How it works….getting to the top………

I spent last night with a new band that I will be producing. A bottle of good whiskey a couple of marginal vintage acoustic guitars and a good meal naturally evolved into a people taking turns showcasing new songs or playing masterworks of America’s rock history.  The band had just fired their most recent drummer for being an asshole. The new drummer, an old friend, of course, fit in perfectly. This band is playing Alt Country. The drummer rose to the occasion and shaved the middle part of his beard to create truly impressive mutton-chop sideburns.  He fit right in with the bands look and attitude. To take the gig he dumped a girl, walked away from a job he hated, put down the guitar and picked up the drumsticks. Those are the actions of a real musician.

It's a brawl motherfucker! First you better pay at the door!

Later in the night, as the band got remarkably drunk, before they reached the stage of sending me nonsensical text messages, the conversation turned to how to get ahead, how to get to the top, how to put on a better show etc. I of course, being an arrogant ass, gave them plenty of advice. If you are reading this blog some of the points that came up may be news to you.

The band are amped up. They’re flat-out excited. A producer had come to see them play, loved the show and agreed to produce some music for them. This is an exciting moment in any band. We hashed out the basic plan before the Johnny Walker ran out. Was this their big break? Perhaps. Time will tell. It also could be the wrong move. No one will know until years from now. One thing I have seen repeated with every band that succeeds is the series of small breaks that lets the band climb to the top.  This is the true system to becoming a star and a working musician.

Let’s use this band as an example. They have a manager/producer, a completed album that is released locally and a full gig schedule. All of this happened before I ever heard their name. How did they get that far? Hmm… it’s easy to guess. They all spent countless hours learning to play and listening to music. They fell in love with certain bands, particular songs and the stories they heard about other bands they admired. They all played in shitty bands. This taught them the difference between good and bad from the inside looking out.

Sure, this is how everyone dresses...right?

They all played in bands that were better. This is the winnowing process that every musician lives through. Some of them switched instruments as they realized where their true talents lay. They all played some local shows. Some of these shows sucked, bad. They learned how to get the audience engaged and how to make the girls shake their asses.  They all came to the realization that their heroes didn’t dress like the audience so they cautiously start to acquire stage clothes. 

As their set became a winner they started to branch out to new towns. Soon they won fans in these towns too. Then they heard of a studio owner/producer that seemed to have something good happening. They booked time and soon he was a fan too. They talked him into being their manager. This caused the local press to start to mention them.  He produced a brilliant but spotty first record. He dropped by my house for dinner with two of the band members in tow. By the end of the dinner I could see they had talent. I hadn’t even heard the recordings but I was interested. All I had to do was talk to them and I could see that they understood how it worked. I could see their passion and their ambition. So now they have a new producer.

The point to this little history is that you get ahead with mountains of little breaks. You create these breaks by working hard to make music, by getting yourself talked about, by not fitting in, by being a little bigger than the stage you step up on.  If you work hard enough and have lots of luck you make it to the top. At that point looking back down the mountain you will see that there is never a big break. There is never one thing that gives the band the attention of the world. You hear stories of big breaks because this myth is manufactured by the big labels that need people to believe that they create stars.  They never mention how many great musicians they bury.

Summing it all up – work hard for lots of small triumphs. Pile these up and you have a story of how a band succeeded at rock………

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2011


It’s all about being famous again…..

For those of you that are following along rather than just reading random postings tonight’s blog strays from the promised path. I will get to beating up Reader Oliver in the next blog. For the moment I will take a moment out to revisit the original post, “it’s all about being famous”. This is the most popular posting on my blog. Night after night it gets the most hits. I suspect that this is the result of being the first “lesson”. It may be that another factor is that it is the most important point I make in this blog.

There is no question that this concept has been debated heavily through the years. Once again I am going to come down on the rock star side of things and say it really is all about being famous.  If you would like to putter around in obscurity then please don’t read my blog. This isn’t a value judgement, well, maybe it is a bit of a value judgement but it isn’t a monumental denunciation from moral high ground. There is music made at all levels of fame and success and it is all valid. That’s not what this blog is about. instead this blog is designed to be a lecture series for those of you that want to make it big with your band.

Making it big, becoming famous, getting a hit, breaking through whatever you choose to call it is not just luck. There is certainly luck involved in making it but luck doesn’t rule the game. Instead the proper attitude, actions and philosophies allow some people to weight the luck in their favor.

My five-year old son loves the song “Hey Jude”. He lives in a home without TV. He lives in a home that is saturated with music. He has never questioned this he just accepts it. He is, after all, five. Out of the constant pastiche that flows around him he has picked “Hey Jude”. What can I say, the kid knows a hit.

This morning as I dropped him off at his preschool he suddenly decided to explain some of the details of his school life.

“Mr. Ben sometimes plays us songs on his ipod. He has the song Hey Jude but its the song without the singing and only the piano. I told him that no one could love the kind of Hey Jude without the singing!”

What is my son seeing here? He recognizes that an instrumental cover version of the massively famous song “Hey Jude” is a pale shadow, a retarded Doppelganger, a fading echo of something that is rightly  famous for its beauty and magic. Do you want to spend time with the freakishly robotic cover version of the music that defines your favorite bands? Of course not. You want the real thing. So does my son.

There are many ways to define fame and influence in music. I certainly have spent many hours listening to obscure yet influential music. This is one level of fame. It is the level of notoriety that resides on the side of hipness and art. Many of the questions and emails I have received revolve around musicians wrestling with the worry about becoming some kind of robotic boy band nightmare in exchange for fame.  This is a false concern. For most of my readers the possibility that this is your route to the top is slim. Instead the majority of sacrifices and conflicts lie in the realm of understanding that the path to the top involves mastering the craft of showmanship.  PT Barnum, Andy Warhol, David Bowie, The Sex Pistols, David Blaine, KeithRichard, The Grateful Dead are all the same from the viewpoint I am trying to teach. When you look at the list did you recognize every name? Why’s that? Simple they are all master showman.

When I signed the Figgs to Imago I set about creating an aura around them. I signed them to a big booking agency and I told the agent that I wanted to the band to do a tour that would go on, and on and on and hit every little town and every mom and pop venue.  The label, of course, loved this idea. The agent thought it was overkill.  I wanted to do it for a reason that none of the people involved except for the band and I understood.

