Things You Should Know Before You Start A Band
A few weeks back we asked our round table what advice they would give other bands in town. Their answers ranged from solidly DIY nuggets from April Brem Patrick to smart business ethos from Andrew Karnavas. Now Rocks Off even feels like we could be in a band.
Our powerviolence/noise project, Christian Bale's Batman Voice, has been a secret too long.
Anyhow, these guys and one girl came up with some stellar advice for anyone with a promising young band in Houston. From their own experiences, they also laid down out some harsh realities.
We only write about music, it's these people who do the biggest part by creating and performing it. They have it a lot harder than those of us in the peanut gallery who rarely have to stand in front of others to pour out our art. All we have to do is tweet or post some words and hide behind a computer with a cup of coffee.
We guess if we had any advice for bands today, it's to remember why you first picked up your instrument in the first place. If you keep ahold of that spirit, everything else should come easy. Bringing joy or understanding to someone with a song is a gift.
Oh, and don't be a dickhead. You sing songs, people. You aren't pulling people out of fires, carrying an M-16 in Afghanistan, or working with babies and gunshot victims in the Ben Taub emergency room. We love what you do, almost to the point that people may call it hero worship at times, but it's not the whole world.
At the end of the day, it's how you treat people that matters the most. It's something we struggle with daily.
Don't be afraid to get out there and meet other musicians or go to shows, especially here in Houston. One of the things I love about this town is the variety of bands, people, and styles that cross over regularly without anyone thinking twice.
A great recent example would be the Free Press' New Years Eve Show. Fat Tony, Brains For Dinner, B L A C K I E, Hamamatsu Tom, LIMB, Golden Axe, Wild Moccasins, and Weird Party all sharing a club together, all vastly different from each other, and all inspirational.
Shows with odd lineups are a regular occurrence in this town, and always serve to kick me in the ass to get out and play. If a guy like me that's been kicking around town for a few years can be inspired by what I see, then a new musician should be equally blown away by what's going on in Houston.
If you're new to Houston's music scene, don't be afraid to introduce yourself to the guys playing in the bands. For the most part, everyone is really friendly and supportive of each other, and we will generally welcome you into our dumb little incestuous community with open arms. It's like our own take on [Six] Degrees of Kevin Bacon.
If you get to know a few people, pretty soon it all opens up and you will be turned on to all other kinds of great bands, which in turn are inspiring and are great chance to let people know about your own brand new dumb band.
Oh, yeah, one more thing, if you're doing this for money, stop now or you will not be happy. Money is great if it can be made, but the reward must be the music. Music is No. 1, always.
CHRIS WISE, BUXTON
- Be as prolific as possible. The more songs you write, the better you get at understanding how you write songs as a band.
- You don't necessarily have to release the first songs you write; your sound will progress over time. For some bands, that's not a problem, and it's also very hard to keep the music you create to yourself. But the one regret I have in the band that I've played with is how aggressive we were in putting ourselves out there as a very young/green band.
- First impressions stay with people for a very long time. Look up our album Red Follows Red on iTunes and you'll understand what I'm saying. At the same time, harsh criticism definitely helped and we got to meet a lot of great people. So, I guess that's kind of your call.
- Also, don't break up, and accept the fact that you probably aren't necessarily doing anything original (if you are though, rad). Just be really good at it.
- Create a local network to expand amongst your music scene. Find out which publications spotlight local music and email them or call them, it won't hurt to show that you're serious and dedicated. Make your band easily accessible through online resources.
- Don't conform to only one Web site for your music. A majority of people are not gonna search around for more than a minute to find your new chart-topping band.
- Try your best to make a legit demo and give it out for free. We understand that it took you hours or days to record on GarageBand, Sonar or your four-track recorder, but I don't care and I won't pay.
- You're a new band and you want to play shows to make some loud noise but you shouldn't ever have to pay to play. Fuck that.
- Be very careful with local promoters and their devilish ways,They can smell new blood from miles away. Lastly and most importantly is that your band should work together and communicate with other artists to support and learn from all the mistakes and triumphs.
I see problems being mostly in the lack of infrastructure. Most booking agencies in Houston are for cover bands, because those are the bands that get booked at corporate events and weddings. There are only a few individuals involved in music publishing/sync licensing, and they are not focused on Houston bands.
Why? Because the majority of Houston bands are not familiarizing themselves with the music business.
Most Houston bands don't go looking for music publishers because they don't know what a music publisher does or that they even exist. Where are the managers? Well, would you conduct business in a town with bands unfamiliar with the business?
In Houston, there are people who think they can manage a band, but they have no track record of successfully doing so. It seems like the successful managers are almost entirely in hip-hop. We're in a corporate city with major corporations in every industry besides music.
But all of those corporate people are music listeners. Many of them love music more than anything else. Some of these corporate people are in marketing for their large corporations. Some of them are viral-marketing specialists. There isn't a single viral-marketing agency in Houston focused solely on music.
Why not? There is no infrastructure here. There isn't enough music business.
