Your brand is your story, and for musicians, having a story that resonates is what it's all about.
Look at Pink Floyd's experimental narrative: they went from a typical British rock band (of the time) to one of the world's most innovative groups. The Grateful Dead took jazz improvisation, simplified it, and applied it to rock music, all while amassing one of the most dedicated fanbases of all time. Their fans call themselves "Deadheads" and wear the token tie-dye shirts. They belong to a community, built around the band's story.
And today, we have up-and-coming bands like nerdy neo-rockers Double Experience from Ottawa who embrace what makes them unique and share that story with their fans. What makes them unique? Well, for one, after their shows, they give out their gamer tags to their fans to connect with them!
Through Sonicbids, they've performed on some huge stages like Toronto's Indie Week Canada in 2015 and, more recently, FOCUS Wales. And through their own independent efforts, they've booked over 500 shows in 16 different countries. We spoke with the band's bassist/vocalist, Ian Nichols, about how they've built their following around the idea of being "a nerd."
You describe Double Experience as a "nerdy rock band." Tell us more about what that means. Does the "nerdy" adjective help set you apart when describing your music?
We're a fairly nerdy bunch of guys: comic books, video games, memorabilia, and science fiction are huge parts of our personal experience. As songwriters, it's important that we're honest in our creative process, so we write what we know and experience, and our experience is nerd culture.
I'd suggest that, if anything, using the tag “nerd rock” allows us to preempt a follow-up question. If you just state “rock band,” the follow-up question is always, “Well, what kind of rock band are you: alternative, post, grunge, classic rock?” You can't just be a rock band today, so it allows us to say that we're a simple band who like to serve up the sweet riffs with a side of dorkiness.
Take Weezer, for example. They're kings of nerd rock, but they're simply a rock band; their perspective is just what life is like from the inside of the locker they just got shoved into. Our perspective isn't too far off from that, perhaps using more imaginative imagery.
We hear over and over that building your brand is one of the most important things you can do as a band, and Double Experience is a prime example of staying on brand. What are some specific tactics you've used to build your unique brand and identity?
Branding is everything. Most importantly, what we do starts with our music. It's the only way that our message can be authentic. From there, everything else is a logical step.
A very specific example would be surrounding a video game called Destiny. We've been playing this game since release day, and I'm not ashamed to say it's become a sort of addiction for our band. It has had such an impact on our lives that we were inspired to write a song about it called “The Glimmer Shot,” which, when released, got picked up via the game developer and pushed through the community, resulting in 200k+ views on our videos for it.
Furthermore, [it] created a huge spike in Spotify plays, social media follows, merch orders, and the like. We had no expectations that this song would do that for our band; we just wanted to pay homage to a game that allowed us to dream, and it resonated with the community.
Branding should be the coming together of your music, image, merch, and message. It's the story you want to tell. We've released music on trading cards, had records housed in video game cases, we've played in pinball arcades, video game stores, and museums. We even encourage fans to show up to our shows in their best cosplay. It all comes together to create this one big package of a nerdy rock band and brand that is “Double Experience.”
How do you think your interaction with your fans is different than, say, a more "normal" band?
The world is so connected now via social media that interactions with your fans can't start and stop the night of the gig. Even Facebook and Twitter are old news, especially in a world where bands en masse are crowdfunding records by offering exclusive one-on-one pizza nights, in-home concerts, and the like.
The most direct way we get to interact with fans outside of the actual music aspect would be through gaming. At every show, we try and give our gamer tags to fans so they can play video games with us through PSN and Xbox Live. That mode of interaction is extremely rewarding for us because it lets us talk directly with fans about things that aren't necessarily about music, yet still allows us to have that artist-fan interaction that's so important today.
The nerd world spawns high numbers of diehard fans of franchises, and we've been lucky enough to receive that same level of support from a lot of our fans, which is extremely encouraging. Fans want to buy into what you're doing, and having a strong identity goes a long way in allowing them to feel part of your world.
We're incredibly impressed with your DIY work ethic, independently booking over 500 shows across 16 countries. Walk us through your gig-booking process, from the very beginning stages of planning to when you come home from a tour.