When the tour was booked it ended up being 147 dates in a row with just a few breaks. The band were young enough and dumb enough to do it. When they finished they looked, acted and played like they were five years older.  This was a bonus. As they got ready for the next journey onto the road I printed up a shirt – on the front was a drawing of a van gripping the world in its arms and the words The Figgs, on the back was a list of 147 dates in small type and the words “The Giggs”. Towards the end of the list on the texas date for the club Goats Head Soup the date was listed as “Burnt Down!”. It just happened that the band pulled up to sound check to find the club on fire.

Why did I do this? I , of course, was after fame for the band. That was my job. I decided that I wanted them to be known as the hardest working band in rock. As the band prepped to go out on the Van’s Warped Tour I had the record company calling every human on their list and dropping the words “the hardest working band in America” in every conversation. I would answer their incoming calls with “The hardest working band in rock!”. Three months of this stupidity and everyone else was saying it too.

Remember that with your music no one has decided what to say about it. Often you have the opportunity to put some of the words in their mouth. Ask yourself “What would be the ideal thing to be famous for?”. You certainly could pick “the band with the biggest cocks!’ (as long as Zeppelin isn’t touring). You can pick to skip it. In that case you better be happy with whatever the press wants to tag you with. My two decades of experience with this kind of thing tells me that if you aren’t  crafting your band’s image then you will likely end up with nothing.

I recently read a review of the Figgs from a live gig. The writer was about twenty. He used the phrase the hardest working band in rock twice. The band hasn’t  used that in their press pack in years but it follows them nonetheless. I can think of worse tag lines……

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

Classified Madman!, the greatest goddamn f##king band of all time!

In the late eighties I signed a band to my record label.This band, the Vestrymen, were a jangly guitar pop band from Amherst Massachusetts. Now I have quite a few insane stories about this band including but not limited to How they came to give me autographed photo of the band members naked whilst tripping in the woods, How the drummer tried to kill me over a misrouted tape of loop of Ingrid Bergman and last but greatest the story of the greatest rock prank of all time the story of John-O! Tonight’s story has nothing to do with any of the sordid tales instead it concerns something that The Vestrymen discovered in a paper in Providence Rhode Island while on tour. Like any bored musician on the   road they were scanning the musicians wanted section of the paper and ran across an ad.

  The Vestrymen had a gargantuan appetite for drugs. Bless them they were stoned rock n roll stars. Imagine that! As a result, like all rural stoners they lived in a semi secluded ranch house in the Berkshires. (that’s part of Massachusetts that doesn’t appear on any maps of America. At least any maps of America that outline the places in America where Americans have jobs, work and suffer from common sense) This ranch house developed a legendary status as a crash pad, party house with the usual mix of midget luggage and imaginary teen runaways. Oh wait a minute. Sorry, I suddenly drifted into the story of John -O. Damn.

This ranch house, nick named the Ruby Ranch, was a standard rock crash pad party house.  The refrigerator in the Ruby Ranch was covered by a mix of tour memorabilia and in the midst of this chaos was THE classified ad.    What follows is a word for word transcription of the ad. I’ve included a scan of the ad at the end of the blog but it’s difficult to read, hence the transcription.  Now as you read this keep in mind that the writer was PAYING BY THE WORD. A typical ad like this in the eighties might have cost $20.00 for the first twenty words and then .25 per word thereafter. Since the Ad has 888 words this puts the printing charge around $235!  This man had a dream and he was going to back it up with his wallet. I recently wrote to one of the band members asking for him to dig up this gem of rock madness.  It stands as definitive proof what ten thousand spins of “Houses of the Holy” will do to a young, impressionable mind……………..

Utopian Band

Do you sometimes stay up late at night and dream that you are a member of the greatest rock and roll band of all time? I do, and I want to make that dream come true. I am 21 years old and want to be the lead vocalist. I have no experience, but I am extremely ambitious and intelligent. Ninety percent of my music spectrum includes the following bands. Heavy on Led Zeppelin and the Doors, while I am also into the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, the Moody Blues, U2, Sting, Pink Floyd, the Monkees and the Rolling Stones. To put this band together I need a lead guitarist, a bassist, a drummer a keyboardist and someone who can play the synthesizer. You must be able to unleash the raw power on your instrument that it would take to form a magical, mystical, eternal, everlasting sound that will rock an entire planet. How good can we be? Put it this way, there are 5 billion people in the world. Now imagine a kickass construction crew has just built a stadium that when full to capacity will hold 5 billion people. In every city and every town the word is being passed around the greatest band in the Universe is playing there.  The stadium sells out and everybody has the time of their lives. I am into freedom, liberty, peace, nuclear and conventional disarmament, a central world economy, one world language (English) and for everybody in humanity through the power of music to be mutually happy and satisfied. I follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, Confucius, Mahatma Gandhi, Plato, Aristotle, Socretes, Goethe, Sartre, Camus, Rimbaud,Nietzsche,Buddha, Mohammed and many people in the bible. I am not a deeply religious person but I have read the Bible from Genesis to Revelations at least 15 times. Some of the group songwriting we should do should come from experiences in the Bible. I really want to get to know you people very well, therefore we should get together and find a house to rent with a large basement so we can jam there. I am very intense when it comes to practicing. I believe we should practice at least eight hours a day, seven days a week. I have a complex yet simple ideology on life. I believe people should move to a world democracy, collaborate, consolidate and over-all contribute 100 percent to humanity as one society without war or conflict. The U.S.A. and her allies have about 10,000 megatons of atomic weapons, and the Soviet Union and her allies have 10,000 megatons of atomic weapons. There are about 1,000 20 megaton nuclear bombs between the superpowers. The are also about 50,000 smaller nuclear warheads in the world.  A 20 megaton bomb within a radius of 15 miles turns everything into molten lava; at 30 miles people are set on fire and burnt to a crisp, at a 100 miles people are permanently blinded. Nuclear strike zones in Rhode island are Newport, Quonset Point and Providence.  This will never happen, but I don’t like living under the threat of total destruction.Through the powers of the United Nations and the recent signing of the INF treaty and the successful summits between the USA and Russia, relations are at an all time high. Disarmament and development are two of the most urgent challenges facing the world today. They constitute priority concerns of the international community in which all nations developed and developing, big and small, nuclear and non-nuclear have a common and equal stake. Disarmament and development are two pillars on which enduring international peace and security can be built. The arms race is absorbing far too great a proportion of the world’s human, financial and natural and technological resources placing a heavy burden on the economies of all countries and affecting the international flow of trade, finance and technology in addition to hindering the process of confidence building among nations. Thus, there is a commonality of interests in seeking security at lower levels and finding ways of reducing these expenditures. I smoke marijuana and hashish to explore the deepest realms of the human condition.I believe time has no beginning and no end, life and the joy of living are infinite. I am a vegetarian and take vitamins for good health. I meditate to find inner tranquility. I would like to rent out this house on the east side of Providence and eventually move to New York. The house must have a huge basement that we can jam in. I must stress the intensity that I am looking for in you people. The lead guitarist must have the sheer power of Jimi Hendrix. The Bassist like John Paul Johns. The drummer like Ringo Starr. The keyboardist like Ray Manzarek. And the synthesizer player must play like the almighty God. I don’t want to do any covers. I just want to write songs and be as totally original as possible. It is extremely important that each band member can powerfully sing in harmony on backup vocals. Together we can put together the greatest goddamn fucking band of all time! This ad has appeared in Providence, Boston, New York, Chicago, Detroit, Dallas, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Houston, Miami,Memphis, New Orleans, Tampa, Orlando, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, Buffalo, Rome London, Dublin, Paris, Moscow and Peking.



