10 Questions With An Artist/Author: Martin Atkins

Earlier this week we pointed you to drummer/author Martin Atkins and his amazing tips that can keep your band going on the road.  Recently Martin was gracious enough to give us an interview (literally, he responded to our questions via email in less than 2 hours!)  Above is a crash-course in Martin’s way of thinking and after the jump we’ll talk serious about touring, the industry and try to get him to unleash a string of curse words he’s so famous for.            

1. You’ve been on quite a marketing blitz with your new book Tour Smart.  What have you learned along the way that applies to bands as far as successful promotion goes?

Be prepared to work harder than you ever have at anything! We have started slotting in two or sometimes three events per day (sometimes as much as 100 miles apart).  Its’ grueling work but it is the only way to make it work.  Use any avenue you can (within reason – or maybe not) to get exposure.

2. What is something you should bring on tour that most people may not think of?

Other than Tour:Smart?  A map as a backup for your swanky iPhone.  A printer.  It’s a great way to enable better communications in and around a venue and at the merch booth to advertise special offers and a wonderful way to neaten up the guest list.

3. What advice can you give for a band looking to improve their live show?

Play more, film yourself, and then watch the video as if you are a sprinter watching the results of the 100-yard dash with your aerodynamic experts – keep those elbows tucked in etc., etc.  Be merciless with your fellow band mates.  Swap notes on audience reactions, talk to your soundman or anyone running your sound or lights for an impartial opinion but be aware that they are always going to be NICE.  They don’t need to risk pissing you off with the very valuable information that the last three songs are shit and people were leaving but you didn’t see them because the lighting guy turned up the stage lights so you couldn’t see anything except the first few rows……..then play 20 more!

4. What is the biggest mistake you see a band make in playing live?

Chastising the small audience that DID show up on the rainy Tuesday night.  They need to be chastising themselves or the people that didn’t show up!

5. Under the New Music Model, how has the importance of playing live/touring changed in the industry?

Live is now everything.  You are the distributor of your product.  You are the listening station. The mailing list sign-up sheet…. all of it is monetized through live appearances.  It’s the thing that makes all of the great internet marketing stuff – Google Analytics, YouTube videos etc., etc. monetize-able!

6. You’ve mentioned that the debate over whether or not music should be free is over.  Accepting that things are the way they are, how do bands creatively market their music in novel ways?

There are so many… First the band has to have FIVE albums to sell  (or at least two or three) so that when they do give one away,  there are still a couple of others that someone could buy, and even then that’s a maybe.

7.  We’ve also heard you say that record labels are often unnecessary – is there anything that labels can still you do better for bands than they can for themselves?

Well, yes.  Invisible has its own studio which is a great way for a band to be able to spend more time in a studio than a small advance would allow.  They also get to use me if both parties feel like its beneficial – without paying me upfront.  We have leverage that can help at so many levels and a roster of artists that can help.  We can also advise, consult etc.

8. What should bands be concentrating more on (what can bands do better than labels)?

Touring 365 days a year, meeting people and making friends and fans, writing more and more songs, expressing THEMSELVES more and in better ways, and defining their band / brand.   That’s the stuff the band HAS to do anyway!  On top of that: creating and fabricating intricate, unusual and groovy-as-hell packaging that requires a whole team of excited fans of the band to spend hours putting together, making stuff that makes a difference, and effectively running your street team.

9. A lot of our readers are in extremely competitive markets for live music like NYC and LA.  What’s the best strategy for getting more heads out to your shows?

MOVE someplace else.   There are too many events, no one cares and everyone that might is too busy struggling themselves to make the time (or the money) to support you.  Move to Boise, build up your profile then take over another city. BUT, especially, try and be east of a line from Minneapolis to Texas.   80% of the major cities are east of that line.  It’ll save your ass on gas and give you more time in front of people (either on stage or in shopping malls) and less time in the van.  

10. You’re someone who goes out of his way to debunk incongruous industry ideas.  What do you see as the biggest misconception in the music industry today?

That there is a shortcut. It takes ten years to become an overnight sensation!

Martin Atkins has been in the music industry for 30 years.  Having played with bands like Public Image Limited, Killing Joke, Ministry and Nine Inch Nails, he brings a unique first hand knowledge of the industry.   Atkins went on to managing bands, starting a record label, teaching at Columbia College and has now written an incredibly helpful book for bands called Tour Smart