"Where can I find my audience?"
"How can I find people in the industry who can help me?"
"Where can I find inspiration?"
At Indie-Music.com, we hear these questions every day. We get them in emails.
We get them through bulletins and blogs on MySpace. I sit in clubs and cafes
with indie musicians and listen to them toss around these same questions, sharing
the same frustrations, and not having much luck with the answers.
By Jennifer Layton
I'm always trying to help them come up with ideas. For the past several years,
I have spent a great deal of time brainstorming, writing, interviewing, and
researching, trying to help indie artists find a way to reach new audiences,
sell more records, and build their careers. And then, in early 2004, I met Janis
Janis is an American singer/songwriter who spent the late 90s gigging around
New Jersey with her band Brutus Bit Me. Then she was invited to perform on a
houseboat in Frankfurt, Germany.
Janis spoke no German. She had never been to Germany. But she packed up her
guitar and took a chance. She fell in love - with the music fans, the dramatic
architecture of the cities, and the apple wine. She wound up moving to Frankfurt,
selling a lot of CDs, and launching a 2003 European tour that included a gig
at London's legendary Troubadour Cafe. She now enjoys radio exposure on both
sides of the Atlantic and a fan base that grows bigger and more diverse every
Then there's Abigail Washburn, a bluegrass singer/songwriter I met last month
while writing an article for one of my freelance clients. Abby grew up near
Chicago and went to college in Colorado. On a whim, she joined a group of students
on a trip to China. She fell in love with the culture and learned to speak the
Now she is probably the only folk/bluegrass artist on the planet who sings
old-time Americana in Chinese. She just landed a gig at this summer's Newport
Folk Festival and will be spending the fall touring Tibet, accompanied by members
of the US Embassy as part of a diplomatic mission, sponsored by the American
Centre for Educational Exchange. The Chinese media loves her, and the music
fans flock to the stage after her performances to ask about her playing technique
and how she learned to speak their language so quickly. (For some reason, they
also ask her a lot of questions about John Denver, who evidently has a huge
following in the Far East. Who knew?)
Janis and Abby may spend half their lives overseas, but you don't have to
cancel the lease and move to another country. Just ask rock/pop artist Josh
Zuckerman, who calls New Jersey home but tours in over fifteen different countries,
including France, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Japan, and Thailand. Not only does
his multicultural fan base make give him access to worldwide competitions (he
recently won third place in the International Songwriting Competition), but
the inspiration is a huge bonus. He wrote most of the material for his new CD
Out From Under in Stockholm. The title track spent four weeks at the
Number One slot on Sirius Out Q Radio before the album was even officially released.
Just consider the possibilities that lie beyond your own country's borders.
The USA is not the only country in the world with music fans. With that in mind,
I spent several weeks researching online and interviewing artists and club owners
from around the world. I wanted to know what indie artists needed to know before
entering unfamiliar territory. I wanted the indie-friendly connections as well
as the practical advice (where not to drink the water, what not to say to the
police officer who is searching your guitar case, etc.) (Just kidding about
that last part.) (At least the artist I was talking to said he was just kidding.)
Let's break it down by country, starting with:
Philadelphia artist Nancy Falkow relocated to Dublin in 2004 and within a year
was invited as a guest on three separate radio stations (104.9 FM, RTE Radio
1, and News Talk Radio). When faced with some of the same closed venue doors
she dealt with in Philly, she learned to make the right connections. Below are
some of the venues she's played, along with web links and comments from Nancy.
The International Bar http://www.10best.com/Dublin/Nightlife/Pubs/index.html?businessID=17090
Nancy: "The International Bar has an open mic which you need to sign up
for in advance, and if you do well there, you are sometimes asked back for a
longer set on a different night."
Battle of the Axe at the Ha'penny Bridge http://www.battleoftheaxe.com
Nancy: "Battle of the Axe is a comedy and music show. You need to contact
them in advance, it's a really fun night. You only perform a few songs here
On the Verge http://www.ontheverge.ie
A weekly radio show that also produces a night of entertainment at Sin-E.
