Lesson #9 How to be in a Great Band

[THIS IS A LONG POST, BE PREPARED]

So you’re in a band. Ask yourself is it a great band? Is it just OK? Is it a band that you’re just in for the moment? Is it your band? These are all important questions. If you are a musician and just want to play, make some music, and have some fun then this blog may teach you some things but it may not interest you as much as a blog about classic soul bands or a blog about the secret hair-band post shower hair tricks. I’ll assume that you have ambition. That you want your band to make it to the top. I started this blog to help out musicians and managers that wanted to make a big splash, to be, someday, maybe, rock gods.

(Beatles “Wait”) (Randy Newman “Underneath the Harlem Moon”)

One of the most common mistakes musicians make is joining the wrong band. The band you join is often decided by the world you live in. Is it a small town in the middle of Cowfuckville? If it is, you may very well have few choices other than to play with the guys you have been playing with since you were 13. If you’re in one of these bands I will get to some strategies later in this posting. If you live in a bigger town or better yet some excuse for a city you probably have some options when choosing the band to join. Which one should you pick. That’s easy. Pick the band that is led by the best songwriter you can find. This is the most important talent in rock and if you find someone that can write hits then tie yourself to him/her in as many ways as possible. If possible marry him and marry his father, uncle and piano teacher. If you are a great writer I will get to tips for you later in the blog as well. I am concentrating on good players that aren’t visionary writers for the moment since by far they are the largest pool of band members out there. (Tito Puente “Cua Cua”) (Pixies “Gigantic”)

If you have any question about being the greatest songwriter that ever lived then, I assure you, you are not a great songwriter. When it comes to songwriting there are two classifications, the great writers and everyone else. Great writers seem to know it. I am not sure why this is true but I’ve known quite a few great songwriters and there is some gene that allows them to know from birth that they are gonna write songs. Like I said if you have any doubts about your greatness, then you’re not great, so face up to it and depend on your other strengths. Do you have the killingest rhythm style in the world? Can you play a bass groove that makes the girls shake their butts? Take a count of your strengths and then look around for the best damn writer in your scene. Then go and get in his band. If you have to change from guitar to bass that’s fine. If you have to learn to play mandolin that’s fine. The only bands in your local scene that are going to make it somewhere have one thing in common – they are piloted by a great songwriter.

(Traffic “Light up or leave me alone”)(Buzzcocks “Whatever happened to?”)

So you believe that you’re in a band with the next Bob Dylan? Ok then get the fuck out of his way. Stop trying to force the band to do your three songs. Don’t fight him when he decides that clown shoes are the next experiment the band will try. I’ve seen more bands break up over stupid control issues than anything else. It was actually refreshing when as a manager I had a bona fide drug problem in one of my bands or an arrest or standard run of the mill manic depression. It was refreshing because I spent endless hours trying to mediate battles over little control crap like who gets to drive the van or why the drummer’s one song wasn’t on the set list for the past three gigs. (if that particular fight comes up you can show the drummer this blog ’cause I’m gonna explain it to him right here. Mr. Drummer the reason you are in the band is to play the fucking drums. The fact that you write songs is charming and if the band becomes mega-successful then you will use that song on your solo record. Until then shut the fuck up or the band will find a drummer that hasn’t written a song!)

Most really talented people are narcissists. That means they are self-centered to the point of being manipulative and destructive to the people around them. There is a word for this kind of behaviour in a band it is “normal”. The only question is to what degree is this deeply talented person destructive. Is it mainly to himself? That’s ok. Is it to other band members? That can be tolerated? Is it to the band’s career? If so you’ve got a problem.

I managed a band for ten years called Miracle Legion. You haven’t heard of them. The reason you haven’t heard of them is the lead singer/writer did everything in his power to be a controlling prick to all the promoters, producers, label people, managers (me) and writers he could. For example he would never give me a cut of his publishing money. I asked about three million times each time he said no and then demanded I get him a publishing deal. Is it surprising that I never found him a publishing deal even though I found one for many other, less talented artists. His lack of publishing deal translated into piles and piles of money he didn’t collect and scores of juicy deals he never got. Oh well. I could write a whole blog about the crazy things he did.. oh yeah that’s exactly what I’m doing.
(Gang of Four “I found that essence rare”)

Here’s a brief anecdote about this singer that ties in to some advice I gave a reader in a another blog posting. Miracle Legion toured extensively. I mean they toured all the time. Lots. Everywhere. They did very well often selling out the venues at whatever level they were working. The band had a booking agent Frank Riley. Frank is now one of the biggest agents in the country. Of course the singer didn’t trust him. When we decided to set up a tour he would call me and spend THREE OR FOUR DAYS on the phone explaining in detail, excruciating detail, obsessive, useless, detail exactly what he wanted. He would pick venues, hotels, outline deals, issue orders about the routing of the van etc. I would humor him and listen. Then I would visit the agent. We would have a two or three hour meeting to discuss the tour. Most of the singers orders and directions became humorous stories we would discuss. The agent knew what he was doing. I knew what I was doing. If the singer’s crazy commands pertained to musical or artistic things we both made sure he got what he wanted. He was, after all, a genius. The agent would then go off and book the tour. It would take him a day or two. Then he would fax me the itinerary. (that’s the list of clubs, theaters, etc and a list of the deals he had worked out)….

