Modern bands wrestle with new methods of promotion

Chris Duncan

The devaluation of music has led to drastic shifts in the way artists release their content, making free albums the new trend. Instead of battling the changes, groups such as Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment play along for one reason — promotion.

In the case of The Social Experiment, its free release Surf paid dividends — the album received 618,000 downloads in its first week on iTunes and led to a world tour worth millions of dollars. Not every artist can achieve this success, but these results bring to question how a successful act can be created in today’s music scene.

With online audio distribution platforms, such as SoundCloud, musicians can display and promote their work. Instead of gaining monetarily from listens, they receive attention — SoundCloud attracts 175 million unique monthly listeners compared to Spotify’s 75 million active users.

UT alumnus Chris Hinojosa, guitarist for dream rock outfit Soma Divine, said he has experienced first-hand the challenges that come with using the Internet as a promotional tool.

“Bands have direct access to their fans through the Internet, which is great,” Hinojosa said. “But there’s (sic) thousands of bands who do that each day, so getting people to go to concerts, buy songs, or even listen to our music for free online can be pretty hard.”

Some services with higher rates of interaction between bands and their fans include Bandcamp, an online music store targeted towards independent artists, and Songkick, which features personalized news about live music events from users’ favorite bands. But, with easily ignored emails and notifications, even these services struggle to retain users.

However, these websites are used heavily in decision-making for concert venues.

“There are a lot of people who contact venues directly and don’t get the results they expect,” said Edward Castillo, marketing director for ScoreMore, a music promotion network started by UT alumnae Sascha Guttfreund and Claire Bogle. “A lot of it has to do with how you present yourself. I know a lot of bands will send one-line emails, they don’t send music or any other information. You need to approach it with the idea that no one knows who you are.”

This saturation means concerts are the largest source of potential success for an act, and a concert promoter is a great way to find that success. A concert promoter organizes events, books bands and advertises the event in such a way to draw in the largest crowd possible. But some promoters are notorious for taking advantage of newer clientele.

“We have heard of promoters using acts to sell tickets,” Hinojosa said. “This allows them to gain access to larger venues or ideal performance times. Some artists fall prey to this type of predation, agreeing to unjust terms, and don’t help their career at all.”

UT alumnus Grant Waring, ScoreMore’s director of media, said concert promoters generally adhere to good morals, but their costs are often too high for newer bands. He also warns against too much confidence, which could lead to overbooking.

“You have to be realistic about the draw and reach as a group that you have,” Waring said. “If you come to a venue in Austin and book too large of a venue, you could destroy a relationship you’ve been building.”

For brand new acts, however, a lack of performance experience might hurt them. In turn, Castillo recommends a small initial investment to kick-start a band’s performance career.

“There’s also the option to rent a room and run your own show,” Castillo said. “If those smaller shows are successful, a relationship with the venue can be built, potentially leading to something larger.”