learn from it. There are lots of tests like these, if you don’t like the Belbin one, try these other links out. Some cost a bit of money however many are free;
Democracies in bands unfortunately rarely work, it usually leads to mediocrity and a slow pace of work. This means leadership is required, the trouble is, it usually falls to one or two people. This creates a disproportionate workload and you do not get a medal for it. In fact, a little bit like a politician you often get a lot of flak for working and trying really hard. However, my advice is to accept it, go with it, that's part of the role. If you have chosen it, you need to accept the whole package and crack on with the work. If you are watching this video - the role of the leader is probably yours!
You need to be able to deal with difficult situations otherwise it’s just going to slow you down. If there are band members that are not contributing and treating it like a hobby, it will just hold you back. You have to be able to grasp the nettle and deal with these things with honesty and integrity. Tell it how it is, rip the plaster off and it’s never as bad as you think it is. Conversely, if it is you who has been fired, take solace in the fact that all the best people get fired at least once at some point, myself included.
This is me signing off and don’t forget that if music has become important, you can study a Degree or Master online or on onsite. The exciting thing is that as these programs are work-based learning, you can make your band, your work or professional activity the focal part of your Degree for Masters. It’s an incredibly exciting time, and I know how hard it is to run these bands and be a professional musician. Why don’t you take that experience put it into a qualification, get the letters after your name, design a portfolio career, gather extra income streams and turn music into a full-time career? Artist power is what it’s all about!
Thanks for reading, if you interested in learning more and are serious about progressing in your a career as a musician please join us at WateBear HQ for an Open Day or Order a Prospectus
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