Wednesday, 31 March 2010

So, you want to start a band?

Everyone dreams of being a rockstar. I still have that dream. I have a band and I'm still reaching for the sky.

The only problem is, there are too many bands out there - and you think YOUR band is going to be the next big thing? Good luck.

There is a ray of hope. Read and consume.
So, you and your mates love music. That's brilliant. Between you theres guitars, drums, bass, maybe a singer or two. You're into the same music. You've had a few jams together and OH SHIT IT SOUNDS AWESOME LETS BE A BAND!

This is all well and good, especially if you do it just for the love of doing it. In fact, the best reason to be in a band is because you're not serious about it at all and just love to play music with other people. If you do this, you already win at life and can stop worrying about life. Music should be enjoyed, and damnit you are enjoying it!

However, loads of people start a band with the intention of "making it". They want to get signed, they want to tour the world and sell millions of CDs. These people also want advice.

I can give one awesome piece of advice to these people.

Stop what you are doing and really think hard about what it is you want to achieve

Being a successful band is no easy feat. As I've said, there are just too many bands out there. Just have a trawl on Myspace.  You've probably been trying to come up with a band name only to find that they've all been taken. The domain name for your band is probably taken too (the .com for my band was!). You probably know the rules of supply and demand. There's just too much supply out there, and everyone wants their music for free.

You see, the biggest problem with this whole "Being a band" thing is that many want to do it for a living. And that is really, really, really really, really hard. Even if your band is successful enough to make a living from making music and playing shows, don't expect it to be a good living. You'll probably have enough to make rent and live off a modest food budget. Remember, that's if you're really successful.

As a music lover, you already know the reason for this. Nobody wants to buy music anymore. Even when they did, record labels gave the artists mere pennies for each album sold. There is money in it, but where most bands fall down is that they don't want to put the work in.

That, my friends, is the hardest part of this. You have to work your asses off, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for barely any money. You don't get any bonus, no pension plan, and no holidays. Plus after you've put all this work in, there's only a CHANCE that you'll be able to carry on. Factor in that ALL of you have to have the same work ethic and dedication and ambition, and you can see why so many of those amazing unsigned bands you saw at the local rock bar broke up and went to get real jobs. They had so much talent, but nobody ever recognised them.

What happened? Life happened. There are so many bands that are insanely talented and make amazing music that I would gladly pay for. Almost all of these bands never see the light of day because one tiny thing went wrong. The drummer had to sell his car so they couldn't make it to any shows, the singer got married, the guitarist had too many side projects or decided he liked being a DJ more.

Any of these things go slightly out of whack with your insane 24/7 work schedule and the whole thing goes kaput.

Now, can you see why you have to stop and think about what you really want?

My favourite case in point is Mastodon. They are high up in my list of favourite progressive and metal bands. They make great music, have an unsurpassed live show and make a great living off it.

Yet they spent 10 years with little money or widespread recognition. 10 years as the darlings of the underground and no more. 10 years of living off selling T shirts, playing gig after gig after gig after gig and just making it by with enough to get to the next one.

For some, this is the pinnacle of success, and that is fine. A lot of bands live off this level of underground success and have been doing so for years and years and years. A lot of bands take this long to reach the underground success.

But my point remains. It can take up to 10 years. Ask yourself if you can even make one year, five years, let alone ten. Could you carry on working with the same people, playing gig after gig, ordering boxes of that home-made CD and T shirt prints and hoping people buy them at shows, making just enough to live on, for ten years? How long would it be before you call it a day? You'd be surprised how many bands make it to 9 years and give up.

Which brings me to the next most important thing. Your band members.

Believe me, it does not matter how good these people are at their instruments. It does not matter if they are poetic geniuses or the next Steve Vai/Neil Peart/Victor Wooten. It does not matter if they write songs as easily as breathing. None of these things matter ONE BIT if you want to be successful.

What matters is that you can see yourself spending up to 10 years with these people, arguing over money, rights, space, friendships, everything. You are essentially married to these people, they are your new family. You have to be able to set boundaries, discuss issues and overcome anything with these people. You have to be able to get stuck in a lift with these people and not be at each others throats for months at a time. Your success depends on this factor and this factor alone.

So this leaves what seems like the least important ingredient to success, but on the outside it is the thing that should matter the most. The music.

This is why being in a band is so damn hard. 90% of the time, the music is pushed to the side as you have to deal with dodgy promoters, agents, venue managers, sound people, tour managers, retailers, fans, marketing and a whole lot of other people. You have to put up with this and not lose sight of why you are doing this in the first place. You'll spend a week organising, promoting, setting up and rehearsing for the 30 minutes on stage after which you'll then spend hours packing down, loading up the van and moving to the next gig. All for 30 minutes, maybe even less, of what you actually enjoy.

Funnily enough, the more successful you get, the less time you may get to spend with your love of music. The amount of work you need to put into getting yourself out there and making meagre amounts of money is so disproportionate to the returns that again, you can see why so many people give up.

And no, getting signed will not solve your problems. In many cases, it can just create problems, especially if you don't read your contract. Labels are dying out, slowly but surely, and the only way they can see to stay afloat is to take MORE money from their artists. Which is why I recommend that if you want to stay afloat, you do the 24/7 ridiculous workload and do it all yourself.

Can you see now why being in a band is just not worth it? Nevertheless, please do it if your band makes great music. Somebody's got to be out there making new music for us music lovers, so why not you?

All it takes is more dedication and hard work than its actually worth. But some people are happy with that.

I'm one of them.

Keep loving music

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