(David Bowie “Panic in Detroit”)

Every time that I receive the fax of the itinerary I would stop and take a deep breath. I dreaded sending the fax to the singer and the rest of the band. Looking back I can now see that his craziness caused everyone around him to avoid contact, to duck calling him, to change tour itineraries to avoid finding yourself in the same town as him.

So I would send him the fax and call the agent and tell him that it had been sent to him. We had a running bet on how long it would take for the inevitable result to come roaring down the turnpike at us. I believe the record was fifteen minutes. It always started the same way, an incoming call, usually from a promoter.

“I wanna kill this fucker!!” would be the usual greeting when I picked up the phone. It would be a promoter from St Louis or Chicago or Portland. ” Do you realize that this guy is trying to renegotiate a deal that I signed 8 days ago?”

The singer would view the tour itinerary as a good starting point. He would then begin calling promoters with additional demands and lists of obscure useless questions. Someone would offer him $4500 versus 80% of the door with a ticket price of $4,00. He would try to get 90% or a door price of $3.00 or $5000 upfront. On top of this he would always start issuing insane demands like “I want you to ship me a crate of fresh pineapple today and they better be fresh!” or “You better call the hotel listed here and make sure the towels weight at least 24oz., are at least 36″ long and 24 inches wide and that the hotel will provide sixteen of them each day.” He was, of course, stealing them and reselling them. Within a day the tour would start to come apart at the seams. This was with a band that was selling out shows. His general attitude was that if he could get them to do it then there was no downside. Venue by venue, label by label, writer by writer he pissed them off and destroyed a brilliant career. He once asked me to try and get MTV taken off the air in St. Louis on the night they played.

(Big Star “Daisy Glaze”)

His main ambition was to get signed to a major label, in particular he wanted to be on Columbia Records. So after ten years of managing his band I arranged a meeting with all the big wigs at Columbia. During the meeting they signed a deal memo which is a document saying that they intended to do a deal with you. On the way out of the building after this quite successful and momentous meeting he forced the band’s guitarist to explain to me that I was fired. “We don’t need you anymore.” was his cheerful explanation. I made a call and Columbia pulled the deal the next day.

(Television “See No Evil”)

So the point here is that if someone is too nutty, too destructive then it is better to steer clear. Well, maybe I should say be cautious and always watch your back. The guys that were in Miracle Legion all used his talent as a springboard to bigger and better things.

You have to be honest with yourself. Where do you fit in in the band? Are you good at doing business? Then you should cover the management and booking duties when you first start out. If you do this job expect nothing but abuse as a thank you. That’s ok, put up with it and use the experience to fill up your phone book. If you’re a great drummer than be a great drummer. In the end everyone gets some say in the show you put on and if you do it right there is plenty of pie to go around. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd learned to write a great song. It took him years. For years as he was learning, he played amazing leads and solid backing guitar. If you are trying to learn how to write keep at it. Be patient. You’ll never be Dylan or Paul McCartney but there is a craft to songwriting that can be learned and if you master it you may write really good songs and the occasional great song.

(Led Zeppelin “I can’t quit you”)

( I just put my I pod on shuffle with the Traffic catalog. Great band.I’ve been listening to them quite often lately. I’m gettin’ old)

Now to go back to musicians that I’ve left out so far. I’ll start with the deeply talented amazing writers/performers. There is a contract on a link to this blog please print it out, sign it and mail it to the address listed on page three. I will be taking 15%. I am, of course, kidding. I stopped doing that exact thing five years ago. Here’s some real advice.

You’re in a band. Let me straighten something out at the beginning. It is YOUR BAND. Any bullshit about it being a democracy will only serve to cause heartache for everyone involved. It will hurt the other guys the most because in the end you will have to throw them out because it’s your band. If they argue over this point please show them this blog. Have them post a comment and I will explain it to them in painful detail. If by chance (it’s a real longshot) you are in a band with someone that can write great songs as well good luck. Try not to kill each other. Tape every note your play. And remember that hell is other people and life in hell is kinda like life on earth. The main difference is that on earth there is only one great writer in each band.