It’s interesting to note that he fails to give any clue as to how to contact him. A slight oversight on his part.  I believe he is still waiting to for the kick ass construction crew. How can you fail to admire this guy’s ambition?



Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

Lesson #16 How to create an all ages show (pt 4)…………….

fishheads don't pay at the door!Well I’ve finally reached the fun part, putting on the show. In order to be successful the show itself has to work. This is not something that happens by chance.  The key is to run the show with and iron glove inside a velvet glove. I’m not sure where I stole that from, maybe it was some great dictator like Stalin.

Let me make one small point here before I get to practical stuff. Putting on a show like this will be a great help to a great many people. The guys in your band with benefit. They other bands will benefit.  The kids in town will be happier than pigs in shit to have a home-grown rock show. Even the venue might be happy to have a paying customer. As a result of helping all of these people out they will react in the following ways: jealousy, anger, envy, bitterness, complaint and in many cases will set about trying to undo you. I’m dead serious about this, don’t take it lightly.  You need to expect it, plan for it and most of all don’t let it bother you. It’s not actually about YOU it’s what you represent which is change and success. This makes people nervous and aggressive.  You will have more problems with the second attempt at a show than the first. The problems will come from people close to you as they try to steal your success or stop you from succeeding again. Don’t worry you have a jump on them and if you keep going you’ll be on to the next success before they’ve figured out how to undo your first triumph.


Ye Olde Rules for the Running of Ye Olde Rock Show—-

1.There is a backstage area. This is an actual place. Only the bands and their immediate hangers-on get to go there. This place should give the bands privacy, security and ideally something to eat and drink. A loaf of bread with Peanut Butter and Jelly and two six packs of coke is better than nothing at all. It should also have towels. These will be filthy and damn near ruined by the end of the night. You can buy towels cheap at one of those bath supply houses that housewives love. You also might find cheap towels at a Salvation Army. After they have been used do not try to convert them for use by humans, they are only fit for musicians.

2. All bands are told a specific “load in time” and a specific “sound check time” and a specific “Set time”.  The day starts with load in which is around 3 hours before the doors open. All of the bands bring in their gear and get it organized into nice neat heaps.  Then two hours before doors open the sound checks begin. They start with the band that plays last. Then the band that plays in the middle and finally the band that will go on first. Each band gets 15 minutes to set up and fifteen minutes to sound check that’s it. This is not negotiable. The last band to sound check leaves their gear set up since they will be starting the show. All bands are told that all members of their band MUST be inside the venue at least 10 minutes before the time they go onstage. Tell them you will cancel them if this isn’t the case. (Don’t cancel them just threaten to)

3. All bands should play 35 – 45 minutes, no more, no less. If they can’t pull off that long a set then you shouldn’t have put them on the bill. If they want longer then they have too high an opinion of their value to the universe.  There is 15 minutes change over between bands.

4. Each band must bring along one guy that is at least called their roadie for the night. It is his job to help them carry gear not the staff of the show. It is his job to fix something that breaks. It is his job to revive fainted drummers.

5. There is no guest list. If they argue tell them your mom is paying, then make your mom pay. I’ve seen tons of shows go from making a profit to losing money due to idiot band members handing in 58 name guest lists.The only exception is me.  If I show up to your gig I’m on the guest list. I will say thanks but no thanks and pay at the door.

6 No one gets paid until 15 minutes after lights up. (that’s the official end of the show) If they bitch tell them this is true for stadium acts so why do they think they are so special.

7. All bands carry out their own gear and everything they bring in must be taken out, no exceptions. That includes that broken toy drum set that they used as a prop. The venue is not their dump.

8. All bad habits stay out of the venue. I’m assuming that this is an all ages show with underage bands and an underage audience. That means no drinking in the venue. That means no pot smoking in the venue. I’m not stupid enough to assume that every musician is going to go on stage sober but if someone gets caught inside the venue various adults will use this incident to shut you down. Make this fact known to everyone and post visible signs. Then, at least, you can argue that you tried to stop it.

Here’s a fake rundown of a fake show. The show is planned to go on between 8pm and 10:30 which is a half hour before the town’s noise curfew.

4 pm Load in for all bands. Sound man and sound system set up.

5 pm Sound checks start.

