We make music for the same reason we do anything - because there is some reward attached to it. It can be a personal reward related to self-fulfillment (it makes us feel good). It can include monetary gain (extrinsic reward). It can even have to do with the dynamics that define our friendships.
Starting with you....If you're into performing music, hopefully it is because you love it. If you don't, go get a job at 7-11. The hours are better, the pay is better, the work is easier, and you don't have to lug gear. Really.... I'm serious. Now there may be other reasons. C'mon... half of us probably started playing an instrument to help us meet girls, or for the other associated "cool factors." For some of us, that's still why we play in bands.
Ask yourself, or your band-mates, why they are playing music. The success of your band may depend on whether your band members are in it for the right reasons. How many times have you heard about a band breaking up because the drummer started going out with someone and didn't have time anymore? Or because they joined another band because there seemed to be more benefits - more money, more status, bigger gigs, etc? If your band-mates genuinely enjoy the material - no matter what it is - the likelihood of being lured away is less.
If the dynamics of your personal relationships support the success of your band, then there is another piece of the puzzle in place. There is nothing quite like doing something you enjoy, AND having the benefit of liking the people you're doing it with. It is hard to walk away from a band where you really like the material AND when the people in the band are your friends. You're more likely to stick together in the more difficult times this way. The band who breaks up isn't going to succeed, now, is it?
Okay, so you've got your band together and your material rehearsed. You're all really digging the material, and have become comrades united. So far, so good... Now what?
If you're like most people, you're probably looking at two avenues. You either want to record it, and/or go out and play for people.
What do you want to get from it? Do you just want to have something to keep for posterity, or just to play for kicks? Is it musical/artistic respect from your peers you're looking for? Is it validation of your creativity by way of others demonstrating their appreciation by buying your recording or coming to your shows? Is it to make money? If you're like most of us, it is probably a combination of these things.
At this point, we venture into territory that extends beyond our own self-reliance. Now there is money and/or personal investment from others outside of the band involved. We need others to help us with our recordings, to buy our recordings, to promote and distribute our recordings, to book our gigs, to attend our shows, etc.
Why do they do it? When you ask and answer this question, everything about the business side of music begins to make sense.
I suggested above that we do things because there is a reward attached to it. This is elementary psychology in action. The reward doesn't necessarily have to be a tangible thing like money. I'll suggest that the odds of someone doing something for you simply because it makes them feel good is directly in proportion to how much they love/like you. Will your mom spend a few afternoons burning CD's, pasting labels, cutting CD inserts, etc? Probably, and all she'll ask for in return is that you stick around long enough to say thanks, and to have lunch with her when you come to pick them up. Will the booking agent at a large, popular club book your band because it makes him/her feel good? Uh... right.....
So, who invests? What do they invest? Why do they invest?
People can invest time, money, or both.
The person who books your band into their club has placed some financial risk in choosing your band over the ten zillion other bands out there. Why? Why does management at a club do anything? To sell beer and make money!! They don't care if you're good, so long as people buy beer - the more the better. By booking your band, the club has placed enough confidence in you that you'll at least get friends and family out, and that you won't drive the regulars away, forcing them to buy their beer somewhere else that night. What makes them choose to book your band as the headliner to play on a Saturday night?
Someone who shows up at your gig has invested an evening that they could have spent going to see the new Ben Affleck flick, watching CSI, or going to see the band in the pub across the street and has chosen to see your band instead. Maybe they even paid a cover charge to do it! Why?? Well, okay... maybe they were there anyways and could care less about your band. Did your friends come out? They probably came out because it made them feel good to support their friends' band. That's fine. What about the others?
Someone who buys your CD has invested maybe $10-$15 that they could have spent on the new Alicia Keys album. They chose to buy yours. Why? They bought it because there was some reward attached to it! Perhaps it made them feel good about supporting their friends' band. Perhaps the music on the disk makes them feel good. If that was the case, how did they know what was on the disk?
If you're going to send your material off to a record label, no matter how small, you have to ask yourself "What are THEY hoping to get out of this? What will they invest in this in order to get it? Have I given them reason enough to believe that the material on this disk will help them to make their investment worthwhile?" How much do you think they are willing to do for free? Really, why would they have enough faith in your project to sign you?
The last question in each paragraph leads us deeper into the business aspect of your art. These questions take us, in most cases, beyond the point where people are willing to do things for us because it makes them feel good. It's about selling your band to promoters, record labels, and the general public. It's not called the music industry for nothing!
Consumers and the Marketplace
In order to expand your fan base, you HAVE to get people outside of your circle of friends to become interested. You also have to assume that the people who are at the bar anyways probably aren't paying THAT much attention to you. You have to find out:
a) Who are your fans or potential fans?
b) Where are they?
c) How can I get my music to them? (not the same as "How do I get them to my music?!")
d) How can I get them to invest their time to come to my show, and/or their money to buy my CD?
