Many of the techniques for promoting yourself as a DIY musician in 2011 were first pioneered by US hardcore bands in the late 70′s/early 80′s. One of the first of the hardcore bands was Black Flag, best known for launching the career of Henry Rollins.
Their is much to be learned from their DIY punk ethic, setting up tours themselves and releasing records on their own SST records. Here are a few ideas that they used:
- Get in the van. Black Flag’s tours were legendary, epic trawls across the US, Canada and Europe. They were an incredible live band. Through the arranging of their own tours they opened up a whole network of venues that the following generation of alternative bands from the Pixies to REM could play at. Being great live and touring constantly (in horrible conditions) allowed them to build a loyal following.
- Retain your integrity. Black Flag never sold out, that’s why their work resonates through the decades and is so influential. Everything about them is credible.
- Innovate musically. Black Flag started off as a straight Ramones influenced punk band but later went on to incorporate elements of Jazz, Metal, Hendrix and atonal guitar soloing. As their career continued they evolved, continually pushing the boundaries getting slower and more complex along the way. They took chances outside of generic punk.
- Innovate with your marketing. Always try new ways of connecting with an audience. They went out flyering everyday, often going without food to keep on the road. They sprayed there logo all over the LA area (attracting the attention of the Police). Their work ethic of touring, flyering and putting out new material was unrelenting. They even tried advertising on local TV.
- Be careful what you sign. Black Flag’s career was held back because of a legal dispute with MCA over the distribution of an album. Always seek the advice of a lawyer before you sign anything.
- Take a stand. Black Flag constantly clashed with the authorities who tried to crack down on Hardcore shows, they took a stand and carried on. This dedication inspired a loyal dedicated following.
- Put out your own music. Black Flag set up their own SST label and put out the records themselves. Don’t wait for someone to offer you a career in music, make it happen yourself.
- Build a community. SST didn’t only put out their own records, they put out music by Husker Du, Bad Brains, Meat Puppets, Dinosaur Jnr, Sonic Youth and Soundgarden. SST and Black Flag were at the heart of a scene that changed the world, eventually entering the mainstream via the Pixies, REM and Nirvana.
- Have a great logo. Raymond Pettibon’s four bars logo is iconic and has sold thousands of T-Shirts, tattoos and stickers. The ongoing use of Pettibons artwork for later releases gave them a distinctive look through all their work. Controversial,innovative and distinctive.
For further information the books Get In The Van: Black Flag tour diaries by Henry Rollins and Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991 by Michael Azerra are both highly recommended. This was long before the days of easy digital distribution through the internet, you can only imagine what they could have achieved with sites like Bandcamp, Live Unsigned and Twitter. Black Flag were a truly inspirational band.