Hard Working Class Heroes 2014: How to get ahead in rock’n’roll

Calling all Hard Working Class Heroes - here’s the expert lowdown on how to approach music as a career

 

THE RETAILER
Chris Keena, HMV

We ask bands to come to us with a plan: they should have a release date, and we will make a strategy around that release date. The product needs to be ready for retail, so it needs to have a barcode, a catalogue number and all the basic stuff. We advise them to organise gigs around the release. We can offer them in-stores, either in their neck of the woods or in one of our big stores in Dublin, Belfast, Galway, or Limerick.

If a band wants to put five copies of an album into 50 shops, we can do that for them – we’ll get it shipped to our warehouse in Tallaght and then get it shipped out to stores. You have to keep it sensible, though. I don’t want to tell bands to produce 700 albums when they’re only going to sell 200.

It’s 100 per cent worthwhile for bands to get a physical copy of their release printed up. This week alone, the stats are saying that physical is up 10.5 per cent, downloads are down 6 per centand vinyl is up 75 per cent compared to last year, because there are places like us who are ready to give them a leg-up. People still want to buy physical; that’s the bottom line.

THE MANAGER
Ken Allen, manager of James Vincent McMorrow, Jape, Slow Skies

As a band starts to get a little bit of heat or success, you have a lot of people approaching bands, from press people to agents, all that stuff. A manager’s role would be to protect the band and pick the right team to put around them.

Who approaches who? With James, I’d heard his demo and thought it was brilliant, so I kind of chased him a bit. The other acts [that I work with] approached me.

It’s always good to have a trial period where you’d work together before you sign any contract: two to three months, maybe. If you don’t know the person in advance, you need to get a feel for that person and how they work. A lot of the time, a band’s motivation or end goal might be different to a manager’s. A manager might say “I want to get this band on a major label, I want radio hits”, where the band might have a different idea and want to be more indie. In terms of management commissions, the industry standard is usually 20 per cent.

THE BAND
Niamh Farrell, HamsandwicH 

We used to rehearse an awful lot when we started out; we had to. Once you start gigging and have some gigs under your belt, you can kind of relax a bit more.

I’d advise looking around for rehearsal studios that you can share with other bands – that’s what we did when we started out, and it worked out really cheap. We had a schedule on the wall and we’d go in maybe twice a week. It’s also a place where you can store your gear safely. It’s also a good way of meeting other bands and musicians, who are in the same position as you a lot of the time. It’s about creating a network of musicians.”

THE PRODUCER
Darragh Nolan (aka Asta Kapala)

When should a band record a demo? It’s probably never too early. The process itself irons out a lot of kinks, making it transparent what may be lacking in arrangement, structure or melody. If it already sounds amazing as a raw demo, chances are it’s time to record. Unless the songs are already fully formed – which is rare – the demo process shouldn’t be skipped.

I’ve had the ‘EP or album?’ conversation with many artists, and I’ve found it boils down to this: are there enough finished songs to make a great album? If the answer is no, you should probably go for an EP first.

The best bands aren’t afraid to scrap recordings or songs for the sake of getting it right. Hone your craft and everything else will find you.

THE PUBLICIST
Emma Harney, Orchestrate PR

A music publicist helps bands get heard by media – namely TV music producers, heads of music in radio stations, DJs and journalists . PRs generally have the direct ears of these people; they’ve built a relationship with them over the years, and they know how to approach them so that they get the best results.

Bands and artists generally approach us – however, there has been a couple of occasions where artists have blown me away and I’ve given them our company details.

The cost depends on the project: it can start at €750, which would be for a tailored indie campaign. Most PR firms charge €1,000-€2,000 for a single or album campaign. A word of advice: be wary of PR firms that charge very little. As the saying goes, when you pay peanuts . . .

Biographies or press releases for a young band starting out should be no longer than a page: no one likes reading waffle. A band should always make sure that their name is actually on the CD itself; journalists and DJs have hundreds of CDs on their desks.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Ruth Medjber, ruthlessimagery.com

If a journalist or blogger is writing an article on the top 10 acts of 2014 to look out for, the editor may only have space for one photo. You can be sure that they’re going to choose the band with the most professional-looking image; they don’t want to fill their website or magazine with badly exposed or low-res photos.

I spend a lot of time listening to demos and promo albums. If I come across something that I adore, then I’ll contact the band and suggest a shoot. Otherwise it would be the bands that would contact me. I love it when a band comes to me with a load of ideas. Photoshoots are supposed to be a collaborative effort.

If you hire a professional, you’d be looking at anywhere between €200 to €2,000 for a band shoot. If it’s an album cover, expect to pay more.

Another thing to mention is live-music photography. If you play a big show like HWCH, you can guarantee that there will be a few photographers at your show who may have seen 40 to 60 bands in the one weekend. Make yourself look different: bring your own lights, candles . . . whatever matches your sound. Paint a banner with your logo, or neon tape your mic stand? And don’t hide at the back of the stage – let the photographers see you.”

THE JOURNALIST
Niall Byrne, nialler9.com

If you’re a new band looking to get heard, be a self-starter. Don’t hire a PR company. Make a list of people in the media who might be into the music based on what they cover. Get familiar with their output before contacting them.

Use your common sense. Don’t send your band’s EP of heavy rock to a dance music columnist. Don’t send printed photographs of your band to anyone, especially radio.

Everyone is busy. Music writers want clear and concise information. Send a personally written email to a single person (no CC’d multiple recipients, tweets or personal Facebook messages). Address them by their first name with a short fact-driven bio, release info, two links to music (one to the release’s lead track, another to the whole release, hosted privately on Soundcloud or Bandcamp or similar). Include tour dates, contact info and a link to a hi-res photo. You can also offer a download of the release through an online file host but don’t attach large files to emails.

As a rule, don’t send CDs to online media or anyone under 30. If requested, send a CD and a one-sheet featuring the above and include website links (get your own website as Facebook page reach is only going down).

No lollipops, sneaky fivers or novelty items – you’re a band presumably making worthwhile music, not a creepy uncle.

Make a plan for the release that covers the three months either side of the release date. Don’t rush it. Give media time to hear the music, schedule a review or interview, and if the process goes well for all involved, promote your worthwhile art to a new audience and enrich the lives of millions.

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