Question from a reader, how to cut up money inside a band


Reader Oliver was kind enough to post a comment with a question that covers a topic I have intended to cover for a few weeks now. That topic is how do you cut up money within a band? What’s the whole royalty payment thing mean for individual band members over the long haul?
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Read through Oliver’s question and I’ll be back at the end……By the way Oliver is well-informed, and has put some thought into how his actions will affect other’s lives and their desire to be in the band. This proves Oliver is not a sociopath. Good for you Oliver. This may prove a handicap when dealing with all the bona fide sociopaths in the music business but it’s likely he’ll be a more satisfied rock star……………..
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Oliver writes:

Sorry if I’ve missed this somewhere but in keeping with the non-democratic approach you described, whats the best way to go about song rights/royalties? How do I avoid this situation:

i) Write every note and syllable and take all the royalties but gradually lose my band (but buy one eventually) (Dylan-esque)

ii) Write every note and syllable, split the money with band members to keep the band, drive myself crazy giving away money to the non-writing band, potentially lose the band anyway (Dandy Warhols-esque?)

iii) Agree to play/record anything good that any member writes and allow the rights/royalties go to the contributing member, run the risk of losing direction/ internal power struggles/ control over band. (Stones-esque)

None of these options seem good to me, and although I’m not greedy I’d hate to see a disgruntled band member in 30 years cruising on a yacht he bought with my songs (fanciful I know). I assume there’s no right answer, but you’ve been there and there must be a slightly better option of the three. I feel I’ve got to get this right early.

Regards and many thanks for publishing knowledge you can’t buy.
Oliver.

None of these options seem good to me, and although I’m not greedy I’d hate to see a disgruntled band member in 30 years cruising on a yacht he bought with my songs (fanciful I know). I assume there’s no right answer, but you’ve been there and there must be a slightly better option of the three. I feel I’ve got to get this right early.

Regards and many thanks for publishing knowledge you can’t buy.
Oliver.

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You’re welcome Oliver. I appreciate my readers and I know that getting an informed opinion is valuable. That’s why I write this blog.

Oliver’s predicament is classic. He is the primary creative force in his band. This is common. Most musicians are not also great songwriters.  A typical band is made up of :

A drummer – a rock steady rhythm monster with a flair for knowing exactly when to step in and a flash. He is the backbone and holds the rest of the band in the pocket and is the timekeeper.

A Bassist – He builds the groove and either adds the drive or defines the song as a dance tune. He can add darkness or light, thunder or soul.

Guitarist – Endless, colors and flavors, rhythms, melodies, flashy solos and roar.

 A Lead singer – this is the ego and the magnet and turns the writing into an experience.

Any and all of these people make up a band and make the magic that the world recognizes as rock. Any and all of the people could be primary writers. Any and all of these people make it work and without them the magic is lost. All you need to do is think of two or three great bands and it’s easy to point out an instance where the loss of a minor member seemed to change a band’s spirit and as a result the band’s golden years were over.  Making music is a touchy thing, little  changes often have big results for the better or worse.

Since this is the case how does a band split up the money?  In a way this question misstates the reality of the way money is usually dealt with within a band.  The vast majority of bands are controlled internally by one or perhaps two creative geniuses.  This is the person that writes the material and provides the vision that makes the band unique. This person has more power than the other members so saying how does a band split up its money is dishonest.  The real question is how does the person that controls the band allow the money to be split up? Or what is the best way for a band to work out a compromise that keeps everyone on board and gives credit and money to the person (s) that deserve it based upon contribution.

Another wrench that gets thrown into the possibility of an easy fair system is the fact that most of a band’s career is spent in poverty. The lifespan of bands after they get a deal or a hit, or build a base is, at the absolute extreme 10 years with 3 years being a much more likely scenario. As a result of this reality in most bands money is never discussed except perhaps as a fantasy until it is too late and there is a pie to split up without a system to do so.

I suggest quite strongly that if you are in a band, form a band or join a band that you force the band to have some kind of agreement on how money is cut up.

In the underground indy world, the world that I lived in for twenty years and helped create, there is little money to worry about as a band works out its career. Gigs can be for $50, or perhaps a $100 and recordings are simple affairs that are self financed.  So nothing to worry about right? No, there is still a little money being passed around and more importantly people will often PUT MONEY INTO THE BAND.  So you and your Mother’s Uncle’s Nephew pay for the band to record a record, who owns it? The answer is 50% you and 50% your brother. Or 50% you and your brother and 50% the band. What about the producer? I think you get the point.

When your band first starts out have a serious band meeting. Discuss the following topics and write down the results. It’s better to lose a nutty bassist during an argument before things get going then to have him walk out on tour when he doesn’t get all of the door which is what his warped mind had decided was fair. (this happened to me. He started with “Everyone knows I have the most talent…..)

1. Does the band keep a joint piggy bank? Who keeps it? In what form? (cash or an actual bank account)

2.What is done with gig money? Most bands use this to build up the piggy bank.

3. If you pay for a recording what is the split on the ownership of the recording? On this one I will suggest that you work out something where the person that pays gets their cash back first, then the band owns the recording with the person that paid getting an extra share for risking their money. This is a common arrangement.

4. Is one person the leader and or main writer? If this is the case that person MUST GET SOME CONTROL over the use of their songs, and get the publishing money. I will explain this later in the blog. Let me just say that songs make money and bands make money and the songwriter is gonna end up with the song money no matter what you may want. If this pisses you off then write a great song about it, turn it into a hit and keep all the money to prove how unfair that system is….

Have a meeting. Write this stuff down. Then rewrite it in the form WE the members of Dog Dandruff being Joe, Schmoe, Larry Schmoe, Curly Schmoe and Gonzo Garbigian do hereby agree  to the following……then put all the crap you agreed to and sign it. Make four copies sign them all and Larry, Curly and Joe get a copy. Gonzo’s mom gets a copy since he can’t read.  This is a binding contract. It’s not a very good contract and it’s not a contract written up by a lawyer but in court the judge will hold his nose and respect it. Make sure it covers what to do with gig money, royalty money and songwriting money.

Now if it comes down to a fight about money and this goes to court this contract and your two-bit agreement will run smack into the LAW. There are laws about songwriting royalties. (see one of my blogs for an explanation) There are laws about contracts and working for hire and working for a cut. There are sleazy lawyers. There are sleazy bass players with sleazy lawyer cousins.  What does all this mean? As soon as you have some success and/or a manager redo all of this with a lawyer doing the consulting.  If you do end up using a lawyer YOU TELL HIM WHAT TO DO!!! He doesn’t tell you. He works for you. He will advise you and you’d be an idiot to pay him and not listen but in the end if the band wants to leave all of the money to the Museum of Idi Amin then that’s tough luck for the lawyer.

