Advice to Every New Band: Stop Putting Out Albums

radiohead-ep-monday.jpg
Take it from these non-failed musicians: Don't put out that album.

Welcome to Ask a Failed Musician, in which I will help struggling musicians make sense of their careers and even offer some advice. Whether or not it will work, who knows? It obviously didn't work for me. But then again, I was on Kimmel once, so there's that.

To kick this thing off, rather than answering a troubled musician's query, I'll simply give advice to all new bands who are embarking on a musical venture that will result in probable good times and almost certain commercial failure
.

Don't put out an album. Seriously. Stop it. Established bands backed by massive marketing machines like U2 or Radiohead can afford to do it. You cannot. Here's the scenario:

You and your bandmates work for a long time to make an album. Some bands can do it in six months, others take longer than a year. It will be expensive, too. You release the album and maybe someone in the local media reviews it.

Then, after a few months, it sinks in: Nobody cares anymore. You have no new music to put out because you just threw every song you had on some  expensive record, and you've dropped below the radar.

Sure, you can trick things up by playing the occasional high-profile gig, but how do you keep the public interested long enough to put out another album?

You don't. But here's another solution:

Put out singles, or at the very most, EPs. Putting out a new set of two or three songs every three months is more likely to keep people interested. Put the music on Bandcamp or Soundcloud so people can stream it. Don't worry about giving away your music. If you're a new band, you're not going to make much money on it anyway.You need to build your
audience, and the best way to do that is to stay in their periphery.

That's how I almost didn't fail. My band would give away free CD-Rs at every show. It didn't necessarily work for us, but it might work for you.

If you want to make money, contact an independent licensing company like Blue Water Music and see if you can get a track in a commercial or TV show. "That's selling out," you might say. Well, once you've failed at music long enough, you realize there's no such thing as selling out.

Of course, if your music is bad, my words won't be of any help. After all, I was only on Kimmel once.

Write in to Ask a Failed Musician here. Ask anything you like. I will do my best to help you not fail also.


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36 comments
mwa6582751
mwa6582751

I'm not telling anyone NOT to make and album, but you gotta figure that THERE ARE MILLIONS OF ALBUMS MADE BY MILLIONS OF MUSICIANS WHO ARE NOT GOOD AND NEVER WILL BE GOOD out there.  You can get lost in the fray!  You have to get out there and do your best to get work, not work on gimmicks!  If you learn your craft, and become GOOD at what you do, then some one will hear you and in the meantime, a lot of folk will appreciate you!

mwa6582751
mwa6582751

HEY, GREAT ADVICE.  I'm been in this business since I was a struggling piano player that became a singer!   I had to go to Russia and China to get my success and recordings, and work with a nationally known and appreciated conductor!  I didn't do this by myself.  I did it because I was working and was HEARD!  Sometimes, the arrogance of musicians are their worse enemy! LEARN the basics, and then you will know what sells and what doesn't.  

JohnLefler1
JohnLefler1

@DC9AtNight Failed musician at the ripe old age of 30? Don't give up just yet #askafailedmusician

sxipshirey
sxipshirey

An album is your calling card. It doesn't make money in itself but it GETS YOU WORK. You will find having an album to sell as merch when you are on tour to be  very important as it's a fairly cheap piece of plastic that fans will want to buy to support you. It takes up less room in the van than t-shirts, though you should bring those also. Maybe you should ask advice from working musicians rather than someone who bills themselves as a "failed musician". This is like making dinner from a recipe book called. "I Suck at Cooking". That all being said, I am sure there is a way to have a career from just releasing digital singles.  But for me, an artist who has no management, no record company and who does everything himself the album is still useful. What making an album does is focus your ideas and forces you to FINISH your ideas. Putting together and putting out SONIC NEW YORK by myself helped change my career AND helped me grow further as a band leader, arranger and producer.

atMattb
atMattb

@DustinHarkinsIs Radiohead uses a massive marketing machine? May not have been the best example...

