Unless you're happy with playing in your friend's basement for the few friends that come over on Saturday afternoon, you're going to need the assistance of others to help you get your music out there. Sure, you can manage yourself for a good while before you need THAT kind of assistance, but there are still others along the way.
The people who are associated with your gig - the bar owner, the promoter, etc. - are necessary. Without them, your best venue is your friend's basement where you can play for free, or maybe renting a hall at your expense. They are providing you with a room to play in, and a potential audience. In most cases, you don't have to pay for this. If you're lucky, the bar will even have a house PA, which will save you money on renting one yourself. So, why do they do that? What reward is attached to it? Well, at this point, we're mostly past the circle of people who do things because it makes them feel good. Money talks. When you ask yourself, "Why doesn't this club book us in to headline on Saturday?" the answer should take the form of another question, "Why would they?" I've seen people post things on message boards about "We're a band looking for gigs in Hamilton. Email us at email@example.com." Yeah, right. No demo, no effort to come in, no follow-up = no motivation = no people. Easy. If you were a bar owner, what would YOU look for in a band to book at your club? What would convince YOU that a given band will bring people and keep them there? Sure, maybe they're good... but how do you know that anyone else knows that?
Why do bars typically pay cover bands more than original bands? Because people will stay longer when the material is stuff they know. They'll stay even longer still if the girls are up dancing on the dance floor. More people staying longer equals way more beer sales. Easy.
As an original band, is this where the bulk of your money is going to come from? Will you establish your own cover charge at the door as part of the agreement, if you're allowed? Will you make most of your money on merchandising/CDs anyways? If this is the case, you might want to think a little outside of the box. Rather than trying to get people out to your music, bring your music to the people! Hook yourself up with some house parties. You'll have a better audience - in number and spirit - than most small to mid-sized bars you're likely to play. They're there to party, yes... but they're already there!! If you're good, it's an easy crowd to win over. Sell merch. Get your name out so that everyone knows it. Add these people to your mailing list. These people may find themselves at some of your next bar gigs! The host of the party may use the "live band" thing to encourage even more people to come out to the party. Hooray for symbiotic relationships!!
This can get interesting. Most home project studios and pro studios do not offer free time. Sure, the people probably love recording music as much as the average person enjoys playing it. However, the gear needs to be paid for somehow. Recording doesn't have to cost a lot, but it will cost you. Surprisingly good results can come from pretty affordable studios. Ah, but that's just recording time...
In a home/project studio, it is usually safe to assume that the hourly/daily rate (or per song...) will include a producer of sorts - usually a music recording enthusiast who happens to own most, if not all of the gear. (kinda like back in high school when the guy with the van was chosen to be the drummer over the person who had a Chevy Sprint). Pro studios will have a premium fee for their more experienced engineers. Bigger name producers.... well.... that's totally beyond the scope of this article. So the obvious here, is that the studio will record virtually anybody who is willing to pay them.
But wait!! There may be other rewards for them!! If someone has a studio that is just getting up and running, or is trying to establish a more prestigious client base, then the opportunity to record your band could be it's own reward. Listen to what the studio has to offer, and if they can meet your needs, it doesn't hurt to try to sell them on this aspect. The logical question from the studio operator is, "Who are you, and what will recording your band do for me?" If your band seriously kicks ass, and has an established following, respect from other area musicians, etc., it could be a sell. It depends on what the studio operator's reasons for running a studio are. If you can meet a person who is an aspiring producer, and if they can be made to believe in your music, they can maybe help you get into a studio - perhaps his/her own - for a good rate for similar reasons.
Be careful of friends who will want help you out with this stuff. Like hockey, everyone seems to be an expert. Sure, they might be able to help you for free, with their cracked software and their "top of the line" Audigy soundcard, but will the end result be what you want it to be? If you're selling your CDs, will your release sound weak and thin compared to other bands? There is no replacement for a selection of microphones, versatile recording options, good monitors, and the experience and know-how to run it all to worthwhile effect.
It might also be worth checking out, or getting to know people in recording programs. These people need musicians to record in order to finish their schooling and to attain the knowledge and skills required for the real world. That is their reward. Consider this also for video/media arts programs, where people can help with video, CD covers, a band logo, etc.
So, you've gotten your material recorded and are out playing live. If you stink, you're probably managing this all well enough, as people aren't buying your CDs and clubs aren't re-booking you because you drove all their patrons away on the night you played. Or, you've done nothing to promote yourself, which will be the topic of a future article. Let's assume, though, that you're selling a few CDs, starting to get some positive word-of-mouth, and bookings are becoming easier to come by. Other bands you have shared bills with are seeking you out to play with them again, either because they like you and/or because you brought a bunch of people out before. Things are busy enough that these things are starting to interfere with the musical aspects of being in a band - practicing, writing, etc. You need help....
Until you get to the stage above, you should manage yourself. You could get a friend to manage you who might be willing to give up his/her time for free to help you. If that's the case, then great - so long as this person is able to represent you the way you need to be represented. A bad manager can hurt you more than help you. Once the job becomes time-consuming, though, you have to ask, "How much time and effort is this person going to give up for free?" Chances are, unless they're a good friend, the answer is "not much." If the answer is "not much," then what's the point anyways? Most management agreements are based on a percentage of whatever the band makes from whatever work the manager gets them. (say, 15% of your gig money for instance....) Will a prospective manager bust their butt to get you gigs when they know that you won't be able to play them anyways? Or when they know that every club that books you never invites you back? If there is no money for them, they won't work for you. Chances are, managing bands is this person's business - not their hobby.
A good manager will have contacts and relationships established that you can take advantage of. You are opening the door to a vast amount of networking, just by finding a good manager. Clubs, record labels, promoters, events, and even personnel (producers, other musicians, legal representation, stage help, etc.) that were never available to you before are now available to you because of your manager who has developed these relationships through their career. Chances are, the manager also represents other bands, which might enable you more opportunities to share bills with other bigger names. Remember, though.... you have to convince them that the reward will be worth their efforts in helping you. Any professional, or even semi-professional manager won't do this for free, or simply because they love to do it. It's probably their source of income that they rely on to eat, pay rent, etc. Also, your reputation reflects their reputation, and vice-versa. If you look bad, you make your manager look bad. Why? Because s/he just sold you to someone and given them a certain expectation. When you fall short, your manager looks like a liar. Remember what I said about a bad manager?
Look at any artist on any record label. The biggest cost in that artist's success is promotion and distribution. If you can get signed to Sony and get exposure opening for Aerosmith as a result, then good for you. Chances are, though, that we're looking at something more modest. Getting your name out there to radio, video, and into the public's consciousness costs a fortune!! So, why is any given label going to invest ten, twenty, or eight hundred thousand dollars in you? Because they expect that this will be an investment from which they'll earn their money back and turn a profit on. If they don't at least break even, you can confidently place your bets that you'll be treated like any other money-losing proposition - dumped in a hurry!! The days of spending money on an artist so that they can develop over their first couple of albums are gone. You're in; you're up; and you either sink or swim.
The size and philosophy of a record label will determine how much money and time they are willing and able to risk. The language in the contract will determine how much of the risk is shared between the artist and the label. If you're offered a record deal, talk to other people on that label, and get an entertainment lawyer (yes... an entertainment lawyer!) to go over it with you. You don't want to be stuck on the bad end of a "recoupable" clause after your deal goes south.
At this level, you are still surrounded by people who are passionate about music, and most of them do what they do because they love it. However, given the amount of time and money that they are asked to invest, you can bet that nobody is doing it unless they have a reasonable expectation of making money from it. How will you convince them that their investment will be worth the effort and expense?