The Issue: How a Typical Musician Will Describe Their Sound
A typical musician, when asked to describe his band, may say something like this: “Yeah, it’s, like, sort of an alternative rock thing, but harder, and we mix in some hip-hop, and we have a DJ that plays, but we’re not, like, rapcore or anything like that.”
This description, confusing and unclear, might be alright if you’re just hanging out at a barbecue or chilling with friends. However, if you’re talking to a club manager, journalist, or A+R representative, you might as well just not bother. In fact, you might as well tell them that you’re in a really crappy amateur band with no sense of purpose and no interest in press coverage or label support at all…because that’s what’s going to go through their mind if you talk like that to them. Amateur.
There are two words in the phrase “music business.” Bands are learning that the people who can help them and are willing to work with them are interested only in those artists that operate with a certain degree of professionalism. To be professional, you must understand and be able to deal with BOTH the “music” and the “business.” Consequently, thinking of your band as a business and your music as a product, at least part of the time, is essential to real success in the music industry. Artists are learning to take notes from their corporate counterparts in the pursuit of larger audiences and greater income. (Psst! If you believe that this is “selling out,” then you might want to skip the rest of this article and go back to playing coffee shops for tips…)
I want to share a fundamental marketing concept with you: The Elevator Statement. Marketing departments in Corporate America use elevator statements (or infomercials) to distill their description of a product to a few sentences. The idea is that if you get asked about your product in an elevator on the first floor, you should be able to describe it in a compelling, interesting way before you reach the end of the ride. In today’s Internet-accelerated, attention-deficit-disordered world, nobody has time for anything that doesn’t seize their imagination in the first few seconds. This is especially true in the music industry.
As musicians, we can borrow the concept of an elevator statement to clarify our own vision and have a ready-made description of our band for anyone who is interested. Since so many musicians are so flaky, simply by preparing an articulate, detailed description automatically will give you an edge in the event someone with influence happens to ask.
Elevator statements are created by using a specific formula. For our purposes as musicians, I’ve modified the standard formula for use in describing bands and their music. To develop your own elevator statement, complete the following sentences:
- We have ____ players in the band.
- We play music in the _______ genre(s).
- People compare us to _______ and ________.
- But we are different from these bands because_________.
- The thing that most distinguishes us from other bands like us is _________.
- alt rock, hip hop, R&B
- Limp Bizkit, Incubus
- our music is more dance oriented
- we have a professionally trained female bassist
You then compile the information into a brief description, like this:
“We are a four piece alternative rock band with influence from select hip-hop and R&B. People compare us to Limp Bizkit and Incubus, but our music has more of a danceable feel to it. In addition, our Bassist provides a really strong low-end groove that gets people moving.”
Memorize your statement. Keep in mind, this is only an example. The idea is to describe your band and to distinguish yourself from the average garage group in the span of only a few sentences. If you have a gig coming up at a known venue, you might mention the date, or if you’ve had a radio appearance, you could throw that in. Be sure that:
- You are comfortable saying your statement.
- It is grounded in comparisons that hold meaning for the listener.
- You can say it in a tone that exudes professionalism, motivation, and confidence. You know who you are and you know where you’re headed.
Specific details such as genre and band size are less important than the overall expression. If you talk about your band in a professional way, the people that matter will look at you band as a professional group.
Once you have an elevator statement, use it! Important people are everywhere, so you should always describe your band with professionalism, even at a barbecue. You never know who you’re going to meet.