Listen Up

9 July 2012 | 10:42 am | Greg Phillips

You still need to tour and create a fanbase because kids download music, and there’s a great deal of intangibility in that. The only tangibility a fan has is the ability to experience an event, which is a gig.”

Frank Varrasso: Publicist, radio and TV plugger. The credentials: Started out as pub/club band booker. Worked for Street Press selling ads (“It was a lot of fun because it created a situation where I was building a very solid database.”). Promotions job at Warner Music leading to promotions management at Warner, Sony and EMI. GM of National Promotions & Publicity at Festival/Mushroom. Senior Director of National Promotions & Publicity at Sony Music.Wanted a piece of that promo pie and started Varrasso PR. 

How do I get a gig? How do I get airplay? How do I get an interview in a magazine? These are the eternal questions posed by most bands starting out. Many believe they have the songs and the live chops and can't understand why they aren't being noticed. A lot of musicians  still think the old model of music business success still applies: form a band, write good songs, get signed to label, tour and count the dollars. It was only ever like that for a fortunate few anyway, but certainly in the digital age,  the rules have changed dramatically. “Twenty years ago it was all about doing shows and creating a fanbase. That still remains the same but with the digital age, there are a lot more acts around,” says Frank.  “It is a hell of a lot more competitive and that means you have to be able to cut through. Nowadays you have a situation where a lot of artists are creating music in their bedrooms and aren't necessarily doing shows. I think shows are still crucial to do. You still need to tour and create a fanbase because kids download music, and there's a great deal of intangibility in that. The only tangibility a fan has is the ability to experience an event, which is a gig.”

As Frank Varrasso will tell you, there is method to the madness of the music industry and bands now need to get themselves organised if they want to be heard, particularly in regard to radio. Let's look at the nation's youth radio network, triple j, for instance. triple j will receive around 180 song submissions per week. They'll only add eight to 10. In order to cut through the competition, you need to give yourself the best chance by ticking as many of triple j's boxes as possible before they'll consider playing your song. Frank explains.

“Does it fit the core triple j demographics? If so, that box is ticked. Because they are a national network, where is the band performing? If they are only performing in Melbourne, who cares? What about triple j listeners in Canberra or Wollongong? So if they are touring nationally, another box is ticked. Is this band going to receive exposure in press? For triple j, they don't care about Who Weekly, they care about Street Press, J Mag or Australian Musician. They care about alternative online sites. They need to know that the band is active on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. What's the website like? Is it up to date with plenty of content? All these things come into play and they need to tick as many boxes as possible to get the best chance of getting added to triple j, and the same goes for community and mainstream radio. If you have a great song, it's fine and dandy but if you don't have the mechanisms in place, to create heat on the band, why would you add that song?”

It's Varrasso's opinion that independent acts need to think about their music as being a business, especially if you are serious about your band playing music as a career as opposed to a hobby. “Essentially, each indie band needs to create great music, then encompass the release with a team of people who can offer them the best exposure. Me taking a song to radio in isolation, it's not going to work,” he says. “You need a strong publicist on board to give you the support. You need a booking agent because you need to be seen playing gigs. You need  a manager because a lot of young bands find it difficult to manage themselves as well as rehearse, write songs, play live and record. You also need a digital aggregator. Someone who is going to put your music up on iTunes and BigPond Music, on blogs and websites that can help your music. A lot of artists will pay a certain amount of money and have songs put up on Tunecore, but once a song is up on iTunes, who knows it is up there?”

Another major thing to consider is whether your music is ready to be unleashed to the media. First impressions are incredibly important, and you need to introduce your music in the best possible light as you might not ever get a second chance if it's presented poorly. “You need to be prepared and have a strategy in place for any release,” reiterates Varrasso. “Why would a magazine write a story about a band if all they have done is put a song up on iTunes? You need a story. What makes them different to everyone else? You need a team of qualified experts around you to help give you the best chance of exposure. If you are an artist and not prepared to give it a hundred percent, then why bother? It's so hard to cut through the mustard. It's a circus. It's very competitive and only the cream rises to the top.”