The Sugar Club http://www.thesugarclub.com
Nancy: "One of my favorite places to play. Really cool room, excellent
sound, and cool velvety amphitheatre seating."
The Temple Bar Music Centre http://www.tbmc.ie
Nancy: "Nice room with big and cool downstairs green room."
Nancy: "Great people work there and take good care of the artist."
The Green Room at the Holiday Inn http://www.ichotelsgroup.com/h/d/hi/1/en/hd/dblcc
Nancy: "They do a last Sunday showcase and produce some great shows."
The Ruby Sessions at Doyle's http://www.dublinks.com/index.cfm/loc/16-7/pt/0/spid/03BF558A-A7CB-4B80-A30A83F286D0BB27.htm
Nancy: "The door money goes to the homeless, which is really cool, and
the night usually consists of 4-5 songwriters each playing a short set. In general,
hard gig to get. The talent is big and it's a great place to play to a packed
house! If you get a Ruby Session, consider yourself lucky and enjoy!"
Nancy goes on to say, "Overall, I can't say I've become rich from gigging
in Dublin, but I've become EN-riched. I usually sell lots of CDs and gain names
for my mailing list, but I am reminded not to quit my day job!"
The United Kingdom
I won't spend a whole lot of time here, as many American artists are familiar
with the U.K. and have traveled there. However, I did receive some good feedback
from British experimental artist Susan Matthews, who said, "There is strong
interest and support in the UK for experimental music, with sound-based exhibitions
being staged anywhere from highbrow galleries like Tate Modern (http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/)
to the increasing network of artist-led independent galleries. These exhibitions
take a number of forms, from live gigs and improvisation, to sound installations
to CD listening posts.
"A growing number of independent specialist record labels and websites
also play their part in encouraging a widening range and diversity of musical
expression, resulting in experimental music making a healthy, vibrant, and vital
contribution to the UK music scene."
If you'd like to do some research of your own, here are some good places to
Bitterscene: a club in Chelmsford for the 'indie'pendently minded: http://www.bitterscene.co.uk/
Flat Four Radio: an internet-only station broadcasting indie and experimental
music, mostly by unsigned artists, as well as short, entertaining features and
the occasional field recording. http://www.mcld.co.uk/flatfour/
UK Clubs: An interactive guide to nightclubs across the UK: http://www.ukclubs.tv/default.asp
Our expert on Germany is, of course, Janis Elko. I'll just reprint her email
Playing gigs in Germany is a special treat for the indie artist. For the most
part, your German audience will listen to you very intently. There are two reasons
for this: 1) the Germans are usually enthralled by any music with English lyrics
and 2) the Germans are just plain polite by nature.
Booking a tour in Germany is also a relatively easy task (as far as tour booking
goes) because most Germans have a pretty good command of the English language.
As opposed to say, France, for instance, you will be hard-pressed to find any
German who is not more than a little eager to practice his English with you.
A word of warning to those of you who are looking forward to practicing your
German on your Germany tour: the Germans, if their English is even slightly
better than your German (and even if it is not), will expect to carry on a conversation
with you in English. It's just the way it is.
The obvious musical hot spots in Germany include Berlin and Hamburg, Hamburg
being the birthplace of "Deutschrock" - rock music with German lyrics. Some
well-known bands in this genre include Tomte (http://www.tomte.de/),
Sportfreunde Stiller (http://www.sportfreunde-stiller.de/),
Wir Sind Helden (http://www.wirsindhelden.de/),
Die Sterne (http://www.diesterne.de/),
and Virginia Jetzt! (http://www.virginiajetzt.de/),
to name but a few. Why not check them out if you intend to come over here, and
bring them up in conversation with the German indie fan. They will be impressed
that you've heard of them before, and may even be eager to give you some tips
on what's new to come out of the German indie scene. There's lots of good music
to be discovered.
