From the time I was about 15 years old, the only thing I dreamed about was getting signed to a major record label and touring the world with my band. To say that I was obsessed with “making it big” may even be an understatement. It was literally all I thought about, 24/7. I used to lay in bed at night and close my eyes and imagine that I was on a tour bus, in my bunk, headed to the next town, on some big tour. But it always felt like more than just a dream. I literally believed with every ounce of my being that one day, my dreams would come true, and that I would be on a major label, touring the country with my band.
I’ve been asked many times, “What’s the secret to getting signed?” and the truth is that I don’t believe there is just one secret. It’s more like a lot of small steps and a little luck at the right time.
Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity – Seneca
TRUSTcompany was born in 1997 under the name 41down. We were a three-piece band and we all had full-time day jobs, that we worked 40 hours a week. We practiced on Tuesday and Thursday evenings after work and played shows on the weekends. We created relationships with other bands all across the southeast and traded shows to get exposure in other cities. We had a lot of fun, but took it very seriously. We never made a penny of profit before we got signed, but we didn’t care. It was our passion and we loved every second of it!
( 41down The Lonely Position Of Neutral Demos 1999)
The music industry has changed quite a bit since those days, but I wanted to share some of the things that we did that I think helped us, and then I’ll share some thoughts on the music industry now.
- We all had the same goals, commitment, and dedication
As simple as this sounds, it is one of the biggest factors in determining the success of a band. Nine times out of ten, when I hear of a band breaking up, it’s because there is someone in the band who isn’t as dedicated, or really wants to play a different style of music. Sometimes it’s because a couple of members have different goals and only want to play as a hobby, while the other members want to go all in. Just like with any kind of business or partnership, it’s hard to be successful if all of the partners aren’t on the same page or have different ideas, dedication, and goals. And like it or not, a band that wants to earn a living with its music is a business.
- We focused on the music
41down was an all original band which meant our main focus was writing new songs. And we knew that no matter how much fancy equipment we owned, or how great we sounded live, the only way that we were ever going to get a record deal was if we wrote original music that people actually wanted to listen to. And this goes back to knowing what you want. We never even had one conversation about doing covers to make money. The focus was always on writing songs.
- We played live a lot
This may have been more important back in the day than it is now. With all of the social platforms available to musicians these days, it’s possible to grow your fan base without playing live shows every weekend. We played a lot of shows for a few reasons:
- We absolutely loved it!
- It allowed us to travel, meet new bands, and grow our fan base.
- We knew that no record label would sign us without seeing us play live first.
- We all believed it could happen
Belief is a powerful thing. It changes something inside of you. When you believe something is possible, you work harder, you focus more, you go all-in in every way. There came a time in our journey as a band that all four of us started to truly believe that it could really happen for us and I personally believe that this was an important part of the equation that led to us getting signed.
Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t… you’re right. -Henry Ford
I was just recently talking to our (then, and current) manager, Jeremy, about the chain of events that led us down the path to Geffen Records. Believe it or not, we were probably one of the last bands to get signed by mailing our demo to a record label.
We got tons and tons of rejection letters as a result of mailing them out, but one small indie label from Washington D.C. (DCide Records) was interested and wanted to come see us play live. They flew in to Birmingham, Alabama to watch us play, and subsequently offered us a deal.
We ended up recording an album for them in Orlando. After recording it, we all quit our day jobs, sold our cars and houses, and jumped in our van to go on tour.
(Shots from the show in Birmingham, Alabama the night DCide Records offered us a deal)
We never dreamed that the album we recorded for them would never come out.
Nope. Turns out, while we were out playing shows in almost every major city on the eastern seaboard, DCide records was shopping our album to major labels, in hopes of selling us for a big return on their investment. Before we knew what was going on, they had booked showcases for us to play in New York for Atlantic & American Records, and in Los Angeles for Geffen, Hollywood, Capitol and Maverick.
Long story short, Atlantic passed on us, but Geffen offered us a deal after playing only two songs. It was a crazy experience. We literally went from touring in a van on a small indie label, to signing a deal with Geffen and recording with producer Don Gilmore in a time period of less than two months. It happened so fast, it was hard to process it all.
41down DCide & Trust Co Geffen promo shots
The music industry has changed a lot since 2001. Labels want more than a demo these days. They want to see that you have already built a following on all of your social media channels. They want to see that you can do it on your own before they invest any money.
The good news is- it’s now possible to find and reach hundreds of thousands of targeted fans with things like Facebook ads, and by learning the art of list-building. For the first time in history, it’s possible for an unsigned, independent artist to grow a fan base and earn a living as a musician without the help of a major label. It still takes hard work, dedication and learning how direct-to-fan marketing works, but the results can be a game changer for an indie artist.
I’m excited to share some of the things I’ve learned over the past few years in the world of digital marketing in some of my upcoming posts, and I’d love to hear about your experiences in music and what kinds of things you’re struggling with. Leave me a comment below and let me know your thoughts and have a happy Thanksgiving weekend!
Indie Music Roadmap
A Guide To Growing Your Fanbase Online
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