ionrock
ionrock

I'm curious why an album is so much more expensive than something like an EP? Assuming you still do press, the process and cost is roughly the same with the difference being it can be more difficult to get press for an EP. Recording 3 EPs also seems like it could be more expensive.  Each time you head in the studio you have to find the sounds, which can take a good amount of time. 2 weeks in the studio for 12 songs can be cheaper than 3 weeks over the course of a year b/c more time is spent recording vs. getting decent sounds. This all changes of course if you have access to a studio, your music can be recorded at home without sacrificing quality, etc. The same goes for press. If you have a friend that will do it for free or on spec, then it makes a lot more sense to consider a higher frequency of releases.

 

The thing I think you are right about is the rise and fall of attention. If you invest all the songs in that album and it doesn't do much, then you are sort of stuck. Keeping attention is the real challenge. My answer is to tour like crazy and try to build a fan base via local means. The idea is to find an organizing point to keep fans interested. Dave Allen has a similar perspective on this (http://www.pampelmoose.com/2009/04/the-end-of-the-music-album-as-the-organizing-principle) and while I don't entirely agree that an album as a format is the problem, he is right that bands need to take advantage of new mediums and create organizing points for fans to grab on to.

 

Honestly though, bands need to stop worrying about this stuff! Yes, a band is a business where you need to contend with the vicious rules of supply and demand. At the same time, you will never need to worry about dealing with getting screwed over if you never write great songs and/or put on great shows. The music should be your priority and then when the money does come, you can take your time navigating the business.

RoccoSiffreti
RoccoSiffreti

I agree with what youre saying here, but id like to add the additional caveat- stop putting out shitty albums. it seems like every time a young band gets into the studio for the first time they go buck wild and throw the entire kitchen sink into the recordings, destroying what sound theyve been getting by on and making a horrible bastardization of their music. i cant tell you how many times in the past 15 years ive seen amazing bands come out of dfw and just completely fail because their album was an overproduced shiny turd. most of the time theyve been writing music to play it live, so keep it simple. oh, and its your album. dont let a producer tell you how it should sound.

Roman Belmarez
Roman Belmarez

I adopted that model a few years ago. People in 2012 only care about what's "new"; a band can set a big huge release for October but everyone will have already leaked it by June, by July everyone has already heard it and torn it to shreds on music blogs, etc.. Live shows are what grow your base, no one really cares about the recording aspect anymore because they don't pay for music anymore. Albums have become "free cheese" samples

Roman Belmarez
Roman Belmarez

I adopted that model a few years ago. People in 2012 only care about what's "new"; a band can set a big huge release for October but everyone will have already leaked it by June, by July everyone has already heard it and torn it to shreds on music blogs, etc.. Live shows are what grow your base, no one really cares about the recording aspect anymore because they don't pay for music anymore. Albums have become "free cheese" samples

slighter
slighter

apparently you've read Martin Atkins book, well done... he said it better, however... and with more expletives :) 

johnny_apparatus
johnny_apparatus

If you really want to make a living doing music I suggest getting away from huge metropolises like dallas and austing where they take advantage of musicians cause there's thousands of bands to choose from and most if them are decent. move to small coastal areas where the native population is small. People who never get live music don't mind at all shelling out 800 bucks as a treat for the locals and to keep their clients happy...sooo many places that they pay for music in texas...if you've got money to play the marketing game against a bunch of kids that come from wealthy families that don't mind dropping a few grand on advertisements for their baby boys band...then by all means..stay in dallas, austin, and houston...otherwise...spread out!

