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Tips for making your band stand out from the crowd

catpiano.jpg

Pardon the pun, but making your band stand out these days is a tough gig. You end up trying to differentiate your act not only from a zillion other bands on the internet, but every band and artist in (an ever-lengthening) rock history who 'got there first' as far as your type of music is concerned. However, there are a few tricks that you can employ to distinguish your band from the competition, and, as we are generous souls here at Prescription PR, I thought I’d share some of these with you.

Sound different

“Impossible!”, “It’s all been done” and “But I want to sound like the Clash circa early 1981 just after they released Sandinista!” are all fairly understandable reactions to an instruction to make your band sound different. To a large degree, it has all been done (and to be fair, many tastemakers do insist upon you sounding like the Clash before taking you remotely seriously). 

And yet…it hasn’t all been done. That’s because most bands – The Clash included – don’t live in your house. Eh? Well, in your house you will find a plethora of kitchen utensils that you can hit, record and insert into a drum loop; you can sample the cat and turn her into a funky synth that you can then play on a keyboard; or how about turning your bathroom into a real-life echo chamber? Very few – if any musicians – will have access to your cutlery, cat or bathroom, so the sounds you make using all of these will be completely your own.

Moving outside your house and walking down the road, you will discover that in your local flea market there are host of little Casio keyboards that nobody would in their right mind think of using on a song – except you; there’s also a guy selling a cheap Italian organ from the 80s with some sounds that you haven’t encountered, perhaps for good reason, on any records before.

The point I’m making is not to rely on the standard plugins in Pro Tools or instruments that everybody else uses to make your music – look outside your sequencer or even studio for inspiration and design your own sounds. It’s harder than relying on Pro Tools plugins and presets – but it’s a lot more fun, satisfying and it helps you to sound unique.

Look different

Particularly if you are in the ‘it’s all about the music man’ camp (and being a fashion disaster myself, I sympathise very much with that point of view) it’s easy to disregard or overlook the importance of image. That’s why there are so many rather dull pictures of grumpy bands in jeans standing against a wall in existence. The other mistake bands tend to make when it comes to image is to try to look exactly like their heroes, to the point where the act looks completely unoriginal, or worse, like a tribute band. In the UK the a recent Government-commissioned report has highlighted a serious problem with the number of indie bands that STILL look like Oasis circa 1997.

The answer? A bit of time and thought put into styling your band; use of interesting backdrops for your photoshoots; and hiring a professional photographer with ideas that extend beyond the “let’s all stand up against the wall and look cross lads” approach to photo-taking (and maybe a few lights to boot!).

Unless you are going to make your own clothes (dress the band in bin liners anyone?), you will find it difficult to come up with a totally unique look, but by taking style, shoot locations and choice of photographer seriously, you are making a good start in distinguishing your act from a lot of drab-looking indie bands. 

Position yourself differently

A lot of bands assume that releasing a record simply involves issuing a press release that tells journalists that the new album is out soon and that it sounds, well, a bit like Oasis only with a synth sound that was generated by sampling a cat. Actually, you may find it more productive in some respects to forget about the music for a moment and dwell a bit more on the people making it. Does the drummer in your band have a secret criminal past involving cabbages? Has the lead singer had a relationship with a goat? Does the guitarist emit special pheromones during solos that make his performance sound more pleasing to ladies’ ears? All extreme examples (although I’d bet my bottom dollar that they’ve all been mentioned on press releases before) but what I’m getting at is that by looking at your band members' personal lives, you will often find ‘creative angles’ which can be used to generate high-profile human interest stories in the press.

There is a danger here though: sometimes human interest stories can overshadow the music to the point where either rock critics don’t take you seriously (suspecting that your angle is being used as a substitute for a record deal or talent or both) or where the human interest story completely overshadows the music, to the point where punters focus on the story, view the music as secondary, and ultimately neglect to buy the album. It’s a question of getting the balance between the music and the angle right.

So there you have it: sample some cutlery, wear a bin liner, and have a relationship with a goat: a recipe for instant success. And with that I’m off to investigate my secret past with a cabbage.

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Should your band be on Wikipedia?

Search box - should your band be on Wikipedia?

Obviously your band is the greatest thing since lightly toasted sliced bread smothered in Nutella and washed down with hot milky tea, but should you create a Wikipedia entry about it?

The annoying answer is “it depends”. There are some significant benefits of having a Wikipedia entry for your act, but as with much else associated with the quest for rock success, when Wikipedia is used incorrectly, it can make you look seriously crap.

