A Cure for the PiL
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Why a Lack of Good Images, Poor Band Names and Lacking Visibility Can Shorten a Music Career
THIS is something I have touched on before…
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but I am particular enraged and baffled so many artists continue to make the same mistakes. I must admit that I am not perfect when it comes to my blog. There could be a few snaps of myself and I need to get the social media buttons/links sorted; there could be a few tweaks made here and there but, as I am here to represent other musicians and feel I promote myself pretty well, I am not going to be beat myself up. The ‘PiL’ in the headline stands for ‘Public Image Limited’ - the John Lydon-fronted band and, in an ironic way, it tackles two things I want to talk about. We are at a time where people are photographing everything that moves and they can make their photos look all shiny and colourful, it always baffles me why musicians are among that select group who seem to struggle with providing great photos. It sounds like a personal gripe but it is general and sage advice that all journalists will echo. It can be exciting hearing a great song from an artist and you want to put in a review or interview. You get ready to contact them and check out their social media channels. One loses that passion as soon as you see another grainy, crappy and tiny images. More often than not, you get a slew of phone-taken photos that are piss-poor in clarity or you have a couple of professional shots and nothing more.
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More and more, I am finding artists do not have a selection of high-res photos and, as such, I am turning them away! You might think that is a harsh policy but, as I say, we have the capacity to take professional-quality photos with affordable technology. It only takes a little while to set up your own shoot and get some great pictures online. Failing that, music photographers are not that pricey and you can find plenty of willing and hungry people who would jump at the chance for work and would not charge you a fortune! A single session, which is all it would take, varies in price but it is not a ruinous cost! That investment pays for itself because you look more professional on the page and there is something eye-catching to lure fans, journalists and potential venues/backers in. I see way too many artists with either very few photos of any kind of so many bad ones that are, if you’re lucky, interspersed by a few decent ones. I am not suggesting either artist out there needs to run to the best local photographer and get their wallets out! A fairly regular – once every six months or so – a new set of snaps would be affordable and you can intersperse that with photos of your own. That gives journalists like me a chance to pick some great shots and make pieces look professional and attractive.
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The excuses I get usually fall into three categories: People either say they can’t afford it; the P.R. company that are looking after them limit what they can provide or they feel photos are not that important. It might seem costly getting photos done but, as I say, you can shop around find something affordable. Making music and touring costs money so artists need to think of it as part of their business plan and, after you get a nice set done, you do not need to worry for a while. It is like an M.O.T. or a trip to the dentist – making this sound attractive! – but it will make a big difference and, in a visual age, you cannot afford to be lacklustre. I see artists have Instagram accounts and post endless photos there so I do not buy the excuse they cannot afford to get photos taken – the evidence speaks for itself! I know there are P.R. companies that, annoyingly, limit photos depending on campaigns. They want a particular ‘look’ for that single or whatever is promoted so they can shackle people like me. I have lost count of the times I have seen an artist with a load of top photos but the company wants to limit me down to four or five because they are part of this cycle.
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Even if the rest of the photos are a few months old, they want these exclusive shots and get annoyed when you try and add to that. I can understand an artist would want a particular theme for an album or single but it seems foolhardy to limit yourself in terms of photos. A certain preciousness and limitation can be a real issue and I wonder whether musicians have an idea how irritating that sort of behaviour can be. I digress but I do worry about that third point: artists feeling images are not important. Music is as much about visuals as it is anything else. You can be a super-genius innovator or the next-big-thing-of-the-world but, if you have no images or shoddy examples then that looks really bad! The first thing you see in an interview or a review is a photo. That comes before the music and your eyes are engaged and stimulated before your ears! We, as it is said, have short attention spans so, if you have grainy images or none at all, are people going to look further and stick around?! I wouldn’t. The reason I am so insistent regarding high-res images is because I want to capture the mind and hook people in. Too many times, I have been a pacifist and published pieces with terrible images or low-resolution ones. I look back and wince and wonder why I did not reject that artist!
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This article, published four years ago, shows there is ignorance among the music community:
“Our findings showed that out of 2,000 artists, only 4% thought promoters took the quality of pictures and videos into account when selecting artists as opportunity winners.
The reality is, almost every promoter that we talk to mentions how important photographs and album covers are in their selections. A great photograph is what immediately separates you from anyone else at first glance. You’ve worked hard to make sure that your music is as good as it can be, so why not invest some time in making sure that first visual hook is just as good?”