So what do we do? I think local bands should seek to build relationships with corporate sponsors based in Houston to help them to put on events and help them tour. Local bands should be thinking of ways to create win-win situations for people and businesses with the money to fund them. We all know it's cheap to record a high-quality album these days. We know that corporations have hefty marketing budgets.
So, local bands, record your album with your own money, get your Web presence in order (this will be your foot in the door), target a corporation, and think of a cool way to promote what they're doing. This should be even easier for local record labels, because they're already a business entity and should have a person focused on marketing. If you're a record label without a serious marketing department (which could be as little as one person who is organized and knows what they're doing), you're not a label.
We can't make booking agents, managers, and music publishers move to Houston and build a traditional infrastructure, but what we can do is create our own through corporate dollars of other industries. This kind of infrastructure will be almost unique to Houston, and it will be impressive to booking agents/managers/venues in other cities, and it will lead to more touring Houston bands.
The more Houston bands tour, the bigger they'll get locally and the more recognition Houston will receive in other cities for producing quality bands. And if enough bands consistently get corporations involved, just maybe our buzz will start to attract more musicians and industry professionals to our town.
The strength of our city is that it's easy to conduct business here, so let's get down to business.
Read this. Immediately.
Rule No. 1: Play with your friends if you can help it. We all know everyone needs a drummer but no one knows an available one. Drum desperation is the number one cause of having an asshole in the band. But the desperation to get the band going can lead to a "hired gun" in any role in the band.
Sometimes this works out, but remember you will spend hours practicing, playing shows, recording, and touring, (read: cramped in a van) with this person. If they're a tool, you're gonna be miserable. It's way better to work with a fun friend who wants to learn to play than a proficient jerk. Steer clear of drama queens, snobs and mean drunks.
Rule No. 2: If you're doing this for money/fame/tail, you are doing it wrong. You have to need it and breathe it. Play to fulfill yourself and you'll succeed, play for the glory and you'll just find yourself sulking on the Hands Up Houston message board when the Wild Moccasins get a show you "totally deserved." (PRO TIP: No you didn't.)
Rule No. 3: Pay your dues. I know it's a cliche, but you're going to be playing first... on a Tuesday night... and you won't get paid. When a promoter books a show, they have an idea what a band is going to draw, prove that you draw more than they thought and you get a better slot next time.
Also, just because you played doesn't mean anyone owes you anything. If you get a discount or a couple of free drinks, consider yourself lucky. Don't demand more just because "the club made money off your show" - no they didn't, there were 15 fucking people there. Roy Mata has to get paid somehow. You're gonna make a bad impression if you don't know your place.
Don't be this guy (or girl) in the van.
Rule No. 4: Know your place, but also know your rights. Find out what the payment, free drink, [and] set time arrangement is. Be active but not pushy. When it comes time to settle up be present to get your cut because if you think your friends in the other bands are going give you a fair shake, you're sadly mistaken. They're gonna be eating two tacos and a chicken sandwich and you're not.
Rule No. 5: Promote, promote, promote. In real life, that is. Make flyers and posters, come up with ingenious marketing ploys, do whatever you gotta do, but don't send out 20 emails a day. That's the best way to get blocked, and then no one knows about your show. Send out a tasteful event invite when you start promoting then one maybe a couple days before and then one day of. People won't be too annoyed by this.
Rule No. 6: Be innovative with your merch. At the very least, you should be setting out some home-screened shirts and some burned discs with artwork. You can get T-shirts at thrift stores; people will fight over the different colors. And do you know how insanely cheap it is to get buttons and stickers made by I Heart U Productions?
But reinventing that wheel can pay off even more. What if a bottle opener with your logo was the album art for a digital download? Check out sites that do tchotchkes and giveaways for businesses, like koozies and keychains. They're more affordable than you think, and with mark-up you can make the money back in no time. And the more variety, the more you can make on an individual sale.
Rule No. 7: Home record. It's too fucking easy. You can go to Dead City Sound when there's a demand for your music, but when you're better off giving it away, keep it cheap.
Rule No. 8. Stay focused during practice. You don't need a smoke break every other song. Also, when someone makes a mistake, for Allah's sake keep playing; they'll jump back in. And don't be a dick if someone misses a note, that's why this is called practice and not "the most important time you'll play this song, ever."
Rule No. 9. Read Martin Atkins's book Tour Smart. Sure, a lot of it goes beyond the needs of a band starting out, but play your cards right and you'll need that info later. But the booking strategies are immaculate. Any deeper advice I could give on touring is covered in this book, except maybe "don't fart in the van."
Rule No. 10: BE COOL. When people come up to you to tell you they loved your set, turn on the personality, even if you have to fake it. You want this person to come back and bring friends and buy your stuff. Just because homedude's wearing a Sublime shirt doesn't mean his money ain't good.
For chrissake, you don't have to let him be in your band, just into it. And if you're on the road, being friendly means a place to crash, maybe some after-hours beers, some food and, most importantly for some of you, mega bong rips.
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