How do you take your band from side-hustle to career?
Not every musician is born to hit the big time; for every Ed Sheeran there are a thousand could- have-been megastars sitting in the wings, waiting for their turn to shine.
Whilst you strive to grow your fanbase and continue to contribute some of the greatest music no- one's ever heard to Spotify's unsigned archive, you'll no doubt be looking for ways to fund the unavoidable expense that comes from being an artist.
There are numerous routes to take, but perhaps the most popular is that of the almighty ‘Cover Band'. Performing cover songs is a natural part of every musician's self-development and so it's no surprise that at some point you may find yourself hurtling towards the local pub and club circuit – the perfect place to gain performance experience but something you may ultimately need to leave behind if making a career is your primary objective.
Transitioning to the events sector
With a year or two on the circuit and one too many polite chats with intoxicated locals who ‘play a little bit of guitar' themselves, it's now time to get your act in gear and move swiftly on to the private and corporate events scene.
At this point we're assuming the talent on offer is indisputable – you've got the chops, the vocals are on point and the band basically rocks. Now is the time to get your promotional material to the same awesome standard as your live show and this is where you're going to have to consider some personal investment.
Invest in promotional material
Running a function band is a business and should be treated as such if you're serious about transforming your side hustle into a full blown career. In order to stand out in what has become an ever growing and saturated market, you're going to need promotional material that sets you apart from the rest and that includes the following:
1) Professional studio demo's
You'll ideally need at least four demos to get you started but there's no need to record the songs in their entirety. Clients will often only listen to a few seconds of each band, so keep the intros short, bring in the vocals quickly and keep each song to around 60-90 seconds long.
Choose your songs carefully - your singer may want to show off their talents with a hard-hitting power ballad, but unless you're an 80's tribute band, I recommend something modern and upbeat that's been thoroughly tried and tested.
With home studio equipment easily obtained and with every other musician capable of throwing together a half-decent demo, it can be tempting to take the DIY route. However, from my experience the majority of musicians aren't as good at engineering as they might like to think. If you're serious about taking your cover band to the next level, then self-investment is the key to a great end product and booking a professional studio is usually the way to go.
2) Professional video
The obligatory function band promo video is top of the agenda when it comes to promoting your band. Whilst clients always love to see bands performing live, recording a live gig is never quite as straight forward as miming to demos in a studio setting. For that reason I recommend that your first video be a 3-4 minute cut of your demos in a venue or studio setting. The audio is guaranteed to be up to scratch and they'll be the opportunity to shoot multiple angles without hiring more than one videographer.
3) Professional photos
With thousands of bands listed on agency websites and directories, clients are going to need a good reason to click on your profile and that's where a professional photo comes in.
All too often photography is an afterthought on the day of the video shoot, or even worse, a screenshot from the video. It's worth keeping in mind that not every videographer is a great photographer, so do your research, find a great photographer and reap the rewards.
Optimise your repertoire
With pop music dominating the charts and guitar bands temporarily taking a back seat, it's no surprise to hear that a repertoire tailored around contemporary chart music is always a hit with clients.
I recommend putting together a repertoire that ticks as many genre shaped boxes as possible, putting the most up-to-date songs at the top of the list and featuring most prominently on promotional material.
You'll need to fine-tune your repertoire to include as many floor fillers as possible, so weed out the Green Onions & Mustang Sally and tune into Radio 1 – it's time to start thinking Corporate.
Invest in your equipment
One of the key factors that will set you apart from the local pub band is your sound, and that means high-quality PA system and equipment. As well as your individual gear such as instruments and backline, it's equally as important to come with a PA system that can handle the venue size - the last thing you want is for the vocalist to be drowned out by your over-zealous drummer or feedback as a result of pushing your PA to its limits.
High quality equipment can be expensive so you'll want to make sure you're fully insured for any unexpected mishaps.
Consider outside investment
If you simply don't have the funds yourself then you may need to look into outside investment. This can either mean a full-time manager or a booking agency that offers exclusive contracts. Every company has their own unique way of working, but as an example, the agency may front the money to produce the required promotional material and in return your band would sign exclusively to the agency for a set period of time. Given the right terms this can be a win-win situation for both parties and is often the start of a long-term working relationship.
Decide on your fee
Finding the perfect price point can be a tricky task, even for the most experienced in the industry. Make a decision on what you feel is an acceptable wage for each musician and work out a formula that takes into account fuel costs and any other expenses such as accommodation. This will ensure your fee is affordable in order to maximise the number of enquiries and bookings. Assuming the band is successful you can then afford to slowly increase your price point until you reach the sweet spot.
Promote yourself and find an agency
Now that you've sufficiently exhausted your bank account and have the promo material to prove it, it's time for the bookings to start rolling in.
If you've ticked all the right boxes you'll find agencies falling over themselves to sign you up to their roster. I recommend signing up to a couple of agencies to begin with to see how things pan out, it's often better to work closely with a limited number of agents than spread yourself thin.
Get your paperwork in order
As a pro wedding band you'll need to ensure that you have all the required documents to keep the business running smoothly. That means PAT test certificates for your equipment and Public Liability Insurance (PLI) for your band members – you may need Public Liability insurance in order to protect yourself from any unexpected accidents involving venue staff or members of the audience.