So you’ve got a killer album, you’ve been building up an enthusiastic following in your hometown, and you even occasionally get free food from your fans who work in the food court at the mall. In other words, you’re doing better than 99.9% of the bands out there today—and now you’re ready to take your music to the next level and try to make a career out of it. You just don’t know where to start. In today’s oversaturated musical climate it’s difficult to know how to get your band noticed on a national level, but read on for a few words of advice to struggling rockers who are looking to embrace their rock dreams and take a shot at becoming the next Pete Wentz. (Ashlee Simpson not included, sorry.)

Rule #1: Be Completely Committed to Your Craft: This may seem like an obvious point, but if you’re going to dedicate your life to your music, you need to make sure that it’s what you really want to do and that your bandmates are all on the same page. This can mean quitting school, breaking up with your significant other and, if they’re not supportive, seriously damaging your relationships with family and friends. If you’re on the road as much as you need to be, it also means saying goodbye to a steady stream of income and completely altering your lifestyle. We’re not trying to scare you, but you should know what you’re getting into if you really want to give your band the attention you’ll need to make it—and if you impulsively decide to change your mind at a rest stop in Iowa, you’ll be screwing over everyone in your band who did fully commit to the experience.

Rule #2: Tour, Tour, Tour: Want a great manager who’s going to get your music to your favorite label? How about a booking agent who will put you on tour with some of the biggest band in your genre? Great, so do thousands of other bands?and neither of these things are going to happen unless you get proactive and start booking your own tours and getting your name out there. While managers, labels, and booking agents are all valuable assets, generally they come to bands once they start hearing their name enough. In fact, most serious people won’t want to work with a band unless it has already put in the effort to build regional fan bases all over the country. So how do you do this? Talk to the bands who come through your town, get the email addresses of local promoters, and start routing your own tours. Or, better yet, talk to other touring bands and see if you can jump onto its shows. You might not make a lot of money this way, but at least you’ll be playing in front of captive audiences in other cities—and that’s something you can’t put a price tag on.

Rule #3: Be Persistent, Not Annoying: If you’ve never been a telemarketer before, being in an aspiring rock act is a kindred experience in a lot of ways. First, make sure that you have an updated MySpace and personal Web site that has all of your tour and band information on it. Next, use the zip code function on MySpace to email all the kids in each city you’ll be playing to let them know about the show and email them digital flyers so they can help you promote it. Also, don’t forget to mail physical flyers to the clubs you’re playing so that they can post them (some clubs don’t make their own flyers.) And, finally, once you’ve contacted everyone in the area about the show, give them some room to breathe and don’t bug them every day with a new request. Remember, anyone helping your band out at this point is essentially working for free, so the last thing you want to do is irritate them.

Rule #4: Be Your Own Publicist: If you tour consistently and build regional fan bases, publicists will come to you; in the meantime, you can do a lot of their work on your own. This means making sure that you have a professional-looking CD and biography and that you send it out to every regional and national publication that you can find. National magazines generally have a three-month lead time, so make sure you send everything out early enough to give them ample time to consider you for coverage. Follow-up with everyone a week or two later, but remember Rule #3 when doing this. Finally, while a five-star review in Spin will look great in your press kit, don’t underestimate the power of local alternative weeklies. These are the publications that actually bring kids to your shows.

Rule #5: Don’t Get Too Hung Up on These Rules: Ultimately unless you have a killer album and unbelievable live show, none of these rules will matter, so don’t rush into any of these steps before those two things are flawlessly executed. Oh, and while being in a band is also a lot of work, it should also be a lot of fun, too?and if it starts feeling too much like a job that means that you should step back and reevaluate why you decided to accept the terms of Rule #1 in the first place. If you talk to a lot of successful bands today, they’ll say that many of their fondest memories are touring in a van, throwing together last-minute shows, and never knowing where they were going to sleep from night-to-night. This sense of adventure disappears once you have hotels, tour buses, and business managers, so try to enjoy every moment of every experience and let things happen at their own pace.

Oh, and if things don’t work out don’t worry, chances are your girlfriend?or at least your parents?will take you back.

Need more advice for your band? Read our Tour Survival Tips here.