First off, thank you – we work really hard at what we do. As a DIY band, you need to get organized. Having a plan and seeing it through is extremely important, even if you have to make adjustments as you go.
I had a great discussion with a radio tracker a few months back about the tour-booking process, and his summation was this: “The difference between most independent bands vs. bands on labels when it comes to touring is the level of organization. Good labels know exactly what their artist is going to be doing three, six, nine months out, and they stick to that plan.”
So if you, as an independent band, want to achieve your booking goals, it's good to plan where you're going to be and when as far out as you can in order to ensure that you have enough time to book it yourself, which is where our process begins.
As an example, let's say in six months' time we're planning to tour Canada. So four months out, we need to start booking the venues and finding bands. A quick internet search should help identify the places to play (if you're unfamiliar with the area), and then a slew of emails followed by phone calls should get the desired results (and if not, keep calling until you get through to the booker.)
Leading up to the tour announcement, we get all of the relevant media prepared: posters, videos, social media posts, etc. And then about a month out, we'll announce. Just before the tour starts, we organize all the dates into a schedule and reconnect with the bookers to ensure everything is still good.
Then comes the tour: the driving, the loading in, the waiting, the rocking performance, the tearing down, the sleeping, and then doing it all again the next day. It's the grind that all of us as musicians crave more than anything else, and not enough words can bring it justice – go out and experience it for yourself.
When the tour is done, we like to come home and handle all of the post-tour jobs: merch inventory, accounting, van cleaning... all the things I never thought of when I started singing in bands as a kid. Once those jobs are done, where possible, we take a week off to decompress and then start the process all over again.
Having been so successful as a DIY band, are there ever temptations to put all of the non-music work in someone else’s hands, such as a big label or management company?
We absolutely love being DIY; it's a great way to separate your band from a lot of the bands who are just waiting around wondering why they haven't been signed yet. You have to make things happen for yourself before anyone else gives a damn. That's our mantra. Why would anyone external to us invest their time, money, and resources into our band if we aren't the ones who are giving it all of ours first?
I think that's the reality of the music industry today. There isn't “the man” with a million-dollar check saying, "Go be rock stars.” “The man” is waiting to see that you're working extremely hard, that you're creating a buzz for yourself, and that your songs are good. There is no shortcut if you want a lasting career.
We're definitely open to working with labels, agents, and managers; they help scale your hard work up. With that said, we're so invested in our band that I'm not sure we could just hand it all over and pretend it doesn't exist anymore. We'd still be very much in communication with our team to ensure the running of things is going smoothly.
Through Sonicbids, you were selected to perform at the prominent FOCUS Wales Festival. How was your experience there in comparison to other shows you’ve played?
We've done a few development conferences in Canada, and they really make you understand how many facets of the industry are interrelated. FOCUS Wales was a great opportunity for our band to understand the UK side of the industry. We've self-booked tours of the UK in the past, and we've previously played in Wrexham, which was where the conference was hosted. We've always had a great response there, but playing FOCUS was absolutely ridiculous.
We played in a great venue called Rewind, and it was absolutely rammed. It was so full of people that concertgoers had to stand outside of the room halfway down a wrapping staircase just to catch our set, which as a musician, was something dreams are made of. We linked that show into a larger tour of the British Isles, and it was absolutely one of the highlights of that trip and certainly the best Wrexham show we've had to date.
Once you found out you were selected for FOCUS Wales, what did you do to prepare for it?
I look at development festivals as the perfect opportunity for bands to expose themselves to a ton of industry people in a short amount of time. When you consider that for the length of the festival all of the speakers, panelists, and other industry reps are there to see live music, you may as well do your homework and identify who could possibly help your band grow. Reach out to them before the festival on any medium you possibly can, and don't take no for an answer.
So many bands assume that because their appearance is called a “showcase,” there must be industry people waiting to see them play, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Normally, there's so much going on, no one is going to accidentally show up at your showcase. You need to tell them, “Hey! We exist, and our set is the can't-miss event of this festival.” Which is what we did.
It was time-consuming doing all that research into the entire industry roster, but I managed to set up several meetings, had industry folks come out to our showcase, and I exposed Double Experience to a ton of tastemakers who have the ability to help our band grow. It was worth every moment of time spent promoting our band in the weeks prior to that appearance.