So now that I’ve straightened that out — it’s your band. Start to act like it’s your band. Step up and lead the band. This means you need to work out a show. You’ve got to provide the new material on a regular basis. You’ve got to explain to everyone what they need to do in order to make it work. It is your vision and although the voices in your noggin may tell you differently we can not see this vision. You have to tell us about it.

Here’s some further points. Are you an asshole? Think about it. You may be one and not realize it for a long, long time. (it took me years)If you are then you need, at times, to understand this and adjust some of your actions. You do not do business for the band when you are an asshole. You deal with someone else,, either in the band or a manager. This person understands your quirks.(that’s pronounced monstrous behaviour) This person waters down your personality so the real world can deal with it.

Since you are an asshole you have to give the non genius members of your band some slack. They can be valuable members with great talents and still, strangely, not be you. Give em some slack. Allow them the room to perform, and create in ways that fit with their slots in the band. Look at it this way –Did you scheme and lie to get the greatest drummer in town to join your band so you could tell him every note to play? (by the way the answer to that question is “no”. Just trust me on this one)

Don’t trust the business people around you but YOU MUST DO BUSINESS WITH THEM. If you don’t you will die unfamous, obscure, penniless and no one will sing your songs on the acoustic guitar while busking in the London Underground. If you cleverly work out a deal where your manager makes no money he will cleverly do nothing for you. The people around you will put up with your charming personality (oh you can be charming when you need to be) in return for money and some of the fame. Do not cut the other members of the band out of every dime. If you do you will end up playing with a bunch of hacks that smile at everything you say. Ask John Fogerty of Credence Clearwater Revival. Oh wait, he’s done all of these things and still doesn’t realize it.

When you hit your stride and the band clicks and you see some success, don’t change it because you are miserable. You will still be miserable. Torture your lovers, hassle your manager, say inflammatory things to the press, threaten to emigrate to Poland but keep the band gigging and keep recording tracks in that vein. Eventually your genius will get the better of you and you’ll destroy it all but later, when you want to go back you won’t be able to. I will discuss how to manage money within the band in a later blog. I will also address things like record deals, publishing etc. Stay tuned.

Look at some of the examples out there. Neil Young, treated Crazy Horse (his band) with respect. He kept them around. He made albums without them and then brought them back. He made sure they made out well. They are a well oiled tool and he has used them effectively for forty years.(!)

Bob Dylan mistreated The Band, one of the greatest backing groups to ever walk the earth. He treated them like shit. He cut them out of everything. They recorded his greatest material and went on to make amazing albums on their own. If they called him tonight he wouldn’t take the call. Instead he plays with HACKS like GE Smith. Yeah he has survived and, at times, done some great things but imagine what he could have done on another half dozen albums with Levon Helm singing backgrounds.

The point here is that with great talent a form of blindness sets in and the only way to see the light and find your way forward is to remember that there is Karma and if something clicks and you have a hit be very careful about fucking with it.

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Sorry this is a long post but it’s a big subject. Maybe I shoulda split it up but I am gonna press …

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Ok last section of this post. What about bands that live in nowhereville and try to rise up with a limited talent pool to chose from.

I think the key in that situation is to play to your strengths. What i mean by that is for the band to strike out on its own. Invent a new style, tear up the rule book, try to reinvent what a rock band sounds like. REM are a great example. They came from Athens and their sound was so odd at first that they stood out. They invented the sound of what tons of underground bands would become. Build your band up. Become really tight on a personal level. Get your own house. Do it 24/7, practice, practice, practice. Take lots of risks. You’ll know it when you finally turn a corner. When you do pull up stakes and look for a place to move. The place you move should have these things: a large college, cheap rents, a club scene, a good,active college radio station. Some places like this – Amherst, MA – Minneapolis,MN-Austin TX-Spokane, WA – Chapel Hill, NC. Avoid New York and LA. Both of these cities are death to bands. (I guess Chicago as well). If you plan the move and the bassist decides to stay home because of his girl then he wasn’t the correct bassist anyway. There is a good reason that bands seem to come out of towns like these. These cities have all the things a band needs to thrive on a local level and are small enough that when the band starts to sell out clubs people notice.

Ok I’ll close tonight’s overlong post with a story. I will not be posting tomorrow night but I will try to do another post over the weekend.

New York State in the late 80’s had a few active music scenes. Albany and Buffalo spring to mind. ( New York City is on another astral plane) Potsdam, a little city in the middle of nowhere wasn’t on the list. It was three hundred miles from anything. A band started out in that town called the Gigolo Aunts. The band had two brothers on bass and guitar and a guy named Dave on lead vox and guitar. The band worked their ass off in Potsdam and soon realized that Potsdam was going to take them nowhere. They pulled up stakes and moved to Boston. They were a talented power pop guitar band. In Boston they moved up a few notches and people started to notice that they had talent writing and, in particular Dave had that “star” thing.

