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Making a living out of playing and writing original music must be one of the most difficult ambitions to fulfil. I tried for 10 years and although I got a foot in the door and a small step up the ladder, I ultimately found the whole industry a little demoralising and gracefully bowed out at the age of 26 years old.

The things my band did achieve, I am proud of, even though it didn't work out the way we planned as young teenagers looking to take over the world. Sometimes you've got to carry around that kind of self-belief, even if it does put you in the 'delusions of grandeur' psycho ward.

With a manager behind us, we found ourselves recording our first studio album. We had a few major labels interested, all advising us not to make an album and stick with e.p's but we'd spent a year on this thing and were set on it. Mistake or not, I can't be sure, but what it did do was give us something to talk about in the local media. I come from Peterborough where the music scene is less than ideal for an ambitious young band. However, that also means it's easier to get to the top of the local scene, even if there is nowhere to go once you get there.

Now we had an album on the way, some acoustic demo's on the myspace and we're starting to sell out the local venues, there was definitely a buzz about the band. It was around 2006 and there was a lot of worry in the music industry at the time. Majors we're cutting down on multi-million pound record deals due to the effects of file sharing and managers were starting to feel it. The other notable thing about the music industry in 2006 was the rise of the social networking site, Myspace. Today it's a graveyard but back then, it was a revolution for independent music and bands were starting to realise. We were by no means one of the first bands on Myspace but we did get in there early. Before the spamming started, people actually read their messages, checked out new music and built up communities around bands. You've got to put in the work yourself to keep it moving of course, but it can definitely pay off, no matter how useless it may seem at the time.

Self-Promotion
As an unsigned band you literally spend hours applying for anything and everything, competitions, social network promos, unsigned radio competitions, Glasto and other festival spots - Whatever there was, I was applying. (with the knowledge that I was probably wasting my time). And so I was quite surprised when I got an email from Myspace telling me we'd been chosen to be the featured band for the week. It was a good boost, another little bit of ammunition for the local buzz and the start of an all consuming life of Myspace messaging.

We ended up with around 75,000 friends and an email database of almost 10,000. In the early days we were selling 3 or 4 albums a day just by talking to 'friends' for a couple of hours each morning and asking them to post our banner on their page. It's true that selfpromotion isn't the nicest thing to spend your time doing but it can pay off. Be cautious about the number of times you tweet or post a gig though, any more that once or twice a week and your efforts will fall on death ears and you'll start to be annoying!

Build a Community

Although Myspace has been replaced by Facebook and subsequently Twitter, it's still about communities and friendships. When a fan has seen you play 10 times, it's probably not just the music they're coming for, they want to meet the other fans they speak to on Facebook or your forum and ultimately engage with the band on a personal level. A band is seen as something exiting and your fans want to be part of it. Hang around after the gig, arrive early and spend some time with your fans. It sounds crazy, but we once turned up to a small venue and after the sound check there were about 25 people downstairs waiting to come up, they were all from different social groups we'd met over the net and we knew just about every one of them. We were off to get a bite to eat, and so what could we do but invite all 25 of them to the local Wetherspoons?!

Yes, there will be strange fans, very strange fans, but I reckon that's what being in band is about. Living room tours, garden party tours, gigs in town centres, churches, art galleries, we always seemed to be out of our comfort zone. The number of times we found ourselves in a situation and just though, 'What the hell are we doing, this is ridiculous!'.

Getting Into the Charts
We'd split from our management after being unsatisfied with how record deal negotiations had gone down and we're now completely on our own. We were lucky in that we also had a function band on the side and so every single penny from that side of things went into the band. We bought the recording rights from our managers indie label along with all the stock and after a while had sold around 3,000 albums with enough cash left to fund a single. I'd heard about the new rules stating that downloads were soon to be counted towards the top 40 and thought that with the number of fans who bought the album, we could probably do it if we pushed really hard.

Come January 2007 and I was a little bit gutted to find out that Koopa had been far more on the ball than we had and got in there first. It was all about the PR story and coming second isn't quite the same. We still believed that making the top 40 would give us a little bit of credibility when approaching the music industry so set about making it happen. There was a lot to think about like setting up the label, finding a distribution deal, pr team, pluggers and everything else that goes comes with DIY music. The main thing was selling the mp3's with the classic 'Help us getting into the chart, text this number' approach. With our mailing list, myspace friends, some generous radio 2 plays from Janice Long and a little bit of guerilla marketing we just about poked our nose through the door and got to number 35 in the chart. It was a good day and one that I'll never forget.

Was it worth it?
Did it help? Was it worth it and did we make any money? It helped a little. Yes it was worth it at the time. No, it cost us a small fortune, as you might expect. We did get a live Radio 2 session and a spot on BBC Look East news as a result though. It also opened up some doorways in our search for music lawyers and future managers but it wasn't the be all and end all we were hoping for. I'd say that the main positive that came from it was that it gave our fans something to talk about. When a fan tells someone about a new band and add that they were in the top 40, it just might make them want to check you out. I wouldn't advise that you to try and get in the chart but definitely find an angle, make up a story, whatever, that's what the majors do. I've read so many stories about bands we met on the gig circuit and know full well that a PR story has been taken way out of proportion. Indie blogs, radio and magazines just want to talk about something interesting, so give them something to talk about.

For the Record
Just for the record, the band I played in was called mesh-29 and we stopped playing together a few years ago. Nowadays, I run a function band agency called Bands for Hire and also work as a freelance web designer for bands and the music industry. At least it's still on-topic 'ey.



Guitar Divider
Article reprinted with permission from Adam Mezzatesta The Mesh Band