Now for some practical advise. Perhaps this will help our Reader Oliver. The vast majority of bands, and by that I mean a band formed by unknown musicians in an attempt to make it big, split their gig money evenly.  Since recordings are becoming less and less valuable as money-making endeavours this may turn out to be the lion’s share of the money.  So split the money evenly after the band covers gig expenses. The better you do the more the gig expenses cover. Once the band starts to play regularly and your fee starts to get healthier it’s wise to start a system of per diems. (that’s Latin for Per Day) What does that mean? Well, let’s say your band is getting paid $400 per gig. You are doing 4 to 7 gigs per month. The gigs are all within a day or two drive from your home base. The band will be covering a hotel room where you can all fight over who gets the single bed and which three fools have to sleep together in the King size. The gas for the van will be covered as will tolls and strings and drum sticks etc. What won’t be covered is food, drinks etc.  (of course, you will read one of my future blogs about how to get a promoter to feed you and get you drunk. But that’s only one meal a day) So in this situation you make a joint decision to give each band member a $20 per diem each day you are on the road. If you have crew it applies to them as well. (even the T shirt girl) Why would you do that? It’s simple. If  you try to have the band pay for dinner, and drugs, and alcohol you will soon be really pissed at the one guy in the band that eats steaks, smokes high-class bud and get’s loaded every day. Every band has one. Well, maybe Fugazi didn’t…well come to think of it I think they just SAID that everyone was straight…

If you go with a system where everyone gets a little cash every day then if they eat too much or drink or whatever most of it comes out of their own pocket. This is fair. You will be surprised how many days you can go on twenty dollars a day if your bed is paid for and the promoter gives you food and drink once a day.  sometimes it’s $5, sometimes $10, sometimes $50, I’ve never seen it go over a $100 unless it was a cheap excuse for the band to subsidize the members drug habits. (the breeders, The stones, Etc.)

When Miracle Legion toured Europe in 88? (I can’t remember which of the dozen tours it was) I sent a new member of the road crew out with them. His name was Tommy, he was from Philly, someone’s cousin’s friend, tough, strong, compact, didn’t say much. The kind of crew i prefered. If he had been Scottish I would have had him cloned. Hey you can clone a dog, why not a great roadie?

Well Tommy was new to the road so I gave him the standard lecture and then told him he would receive $24 each day. I forget why we picked that number but that was the per diem. He looked at me like and owl in the headlights. I asked him what was wrong. He said “That’s a lot of money.” The other crew members laughed.  LAter I noticed him loading a ten pound sack of rice into his backpack with a camp stove and pot. I told him he had to dump the rice. He looked hurt so I told him we would buy him ten pounds of rice in London since the issue was bringing grain across the English border (no fruits or grains)

The tour went out for twelve weeks.  When I met them all for the wrap up at tours end I asked the tour manager how Tommy had done. “Too fuckin’ good!” was the reply. It seems that Tommy lived on boiled rice and whatever he could scrounge. He didn’t smoke or drink. He got high once a week on the band’s day off.  Since the band demanded a full meal each night at the gig he was all set for food. So he hadn’t spent much money. To top it off he had lent all the other crew money when they ran out and charged them 5% interest (he ok’d this with me. How the hell could you say no to that?) He came back with everyone owing him money and he still had $1780 of the 2100 in per diems. Smart Kid. They all ended up hating him because he made them look bad. They tried to keep him off of the next tour so I made him crew boss with a different band.

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So you split up the gig money evenly. You give out per diems based upon what makes sense.  Now we come to publishing and recording which was the central issue with Oliver’s questions.

I’ve seen numerous solutions and they all have strengths and weaknesses. I’ll start with recording.

The most common solution is for the band to split the royalties from and recordings evenly. This split only pertains to records that you actually play on. If you leave the band you keep the royalty payments on albums you played on and forfeit all future royalty earnings on future albums. You have no rights to the band’s name. That remains with the band that continues on. This is important. Ask the prog rock band Yes. They had a PRODUCER take the band’s name away from them. That sucks huh?

Now we come to the complex one, songwriting and the use of songs. This is often where the big money comes in. This money is largely outside the grasp of the record company. It has the law backing it up. Radio pays it. TV pays it. Concert Halls pay it.

When a songwriter writes a song it is, by law and common sense, his property. He cannot stop someone from recording it including his own band. They do, however, have to pay him for it and the payments are set by law. (I strongly suggest that you read my blog about royalties.)

This brings us to Reader Oliver’s questions. In essence since he is the writer and guiding light he is wondering what is fair when it comes to splitting up money from his song’s publishing.  Should he give his band members some of this money so that if he becomes wealthy they will too, at least in some smaller way. There are arguments on both sides.

Now keep in mind that this does not have anything to do with songs that the whole band writes of songs that other members write.  In that case everyone will share or the individual writer will get the money. But what about a band where one member is the writing machine?

So let’s now imagine Oliver goes to see his Big NY Entertainment LAwyer Harvey Jacobowitzhofffriederstein. Yup he sounds like he’s a stereotypical NY jewish lawyer.  Don’t worry I will also send Oliver to other stereotypical characters of other races and religions in future blogs spreading his fictional life around amongst all of America’s stereotypes! whoopee! Sorry I got carried away. 

Harvey is smart, he knows the business and he has decades of experience. He says

“Kid what a you meshugenah?  You’re talkin’ about giving away your money? Don’t you think the law is fair?”

He goes on to explain to Oliver that careful consideration had gone into the law and songwriters get exactly what they deserve.  He, of course, is a lawyer and lawyers are paid to represent your interests alone. They also seem to think that the law is always fair. If they changed the law today, he would tell you it was just as fair tomorrow.  In some ways the lawyer is right. Why would Oliver give away his money?

Oliver on the other hand realizes that if he has a hit song his royalty money will pour in. The band will not see any of this cash. Yes, the record will sell but the band will be in debt to the record company for big money. All of the sales of the record will go to paying off the band’s debt and the individual members will see little of it. This brings about a situation where one member is rich and the balance of the band gets nothing.

So now Oliver goes to see his manager, Clive Bakersfield -Coopersmith, a sweating, overweight Englishman with bad teeth. The manager listens to his problem while answering phone calls and returning emails.  He says

“Oliver, baby, you’ve got to keep the boys happy. You should split up your songs and give everyone a share. You’ll get the most of course. I’ll make a call and get you a publishing deal so everyone has some money by next week. That should keep everyone happy.” 

He goes on to explain that Oliver will write many hits and will be rich beyond his wildest dreams. He shouldn’t begrudge his band mates a piece of the pie. In many ways the manager is correct as well. What to do?

