This edition of Music and Money takes us a little closer to home with Worcester, Massachusetts prog metal outfit Fathom Farewell. These guys are serious about their music, working hard with the goal of becoming an international touring act. Whether you're a weekend warrior or in it for the long haul like them, vocalist Alex Cohen has some insightful advice about how to manage your band and grow your audience -- and what mistakes to avoid! Keep reading...
Tell our readers all about your band! Where are you from and when did you get started? What is your music like?
We are from Worcester, MA initially as that was the most central location when we began for all the members who were essentially spread throughout MA. I would personally describe our music as a visceral, pulsing, high-energy bundle of enlightened intensity. We have a great deal to say within our music but if you aren’t necessarily searching for a message in the music, there’s still plenty of enthralling musicality and groove to work with. Our music tells the story of 5 people that worked extremely hard to get to where we are musically and as people. We’ve all come a long way in our own personal discovery that has lead to a great deal of competence displayed within each and every song we release to the public. We put absolutely everything we have to give into what we do.
What are your goals for your band?
My goals for the band are to take it as far as the fans will possibly allow. We will keep working at this for as long as we have to in order to become an established international touring act. We love our people, we love making music, anything we gotta do to make it our career.
What do you do for a living?
I play solo acoustic gigs 3-5 nights a week all over New England and tri state, performing both covers and original solo music at breweries, restaurants, night clubs, private parties, you name it. My business is called Alex Cohen Acoustic and I have both original and cover music under that name that can be streamed on all platforms. Fathom is still in the investment phase so essentially everything we make off Fathom thus far just gets put back into making sure we are always making new material, and have money for touring or whatever other business expenses may arise.
How do you balance your work and personal life with the band?
Thankfully being self-employed, I can make my schedule around the needs of the band. However before that was possible, it was extremely hard to balance. It was essentially a life with no free time whatsoever when I worked for someone else 50 hours a week while maintaining a serious band. It isn’t really a question of balance at that point so much as it is a matter of coping. I used video games to help ease my mind into relaxation instead of work mode when I got home.
What do you consider to be the best investment you’ve made, music-wise?
The best investment I’ve ever made music-wise was a laptop I could download a solid DAW on to allow myself to cultivate new ideas without leaning on a producer for the entire process including the demo creation, as opposed to being able to hit the studio with a more refined idea for us to dive into.
What’s the worst or least helpful thing you’ve ever spent money on as a musician/band?
There are many poor investments for bands to make these days, I’d say there’s almost an entire industry outside the legitimate music industry that thrives off of misleading bands into shelling out money for BS. We’re very thankful to have teamed up with Greg Shaw at Extreme Management and Blood Blast Distribution; they give us top-tier advice on the best ways to capitalize off our music without breaking the bank.
For us personally, I would say the worst investment we ever made was we agreed to pay a vocalist from a national touring band that was doing very well at the time (2014, not gonna name names or throw this person under the bus, to the best of my knowledge they haven’t conducted business this way since) -- $1250 for a vocal feature because we had no music out at that point and really wanted to make a splash. So we shelled out a $250 deposit to this guy, he sends back a single layer vocal of the part that sounded god awful. Of course we understood it’s a raw track to be produced by whoever we have mixing the music. However, to not even send a preview with a basic vocal chain so we can see how it’ll sit in the mix?? On top of that, the vocals sounded forced like we could tell he put no effort into learning the part and did none of his signature style we were looking for over it, so we ended up telling him to keep the $250 and I did the part.
That said, there are plenty of successful vocalists out there who will absolutely put their all into a feature, so it definitely isn’t in general a bad investment. For pete’s sake, I personally love doing features and have done many, but I always send a preview with a basic mix of the vocals so they can see what I was going for and not just have some icky mess to deal with.
What kind of merch sells the best for your band? And what do you purchase most often as a music listener?
Honestly our winter lines tend to do the best: hoodies and beanies. But then our t-shirts still fly as well, we thankfully have been placed with a plethora of great graphic artists to make different things for us including our former drummer who toured the Decomp EP with us, Justin Medas. Dixon of Intuitive Designs made the Kraken merch designs and they are spectacular. For this batch, it seems the hoodie and the long sleeves are going fastest. So yes Fall and Winter lines seem to sell best for us which is convenient because shows don’t tend to draw as much when the weather isn’t nice.
Can you share some tour budgeting tips?
We’ve done a few one-week runs and then did a 16-day tour to Pensacola, FL and back with 2 days off. The absolute best advice I could give to anyone is that you need to go out knowing that even if for some reason every show tanks, you aren’t getting stranded anywhere. By no means did every show on this tour tank in any way, but what I did was calculate the gas mileage of the rental vehicle, then did the math to figure out what all the gas for the entire trip would cost assuming gas was $3 per gallon because at that time it was rare to find a gas station that high priced. So I did the math for the worst-case scenario. If you have every dollar for every gallon of gas you’ll need for the trip set aside in a safe, then all the profit can exist separate from the expenses. Of course, this requires the band to work very hard and save a few thousand dollars prior to tour, but if that isn’t possible, I’m not sure how a band would expect to make it back should the van break down or a show fall through, which have happened to everyone at some point.
I also would highly suggest renting until you can afford to buy a van that is at least in the $20,000 range, as anything below this will likely come with more maintenance than it will ultimately be worth. Renting in immediate practice seems more expensive, but most bands don’t take into account the sheer volume of maintenance required on a tour vehicle that you save yourself the trouble of with a rental.
Which online music or social media platforms are most helpful to your band?
Honestly the platforms most helpful to Fathom have been Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, Apple Music and Youtube. I know to most bands these platforms are somewhat the devil; however Facebook allows us to find entire lists of people who like music like ours and gives us a way to reach them should they accept our friend request. A lot of bands frown upon contacting people you don’t know but honestly for years it was the only way we had to get people to shows and honestly only maybe 1 in every 100 people reacted negatively and about 10 out of every 100 would come out to the show or check out our stuff. Instagram provides a platform where we can give little behind-the-scenes content and share more live photos than we would on Facebook to help our fans feel closer to us. The other 3 simply allow people to listen to our music at will and what could be better than that. Sure the money isn’t amazing, but it is technically there.
What does “making it” mean to you, and what do you think a band needs to make it in 2022?
Making it to us means becoming an established international touring act as our career. Not needing to work a side hustle or other job to pay the bills because we were able to have our work in the band pay off to the point where it now doesn’t just support itself, but supports us as people as well. In order for a band to make it these days, music simply has to be the number one priority for everyone in the band. Music doesn’t compromise for only a partial effort. It demands everything you have to give and this truly never becomes more evident than when anyone makes a serious attempt to make a career in this industry.
Thanks for doing this interview!
Interview and photo courtesy of Asher PR.
Connect with Fathom Farewell here!
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