How it works….getting to the top………


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2011

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 pm Sound checks start.

6:45 pm  Sound checks end

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Geez! What a Dandy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s look at what it MIGHT cost.

Rent the place…………………$500

Sound system………………….$200

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

Security people……………..$150

Insurance …………………….$100

Total…………………………..$1100!!!!!!

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

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

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

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

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

1. Sell the drummer into slavery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Brad Morrison/Biliken Media 2010

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.Freemason’s Hall

2.Kinights of Columbus Hall

3.VFW Hall

4.CYO Hall

5. Unused storefronts

6. Town Park youth centers

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

8. Old church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Are all the fire extinguishers intact.

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

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

Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

lesson #15 Godzilla Magpops VS THE PROMOTER….


So we’re gonna play a game. You get to be the band, hmmm let’s say your band name is Godzilla Magpops. I play the promoter. Then I’ll play the label. I play the kid that’s making movie and wants you to be in it. Then I get to be the big time manager with a tour.

I get to offer you deals and you get one response. If you respond correctly you move on.
Promoter: “Hey, I think you guys suck but my girlfriend really wants you to be on a bill. I got that fucked up Prog Rock band Mists of Avalon playing on the 23rd. You guys can play the bill, and I’ll give you $100 for the first set.”

Tick, tick, tick (this is the part where the fashion model points at the clock thingy)

“Ah..Ah…..Can We play second for $50 vs 20% of the door?”

“You’re kidding right? 20% of the door!? You think you’re Metallica? No way. 10%”
Tick, tick….
“OK we’ll take it.” Ding, ding, ding… you move on to the next level.

[When you do a VS. deal or what is called a versus deal you are agreeing to receive one of two possible outcomes, in this case…either $50 or 20% of what the door totals for the night. So if the door comes to $250 you get $50. If it is more than  $250 then you get 20%of the larger number . Since you agreed to 10% the door has to go above $500 for you to make more than $50.]

Next round….It’s the Record Label Round…. it’s worth half of a hill of beans and the fashion model spokesperson in this round is way hotter but would never date a person like you unless of course you get a record deal.
Label Dude calls….”Heya buddy boy, this is Slick Tawilliger from Turd Polisher Records. We love your band. We saw you guys at the Sunshine Superman festival and also on Chainsaw Rock night at The Turnstile. We think you’re the bees knees. We’d like to offer you a recording contract. We’ll sign you for 5 records, with an advance of $35,000 against 10 points. If that’s cool with you I can pop out of the dumpster in the alley behind your practice space in about ten minutes.”
“Turd Polisher!! I don’t know what to say. I guess I’ll see you at the dumpster.”
BZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. Wrong.

 But since you passed the first round you get one more reply.
“Hmm Turd Polisher huh? Didn’t you drop my favorite band? Nevermind, so you’re offering us 5 records guaranteed, that sounds cool but we wouldn’t take anything less than 75,000 against 15 points and we want full publishing payments….”
“Gee you drive a hard bargain. How about two records guaranteed, 50,000 to start against 12 points?”
“Hmm that sounds interesting but you forgot full publishing and Slick?
“Yeah?”
“Get a pencil and write down our lawyer’s number.”
Bingo….Lots of flashing lights…..
——————————
Now I realize that most of this is meaningless. What is the game about? Is it about getting a gig? No. A record deal? No. An appearance in a movie? No. It’s about the basic way to talk shit when you negotiate. It doesn’t matter what the numbers are. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is all about. What matters is the way you respond to an offer.
Let me simplify it.
I say I will give you A
You say I want A +1 and B

I say I will give you A, B, C and some of Z
You say, thanks for A, B +2,C +1 and all of Z and some of Y.
—————————–
This blog is about basic negotiation skills. They are extremely important and whoever gets stuck being the mouthpiece for the band has to learn this system like the back of their hand. The philosophy behind this system is based upon some basic rules.

Rules of arguing out a deal…
1. They always offer something, anything, real and tangible first. They must go first.
Example – a promoter calls “Hey I got a slot open on the 12th what would you guys want? (he doesn’t make an offer) You reply with gibberish “I don’t know? What would we want?” ( you reply without saying anything of value) He says “Don’t be an asshole -how much do you guys want to play the opening set?” (now he has offered something real, the opening set, but he hasn’t mentioned money so you reply with more gibberish) “Gee, everyone knows I’m an asshole. I’m not sure I can act any other way. What’s the opening set pay?” This could go on for days since everyone has unlimited cell phone minutes. Eventually, right around the time he is considering choking his cat, he will give in and mention money. “Well I was thinking $150 to open.” Got him. He has offered something real.And he has offered something first. Now you move  on to rule two.

