Behind every garage band lies a dream, one that speaks to the kid who first beheld the notes of a song that forever changed his or her mind about music and performance. And while that dream is noble and admirable — because hey, chasing your dreams is the right of every red-blooded American — sometimes that dream needs some finesse.
For example, maybe your dream needs some professional help, as in tutoring and lots of practice. We're not trying to discourage anyone; rather, we hope to encourage those would-be slackers seeking to be a part of the ever-hustling Houston music scene to further improve their craft.
Why does it matter? Look around: Several Houston bands are competitive nationally, gaining recognition and traction in the music business in a way that local acts haven't done for years. Therefore, the days of filler sets and lackluster openers need to become a thing of the past, immediately. If you’ve just created your starter band and have played less than a year, that’s great. Stay home, by which we mean keep practicing. No matter how many YouTube videos you upload of your skill set, it's not the same as actual talent. Your music must supersede your stage presence.
Oceans of Slumber drummer Dobber Beverly agrees, elaborating on the importance of offering nothing but the best on Houston stages. “Maybe [newer local bands] need another two to three years of practice, you know?" he says. "Because [investors] come here and they don’t hear the upper echelon; instead, they hear starter garbage. You can’t buy your way into music. It’s an exclusive club.”
Music is a competitive, elitist art form. And it should be. Local stages are not supposed to be entry-level practice pads. Anything less not only embarrasses you, but our scene and Houston's chances at moving forward as a great music city.
Beverly is not the only local musician who agrees, either. Shelby Schwem, manager and front man for Green as Emerald, also takes practice very seriously.
“Practicing is possibly more important than the live show," he says. “It's where you work out every nuance of every note, agonize over the simplest of rhythms and breathe life into an idea that once seemed so far away.
"If you practice badly, you perform badly," Schwem continues. "If you perform badly, you are also a thief for taking people’s money at your show. [They’re] expecting to see and hear a well-rehearsed product. You owe them your best. You owe yourself your best.”
Schwem sums up best by offering this advice to local bands: “Be so fucking good, people want and need you. Rehearse until you can perform it in your sleep. Make every note count.”
And no matter how long you’ve been an established act, practice never ends.
“Even after being in Apothica for three years, if I take a single week off, I can tell my stamina has worn down," says the lead singer of the local metalcore outfit, which spent part of the winter touring with Enslaved by Fear and I, Apollo. "It’s especially important for vocalists to stay conditioned; we don't have strings we can replace! We are our instrument.”
LeNoir is not just a musician; she’s also a vocal instructor, and knows what she’s talking about.
Blood of An Outlaw guitarist Kerry Rice also has some advice to share with local bands.
“When I gave lessons, I told everyone the same thing," he says. "Walk before you run. Start slow and focus on cleanliness first, speed later. Don't hide behind distortion.”
Before you ever play a large gig, commitment to weeks of rehearsals — perhaps even years — is essential; plan on spending several hours a day alone and several nights a week with your band. On weeknights, you can and should certainly play live: parties, weddings and suburban venues are ideal. Under no circumstances, though, should bands with limited ability, no professional recordings and little draw be playing the city's best Inner Loop venues.
Who cares? Because higher standards of performance will benefit everyone in the scene. Think about it — if we want to become a musical destination city, we have to act like it.
Our venues and stages should not be practice spaces for bands whose skills are intermediate at best. Should we happen to host visits from record-label reps, publicists, developers and investors (as is doubtless already happening), we must have a music scene of the highest caliber to attract those visitors' interest. Otherwise they'll just head on to Dallas, Austin or New Orleans.
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Great music scenes are often borne out of a city that provided a safe place for them to grow and expand. Think of glam-metal in L.A., the surfer-punk of Orange County, Bay Area thrash, Seattle grunge, Chicago's industrial and house music, and everything out of Athens, Georgia. Those towns didn’t create those scenes — the musicians, venue owners and fans did that — but they did allow them to flourish.
That's why not only should our local stages feature only premium bands, our audiences need to make regular appearances and support the musicians. Bands and venues need not just your dollars, but a regular commitment to come watch them perform — every time. Too often, managers are reluctant to sign a promising act because their fans have decided they'll just catch them next time.
Don't be some cheap-ass fan who only wants to rely on a cell-phone vid on YouTube. Attend shows often, and no time like the present. If we become a great music city with a thriving scene, more musicians will move here. Better musicians of professional stature, with serious agendas, could be a beautiful boon to a city like ours.
But it starts with musicians creating music that is precise in skill and execution. So, musicians, go home. Practice until you ache, until your muscles are loose, your voice hits a new octave, your equipment is in perfect tune and the calluses on your fingertips are thick after months and months of dedication to the craft. Do all that, and we fans will come out to support you. Make us proud.