A Tough-Love Letter to Indie Bands from a Journalist
Picture this: you’ve just gotten a job as a music journalist (congratulations on your new job, your pay is nothing), and your editor sent you a link for your first assignment: an album review. It’s an independent band—cool, you support the unsigned scene. You pop in your headphones, and you’re really liking the sound of this new band. You start off by writing an introduction paragraph with some biographical information. You didn’t get an EPK (electronic press kit), and the band doesn’t have a Wikipedia page. “No problem,” you think, “I’ll just look on their website.” Yet when you find the site, the only tabs are “merch,” “tour,” and “music.” But you aren’t panicking yet. You’ve been trained for this. You stop by the band’s Facebook page and mosey over to the “About” section. Finally, this is where the gold mine is, right? Alas, the page is nearly blank. The bio is a quote from almost famous, the influences have nothing, and the hometown reads an alarmingly unhelpful “the middle of nowhere.” You start reading through the Facebook feed, searching the Twitter, and scouring the Instagram, but it’s all useless. Suddenly, the music you thought sounded great becomes the soundtrack to you tearing your hair out and yelling, “Oh my God, where the hell do you LIVE???”
This scene is hauntingly familiar to me. I absolutely love writing about unsigned bands, but more often than not, the part that should be the easiest—literally explaining who the band is—takes the longest. It’s frustrating, and I’ve actually had to turn down albums because I couldn’t figure anything out about the artist. The worst part about it is that artists don’t need an expensive PR team to make information accessible to journalists; you just need some guidance.
Indie bands, I love you, and this is how you can stop making me hate you.
The best way to see if your platforms will give me a stress headache is to look at them like a journalist would. Imagine you’re about to release something: an EP, a music video, a tour, whatever makes your heart happy. Go to your website and try to write four sentences about your band based ONLY on what’s on your site—absolutely no outside knowledge allowed. If this was easy-peasy, you can stop reading. But if your sentence sounds like, “they released XYZ album at some point and they have some neat T-shirts,” you need some work. Do the same thing with your Facebook page. Your bio of “we just like music, man,” doesn’t seem so edgy now, does it?
I don’t want to make you feel bad. You’re doing this all by yourself and I’m probably the first person who has told you your band is impossible to write about. I still love you and I want to make you better, because you aren’t beyond hope.
So you’ve decided your website needs a facelift and your social media needs some TLC. Now, what do you put in it?
Where you’re located. “California” doesn’t count, give me a city and a state
Your foundation year. How long have you been in the game with these weirdos?
Your members, and what they do. I can’t praise your earth-shattering vocals if I don’t know your name.
Give me a snippet of a story. Did you meet on Tinder? In college? Did you pick up a guitar before you could walk? Has anyone left or joined the band recently?
A press contact. Maybe I fall in love with your sound (and your excellent bio) and I’m dying to cover your show. Don’t make me hunt! Even if it’s your personal Gmail, tell me who I should be hitting up.
At least a little information about your discography. What can I look up to have something to compare your growth to?
Most importantly: KEEP THIS UPDATED. A little part of me dies every time I read a Facebook bio that reads “2016 is going to be a huge year for XYZ band.” Give it a read over every six months, and every time you have a major release or event.
See, that’s not so bad, is it? Every time I see a detailed “About” page, my heart does a little pitter patter. Having a bio that seems edgy at the expense of frustrating journalists who want to be your friends—and possibly losing features—just isn’t worth it. Again, you don’t need to befriend a writer, or hire an expensive PR team, or break into the Wikipedia headquarters to make sure there’s relevant, current, and important information about your band somewhere on the Internet. This is doing people like me a favor, but it’s also doing yourselves a favor.
I love you, now go fix your website.