In the Footsteps of the Unsigned – Part I: The Basics

Thursday, 24th October 2013

I have spent more than 12 years playing in an unsigned and independent band and I have acted as the personal record label for my band. Because I have spent so many years focusing on my band and trying to get it to reach the masses, I believe I have attained a certain amount of knowledge regarding things you should and shouldn’t do as an unsigned band.  – Joe Nurre/Shaded Enmity

In the beginning stages of Shaded Enmity, we started things off on the right foot. We didn’t spend money on a fancy recording studio, we were constantly writing songs and we had a member in the band that was fairly savvy at recording. My first piece of advice? If you don’t have a member in your band who has some sort of home recording system or is ambitious at recording and engineering their own work, I highly recommend seeking the assistance of a local, trusted person who has a good recording setup.

Does this person have sound samples or songs up on their web page? If they do, great, check them out and see if you like them. Chances are, if you don’t like the quality of the songs on the web page of the engineer, you are not going to be happy with your own product. I don’t recommend going with someone who is willing to do it for a “bro” discount, or for a six pack and a 20 sack.

Chances are, they will not be passionate about your project and you will be extremely dissapointed. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about.This can often be the difference between your band sounding like a “local” band or sounding like a national act. On the flip side of the coin, don’t be prepared to give your money away just because you found a studio that big name bands have recorded at. That was one of our biggest mistakes on Like Prayers on Deaf Ears and Hijo Perdido. We found a studio that had a big name to it and that was fairly expensive. We worked with an engineer who didn’t understand the style of music and had never worked with bands of our style before. We ended up switching engineers during Hijo Perdido after being unsatisfied with several mixes.

This switch is engineers is the best decision we ever made as a band. If you are unable to find someone local, absolutely do not “settle” for anyone. Look through the booklets of some of your favorite albums. Who mixed it? Look their name up on Google and chances are you just might be able to find the studio or an actual email address belonging to someone affiliated with the studio or the actual engineer themselves. Oftentimes these engineers are really compassionate towards unsigned independent bands and they will offer slightly discounted rates. Don’t be afraid to spend $250-$500 just to mix one song. This song and your album is going to out live you. Make it the best that you can.

I can say that after switching to the current producer we use (Aaron Smith), I have never been happier with my own musical product and it is a quality product that will outlast my life and time. This is the type of quality you get when you spend money on a producer that is passionate and cares about the product. It is expensive, but it is money well spent. This is what separates us from being just a “local” sounding band. So, enough about recording.

Soliciting your work to labels
After you get your stuff all recorded, DO NOT assume that you can just contact a record label and they will sit down and listen to an MP3 you send them. They could give a rats ass. It won’t happen. They get thousands of submissions everyday. They do not care. More than likely they will sign your band if a label executives daughter is listening to them on her iPod, or if a label exec is drunk at a bar and you just happen to be able to get him to promise you a record deal, it’s not going to happen.

Right now you need to be building your fan base. Leak your album on all the torrent sites, sign up for CD Baby and elect to have your music distributed to every single service they have. If you have paid for a quality musical product, this step is going to be a LOT easier. When you decide that you would like to press CDs, choose a replication option, NOT duplication. The quality of the end product is way better, but you will pay a little more. I highly recommend pressing 1,000 units. This is expensive and you might not have the fanbase right now, but after you sell 100 or so you have already paid for the pressing and then you have 900 CDs that are just profit. So start investing in your band.

One other thing on this topic, don’t send your CDs to an address that a label has listed. They will be trashed sooner than you can say “waste of time.” I know the big labels websites say to do this, don’t, please. You will spend so much money on postage and shipping and all that, not to mention the loss of a CD that you have now invested your own money into.

Playing live
Play live shows, but do not play every week in the same city; limit your city to once a month. Get out and play but don’t overexpose yourself. People need to be excited to come and see your show, and your shows will lose their meaning if people know that they can just see you next week at the same bar. Find out who your local promoters are and get in good with them. Send them emails and ask to be apart of shows. You can also contact your local clubs that host metal bands and just find out what you have to do to get on a show. It might be easier than you think. Be wary of shady promoters and the stupid battle of the bands crap that comes through town. Avoid those like the plague. Don’t play any show where they have a decibel meter to measure crowd response. Run far away from those.

On a slightly different note, if you have any members with substance or alcohol abuse issues, they need to be dealt with immediately. They will only tarnish your reputation with the locals and make it more difficult to accomplish your goals and your dreams.

Social media
Make sure your band is on all the social media sites from Facebook to YouTube, get on all of them. Respond to every email that comes in and show your fans you care. Setup a Paypal and a webstore, all of which can be accomplished for free, and next thing you know, you are now your own record label and you have put your band under your own personal control and not of anyone else. This also means there will be a fair amount of work on your part filling out customs forms, packaging and shipping CDs, dealing with art, responding to emails, keeping track of orders, monitoring traffic on the various websites and keeping an open social media interaction with all your fans. This is what it means to be a truly independent band.

All of these things have been done by myself and my band Shaded Enmity. We have managed to attain a fairly decent sized world following that stretches from Germany to Iceland to Greenland to Japan and Australia. We ship CDs all over the world and have our album downloaded and streamed thousands of times every month all over the world because we have followed these steps and learned from our mistakes. If you are looking to get the absolute most out of your band that you possibly can, this is a damn good way to start…

For more information on Joe Nurre and Shaded Enmity, head over to their Facebook page. The band’s most-excellent Forsaken and Forgotten album was released in 2013.

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