6:45 pm  Sound checks end

7:15 PM Doors open, (flyers advertise doors open 7pm) The venue is darkened. Music is playing on the sound system. The first band’s gear is all set up… People enter a darkened but not blacked out venue with music playing  and the stage set…..( this helps build the excitement and anticipation. always remember that Rock is a SHOW, it is a form of FICTION)

8 pm sharp A roadie brings out drinks and puts them down in strategic places on stage. (flyer’s say the show starts 8pm sharp)(this gets the audience ready to rock)

8:05 House and stage lights out. Sound system stops playing music.  If you are planning on having someone announce the show they take the stage and introduce the band and announce a few rules for the night. The backstage security person leads the band by flashlight onstage making sure they don’t fall down a bottomless pit or wander off.

8:06 pm First band goes on, lights come up, audience lights stay down.

8:50 pm first band ends. Stage lights go dark, house lights come up to 1/4, sound system switches to playing background music. Stage lights back up to one quarter and change over begins

9:05 House goes dark, second band takes the stage, lights up second band’s set begins.

9:45 Second band ends, Stage lights go dark, house lights come up to 1/4, sound system switches to playing background music. Stage lights back up to one quarter and change over begins

9:55  House goes dark, third band takes the stage, lights up third band’s set begins.

10:35 Third band’s set ends, House lights come up to full …..sound system starts to play end of night music. Security starts to yell at everyone to leave………..end of show

11:pm Count the door, pay the bands and then bands load out.

midnight Venue is locked up tight……………………


Geez! What a Dandy!

Now notice a couple of things about this schedule. The first is that I give light cues. The ones I give are classic uses of lights to manage the crowd and the show. When the people arrive the venue is darkened and the music is playing. This gives them the impression of entering into a new world. The world you are going to stage for them. Always remember that what you are doing is putting on a show.  The second thing to notice is that I mention background music repeatedly. This, too, is part of the show. Make this music different then what is going to be played on stage. Different but not so different that the audience will hate it. If you have the opportunity get a dj involved. When I was on the radio this is a gig that I did repeatedly. A great DJ helps make for a great show.


Running the door — I could write a whole book about running the door at a rock show. It’s a crazy job and kinda nerve-wracking.  Whoever is running the door is going to be handling lots of cash. This person must have their shit together and be sober and be absolutely 110% trustworthy. Ideally it should be you. At the beginning of the night the door person must have lots of small bills to make change. If the charge for the night is $8 then you damn well better have 60 singles and $100 in fives.  Remember all of the people will be handing you tens and twenties and expect change and expect it fast. Get used to it. Practice. If you have someone in the inner circle that has spent a year running a cash register they would be a good choice. 

When the person pays they get their hand stamped. Use something clever, cute and indelible. Don’t just put a magic marker slash on the back of their hand. If you do they will figure out how to transfer it to their friends before 10 people have gotten inside.  Sometimes it is best to have two people running the cash. One takes bills and makes change the other stamps hands and checks the person out.

This brings me to another touchy topic. Are you gonna search people? In many cases this may be decided up front by the venue.  Although I think it’s best not to have people armed with glass bottles at a show I loathe having people searched. I’m a freedom kinda guy. Either way decide before you start and post a sign. If you are gonna search women then it must be done by a woman.The next thing to consider is the policy on leaving the venue and then re – entering. Decide this before you start, post a sign and stick to it. Any other strategy will end in problems. The best choice you will discover is to allow no re-entry.  In general the only reasons people leave the gig and come back are reasons that bring problems. (Also keep your eyes open. Someone that comes and goes repeatedly is usually dealing drugs. I have no interest in arguing the morality of recreational drugs. I will say that having someone dealing drugs inside the show is putting the show and your ability to keep doing shows at risk. If you suspect someone is up to no good turn them away. If they make a stink hand them their money. Remember, you aren’t the federal government. YOU CAN REFUSE TO LET SOMEONE INTO YOUR SHOW. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO GIVE A REASON.)

It is best to use one of your security person at the door during the crucial time when the doors first open. They are there to check people out, give them the evil eye if they look like they are going to make trouble and squash any problems that come up from working the door. Take it from me, there are usually problems at the door.  Someone shows up too drunk to let in and now you’ve got a problem. A kid tries to talk his way in with six bucks when tix are 8 and you’ve got a problem. Someone doesn’t like being searched (it just so happens that he is carrying a three-foot bong under his coat) and there is a problem.

Next issue – security for the money. THIS IS IMPORTANT! The pile of cash at the door can turn into a big piece of cheese in a world full of rats.Let’s say you’ve got your 98lb. girlfriend  sitting on a stool taking the cash. The show is sold out so pretty soon she has nine hundred in fives, tens and twenties. She is a tempting target for someone to grab the wad of cash and hoof it into the foggy distance.  Be smart about it. If there is a box office use it. If not make sure that the person taking cash gives you “drops” often.  The way you do this is the Bouncer steps in for some other reason, which is a cover for the girl taking money. He stands in front of her so no one can see her well. She quickly counts out $100 or $200 or $300 in tens and twenties. She scribbles the amount on a slip of paper twice. She rips the paper in half keeping one number for herself. The other she wraps around the wad and then wraps the whole bundle with a rubber band. She then hands this to you and you disappear to drop it somewhere safe. (sometimes that is your pants pocket or boot) Now the person at the door only has enough cash to make change. Do this often. If you don’t you may live to regret it. Imagine you spend two months setting up a show and the night of the gig someone snatches a wad with $943 in it. Misery, utter misery. I’ve seen it.

I was once backstage at a Throwing Muses show in New Jersey. The “Tour manager” was the husband of one of the band members. He wasn’t hired for his experience or, I’m guessin’ here, his smarts. He turns up in the backstage area with a briefcase of money. Backstage has about thirty people milling around. The briefcase is all of the pay for over a week on the road, about $24,000. He proceeds to very arrogantly do a quick count of the bundles of hundred-dollar bills.  Everyone is watching him.  I was with an Irish tour manager that was an old pro. Ten minutes later we see the same guy walking around the nightclub without the briefcase.  We look at each other and panic. The band were friends of ours. We sprint up the stairs to the backstage room which is now empty ’cause the band is now onstage. I open the door to backstage and I’m not surprised to see a nice looking, well dressed, couple in their thirties transferring the cash to the woman’s pocketbook.  Moral of the story, DON’T BE STUPID!!! By the way in this particular case the couple got away because the “tour manager” refused to believe our rant while we held them captive and struggled to take her handbag away from the woman thief. He let them go without recounting the briefcase. At the end of the night he was devastated to discover his briefcase was $5800 light. HE FORCED ME TO LET THEM GO!!

