Houston Musicians to Record Companies: We Don't Need You

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In the eyes of some Houston musicians, labels are dead. Local bands VerseCity and A dream Asleep seem to think so. Though their musical styles are drastically different - a self-proclaimed rock-soul-pop group and aggressive hardcore-metal band, respectively - the two have a lot in common when it comes to marketing their music to both current and potential fans. "We're going to keep going on our own," says VerseCity lead singer Micah Walker, though he admits that, considering his band's growth, it's tough. Walker says that he and his bandmates will need some help soon, but not necessarily in the form of a record label. "It could be a manager," Walker tells us. "It's impossible for five guys to run a band." That goes double when that band is actually experiencing some success. Independently, VerseCity has sold 989 songs on iTunes as of this past December and, Walker says, 1,000-plus physical copies of the band's album Epic Sunrise. Mike Seals, A dream Asleep's lead singer, doesn't think it's harder to market music either; in fact, he feels that, because of iTunes, Napster, Rhapsody and Amazon.com's MP3 division, selling albums - and even individual songs - is easier. "The Internet sites have completely changed the game in the music industry, some bad but mostly good if used properly," Seals says. "A person in Japan can find out about and hear your band without your band ever playing a show or getting a review [there]." He says the endless accessibility of music via the Internet has made finding new music much simpler: "One of the first things [to do] is get your music on all the pay-to-download sites. People love the convenience." Walker also feels that the Internet is the best marketing tool for smaller bands. "The industry is changing daily," he says, "but at this point, they still have all the experience to make it easier." Walker feels that VerseCity may yet be able to pave its own path without a label. "It depends on what you want as an artist," he says. "[We do] a lot of strategic online marketing." But that too has its downsides. All of us, at some point, have joined a group or become a fan of a band only to be spammed incessantly against our will, leading us to cut our ties with said group. Walker is aware of this risk. "I know I'm going to piss a lot of people off, but my marketing strategy works," he tells us. "It takes a lot of work, but it's necessary if you want people to come to shows, especially for independent artists like us." VerseCity markets itself primarily via the Internet, but also places a focus on face-to-face interaction. This can be beneficial, Walker says, but most of the return he has seen has been from the Web. And, of course, there is an emphasis on the music. Bands have to put on a good show because if it sucks - and yes, every band has a bad gig from time to time - they won't get many hits on their Web sites the next day. "You want to find your niche," Walker says. "Instead of letting them come to us, we find our fans." Similarly, A dream Asleep proactively seeks a fan base. "Don't just sit there behind your merch table and wait to see if this person looking at your merch wants to buy it or not... let them know that they want to buy it," Seals says. "Go to the malls around town and walk up to the kids that look like they'd like your music; go talk to them and try to sell them a CD while telling them about your next show." Recently, VerseCity played at the House of Blues with the Jud Johnson Band, spending more money on marketing and promotion than they ever had before. But they saw a return; their Facebook page now has nearly 2,000 fans and their songs have received over 20,000 plays on MySpace. "Definitely worth it," Walker says of spending so much money on the HOB performance. "Nothing is more satisfying than knowing that you put on a good show." He's referring to the sound, VerseCity's onstage presentation and the number of fans in attendance - which, in turn, pleased the venue. And what band wouldn't want to be on good terms with House of Blues? VerseCity plays Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak, with Windsor Drive and Abandon Kansas 8 p.m. Saturday, February 27. A dream Asleep plays Walter's on Washington, 4215 Washington, with Crash Gallery, This Year's Tiger and Dead to the World 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 2.

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