Despite living in California I am still an avid listener of WBEZ (that's Chicago's NPR station if you didn't know). Listening to an hour of it a day is the easiest way I've found to learn a few dozen new things every day. Maybe a few dozen is overstating it a bit but not much. One of those things I learned recently was how bands promote themselves in the digital age in a radio report and series of videos on Jim DeRogatis' blog.
It's a fascinating look at what it takes to make it, even marginally, as a band in today's world. There's nothing especially shocking unless the thought of hard work is shocking. It's easy to assume success can happen if you get the right break but the right breaks come through work. But it was a discussion about a profession I know very little enough. Not too many of my friends are in bands that could be considered more than expensive hobbies. So it was interesting to hear from people caught in the middle of trying to break in.
It also tackles the interesting question of how to balance promotion with making the actual art. Without promotion you don't have awareness. Without the art you have nothing to promote. It's the same conundrum someone in advertising could have when they're out of work. Do I work on side projects or keep reaching out to Creative Directors? Do I promote myself or keep working on my skills. A mixture of both is ideal but time is finite and prioritizing is important. And, at least for Canasta, the answer to this quandary should skew towards work rather than promotion.
"More recently our philosophy has been 'let's try to limit the amount of time we spend on this stuff [marketing, pimping themselves out]' and make sure we don't stop working on the music. Which some weeks go by and I swear we spend more time on this stuff than we don on working on the music or rehearsing or,you know, what have you. And that's a real shame and it took, a few years that went by before we sort of realized how imbalanced it had become." - Canasta's Matt Priest
Another part of the interview I found fascinating was the discussion of "Pay to Play." (Where a festival or venue asks the act to pay to be on a show.) Both the hosts and the bad members were against this and I think that's a very good thing. It reminds me of the phenomena a while back where people were paying thousands of dollars to work unpaid internships
. It just seems wrong to me to charge someone to have them work for you. It's sick, actually, because you're saying that your time is worth so much and that you will derive so little from the person working that they need to compensate you for your time.
The most important thing I took away from all of this was the approach Canasta took. They didn't ask for permission to exist, they just put themselves out there. They were human in their communications with people and businesses, rather than being rockstars and standing distinct from other people. And they're generous with the things they've learned to help make them a success. That's something I always admire because it shows a level of confidence most people don't have. People usually covet success, lock their "secret" in a little locket they keep around their neck, then lie about said locket. Canasta is a refreshing change.
Alright, alright, alright, I'll shut up now. Here's the radio interview and a whole video discussion with WBEZ's Jim DeRogatis and Canasta. (It's a 5-part series but I'm assembled it into a playlist for you. Isn't that nice?)