Victor Alfieri, Founder, Owner and Editor-in-Chief, wordkrapht.com
“A high quality photo or album cover shows that the artist is taking their craft seriously and that this isn’t some weekend hobby. While I understand that funds are always tight, there are ways to produce high quality stuff that help the artist get noticed.”
Vaughn Lowery, President, 360 Magazine
“Captivating artwork is everything. Because we live in a visual world, artists should have photos that expresses the message points of their band. However, there is a clear distinction between quality and quantity”.
To be honest with you; if you do a quick Google search and you will find countless articles that underline the point: you need to get good photos and image is everything!
This article I discovered talks to photographers and how important images are:
“Nashville-based photographer Kyle Dean Reinford is a specialist in music portraiture, documentary and live photos, who spent years learning his trade in New York. He feels image plays an integral role—especially on the business side.
Yeah, the music is obviously the main product, but in the age of the internet, image means a lot. If I see a terrible photo of a band, I'm less inclined to listen—even more so if they have a bad name. It's hard for me to get past those things on a personal music-loving level and I expect it's the same for others. We don't just hear music on the radio the way we used to.
I'd also say that having good photography is key for getting signed. Labels don't develop bands the way they used to. They want to see a band that looks cool and marketable and has everything worked out”.
The music itself is, of course, the main thing and if you feel image – as in sexiness and fashion – is what sells you best then you need to ask yourself whether you are in the right industry! I am not talking about coolness, selling your body and commercialism. Great photos, as has been outlined, sell the music as much as the artists themselves so there is no reason to think you can have a successful career without some good-quality shots – ignore that advice at you peril.
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The last two point I want to relate to names and social media. Again, like photos, you need to sell yourself and be visible and, if people struggle to find you online then you are shooting yourself in the foot! I know it has having a great band name and standing aside but you would not believe the number of times I have come across Google-proof bands that you spend ages trying to locate! I have come across solo artists called ‘Sophie’ or ‘Gemma’ and try typing that into social media sites and Google and how many options you have! If you called your band, let’s say, ‘Wealth’, then how am I meant to narrow that down?! In the way people will look elsewhere after seeing some poor photos; they will do the same if they cannot locate you or there are other bands with the same name. Similarly; having weird characters and letters in your name is irritating and unnecessary. If I saw a band called ‘summariZe1’ or ‘TurNINgReed’ or something silly then I would lose my patience. I have taken artists with complex or hard-to-find names and I always regret it. There are articles out there that give you advice regarding names and getting it right. This illuminating piece reflects some common advice that is worth taking to heart:
“Before you go crazy, there are a few things we would like you to keep in mind. A good (and legal) band name must be:
1. Unused – No one likes a copy cat
2. Short – 1-3 words is standard and works with the psychology of memory
3. Timeless – You don’t want to end up hating your out-of-fashion name in three years
4. Google friendly – Make sure when people search your name, they find you and not a bunch of pictures of Snooping Dogs or porn
5. Consider avoiding ‘The [something]’ – Starting with “The” has been done and is officially dusted (for the time being)
The Internet loves animals.
Google ‘bands with animal names’ and you can get about 13,700,000 results. Check out the comments on Brad Frost’s list of bands with animal-themed names, people are enthusiastic. You surely can’t go wrong with this category unless you strongly insist in using names of the world’s ugliest animals. They could be cute to you but might not be for everyone else. And no Blobfish please.
Looking back from the 60s, the list of animal-inspired band names is endless. Here we have the ’The (Animal Name)’, mostly classic rock bands from the old days such as The Monkees, Animals and The Beatles; On the contemporary side we have bands like Arctic Monkeys, Cat Power, Grizzly Bear, Modest Mouse, The Mountain Goats and Birds of Tokyo, which are descriptive or a combination of an animal with something with a ring to it...
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
In saying this, we’d highly recommend you go for a descriptive animal name.
Not only that the ‘The (Something)’ is out, it is also more recognisable and creative than a plain animal name. Think storytelling. Alien Ant Farm is much catchier and funnier than plain old Ant Farm. And Snoop Dogg / Lion / Werewolf / Unicorn / whatever’s next is much better than ordinary Snoop. That’s just creepy.
Objects, Nature, Places & Events
If you’re still stuck, get some inspiration from the things around you.