Ok, we’re in the final stretch…. Security.  The long history of rock has taught me and everyone else that has done this kinda stuff professionally that crowd control is not only absolutely necessary it is very, very wise.  Keeping the crowd within the rules of safety allows everyone to have a great time, go wild and live to rock another day.  To do a show like the one I have been outlining for the past 15 thousand words you will need three security people. Like I said earlier these should be gentle giant types.  One of these guys should cover the door most of the night, the second one should be at the door when the venue first opens then move into the club to work the stage area when the band starts to play. The last guy should babysit the backstage area and cover the entrance to backstage and the side of the stage nearest that entrance during the bands sets. What do these people do? It’s simple really. They watch for trouble. Their presence keeps everyone from becoming a unruly monster mob.  When someone gets out of hand they then quickly physically escort the person out the front door. They don’t talk to people. They don’t threaten people. They don’t fight people. They escort people out of the venue while holding them by the arm as quickly as they can.  That’s it.

You should have some lengthy conversations with any bouncers you hire. They should be aware of how the show is supposed to run and exactly what the rules are for the night. Is your show going to generate a mosh pit? OK, that’s fine the bouncers need to understand what it is and know that a mosh pit is cool and  a rumble with twelve guys kicking the crap out of each other is not cool. Last point on security, don’t be afraid to call the cops. Any situation where you feel the fans, bands, or staff may be at risk is a good reason to make a call to the local constable.  Remember if you act calm, cool and in control the cops will usually act like they work for you.  The first time you experience this attitude it’s a strange feeling.

One final rule. The person that runs the show must be stone cold sober. Believe me ’cause I’ve done this myself. You will be so busy that if you don’t have your brain on overdrive you will crash and burn. Do it straight and you’ll do it right.

So that’s it. Have fun, make money and most importantly put your band on the map.  I’ve seen many of these shows pulled off. Ian MacKaye was famous for touring with his band Fugazi using shows just like this for every stop of the tour.  It’s not only possible it’s actually relatively easy if your are determined, stubbornly ambitious and work at it. If you do all that you will be on your way to Succeed at Rock.

Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

Lesson #16 How to create an all ages show (pt3)……………….

So parts one and two covered looking for a place to stage the show, figuring out other bands to book, getting together some money, sound system and sound man, cops and fireman and some other general tips.  Let’s move on. If you’ve figured out most of this stuff by now you are well on your way to generating your first rock n roll rumble.  If you thought being in a band would make you more popular and help you get the girls (or the admiration of all the boys – depending on your sex and particular leanings) just wait. If you can pull off staging an all ages show you will become the person everyone wants to know.  It will increase your bands status, and popularity ten fold.  On top of this you will learn the details of how promoters think. When you try to get your band gigs then this experience will give you the “magic touch” when talking to promoters and club owners.  You’ll be able to see it from their side and this will allow you to sell them on the idea of booking your band.

Let’s back track a little.  I realize that I left out one possibility when talking about potential venues  – bars. But we’re under age!!! How could we stage a show in a bar?? ( Don’t ya just love it when I use lots of exclamation points and question marks???!!! It means I am trying to be clever or funny or insightful) 

When I was 20 and going to college I decided to start booking shows.  I would have booked the shows at the garbage dump or the National Retirement Home for Elderly Circus Clowns. I didn’t give a damn. I just needed somewhere to put on the shows.  I stumbled across a bar called Pogo’s.  It was a typical irish bar. There was absolutely nothing special about it.  There was only one thing you could say about Pogo’s. If you went into the bar, on any night of the week, it was completely empty.  You could fit 200 people into both rooms of the bar and a normal night would be three old men sitting at one end of the bar drinking.Pogo’s was ideal because the owner would do anything to bring people into his bar. In those days the drinking age was 18. Yes, America was once a much cooler place. I talked to the owner and explained that I could fill up his bar with kids. He was kinda nervous about it but agreed to let us do one night. The first night we booked drew a hundred and sixty kids. The bar owner made thousands at the bar. He never argued with me again.

Nowadays you can’t let kids drink at a bar. Damn shame really, but I can’t change that. But you can offer the sales of tons of soda and bar food in exchange for a percentage of the door. Try to find a bar that has a separate room. That way you stage your show and the bar can stay open for business.


So far you’ve found the venue, gotten the sound system, picked out some bands,picked out and confirmed a date with the venue, gotten together some of the money that you’ll need, and planned out the money side of expenses and possible income.  Now it’s time to start to tell people. Start with the bands that are on your list. Call them up and tell them you are putting on a show on so and so date to try TO RAISE MONEY for recording.  After they get finished picking themselves up off of the floor tell them that you are considering letting them in on the deal. Remember, whenever you try to talk someone into doing something always talk about how it will HELP THEM not you. If you approach someone and say “help me out” it rarely works.  Tell them it will help them get more popular and they might make some money. Then ask them to kick in some of the money for the show.

As I said earlier most of the money is coming from your band. The deal you offer should be fair to them as well as you.  Do a deal something like this — you put in 60% of the money and get 65% of the money paid at the door. They put in 20%of the money and get  17.5% of the money from the door. (remember there are two other bands so it all adds up) You also make it clear that first the hall gets paid first, then the sound system, then security and insurance then after everything is paid off you split the money 65%/17.5%/17.5%. If you really want to be slick and pro write up a contract and make everyone sign it. If the show is a complete disaster than everyone loses the money they put in. It’s extremely important that everyone knows what the deal is and agrees to it.  If on the night of the show you sell out the hall and there is a pile of money DON’T GET GREEDY! Stick to the deal. If you ever rip off another band the news will spread like wildfire and soon you’ll find yourself blacklisted.

