How Local Bands Should Market Themselves


Time to kick some preconceived notions to the proverbial curb: Businessmen come in lots of stripes and colors. They aren't just hand-shaking dudes in suits and ties -- the hirsute long-hairs in ripped jeans and a penchant for a tasty riff on their cherry axe (that means they can play guitar well) trying to "make it" are just as adept at the daily hustle as your average entrepreneur. And that's because, really, they are entrepreneurs: It just might be that their garage is their office, instead of their, er, office.

Case in point? Lisle's Admiral Of Black is perhaps one of the savviest and hardest working local bands around. Recently the metal quartet was tapped to open for another big-deal metal foursome, Helmet, at Riot Fest. In other words, even if you haven't heard of either band, trust us: Getting invited all the way out from Lisle to open up for Helmet is a huge honor. Admiral Of Black is doing something right. (It must have something to do with its latest album, the scorching Blood & Fire)

To figure out what those things are, I gave guitarist Jeremy Bremner a jingle. We also discussed the most common ways bands spread themselves too thin, why hustling online isn't everything, and their plans for eventual global domination.

For our readers who might not be familiar with you guys, how long have you been around, and how has marketing your band changed over that time?

Jeremy Bremner: We have only been around about three years. We do all the online networking, and obviously MySpace is dead now. We do a lot more with Facebook and YouTube and Reverb Nation as far as the social networks. We don't really do the Twitter stuff, but when we started, three, three and a half years ago, MySpace was the big thing, but that place is kinda dead as far as online marketing goes. We're always out there flyering, doing pick-up shows, that kind of stuff as well out on the streets. If there's a big metal show in town, we'll be at those, outside, networking with other bands and stuff like that.

And speaking of networking with other bands, you guys opened for Helmet recently. While I'm sure that's a great experience, has there been any tangible benefits of that?

Jeremy Bremner: Well, talking to you is one of them, right? [Laughs.] Definitely getting on big bills is helpful, exposure-wise. There's gonna be a lot of people there that are not for you, they've never heard of you.

Right. You have to give them a reason to care.

Jeremy Bremner: From there you play and you get out in the crowd and make sure people remember that you were there.

How do you use those platforms you mentioned earlier to interact with your fans?

Jeremy Bremner: We're not very good at marketing, obviously. [Laughs.] We'll do a dispatch post to update people on what we're doing, upcoming shows, give shouts to other local and regional bands that we tour with. Anything new that we've got coming out, just to keep it present. At the same time, not try to do the same thing every day. You see a lot of times bands just post the same thing every day. I guess that could be good, but at the same time, you gotta keep it somewhat fresh with posts and whatnot. But you don't want it to be overbearing, like, "Hey! Come look at us! Hey! Come look at us!"

I know you said MySpace is pretty much dead, but I've heard it's a little better because you can embed entire songs. But that's the problem with this stuff: Everyone feels like they have to be on it, but what do you do to stand out once you're there? If you do something savvy, everyone'll just copy you and you'll fall into the background.

Jeremy Bremner: I know. It sucks. It's one of those necessary evils. Even with MySpace, it's kinda one of those things, dude, we're never on there, but we've got our page if someone wants to view it and they can get links to any other information they wanted to get to from there. Same with Facebook. But everything's all linked together now. It's a lot of white noise now. Everybody's got one. You kinda just got to have it if people are searching to find you. But being out there and talking with people face to face is the only way of doing it to stand out.

Wait, what is that? Face-to-face?

Jeremy Bremner: [Laughs.] Phone call? What's this phone interview? I thought we were going to text interview. What's going on?

And I saw on your site you guys have a song on Rock Band. How big of a splash does that make? What was the thinking behind that?

Jeremy Bremner: That was an opportunity we got and it's really cool. I mean, our stuff is in a video game. We got the opportunity through this agency we're working with, and they asked us and we were like, "Yeah, okay, cool man." There wasn't a lot of thought behind it. It wasn't like we searched it out. It kinda just happened. But it's been good because a lot of people play Rock Band, it's a popular game. Having the ability to have it be out there, it's one more piece of exposure in another area that hopefully somebody'll take a chance on us and put us on the road for another year and a half or two years.

Do you get royalties from it?

Jeremy Bremner: Yeah, yeah. Some. If the song sells, you get royalties. We've done some licensing. Some things we've done for gratis, for exposure, but ideally you get paid for your music. We've done a few things like that. Miller did a thing for the Sparks campaign, I don't know if you remember all those alcohol --

Caffeinated things?

Jeremy Bremner: Yeah, those poison things. They did a big campaign last year and asked us to be on it. We got a little royalty on that. It's not much, but it puts a little gas in the tank.

As a band in the current climate, is the goal still to get signed to a major label? Or what are you guys ultimately trying to achieve?

Jeremy Bremner: We are trying to achieve the ability to just sustain ourselves through being musicians. Being able to do this band full-time, whether that means an independent label or however. Pretty much now it's do-it-yourself, which is fine and it works and we get out there and we tour, but to be able to at least find some support with a little bit more of a foothold and connection to put us on tour. Our goal is to just be out on the road playing music everyday. That's why we do it, to play live shows. We're not doing to have videos online. We do it because we want to play live. Our goal is to just tour. Write an album. Tour. If that means a label picks us up, or it doesn't, that's our goal and that's what we're working up. The climate is crazy. It's changing, which is cool, it's kind of exciting. But it's also kinda scary, man.

How do you make money as a band? Is it primarily through shows, or merch, or what?

Jeremy Bremner: Yeah, pretty much. Income is coming from shows and selling merch. We get slight -- like, from Rock Band, one of our checks was for $3. [Laughs.] But you know, whatever. Some of them are bigger, some are smaller, but the main source of income for us as a band is getting out on the road and playing shows. That's it. We do some online sales. Like with iTunes we get some checks every month. CDBaby. But most of it's from the road. To be honest, a lot of bands are making money the way it is: You gotta be on the road.

How often do you guys play in Chicago? According to the tour dates on your site, it looks like you play in Iowa or Wisconsin more often. Is that fair to say?

Jeremy Bremner: Yeah. The four of us, we were in another band for like five years and we were playing Chicago, like, every month. As much as we could. Just too much. We decided to really try to focus on regionally touring and getting out as much possible, and go to Chicago and the Chicago suburbs maybe three or four times a year. Unless a cool opportunity like that Helmet show or something really awesome comes up, we'll jump on that. But we're trying not to overdo our local market. And I don't know if that's the right way of doing it . I just know that before it wasn't working to our advantage. I mean, who wants to go watch the same band every other week? If you wait a few months and do a show with some other really cool bands, like Electric Hawk. But we found that's the way to do it, just hitting other markets: Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan.

Is that advice you'd give to other bands starting out?

Jeremy Bremner: Yeah, definitely. Get your stuff together before you start gigging, and then don't overdo it. Spread yourself out. The only way you're going to make more fans is by hopefully hitting more markets. 

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a columnist for EGM. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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