German lyrics is a relatively new phenomenon over here, as the Germans for
the most part seem to be collectively uncomfortable singing and writing songs
in their own language (which is why they are preoccupied with English lyrics).
After WWII, there was a lot of U.S./English influence as the Germans worked
at rebuilding much of their identity from scratch. Certainly, this has something
to do with the shying away from German lyrics. If you ask them why, they'll
tell you that the German language is too awkward to write flowing pop melodies,
and it just sounds too harsh. If you ask me, I'll tell you they're making excuses
to hide behind another language. I personally think German lends itself nicely
to indie music, exactly for the reason that it does sound a little 'rough around
the edges'. But then again that's just my opinion.
More about the Germans:
Spiegel.de put together the very entertaining 'Germany Survival Bible', intended
to help visitors to this summer's World Cup games 'better understand the quirky
Germans and their sometimes peculiar ways' (...even includes tips from Franz
Ferdinand guitarist Nick McCarthy!) http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/0,1518,411291,00.html
A very, *very* worthwhile read!
Now onto some specific tips for my hometown Frankfurt - not really celebrated
as a musical hot spot, but certainly has its share of really cool clubs to play
and a very supportive and friendly indie network to be tapped into:
Das Bett Club
Contact: Frank Diedrich firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact: Andi König email@example.com
Last but not least, if you do successfully book a few shows in the area, do
get in touch with the folks below to help further promote your show - these
guys either have magazines or newsletters with hoards of music-hungry subscribers
or they host their own pirate radio show on a local station:
Indie mag that covers artists on tour.
Contact: Frank Wienand
Local DJs who send out a newsletter every two weeks or so. I'm convinced there
are more concert/club/party tips in this newsletter than any other magazine
or newsletter for this area.
Send them an email at and they will post your show to their online calendar
Radio X 91,8 FM (in Frankfurt)
Radio Rheinwelle 92,5 FM (in Wiesbaden - near Frankfurt)
Vuris Kusik e.V.
An online catalog of all the bands in Frankfurt and surrounding area. The site
features a database of classified ads for musicians, plus a board where you
can post your upcoming concert for all site visitors to see.
Organisation that brings together bands, concert-goers, and clubs. They've created
a program whereby they distribute "concert cards", which are like bonus cards
for the concertgoers; each time you show your card at one of their events, you
get a discount admission and receive a stamp on your card. Once the card has
been fully stamped, you are eligible for other goodies.
Local indie label with in-house concert promotion and design services. Ask for
Daniel or Mauri.
A nonprofit TV show featuring indie bands. They send out a newsletter with concert
tips, and if you get in touch with them early enough, maybe you'll have a chance
to promote your tour through their show... ?
Contact: Sebastian Leitner firstname.lastname@example.org
Markus Gardian - Booking Agent
This guy may not be accessible to all bands, as he has a rather large roster
of known and/or up-and-coming indie acts that he regularly promotes. But who
knows? Maybe he's got an opening slot for a bigger band and he is looking for
the right support act...
I almost forgot: Here are two more important additions. They are music magazines.
I don't know why I didn't include these earlier... maybe because they're just
in German? In any case, I find them to be very, very informative in terms of
keeping up-to-date on what's going on in the world of music and pop culture.
For those able to read German these are very highly recommended:
Pop Culture Magazine
Also occasionally comes with a music sampler CD (...if a band makes it into
this magazine, they do a happy dance. ;-) Even if it's just a little record
Record reviews, interviews, concert listings... Intro is great because it's
free and there are copies of it laying around in select bars/clubs in each city.
Similar to Spex, it covers music and pop culture news.
Oh, and one more indie label in Frankfurt:
Hazelwood Vinyl Plastics
My Misspent Youth
I talked with Norwegian band My Misspent Youth, who gave me an immediate heads-up
about the perils of touring in Norway. Simply put, they said, "Norway is
a country with 4.5 million people, long distances between the bigger cities,
and a harsh climate. This makes touring here quite difficult and expensive.