Craigley
Craigley

What Jr. High kid wrote this?  One hit wonders killed musics via iTunes and the Internet.  Let's fix this, not pass along more doomed guidance!

cello007
cello007

I'm sorry , fella... but I'm just gonna have to say it.  This article is absolute bullshit. No offense.  I never comment on these things...but as a musician/ artist / hired gun... I'm afraid we're gonna have to agree to disagree.  I certainly hope that NO REAL MUSICIAN or BAND follows your advice.  If you are a releasing your music to "get hype" and "become famous and make it", then maybe. However, for the real musicians and artists, that just won't do.  Just ask Tom and Jim.  Albums are more than just marketing tools, they are ART.  Investing time and money is a part of the process.  I still listen to "Jump, Little Children" cd's that I purchased in the 90's and 00's.  They were not exactly super famous, but anyone who was a fan of that band still remembers their music and live performance and are happy to have that album to remember them by.  In fact, there were a lot of bands I was into during the ol' college years where I saved their albums and STILL listen to their music even now.  Let's let the artists create and worry about financing their own hopes and dreams.  Most of us are pretty smart and can figure out how to finance things and make it work.  Yeah, it's cool to release singles (just look at Good Records Recordings) and sure it's cool to do EP's, but there is also a magical bonding and creative musical experience that can only come from a band working in the trenches together in order to produce a full album.  

Tiney
Tiney

I think the better advice would be to record when you feel inspired and make that shit available for free. I listen to a lot more free music than anything else these days

David Barcus
David Barcus

That's some really bad advice. If you don't put out an album then nobody knows if they're going to care about your band.

Lance_
Lance_

We're in the blog age where bands get a lot of hype off of one single, sound advice sir.

Volta
Volta

You know you made it big when you put your album out there for free (In Rainbows).

TLS1
TLS1

Drummers are hot.

nffcnnr
nffcnnr

RT @DC9AtNight Advice to Every New Band: Stop Putting Out Albums http://t.co/IR7pD8FF ·Singles, EPs, BandCamp, SoundCloud, yes!

ignacio
ignacio

Ah. I see now. Radiant. Okay, yes, you are a failed musician. At least from a label's standpoint. And perhaps to those (and it seems that you're one of them) who equate success with sales and "being big."  Yeah, your band really did struggle for years. lived in a van, ate and slept like shit, played the smallest and crappiest of venues, slept on "fans" floors, and whatnot.  No. Quite the the opposite. So it makes sense that you'd give out advice like this. 

noahwbailey
noahwbailey

Sorry, but I can't take bands seriously unless they make full lengths. And ANYONE can afford to make one. Play some shows. Try out songs on an audience. Get paid little by little and put that shit in a jar. Then pay an engineer and roll tape. You don't need $500,000 to do it. You don't even have to press them up. We have the Internet now, so you can skip that step if you want. Sure, maybe only one local writer will give a shit about it. Maybe no one will. But at least you'll have a legacy.

ignacio
ignacio

So exactly who are you?  I mean, besides the Kimmel appearance.  What band were you in?  Any hit song?  Any, anything?  

ryhenry
ryhenry

Love this column, Daniel.

monstruss
monstruss

the concept of "selling out"  is so dumb to me...isn't that the whole point, to play music and make a living doing it?

mwa6582751
mwa6582751

 @johnny_apparatus AMEN!  I've seen Dallas change from a place where musicians could make a good living as opposed to a place where club owners screw musicians and pay them $30 a night and rotate every night.  It's become a serious serious problem.  Musicians have cut each others throats, instead of helping musicians.

danielhopkins
danielhopkins

 @Craigley So basically, what you're saying is: Let's stop the internet? The smarter thing to do is find a way to operate within the margins of our new digital age.

ChrisYu
ChrisYu

 @cello007

 the Beatles were a singles band before they perfected the Album.

the point is you probably can't start in this business by focusing on albums.

write good songs and everything else will work out. maybe?

 

danielhopkins
danielhopkins

 @cello007 Who says you can't create a whole album? Why can't you just release the songs as you record them, if you do it that way? When you work up to ten songs, call it an album. Nothing changes about being in the music-making trenches with your bros, or the quality of the music you make, it's just the way you release the music that I'm referring to.

 

Whether or not you care about being "cool" or you think it's not pure to hustle not only to create music but also to market it, the way people consume music is different than it was 10 years ago.

 

People's attention spans are so short these days, that if you drop off their horizon for a few months, you'll be forgotten. How do you hold their attention? Put out music faster.

