Using Social Media Effectively

The music industry today is completely different than it was 10 years ago.  With the internet and social media everything can change in the blink of an eye.  For your band to be successful you need to see where trends are heading and use them to your advantage.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are currently the three most important social media accounts your band should have to interact with fans.  All of these platforms have different purposes and should be used with this fact in mind.

Instagram is a mostly used for photo and short video clip sharing.  I have found the best way to use Instagram is by posting photos at a practice or show.  Always use relevant hashtags to label your content so people browsing the hashtags can see your photo.

Using Instagram effectively is a good way to maintain your bands image and keep your band relevant.  A good goal to remain active is to have three to four posts a week.

Twitter is the exact opposite of Instagram as it is mostly text biased.  This is where you can post all of those random witty comments you think of.  Be funny, but don’t be offensive.  Ask fans questions, post your thoughts on a current events (stay out of politics though, that is a no go zone) or just comment about small things that are going on with your band.

People like twitter because they can see all of these uncensored comments from people they follow.  For twitter two to three posts a day (including retweets) is a good amount to stay active.  Twitter is a more fast pace platform which is why it is okay to post more frequently.

Facebook is the place where most of the promoting happens.  This is where you can post all of your upcoming shows, links to your music and other announcements. Facebook is the best platform for these promotion style posts because it has the most space for text and people who follow you Facebook are most likely to read what you have posted compared to updates on other networks.

I have also found that Facebook is a better place to upload videos to than YouTube because Facebook shows your videos you upload on your page to more people than if you were to post a YouTube link on your page.  Facebook does this to encourage people to upload videos to their site rather than redirecting traffic to a different link.

Social Media is a complex, growing creature that cannot be fully explained in one blog post.  If you really want to master how to use it, look at other successful bands social media accounts.  Study the kinds of content that they are posting and take influence from them when you are using your own accounts.

For another take on using social media you can read this article: http://www.seeksocialmedia.com/ways-to-grow-your-bands-fan-base/

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Learning to busk

Every band has those days where they can’t seem to book a show or something gets canceled last second.  Today we will go over a way to make some side cash on days like these so you and your band can make use of these lost opportunities.

The method I will be going over is called busking.  Busking is where you play an acoustic set on the side of the road for tips.  This has been our most successful avenue for money and we are often making more money busking than we do at some shows.

For the best results while busking find a populated area in your town.  This can be downtown, by a shopping center, in a public park or pretty much anywhere that has a lot of foot traffic.

Then take with you as little equipment as possible you need to play.  If you have a singer, guitar player or bassist maybe get a little $50 battery powered amp so they can be heard well.  However, I would recommend only using amplification if you absolutely need to as it is something extra to carry.

From there just set up a case or tip jar in front of you with a sign that has information about your group and start playing.  People prefer to hear covers, but you can throw some originals in there to spice things up.

Before you go busking make sure you look up laws in your town about panhandling.  Every town handles it differently so make sure you are not breaking any laws while you are playing.  The last thing you want is a $200 ticket for loitering or permit violation.

If you discover busking is illegal in your town an alternative would be to go up to some businesses and ask them if you can set up in front of their shop.  Most of the time store owners will enjoy the added attention of having a musician in front of their shop and police shouldn’t be able to give you a ticket because you are playing on private property with permission.

Also if you ever find the police coming up and talk to you make sure you are very respectful.  From our experience most of the time the police are talking to you because they got a noise complaint and don’t actually want to give you a ticket.

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This is a picture of our busking setup with Brandon manning the drums.  We have free stickers in the trombone case and we hand out shirts to people who tip us more than $12.

Another tip about busking is to make sure you have at least 45 minutes of material to play.  From there you can just loop it over and over until you are finished.  You will find most people don’t stay there longer than five to ten minutes, but for the sake of not playing two or three songs until you drive yourself insane just have those six or seven songs to keep everyone entertained.

Before you start busking I would recommend padding your case/tip jar with a few dollars before you start.  You would be surprised at how long it takes for people to realize you are accepting money.  Eliminate that confusion for them.

“Make sure to be funny and interactive. Be especially interactive when kids are around – it guarantees a tip,” said Estelle Miller, another musician who busks in Gainesville.

Finally make sure you are engaging.  Dress professionally, look people in the eyes, and have a good time.  If you do all of these things it will make you stand out from every other guy and their acoustic guitar and allows you to get new people to listen to your music.

If you want more tips on busking watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44h47j_tNRo

Creating an engaging set list

When playing a show the set list is the flow of whole performance.  Crafting a set list that engages an audience so they are dancing like there is no tomorrow one song and pulling out their lighter to wave in the air the next is a skill few bands master.

