If you didn’t know already, being an independent band can be hard work. Just ask Air Drawn Dagger. Since forming in Sheffield, the trio have been living the life of a DIY band for the best part of 8 years, playing when and wherever possible to anyone they could. Whether it’s in a tapas restaurant, hardcore punk shows, or trekking across North America, Air Drawn Dagger have certainly paid their dues.
This week sees Maisie Manterfield (vocals), Lewis Budden (guitar/backing vocals) and Ross Dore (drums) return with a new EP. Consisting of five songs, ‘Songs To Fight The Gods To’ sees them produce a cocktail of energetic pop-rock that incorporates elements of electronica and hip-hop. While conceptually, it follows the tale of someone’s battle at a fabled mountain, to stand face to face and destroy their gods.
Stylistically, it’s an effective set of songs that highlight Air Drawn Dagger‘s abilities. From the straight-up pop-rock blasts of ‘You Should Have Known Better’ and ‘Title Fight’ to the pounding paranoid rush of ‘Stigmata’, to ‘GhostsGhostsGhosts (Phantoms)’ and its towering, pounding charge. In short, Air Drawn Dagger go big on ‘Songs To Fight The Gods To’, and manages to tie in some classical mythology for good measure.
Having put in plenty of road miles, we decided to ask Maisie, Lewis, and Ross for their top tips to life as a DIY band.
Writing: Write WAY more songs than you need
If there isn’t a label or management giving you an honest opinion on your tracks, it’s difficult to have a perspective on your own music. One way to assess the quality of your songs is to keep writing! Writing a 5 track EP? Write 50 songs, looking for a single? Write 50 songs. Creating a high-concept triple album about space goblins? Write 50… actually, you better write a few more songs for that one.
They don’t all have to be finished, just rough sketches of songs will give you a sense of the quality and help you pick the best track to release.
Recording: Know your skills and when to invest in yourself.
Whilst there has never been a better time to learn about music production for free, knowing where you should spend your time and what will create the best results as a DIY band is crucial.
Just because you’re used to doing everything yourself, shouldn’t close the door to investing in some studio time with a producer if they’re a good fit and they have a track record of creating songs that help bands level up. If you’re unsure, ask for a quick Zoom call with a producer you have in mind, that way you can see if you are both a good fit before you spend any money.
If you do have the skills and want to handle recording, mixing and mastering ‘in-house’ then invest and commit. Find the best (usually second-hand) interface, monitors, acoustic treatment and software (Logic, Sonarworks etc.) you can and track for as long as possible. The longer you spend on pre-production and rehearsing will make tracking a lot smoother.
Bonus tip: Just because you have self-produced, doesn’t mean you can’t still send the mix to producers and engineers for feedback. An opinion is free.
Releasing: No Label, no problem.
You are probably already aware of or using a distributor like Distrokid etc. but feel free to mix it up and try some alternatives. Organizations like Kycker and Sentric can help with all of the things you don’t have time to think about like royalty payments, publishing, submitting your live setlists so you can be paid by PRS and more.
It’s a great starting point to stay organised and collect money that might have been lost otherwise.
Plus you can find out about relevant workshops and seminars too.
Branding and marketing: Keep it organised
When you have no real budget, it’s best to look at the strongest elements of your band and lean into it.
Grunge band that plays in T-shirts and jeans? Your esthetic is likely going to involve photo editing to give your images that 90s grainy vibe so use free locations like industrial buildings as your backdrop and edit the image using Canva or something similar to create all of your assets (cover photos, artwork, posters etc…) and BOOM, all of your branding is consistent and easy to manage.
Make the robots do it
As a DIY band that’s handling a lot at once, it can be tricky to stay organised and keep that online fan base growing. If you struggle to post consistently on social media, try a free scheduling tool like Publer or use Meta Business Suite to plot out all of your posts.
Booking and touring: Get involved
DIY touring is gruelling, silly and incredible.
Looking to book a DIY tour? Reach out to 1 or 2 other bands to do a short weekender where each band headlines a night and you can play to each other’s hometown crowd. Alternatively, see where similar-sized bands play and reach out to those promoters and venues to book your own dates, or buddy up with a similar band somewhere else in the country and book a few shows each in your surrounding areas. Connecting audiences and contacts is where everybody wins.
Breakfast is important
Be sure to stock up at an Aldi or Lidl before you hit the road. Suitable breakfast food will really make a massive difference to your moods and tolerance when touring DIY.
The morning after a show when you wake up in an awful hostel or someone’s floor, a knock-off pot noodle will not fill you with sustainable energy for the day. Get bread, get hummus, get protein bars, get fruit and try to stay hydrated with some liquid that isn’t warm larger. You will feel way better come load in.
- Make sure your merch is stocked, T-shirts are rolled and labels with the sizes easily visible
- Pack limited gear so you can squish into the smallest and most reliable vehicle rather than hiring a van
- Get written confirmation (messenger or email) confirming your fee, load in and set time before you get to the venue.
‘Songs To Fight The Gods To’ EP by Air Drawn Dagger is released on 13th October on Silent Cult Records.