How to “Make It”

[Originally blogged 2/13/07 ]

Okay, so it’s come to my attention that some people think I’ve “made it”.  What “it” actually is could be debated, but I get more than a fair share of emails asking how the hell I got into Infest or Black Sun or Billy’s Drive-a-rama Park-n-Bowl for shows, how I got signed, why anyone actually reads the shit I post, etc.

I’ll preface this by saying that I in no way think I’ve really “made” all that much, as it’s always an uphill battle to be heard, pimped, and supported in not only a fucked up industry (music) but in a fucked up NICHE industry (industrial).  I’ve sold out of a very limited run of CDs (for which I’m grateful, as it paid my label back and people on the whole seemed to enjoy it and I’m putting another one out) and get to play to, on the whole, enthusiastic crowds, so please don’t take what I say as ego-driven.  I’m just responding to what people have asked.

So, in short, ways to help you “make it”.

1)  Pay Your Dues.
I’m saying this first because, in many ways, it’s the most important.  Very few people or successful/”successful” projects get anywhere fast.  Look to the most successful and you’ll see a lot of really hard work, from touring to marketing of the music to interviews to whatever.  Your music may kick ass but it’s going to take some time for people to recognize that.  Stefan Herwig (of Dependent Records) mentioned in his demo FAQ that Seabound submitted demos to them something like 4 times before they were signed.

Be patient and appreciative of every new fan and every play a song gets.  It ideally will build.

2) Networking.
A big part of where I’ve gotten I attribute to the fact that years before I started doing Caustic I was (and still am) a DJ and promoter.  Before doing my own music was even a real thought in my head I was working with labels and artists setting up release parties and shows and becoming pals with bands.  Luckily, I remained friends with most all of them and that allowed me the “in” to pass along CDs of my early (and way shitty) music for feedback and to help get the word out.  Eventually, this also helped me beg for favors and remixes off them.   My relationships with the labels themselves helped me get tips on everything from how to package my demos to what types of tracks people were looking for, and even though those labels didn’t pick me up the label that eventually did actually mentioned that they were impressed with what was put together.

Note that there’s a big difference between networking and kissing someone’s ass for a favor.  Sucking up is sometimes necessary, but being cool and developing actual friendships helps more.  If you want to be treated like an equal act like it.  Passing a CD along with a “Hey, if you have a second could you check this out?” rather than a “Pleeeeeeaaase listen to thisIhopeyalikeitI’mamassivefan!!!!” shows that you’ve got some confidence.  Personally, I try to help pals out more than someone sucking up to me (which I also find funny– you’re sucking up to ME?!?) and always pimp those who I think can impress people.

Second note– get rid of any ego or attitude you might have right off the fucking bat.  The last thing any band/project, especially an established one, needs is a new kid on the block acting like a jagoff.  Do your thing and be cool and let the doors open.  Believe me, it helps.

3) You’re Most Likely Not As Good Yet As You Think You Are.
This may prompt some defensiveness in people, but if you’ve got a new project, even if you’ve got some music theory training and played the trumpet since age 7, your shit may still suck.  Sure, it’s the best you can do now, but developing not only a good sense of style but also an identity or “voice” for your project takes time.  I wanted Caustic to originally be some hardcore evil shit, but then I realized after some time that, well, nobody takes me seriously when I try and get all heavy.  Then I came up with MMM Papscraper I Love You and realized where my talents at the time were– stupid titles, weird sampling, and stompstompstomp.  In other words, I found I was pretty decent at making FUN powernoise.

It’s kinda strange to say, but when I finished that track what is now known as Caustic became solidified.

So take criticism and, again, keep your ego in check.  You will undoubtably eventually be your own worst critic, and take every victory and trick you learn as an accomplishment, but also know that in the realm of ALL bands it still may not be too great.  Keep working on it, as it’ll get better.

4) The Power of Self-Promotion
To me this is different than networking, as I consider networking more on the business end of things.  I’ll say this once as I truly believe it:  If you can’t even mildly pimp yourself you really aren’t going to get anywhere.  There are exceptions to this rule of course, but YOU need to be the most proactive voice for getting your music out there.  It’s not a matter of your “style” or “shyness” or whatever.  Get over it.  Even if you’re already signed on a small label– YOU are in charge.

So add people on MySpace.  Post shit all over Vampirefreaks.  Annoy people on rec.music.industrial.  Plug it up on Side-Line.  It all helps.   I probably pimp harder than 95% of the bands in this lil’ scene, as it’s fun to me and I enjoy it, so if anyone asks how I “made it” I generally list that and the above as the reasons.  Personally musically I feel I have a long way to go, but I’m enjoying what I’m doing and getting the word out, to me, accounts for the reason I get to do shows all over the place.

If people don’t know you exist how the hell are they gonna know about your music?  We aren’t all Fallout Boy, with massive word of mouth and a marketing budget of even $100.  Legwork is necessary to get signed (and even more is necessary to push an actual CD).  Don’t be lazy.  The work you put in, if you focus it correctly and the quality in your music is there (See #3 for a reminder on that) then there will be a payoff.  A lot of labels big and small look for hardworking bands that are relentless in their passion for pushing their music and doing tons of shows (TERRORFAKT, anyone?).

5) Get Lucky As Fuck
Being somewhere at the right place and time could mean a world of difference.  Nothing you can do about this one, but by pushing your music and getting the word out it definitely ups the chances of that luck happening.  Keep your fingers crossed continuously and hope that someone somewhere will take enough interest in your sound to tell someone else or, if really lucky, offer to pay to put your music out.  Remember though, you can pay and do it yourself too.
So there you go– put the time and effort in on both sides of the musical vs promotion fence and you’ll have “made it,” or at least fool some people into thinking you’re cool.;)

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