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Heather McDonald

Heather's Music Careers Blog

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How to be the Opening Band

Saturday May 31, 2014

Want to get in front of a bigger audience overnight? Be the opening band for a bigger act. Getting on stage before a band with a built-in following means you get a chance to win their fans over. Plus you'll likely end up on the radar of more press and music industry types than you were before. Sounds pretty good, right?

So, how does one get one of these coveted opening band slots? There are a few different roads. Sometimes, being in with a local promoter or venue is all it takes. If a touring act wants local support, then you may get invited onto the bill. You can also pitch yourself as a opener to the venue, promoter, and sometimes the other band's manager or agent. It all depends on who has the final say over the bill, so it may take a little bit of research to get to the right person.

Your odds of getting invited onto the bill depends on a number of things. First, you should make sense musically with the headliners. Don't waste your time by suggesting that your metal band should open for a touring hip-hop act. When you mesh musically with the headliner, you have a better chance of finding new fans in the audience. Second, you should have a little pull of your own. If you can bring a few people through the door, that makes life easier for everyone involved. Any number of other things out of your control can also be in play, from the touring act's label wanting to reserve the opening slot for a band they're checking out to the drummer already promising the gig to his cousin's band.

If you do get picked, there is a certain etiquette to being an opening act that involves things like taking it on the chin if your soundcheck ends up being 2 minutes long and not going over your set time.

Check out this advice for more on getting booked as an opening band

7 Things to Do When You Play Live

Saturday May 31, 2014

When you play live, obviously putting on a good show is of the upmost importance, but if you only show up and play, you won't get the most from the event. There are things you need to do before, during, and after the gig to maximize your impact with fans and show venues and promoters that you're willing to work hard.

Before the show, of course, you have to get out there and promote your event. Don't rely on the promoter or venue to do it for you. Reach out to your fanbase directly online and off. Talk to the venue and promoter about who is handling things like posters and contacting local media. At the event, you'll want to sell merch and make sure you have a way to keep engaging the fans who came out to see you long after your set has wrapped. After the show, it's all about following up and fostering new contacts.

Ready for your to-do list? Here are 7 things your band needs to do the next time you play.

How to Jumpstart Your Music Career

Friday May 30, 2014

As many of my recently-graduated music business students enter summer - along with grads like themselves all over - they seem to all be thinking the same thing: er, what now? Just how do you make the transition from the classroom to your first music business job?

Hopefully in college you took the time to do a music business internship and gain as much experience as you could. The contacts you made during internships and in other capacities are a great place to start job hunting. If you made a good impression, chances are that if there isn't work for you there, there is someone who is more than willing to help you find an opening. You should also be open to working in the music business in any capacity you can find. I hear way too many new grads say things like, "well, that job isn't what I really want to do." Nope. While you should be very clear on your music business goals, you should grab any opening in the door you can find. It's much easier to transition to the position you want from inside the industry than from outside it.

The most important thing? Do SOMETHING. Jobs won't come to you. Apply for positions, reach out to contacts, and don't get discouraged when something doesn't come through as expected. Keep at it, and you'll find your place. Read on for advice in tackling your music business job hunt.

Planning an Album Launch Party

Friday May 30, 2014

New music is cause for a party, right? Album launch parties are perfect for celebrating your accomplishment, but they're much more than that. They're handy little promotional tools that convince fans to get excited about your new release and the media to cover your music. Note that throwing an album launch party isn't the same as playing a gig when your album is released. That's good, too, but a party is an event that can help build fan loyalty while maybe selling some music.

So how do you get one of these events going? For starters, find your schtick. It doesn't have to be super over-the-top  - that is, unless you want it to be - but consider your party something of a living press release that needs a hook beyond "musicians release music." Your imagination is the limit here, so don't be afraid to be a little outside of the box, if you will. Hold you party at either a venue that is feels like your second home or at a non-traditional venue that is a little off the radar. Ready to start planning? Here are more tips for planning your album release party.

More Album Release Information

Musician FAQ: How Do I Get My Song on the Radio?

Friday May 30, 2014

There was a time that the accepted truth in the music business was that reviews don't sell records, radio plays do. Now, no one is really too sure what sells records anymore. However, while radio play might not always be as a big a deal as it once was, it certainly doesn't hurt to be getting some spins. Depending on your genre, radio could still be one of the most powerful things you do for promotion. So, how do you get on the playlist?

The road to radio plays varies greatly depending on what types of stations you're targeting, and what markets you're going after. Non-commercial radio, like college radio, is less expensive to promote to than commercial radio, and is a job you could feasibly do yourself on at least a small scale. Promoting to commercial radio is different, especially when you start getting into major radio markets. It is virtually impossible to get anyone to listen to you at these stations without a professional radio promotion company working your single - and that can be extremely expensive.