When touring, try to get to the biggest cities, which are Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger
Despite the difficulties, MMY has found a welcoming stage at the following
Garage, Bergen - http://www.garage.no
Hulen, Bergen - http://www.hulen.no
Kvarteret, Bergen - http://www.kvarteret.no
Garage, Oslo - http://www.garageoslo.no
Rockefeller/John Dee/Sentrum Scene, Oslo - http://www.rockefeller.no
Studentersamfunnet, Trondheim, http://www.samfundet.no/
Checkpoint Charlie, Stavanger - http://www.checkpoint.no/
As I was researching this article, I received an email out of the blue from
a New Zealand club called Bar Bodega (http://www.myspace.com/barbodega).
It was a press release announcing the big names that have played there, including
the White Stripes, Billy Corgan, and Holly Go Lightly. Not really expecting
a response, I hit reply and asked if they ever allow indie artists on their
stage. Here's a direct reply from Tane:
"We have a number of initiatives to get indie artists on stage. Firstly
we have MySpace Wednesday. It is a great way of putting brand new bands on stage.
We pay for poster distribution and the sound engineer so that bands playing
don't have any expenses (apart from travel perhaps) and they don't need to have
a cover charge, which makes it even easier to invite their friends and family
A new band can ring us up (even if they haven't performed before) and we'll
say: 'Sure, here's a date - do you think you can make it?' If they accept all
we ask is that they tell their friends, give us a poster design and encourage
two other bands to be on the bill. This is a great way to put some new bands
in front of people, listen to them, recommend improvements, and set up appropriate
support slots with similar bands and more established bands.
Sometimes we come across a band with a lot of potential and ask them if they'd
like a resident Thursday. At the moment a group of three bands do Make Out City
Presents on the final Thursday of every month. The three bands invite a guest
band each month to play and this is working really well for them and us. Good
numbers and a great headline every month.
Of course we can put young bands on the bill with touring bands, and after
a few months we have some really experienced bands that are ready to start touring
themselves. Sometimes we organize tours - I took a local band on a 7-date tour
two weeks ago. We had a lot of fun.
Working with other venues we are regularly inviting bands from other towns,
matching them with bands here and seeing reciprocal shows happening. Offering
young bands support slots with touring internationals is a great reward for
so many bands. It is worth putting in the time to see the new relationships
forged and the sheer delight on musicians faces.
Until recently I have been a classroom music teach and community educator
so being in a music venue has been as different as it is the same.
Feel free to keep in touch."
I also got some great feedback from Daniel Gannaway, an artist whose work has
been featured on our site several times. From his trips to New Zealand, he was
able to offer some colorful insights:
"I suggest that people remember that the local indigenous people are
called 'Maori' (pronounced ''Mou rrree''), that the country has two main islands
(north & south), that when they see a sign with a 'Wh' like 'Whakatane' then
to US ears it may sound like a cuss word (i.e. F**k-a-taaa-nay).
Remember to drive on the left side of the road, there are no 4 way stops,
no free right turn on a red light. The US dollar will go a little further because
of the favorable exchange rate. It rains a ton and can be four seasons everyday.
People speak really fast and roll their words togetherlikethissoit'sometimesalittlehardtoget
what they're on about.
Anyone not from Auckland thinks Aucklanders are yuppies; they are equally
suspicious of Yanks (seppos, septic tanks - from 80s US nuclear policy, NZ being
nuclear free, and from recent Californian's NZ land buying spree), but will
no doubt be SUPER friendly in the same breath. They're generally real nice,
salt of the earth people, particularly in the country (typical of anywhere really).
More than likely it won't be too hard to book small pub/cafe style gigs, NZ
being a place that so often undervalues its own abundant talent because anything
from overseas must be better, BUT this is super good if you ARE from overseas!
Try hook up with some local acts, thereby everybody gets a little more awareness,
something foreign / something local.
