By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
The beginning of the year is traditionally a time when people examine their lives and figure out what they need to change or improve. In honor of the start of 2009, here are things the musicians, clubs and supporters can improve upon in the new year.
Don't pay to play. In St. Louis, the practice known as "pay-to-play" is becoming a widespread problem. Here's the scenario: For the "privilege" of playing a specific show or at a specific venue, promoters instruct bands to buy tickets from them. Then musicians need to resell these tickets to friends and family in order to recoup their initial monetary investment and ensure an audience.
The pitfalls of this arrangement are easy to see; if you don't sell all of the tickets you bought, you've lost money out of your own pocket. But bands used to getting shows this way need to realize something important: This isn't the way things are supposed to work. In reality, promoters are supposed to be paid last for a show — after bands, sound guys and other assorted expenses are taken care of. You're supposed to be paid for playing shows, from profits taken from ticket sales. Have enough pride in the hard work you put into being a band to demand fair compensation for your art.
Promote yourself. The blessing and the curse of the Lou is that people frown upon braggadocio. While that makes our town blessedly unpretentious, it also means that people often shy away from self-promotion.
In music, however, being modest won't get you attention. If you have a show, blanket the hell out of MySpace and Facebook. (Within reason, however — multiple updates a day are annoying and can alienate people.) Make posters and leave them at record stores around town. Look at local blogs and websites in town and e-mail people who might dig your tunes.
If you have a new CD coming out, don't be afraid to tell people. Peruse the playlists of KDHX DJs and target a few who might be inclined to play your style of music on the air. Send them an introductory e-mail, or drop albums off at the station for consideration.
Most important, you don't need permission to mail music to me at the RFT. I'll make it easy. Here's the address: 6358 Delmar Boulevard, Ste. 200. St. Louis, MO 63130. Then drop me an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) letting me know you mailed it, who you are and when you're playing next. We can't write or blog about you if we don't know that you (or your show) exists.
Write new music constantly. Let's be honest: The local music scene is in a bit of a creative slump right now. Some of the scene's best bands have broken up, and of those who remain, most are playing the same set of songs. Over. And over. And over again.
Even the most well-written songs sound stale after they're aired for the zillionth time. And so it's important to fight complacency by writing new music and trying out new things live. Not only should this help improve your chops, but it'll also ensure that your shows don't sound stagnant and uninspired. Constant creativity is easier said than done, of course, but if a stream of new ideas isn't feasible, see below...
Don't play out so much. People — even your biggest fans — start to take you for granted if you're playing every weekend (or even multiple times a week). Suddenly, a gig by your band isn't a must-attend, but something that's skippable because, "Oh, I can see them again soon."
The solution is to make yourself scarce, ensuring that your shows are an event. Play once or twice a month — tops. You'll avoid wearing out your welcome and people won't be tired of hearing your tunes. National acts don't generally hit markets more than a few times a year. Why shouldn't local bands have a similar mindset?
Fix your websites. We're well into the 21st century now, but the web presence of countless venues in town still seems stuck in the pre-Y2K dark ages. (Heck, several local clubs don't even have sites.) Of those that do maintain websites, information is rarely correct. Band names are misspelled. Lineups are wrong. Showtimes are vague or absent. Prices are nowhere to be found. The schedules on the MySpace page and real website don't match up.
If people are unsure of what's going on — or have to search too hard to find your shows — they're not as inclined to come out. The solutions are simple: Update your site once a week. (If a show cancels, make a note of that, too.) Strive for accuracy. Take cues from the Scottrade Center, the Fox Theatre and the Pageant, whose websites always have all of their information outlined in a clear, orderly fashion.
Promote your shows. Having a solid, accurate website helps with this (see above). But beyond that, people should always know what's going on at a club on any given night. Create an e-mail list and send out a missive weekly, highlighting new shows and important upcoming events. Get a street team who can handle online promotion and flyering. Make sure local press outlets and radio folks know your schedules as far in advance as possible, to ensure adequate time to prep promotion. If a show happens, and no one's there to hear it — did it actually happen?