Many West Michigan bands have pushed on with planned album and EP releases despite the lack of touring opportunities or even local shows to support the new music.
Just last month, Grand Rapids metalcore outfit Wholeheart launched its debut EP, Memories At War, on all streaming services and for purchase online.
“Promoting this EP, from the standpoint of a new and unsigned band, was already a challenge and mostly a ‘learn as you go experience,’” said guitarist Alec Hawkins. “We’ve had to balance out how to build our brand and fan-base while simultaneously trying to discover what kind of marketing would be effective to promote the record. The pandemic, the stay-at-home orders, the shutting down of venues and businesses, all have contributed to the way we have pushed this EP to the public.”
Not being able to play any shows leading up to or in celebration of the EP, Hawkins said the band has struggled to build those same sort of interpersonal relationships that come with live music.
“We had a release show lined up at The Intersection that we had a lot of plans for, which unfortunately had to be pushed back,” he said. “Plenty of bands too, on their social media platforms, use pictures or videos from previous shows that coincide with their posts - so that’s something we really didn’t have going into this, and something we really couldn’t get more of due to the fact that all the venues are shut down.
“The silver lining to the pandemic, however, was the fact that we know everyone is more active on social media than ever before – more people are engaging on Facebook and Instagram, more people are streaming music. The ads that we have launched during the pandemic get, we believe, a little more bite out of them because everyone’s outlet is social media right now. So the launching of ads as a promotional avenue is almost more effective than if this whole situation wasn’t going on right now.”
Still the challenges of establishing a new band – and actually connecting with potential new listeners – can’t be fully recreated on the Internet.
“We’re happy to be in the era of the Internet when this is all going down,” Hawkins said. “If social platforms didn’t exist in this time, the band would basically cease to exist and would be almost out of sight out of mind. We’re more isolated with our hometown, because of the lack of interpersonal relationships and shows, but there’s also the connection we get from out of state or out of country through social media. When some girl or guy from New Jersey or Mexico or wherever leaves a comment on our page or gives us a message, that’s a pretty cool feeling and connection. But it’s definitely, to put it bluntly, a real bummer that we can’t be seeing people in person and making those connections. That goes not only to the potential fanbase in our hometown, but also the connections we could be making to other bands or musicians.”
Getting its music out to fans does allow bands like Wholeheart to serve as an outlet, inspiration, or even escape, for its listeners.
“Memories At War, as an EP, is a slice-of-life that deals with struggles each band member has faced internally,” Hawkins said. “Because we all have come from different backgrounds and have had different struggles, we hope the EP will invoke different emotions between each listener to whatever songs they resonate with. A song like Memoir could really hit home for someone who lost a loved one recently and hopefully give them consolation. A song like Detach could give someone inspiration to break free from the negative thoughts and feelings that constrain them. There’s not just one message we want to bring forward with this EP, but rather a plethora of them, and we hope that it can resonate with people like it resonates with all of us.”
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