Tips for Indie Artists

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A few weeks ago marked the 10th anniversary of the Latin Alternative Music Conference (LAMC), the only major conference geared towards the marketing of Latin alternative music. As part of the goal of bringing Latin music, and especially Latin indie music, to a wider audience, this four-day event held in New York City features panel discussions with leading professionals in the entertainment and business world who focus on taking the industry to the next level.

In case you missed it, Grant Dull (Founder of Buenos Aires-based DJ collective Zizek, ZZK Records and, Erika Elliott (Director of Music Programming at City Parks Foundation), Larry Gold (Owner of SOBs, a music venue that’s been in the game in New York for 26 years), Frank Madrid (Founder of Frank Madrid Arts Consulting in Australia), Duffy McSwiggin (Booking Agent at Paradigm Talent Agency in Monterey, CA), Jose Luis Pardo (aka DJ Afro, guitarist for Los Amigos Invisibles) and Tom Windish (Founder of Windish Agency, an agency that has been booking tours for bands for the past 16 years) sat down in a panel discussion for the LAMC called “You Can Go Your Own Way: Indie Artist Touring Success Stories & Tribulations”.  Here are tips for indie artists from the experts themselves!

Above all as an indie artist, be flexible and fearless.
Do not expect a minimum profit per show, go in expecting the worst but hoping for the best.  Playing many shows for next to nothing is better than playing only a few shows for a lot of money—the more shows you play, the more buzz will come from it, and next time more people will come!  Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Larry Gold, founder of the legendary SOB’s, assures us that 99.9% of the time, the first, second and third tours will not make money.

Capture new markets!
Adaptability is key.  A new market provides some obstacles—the audience may not be familiar with you, they might be used to a different sound, etc.—but new markets give you the opportunity to return and expand your fan base.

Come up with trigger points that will hook an audience.
Frank Madrid, who books Latin artists in festivals in Australia, always thinks of the angle to promote an act to an Australian artist.  Ask yourself: What story are you telling? What is it about your group that will interest the audience? What are you offering?  A clear picture of what you’re about helps publicists and promoters sell your sound (and tickets to your show!).  On the same note, do not assume what the audience will know.  A “4-time Latin Grammy-winning artist” performing in Australia for the first time may not be a hook for that particular audience—many Australians do not know or care about the Latin Grammys.  Include descriptions about where you have played or where you are from.  Having a strong vision of who you are as an artist and where you are headed is important.

Get the word out!
Flyers, posters and demo CDs can go a long way.  When contacting someone in the industry or when sending out a press kit, send a physical product rather than an online download and put your contact information on the CD directly.

Keep costs down when touring!
Nail down the act and make the crew tight. Duffy McSwiggin, a booking agent who has over a decade of experience under his belt, advises to widdle down production as much as possible without compromising artistry. Hiring locally, whether it be sound producers, musicians, or whoever, will always be cheaper—you save on international flights, visa costs, etc.  Grant Dull, the man responsible for bringing the Zizek sound around the world from the Coachella music festival in California to Roskilde in Denmark, says to do whatever is necessary to tour—sleep on couches, take the subway, and eat at greasy spoons.

Work it!
As Jose Luis Pardo, the guitarist for Los Amigos Invisibles, put it: put your guitar down and work in the office! Be an empresario as well as a musico.  Network, promote, market, invest in your own group—do not expect others to do it all for you.  Take on the other more mundane aspects of breaking into the business.

Reach out!
Reach out to artists in the next level up.  Independent acts come through bigger acts and colleagues. If the headlining act suggests you as their opener, from a booking agent’s perspective, it’s a no-brainer!  Tom Windish, founder of an agency that books over 200 artists in shows in North and South America, Asia and Australia, says it is critical for artists and management to reach out to publicists, promoters and fans themselves–don’t leave it all up to the venue. Also, Frank Madrid advises to reach out to embassies and foreign affairs departments of the country you are visiting.  As part of their soft diplomacy tactics, they may encourage and help you.

Extend the life of the performance!
Have product to sell—samples, free downloads, merchandise—for people to take home.  Even if it is only a flier, come prepared with a physical product so the show doesn’t die when the music stops.  Erika Elliott, the woman responsible for booking all of the music programs at SummerStage and other festivals, cautions against opportunities lost by not coming prepared with products and giveaways. After performing, post clips on YouTube, MySpace, or anywhere else online—always create buzz and keep it going!