I talked to them when they were still in Potsdam. I listened to their demos and decided they weren’t ready to make records. After they moved to Boston I decided that they were likely to turn out something good. I started discussions about them signing to my record label. Out of the blue a band from Rhode Island called the Velvet Crush contacted Dave and asked him to join the band as second guitar /background vox.

The band were really upset because Dave was thinking of doing it. They asked me what to do. I stood to lose since they wouldn’t be worth signing without Dave, at least at this time. I told them “Dave should join Velvet Crush. You guys should quit griping and be happy for him. Start rewriting the set for one guitar. Start writing ask quick as you can and see what comes out of it all.” I think they must have felt a little betrayed by my reaction. What I knew and they didn’t is that Dave was a star but Phil, the other vocalist and guitarist had it in him as well. He was just overshadowed by Dave. They fought for a week or so. Everybody stopped talking to each other and Dave left to tour with Velvet Crush in England. When the band started to work up the new set they relaxed. New things were happening and the new material sounded great. Dave stayed in touch. A couple of weeks later they get a call from Dave. Velvet Crush had fired their opening band. Could the Gigolo Aunts do it? They flew to England and joined the tour as it went to France. Dave was doing double duty singing and playing in both bands. Now Phil was stepping up on stage and trying to outshing Dave. Everyone was winning.


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Copyright BradMorrison/Billiken Media 2010

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18 thoughts on “Lesson #9 How to be in a Great Band

  1. Through out the first half of your posts, you keep urging questions, and so I wanted to happily oblige, and I have a few of them.

    #1. – I’m a consumate cynic and usually expect the worst in people and am the first to internally call bullshit on big talkers. Is this a trait to take and run?

    #2. – I’m fairly confidant in my band BEMUSED and the product we put out. We have many opportunitties to gig here in Denver and I promote the hell out of them. My problem is working on a draw. What really chaps my ass is to see friends of mine go to see a band of kids that run in our circle of our friends multiple times, but seldom come check out my shows! Maybe I’m one of the few people to openly admit this and will get snide responses to this, but am I fishing in the wrong pond to build a draw? IS this something that I should take personal or brush aside? Does that question/problem make sense? I have no doubt that your response (along with every other reader) will be brutally honest, but that’s okay…bring it on

    • Hi Christian,
      I am not certain that I have a clear understanding of your two questions. I’ll try to asnwer what I believe you are asking me. If I’m off base then post again with a different wording or some examples so I know the kind of situations you’re describing.
      Question one, you’re a cynic and you call a spade a spade. Ok, what’s your point. You posted this question attached to my lesson about getting along, or not getting along with band members. I’ll take your question in that framework. If you are talking about other players inside a band and putting up with them talking a big game and then not producing then I would say speak your mind. Is it your band? Is the band some kind of a democracy? Hmm… Let me check out your link…… Ahh.. I see you are in a Jam band from Denver. I believe that you are the one singing right? You sound like Gary Brooker. Good stuff. Is this your band and you’re biting your tongue when other members enrich your life with their endless opinions on how things should be run? In that case tell them to shut the fuck up and play the god damn song. A sax player that has a long, detailed opinion about the sax solo or a long detailed opinion about the way his sax is miked in the studio is on firm ground and should be respected. Perhaps there is something to be learned when they open their mouth. On the other hand a sax player that has never booked a gig and has lengthy opinions about booking shows should shut the fuck up. I’ve been in bands with and managed bands with people that have opinions about all kinds of things that they know nothing about. It’s hell listening to them. I usually don’t. Is that the answer you sought?

      2. Don’t take it personally. It’s all a popularity contest. Next week when you get asked to open at Red Rocks for Phish or Government Mule these same people will tell you how they always knew you had it. Are you fishing in the wrong pond? It sounds like it. I think my blog can be a bit confusing when I talk about a “scene” and the characters that inhabit a scene. For example my personal scene was NY/NJ and involved places like CBGB’s. In a scene like this the crowds are deep and the people you hang with are a small, though important part of that scene. I’m gonna guess here and assume that you play Boulder and the crowds are mainly hippy imports that move in to go to the college and then local musicians. Ask yourself why your friends want to see those other bands. What are they doing that gets them interested? Having your group of friends pay at the door is never gonna buy you a mansion much less pay your rent. You need to get strangers interested in what you do. They are the REAL DRAW. Don’t worry about your friends, worry about the people that will want to be your friends and can’t cause your on stage and they are down there in the pit.

      Are you putting on a show? Are you just getting up on stage and playing the tunes? I’ve seen floyd 20 plus times (from Meddle through the Wall) and when I stopped to pay attention to the actual band they were pretty boring. How’d they get it to work? Great songs, amazing sound and stupifying light show. Tell me more about the circuit you play. The bands that draw. The places you’d like to play and I’ll give you a better answer…..