Here’s an overview of how a show might work out.    Venue Capacity 220    Ticket price $8  ( a little pricey but OK for three bands)

                                                                                                     If it sells out $1760

Venue rental  $400

Rent a cop         $60 (the venue insists you gotta hire a cop to stand around and look important)

Sound system$240 (includes soundman)

insurance         $88


and ticket takers   $120

Total                            $908

Possible profit      $852

Your band puts in 60%  = 548     gets back   $1144

Band A puts in  $189      gets back 308

Band B puts in  $189      gets back 308

Sweet deal huh?   Take it from me it won’t work out quite so sweet but if you can pack the room everyone will make money.


This is also the point where you tell your friends and start to look for a couple of bouncers that can be security at the show. For this job you are looking for an extremely large, strong looking gentle person. Look around your town. I’m sure that someone fits the description.  You usually have to talk the person into the job. If someone comes to you and says they want to be a bouncer say NO and stick to it. Anyone that wants the job probably wants to pick a fight or be an official asshole. Bouncers are supposed to be the kind of person that discourage fights and problems by being big enough to scare people.

Well that’s enough for this installment. I hope to get to the running of the show in the next installment.

Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

Lesson #16 How to create an all ages show (pt 2)………..

This is part two of a blog that will cover the basics of how to set up your first all ages show. In the first section you picked out a couple of other bands that we can invite to play on the show so we can turn the gig into a real show instead of just a glorified practice for your band. Then you scouted out some possible places that you can rent as the concert hall/gig space. Finally I covered some basic tips and warnings about cops and fireman. OK, go back and read it. Now let’s move on.

Let’s remember that all of this must remain a complete SECRET. That’s an important point. If the news gets out too early every lousy, almost-a-band, group of losers within 100 miles of you will be texting your cell every three minutes. KEEP IT A SECRET. Ok the next thing you gotta do is get a sound system for the show. If one of the people in your band is rich and you already have a beautiful 24 channel mixing board, mics, mic stands and PA speakers than just skip ahead cause you’re awful lucky.(also ask the rich guy if his Dad has a nightclub that he forgot he owns)
Let’s assume that you don’t have this stuff. You can’t get by without it. Plugging an old mic into a guitar amp will mean the show will be an embarrassment instead of being a PARADE OF ROCK GODS.

First check with the place you are thinking of using for the show. They may have a sound system or may have a phone contact of someone that rents one out. This is basically what you are looking for:
1 -mixing board or pa head amp with at least 4 channels, much better if it has 8 or 16.
6 – decent mics like SHURE SM 58 or SHURE SM 57

2-monitor wedges -these are boxes that stand on the front of the stage and let the band hear themselves sing
6 – mic stands two should be straight stands and 4 should be boom stands.Make sure that they actually work and that they have the little mic holder on the end since is sucks using three pounds of duct tape to attach the mic to the stand. (although there is a scientific study that taping a microphone to the top of the drummers head with eight pounds of duct tape makes the audience happier)

Two decent PA speakers, preferably stand alone speakers with stands. Now it’s important to understand that there are two different kinds of PA speakers. The first kind is just a speaker in a box. These need some kind of amplifier, either as a separate AMP HEAD or as part of the mixing board. If it’s in the board the mixing board will probably say something like “powered mixing console” on it.
The other kind of speakers, and these are the most common nowadays, are speakers that have their own amplifiers built right into the box with the speaker. “These will probably say something like “Voice of God – Powered Speaker System” on them somewhere.
You will also need a CD player or Ipod with A CABLE THAT CAN GO FROM STEREO TO !/4″ STEREO. (ANY MUSIC GEAR SHOP WILL HAVE ONE). This will allow you to play tunes before the show starts, between bands and most importantly after the show is over. Remember this is your first show and there are many problems that you haven’t faced yet. One of these is getting all two hundred people that came to your show to leave. It’s not as easy as you might think. Turning on really lame Frank Sinatra songs at the end of the show will usually drive them out. (I actually like Sinatra but I’ll leave that along for the moment)

You DO NOT NEED a rack (which just means a fancy box) of reverbs, compressors, noise gates, EQs, quantum degorillafiers or any other crap. You don’t know how to use them and you don’t need them even if you knew how.

On the other hand what you will need is a SOUND MAN! Notice that this term kinda sounds like an adult job. That’s because it is. This is one of the adults that you are gonna talk into helping you stage your rock show. If the place you are renting has a sound system then they will probably have sound man. The person you deal with to work out the rental will be able to give you the details. If the Venue (place you have the show at) has a sound man then use that person. Don’t try to use someone else. It will make the people that run the venue mad and may make them decide not to rent to you. The good thing about paying this kinda guy is he will know all about the gear and you can probably trust him to make your show sound decent. If you give $25 to the Audio Visual Geek from your school you may get a good sounding show but probably not. If there is not a sound man that works with the venue and you can’t find a rental then you may end up with the AV kid. This usually does not work…

If the venue doesn’t have a sound system then you call around to local music shops and ask if they know anyone that “mixes live sound” and has their own gear. This guy will show up, set up, do the sound, pack up and leave (after you pay him).You can also find people like this in the phone book under Sound Reinforcement. (sounds like the audio police doesn’t it?) Craigslist also carries ads for these guys as well. I’ll get to paying for all this stuff soon.  The most expensive option is the guys you find through the phone book.  This is one of those areas where it pays to be creative and have lots, and lots of friends in other bands.

This is as good a place to talk about money as any. I’m guessin’  I’ll have to come back to the subject later.


To put on a show, rent your own place and be a promoter, costs money.  As you add up the costs it can look really scary. I know because I started being a promoter when I was 19. It was scary. Eventually I learned to take risks and plan for failure. When you do it that way then you can afford to take the chance and maybe pull off the coolest thing that has happened to you and your friends so far.

Let’s look at what it MIGHT cost.

Rent the place…………………$500

Sound system………………….$200

Printing, copies, bribes, payoffs to the mob……….$60

Security people……………..$150

Insurance …………………….$100


Holy Shit! Let’s forget it right here.  Aren’t those South Park reruns on tonight?

Stop being a coward. It’s not that much money. After all you’ve got almost three months to figure out how to get it. Three Months!! Are you crazy.

Yes, I am crazy and yes you are going to plan three months ahead. 

When it comes to booking a show, any show you always work three months in advance. Just trust me on this one. This is the way it’s gotta be done. The place you are trying to rent will likely be booked up at least three months in advance. So will the sound man.  it’s gonna take that long to get it together.