Now oliver goes to see me, the retired Indy manager that has seen bands implode for ridiculous reasons and for good reasons.

And I say “Oliver, thanks for reading my blog. Here’s some advice from someone who has no dog in the fight, me. Your instincts are good. You should make some provision for the guys that play in your band. It is, after all, your band and your songs. Lots of the people who you will play with will forget that or never learn that fact fully. This members will become problems and you cannot be tied to them forever.  So this is the practical solution that I would suggest.

1. Start your own publishing company Artful Dodger Music.  This company will publish EVERY SONG YOU WRITE.  This company can collect your radio, tv and movie royalties directly without any other middleman. Choose one of the performance rights societies, either BMI or ASCAP and join as both a writer and as a publishing company.  Of course at any time this company can choose to sublicense some or all of the songs to a large established publishing company in return for a cash advance and a commitment to land soundtracks, commercials and tv spots.

2. Offer the band members a publishing contract. It would work like this. They must publish all of their songs through your company. At any point they can opt out of this requirement in which case they lose all FUTURE payments on FUTURE work. They will still retain any income or rights earned up to that point.

3. As the second part of this deal they will receive part of the publishing company’s income. It will work something like this.If they write a song and publish it with Artful Dodger Music they, of course receive all of the writer’s shares and also a share based upon the main writer’s deal (oliver’s cut) This makes it so they cut the same cut for their songs that you get for your songs.

4. The longer that they stay in the band the more interest and ownership they will gain in the publishing company.  Each year will add a set percentage until they reach a maximum cut. They will never lose this, the company will pay them royalties in perpetuity (forever or until Ronald McDonald is elected president whichever comes first) The percentage of these cuts is open to discussion  although I would suggest that  you enter into the discussion with two numbers in your head. An ideal deal for you and a compromise that you’ll except in order to do the deal. Remember ONLY WEAK PEOPLE DON’T KNOW WHEN TO COMPROMISE. I might suggest that you shoot for 50% of the publishing company and settle for 40%. This would leave 50-60 percent for them to split up.  If they stay in the band 4 years they get their full cut  of the band’s piece of the publishing company.  Each year they are in the band they receive 25% of the total amount they might get if they make it four years. As the band builds up their cuts the unassigned money goes to you.

5. If they leave they retain payments on everything published up to the day they leave.  They never lose this percentage. Any new member starts out at the bottom and has to accrue his cut as he goes, once again he maxes out at four years.

So what would this mean in the real world. OK let’s say that your write a hit “Beat’s the Dickens out a me”. It is published by Artful Dodger and released on your band’s major label record.  The record label pays mechanical royalties, radio plays it and sends in royalties and it appears in a bad kids sitcom where Miley Cyrus goes to 19th century london. For each $100 the song generates this is how it splits up.

1st year    $50 to oliver directly as the writer

                     $2.50 to each of the four band members that own 1/4 of their potential cut of 4/5ths of  50%

                         The balance of the $50, $40 goes to oliver so he earns $90 in the first year.

2nd year  $50 to oliver directly as a writer

                        $5 to each of the band members that own 2/4 of their potential cut of 4/5ths of 50%

                       the balance of the $50, $30 goes to oliver so he earns $80 in the second year

3rd year   

                      $50 to oliver directly as a writer

                        $7.50 to each of the band members that own 3/4 of their potential cut of 4/5ths of 50%

                       the balance of the $50, $20 goes to oliver so he earns $70 in the second year

4th year The band members reach full shares

                        $50 to oliver directly as a writer

                        $10 to each of the band members that own 2/4 of their potential cut of 4/5ths of 50%

                       the balance of the $50, $10 goes to oliver so he earns $70 in the second year

If they bitch about such a small cut explain to them that they are free to write their own hit records at any point at publish where ever they like. Also tell them that you do not have to give them anything and this is most commonly what is done.

What I like about a deal structured in this way is that it provides some incentive to stay in the band, do as they are told and not bitch too much. It also recognizes that they are helping your career in a substantive way.  This earns them money for good. And finally if you become stinking rich they become really rich. Most people can live with that.  Since a hit record in today’s market could generate about 1,000,000 in publishing in a year you can see how it would be a fair deal.

The band will secretly pray that you write lots of hits and hopefully help you do that by giving you the solid backing you need………with a deal like this you are on your way to succeed at rock…………………………..

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

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Lesson #6 Notes on the Care and Feeding of roadies……………..


So today’s blog will address roadies and perhaps gear issues. I’m not certain ’cause I haven’t written it yet. I know everyone wants me to launch into the final blog where I pass on the final secret that makes you into a rock star. Sorry it’s not that simple and I’ve got to cover all kinds of basic issues before writing about how to make you the most popular band in the world.  When I finally do get to the summary a good portion of it will say ‘cover the basics!’ so all of these posts are part of the secret. Also I’d like to point out that pretty soon some of my advise is going to move away from beginning bands and onto how established experienced bands take the next step. If you would like me to write about something like “Album Mastering” or “How to bribe your way onto commercial radio” then speak up. If you don’t request subjects I will cover all of these things in my own haphazard fashion.

So you’re in a band and you think ” Damn this Marshall Stack is Heavy.” You’re correct it is very heavy and hell you shouldn’t be carrying it, you are, after all a star. This is where roadies enter the picture. Roadies are very important in their own way.  When you just start out they are a status symbol.  You show up at the lousy gig and you’ve got a roadie and the other opener band  doesn’t . They all look down their noses at you for not carrying your own guitar and the truth is they are jealous. Great bands have roadies. Really great bands have really great roadies.

So how do you get roadies? Well look around your practice space. There is probably one hanging around already. Roadies are recruited from close friends and, believe it or not, ex members of the band.  Another possibility is to trade off acting as crew with another local band you are tight with.  The point here is that everyone is working together to put on a show. It’s key that you have someone with a zippo when it comes to the part of the set where you hurl flaming raccoons into the audience. You don’t think you can light the raccoon AND play the ripping guitar solo at the same time do you?

Here’s some crew rules

1. Crew dress like the band but a little more workman like. They never outdress the band but they never dress like some stupid fucker that pays at the door.

2, Crew have specific jobs. You work this out during DRESS REHEARSAL. That’s when the band runs through the set as if it was a show. Full stage gear, lights if you’ve got ’em, flash pots, flaming raccoons the whole deal. If you’ve got one crew member then he does it all and you’ve got to teach him how you like things. If  he has to change a string on your strat and it pisses you off so much you cry if the extra length of string above the tuning peg isn’t clipped off then you better tell him. If you’ve got one, then use him, visibly. Have him hand you a guitar. Have him go on stage and set the mic height before you hit the stage. All these little things are part of putting on a show.  Think about it. You go to see a big band and two minutes before they start the roadie is out there doing all those little things that signal the band is about to descend from heaven.  He could have done all these things hours ago but having him do it in front of the audience gets them revved up. It’s part of putting on a show.