      • Hi Brad,
        Sorry for my uber delayed response, but you pretty much covered what I was asking. Sorry for the vague phrasing and placing of those questions. We more so play the Denver scene but would absolutely love more opportunites to play in Boulder. The friends to which I refer are more so friends through the music school that I attend, and to be honest that is where I thought the core of afan base started…word of mouth from your friends. I’ve kinda gotten over them skipping us for our other friends bands. I guess I should develop thicker skin and not assume disrespect by that…oh well.
        I realize that strangers are the real target draw, but aside from reaching out to whatever media outlet, or other part of scene that I can, how do you reach those strangers? Without the money to just plaster advertising of our name and shows around town, I’m at a loss for an approach at the moment. Maybe I don’t get out into the scene as much as I should?

        oh, and as far as calling bullshit on people, I wasn’t referring to any band member. Just a specific big talking friend of a friend who tries to tell me that he owns a record label and that he is on the road 10 months out of the year, blah, blah, blah.
        It’s possible that he is that busy and successful, but after hearing him play, I couldn’t possibly nod and smile politely anymore. So that is where I was coming from on that question.

        Cheers!

        • Christian,
          The only question I pick up from this comment is the one where you ask basically, “How do I get strangers interested in my band?”. That’s a straight forward question that I can answer.
          1. Write great songs that touch people.
          2. Get the band tuned up into a serious rock n roll gigging machine that can melt people at a thousand yards.
          3. LEarn to put on a SHOW. Then put together all the elements of a real show and stage that show live every time you play.
          4. Build, invent, create a story about the band, the music and your show that has these elements, Oddity, mystery, PAthos, a story arc and controversy.
          5. Pitch this story to the press and radio so that your potential fans get to hear the story. This will start the process of being talked about.

          Here’s an anecdote to illustrate: Did you ever hear of Sun Ra? You most likely have. Why is that true? It’s because he was a master showman. His real name was Herman Blount. I bet you didn’t know that fact. Herman Blount was a smoking Be Bop musician. He knew he was good. He knew his band could kick ass. Unfortunately there were lots of kick ass be bop bands. So one day he starts telling everyone that he is from Saturn and that his name is Sun Ra. He told people that they should worship him. He came on stage in a Pharoah’s headress. Did he suddenly play music from Saturn. No he played kick ass be bop. He stuck to his guns. Everyone talked about how crazy he had gone. Everyone TALKED ABOUT HIM AND HIS BAND. This is what he was after. I’ve seen him play a half dozen times. His shows were always packed. People wanted to see the guy who said he was from saturn. This was a Schtick. This works because humans are driven by curiousity. It’s the same reason that Phish’s drummer Jon wore a polka dotted dress and played the vacuum cleaner. Towards the end of his life he started calling his band “The Solar Myth Arkestra”. I find that really funny. He was even pointing to the lie in the title of the band and no one picked up on it.

          Here’s another anecdote. PT Barnum, a master at promotion, opened his first NY museum of curiousities. He was broke and had no money to promote it. A guy came to him for a job. He paid the guy for three days work. He had the guy stand on the sidewalk. He gave him five bricks, ordinary building bricks. He told the man to carefully line them up down the sidewalk. spend some time counting them and measuring them and then pick up one brick and move it to the front of the line. Then measure and consider them again. After a few minutes of this he was to pick them all off, pace off twenty paces, stop, and start the process at the new location. He had the guy go all the way around the block that his new museum was on. HE was under strict orders to speak with no one. Once he went around the block he would work his way up the museum steps and inside doing the same routine. People were extremely curious about what he was up to and a large crowd grew around him. This drew more people. Using this promotional device he lured over a thousand people into his museum on each of the first three days. He used this money to place an add demanding that the city fathers pass a law to stop this man since he was distracting the public. This drew bigger crowds which then argued about what he was up to. This gave him more admissions. He used this money to hire a band to play on the street in front of the museum. He was careful to hire inept musicians and insist that they play as badly as possible. The band, and the crowds drew more and more people. they would stop to listen to the band and the extremely unpleasant music would push them into finding something else to do. Of course the museum entrance was just at hand. Within 6 months using techniques like this he had bankrupted both of his competitors.

          Why don’t you book a gig. Then write to the local arts paper under an assumed name. Demand that the gig be cancelled and that your band be banned from playing Boulder ever again. Say that the band’s show is offensive to the good people of Boulder and is an insult to any one with sense… The key is to get talked about.

  2. Hey, very interesting topics. I had a question though, I plan to do shows in Hollywood/Silverlake, but why will playing in LA be a death to a band? Is it cause my band will get lost in the sea of all the other bands, unless we stand out? Thanks for the reply!

