Dreams-come-true do not come easily. If you expect to wish-wish-wish your way to rock stardom while sitting on your couch with your eyes glued to a screen, you’ve got another think comin’. The days of A&R reps from record companies coming out and scooping up virtually unknown bands and promoting them to Nickelback level fame are over. You don’t get to be *just* a musician anymore—you have a whole f*ing lot of other work to do, and you sure-as-s#!% don’t get to be a diva about much, if ANY, of it. It’s inconvenient to have to re-arrange your schedule because a good show or promotional opportunity came up last minute. It’s inconvenient to have to stay out til 2am or later on a work night. It’s inconvenient to have to stop what you’re packing up to shake a fan’s hand or sign an autograph. It’s inconvenient to make yourself talk to people you don’t know when you feel weird about it. But, guess what? You HAVE to do it if you want to be a musician. Here are a few facts you absolutely need to face if you expect to do something serious with your music.
NOBODY ELSE IS GOING TO DO IT FOR YOU. ESPECIALLY NOT FOR FREE.
Bringing to fruition your childhood dream to be a career musician is a responsibility that sits squarely upon your own shoulders. No one else is going to work harder than you are to make YOUR dream come true. The key to making a band work is finding other people who share your dream of rock stardom and who are equally committed to making that dream a reality. The way the labels work nowadays is that they look for bands who are already out there, touring, selling their products, and making some money on their own steam. That’s a lot less of a risk for a label or management company, and it proves that the band can stay together and make things work. Think about it: if you haven’t pumped thousands of dollars into promoting your own band, why would a professional company want to take the risk of doing so? They wouldn’t. That’s your answer. The good news in all this is, if you go ahead and leap faithfully off that cliff and try your wings on a tour, you might find out you don’t even *need* a label anyway. There are too many free tools and resources on the internet to help you promote your music that you really have no excuse not to jump in with both feet to grow your own fan base. If you don’t, you are just lazy. Waiting for your “big break” is not going to get you anywhere. Working toward it, on the other hand, will.
IF YOU BUILD IT…
If you seriously think that just because you write intelligently crafted music, people will automatically take notice and bring throngs of their friends to your show, do me a favor. Lift up your hand towards your face, open your palm, pull back about a foot or so, and smack yourself, hard, right across the cheek. This flawed logic of “If you build it, he will come” will bring you nothing but disappointment. “But, but, my music is good! Why doesn’t anybody come to my shows and buy my CDs?” Because they’re flooded with lots of other music for free, they have hundreds of other sources for possible entertainment, and, hell, they might even think you’re an arrogant snob because you don’t talk to them when/if they do come to shows. Other bands talk to people. Other bands know their names, give them hugs, offer them discounts and free stuff, at least care about them on some basic level. If you think people should come and throw themselves down at your feet because you’re such an awesome musician, you’re an idiot. An arrogant one. If you recognize someone who’s your Facebook friend at a show, go up and say “Hi! Thank you for coming!” People want a memorable experience from a show, and until you’ve been shoved down their throats by the radio machine, just hearing your band will not often be enough to accomplish that. You have to give MORE than the major label bands. They’re stars—you’re not. Even if you can play crop circles around them, talent-wise, they have the massive media monster behind them, and you don’t. So compensate. Be nice. Take a flying leap out of your comfort zone and go talk to people. Make them feel important. Why? Because your fans really, truly are the ones who will help you grow… especially if you make the effort to make them your actual FRIENDS in the process.
GETTING WHAT YOU “DESERVE.”
You have skill. You have seniority in the scene. You have know-how. You have connections… You don’t have S&%#. Just because you have all of these great qualities doesn’t mean you “deserve” certain privileges. You “deserve” what your actions as a band or musician create. Acting like a diva in the music scene just because you “know people” and have “been around” is the quickest way to kill all of your credibility. We will all have to play in the dreaded time slot at some point. We will all have to deal with technical difficulties. We will all be jerked around about some event or promo at the last minute. DEAL WITH IT. If you can manage to confine your frustration and disappointment for a few minutes and ask the promoter/sound guy/venue owner, “Okay, what do you need us to do?” THAT will earn you the respect of people you work with. Nobody wants to work with the cranky band that bitches incessantly and refuses to play if they don’t get their way, no matter how fantastic your music may be.
“WE SHOULD GET PAID FOR THIS!”
