Houston is truly blessed to have a music scene that enjoys an abundance of talent and an enthusiastic fan base. For such a big city, this seems like it should be obvious, but it’s really not — local musicians can struggle to be properly appreciated in a town that often seems to have other things on its mind, be it oil and gas’s slumping fortunes or whichever sports team has momentarily captured our imaginations. (Or just Pokemon Go, lately.) Musicians here find crowds that can be unbelievably loyal, if they bother to show up, or a network of venues that can be both welcoming and forbidding. Even experienced observers can give themselves fits trying to make sense of it all. So as a sort of public service, the Houston Press recently asked our team of writers — who, if they’re not musicians themselves, have been to enough local shows to know who’s got what it takes and who may be permanently back at the ol’ day job just a few more gigs down the road — for some friendly advice.
DON'T EXPECT TO GET PAID (MUCH)
This, arguably, could be said for just about any musician in any part of the world, but it feels particularly relevant here. The going rate for the average non-corporate or non-wedding gig was $50 per person back in the 1980s. Today: 50 bucks. So much for inflation. The dearth of venues and the rise of "Hey, I'll play for the exposure!" enthusiasm of some younger (dare we say naive) musicians in Houston leads us to believe it is difficult if not entirely possible to be a "working musician" in the Bayou City.
NEVER GIVE UP A GOOD REHEARSAL SPACE
Once you find a place to practice, hold onto it for dear life. If it has a decent PA system and you don't have to share it with ten other bands, your decision to pay your mortgage or the rent for your rehearsal room just got a lot tougher.
DON'T OWN A TRUCK WITHOUT A CAMPER
This is Texas. If you own a truck, put a lid on the bed or you'll be cursing the heavens when your gear gets soaked every time it rains, which sometimes feels like every day of the year.
PEOPLE MOSTLY WON'T LISTEN TO YOU
All over the country, people who go to places with live music ignore the musicians. This isn't a new phenomenon. It just seems like Houston has raised it to high art. Don't take it personally.
THERE'S MORE TO HOUSTON THAN THE INDIE AND RAP SCENES
This may be hard for some to believe, but Houston has a deep, rich music history that includes some of the greatest blues, jazz, country, folk and Latin artists of all time.
DON'T GET INTO IT FOR THE MONEY
You won't make money while getting started in the music game. Hell, you may not ever make any money playing music. You will play gigs for free, and this is nothing of which to be ashamed. Do what you love, and love what you do...but keep an 8-5 job on the side.
THERE WILL BE PERKS
Musicians (both ladies and gentlemen), yes, you do look more attractive than usual if you're up onstage with a guitar and a microphone. And you will do better romantically because of it. Just look at Gene Simmons.
KEEP YOUR DISTANCE
If you're fortunate enough to get to tour with your bandmates, even those whose company you truly enjoy, take some time away from your mates while back home. This will prevent cabin fever when it's time to hit the road again.
WORK THE CROWD
Before and after the show, interact with the fans hanging around the venue and create that personal connection with them. Taking a few selfies and flashing a smile would at a minimum expand your social-network reach.
PUT YOUR EGO ASIDE
It doesn't matter whether you're the lead singer or the backup tambourine player. You're all part of a team, and none of you should be above grinding it out. From loading and unloading gear to marketing the music itself, everyone involved needs to put the band first and keep any budding prima donna tendencies in check. Potential fans are interested in hearing the stories behind your music, but aren't concerned with any of your egos, so keep them out of it.
PLAY THE "HITS"
You aren't Radiohead, so fans will expect to hear the songs they love. If you have new music, a live performance is a great place to unveil it, but that one single you released with an accompanying video? You should play it, and it should be one of the most solid performances of the evening. It's your signature, at this point.
THINK ABOUT SONIC REAL ESTATE
Every instrument should occupy its own frequency range or you’ll risk sounding like a big, muddy mess. Playing solo, the mid-range sounds nice. But once multiple mid-heavy instruments gather in a room (keyboards and guitars), you’ll want more of a spread.
CARE ABOUT STUFF
Everyone knows it’s not rock and roll to care. Showing up on time, playing in time with your band, and taking lessons for your instrument may not seem cool to you, but secretly that stuff is way, way cool to everyone else.
LIE TO LITERALLY EVERYONE YOU MEET
As far as any local band is concerned, they’re your favorite band. Connections are most important when it comes to scheduling shows — being good at music is less than half the battle.
BE GOOD AT MUSIC
Yeah, networking is important. But what good are sales contacts with nothing good to sell? It should go without saying to make sure you sound good before forcing others to listen, but the message may be needed.
LEARN CONTACT INFO FOR PEOPLE WHO BOOK SHOWS
Bassman Pep, Punk Rock Stacy, and Pegstar are good places to start when you’re ready to get your music out there. We’ll stop just short of giving that information out because some writers here are still technically competing with you.
Be nice to all the bookers, audio engineers, bartenders, and other musicians you work with. You will almost definitely see them again. Even if you don’t — come on, what does it hurt?
GOOD LUCK ON CRAIGSLIST
It’s full of freaks and weirdos, and has refused to significantly update its bare-bones HTML layout since it began, but weirdos like you are there too. It’s sketchy but it’s the best we’ve got.
YOU CAN MAKE MONEY ON THIS
In terms of duck bucks, you probably won't amass Scrooge McDuck riches (but who knows?); there are still venues in town who will pay you enough money to go Daffy with, at least. Just don't be a lame duck by making no attempts to book paying gigs, sell merch or promote your act.
THAT BAND ISN'T FRIENDS WITH THE MEDIA
Houston is a friendly place. Musicians are friendly with writers and reporters and vice-versa because we aren't uncouth beasts. But, if a band gets some attention in the local media, it doesn't mean they're best friends with media types. Most of the time it means they do a good job of making music and making writers and reporters aware of their talents.
THERE'S NEVER BEEN A BETTER TIME
Social media, streaming platforms, YouTube...if you want people to know what you do, there's never been a better time than now. Use every resource available to give yourself the best chance at being heard.
BE AN AMBASSADOR FOR OUT-OF-TOWN BANDS
Bands looking to come here might see your act's name attached to local venues during their research. They may reach out to you for help or advice. Help them if you can because they may return the favor, and because we should all be giving out-of-towners the impression that our music community is helpful and worth visiting.
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YOU'RE FROM HOUSTON, SO ACT LIKE IT
If you want a better music community, one that people outside can point to and say, "That's a Houston thing," then own your city. Wear FYHA T-shirts on tour, tout the bands you love from here, take some 8th Wonder or Saint Arnold's on the road to share with Yeungling-drinking bands elsewhere. You're a part of the scene's foundation. Let everyone know you're proud of that.
CHANGE YOUR SOCIAL-MEDIA SCREEN NAME TO @BROWNNOSER
Follow every band, venue and brewery in the city on every social-media outlet out there. Heart their posts. Tag them in your posts. It helps build the community.
DON'T LEAVE GEAR IN YOUR CAR
This one is different depending on the time of day. If the sun is out, your stuff is liable to get melted. After dark it’s liable to get stolen, especially outside of known practice spaces.
Written by Jeff Balke, Clint Hale, Jack Gorman, Matthew Keever, Eric Smith and Jesse Sendejas Jr.