A lot of groups will just throw a bunch of songs together willy-nilly without thinking twice about the order.  However, the truth is a good set list can add a lot to a show.

When making the set list the first thing you should do is ask yourself some questions about the gig.  Who are you playing for? How long is the gig? What kind of venue are you playing at? Answering these questions can help give you some ideas for creating an order.

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For instance, this photo is from a gig we did at Dance Marathon.  When creating a set list for this show we knew that our audience was fraternity students, so we played more cover songs and only fast paced energetic tracks.

Generally I like to start a set with a high energy song.  Reward the crowd for waiting for your band to set up.  Also a strong opener hypes the crowd up for the rest of the set.

Another tip would be to put different songs around each other.  If your band has songs with similar structure and/or similar tempo, make sure you do not play them one after another.  Playing similar songs back to back gets repetitive and the last thing you want is for the crowd to be bored.

I have learned from making set lists that if you are a band that plays original music, learn a cover to throw on near the end of the set. People normally respond really positively to songs they know, so having a recognizable cover near the end of your set gets people in a good mood for your closing songs.

For the last song play the best song your group has.  The ending is the finale and it is the last thing people will remember when they walk out of the venue.  Keep them talking about you by playing the song that will blow their minds.

Something else to consider would be having one or two extra songs to have if you get called back for an encore.  It doesn’t always happen, but if it does it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Obviously there are scenarios where you don’t have to follow these guidelines but most of the time these can help you keep your set stay interesting.

“My favorite set lists combine controversial lyrics with easy listening melodies,” said Shane Stukel, who is a singer/songwriter.  “I’ll usually pick more of my aggressive songs and counter act them with gentle softer songs.  I love sending a message to people, so if people listen to my words and ask me about my lyrics that’s the best.”

The most important thing you can do is learn from experience.  Experiment with your order and see what works better with the crowd.

For more advice on creating set lists check out this article: http://blog.discmakers.com/2012/03/set-list-tips/

Throwing a successful house show

 

One thing that any musician will tell is that playing music is expensive.  Everything costs money.  From buying new equipment and merchandise to more unexpected costs like repairing equipment and replacing lost gear.

A majority of small bands can’t earn enough money on shows alone to afford everything so bands need to adapt to make that extra money.

In this post we will be talking about house shows.  House shows are a great way for bands to play for a different crowd while making some cash.

If you are lucky enough to have your own house to use, set up your own house party shows.  Find a one or two other local bands to play and buy some ‘refreshments’ to keep the guests entertained.  Then you can charge $5 at the door and at the end of the night you can walk away with anywhere from $200-$350 (depending on turnout) of extra cash for just playing in your house.

If you do not have a house, find someone that does and set up a house show there.  I have found offering to clean up before and after the party makes the homeowner much more receptive to the idea.  You also can give the homeowner a cut of the money you earn at the door so they are getting some money as well.

Another perk of house shows is that they are a much more intimate than a normal show due to the smaller venue and lack of stage.  You are able to develop a much closer relationship to fans that turnout to house shows than normal shows because of this.

A way to improve turnout that I have from house shows is to theme the parties.  Have a Halloween party, a Christmas party or a St. Patrick’s Day party.  Give people a reason to celebrate and then they are more likely to come out.

Also make sure to alert your neighbors before the party because it can get noisy at times and the last thing you want is to have the cops show up in the middle of the party and kick everyone out.  Then all of the money and time you have invested organizing and promoting the party goes down the drain.

Once you get into scheduling normal house shows, make sure you strive for consistency.  If people know your house shows are good they will tell their friends and every time you will have a larger crowd.

If you are smart about spending money on drinks and advertising, playing a house party show is almost always a good investment for a day you don’t have a gig booked.

Read this article for more information on House Shows: http://diymusician.cdbaby.com/musician-tips/house-concerts/

Improving stage presence

One of the most important parts of being a musician in a band is performing, but the thing that separates a good performer from a great performer is stage presence.

You can be the best musician in the world and play the craziest songs but if you have poor stage presence it will take a lot away from your set.

Having good stage presence is difficult because a lot of groups form bad habits and do not recognize the harm these habits cause to the show.

The first thing you can do as a performer to improve your stage presence is to use eye contact.  Now this doesn’t mean finding one member in the audience and staring at him until he walks awkwardly off to the bathroom, but moving your graze around the room and looking engaged with the crowd.

You will find so many bands that will just stare at the floor.  Doing this makes you look nervous and embarrassed to be on stage.  You are the show.  Own it.  Look at the crowd and show them you happy to be there.  Being engaged with the audience will cause the audience to be engaged with what’s happening on stage.

