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Thursday, May 30

I'm a musician just starting out. What should I do?


We get asked this a lot.

There's no magic formula that we've ever found. The things that have always worked still work–there's just less money to go around. Just write write write and play play play.
  • Meet some other musicians and work to get on bills with them.
  • Contact some of the excellent small club bookers at places like Schuba's, The Hideout, Whistler, Burlington, Reggie's, Fitzgerald's, Space, or The Owl and get your name in the hopper to open up for larger bands who might be similar.
  • If you see somebody coming through town that you think you'd be a good fit with, ask the booker to get on that specific show.
  • When you do get on a show as an opening act, work your butt off promoting it.
  • Ask the booker if they do a poster delivery around town, and where, and then get them posters to distribute. Find out places they don't hit (coffee shops, bars, clubs, stores, boutiques) and place posters there yourself. This will not only help your draw directly, but will impress the club booker and perhaps the headlining artist.
  • Work to create long weekend mini-tours with your pals and book shows in Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, St. Louis, and college towns in Ill, IN, and WI.
  • Establish positive relationships and take advantage of your youthful energy to outwork lazy musicians.
  • But mostly, just keep playing.
  • Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
  • Once you have a tight 25-30 minute set, are playing consistently good shows, and have built a following, then invite labels and booking agents to your shows.
It is important that you know that you can do all of these things perfectly,  yet the world still may not beat a path to your door. It is almost a sure bet that if you do not do these things, nothing will drop in your lap. There are many good musicians and songwriters who are lawyers, architects, hairdressers, librarians, carpenters, nurses, stay at home moms, or bus drivers. If you feel compelled to get what's inside you out into the world, I have yet to see anybody suggest a different reliable path.

(Inspired by Jessica Hopper's @jesshopp excellently thoughtful Fan Landers column.)

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