Kings Arms Tavern (http://www.kingsarms.co.nz)
- The Kings Arms is one of the oldest pubs in Auckland Central and features
live music 4 or 5 nights a week and in the garden bar on Sunday afternoons.
The K.A. also has a TAB and a public bar out the front. The weekly gig guide
is available on 09 373 3240 or on the website.
Half of them will be on MySpace as well.
Lastly I've got one good recommendation for connecting with local bands - that
is the Indie Club via Andrew at Powertool Records http://www.powertoolrecords.co.nz/indieclub.htm
.This guy has created, through real hard work, a great indie vibe in one of
the better venues in Auckland. That is my best tip. There are small scenes in
every place in New Zealand."
Indie Artist Paul Winn is a wealth of information on the Outback:
"Australia is a very large country with only a population of around 20
million. What this means for the indie artist is that there's only about a dozen
big cities that provide enough people to support a niche market. In Sydney,
there are only 3 or 4 venues that cater to smaller genres i.e. jazz, blues.
"The other problem is that there is not many nearby countries with large
CD-buying populations, so you have to cover large distances to tour.
On the positive side, it is a beautiful country and the people are generally
very friendly and willing to help you out. In Sydney, DrumMedia (http://www.drummedia.com.au/)
and Brag (http://www.thebrag.com)
are the two biggest free street press. DrumMedia is the best by far.
Most venues worth playing are listed in there. You can pick up a copy of DrumMedia
at most CD stores and music instrument shops. You would probably learn more
about the Sydney music scene by reading that magazine, than by spending a week
on the internet.
The cheapest places to stay are always out of the city. The inner-western
suburbs have the best live scene, and accommodation is a bit cheaper there.
Try Newtown, Surrey Hills, or Redfern in Sydney. Melbourne, in the state of
Victoria, is also a great city for live music."
Indie artist Catherine Duc also chimes in: "The styles of music that are
most popular in Australia are alternative, singer-songwriter and folk/rock.
Tamworth is the country music capital of Australia. My hometown of Melbourne
is very cosmopolitan and has vibrant classical, jazz, electronic/dance, and
world music scenes.
This site is a good reference to Australian clubs and bars:
I don't play live, but here are some indie clubs I found through my research:
The Laundry, Fitzroy, Victoria
The Esplanade Hotel, Melbourne, Victoria
Josh Zuckerman raves about the time he spent traveling in Thailand: "Thailand
people are beautiful. They are so kind and truly happy living with so little.
I was fortunate to travel to Bangkok and to Phuket (the island that was majorly
affected by the Tsunami). Bangkok was a lot of fun but sad because of so much
poverty on the streets. You have to be very careful with what you eat and not
to drink the water because of the parasites there. I even bought bottled water
to brush my teeth with. Everything is so inexpensive there (HINT - SHOP, SHOP,
SHOP). I had to purchase a second suitcase just for the shopping I did there."
Here are a few web links to get you started if you're interested in touring
Bakery Music: http://www.bakerymusic.com/home.asp
104.5 FAT Radio: http://www.thisisclick.com/1045/?group=4
Idea Radio: http://www.idea-radio.com/indie/
Panda Records: http://www.pandarecords.com/
The Japanese love Western music. For proof, check news footage of the recent
U.S. visit by Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi to Graceland. Only the music of
Elvis could make this normally dignified leader warble "Can't Help Falling
in Love" in front of 40 zillion television cameras. (Although according
to CNN, he did have the good sense to refuse the fried banana sandwiches they
offered him on the plane.)
If you haven't checked out Dave Barry's 1993 book Dave Barry Does Japan,
I highly recommend it for the chapter on Dave's visit to a music festival, in
which Asian teenagers dressed in 50s gear with their hair ducktailed within
an inch of its life gamely attempt to dance the Twist while rock bands blare
around them. They may not get Western music, but they do love it. And the whole
book is an interesting everyman's glimpse into the culture for anyone who plans
such a trip.
