It’s pretty easy to find free shows in Nashville. They’re a nightly occurrence and some of them (like tonight’s with Paul Burch and the Joiners or any in-store at Grimey’s) are pretty awesome. In other words, finding free concerts is child’s play. Getting record companies to give you free CDs and merch, on the other hand, is something I’ve become pretty good at and some I’ve just witnessed, and I wanted to share with you some of these not-so-secret secrets.
It might sounds sort of dorky, but I’m a member of a few street teams. There’s a decent amount of actual work involved and the payout isn’t spectacular, but I’ve scored some sweet swag from hanging posters around town. I’ve gotten into free shows featuring artists I love, I usually keep a poster and some stickers for myself, the record label often sends me free CDs of established and up-and-coming artists (they want you to be familiar with the music you’re promoting), and even an autographed Ryan Adams poster from Lost Highway, which I got after only 3-4 “missions.”
I’m not gonna lie, putting up posters sort of sucks. You have to drive or walk around town, and it’s super awkward, but if you just go to your normal hangs and bring a poster or two along it’s not as weird as if you just walk in, say “hey, can I hang this,” and then leave. You feel like a jerk if you do that, and hey, you probably are. Anyway, street teams work because you’re helping out the label and the bands on it, and the label is helping you by giving you swag in exchange for your work
Okay, I’m going to admit that I’m not sure if this works at all labels (it probably doesn’t so much at big ones), but from my experience smaller labels tend to pay their interns in free shows and CDs rather than in money, and if you don’t get the music and such for free then you probably get it at a steep, steep discount.
Right now I’m working at the most awesome indie record label in the world, and I’ve been to free shows that my favorite bands have put on in some of the most incredible venues, and if there is a VIP section I’m there. Also, I’ve gotten a bunch of CDs and LPs for free, many of them weeks before they come out. I’ve also gotten posters, buttons, stickers, matches, and other things like that. Also, it makes me feel good to know that the work I do at that label helps the bands I love and keeps them going.
This “trick” doesn’t just work with labels. Another one of my internships at the moment is at a music marketing/promotion/supervision company that’s pretty small, but I still get a free copy of the music I’m promoting. It just makes sense, you have to know the music you’re working with.
I’m sure at least 3 of you have read a blog post or two on here where I struggle with all of my being to describe a musician or band. It’s just not something I’m good at. Sometimes I can say “well that band sounds like this other band” but for the most part I just think that Okkervil River sounds like Okkervil River, which sometimes holds me back at my internships, but that’s another story.
Here’s the bottom line: if you’re reviewing music you have to hear it first. That’s pretty standard, unless you write for Pitchfork, and I’m convinced that sometimes those writers were either unloved as children or have never actually listened to the songs. Most record companies will send out digital servicing to you if you write for a college paper or substantial blog (not this one), but as you move up the totem pole you’ll begin to get physical copies of CDs, though sometimes not until after you review them.
I’m not sure how hard it is to find sites that are looking for part-time reviewers, but I know that they’re out there. A good friend of mine writes for Twisted Ear, and I know that Lance gets “REVIEW THIS BAND” emails sometimes because I found him in one of my databases at work. Oh yeah, being a reviewer or photographer also gets you into legit shows for free, just ask Lance.
As you can see, none of the methods outlined in this article are “show up, get free stuff” tricks like most of what I post, and I’m personally fine with that. As long as I’m not dishing out cash for something I’d be more than happy to hang a few posters or do mailings for a record label. I think it’s a pretty fair trade-off.