3. Treat your roadies well. They get in free anywhere the band gets in free. They eat if the band gets fed. They drink free if the band drinks free. Never give a roadie shit when you have a bad show. This is bad rock manners. If they meet a girl YOU DO NOT ELBOW YOUR WAY IN. They have a universal right to a sex life like you. As a matter of fact that’s the most likely reason they agreed to carry your damn guitar so smile and hand them a rubber.

4.Roadies need to be sober before the show, during the show and until the gear is loaded out safe and sound. If you break this rule you will live to regret it and watch as your cherished TV model Gibson is sold on Ebay by some scumbag guitar thief in Tulsa,OK. Once the responsible stuff is finished the crew gets to get loaded and burn down the hotel just like they are rock stars too.

5. Always keep the road crew involved when you are dealing with the promoter and club people. They need to learn everything you learn. They will grow up to be your tour manager and sound man. These are extremely important positions so having them along when your arguing with the club owner about him undercounting the number that paid at the door helps in many ways. Pretty soon you can trust him to do the arguing and if the argument goes bad, and take it from me they do, he is there for the cage match between the band and the club’s bouncers. The best roadies are sweet people that are smart as shit and when angered can back down a bear from its kill.  Look around does this description fit one of your friends? It does? Guess what he’s gonna be your tour boss.

6. If your roadie gets a job with another band this is a good thing. Yes, you may lose your roadie but in the end it is a good thing. I intend to write a complete blog covering opportunities like this so until I do take my advise, let him go and give him a leatherman as a present. When he calls to tell you that the headline act just threw THE DUMBFUCKS off the tour and they are looking for an opener you’ll start to understand why losing your roadie is not the end of the world.

7. If the band gets paid the roadie gets paid. I don’t care if its fifty cents but the roadie gets paid.  This falls under the heading of treating the roadie fairly and helps to build a bond that causes him to call you three years later to tell you that THE MEGASTARS just threw out their guitarist and they need someone to fly to LA and audition tomorrow.

   I managed an upstate New York band called The Figgs. When I signed them they were really young. The bassist was still in high school.  We did some indy records with me producing and when I thought they were ready we set up a showcase. (I believe I mentioned them getting signed in another blog) The result of the showcase was a record deal within a week. The record deal put them in a position where I could talk them onto the first Cranberries tour in the USA.  The tour was five thousand seats a night – theaters mainly but on the whole fairly large venues for a young band.  They didn’t have a roadie, just a kid that they had known since they were little tots. He was a janitor at the local grammar school and weekends he spent at the local nudist colony with his hometown girl.  I called him and told him he was the new tour manager. He thought for about ten seconds and said ‘Great! What do I do?”.  He didn’t know the first thing about it. I taught him as he went along.  But the key point is that the band could trust him, really trust him and I could trust him as well. I knew he would do what was best for the band and if that meant that he had to tell me that one of the band members was drinking too much or that they were playing lousy I knew I could count on him.

By the time he decided to give it up and get married he was a pro with a phone book full of road manager friends, a bank account full of cash and a lifetime of stories to tell………………….Oh yeah, you can try an ad on Craigslist, you never know where you’ll find your first dedicated member of your entourage. Here’s some ad copy that might work.

ARE YOU LARGE AND LOVE MUSIC?!

Local rock band seeks road crew. Can you carry guitar amps up and down staircases while drunk?  Do you have a sixth sense about speed traps and can act as if you know how to drive any vehicle including an M1 tank? Can you tune a guitar without playing some lame solo to prove you coulda been a rockstar? Can you count to 4500 by 5’s when exhausted as long as you know some of it is yours? Do bar bouncers seem to have an unnatural respect for your personal space? Can you say “no” to anyone including hot women? Does your Grandma know you are a good kid? Is it possible she’s right and none of your friends suspect it? If you’ve answered yes to all of these questions then you are already a roadie you just haven’t started working yet. If you would like to start your karmic life of rock adventure call Sluggo at 845-555-1212. Call today!! First three callers receive an email with a list of errands to do…………………

All content copyright 2010 Brad Morrison/Billiken Media

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Lesson #5 More Gigging advice and why drummers are dangerous…..


Well I’ve noticed that someone is reading this blog. Good. Perhaps it will help. It would help a great deal more if you would ask stupid questions. Yes, there are stupid questions no matter what your Sunday School teacher said. There are also a huge number of inquisitive idiots. I count myself in that classification. Yes I was and in many ways am an idiot. I asked questions and learned a great deal. I also watched what worked and went with that. (also if you are reading the blog let other musician buddies in on the secret. More readers means more posts…I am, after all, doin’ this for free…Ok enough blather, back to gigging)

This blog is about gigging and some general comments about being a gigging band.

So at the end of the last blog I mentioned that as a promoter I gave gigs to the local bands that I knew personally and the band’s that drew a crowd. It was either or. If a band was BOTH my friend and they drew a crowd they would soon be headlining. This was a hard lesson for me to learn. I made some really dumb errors along the way. Here’s one.

There was a band from somewhere in Ohio. They had a record out which was kinda rare in those days. They were on tour and they wanted a date in my club to fill in their tour. I suspected that there wasn’t much of a tour since their record sucked. I was right the tour was a spotty mess with rare dates and big holes of no dates. Notice I haven’t mentioned the band’s name to spare their feelings. Their name was THE URGE. (I think, it was a really long time ago) So they had a tour and they had a record and they had what they thought was a clever Schtick. Ya see each guy in the band had half a beard. That’s right, I believe it was on the left side of their face. Perhaps their plan was to switch to the right half of their face for the second record.
So they called and called and called. Once or twice they got me on the phone and I said no way, no gig. They had no following and they sucked. Well they pushed and pushed and pretty soon they had pissed me off. Now, even if their record had leaped onto the charts I wouldn’t have booked them.

They were after one particular date, it may have been opening for Black Flag or Kraut I can’t remember. The day of the show they just showed up at the club expecting to play. I guess they figured that they were on tour. They were free on that date and who was I to say no. Well the headliner’s crew damn near killed them. So in an effort to make some kinda peace I let them play an early set and even gave them $50. Geez I didn’t have $50. I think I borrowed it from the club owner. Well the night was such a nightmare for me, the promoter, that I gossiped about it to the promoter further up the coast. Within twenty four hours the balance of their tour had collapsed like a house of cards. Was I responsible? Perhaps. Were they? Hell yeah.