Josh Zuckerman offers a few hectic memories: "When I toured in Japan,
the people there were very friendly. It's quite an interesting culture because
they are taught to respect each other yet when you get on the subway, they will
push you and shove you like no other! Even the elders do the same. Quite the
contrast. I met wonderful people who truly appreciate American music!"
Derek Sivers, the President of CDBaby, noticed that Japanese music fans have
spent over a million dollars buying indie music from his site. So in 2005 he
went to Japan to check out the scene and wrote a great article, which you can
find here: http://cdbaby.org/stories/05/04/22/8910072.html
(A lot of the article is about the business side, but there's also a section
on the Musician scene in Japan.)
Here's another great article about the Japanese indie music culture: http://www.weekender.co.jp/new/040716/music.html
The Midnight Peacocks
Yes, I know this isn't exactly the safest time to be visiting Israel. But The
Midnight Peacocks from Tel Aviv are very proud of the indie scene in their area,
and now might be a good time to remember what's beautiful about Israel. From
Midnight Peacocks - frontman Eitan Radoshinski:
"My best advice to an Indie music fan who's coming to Israel is to spend
most of his time in Tel Aviv. 90% of the scene is there.
List of clubs in Tel Aviv:
"Barbie" club (52 Kibutz Galuiot, South Tel Aviv, Tel: 972 3 5188123) is the
biggest, up to 1000 people capacity, and some big acts from outside Israel are
playing there (hopefully it won't stop now...), Blonde Redhead are playing there
Habima" club (2 Tarsat Boulevard, Tel: 03 6207777) is in the cellar of the
National Israeli theater at the center of Tel Aviv, up to 300 people capacity,
cool place with an atmosphere.
"Coltura" club (154 Herzel Street, South Tel Aviv, Tel: 972 3 5187238), up
to 500 people, a sleazy place for all kind of music.
"Levontine 7" up to 200 people.
"Patiphone" club, small noisy place (100 people), a complex with a studio and
The indie music scene in Israel is small but very alive. There are more than
100 bands in Israel that are playing Indie music, please check out the links
for some cool Israeli bands:
There are some small Indie labels, please check out the links:
There are about 10 to 15 Indie music live shows every week in Tel Aviv. If
you sell 500 copies of your CD as an Indie artist, it is considered as a success.
Most of the bands are trying to play some tours in Europe and the USA. It
is impossible to live off of Indie music in Israel."
Obviously, I haven't been able to cover every country there is. However, the
main thing that struck me about my interviewees was how eager they were to share
information with me. The indie music community is a worldwide family of artists
who want to connect. The internet has made that connection easier.
Use Indie-Music.com to get started. One of the reasons we put this International
Issue together was to encourage non-US artists to network on our site just like
thousands of American artists have already done.
Read through the international reviews on this site and see if any of them
sound like someone you'd like to tour with. Are they from a country you'd like
to visit? Click on the web site links at the end of the reviews and email them.
Start a network. If you're not already on MySpace, get a page up and start
networking with international artists. See if you can find someone to sponsor
your trip. There's always an angle.
And if you wind up inviting an international artist to tour with you here
in the States, please, I beg you, take them somewhere classier than Graceland.
Thank you, Merci, Danke sehr, and Thoinks, Moite!:
Janis Elko (http://www.brutusbitme.com/)
Abigail Washburn (http://www.abigailwashburn.com)
Josh Zuckerman (http://www.joshzuckerman.com)
Nancy Falkow (http://www.nancyfalkow.com)
My Misspent Youth (http://www.mymisspentyouth.com)
Catherine Duc (http://www.catherineduc.com)
Daniel Gannaway (http://www.danielgannaway.com)
Susan Matthews (http://susanmatthews.mysite.wanadoo-members.co.uk/)
Paul Winn (http://www.paulwinn.com/)
The Midnight Peacocks (http://www.myspace.com/midnightpeacocks)
and Tane at the Bar Bodega (http://www.myspace.com/barbodega)