Three Easy Ways to Help Your Band Stand Out
by T. Perry Bowers
I’ve been playing in bands for a long time. Over the years I’ve tried all sorts of things to help my band stand out in the sea of other bands in my home city of Minneapolis. Because I’ve been in the studio business for twenty years, I’ve also watched hundreds of bands attempt all sorts of things to increase people’s awareness of them. There are bands who take things seriously and there are naïve bands who think their music will do the talking and they don’t need to worry about anything else.
Some bands are so good it doesn’t matter what they look like or how they market themselves; people love them. I’ve known mediocre bands who have, much to my surprise, made it, either locally or nationally. Mediocre bands who make it usually have an exceptionally talented marketer or publicist in the band.
Whether you are great or mediocre, here’s three things you can do to stand out from the crowd:
- Your Sound
Develop your own sound. It may sound obvious, but your sonic texture is your signature. Something has to be unique about it. It may be the way you sing or your guitar tone. Whatever it is, it has to be original and authentic.
Working with a producer can help you identify the thing you do that no one else does. When my band was working with a producer he told me there was a particular way I sang he thought was compelling. He wanted me to sing that way all the time. In fact he said my voice was boring unless I sang that particular way.
I worked very hard to sing the way he wanted me to sing. We recorded a couple of things with him that turned out pretty good. He was right. He could hear something in me that I couldn’t. He turned me on to something I didn’t even know I did.
Your sound could be the way you write songs – quirky little love songs or psychedelic ballads. Whatever you do naturally, capitalize on it. Make it accessible, digestible and relatable. Your sound is your bridge to your audience so bring them in.
Craft your songs and your performance. Let your vocals stand out in the mix or bring your guitar up slightly when there is a solo. Play the drums in the pocket. Don’t put fills in every bar of the song.
A word of caution: be careful not to ask for unlimited feedback from family and friends. Only take criticism from people who really know music and have your best interests at heart. Never look to social media to find your sound. Sifting through the trolls is painful and difficult.
- Your Look (and the way you perform)
Every band has a look whether they want it or not. The grunge bands from the Seattle scene tried not to have a look – they just wore flannels and jeans and didn’t use hair spray. But because they weren’t trying to have a look, everyone talked about their look. Actually, whether they admit it or not, they have a look and work very hard on it.
Some bands make it on completely based on their looks – maybe because they wear cool clothes or are devastatingly beautiful. Some bands wear makeup and costumes. They might have some kind of hook between their band name and what they wear. Right now there is a local band in the scene called Hot Pink Hangover. They all wear black with a splash of pink. This helps them stand out in their photos and when they are onstage. People remember Hot Pink Hangover.
A look doesn’t have to be flashy or gaudy. It can be exactly who you are, but it should be cohesive. If someone sees a picture of your band, they should have a good clue what you sound like.
Don’t wear bright pastel colors and funny looking hats if your sound is brooding, droning, shoe-gazer music. Find a look that fits your style of music. Talk about it amongst your band members and agree what is and isn’t acceptable to wear on-stage.
In my band we have a simple code: no shorts, cool shirts. Sometimes we step-up our look for a particular gig, but if it’s a local club gig on a Thursday night, our code is all we need.
If you’re a young band, trying to be successful, pay attention to how you look. It’s as important as your sound. You need your sound and your look to be captivating.
You also need stage presence. Whether you choreograph moves on stage, craft banter between songs, use props, lights or projectors you should aim to stand out. Surprise and delight your audiences with an experience.
If your sound is hot, your look together and your performance intriguing, you may just have something. Now how do you get that something to a wider audience?
- Your Marketing
You have a sound and a look – how do you get more people to see and hear you?
You could always try a publicity stunt. I’m not kidding. People get noticed when they do something a little naughty – or even illegal. Please don’t hurt anyone, but think of ways you could bring a lot of attention to yourself in a short amount of time.
I’ve never had the balls to do a real publicity stunt, but I know bands who did. There was a band in the nineties who rented a flatbed truck and drove around the city playing at full volume. People noticed and they got a few write-ups in the paper.
Another band held a contest. I’m not sure what the contest was about but, if you won, they came and played an entire set in your garage. They did this for a handful of their fans in one day. After playing a couple sets, word got out that they were playing in random garages all day. The press took notice and gave them some coverage.
I know a band who played every record store in Minneapolis on Record Store Day. They just got in their van and showed up at the stores. If the record store would allow it, they would set up and play a quick set. People love this kind of thing. You have to think outside the box to get some real attention.
Making Facebook event pages is not enough. We live in a day and age where huge pop stars are doing full tours in the nude (thanks, Miley Cyrus). People are not shocked easily. You can have monster talent and still get lost in the immense sea of bands and artists.
Don’t risk your life by doing something stupid. But if you think you’re going to get noticed or go viral with only solid songwriting and simple professional looking videos, think again. You need to stand out. You need to have a story.
Everyone is interesting in some way. Discover what makes you interesting and expose it to the world. Push the envelope; beak out of the box; take a risk. If you want to get noticed, it’s not an option, it’s an imperative.