    • I’m assuming that i commented somewhere amongst my blogs that playing in LA is death to a band. In general I believe that this is true. It’s fine to play gigs in NY and LA but trying to build a following there is extremely hard to do. There are tons of bands in those markets. Most of them move there from out of town. On top of that many successful bands end up living in these cities and soak up all the best slots when they feel like playing. I think that best way to make it is to build a following in a smaller city and then turn that into a regional following. This is a model I have seen work again and again. Can you name three bands in the past twenty years that built up their fame while living in NY or LA? I can’t.

        • Christian, please be a wise ass. I am one. I think it’s good when people argue with me publically on this blog. I am not the sole fountain of knowledge and truth in the universe although I am 100% correct that 95% of the time I am offering an opinion there is a 99 out of a hundred chance that all or most of what I am saying is almost completely accurate and true.

          To reply to your comment. Yes, both Guns n Roses and Motely Crue “made it in LA.” At the time there was a growing scene of metal all centered around certain clubs. This was a fertile scene and produced a few major label successes. Both of these acts, however had roots outside of LA. They also had heavy hitting management. How did they get to that point? By building up their act outside of the LA market. For every successful NY or LA band I know of a hundred that came to town and couldn’t get noticed. Once you get a story and buzz going by all means migrate to the business center of music. Before that time you need to prove you can seduce the Fat, Ugly, unwashed flyover country.

          Here is a good case in point – when Phish decided that they wanted to move from my label, a label that allowed them to do what they wanted and just tried to promote their records, to a major they made up a list of majors that they were interested in. First was Electra, second Sire, third Columbia. There were no fourth or fifth. I took an unnamed head of columbia’s A & R department to see the band play in upstate NY. We went to a hall in the middle of nowhere. I mean nowhere. There wasn’t even the lights of a town on the horizon. It was about a half an hour before set time and we pulled up in a hired limo after a three hour drive from NY. The venue was a school gym kind of place. The line for the show went around the building FOUR TIMES! This A & R bigwig looked at the line and looked at me and looked at the line again and said “Ok what do you want?” He never even went into the show. Instead we drove back to the city and caught a late set of bebop at the BLue Note. At the time Phish couldn’t get arrested in NY or LA. They would draw 200 kids if they were lucky and most of those traveled into NY to see them. The reason we went out into the wastelands to see the band is that Columbia wanted me to proved that they were popular with all of those people out there in the REAL AMERICA. NY and LA is not the REAL AMERICA. The REAL AMERICA is where the money comes from to keep all of the elitests in champaigne and caviar.

          If you can build yourself a following the real america the music business will sit up and take notice.

          I’ll round out the phish story by explaining how they did end up signing. I shopped them to the labels. They all admitted that they were popular but not one of the labels could understand WHY they were popular. SO they all passed. Then about nine months later the band started to draw in Manhattan. Nancy Jeffries, the President of Electra saw an ad for the band playing a show in a thousand seat hall in Manhattan. She called me and said she was now interested in the band again. I told her all of the comp tix were gone and that the club was already oversold. She got kinda panicky since, I’m guessin here, she suspected that she missed the boat. I got her into the show. From that moment onward she claimed she “got it”. She never really did get it. Phish were all about the audience being a part of what they did. There is never going to be a major label A & R department that understands music on that level. They do, however ,understand a string of sold out clubs We negotiated a deal with Electra and throughout the band’s tenure at Electra the label didn’t have a clue how to help them.

  3. So in your last post, you urge readers to be a smart ass that argues and contradicts everything you say…well, here it goes.

    You say that the key to getting noticed is through shock value, All the examples you give are from at latest the early 90’s, and worked because I would assume that was the trend then. That was how Howard Stern got going in Radio in the early 80’s, right? Well, for the sake of argument….is that still the case today? Aren’t those tactics played out and tired? Sure Rob Zombie marketed himself via the freak show route, but again…success that came in the 90’s from at the time via old methods.

    Does the general populous really want to see the same old tired Hollywood tactics? Isn’t middle america bored with the tabloid-esque crap that every celebrity’s (actor/artist/musician/band) publicist uses to exploit the papparazzi so their client stays top of mind in U.S. pop culture?

    I myself am pretty bored of the overly-dramaticized antics. I thought that “reality tv” (though I FULLY REALIZE that all the crap which falls under that category is COMPLETELY STAGED) brought about a craving from the public for realistic and down to earth situations revolving their new rock stars.

    I had envisioned making my case a little more poignantly, but there you have it. My attempt to try and prove you wrong.

    • Christian,
      Thanks for the comment. I really do encourage wise ass behavior. We should be able to question each other – it’s the core of intellectual discourse. Also, if I don’t allow for that how would I get away with calling readers a turd and saying they are all wrong.