 

It's not a new concept. It's actually quite old. Look at the careers of Elvis and the Beatles and The Kinks. Dudes cranked out singles like no tomorrow. One of my favorite Beatles albums Magical Mystery Tour is a collection of singles. So I guess I'm saying: be more like the Beatles. Can't hurt.

danielhopkins
danielhopkins

 @ignacio I did equate success with "being big" at one time. Certainly when that performance was filmed. Looking back I only wish I would've been able to make a living at it. We did all those things you described. It was miserable and comes with great memories.

 

I should have prefaced my entire piece with: "If you want other people to listen to your music and give a crap about your band, this advice might work for you." There's something true and pure about making music only for the sake of doing it, and if nothing else happens with it, being OK with that. This is merely advice on how to successfully promote said music. You know, because I was so successful at it. 

danielhopkins
danielhopkins

 @noahwbailey You could do it the Good Records Recordings way and once you've put out enough singles, release an album with them all. These days people's attention span is too short to wait 2 years for a new album.

 

I'm still an album guy. It carries more weight than an EP. But, I'm OK with the idea that the times are changing and marketing your music differently might be a necessity. Unless all you care about is a legacy, which is perfectly respectable.

 

In the end, the thing that matters is that you made something good that you can be proud of. That shouldn't be impacted by the way you market it.

steve.sandwich
steve.sandwich

 @ignacio Yeah, any HITS?   Evah hit the CHAHTS??   Evah get played by Adam Bomb?  Any hits??   What are your hit songs?

 

Any hits?

cello007
cello007

 @danielhopkins first off, I want to say Bravo on writing an article that inspired me to respond.  I will continue in a friendly debate manner.  

 

I took your title very seriously.  "Stop putting out albums".   I continued to read on and see statements such as "people have shorter attention spans these days and if you drop off their horizon for a few months, you'll be forgotten."  How do you hold their attention, you ask?  How about take some time to put thought, effort and a great deal of creativity (not to mention originality) to what it is your releasing.  Maybe your audience won't forget you, will be excited and look forward to your next production?  Maybe they don't have such short attention spans, maybe they are just bored, in need of inspiration and are tired of manufactured icons. 

 

It seems like all your points seem to lead to one thing....marketing and being afraid of falling of the listener's radar.  These things takes us back to when major labels were ruling the roost.   I'm tired of living in a land where Britney Spears, Justin Bieber and Kenny G icons are running wild.  Major Labels finally got put in their place thanks to the birth of Indie Labels and the internet.  God bless the indie labels and artists for focusing on the art FIRST, then with the magic of the internet, facebook, twitter, vokle kickstarter and the like, marketing and connection to the listener is no longer difficult.  

 

You are right, Elvis, The Beatles and The Kinks did crank out singles like no tomorrow...but they STILL put out albums.  And yes, musicians can take a lot from The Beatles...by contributing albums that people LOVE dearly and will remember forever.  

 

We shouldn't release half baked music because we are afraid that the listeners will forget.  We also certainly shouldn't forget that there were many musicians, composers and compositions that were not celebrated for their music in their time, but are now remembered, loved and treasured today.  

 

In short, I'm not saying that releasing singles or EP's  here and there is a bad idea, but the reason behind releasing musical art should not be because of a fear of being forgotten.  It should about sharing something beautiful and meaningful with the listener.  

 

All the best.

 

 

 

mwa6582751
mwa6582751

 @steve.sandwich  @ignacio Yes, I hit the charts in other countries, not by staying in Dallas!  I remember that an old musicians who praises himself, told me "I don't see anybody knocking down my door to hire you!" Well, they weren't here in Dallas lately, but that's because I'm not singing the music that people want to hear or I'm not singing the music that people understand.  However, the old musician can name names and you only have his word that's he's been associated with them, whereas I have written reviews, magazine articles, recordings, and etc.  So, don't ask questions like, "what are your hit songs, etc."  Most of the hit songs of many great artists did not become hits until they were dead and re-discovered!

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