If they had turned up at sound check and NOT expected to play just hung out I probably would have fed them since the club usually fed most of the crew, friends, ladies etc. They may have very well ended up crashing at my apartment in the beautiful ghetto of Bridgeport CT. They were probably nice guys. If they had taken a different approach they would have ended up knowing me personally and that would have paid off in information, tips on shows and maybe, down the road, a gig. They blew it by being too aggressive. And now decades later I have exposed their closely guarded secret, the half a beard trick.

Ok here’s another story to illustrate a different approach, one based on creativity. From 1978- 1983 I was a DJ on a big college radio station. I was one of the only DJ’s playing underground records and, as a result, I started getting more discs than I could play. Each week I would pick through them and if one ended up on the air and got a good response that band might very well find itself with a sold out show in CT. See I had the radio/promoter thing working, clever huh? Yeah real clever a guy named Alan Freed thought it up and he helped invent Rock.

One day I’m going through the incoming releases and included in the pile is an invitation to an event  from a guy named Steve Albini. Now you may know the name Steve Albini since he went on to produce that little known band Nirvana but when I received this invitation no one knew Steve Albini. This was way back in 1982. So this invitation said something like this “Throw Things at Steve Albini!!! You’re invited to a once in a lifetime event where anyone and everyone can throw things at Steve Alibini!” It went on to explain that he would erect a plexiglass screen offering little protection and then people would throw things at him. Brilliant. A great combo or comedy, performance art and quite cleverly a punk kinda attitude since it was saying ‘I aint a star, throw shit at me’. I dropped the needle on the EP that came with the invite and I was hooked. (His band, Big Black, was a great band by the way) Steve Albini is a natural showman. He knows how to get people to talk about him and he understands that that is what really counts. After he produced Nirvana he went to great lengths to do interviews in all the big magazines. In every interview I read he said basically the same thing. Once again I’m not quoting him just paraphrasing he said “Yeah I made tons of money on Nirvana so from now on I’m gonna produce bad bands and mediocre bands because those bands need good production too!” This of course was clever since the press went nuts writing about this philosophical reverse. And what counts? That they were writing about him.

If you want to be famous you have to have the guts to make a fool out of yourself if that can help your career. If you have talent then you will know what’s cool. You can stick to cool all the time. But sometimes just standing around acting cool doesn’t get you noticed.

In most bands there is at least one member that is desperate to get noticed. THIS IS A GOOD THING. Often this is the drummer. Drummer’s are just built for the spotlight. They’re often designed to get arrested as well. I’ve bailed more drummers out of scrapes with the law then all other musicians combined. If your drummer gets arrested don’t hush it up. Geez talk about it. Turn it into stage banter (see the earlier lesson about sets). On the whole drummers are nuts. Maybe it’s all of that percussive volume – it softens up the brain tissue. There is a reason that there are lots of drummer jokes. Their need for speed. Their sense of flash and the fact that they are the only one in the band that can always make that cute girl in the back of the hall wag her butt whenever they want to are all reasons why we love drummers, cherish them and try, in vain, to keep them away from drugs and liquer. Here’s drummer story you may have heard since it’s about a famous drummer but I’ll tell it anyway.

Keith Moon had been playing in The WHO for four or five years. He was a huge rock star. Being a huge rock star he, of course, is being paid huge sums of money. One day he meets with his manager and a guy called an accountant. Accountants are guys that count things. They’re good at. They count money, jelly beans anything. They even think up clever things to say about things that they have counted. So this guy tells Keith Moon that he is TOO RICH. Ya see he had been living with his Mom all this time and doing the exact same things he did before he became a star. This accountant guy tells him that this is no good. The government had just changed the rules and because he was so damn rich they were going to take most of his money. The accountant explains that the problem is related to him not spending money. He needs to spend some money before they take it. So Keith Moon goes out and buys two castles, 30 cars and a couple of yachts and three days later HE IS BROKE. He then sets about driving the cars into swimming pools while drunk. Of course, all of this got the band great press……I’ll tell many more drummer stories as I go along.

So to round things out. Take these few lessons toss ’em in a blender and come up with some ideas to get yourself noticed in the scene that your band is part of. Use this notoriety to make contact with the local promoter. Explain to him how popular you are. Better yet have other people explain how popular you are. Go to great lengths to be seen in and around the place you need to play regularly to get ahead. After you have done these things then you can ask him face to face for a gig. Ask for a good one. Be a little arrogant when you ask for it. NEVER ASK FOR A GIG LIKE YOU ARE A DOOR MOUSE! Example “Hi, you don’t know me and you’ve never heard of my band The Dipshits but we’d really love to play any gig you will give us. We’ll polish your car and play for free. We’ll play your worst night after everyone goes home just give us a gig.” Instead Ask for a gig like you’ve got the goods. Even if you don’t get it you’ll earn more respect. Try something like “Hey I heard you might have GOD playing here Feb 3rd. If you put us on the middle slot we’ll deliver half the room full of fans. I can’t guarantee that they’ll stay for GOD’s set but they’ll all pay at the door.”

That reminds me of another tip. Forget the guest list. There is a time and a place for guest lists and somewhere along the way I’ll talk about where that fits in but do not hand the promoter a guest list on your first gig. Make your mom pay. Make God pay. Make your girlfriend pay. Remember if you don’t make the promoter money he has no use for you. If you play your cards right six months from now you will never again pay to get in the club. Instead the promoter will be happy to have you at the show since it makes his club look cool.

Lesson #3 Getting Gigs (part one)………………..


 So now you’ve got a killer set. (see lesson two) No use having a smoking band and not playing for the world. In fact playing live is the key, the path to the top. Yes, we’ve all heard strange stories of people who made a tape in their bedroom, sent it to a label and woke up the next day and they were rock stars. It’s interesting to note that in my twenty-five years of working in and around major labels I never met one of these fictional characters. Every band I ever saw make it big did it by playing live. (and making great records but we will cover that later)

Let me start with the bad news. Getting gigs is the worst part of being in a band. It is a thankless task. It is extremely hard and, at times, damn near impossible.  Throughout your band’s existence this job and the problems associated with it will not go away.  If you are lucky someone who does it for a living will take over the job but for the time being it is up to you. Now that I’ve told you all of that depressing news let me tell you something else. It is possible and, there are quite a few tricks to getting gigs.

Here’s a few tools that may help. A demo, a presskit, a copy of pollstar. Ok let’s start at the end. Pollstar is a magazine that tells all about professional tours. I get mine for free. I think the subscription price is ridiculous so look for another way to get it like an ad on Craigslist or Ebay or stealing it out of a local rock star’s garbage.  If you can’t get a hold of one don’t freak out it’s a great help but you can work around it.