So here’s some ways to get together the money for the show.

1. Sell the drummer into slavery

2. Band members pool their cash from part time jobs.  $100 per guy per month gets you there without sweating.

3. Ask multiple adults to kick in part of the money.

4. Have the other bands on the bill kick in some of the money.

Now it’s important to remember that this isn’t money that you are spending.  It’s money that you are risking. If all goes well it will come right back to you with a little extra on top. This will set you up to do it again. If you are going to ask the other bands to kick in then make sure that your band puts the most money in. If you don’t do it this way then you’ll have trouble with the band that does put the most money in. They will want to call the shots and it will be tough to stop them.

When you start putting this show together one of the first things you will have to spend is money as a deposit on the place you are going to play. This will usually be around $100. This has to be money from your band. If it isn’t you’ll find another band running the show and your band not playing. 

When you are handling money YOU MUST WRITE DOWN EXACTLY WHAT IS SPENT AND COLLECTED. If you don’t you are in for heaps of trouble.  As you write down the money stuff and plan the gig out always remember to keep an eye on what the show might make back.  It makes no sense to put together a show that will cost $1400 to make happen and hold it in an old church that holds 180 people that get in for 3 bucks each.  Fortunately most places that you can rent are priced with the idea that someone might want to make money. It used to be an average of  a dollar per person. So if the venue held 200 punks then the rental would be 200. I’m not sure if this true nowadays since it’s been 15 years since I booked a venue.

Plan carefully, keep track of all the money that you have spent and are gonna spend and make sure you set the ticket price at a level where you can make the money back.  If one or two of your cheaper friends don’t complain about the price then you priced the show too low.

Finally on the money topic, there are other ways you can get cash to do the show. Often towns have budgets  for summer entertainment. They often overpay lousy bands. You can go to the town council/mayors office and try to sell them on the idea of financing a show as a good way to keep the local kids out of trouble. Another possible helpful adult would be local pastors of churches. They often have money for enriching the lives of the town’s children. What could be more enriching than a Hardcore Show?


That’s all for installment 2…I’ll write the next one by the end of the weekend. I hope that will cover the rest of the stuff you need to know to put on an all ages show so you can SUCCEED AT ROCK…………………..

Copyright Brad Morrison/Biliken Media 2010

Lesson #16 How to create an all ages show (pt 1)………..

I’ve been writing this blog for one month. So far I’ve written more than twenty posts and remarkably, I’ve had thousands of readers. As the blog starts to take shape I am struck by the fact that my blog posts seem to be naturally grouping themselves into a couple of basic categories.

It seems that I am writing posts for complete beginners or for bands that are a little farther up the food chain and need advice about the nuts and bolts of dealing with a particular problem that confronts the band. Fortunately both of these types of posts draw on the same set of experiences and skills. During my twenty five years of working in the music business I stayed on the side of musicians. Even when I owned an indy label my viewpoint was based on what was good for the musician.  Now as I try to explain what I have learned to all of you I am starting to see a structure to what I’m doing.

I will be rebuilding the site. I plan on having a section for beginners, for those of you that are just forming your first band and need the basics explained.  I’m happy to do this job and in many ways the basics are important no matter how far along you have gotten.

Once I set up a separate section for posts for beginners then I can have another section for advice for established bands with more complex problems relating to deals, promotions, record producers etc.  Perhaps I should have some kind of symbol at the beginning of each blog to let you know what level the blog fits in.  Let me know what you think…

OK that’s the end of site administration kind of issues. Today’s post will be intended for really young bands. I will cover the basics of how you go about setting up an all ages show in your hometown. This might be a boring post for any band that’s out playing in the real world. If that’s you just skip it and read the post about publishing royalties or how to find a manager.


OK, I’m assuming that, the reader, is underaged or your band’s main audience is underaged kids. Good for you. Some of the best shows I have ever seen were all ages shows where young people get to go nuts and slam dance.  Now I’ll admit it – I’m am older than the hills. I’m old enough, in fact, to remember slam dancing being invented as a new thing.  Even though i’m old I still believe that no matter what your age you can still SUCCEED AT ROCK.

If you are a young manager or a young band one of the first things you should do is set up an all ages show.  I’m gonna explain how to do this. I will assume that you KNOW NOTHING. If this blog sounds like I’m treating you like an idiot just put up with it. Some of the people that read this won’t know anything about the music business or setting up a show and if I don’t explain everything they won’t be able to get it done.

So you’ve got a band and you need a place to play. Excellent. This is relatively easy. 

I started playing in bands when I was eleven. It was before the invention of eating and sex. Yes, I’m that old. When I was young and in a band our main problem was having a place to play.  It’s the same problem that you have. Things never change. I solved the problem and so can you.

At first what we did was throw parties when someone’s parents went out.  This works Ok but most times the cops would break up the party, shit would get broken and both the kid that hosted the party and some of the band members got in big trouble with their parents.  I still remember our bass players annoying mother grounding him for three months. This really screwed up our practices and was completely unnecessary.  Parents don’t seem to understand that musicians don’t cause trouble. They make lots of noise, of course they do for God’s sake, the noise is called music. But musicians don’t bust up a house, don’t steal shit, don’t get a party busted. You know why? ‘Cause every kid in every band is happy to have a place to play for other people. Rehearsing with your buddies is cool but it’s just not anywhere’s as cool as playing for a huge number of slam dancing fools that have traveled from all over to be at your gig.

So parties are cool and that may very well be your first gig but to really have a band you gotta play a real gig. The best plan is to set up an all ages show.  The term All Ages Show is just another word for a big party that’s legal and isn’t held at someone’s house.

Now you’re not going to believe this but the best way to go about this is to get some adults involved and on your side.  Everyone knows that there are cool adults and uncool adults. The key to getting an all ages club running is to get some help at just the right time from the right kind of adult.  I’ll say more about this later.