Why do we buy anything? Psychology attempts to answer this question because so much is at stake. There are lots of elementary psychology studies that suggest a variety of motivators. It all comes down to reward, which by now, is probably no surprise. From this perspective, selling music is really no different than selling running shoes, breakfast cereal, or movie tickets.
We chose one product over another because (in no particular order....)
- Quality - Few will say that they buy the best of everything all the time, but nobody buys crap on purpose. If people wanted to buy a crappy record just because someone put it out, they'd go to iTunes and buy a post-Black-era Metallica record. If you have a crappy band with crappy songs, then maybe consider polishing that end of things up before you spend hard-earned money on recording and duplication. Everyone knows somebody with 490 CD's in mom's basement that they can't seem to give away. When we do buy crap, we feel ripped off, and resent whoever was responsible for selling it to us. In music, quality is mostly subjective. Make sure to have a good sounding recording and have the material well-performed (including vocals in tune.... please!!). There is less room for subjectivity on those things.
- Price - CDs cost about $15. Be careful about charging TOO much less. If you buy a CD for $5, it will be perceived as less valuable than the same CD purchased for $12. When something is excessively cheap, we make assumptions about the quality or value attached to it. You take care of a shirt you paid $40 for more diligently than you would the shirt you paid $8 for.
- Image - In music, this is the "cool" factor. The buyer identifies with - visually, lyrically, something - the artist and/or the songs on the CD. If the buyer is (or wants to be seen as) rebellious, then they will identify with and buy a different CD than the person who is (or wants to be seen as) being mellow and philosophical. Sometimes we buy things "because everyone else is doing it." How else do you explain the popularity of SUVs? Know your market. Who is/will be buying your stuff? Be sure to appeal to them.
- Availability - Get it in stores! Look for consignment shops, if need be. Sell it at gigs. Put it up on the net. iTunes, CD Baby, etc. are all easy ways of selling your stuff on line. Going beyond that, remember that people "impulse buy." They just happened to be in the grocery store, saw the new ice cream flavour in the display case, and bought it. They just happened to be in the music store, saw the album, and grabbed it. Same idea. How will you make your CD be the one they "just happen to buy" instead of 50 Cent's? Perhaps this puts it in perspective... The consumer is going to invest $15 on a CD instead of downloading a couple of tracks from it. You have to make yours stand out, and be in that person's mind, so they choose yours over the new release by Maroon 5. Your competition is NOT the other popular bands in town. Your competition is Green Day, One Direction and Robbie Williams.
- Emotional response - Here is where music is different from most other commodities. Maybe you really dig a song because of what it means to you, based on a situation, a person, etc. So, how do you make people connect things like that to YOUR song? (see next)
- Familiarity - C'mon.... how many burgers does McDonald's sell in a day? It's not because they're good. It's because they're cheap, available, and familiar. You can't spit without hitting a McDonald's... or a Tim Horton's in Hamilton. It costs a lot of money to have a product in people's faces 24/7. However, you do what you can. Playing out is great, but getting your band AND your music out to people is critical. You have to go to them. They won't come to you without a reason. Why would they, right? Not when they're already bombarded daily by radio, MuchMusic, and their friend's iPod.
- Name brand - People buy EXCO or Docs because it's hip to wear certain brands. Okay... AC/DC can release pretty much anything and it will sell. Most of us aren't there, though.
- Endorsement - David Beckham and Lebron James are paid big bucks to sell stuff, and for good reason. People relate to (or want to relate to) these people, and their words are seen as credible because of their status. While we don't have access to this sort of thing, never underestimate the value of endorsements from others - other bands, musicians, journalists, DJs, etc. Find quotes from people that you can use, and get others to talk about you. It might be helpful to be proactive and endorse other bands yourself first, and they will be more likely to return the favour.
- Value-added - Let's say you have two products to choose from. One is just the product, and the other has something extra - 15% more, a coupon, a free widget, a contest, etc. That just might be what gives your product the edge over another. Sure, nobody will buy your CD merely because it has a free sticker and a coupon for 20% off their purchase of a band shirt, but it might be that extra little nudge they need to buy it if they were hedging before.
So, you put up 1000 posters to advertise your gig. Look at the above list. Do people have enough reason to go to your gig? Do they have enough reason to buy your CD? What else do you need to do?
When you play to a room full of (or void of) people, look around at the people that are not friends and family of the band. Who is (isn't) there? Why did (didn't) they come? What will make them come back (or make sure they don't)? You might need to go talk to them yourself in order to answer those questions!
If you want to read a truly outstanding book that explains some of the basic compliance mechanisms that control our decision-making, read "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" by Dr. Robert Cialdini. It does not read like a boring psychology text book. It's narrative is both entertaining and fascinating, and will change the way you look at the world.