      Now I will go on with my serious reply. I don’t believe that I am making the argument that the ONLY way is to shock people. The examples of shocking people are the easiest to point out and the easiest to illustrate the basic principles. There are many ways to stand out. If you look exactly like everyone else, act exactly like everyone else then people will not notice you. At the heart of your commentary there seems to be a strong vein of wish fulfillment. by that I mean that you wish people were sick of the hollywood crap, that they were totally wise to the PR tricks. I believe that mainstream people are not sick of it. They rarely even know they are being played. As a musician you may not need to appeal to mainstream people in order to get where you want to go. Many bands begin their climb in some kind of scene, or underground movement. Examples, skatepunk, street rap, death metal, jam band. These scenes have their own rules and their own uniforms. Take a look at a series of old BeBop records and the audience, the players, the people that ran the clubs they all have a look and an attitude. Of course they did. This is how they would recognize each other when walking down a city street. You must wear the uniform to be a member. As a musician this isn’t something to be mocked (well sometimes that works) it is something to be understood and worked. Once your band is an active member of a scene then you get to help define what’s cool.

      The key Mr. Seth, is to get talked about. The easiest way is be arrested for sodomizing a goat while on a first date with Britney Spears. The method you choose will likely be more subtle and crafty. It will likely involve quietly planned moves that look effortless and cool. Pinecone Fletcher, the hobo bluesman, is a buddy of mine. About a year ago, he added a ukelele to his set. He is a dead on blues player with smokin’ licks. So suddenly he pulls out this uekele, dials the lights down real low, and now he sings three sweet, soft ditties that have more to do with classical hawiian music than blues, by the end of the three songs every one in the club is tuned in real tight and the women have tears in their eyes. At the end the lights come up, he tells a stage joke I’ve heard him tell 20 times, gets a laugh and proceeds to blow people outta their chairs.
      After the show, outside, I overhear three different comments in admiration of the ukulele bit and backstage I watch while a bubbly co-ed goes starry eyed while he autographs her CD.
      “What’s the name of those songs with the tiny guitar? “She asks. “Are they on your CD?” No,”Are they going to be on your next CD?” Standard stuff. The germane point here is that Pinecone threw them a change up pitch and the result was THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT IT. I bet the next day at work when someone asks “How was the show?” Half the audience will mention the Ukelele bit.
      It generated wagging tongues. Wagging tongues are a step forward for a band.
      Why is Tom Waits cool? He is cool because he picked a style (early sixties rat pack /junkie writer) that was old enough to work (in general you need to go back at least 20 years ) and made sure it fit his music and, most importantly his writing. He stuck with this style. He exaggerated it. He played up the weird cryptic, slightly drunk earlier sixties hipster until it became a character he could use. I bet to his kids he is an all around American guy but to all of us he is TOM WAITS. This gets him talked about.