Where are you? Literally. Where were the New York Dolls or the Alabama Shakes? Look around the house. Take the famous example of AC/DC who chose their name from the back of a sewing machine. Open your fridge. Think Vanilla Ice, Lemonheads, Peaches, Red Hot Chili Peppers or Salt n’ Pepa”.
This article adds to the mix:
“2. Want to use your actual name? Make it unique and more descriptive
If you're compelled to use your personal name, just be prepared to make it more hip, memorable, unique, and descriptive if needed. Case in point: David Bowie (born David "Davy" Jones) adopted "Bowie" – after his favorite hunting knife – to sound more edgy and to create more distinction from Davy Jones of the Monkees.
Alternatively, if your goal is to make it clear that you're the leader of your band, don't be afraid to say precisely that in your name! The Dave Matthews Band is a name that implies that there is one leader, Dave Matthews, but we can also expect – with some flexibility – that the same group of musicians will be working on every recording and performance…
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3. Consider how it'll fit on your merch…
Your name should be short enough (or look cool enough when turned into an acronym) to fit on merchandise, including T-shirts, hats, and stickers. Trent Reznor of the band Nine Inch Nails denies any deep meaning to the name – he claims to have just wanted a name that abbreviated easily!
4. Be sure it's easy to read, pronounce, and spell
Remember what a name is intended to do – make you memorable and recognizable. A name with an overly strange spelling that no one can read may be defeating the purpose. Could you imagine if your parents gave you a name no one could pronounce correctly? Each day of school would be a nightmare as each teacher constantly messes up your name!
Korn spelled with a "K" is fine, for instance, but just be careful not to make your own name's spelling too weird. Though the band Lynyrd Skynyrd has been hugely successful for decades, I literally couldn't find them on the web when researching this article because I couldn't spell their name correctly. Even Google had no idea what I was trying to do. (I'm laughing, but I'm serious.) For a brand new band in this day and age, you might as well not exist if your name can't be easily searched online”.
Given the number of artists who respond to my emailed interview questions and I spend more time correcting the thing than they took to write it…we are less connected to the written word and spending a lot of time text-speaking.
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We want a band that is easy to recall and we can tap into a search engine easily. I am not saying you need to dumb-down but you don’t want to have the caps lock on and off, on and off; typing in a number and then put in an apostrophe! Similarly, if you have a very common name you will take so long to find the band you want that you get annoyed and move on. Also; boring and obvious names can put people off just as much. Take advice from the articles above and bolster it with the search results you can find. It is a bit late for bands out there saddled with crap names but when it comes to naming your next single, E.P. or album, you can avoid similar pitfalls. Again; why do artists feel it is okay to name their latest piece something so common and over-used?! I can understand songs have a theme but I see so many songs that I think I have seen before – look through Spotify and you find a dozen other artists who have named their song the same! This ties together image and naming. Whilst cover art and photos are there to catch the eye and sell the product; if you are lazy regarding titles or give a song/E.P. a stupid name that can have a very detrimental effect! Bands/artists have so much navigate and consider when they are established – making mistakes right from the off means you might not have a long career at all!
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If you have your name and images all sorted and, essentially, ensure people are enticed enough to listen to/promote your music then you’ll want to be visible online! I am not 100% sure whether an official website is vital but it certainly helps! I am not big on Instagram but I feel, if you want to spread your music and get it to the biggest names in music then you NEED to be on Twitter! I have mentioned this before but cannot underline how baffling it is when musicians are not on there! This article provides a lot of reasons why Twitter is essential – I have picked a few:
“2) It’s where things happen first
Not all things. But, increasingly, news happens first on Twitter.
This point may not be so relevant to musicians in terms of publishing content via the medium, but keeping abreast of what is happening in the music world on Twitter and taking an active part in those discussions is one of the ways in which you will gain followers and by extension increase your fanbase. If you only use Twitter once a day or once a week to send updates, instead of using it as a means to engage and communicate with others, you will not be getting the best from the service...
IMAGE CREDIT: Twitter/Getty Images
6) It’s a fantastic form of marketing
You’ve written your piece or blog. Now you can let them all know it’s there, so that they come to your site. You alert your community of followers.
