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No Sympathy for the Demo 

Presenting SF Weekly's definitive guide to making it in indie rock, without actually having to make it

Wednesday, Mar 16 2005

Page 3 of 3

On the Road Again and Again: Booking and Touring

By this point, after having spent months making, marketing, and trying to distribute your record, you, like every other indie artist, are broke, discouraged, and exhausted. That's OK, because now it's time to quit your day job and embark, for the better part of two years, on extensive tours in vans that will surely break down. You'll sleep on dirty floors and in stained motel rooms. You'll spend 12 hours driving to a venue where you'll play for the bartender and sound man and maybe some guy who will buy a $1 button from you because he feels you got the wrong first impression of his small Midwestern town. This will, of course, be after he spends an hour telling you that no one can relate to your lyrics and that you should maybe try to sound a little bit more like Godsmack. Or Linkin Bizkit.

But the willingness to suck it up and bring your music to the people is what separates those balding guys who tell their daughters' boyfriends they were in a band once from, well, Conor Oberst or Ben Gibbard. Touring will make all the difference when all those people are trying to decide whether or not to review, play, or sell your record. The goal should be to acquire a good booking agent, who will secure you an opening slot with a bigger band, but the reality of the situation is that even many great bands on decent record labels aren't guaranteed a good agent. And those that do get agents are often neglected because they aren't the priority (read: moneymakers) on that agent's roster. Still, keep in mind that every band loses money on its first few tours, and that playing well in front of the four people who do show up to see you will mean they'll each bring two friends the next time you come through town, an exponential effect that will eventually turn into a profitable career. If you stick with it.

If you're booking your own tour, ignore everything you've read and don't send to the local papers a large 8 1/2 by 11 folder containing multiple press photos and a list of every Battle of the Bands competition you've been a runner-up in. When you do make it to the club, be nice to the staff, don't drink the headliner's backstage beer, and don't overstay your welcome when someone offers you a place to sleep.

Money Money Money

As you've probably gathered by now, releasing your own record is hardly a simple or inexpensive process. There are, however, a million ways to get creative when you don't have a lot of money. Everything mentioned here reflects the process a typical independent label would go through, but there is hardly any shame in getting on the phone and doing your own publicity and marketing. Realize, too, that it takes time and often several records before a label or band starts making money, so it's probably not a great idea to amass enormous credit card debt before you see how many copies of a release you can actually sell.

Yes, a shrewd business sense is certainly helpful, but never forget that all the time and money in the world ultimately won't compensate for poorly written songs or an unrehearsed live show. Try to remember that, until you're U2, you have nothing to be cocky about. Humility, honesty, and kindness will get you further than hounding people about helping you out. That said, congratulations, young sloppy-haired indie kid, you now know exactly what you have to do to conjure up those droves of screaming fans.

In 2002, Abigail Clouseau started the label Euphobia to release records as Say Hi to Your Mom. And she doesn't even live in a low-rent town like Athens, Ga.

About The Author

Abigail Clouseau


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