Next is a press kit.  You know what that is don’t you? It’s a package with copies of all the band’s glowing reviews from Spin and the LA Times. It has a cool picture of the band included.  This is something that you make yourself at first.  When you haven’t yet left the basement it will consist of a picture taken by someone’s girlfriend and a single page that says “My mom hates my band!” written in crayon. That’s a good start.  Now here is a shocker. Lot’s of bands make shit up! Wow. Imagine that. They do.  Oh yeah there is also a band bio which is the story of the guys in the band, what other bands they were in, how many Grammys they have etc. Again, just make it up.  Put something together and try to make it look better than a pile of papers you bought off the dude that lives out of the shopping cart in your town.  Don’t worry too much about the exact content. Later on this blog I will tell you how to get press.  Really I will. And not only that I will tell you some tricks of the trade that actually work.

OK last tool the demo. Over the course of my life I have seen more angst and over thinking  over demos than any other part of being in a band.

Here are some concrete rules about demos. Believe what I’m about to tell you because lots of people will tell you I’m wrong. When they do ask them “Have you ever signed a band to a major label recording deal?” and “Have you ever taken a band from nowhere and helped them work their way up to stadium shows?” If they answer yes to both these questions and you believe them then immediately say “Manage our band and we will give you 15% of everything including the publishing!” If they say no listen to me because I have done both these things.

1. The quality of the recording of your demo doesn’t make much difference.  Spending $21,000 to pay the guy who’s brother knew that guy from the  Rolling Stones will be a waste of your money. You don’t have money do you? If you did then you probably wouldn’t be trying to be a rock star. For your first demo make a decent  live recording of the band ripping its way through a SHORT SET. That’s it. You can use your laptop, an old tape deck, your ipod it doesn’t matter. The important thing on the demo is does the band RULE and are the songs GREAT. Once again I will say it, you may not believe it but it is true, THE QUALITY OF YOUR DEMO DOES NOT MATTER!!! In many cases the promoter (that’s the music biz term for a guy that controls gigs) will not listen to the demo or will pop it in for about two minutes to get a feel for your general sound. LAter on, when your band starts to move up, you will have plenty of opportunities to make better recordings with pro gear. Even then if your demo doesn’t ROCK then it sucks.

2. Other musicians are the key to getting gigs and getting ahead. Being an asshole to every one you meet because you think that this will give you a mysterious aura is a stupid idea. Now, if you really have talent I realize that you may actually be an asshole. This combo is common. If you know that you are an asshole and you can not suppress this charming quality then someone else in the band will get the gigs and do all of the band business. This rule can’t be ignored since it will destroy the band’s chances immediately.  If you are the asshole and you are reading this don’t worry. I know that you are worried because you are the only one in the band that really knows how to become a star. I know this because all MASSIVE BAND ASSHOLES feel this way. Don’t take this blog wrong assholeish behaviour has its place in rock. It’s just that booking gigs is not the place. Instead the band asshole should be content torturing the nice guy that does all the work. This is standard behaviour for band assholes.   Let’s continue…

Being nice to other bands is key. They will get you gigs. They will recognize that your band is great and want to be associated with you. They will talk about where they gig and what tours are on and shows that are being put together. Pay close attention. Be nice to them. Praise their band. You can always find something to compliment about their set even if you just say the drummers cymbals are shiny. The better the other band is the nicer you should be to them but no matter how good they are DON’T KISS THEIR ASS LIKE YOU’RE A FAN.  There is nothing that will send a talented musician running faster than a fan. Fans make rock stars uncomfortable. Fans pay at the door. Fans stalk rock star’s girlfriends. You must not, under any circumstances act like a fan.  Even if you meet Jesus Christ, the guy who’s records you’ve worn out listening to, you must act cool and behave as if you and he are PEERS. If you do not know this word look it up, it’s important.

So be nice. Give free CD’s. Give free T Shirts. Give them your number and say something along the lines of “Hey do you guys have any gigs lined up in Cowtown? No? Gee here’s my number I can give you some info on a show that you may be able to play.” Here’s a good tip. Never walk up to someone that you don’t know or only know slightly and say anything that translates to “Help me.” Instead always say something that translates to “Hi, I may be able to help YOU.”  Remember get phone numbers and websites. These people are going to help you get to the top. Many of them will be in other bands,  start labels, be DJ’s , become producers, work for promoters etc.  While your at it offer a floor to sleep on to every decent band that comes through town. Even if they say no you’re on your way to a mutually beneficial relationship.  Here’s a story to illustrate this rule:

In the mid to late 80’s Providence Rhode Island was  a kinda hip town with an active music scene. There was an underground club called The Rocket. Everyone played there. I played there. Future Rock Stars played there. There was a band called “What Now”. They were a good, three piece Alt Rock band. They drew decent crowds and were on lots of the bills at the Rocket. Even if they weren’t playing they hung out at the club. Everyone that couldn’t afford a hotel room slept at their house. It was a big, old Victorian house in the bad area, just around the corner form the cool record shops.  Everyone ate pancakes cooked by the band’s leader Dave A. Great guy. Very helpful.  Since I knew him, slept at his house and ate his pancakes when he released his first single I listened to it, very carefully. I liked it. I offered them a deal on my label.  Cool huh? Well even better they often crashed at my house in Jersey. While there they met another band Miracle Legion. They were a big underground band. When they dumped their rhythm section they stole What Now’s bass and drummer. That led to a few world tours and a major label deal. After Miracle Legion broke up the bassist and drummer went on to back up Frank Black from the Pixies. More world tours, serious cash and lots of attention from members of the opposite sex. Much cooler. All of this happened because they were nice to the other bands and served up pancakes.

3. No rock show is wrong to attend. If you want to play live you better be hanging out watching all of the bands and going to all of the clubs. If you are too young for clubs that means parties and all ages shows. The guy that only goes to see Swedish Death Metal Shows because that’s what’s cool is missing out on lots of chances to meet club owners, bartenders (they usually sleep with club owners), doormen (they know great gossip), soundmen, stage crew and most importantly other musicians. A good musician that is on his way to the top will know lots and lots of people.  If you are not friendly because you are the dark, depressed frontman then bring along the friendly drummer. Go to shows. Watch theband’s stage moves and how the set is put together. Learn, learn, learn. For a musician most shows are like going to classes in how to rock.  The better the show the better the lesson.

OK that’s the end of part one… part two will deal with the nuts and bolts of getting your first show and how to turn that into more shows…. stay tuned……………..

Copyright 2010 Brad Morrison/Billiken Media

lesson #2 Playing live ………………..


The music business has changed more in the past ten years than it did in the 50 years before.  The web has swept away vast music business enterprises, forced distribution and labels to collapse and destroyed the joint efforts of three generations of music industry professionals to build a lasting system of bringing music to the world. Thank God. Great. I’m all for it. It couldn’t have happened to a better bunch of fools. 

