Peter’s Tips for New Bands AND Why You Should Be There for Opening Acts

This week, I’m going to look at ways that we, whether musician or fan, can promote indie music. These suggestions are based on my personal observations at shows, through my interpretation of other’s comments in various media and through my own thoughts about this topic. Although I will address the Greater TorontoArea as I am most familiar with it, most of these ideas should be applicable anywhere.

Matt Groopie, musician, booker and promoter, was recently interviewed by Hartley Pickens of SEEROCKLIVE.com at Cherry Cola’s Rock n Roll Cabaret and Lounge. The 18 1/2 minute long video was posted by Matt on his Facebook timeline, and I shared it on mine. I strongly suggest that everyone who’s in a band view it and take notes, as he makes some excellent points. For example, what is the goal of your band? It’s one thing to want to play once a month. However, if you want to play on a regular basis, use social media to your advantage. Every member of your band should agree to be engaged in this process, informing their Facebook friends and using Twitter and Instagram etc, to share the band’s upcoming shows and new music videos. Using these tools, you can form your fan base one person at a time. Build a support team to help you promote your band and ensure that you have a strong social media portfolio and footprint which the booker or venue can refer to when considering you. Matt underscores the fact that it will take a lot of “behind the scenes work” before you can even hit the stage. He also mentions that he is cultivating venues outside the GTA, to provide newer bands with the opportunity to perform and gain some experience before playing in Toronto.

The communications methods which are now available are effective and very useful when promoting your band. You can send your performance video almost instantly from Toronto to a promoter or venue owner in Windsor, which, needless to say, considerably eases their decision making process. You can foster contacts for everything from lodging to meals to other acts, to help with the planning of a weekend of shows. Assemble the necessary information, put your gear in the van, put the van in gear and go, band, go. With careful planning and some effort, there’s no reason why a band couldn’t arrange to leave Toronto Friday afternoon, play London that night, Windsor the following night and Kitchener on the way home Sunday, for example.

Merch is a Must

At the show, if you’ve got it, bring merchandise to sell, such as t shirts, and merchandise to give away, such as stickers. Bring a means to enable you to collect the names and email addresses of people who express interest in your music, so you can keep them informed of what you are doing. Talk to the people who come to your merch table. During your set, mention your band’s name at least three times, at the beginning of the set, in the middle and before your last song. My reasoning for this is that people may walk in at anytime during your set. They might like your music, but not know your band’s name. They MAY take the time and trouble to look you up, but we’ve all meant to do something and then neglected to it for one reason or another. Make it easier for them to find out who you are. Likewise, introduce your band members during your set. Everybody likes to be recognized, and it helps to make your band more human to the crowd. Don’t forget, the idea is to market your band, your music. Don’t forget to enjoy yourselves on the stage while you’re at it! As Matt said, the music is the fun part of the business.

When you’re not at a show, rehearsing, going to work or sleeping, take some time to look for opportunities to market your music and engage your fan base. Contact the local public or school libraries, to see about donating samples of your CDs for their catalogue. The same could be done with drop in and other community centres. Seek opportunities to play your music in public, at such events as food bank drives. Does your town or city have a department that deals with entertainment or culture? Find that information out, and act on it, if appropriate. Consider doing unplugged shows. Take a good look at your band’s Facebook page. Does it reflect your current lineup, your current music? I myself do something every so often on my Facebook timeline which I call “indiesessions”, where I post a number of indie music videos. It is frustrating to go to a randomly selected band’s page and see 12 videos, but realize that none of them are videos of an entire song. I would suggest that you post at least two videos of your current music, with at least one of them showcasing your live act. These can all be effective marketing tools. I’m sure you can think of others, and yes, it is a lot of work.

Anyway, there’s some food for thought, musicians. You’re welcome.

Do What You Must But Remember What You’re Worth

Last week’s “Now” magazine included an article by Suzanne Alyssa Andrew titled “Is Toronto A Harsh City For Opening Bands?” She said things that I’ve been saying for years, with some added points of interest. She also spoke to a couple of musicians and a promoter, as well as quoting another promoter and a concertgoer. It was a very well written article, and, with her kind permission, I’m sharing some of the highlights.