Yes. You should. In an ideal world, artists would get paid for the countless hours we put into our craft and we’d make back the thousands of dollars we invest into amps, trailers, and recording. Unfortunately, this is the world where “reality” TV stars make 6-figure salaries for being themselves and causing drama, and would-be music fans sit at home watching those shows from the comfort of their couches instead of coming out to see yours. Why? Because inertia is a bitch, and gas/tickets/drinks cost money. There are ten bazillion things you can do for relatively free at home, so you really have to work your ass off if you want to overcome these people’s inertia and reluctance to spend time and money to come see your show. If all you did was post on Facebook that you had a show, congratulations: you suck as a promoter. I bet you blamed the bar you played at, the booking agent for your show, and/or some other band’s show being on the same night, instead of recognizing that you didn’t do your job promoting. PROMOTION IS YOUR JOB. Sure, the bar should have good branding, good staff, and good drinks, which makes people want to come to your show there, but it’s not THEIR JOB to promote YOUR BAND. If they post it on the calendar for their venue, put up the promo posters you gave them (yes, YOU gave them), and tweet that “So-and-So is playing tonight at Bar XYZ,” they have done their job promoting. Any other promotion you get from the bar is GRAVY. If they do more promotion, it’s mutually beneficial, but remember they have other things to worry about, like not running out of tequila or toilet paper. Yes, your stuff costs money, too, but if you look at a venue’s set of bills vs. your set of bills, and then compare what original music pulls in as entertainment vs. a variety of other kinds of entertainment, you will see why it’s a privilege to have cool places to play. Usually these places support original music because they WANT to, not because it’s the most profitable option—it almost never is. Double your appreciation if you’re in a non-mainstream genre, because indie rock almost invariably brings in more money than death metal. Additionally, a booking agent, or “promoter,” does have some obligation to help promote the show (especially the latter), but unless you’re paying them, you need to assume that they will do NOTHING. Because many of them do. Unless you know a promoter/booking person’s work very well, you should go ahead and promote your show as if it’s no one’s job but your own. If you’re promoting like crazy and the promoter ends up doing promotion, too, that’s just double the promotion you would’ve gotten if either side had done it alone. The marketing people say that people need to see an ad about three times for it to register, so doubling or tripling efforts is absolutely necessary. If your show is bombing, stop whining about what somebody else didn’t do and get off your ass to promote harder. There’s no one to blame but yourself if your event fails. Pick a better date. Plan farther in advance. Get organized. Jump out of your comfort zone and talk to people. No excuses—just DO IT.
YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR
The unfortunate part of the last paragraph is its relation to this paragraph. You don’t get paid all that much for the amount of effort you put in, but the stuff you have to do to get ahead costs a lot. Good recordings cost money. I hate hearing a really good band with a half-assed recording. You’ll get farther with one FANTASTIC single than with a full-length album of “Ehh.” If you wanna use the “Ehh” to raise fund for the “WOW” to come later, fine, but don’t expect your “bargain” recording to be as good as the one from the producer with award-winning albums under his belt (I say “his” because I have yet to run across a female hard rock producer… if you know of one—lemme know). In addition to recordings (which are absolutely necessary to advance), you also should have good, functioning equipment and transportation for that. Band vans and trailers are expensive. Amps, guitars, and repairs thereto are also expensive… but you need these things. If you buy a crappy van, it will break down a lot. If you buy a crappy guitar, it will sound crappy. Investing in a good thing instead of hunting for something cheap is worth the delayed gratification necessary to save up for the good thing. Trust me on this. There’s also the matter of well-designed materials, good video, good promo photos, and all that other mess. Make friends with talented people and barter, if you can. Otherwise, save your pretty pennies instead of impulsively buying crappy stop-gap things. Also: ALL your bandmates should be contributing to this—if not with cold, hard cash of their own money, then with some promotional/sales/fundraising sweat-equity that will help BRING IN more money. Either way—it’s not one bandmate’s job to fund the entire band’s projects, and a $5,000 tab for cutting a good record is much more manageable (and fair) in four $1,250 per-person chunks than it is for one person to have to plop down all of that cash. Don’t want to plop down cash or put in effort to fund your band? Find another hobby. You are never going to get anywhere in music without a lot of money or a lot of effort (ideally both).
PEOPLE DISAGREE. A LOT.
You will not always get your way. You have to be willing to compromise or you will be a chronic band-hopper. Like romantic relationships, communication is key to successful band relationships. Especially communication about expectations and goals. If you’re not on board with a band’s projected goals, don’t audition. When you ARE in a band, make it clear what you expect to accomplish, and all of you sit down and figure out how best to meet everyone’s goals. If you don’t like the way somebody treats you, say something. Talk about things. Yell about them, if you must (as respectfully as possible—it’s okay to be passionate; just don’t be a dickbag about it). Don’t just run off and quit in a huff. Not only does it make you look like a high school drama queen, it also shoots your own productivity in the foot. If you quit, you just have to start all over again, and if you continue to be disrespectful to your bandmates because they can’t read your mind (or because you’re just an inflammatory dickbag), you will continue to start bands over and over again and get absolutely nowhere. You will disagree with every person you’re ever in a band with; trust me. What sets apart the chronic quitters from the reliables is the ability to communicate and resolve conflicts between band members respectfully. That’s a skill worth having in a band and in any relationship, really.
^^^These are the facts you have to face to do something with your band. If you’re content to play the little venues and take up the table scraps from larger bands, then this stuff probably doesn’t apply to you. If you want to get somewhere, though, you will have to adjust to the metric crap-ton of inconveniences that come along with being in a band. There’s my piece.