kmgKeith Maurik, guitarist for the Toronto-based band Maximum RNR and Tara Gibson and Glen McMullen of Halifax’s 60 Watt Vamp know that promoting your band can cost quite a lot of cash. Piggins, Gibson, Maurik and McMullen have all been in the music business to varying capacities for several years. As a member of The Morganfields, Alun Piggins professes to have sold his “mortal soul for a slice of pizza, a pitcher of beer, and a kick at the ‘Big Time’,” Glen McMullen and Tara Gibson have both played in several bands and are currently working on promoting their first collaboration together called 60 Watt Vamp, and Maurik’s job away from his duties as rhythm guitarist in Maximum RNR is as a rep at Epitaph Records Canada. All four have seen both ends of the way the music industry operates, and all maintain that the independent route at the beginning of any band’s career is not only necessary to understanding how the business works, but also important to knowing where exactly your money should go. “Expenses such as postage, long distance phone calls [for interviews] and promotional tools [stickers, posters, etc.] are pretty much a constant and not going to go away,” says Maurik candidly. “However you can look to yourself and to your community to help get it done yourself on the cheap or even for free. For example, bands have been known to pay $300 dollars or more to have a bio written for them. We wrote ours on our own which obviously didn’t cost us a cent. Hiring a publicist can cost literally thousands of dollars, whereas we’ve been pretty happy with the results we get for the price of postage, a long distance calling card and access to e-mail.”

One of the options available to save a bit of money is an Electronic Press Kit (EPK). Rather than dumping copious amounts of money into mail-outs, groups including both Alun Piggins and The Quitters and 60 Watt Vamp have discovered that EPKs can cut down the number of copies of their album they had to send out previously, still make as much (if not more) information available, and serve as a great promotional tool. While they may not be showcasing at North By Northeast this year, 60 Watt Vamp will be attending the conference and handing out copies of the band’s first single, first video, and EPK all on a single CD. “[Handing out the CDs with the EPK] is easier and more convenient for the people attending because it’s smaller and less bulky than a regular press kit,” explains McMullen. “It saves us some money too in not having to reprint big, glossy 8 x 10s and things like that.”

The financial bonus is that a professionally done EPK by a company like Sonicbids (www.sonicbids.com) costs a fraction of the cash that would be normally reserved for mail-outs ($19.95) and copy quality isn’t a consideration because it’s digital. A still cheaper route would be to either learn how to design an EPK yourself or get help from a particularly charitable friend who is already familiar with Web design. Even if you’re not really interested in the intangible nature of an EPK, with the current amount of file sharing going on and the music industry apparently “reeling” being Web-savvy would definitely be a boon. “Unfortunately, Web-based applications are a major weakness for us,” laments Maurik. “Recently we have been talking more and more about one of us taking a course so we can be in control of creating and maintaining our Website, EPK, banner ads, etc.”

As Maurik says, every independent band should have control over as many aspects of its career as possible and ceding that control will invariably mean a certain amount of distance between the artist and their work. Much like having a butler, maid or personal assistant, things like a label, manager, booking agent, publicist, lawyer and so on may make a band’s life easier but think of it this way; these are all major expenditures that have to come out of your pocket, don’t guarantee any results, and can isolate a band at a very formative stage in its career from the relationships that make it possible for a them to exist. Bands have been fighting for years to maintain their creative freedom and control and letting someone else take over seems contradictory to that point. While he is currently on AML Records, Alun Piggins keeps tabs on every aspect of his career and is adamant that he’ll never relinquish his grip on his material ever again. “Being on Watch/MCA was a real education and kind of soured me to the whole idea of a major label. AML is a small label owned by Fred Eaglesmith; I doubt we’ll be challenging Britney or Christina for a while,” jokes Piggins, “But because the label is artist-owned, I think it’s more sympathetic to an artists’ needs. I’m a bit of a control freak and I’d probably go postal if I walked into Starbucks and discovered one of my songs on one of their ‘listen-while-you-buy-our-coffee’ CDs.”

Of course, it’s implied within doing it yourself that complete control will cost you money, and getting word out can mean putting some of that money into your gas tank. As stated, 60 Watt Vamp are not showcasing at NXNE this year but are still making the trip in to Toronto from Halifax and attending to put in face time at the conference. One on one exposure with members of the industry is always an advisable move as showing up means that you cease to be another circular piece of plastic and become a person. As personal as your music is, members of the industry won’t know who you are until they meet you in person. Many of the same industry people attend conferences like North By Northeast, New Music West or the East Coast Music Awards conference and if you become a fixture at such events the people there will in turn become more familiar with who you are. “The costs of attending events like NXNE can be quite large but also one that many bands don’t take advantage of at all,” explains McMullen. “The benefits are that you stand a little better chance of getting advice and [industry professionals] listening to your demo. They also realize that you’re serious and putting effort into trying to make yourself a success.”

The success stories of people within the industry that managed to make it on their own terms with an independent mindset are numerous–but it’s also important to recognize that people like Ani Di Franco and Ian MacKaye did not make it to where they are without the assistance of the industry in some way. God (as the music industry likes to think of itself) helps those that help themselves but won’t help if you’re unknown to the entity. The whole music industry is based upon relationships and for a band it is important to have strong connections not just with the fans, but with the media (print, radio, internet, and TV) as well. While those doors may seem closed to you, sitting back and waiting for something to happen to your band isn’t an option if you want to make yourself a success. You have to make something happen and find your way in. Like Alun Piggins says, “If they won’t let you in through the front door, find a window.”