I'm in a Local Band: How Do We Go National?

Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist, and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.

Hi Fan, My band, Knights, is about to send our 12-song self-produced and self-financed album to get mixed and mastered. The album art is done, and I have a timeline/agenda set for self-releasing it. Recently though, I've been thinking, would it be a better idea to attempt to get it released on a label? Is it a common practice for people to complete whole albums and not release if they can get a small label to back it? I have no problem releasing it myself, but it would be nice to get on a small label and hopefully be helped by some of their marketing and booking resources. Regards, Nick

Hi Nick, If those are the only things you want from a label, I think you should just continue on with your plan and find someone who can help with those resources. Having control and learning how to make things happen for yourself, networking and having firsthand contact with people and the process of putting a record out there is a lot more valuable, initially, than having access to someone else's machinery, so to speak. That said, if you have some labels in mind, some local folks who maybe are already aware of your band, I don't think there is any harm in putting on the brakes for a set time -- say a month -- to aggressively shop the thing.

Keep in mind that if someone is interested, they may have a couple other projects in the hopper ahead of you or might not have the bucks to throw at it for another few months. It sounds like you are ready to have this thing out soon, but throwing someone else's plans into the mix could add months or a year to its scheduled release date.

Your band is obviously a hands-on DIY operation, but if you feel like marketing and booking are totally outside your wheelhouse, look into finding some help. That could mean hiring someone, or having a knowledgable friend help direct you. Doing your own release, putting your own money and sweat equity into your band's album and promotion makes you a much more attractive prospect to labels -- so my feeling is you should do you with this one and then use it to shop for a label. Best of luck, Fan

Hi Fan, My band is about to start doing some weekend runs regionally throughout the Midwest. The problem is, we don't have a suitable vehicle to carry us and our gear out of town. We're a four piece with a full drum kit, a sizable bass amp, a guitar amp, a synth, various equipment bags, and our guitars. We have a little money saved up from playing local shows, and all four members are willing to split gas costs.

We just need an economical way to tour. We all have small cars that we could barely fit ourselves without equipment in, and are unable to hook a hitch up to our V-4 engine vehicles. Would it be smart to invest in a mini-van? Would renting a small SUV be a viable option? We're bashing our brains trying to figure this out. Matt

  Matt, I think since you are just starting to play outside of St. Louis, you need to find the cheapest transport possible until you are playing shows where you are making enough money that buying or renting a van makes sense. Can you borrow another band's van? Barter one of your cars for the weekend, throw some cash and an oil change their way. Or ask around and find out who are the groups in town that rent their van out -- it has to be cheaper than what it would cost to get a cargo van from Budget.

Would it be smart to invest in a minivan? As you are still, primarily, a local band and able to get to your shows individually just fine, until you are at the point where weekend tours and regional swings are frequent and necessitating that you get your own dedicated band vehicle, I think that investment might be premature. The consideration of a van can kind of be a chicken/egg situation -- if you had a van, perhaps you could tour. If you had a tour, you could get a van.

In the meantime, just see how this one weekend goes. And the next few. Have some reasonable and emotionally sober conversations about your band's future with your bandmates about how much time and money everyone is interested and capable in investing in this down the road. Let your van plans come out of that. But, whatever you do, don't let your hasty ambitions do your shopping for you. Have a safe tour, Fan

Dear Fan Landers, I'm curious to ask you your opinion on my band's next move. We're an independent Riot Grrrl quartet (girl singer/guitar, girl bass player, lead guitar and drums) and we've been playing locally in Southern California since 2009; we gig pretty extensively and have had some press in the OC Weekly. We are currently working on our sophomore album and my question is what would be a good approach to getting this new record out there. Would trying to get with an Indie label be something we should pursue -- or just go it alone? We have done fine on our own but there is always the thought of getting our music out to more people. Johnny

Hey Johnny, Being a local band with a modest following, releasing your own record on your band's vanity label and selling it at shows and consigning it at record stores is exactly what you should be doing. Is there a local or regional label that you could solicit to do a split release for album two? Like the letter writer up top, you are in the right place and making the right moves given the level your band is at. A label of any size is not going to automatically make you band blow up; any band that has been dropped by Matador or Capitol can attest to that.

The good thing is that you are in a California band and you can do weekend tours and cover the whole state. There are like, what, maybe a dozen places your band can regularly play just between Los Angeles and San Diego.

While it is only natural to want to bust into the wider world and try to make a name nationally, why don't you just start by touring the living fuck out of California -- from Tijuana up to Goleta, house shows, clubs, block parties. Get all No Age about it and find some underused Portuguese Seaman's hall and book some rad lineups for you to headline in their basement. Get your hustle on as soon as this album is in the can and start paving the way for your record. Begin there and write back when you are ready to start promoting the album to local press and radio and we can tackle that. Best of luck with the recording, F.L.

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