      Okay students everyone turn to page 12,503 of God’s book of Rock and Let us consider Leon Redbone, here is the entry that begins his Wikipedia page –
      Leon Redbone (born Dickran Gobalian, August 26, 1949) is an American singer and guitarist specializing in interpretations of early 20th-century music, including jazz and blues standards and Tin Pan Alley classics.
      Recognized for his trademark Panama hat, dark sunglasses, and bow tie, Redbone first appeared on stage in Toronto, Canada in the mid-1970s.
      Redbone has released approximately fifteen albums and earned a sizable cult following. His concerts blend performance, comedy, and skilled instrumentals. Recurrent gags involve the influence of alcohol and claiming to have written works originating well before his time (as part of the mystery of his true age).
      Hmmm…. Interesting approach. Here’s some more from that page….
      While living in Canada in the early 1970s, Redbone began performing in public at Toronto area nightclubs and folk music festivals. At one point, it was rumored that he was actually comedian Andy Kaufman, who sometimes took on other identities, or singer/guitarist Frank Zappa, who somewhat resembled Redbone. However, Redbone has performed since the deaths of Kaufman and Zappa, and the rumors have subsided.
      In 1974, Rolling Stone magazine ran a feature article on Redbone, a year before he had a recording contract. The article described his performances as “so authentic you can hear the surface noise [of an old 78 rpm].”
      Does his mom call him Leon? No. Does his roadie? You bet he does. These are two examples of musicians that have become characters in order to attract attention to them. If you look deeper at what they are up to it is about making tongues wag. (By the way, any mom that called her son Dickran was begging for him to change his name)
      You write ——-
      “is that still the case today? Aren’t those tactics played out and tired? [you are referring to sensationalism] Sure Rob Zombie marketed himself via the freak show route, but again…success that came in the 90’s from at the time via old methods.
      Does the general populous really want to see the same old tired Hollywood tactics? Isn’t middle america bored with the tabloid-esque crap that every celebrity’s (actor/artist/musician/band) publicist uses to exploit the papparazzi so their client stays top of mind in U.S. pop culture?
      I myself am pretty bored of the overly-dramaticized antics. I thought that “reality tv” (though I FULLY REALIZE that all the crap which falls under that category is COMPLETELY STAGED) brought about a craving from the public for realistic and down to earth situations revolving their new rock stars.”
      ———————————–
      I’ll answer that directly. Yes, the trends of the 90’s have run their course. We have had a few movements that create a spectacle out of normality. The easiest to point to is the jean and T shirt rock star. Is Middle America bored with Hollywood? Well, they often talk about it but ticket sales for movies are way up. The most popular blog, week after week is a celebrity gossip blog. So I’m not sure I’m going to bet on your side of the table. Go ahead and assume that America is a highly cultured, clever, non judgmental, deeply artistic place. I am curious what your band “Bemused” will create. I will be watching. As of right now I’m not going to bet money on your ability to get noticed without doing something to get noticed.
      Don’t misunderstand my statements. I am not arguing that grown up musicians should become teen idols. They are always cheesy and produce carefully crafted vanilla pudding. I have no interest in helping that kind of music become a reality.
      The vast majority of bands that live and die in the American music scene are Okay, Just Okay. In short they die a slow death by being strangled by mediocrity.
      Sometimes your writing will take you to the top. In that case you better be writing something that can get played on radio. If you are just gonna stand there and play, the music better make an awfully good case why the person paid at the door. And the person that paid at the door better be really interested in how the music is played. Perhaps we can call that the cult of virtuosity. It’s a section of music and fans that focus just on the players and the playing. This sounds like the ideal you are promoting in your question. Hmmm who fits that description? I’ll pick Vladimir Horowitz, the utterly brilliant classical pianist. No flash, other than the occasional wrist flourish – world class playing. He fits the bill. Oh wait, wasn’t he the guy that would only play his own grand piano? Didn’t he live on the 9th floor of some building in NY and the paper would print a photo of a giant crane lifting it out his window every five years or so when he descended from his lofty mountain of solitude and choose to go on tour? Wasn’t it him that would stop playing and glare at people that sniffled or coughed? Damn that ruins the whole effect. I’ll try again.
      Pink Floyd just played. They ended up with the largest light show on Earth.
      My point isn’t that you need to dance around naked with a bow on your prick in order to be a star. It’s that one of the ways people become stars is by dancing around with bows on their pricks.

      • Just a few more thoughts on your reply…as far as your opening comment:

        “if I don’t allow for that how would I get away with calling readers a turd and saying they are all wrong”

        Political pundits make a living off doing that to their opposition, and I can honestly admit that there are gas bags on BOTH sides of the aisle that are guilty of that…fair and balanced my ass!

        Anyhow…I suppose I am too jaded and cynical to really buy into “playing the game” with the beast that is pop-culture the plain and traditional way. How can I “play” with a beast that I find to be a contrived farce (speaking metaphorically, and quite possibly esoterically).

        Then again, that point of view maybe pushing me into the category of pretentious hipster (that which I despise!)

        • I just read all these posts and it sounds like you didnt even follow the first advice, You have to want to be famous and if your to concerned about ” playing the game ” then I think you should move on to something else. Im going to go on youtube and see f the Bemused has any thing up there and we’ll see if you have the skillz. If you do you should be happy to even get a following much less a record deal.

          • Hey dumb ass, playing the game is apart of “trying to be famous” and building a following. Maybe if you read my points a little more closely, you’d see how they connect to the points that Brad is making.

            I will not move onto something else because when you listen to our stuff on MySpace – http://www.MySpace.com/BemusedDenver – you will hear how much my band blows any of your bands out of the fucking water. So don’t try and give me career advice dude…who the fuck are you?

            • Seth,
              Crank your tone down a notch. I believe that this blog should be a free fire zone for bands trying to get ahead. I see his criticisms in a light that doesn’t hit so close to home. I came close to hitting the delete button then I decided he had carefully walked the line and his comments were not completely mean spirited. If you read all your posts as an outsider you can see that you are struggling with some of the sacrifices, namely personal integrity, that fame demands. He, perhaps, misses this subtlety.
              Everyone reading along should think twice before posting a comment that includes “Who the fuck are you?” ,”Eat Shit!” ,”Dogs fuck the Senate!” or “Your band sucks asshole!”. In most cases these kind of comments will cause me to hit delete. It is one of the gargantuan powers of being blogger that has mediated comments.
              In short you are both trying to pick a fight. Keep the criticisms on point and the posts can fly. If you wander into personal insult then move over to “http:Iwillfightyouinanoldfashionedduel.com” and settle it there.

    • The website is not real that I know of. Please feel free to start it up. I will challenge a few of the troglodytes that inhabit my world………………….I’m pretty good with a sword…

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