The primary reason for a musician to use Twitter is to communicate with your fans and promote your music. As I’ve mentioned, if all you do on Twitter is spam your followers with BUY BUY BUY messages, you won’t have them for long. But if you use Twitter well, and tweet about non-commercial content for the most part then fans will respond to messages about buying your music and merchandise. And don’t forget that your followers will be excited about your next concert or music release so tweeting about these things will build up enthusiasm and anticipation.
8 ) It’s more diverse
Traditional media allowed a few voices in. Twitter allows anyone.
In the similar fashion to Facebook, Twitter allows you to capture audiences which previously would have been considered niche. In the vast oceans of the world wide web nice groups can clump together into significant audiences (and market) for your music”.
Another feature, from DIY Musician, makes some interesting points and provides useful advice:
“Facebook might be amenable to a few updates per day, but the more posts you write, the less likely your followers are to see them.
When you want to say something with words, when you want to say a lot of things with words, there’s Twitter!
A string of tweets can show you building a larger story over a short time. A tweet every 15 minutes can reveal the random misadventures of your life. The one-off tweet can share a revelation…
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Whether you want to let your fans in on your stream-of-conscious mind or you prefer to schedule 50 tweets ahead of time in HootSuite, Twitter doesn’t hold you back.
Being a member of a larger music community is important, but when you want to share info about a friend’s new music, or thank a blogger who covered your latest release (on the same day your video goes live on YouTube), or just ask your fans what they thought of that cool article about your favorite artist,… you might be reluctant to do so on Facebook if it hurts the reach of other important posts you need to make that day.
Who comes to the rescue? Yep, once again, Twitter.
Twitter has zero barriers to being a good community member. You can tweet, retweet, reply, and like things whenever you want. When there’s no cost to being a supporter of others’ work, generosity follows. Sure, Twitter is the digital home to plenty of trolls, but it can be a really supportive place as well”.
You can get so much attention being on Twitter and it means, with a single tweet, you can get your music to radio stations, labels and whoever you want! Maybe you feel your music can grow and market itself based on radio and Facebook but the reason so many artists get their songs played on big radio stations is because of Twitter! There is no logical reason to avoid the site and it is so incredibly simple to promote and accrue the right fans; get a big audience and remain visible. If you think you are too ‘cool’ for Twitter then you are wrong. Not only will people miss your music but you are limiting yourself being off of Twitter.
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The last piece I will bring in introduces a new dynamics and thoughts:
“I think you lose a lot if you outsource your social communication to third parties,” says Mike More, CEO of Headliner.fm, a social marketing platform for musicians. “It only takes a few minutes a day. There’s a very big upside for artists that invest their time in getting it right.”
“One of the main advantages Twitter has for artists is that it’s more open than Facebook or any other social platform,” says More. “Artists can follow any band they’re into and connect with them easily. This is a big plus.”
This lends itself to the possibility of connecting with like-minded artists and if one possesses the right blend of luck and relevance, getting followed or retweeted by a band with a massive following.
But it also makes that artist-to-fan communication much easier than it ever was before, and different artists utilize it in different ways. Some are impersonal and almost broadcast-esque, while others choose to get a little more intimate”.
I would not exist and be able to do what I do were it not for Twitter! Facebook is okay for personal contacts but limited for music and promotion. I can add musicians and contact them directly; I can get my pieces shared more easily and widely and it is an essential marketing tool!
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I cannot emphasise those who ignore it and do wonder why! These concerns of mine might seem niche and personal but, honestly, journalists and every corner of music feels the same. The best and most long-lasting artists take pride in images and realise their worth; they have a great name that is not off-putting and they are visible on Twitter. There is a lot more to consider when it comes to forging a successful career in music but avoiding pitfalls regarding name, photos and Twitter visibility is paramount. You need to ensure people can find your band/music and you have a visual edge – not just musical – and, when they do like that they see, they can point others your way. It is all about that fan-to-musician relationship and an intimacy that goes with it. One reason I am tuning away a lot of requests is because of things like lacking photos or poor quality; those not on Twitter or something like that. There is no need to make these errors and be lazy. If you are an artist – and culpable when it comes to my concerns – then think about it from the fan’s/journalist’s viewpoint. We want to bond with you and share your music so it is essential you are visible and easily locatable. Image-wise; we want to see what you look like and what you are about – photos are as much about your personality and unique edge as they are anything else. These tips and guidelines may seem rather minor and slight but trust me, if you follow them and take them to heart, it can all make…
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A huge difference!