Another bad habit I see a lot of groups get into is that a lot of bands get on stage and then they turn into statues.  You have to move.  These people came out to your show to have a good time, not watch you stand there and strum chords.

Your attitude is contagious, if you are having a good time so will the crowd.  If you don’t jam out to your songs what makes you think the crowd will?

The beauty of a live performance is that is adds a visual element to your music.  Take advantage of this by making sure you have a coherent ‘uniform’.  Your appearance is important, it is the image of your band and gives people a picture of your group in their minds.  If you are a punk rock band wear flannel and band shirts, if you are a jazz combo wear a suit and tie.  It is your band so you can be creative and unique.

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As you can see from this photo, a different thing my band does to improve the visual aspect of our performance is we purchased a clear bass drum head and put a light inside.  I have found it to be very useful to have our own lighting to provide atmosphere for gigs that don’t have any lighting rigs or an added effect for venues that do.

Before every show you should set up a camera and video tape your performance.  Being able to watch your performance is a great way to see what you like and what you don’t like about your set and improve it for future performances.

You can also go to shows or music festivals and watch other groups to see what you like and dislike about their set.

Always be on the lookout for things you can tweak and improve upon.

Here is a video of a band who exhibits many factors which allow them to have a great stage presence:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAx8udx9azU&nohtml5=False

How to optimize practice time

One of the main problems I have seen with groups I have sat in with or participated in is the lack of productivity during practices.

Practices are vital to your groups’ survival.  There usually is only a limited amount of time every band member can be available to practice.  This means you need to make sure your group is doing everything it can to make the most of that time.

The first thing you need to do to have a productive practice happens before practice even begins.  Make sure you are prepared.  So much time is wasted when someone forgets their trombone or important equipment that is vital to practice.  Have a list of everything you need for practice and check it really fast before you leave to be certain you didn’t forget anything behind.  Its your job as a musician to be responsible for your own gear so don’t cause your band to waste valuable practice time.

Being prepared also means knowing your music.  If you discussed covering a song, learn it.  I have had so many practices where we have to spend time learning parts because people didn’t take the time at home to do so.   One of my teachers once told me that a group rehearsal is not time to be learning your own parts, its where you should learn everyone else’s parts. This lets you have a deeper understanding of songs as a whole and in the end your group will sound much better. Coming in prepared will save you hours of wasted time.

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This is a photo of my bands practice space.  We use a rented out storage unit because it gives us the convenience to practice whenever we can.  We also use the whiteboard for writing out set lists and structuring songs we write.

I have found that setting goals gives the group an objective to strive for.  Before you go into a practice ask yourself, “what do I want to accomplish today.”  Knowing what you want to get done will allow you to put all your effort onto that one task.   Staying focused one or two realistic goals per practice will keep you moving forward and hopefully avoid the always fun ‘random jams’ where nothing is really accomplished.

From personal experience I can say that I have had groups fall apart because of their lack of focus.  I have nothing against having some creative song writing sessions, but you need to balance that with completing songs and practicing already completed songs.

The first band I participated in had this amazing guitar player who was one of the best song writers I have ever worked with.  He had so much potential, but his fault was he had a hard time picking one song and finishing it.  If you have goals and focus your efforts you can avoid all of these distractions that eat up a lot of time.

Keep this advice in mind before your next practice and hopefully you will be able to cut back on some of the waste.

 

-Daniel Hopin

 

 

Introduction to the blog

Welcome!

This is the Solar Ellipsis blog. Here I will be giving you advice on how to make your band experience more productive, enjoyable and profitable.  We will touch on topics such as, managing your social media, playing shows out of town, organizing productive practices and much more. This post will serve as an introduction to the blog and give you some of my background and experience.

My name is Daniel Hopin, I play saxophone in Solar Ellipsis (that’s me in the middle).  Noah (left) is the drummer and Brandon (right) is the trombonist.   IMG_2487 (1)Solar Ellipsis is a three piece Jazz/Dance band with the goal of merging the genres to create music that has the appeal of pop music with the depth of some older jazz classics.  We have been playing shows in Gainesville, Florida for over a year and have about 21 years of experience of playing music between the three of us.

We have played shows with nationally touring acts such as Knox Hamilton, Moon Hooch, and Ground up.  We built up our brand from an idea to reality and are continuing to grow everyday.  I know first hand the hundreds and hundreds of challenges that new groups face and how to overcome them.

I hope this blog can provide readers with ideas and advice to help get their musical projects off the ground and allow them to expand and become successful.   This blog should also give the non-musically inclined an inside look at how bands operate and some advice that can be applied to other aspects of life.

 

-Daniel Hopin