So now you’ve got a killer set. (see lesson two) No use having a smoking band and not playing for the world. In fact playing live is the key, the path to the top. Yes, we’ve all heard strange stories of people who made a tape in their bedroom, sent it to a label and woke up the next day and they were rock stars. It’s interesting to note that in my twenty-five years of working in and around major labels I never met one of these fictional characters. Every band I ever saw make it big did it by playing live. (and making great records but we will cover that later)
Let me start with the bad news. Getting gigs is the worst part of being in a band. It is a thankless task. It is extremely hard and, at times, damn near impossible. Throughout your band’s existence this job and the problems associated with it will not go away. If you are lucky someone who does it for a living will take over the job but for the time being it is up to you. Now that I’ve told you all of that depressing news let me tell you something else. It is possible and, there are quite a few tricks to getting gigs.
Here’s a few tools that may help. A demo, a presskit, a copy of pollstar. Ok let’s start at the end. Pollstar is a magazine that tells all about professional tours. I get mine for free. I think the subscription price is ridiculous so look for another way to get it like an ad on Craigslist or Ebay or stealing it out of a local rock star’s garbage. If you can’t get a hold of one don’t freak out it’s a great help but you can work around it.
Next is a press kit. You know what that is don’t you? It’s a package with copies of all the band’s glowing reviews from Spin and the LA Times. It has a cool picture of the band included. This is something that you make yourself at first. When you haven’t yet left the basement it will consist of a picture taken by someone’s girlfriend and a single page that says “My mom hates my band!” written in crayon. That’s a good start. Now here is a shocker. Lot’s of bands make shit up! Wow. Imagine that. They do. Oh yeah there is also a band bio which is the story of the guys in the band, what other bands they were in, how many Grammys they have etc. Again, just make it up. Put something together and try to make it look better than a pile of papers you bought off the dude that lives out of the shopping cart in your town. Don’t worry too much about the exact content. Later on this blog I will tell you how to get press. Really I will. And not only that I will tell you some tricks of the trade that actually work.
OK last tool the demo. Over the course of my life I have seen more angst and over thinking over demos than any other part of being in a band.
Here are some concrete rules about demos. Believe what I’m about to tell you because lots of people will tell you I’m wrong. When they do ask them “Have you ever signed a band to a major label recording deal?” and “Have you ever taken a band from nowhere and helped them work their way up to stadium shows?” If they answer yes to both these questions and you believe them then immediately say “Manage our band and we will give you 15% of everything including the publishing!” If they say no listen to me because I have done both these things.
1. The quality of the recording of your demo doesn’t make much difference. Spending $21,000 to pay the guy who’s brother knew that guy from the Rolling Stones will be a waste of your money. You don’t have money do you? If you did then you probably wouldn’t be trying to be a rock star. For your first demo make a decent live recording of the band ripping its way through a SHORT SET. That’s it. You can use your laptop, an old tape deck, your ipod it doesn’t matter. The important thing on the demo is does the band RULE and are the songs GREAT. Once again I will say it, you may not believe it but it is true, THE QUALITY OF YOUR DEMO DOES NOT MATTER!!! In many cases the promoter (that’s the music biz term for a guy that controls gigs) will not listen to the demo or will pop it in for about two minutes to get a feel for your general sound. LAter on, when your band starts to move up, you will have plenty of opportunities to make better recordings with pro gear. Even then if your demo doesn’t ROCK then it sucks.
2. Other musicians are the key to getting gigs and getting ahead. Being an asshole to every one you meet because you think that this will give you a mysterious aura is a stupid idea. Now, if you really have talent I realize that you may actually be an asshole. This combo is common. If you know that you are an asshole and you can not suppress this charming quality then someone else in the band will get the gigs and do all of the band business. This rule can’t be ignored since it will destroy the band’s chances immediately. If you are the asshole and you are reading this don’t worry. I know that you are worried because you are the only one in the band that really knows how to become a star. I know this because all MASSIVE BAND ASSHOLES feel this way. Don’t take this blog wrong assholeish behaviour has its place in rock. It’s just that booking gigs is not the place. Instead the band asshole should be content torturing the nice guy that does all the work. This is standard behaviour for band assholes. Let’s continue…
Being nice to other bands is key. They will get you gigs. They will recognize that your band is great and want to be associated with you. They will talk about where they gig and what tours are on and shows that are being put together. Pay close attention. Be nice to them. Praise their band. You can always find something to compliment about their set even if you just say the drummers cymbals are shiny. The better the other band is the nicer you should be to them but no matter how good they are DON’T KISS THEIR ASS LIKE YOU’RE A FAN. There is nothing that will send a talented musician running faster than a fan. Fans make rock stars uncomfortable. Fans pay at the door. Fans stalk rock star’s girlfriends. You must not, under any circumstances act like a fan. Even if you meet Jesus Christ, the guy who’s records you’ve worn out listening to, you must act cool and behave as if you and he are PEERS. If you do not know this word look it up, it’s important.
So be nice. Give free CD’s. Give free T Shirts. Give them your number and say something along the lines of “Hey do you guys have any gigs lined up in Cowtown? No? Gee here’s my number I can give you some info on a show that you may be able to play.” Here’s a good tip. Never walk up to someone that you don’t know or only know slightly and say anything that translates to “Help me.” Instead always say something that translates to “Hi, I may be able to help YOU.” Remember get phone numbers and websites. These people are going to help you get to the top. Many of them will be in other bands, start labels, be DJ’s , become producers, work for promoters etc. While your at it offer a floor to sleep on to every decent band that comes through town. Even if they say no you’re on your way to a mutually beneficial relationship. Here’s a story to illustrate this rule:
In the mid to late 80’s Providence Rhode Island was a kinda hip town with an active music scene. There was an underground club called The Rocket. Everyone played there. I played there. Future Rock Stars played there. There was a band called “What Now”. They were a good, three piece Alt Rock band. They drew decent crowds and were on lots of the bills at the Rocket. Even if they weren’t playing they hung out at the club. Everyone that couldn’t afford a hotel room slept at their house. It was a big, old Victorian house in the bad area, just around the corner form the cool record shops. Everyone ate pancakes cooked by the band’s leader Dave A. Great guy. Very helpful. Since I knew him, slept at his house and ate his pancakes when he released his first single I listened to it, very carefully. I liked it. I offered them a deal on my label. Cool huh? Well even better they often crashed at my house in Jersey. While there they met another band Miracle Legion. They were a big underground band. When they dumped their rhythm section they stole What Now’s bass and drummer. That led to a few world tours and a major label deal. After Miracle Legion broke up the bassist and drummer went on to back up Frank Black from the Pixies. More world tours, serious cash and lots of attention from members of the opposite sex. Much cooler. All of this happened because they were nice to the other bands and served up pancakes.
3. No rock show is wrong to attend. If you want to play live you better be hanging out watching all of the bands and going to all of the clubs. If you are too young for clubs that means parties and all ages shows. The guy that only goes to see Swedish Death Metal Shows because that’s what’s cool is missing out on lots of chances to meet club owners, bartenders (they usually sleep with club owners), doormen (they know great gossip), soundmen, stage crew and most importantly other musicians. A good musician that is on his way to the top will know lots and lots of people. If you are not friendly because you are the dark, depressed frontman then bring along the friendly drummer. Go to shows. Watch theband’s stage moves and how the set is put together. Learn, learn, learn. For a musician most shows are like going to classes in how to rock. The better the show the better the lesson.
OK that’s the end of part one… part two will deal with the nuts and bolts of getting your first show and how to turn that into more shows…. stay tuned……………..
Copyright 2010 Brad Morrison/Billiken Media