What's a musician to do? The trick is choosing the right radio campaign for where you're at in your music career and you're genre - balance the expense versus the realistic outcome  - and take it from there. Here's an overview of the process of getting your song on the radio, and much more information about radio promotion:

A Simple Guide to Booking Your First Gig

Thursday May 29, 2014

The time has arrived. Your music can no longer linger lonely in the practice space. It's ready for it's close-up. So, you need to book a show. So, you decide to book a show. And then you realize you've never booked a show.

Here's the deal. Booking a show isn't HARD, really. Depending on the nature of the venues in your town - and your connections - then it could be as simple as a phone call. What usually happens to musicians at this stage though is that they figure out where to play and who to call and email - but then no one responds. You try again, no one responds again, and so on and so forth. What gives?

What really gives is that you don't have a following yet, so venues and promoters are hanging back and taking a wait-and-see approach. Be persistent and don't get discouraged. This step is but the first building block in growing an audience. Working your way onto a bill as an opener with an established act is a good play to get through the door, but it helps to make sure that all of your ducks are in a row before you start trying to pencil in dates. This guide to booking your own gigs will help.

Choosing Songs for Demos

Thursday May 29, 2014

Demos are the musical equivalent of, "hello, how are you, my name is..." These little introductions to your music are designed to get the word out about your sound, style, and chops in a short amount of time, and maybe even generate a bit of interest in your tracks from people like managers, agents, labels, and the like. Now, demos take a lot of different forms in the music biz, but let's focus on those kinds of demos you hope help you make a connection of some sort. What songs are you going to choose? Did you pick your best, most favorite ones?

Well, that may not be your best strategy. As a musician, you probably feel strongly about the tracks that are the most complex - yes, maybe the most "interesting," - but the thing about that is that those tracks are usually not the ones that grab the listener right off the bat. You need to be grabby with a demo. You may not get more than 10 or 20 seconds to convince someone to keep listening, so look for strong beginnings and catchy hooks to draw the listeners into your favorite deep cuts.

Want to build a better demo? Try this advice:

Album Press Release Template

Wednesday April 30, 2014

Writing a press release is a very important part of promoting your music. It's also one of those things that tends to lost in the mix in these days of releasing music by tweet and Facebook message. First, let's be clear - Beyonce can release an album by tweet. You, probably not so much. See, those things work best when you have an audience already in place, and if you're just getting started, your audience probably isn't so big. A press release is one of the ways you can get one. A formal press release lets the music media know that you're serious and that you're a professional. That message is one you really want to get through.

Chances are that some day someone will be penning your press releases for you, but before a PR company is in your budget, writing one isn't as hard as you think. Here's some advice on writing the press release and then what to do with it next:

Surviving Your Summer Music Business Internship

Wednesday April 30, 2014

Music business internships happen all year long, but summer is when they really start going strong. Tons of interns will soon be swarming music businesses in hopes of gaining valuable experience and making contacts that could help them get a job some day.

If you treat your music business internship the right way, it could be the proverbial first day of the rest of your life. Treat it like an interruption to your otherwise fabulous summer vacation, and well, don't expect much. Internships aren't just about completing the work you're assigned. They're about grabbing opportunities wherever they arise. Start by knowing exactly what is going to be expected of you during your internship, particularly in terms of schedule. If you're doing your music business internship for school credit, make sure you're properly registered and your supervisor knows what your school will require from him or her, if anything.

Get the most out of your experience - and love every minute of it - with these tips for music industry internship success.

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What Are the Benefits of Not Having a Record Deal?

Wednesday April 30, 2014

I recently attended a music industry talk in which the panel's general consensus was that, despite what many may initially say, most musicians would still like to have a record deal. I believe it. And it's easy to understand why. For all of the rallying you may hear against record labels, they perform the really important functions of distributing and promoting music on a scale most musicians would struggle to do on their own. Face it, you probably don't have the time, contacts, cash, or inclination to do that job while you're trying to make music. And, listen, don't believe this nonsense that everyone at a record label is out to rip you off. That's not even true of all of the majors, but it is a particular smack in the face to all of the hardworking indies out there who make major sacrifices to make sure the musicians they work with get heard.

OK, having said that - not having a record deal can be a pretty sweet proposition as well. You're free. You can do anything you want with your music career. The decisions are all yours, and you don't have to answer to anyone or give anyone any part of the money generated by your art.

If you're one of those musicians out there pining over a record deal, here are a few reasons you should feel good about flying solo musically.

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