Let’s start by looking at the benefits though. Having a decent Wikipedia entry means that…

  • journalists / bloggers are provided with a useful resource to find out more about your act’s background and history
  • you give the impression that you are an act with a good reputation, and one that should be taken seriously (i.e., reviewed)
  • your band is easily findable in web searches (as Google places a high importance on Wikipedia entries in search results)
  • you improve the search ranking of sites that you reference in the Wikipedia entry –  for example, your band’s website –  because pages that are referenced by Wikipedia are considered important by several search engines
  • you can google yourself and get notions of grandeur every time.

However, before rushing off and writing a 15,000-word Wikipedia dissertation on the merits of your band, you need to, in the wise, autotuned words of The Saturdays, have a sit down with your ego. You need to ask yourself two hard questions. Questions which may lead you to retire from the music business, but questions that need to be answered before going anywhere near Wikipedia:

  1. Has your band achieved anything of note, that deserves an entry? I.e., sold any records? Or played any big festivals?
  2. Has your band ever been reviewed in any serious publications?

If you can answer yes to either of those questions, it’s okay to start thinking about writing a Wikipedia entry. But if it’s a no to both, forget about it. Chances are, without any sales figures or reviews to point to, your nascent Wikipedia career will be over before it’s begun – a bearded man in California who trawls Wikipedia for daft entries will have hit the delete key before you’ve had the chance to email your mum a link to your lovely effort.

But assuming there has been a whiff of success surrounding your career – a Q or Mojo review for example, or a really good festival appearance – then a Wikipedia entry is a good move. But there are some key things that you should bear very strongly in mind before unleashing your two index fingers on your computer keyboard:

  • Read a few entries for established acts (REM, U2 etc.) to get a sense of what kind of content and style is expected for Wikipedia entries, so that when you write your own, it doesn't jump up and down screaming "The band wrote this themselves! The band wrote this themselves! And they don't have a spellchecker."
  • Make your entry incredibly impartial; if in you describe yourself in glowing terms, or simply copy and paste your press release into Wikipedia, you will find your entry on the scrapheap very quickly. To appear completely impartial, it may even be worth mentioning less-than-positive album reviews in your Wikipedia entry (as well as the fantastic ones of course; you don’t want an entry which just highlights how rubbish your band is).
  • Ensure that you provide proper annotations and crucially, links to any press coverage that you are referencing in your entry. The bearded Wikipedia editors won’t necessarily believe you got a four-star review in Uncut unless you provide some evidence. Without said evidence, you may find an annoying box accompanying your entry, announcing that “the topic of this article may not meet the general notability guideline” (which translates as: “who the f*ck are this band? We bearded Californian editors have never heard of them. Journalists, please ignore this act immediately and go back to reviewing Coldplay.”)
  • Include decent images with the entry - album artwork, press shots etc.
  • Ensure that your entry is free from spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.
  • Add a good selection of external – but relevant - links at the bottom of your entry so that people can find out more about you.

Finally, think about this: are you (or your drummer / guitarist / bassist) best placed to write the Wikipedia entry? You may be great musicians, but your English may stink. Or your massive egos might not be able to handle talking your band down a bit. If that’s the case, think about asking somebody else to write the entry – a sympathetic journalist or your old English teacher, for example. Just not your mother or your girlfriend.

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E-newsletters for bands on a budget

We often get approached by bands and artists wanting to know how to sort themselves out with e-newsletters. They usually ask for a data capture form that allows people to sign up to news, and a means of sending news updates to their mailing list.

We generally set them up with a dedicated e-communications system like Getresponse, which allows bands to do a lot of snazzy things - create custom data capture forms, program automated follow-ups, view detailed stats, design fancy HTML email templates and the like.

A system like that is still our preferred option for clients, because users are provided with the means to create highly targeted, professional e-communications, and to monitor open and click-through rates effectively.

However, if you're looking for something very simple, or you don't have any cash, there is another option: using your blog and a service called Feedburner to generate newsletters.

Here's how it works:

1. Register with Feedburner and 'burn' a feed using your blog's RSS feed (it's all very simple, the Feedburner site takes you through the process in an easy-to-follow set of steps).
2. Go to their 'Publicise' tab.
3. Click 'Email subscriptions' and activate the service.

(If you don't have a blog, there are a host of free blogging services you can use - Blogger being perhaps the most obvious example).

Once you've followed the above three steps, you are then provided with simple bit of HTML code which you can embed on your site. This gives you a form which captures email addresses. From then on, whenever you post a new blog entry, the content will automatically be emailed to the people who have used the form to sign up for updates. The email that gets sent is a simple affair, but it is in HTML format and you can tweak things slightly (add logos, change fonts etc.). And it's an entirely free service.

The only thing to remember is that once you've set Feedburner up to work in this way, whenever you post a blog entry, it always goes out to your entire mailing list. So you may need to think carefully about what you post and how often. If people are receiving frivolous items in their inbox every five minutes, they may quickly unsubscribe from the list.

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