 The web has opened doors for tons of great bands and, my friend, it has opened the door for you.  Now that I’ve said all that I will leave the particulars of how to exploit the web ’til later in this primer.  The core rules and techniques haven’t really changed that much and unless your band is handling the basics properly you can forget all the technical crap ’cause it won’t help.

Now a few comments about playing live. In today’s market playing live is everything. Because of the changes from downloading the days of making a comfortable fortune by selling recorded music are largely over. The younger the artist the lower the percentage of recorded music that gets bought and not downloaded for free.  I’ll address this problem and offer some surefire solutions to solving it in later installments. But the main point here is that your band’s live show is critical. It’s critical to making it big, getting a deal and most importantly making you filthy rich.

So you’ve got the band, you’ve written the tunes and now it’s time to play, right? No way. You need to put together a show. If you just plan on going out on stage and staring at your shoes while knocking out 15 tunes you missed the boat. The shoe staring trend was ’87 – ’92 and it ain’t comin’ back anytime soon.  If you are gonna play live then you damn well better put on a show.  What a show means depends on your band’s style, the music trend you are part of, the venue (that’s a fancy name for a theater, bar,garage, garbage dump etc.) you’re playing, and your band’s native talents. If your lead singer is insane and he often sets himself on fire then you are all set. Get him a can of gas and a zippo and move on to the section about actually getting gigs. If not this is what you do.

1. Learn to write a set list. This is not as easy as just randomly jotting down all the songs you know.  A set list has to rise and fall. It has to suck in the audience and keep them involved. It has to build to a climax and then rip the top off their head.  The set list is the difference between a great show that ends with getting asked to play again and embarrassed silence.

Get together a list of some of your favorite bands that your band fits with. This doesn’t mean Public Enemy and Cher if you’re a metal band and it doesn’t mean kiddie rock if you’re a hip hop god. Look around at the posters on your wall and pick out the biggest, baddest, most awesome bands that you love. Now go and get live footage of the them. (of course it’s better if you can actually go and see them but that’s usually tough). Watch the show. Write down the set list. Watch it again. Make little marks next to the songs, little arrows up and down for upbeat songs and slow songs,  other little symbols for songs with solos or sections where the band changes something. ( you can use any symbol you fancy. I used to draw little masturbating dwarfs ’cause it made the female fans blush when they stole the set lists) Now think about how they put the show together. Did it suck you in? Did it build to a climax? Did they open with their only hit? (I doubt it) Did they play any covers by other songwriters? Now go back to your list and apply the same process to your songs. Try writing and rewriting the list.  When you think that you’ve got it right, run through the set two times in a row. Tape it! Go back and listen (or better yet watch it on video). You may feel like a fool pumping your fist in the air to an empty room but it’s better to find out you can’t dance BEFORE you go on stage.

2. Go back to the same live tapes and watch your favorite rock gods for stage moves.  Every great band has got em. It could be the pelvis pumping guitar solo, the backwards dance when playing rhythms sections, sharing a mic for background vocals, Stage diving onto the pretty girls. There is an endless list of these moves. They are all part of putting on a show. Remember the people who pay at the door don’t want to watch you stare at the floor. If you think it’s silly then you may need to reconsider your uncle’s offer to work at the car wash. Now, here’s the problem. If you steal the moves from a band that’s similar to yours then the fans will pick up on it immediately. I once took the band Phish to a Metallica show. They wanted to check out the light show (they were also big fans). The following tour Phish copped some lighting tricks from the Metallica tour.  So here’s what you do. Go back to bands that your fanbase don’t know. You might be surprised how ancient most stage moves are – Hendrix, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Who, Ac/Dc, Bowie,  The Troggs, etc. were all great performers. Steal something and try it on for size.  Do your homework. The history of Rock is a goldmine of tips, tricks and material for you to retool and reuse.

(I once saw Bowie during the Serious Moonlight Tour. His set had an intermission about an hour in. As the band climaxed at the end of the first half they started playing “White Light, White Heat” by the Velvet Underground. The band sang all the parts leaving Bowie free to do as he liked. He put this the set for good reason. As the band banged away he walked to the edge of the stage and one by one pulled every woman in the front row up out of the seats. He kissed each one and dropped em. Every woman in the first hundred rows came apart at the seams. Nice stage move. He did it EVERY NIGHT OF THE TOUR. Now that’s a stage move)

3. Look for props.  The bigger the band the bigger the props. This includes, of course, clothes. Yes, you can dress like you do every day or like you do when you go to see grandma but what fun is that? Thrift stores are a good resource for this stuff.  Again, watch videos and live shows. Look for props. Instrument changes often work nicely depending on what your band sounds like.  Think about it. You go to see a great band and halfway through the show the guitarist suddenly whips off his Les Paul and straps on a Neon Blue strat.  We all know he could play it on the Gibson but nonetheless we all think ‘ohh this is gonna be good, he’s gonna rip it up. Flashpots. Waterbottles, Cardboard cutouts of Pee Wee Herman, hot background singers, chainsaws, baby elephants are all great props. If you think it’s all about the songs then go back and watch the rock stars do it again and call your uncle morty and see if the job on the garbage route is still open.

( I saw U2 play three nights in a row on a stadium tour. In the middle of the show Bono would start doing an impromptu rap about justice and freeing Ireland or Latvia or one of them countries. He’s from Latvia right? I digress. Well in the middle of this rap, lo, a light picks out a nerd in the fifth row and he’s holding up an Irish Flag for Bono.  Bono grabs it and waves it . The crowd goes nuts. Lucky moment huh? Well he got lucky with the same kid three nights in a row)

4.Cut out the banter. Ok so your playing your set. You rip through the first three numbers and come to the first break. The audience applauds and then…oh god here it comes…silence..some dude coughing in the back…. So you walk up to the mic and…..NO!!! STOP!!! This is the most common error of amateurs.  When you are on stage the period between songs is painfully long. A minute is an eternity.  The key here is that it only seems that way from up on stage. The audience doesn’t see it/feel it/know it. For them time flows naturally. The minute takes 60 short seconds and the band begins again. This is natural. What is not natural is listening to the drummer mumble impromptu, disjointed, sappy greetings to his Aunt Pam that might be there that night.  Remember that the sound system is set up to amplify singing, loud singing. If you speak into a mic setup for live vocals the audience will here “mumble..mumble,…rhubarb…rhubarb..coney island…betterment of hippos….thanks..” This will immediate piss off the sound man as he scrambles to readjust the volume pot, thereby screwing up his careful levels for the beginning of the next song.  If, by some strange godlike quirk you are heard you better have said something interesting.