I have always said that you should arrive at a venue early, as often the opening act blows the roof off the place. Suzanne mentions a couple of interesting and very valid points about early arrival at a show. Firstly, you are likely to buy one or two more drinks the longer you are there, which helps the venue meet its expenses and stay in business. She also points out that some of these opening acts may be playing in Toronto for the first time from out of town, while many  locals are “honing their craft” with an eye to establishing themselves in the GTA. music scene. I would add to this point that 75 people can also give an opening act much more useful, real time feedback than 75 views of a “You tube” video will provide.  Also, the opening act might impress you so much that you buy one of their CDs and talk about them to your friends.

Here are selected comments from the people she spoke to while preparing her article. The entire interview is available here.

Dan Burke, promoter- “… Your goal is to create an event that serves everyone: the audience, the performers and- especially if your show is at a licensed club-the venue….”

Steve Sladkowski, lead guitarist, PUP- “…sometimes there aren’t people out for the opener, or the audience talks through [their set]. Part of that is on an artist…But it’s on the audience too. The audience should be doing research. Most people I’ve encountered [in the industry] take finding and choosing their opening acts seriously because they [represent] an artist that they truly believe in….” He notes that fans in Australia and Europe tend to show up for the complete show; “…But in Canada and the United States, audiences want to be impressed and sometimes only go for the headliner. You could be missing out on your next favourite artist, or something amazing.”

Maya Miller, drummer, The Pack A D-“…I think a lot of people don’t realize that the favourite band they’re going to see has actually picked the band they want you to see. It’s a pass-it-on good thing. If you’re going to see a headliner, look up the opener, get to know them in advance and give them a chance. It’s good to expose yourself to new music.”

Jonny Dovercourt, artistic director, Wavelength-“…I remember going to concerts when I was a teen and people would heckle opening acts, yell at them, throw stuff….” He next discusses the view held by many that the local indie scene was either non existent or weak. This view changed due to the break out of bands like Fucked Up. At Wavelength “… as far as we’re concerned, the band playing first is just as important as the band playing last.”

This final quote sums it up beautifully. As the old saying goes, “Couldn’t have said it better myself!”

Lola Landekic, concertgoer-” For me, going to see live music isn’t just about seeing and reaffirming what I already know I like, it’s also about making discoveries.”

That was a very interesting point raised about how the opening act is selected, by the way. So, if the headliners you are going to see like them, the openers may be worthy of your attention, too. Make the effort to get out to the venue before the music starts. That will give you a chance to catch up with your friends so that when the music starts, everybody will be able to hear. ( As you may have gathered, people talking during a show is one of my pet peeves.) By all means, talk to the band at the merch table before or after their set, give them some feedback, buy them a beer if you can, and feel so inclined. Remember that when they are playing, they are working, however. Don’t disturb them when they are setting up or breaking down, likewise for approaching the stage during the set, unless they motion you to.

Do talk to them at an opportune moment. If you can, and their music interested you, buy a CD or T shirt. Give them your email address so they can put you on their mailing list. “Like” and “Follow” them on Facebook. I share as many concert announcements as I can on Facebook, even if the concert is in another province or country, because I have FB “friends” all over the world. The same is true with music videos. We possess this marvellous technology which enables us to show this great music all over the world. There is a lot of little known great music out there, all you  need to do to is read one of Frank Gutch Jr.s columns on this blog to see that.

How else can you help to promote indie music? Here’s some of what I did, and do. I retired in July, 2016 after working for the federal government for over 40 years. The last 6 months at work, I wore a (tasteful!!)a) band or festival t shirt to work, and answered any questions anyone had. (“Wow, they’re a Toronto band?”) I played indie cds on my computer at work. I do anything I can to help this great cause, like being an extra in a video shoot, or sitting minding the coats or camera gear while the band is on stage or the photographer’s photographing.

We are blessed to have a strong indie music community in the GTA which values cooperation over competition. We can all help to make it stronger.

See you soon

  1. a) The author was wearing his prized, though rarely seen, “Last Fuckin’ Bullet” t shirt as he finished this column.

=PJM=

2 Responses to “Peter’s Tips for New Bands AND Why You Should Be There for Opening Acts”

  1. …..and I do thank my “camera bag watcher” for his dedication… Great article Pete! Well stated and thought out. Lots of good info. From a person who writes bios, editorials, etc. and researches the artists she writes about, I have a few things to add to your “list ‘. I’ll do that next week 😉 Nice work!

    • Peter Montreuil Says:

      Thank you, Pat. I look forward to your next column, and I consider it an honour to “watch your stuff” while you do what you do so well.

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