So let’s get started.  In the beginning of the process you want to keep EVERYTHING SECRET.  This will change soon since secrets always get out and that’s ok. Setting up the show is all about helping out your band, right? Of course it is. That’s why you start out by making a list of all the other bands in your town/neighborhood/alternate dimension.  Sit down and write-up a list. What you are trying to do is figure out if there are two other bands that are almost as good as your band.  If you set up a show with just your band then anything that goes wrong will be your problem. If no one shows up it’s your fault. If the town is destroyed in a nuclear explosion it’ll get blamed on your band.

So what you’re trying to do here is set up a show where your band plays in the best slot, most likely 2nd or 3rd.  For that you are gonna need other bands. These other bands will also help to get the shit together that you’ll need to make the show happen.

After you pick out the other bands the next step is to scout out locations for the show.  It must still be a secret at this stage. It’s important so remember it.  Don’t tell anyone, especially girlfriends. If you break this rule the whole thing will blow up in your face.

So scout around the area where you live. You are looking for places like these:

1.Freemason’s Hall

2.Kinights of Columbus Hall

3.VFW Hall

4.CYO Hall

5. Unused storefronts

6. Town Park youth centers

7. Old factory space, look for areas called Industrial Park

8. Old church

What you are looking for is a space that can hold about 200 kids, has electricity and at least TWO BATHROOMS. Ideally you want to have two or three options when you start trying to set it up.  To do this will take a lot of work. Be prepared for that. In the end it will be worth it since it will really get your band off the ground and it will also make you the coolest person in town.

 So now you have your list of a couple possible places to play and a bunch of bands to have on the bill.  Now one point I need to make about doing this show. Booking a show is not a democracy! You cannot do something like this by setting up a committee and having everyone vote on the best thing to do. Take it from me. That will not work and in the end you will do all the work and some fool will ruin the whole thing because they are jealous they are not in charge.

Once people hear that you are gonna set up a show everyone will come to you with stupid ideas and try to elbow their way in. Be prepared. That’s why it’s important to keep it a secret at first.

If the place you find is one of the Halls at the beginning of the list then the next step is to find out the name of the person that handles renting the hall. Call the person and get the rate(how much they charge) to rent the hall for one night. Ask how many hours that the rental covers.Ask if there is a stage. Ask if there is a sound system and if so how many channels it has.  Ask if there are any RESTRICTIONS on what can be done with the rental.  Ask if there are any cleaning fees. Ask if the hall must be rented in advance and if so how long in advance. Ask if there is a penalty to cancel a rental.Ask if the hall has tables and chairs and if so, how many of each. ASK IF THERE ARE TWO BATHROOMS. And finally ask if the hall requires the renter to “carry any insurance.” If they say yes don’t worry I’ll get to explaining how to deal with that.

If the person you are talking to get suspicious and wants to know what you are doing say you are looking for a rental for “a youth group for a meeting, raffle and dance”. This sounds innocent and should pacify their fears.

When you think you have found a place that might rent to you and has the basics stop and think about what it would be like to have the place swamped with kids. Is the hall next door to the police station? Is it next door to an old folks home? If the place is located in an area where a full on rock show might make too much noise and will end up with people complaining don’t worry. If that’s the main problem look into the town’s noise laws. To do this go to the library and ask the librarian to help you find the “Town ordinance on noise”. They will find the law. Read it, it’s written in English, in all likelihood it will say that most weeknight’s 8 or 9 is the cutoff and weekends 11pm. As long as your show ends before the cutoff you’ve got no problems. The neighbors can complain, the cops can get all coplike and still no one can do anything. Make yourself a copy of the law you may need it on the night of the show.

Since I’ve brought up cops I might as well talk about that part now. YOUR SHOW WILL ATTRACT COPS, ACCEPT THIS AS A FACT.  When the cops show up treat them with respect. Answer their questions. Be extremely polite. Don’t argue.  The best way to speak to a cop is to ask innocent questions that put them on the spot. They WILL TRY TO INTIMIDATE YOU! DON’T LET THEM. I have dealt face to face with cops countless times and never have I gotten busted.  In general the cops will be out to do two things, shut down your show and bust kids for normal stupid things like smoking pot or having illegal alcohol.  As the promoter the cops will actually treat you with respect because they will see someone that is in charge. The cooler and calmer that you are the more the cops will accept the fact that you ACTUALLY HAVE THE SITUATION UNDER CONTROL. If your show has turned into a riot then you actually will be happy the cops are there.  If not you will talk to them and they will go away.(actually they will probably park near by and stalk the show like a bunch of nerdy kids that can’t get into the party)

To finish off the cop section remember. You have a right to peaceably assemble and that includes making lots of noise within certain hours.  What you are doing is legal. Act like you are a businessman and they will treat you with respect. They are trained to intimidate idiots and treat business people with respect.  If you are running your show in a public park or something you will have the permits and have scoped out the rules ahead of time. DON”T LET THEM SHUT DOWN YOUR SHOW. Don’t ever issue a threat to a cop like “I’m gonna sue you! or I’ll get you fired!”  this will piss them off and they will shut down your show.  If the cops issue an order like “You will shut this show down now!” Obey it.  You have no choice but you do have a right to ask as many questions as you can think of.  If you do get shut down (it’s happened to me four times)  Start setting up the next show the next day. Then start writing letters to the local newspapers and calling the local cable news reporters. They love to take the side of kids trying to have fun. It’s great press and will keep the cops in their place on the next show.

Another hassle like cops is the fire department. They will often turn up and try to shut you down. They are extremely easy to deal with.  They are only interested in a few things.

1. Are the fire exits blocked. Duh! Don’t block the fire exits.

2. Are all the fire extinguishers intact.

3. Is the show over capacity?  The room will have a sign that says “Occupancy by more than two trillion people is illegal” or something like that.  This number is the law and it’s deadly serious. Don’t oversell a show. If you do the town can ban your operation permanently. The number INCLUDES the band, sound man, crew, bouncers etc. so be careful.  Now the last thing is simple. If the fire chief shows up looking all important  you show him the WRITTEN COUNT. You count every kid that goes in the door and keep writing it down. The easiest way is to have one of those hand counters that you click every time you let someone in.  When the fire chief shows up you show him the count and then invite him to inspect the show. If you’re smart he’ll be in and out in five minutes. If they see that you respect the fire code they will leave you alone.

End of Part one…………….. I think this post should be around three parts…….

Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010