So, you found some like-minded musicians, got a cool band name, wrote your first few songs: You're ready for world domination. There's just one slight problem: nobody knows your band even exists...
This article tries to answer the question how to promote your band using a number of methods. In future articles I'll go more into depth for each of the methods.
1. Perform as often as possible
It's a Catch-22 really, the best way to get people to know you is by performing live, but when your band is unknown it's hard to get gigs.
You can start with entering band competitions. If you're still in high school, chances are your school organizes a yearly band competition. If there isn't a competition, try to organize it yourself! A lot of venues have local competitions too, those are often a good place to start playing gigs.
I'll warn you: judges will not always like your music, and they can be harsh. Learn to get a thick skin. But hey, maybe you'll even win a competition...
Playing these gigs is a great way to meet other local bands, and getting yourself noticed locally.
2. Record your music
Often when you contact a venue about getting a gig, they will ask for a demo or an address where they can hear your music online. They want to know how you sound before giving you a gig, which makes sense. Try to record some songs as quickly as possible.
For a first demo three to five songs are usually more than enough. There are a lot of low budget studios you can go to, but you can also try to record some songs yourself. Ask other local bands with songs with a good sound quality on their MySpace pages how they recorded their music.
When you have some recordings, convert them to mp3 and put the songs on your website, MySpace and Last.fm (see point 4 & 5 below).
If after a while you've made new recordings, listen to your older recordings with a critical ear. If your sound has changed drastically or the band has improved a lot, remove your older songs. The songs you put online must be an accurate representation of the band.
Always carry a few CDs with you with your songs on it. You never know who you run into!
3. Create a website
Although you can probably manage with just a MySpace band profile, it's more professional to have your own website. Remember: promoting your band is all about marketing, and by having a professional image people will think you're a professional band.
Get a .com domain (or if you're from outside the US, your local equivalent). These days you can get a domain name and hosting for under $20 a year, no need for Geocities websites or .tk domains.
Your website should a least contain an up-to-date list of your gigs and a biography. You can also include mp3s of your songs, the latest news, a link to your MySpace page, band pictures and links to (local) bands and venues. It should have your band logo prominently on all your pages.
Keep your website up to date: if you don't update it regularly people might assume your band isn't active anymore.
4. Create a mailing list
A great tool to reach your fans is a mailing list. There are many mailing list tools available online. Two great options for managing an online mailing list are Fan Bridge and YMLP. Add a form to your website for people to add themselves to your mailing list.
Collect email addresses at every gig you play. Print out a sheet with your band logo on top. Fill in a few fake (not obvious fakes ofcourse) so the sheets aren't empty. For some reason people hate to be the first one to fill in their address.
Regularly mail your list with updates and news. Don't spam them! Usually once a month is often enough, if you have big news you can always mail more often.
5. Create MySpace and Last.fm profiles
These days there's a lot of websites where you can make your own band profile. Two of the most important are MySpace and Last.fm.
Almost every band nowadays has a MySpace page with some of their songs on it. More and more concert organizers don't want you to send them a physical demo, but just want your MySpace profile. Create a profile for your band and add your songs and concerts. If you have big news, post it both on your own website and on your MySpace.
Add some MySpace friends. Start with local bands and big bands in your genre.
Last.fm is another great site, with lots of opportunities to promote your music. Make sure your bandmates and you all have profiles and listen to your own songs. Create a band page for your band and add your songs. I wrote an article about using Last.fm to promote your band recently.
6. Use the local scene
Keep an eye out on what's happening in your local rock scene. Visit gigs of other local bands. If you get to know other local musicians you can help each other out. If you visit their gigs, they might visit yours.
You could help another band to get a gig, and maybe they'll trade the favor. You could even organize a tour together combining your resources.
7. Spread flyers and posters
If you got some gigs coming up, make some nice flyers and posters (or if you're in an oldschool band, make some crappy ones). Spread them at local clubs, in bars, at your school, at other shows, etcetera.
8. Organize a Street Team
When you start to get some fans, you could start up a Street Team. A Street Team is a group of your fans that help you spread the word about your band. Let fans help you spread flyers, get you gigs and other activities to promote your band.
Make sure you reward them. You could give them free stickers, free entrance at gigs, free CDs, etc.
9. Offer merchandise
When you start making some cash with performing, one of the best things to invest in is band merchandise. If you print 50 shirts for about $5-$10 each, and sell them for $10-$15 you start earning money when you sell about 25 to 30 shirts. Make sure the quality is okay, and get a few different sizes.
Stickers and buttons aren't as profitable, but still a great way to promote yourself. You could sell them, but when you're a small band, you're better off handing them out. Make sure both your band name and website address are visible on your stickers.
There are many other methods to get your name out, but these are some basic methods. In future articles I'll go more into depth on some of these methods. If you have any questions, please let me know.
I'm also interested in how these methods work for you and how you promote your band. Let me know!