Let’s put it this way. Do you spend much time in the local mall standing up giving speeches? Do these speeches keep the passersby enthralled with your wit and charm. If the answer is yes, then go ahead and piss of the sound man.  I can hear you thinking, no big deal, everyone talks on mic between songs. Oh really? Go back and watch that mega band video again. Rock stars do it but, amazingly, they are generally quite interesting and often funny or wierd.  Ya see it’s PART OF THE SHOW.  A small part but important nonetheless.

Here’s another way to look at stage banter. Would you leave parts of the songs unworked out? Would you play something boring? The answer is no. [now if you are a jam band and that’s what you do then i gotta ask are you jam rapper? if so, piss off the sound man] So keep to the script. When you are a big huge rock star you can prove me wrong and rewrite the rules. In the mean time work out some things to say. Make them fit with the show. Remember you are a showman.  At the legendary concert Woodstock (the original not one of the hippy bullshit recent ones) various performers between song banter ended up being enshrined in the memories of a generation – like Hendrix telling everyone they could leave if they wanted he was just gonna jam. Now that’s inspired. Twenty minutes later he set his strat on fire.

This brings me to another part of rule number 4. Prepare for disaster.  You are gonna play live and you are gonna have disaster strike. Everyone does.  A few simple set ups and plans can save a gig. So wise guy what does the rest of the band do when you break not one, but two strings on both of your main guitars?  Do they just make it up on the spot? What if the drummer splits a snare skin? Lead vocal mic shits the bed? You see where I’m going with this. I have seen all of these things happen. What the band does in this circumstance separates the men from the boys.  In one of my bands a guitar disaster turned into bass, drums and vocals doing “Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed. Great Song everyone knows it. It works great with just drums and bass. The audience usually sang along and it often was one of the high points of the night. We even faked a problem once when the audience was lukewarm and presto, three minutes later they were singing along.

So work it out. Remember that torturous classical piece you had to learn when you were 13? It’ll blow them away in the middle of a hardcore set when your drummer takes ten minutes to puke up those pills he shouldn’t have taken….. Next lesson is how to get the gig now that you’re certain that you’re such pros………………………………Until then work up your set. It should run like clockwork. It should rock the world. It should take your fans soul into a blender and spit it out. When you can do that then your on your way to succeeding at rock…….

Copyright 2010 Brad Morrison/Billiken Media

Lesson #1…It’s about being famous


Ask Mr. Manager “It’s all about being famous”

By Brad Morrison

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As I sit here and type this I am listening to Traffic, a sixties, white soul band featuring Stevie Winwood. You may have heard of him. HE IS FAMOUS.  This may sound obvious. You may not have heard of him. I assure you that he is very famous. He played in a bunch of super groups, had numerous hits and even, against all odds, came back after twenty years to record more hits in the eighties. Great voice, brilliant musician, good looking cat. 

If you wish to toil away in obscurity, maintaining the purity of your music then this blog is not for you. Go away and read something else. Thanks. Now for all of you that remain I will be taking questions from readers about how to make yourself successful in the music business. Why do I get to do this? How do I know these rare secrets? Well I did this professionally for musicians for a long, long time. Ever hear of a band called Phish? I thought so. That ends that argument.

Success in the music business is based on being famous. People must talk about what you do. They must pay attention or you will get nowhere. Here’s an anecdote  to start us out.

In the late nineties I was producing a band called Bully. They were a run of the mill Alt rock band.  We had cut all the tracks, done the overdubs, mixed the record and were in the studio putting together the sequence so the record could go off to be mastered. I got up that morning and the news from New York (they were a New York band) was all about some little kid that had been hospitalized. It turns out he had been beat up by bullies on the playground.  Eureka! I thought the band had a shot at the top. I immediately cornered the band and told them that they should do the following:

1. Release their record using the title “Your mother’s worst fear!”

2. Rent an expensive, more than they could afford, room at an upscale NY hotel

3. Send out a notice to every NY beat reporter saying that they were holding an important press conference covering the topic of the bullying of children in the NY schools.

4. Show up at the press conference, late,  dressed in the most outlandish fashion  they could manage and declare that they were there to defend the bullies! Take on the press and tell them “Life is all about survival of the fittest” “Only the strong lions can rule the playground!” Tell the press that you are there to speak up for the bullies since no one understands them and no one gives them credit for running the playground in an orderly fashion.

This idea comes solidly from the Malcolm McLaren (RIP Malcolm) school of rock management. He managed the Sex Pistols. The Sex Pistols weren’t really a band they were more of a traveling insult performance. McLaren understood that rock music was a show. It is a type of fiction and it’s the story that counts. A great story sells.

The band was appalled. They talked about how they could never do such a thing. That they didn’t believe in supporting bullies etc. In short they were wimps.  Needless to say they didn’t do it and they missed the boat. Ever hear of Bully? Do you think the Sex Pistols would have missed a chance to piss off every mother in New York and make every kid know the bands name?

Here’s story number two:

In 1994 I was managing a band from upstate NY called the Figgs. They were a great three piece alt rock band, kind of a mix between Elvis Costello and the Beatles with bit of punk thrown in for good measure. I produced them for a few years waiting for them to grow up and for the bass player to actually graduate from High School. One day I decided they were ready. I signed them to a management deal and set up a single showcase. The showcase was at a Manhattan rehearsal studio and they rocked so hard that the A & R guy called the label owner on the spot.  They didn’t even make it through their set before he stopped them and started to talk about a recording contract. The next day we had a meeting with the label owner Terry Ellis, ex manager of Jethro Tull and Billy Idol, founder of Chrysalis Records.  So we go to New York, enter a skyscraper, take the elevator to the top and are immediately shown into a huge conference room overlooking Central Park.  Terry is sipping espresso from fine china and eating fresh fruit flown in from god knows where.  We go through the usual niceties, bullshit really, just feeling each other out.  I let the band do the talking. I know that the A & R guy has recommended that the band should be signed. Nothing I can say will add to that fact. This meeting is critical. Terry will be looking for some kind of signal that the band has what it takes. Very quickly Terry figures out that Mike Gent leads the band and he focuses on him

Terry says to Mike “So why should I sign your band?”

I hold my breathe.  I know that Mike is a rock star. Does Mike know it?

Mike smiled looked him in the eye and says ” Well Terry in ten years your daughter will be playing my songs on your piano at Christmas dinner.”

‘Jackpot! ‘ I thought.

“Have your lawyers call me. ” he says. He stands up and offers Mike his hand. “Welcome aboard!” Three weeks later the Figgs are on a theater tour with the Cranberries.

So if you walk around and talk about “all I want to do is make a living playing music” then you better think about studying computer programming. The music business is looking for the band that wants to be the next Stones, the next Zeppelin.  The Next Beatles. Ambition is the key.  If you don’t want to be famous then you don’t want to be a rock star…………………………….

© Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010