Every band needs publicity. Labels and independent bands spend most of their time hiring publicists, writers, designers, and so forth. These people have, essentially one job and that job is to market the band to not only you: the dipshit out there in the world who may buy a record or go to a show someday, but also to the ‘tastemakers’ (which is a shitty, stupid, self-aggrandizing word that nerds with strong opinions who influence other nerds made up for themselves long ago) and the other people in the business. The reasons why are obvious, but maybe not as obvious as you might think. Of course these publicists, writers and designers want to rally behind a package that gets good reviews and is acclaimed, but that’s hardly the endgame with all this fluff. The ACTUAL endgame, stated or otherwise, is just to simply get the band’s name out there.
Fifty bad reviews are better than one good review, because no one gives a shit about reviews when push really comes to shove. Oh, there are a few people who may, for example, not go see a movie if Ebert says it’s bad, but almost no one is swayed towards trying something they’re naturally predisposed to disliking on first contact (some band with a shitty name or dumb bunch of faces or a movie about wacky black guys in drag and fat suits) just because someone they don’t know writes a few paragraphs about why it’s good.
People know this. That’s why, despite being critically acclaimed, nobody gives a shit about American Steel’s amazing, truly weird album ‘Jagged Thoughts.’ There just wasn’t enough noise surrounding it. Meanwhile, a band like Brokencyde, who NOBODY has EVER said a nice thing about, has been checked out by all of you, simply because EVERYONE talks about them, even though it’s 100% negative. The results of this is that Brokencyde videos get tons of plays, which translates to evidence for big guarantees, good spots at festivals, radio play and attention paid by everyone whether anyone likes it or not, and at some point, someone who actually likes that shit is gonna stumble across them because it’s reached a tipping point where Brokencyde has turned into the kind of thing that people just stumble across, due to massive word of mouth saturation.
So you see, there’s no inherent benefit in something actually being good. Good reviews are nice. They’re great. But they’re not gonna do anything for a band. If they did, the Smoking Popes would be huge thanks to Destination Failure. Instead, bands that get visibility become big, which is why publicists and agents and management can seem so important. They’re the gatekeepers who can call Chuck Klosterman and cash in a favor to get him to review this new record by this new band (let’s call them the Shitty Cheeses for the sake of ease). Then, they can leverage the fact that Klosterman reviewed the new record to get other people to review it. Then they can talk to people at magazines and bargain for the back cover adspace for the month when Brokencyde (a major influence of the Shitty Cheeses) is the cover band with a featured article. They can call their friends who service videos to gyms and Journey’s and shit and get the Shitty Cheeses video up in those spots, not so people will see them and LIKE them, but so they will see them at all. Just the act of them existing in as many places as possible will hopefully create conversations that will lead to the Brokencyde-esque tipping point where quality is completely irrelevant, which, unfortunately, happens after the very first step of being a band.
The thing is, this is all marketing and innovatively presenting new bands in 2011 is like trying to shoot a porn that’s new and interesting. It’s not gonna happen. There have been so many bands who have tried so many angles that there’s literally nothing new you can say about a band that hasn’t been said a zillion times before. The upshot of this is that there’s exactly 3 ways of marketing a new band. And here they are:
1) The Shitty Cheeses are playing something truly new and innovative! You’ve never heard anything like this genre-defying mindfuck!
2) The Shitty Cheeses are taking (genre of music) back to its roots, they’re not new jack trend hoppers. They’re GENUINE!
3) Do you like Brokencyde? Well the Shitty Cheeses are carrying the torch first lit by those trailblazing pioneers! They sound just like your favorite band WITHOUT BEING DERIVITIVE!!!!
That’s pretty much it. You can have subtle variants on these, but that’s all you’re really gonna get. It bears repeating that I’m talking about new bands here, where no journalist alive gives a fuck about reading their bio or listening to their record. The challenge is to make it interesting.
Now, you’d think in this world of twitter and email and facebook, where everyone is so connected that someone would, at some point think “gee, we need to start to approach band bios in a very different way because just stuffing effusive praise up the asses of a bunch of nobodies and presenting it to a bunch of jaded old shitty music journalists who barely get paid and have nothing but cynicism to keep them afloat is a pretty useless waste of time.” But let me tell you something: people RARELY think that way when it comes time to launch a band.
I know this because I write bios for bands. I try, with limited success, to make the bios something that people would be interested in reading, for the exact reasons I spelled out at the top of this page. To me, the band is secondary. Just getting someone to READ a bio is a victory, and I like to stay away from the three above methods of pitching bands. I like to tell stories, bullshit, joke, do things that could be easily described as BSC blogs about whatever band I’m dealing with. That’s what I think the world of indie band marketing is missing. But while that may be the breath of fresh air that a journalist, dj or other (shudder) tastemaker is dying for amongst their stack of bios, it’s almost never what a band or a manager wants to see.
Bands are obsessed with the record and the lyrics and the subtle influences and, in short, all the things that NO ONE who’s not in the band actually gives a fuck about. Yes, once someone is a fan, these details become the cherry on top of the fan experience, but do YOU give a fuck about what records the Stinky Cheeses listened to while crafting “Space Station Twister”? Not yet, you don’t. You don’t care about reading their out-of-context lyrics or the paragraph on their “dynamic, unclassifiable guitar sound.” You just don’t, because when it’s just words describing music, music sounds stupid. This is a universal truth.
Management is even worse because they want (without exception) the following: name dropping, superlative accolades, name dropping, superlative accolades, no mention of anything at all that could possibly be construed as negative or humorous, more name dropping.
This is weird because the human element (ie the actual ugly, weird, warty lives of the people in the band) are the ONLY aspects of a bio that could possibly EVER be interesting (especially to a jaded dipshit journalist who gets one hundred versions of bios 1, 2 and 3 every day) but there’s no room for that in the minds of the band or the Manager. Humor, likewise, is something that could, at the very least, get someone to read to the end of the bio, but for some reason too dumb for me to understand, people (musicians and management alike, actually) think that if something’s funny, it’s making fun…and Music Is Serious Business and My Art and How Dare This Dipshit Bio Writer Joke About ME/my boys??????? This Band Is Not A Joke To ME!!!! which is a humorless and shitty attitude and a huge part of the reason that most bands and most managers have no fucking idea what they’re talking about and are rewarded with a corresponding amount of success.
Anyway, I don’t care. I’m not famous, and I obviously don’t know what I’m talking about, or I’d be living out the rest of my days in gold-plated luxury, so take all this with a grain of salt. I just wanted to share some notes from the other side of the curtain.
I’m gonna go hang with the Holy Mess and the Menzingers now.