2. After your adversary offers something you reply by adding to it and then asking for something else.
“Gee $150? I was thinking that we should play second set, give the first set to The Baboons ( a band from outta town that you are trying to hook up with a gig so they will help you out in return) and we would have a $250 guarantee. You can keep adding to your demands but remember you are trying to better his initial offer. If you actually talk the guy into paying your rent for the balance of the decade and giving you his girlfriend you may just negotiate him into being your enemy.

3. Learn the value of silence. DO NOT NEGOTIATE WITH YOURSELF. Any good businessman will try to use silence when working a deal. If you are not careful, and you are not on your game they will use silence to bring out your doubts. Then you will be negotiating with yourself. When this happens you will discover that negotiating with yourself is a downhill game. This is the way it usually goes.
You are bargaining. He says how much? You say $1250, or blue or I want to produce or whatever. His response is total silence. The clock ticks, the world turns and still no reply. Now you start to wonder if you overplayed your hand. “did I ask too much?” You open your mouth and start to prop up your demand.”You know we are really worth it. We have two new singles out and blah, blah, blah…”  You are now cheerfully negotiating with yourself. He will then add fuel to the fire by egging you on. Pretty soon you’ll be painting his Yacht on weekends and playing the gig for free. Here’s a story to illustrate this point.
———————–
I was negotiating the Figgs recording contract with Imago BMG. I had flown out to LA and hammered out a deal with the label’s lawyers.It was a typical situation, my lawyer, the band’s lawyer and a couple of label lawyers locked in a room for 10 hours. As usual I chainsmoked which pissed off everyone and as a result I got what I wanted -Three records guaranteed, $350,000 for the first record, full publishing, 90,000 tour support in the first six months, a war chest to bribe radio, all the fun stuff. What we did not work out was creative control. I was told I would have to negotiate all of those deal points with Terry Ellis the label President. I mentioned Terry in my first blog entry. He used to manage Jethro Tull and Billy Idol and founded Chrysalis Records.

After I returned from LA Terry’s assistant called to say he would be phoning me that evening to work out the final details of the deal. The music business has lots of assistants that do all the work and then call people to announce the fact that So and So would be calling at some future time.

So that evening the phone rings and I answer.
“Hold please for Terry Ellis.”

“Brad, how are you? Were all the arrangements in LA acceptable?”

Terry is slick. We talk about his wine collection and his race horse collection.  I tell him some gossip about one of his ex employees.  Then we get down to business.

“So, Terry let’s talk about creative issues. ”

“Certainly. What did you have in mind”

“Come now Terry, you don’t get off that easy. You go first. What’s the label’s position.”

Terry decides to throw me a bone of no value.

“Well we would like to pick the producer, pick all the songs, and get to remix with anyone we like.”

This is him basically saying that the label will control everything and the band gets no say.

“Gee that’s unfortunate Terry since I’m certain that the label the Figgs sign with will allow the band to pick all the songs, pick their producer and there will be absolutely no remixing of the album.”

This is standard banter with each side saying they want it all.  Soon he starts to narrow it down.

“So why don’t we talk about just one thing and try to get that issue settled. What percentage of the songs would the band be willing to let the label pick?”

This is a clever opening. It assumes that we are going to let the label choose any of the songs. So if I carry on talking about the percentages I have already given them some control. Now this brings us to rule number 4 (always have your position- that is to say what you are willing to take – worked out ahead of time) I will cover rule #4 after I finish this story.  The band had already decided that they would allow the label to pick up to three songs on each album.

“Well, Terry we would be willing to let the label pick two songs for each album.”

There is no reply. After about ten seconds it starts to get a little uncomfortable. After twenty seconds the urge to speak becomes a powerful incentive. The normal reaction is to want to fill in the vacuum. To say something, anything. What could I possibly say that would help us?

“Well the band really understand their music and they are the best judge of their strongest material…” Gee that’s kinda lame. I don’t need to sell him on the band’s talent. He is already giving them a deal.  A more normal reaction would be to backpedal

“Hmmm,….well… we might be willing to consider another arrangement…”    The cold hard reality is that ANYTHING I say will make me lose ground and appear weak to MYSELF.  So what did I do? I just waited. I waited four and a half minutes. Try it. Pick up the phone. Look at the clock, then stare in the mirror for four and a half minutes. It’s a really long time.

Finally Terry said…”Ok Brad. You win. You can have what you want.”

“What exactly do you mean Terry?”

“You can control the record. Pick the producer, pick the songs and do the mixes. I’ll trust you. Let’s get together to pick the single. ” I was stunned. A couple of years later I asked him about that conversation. The Figgs contract was long gone and we were just hanging out as friends. He explained that he had never had anyone nail that particular  negotiating trick right off the bat and he was impressed so he let me run the show.  A rare win but it proves the point.

Try it. Pick out the weakest member of your band. Ask them where they want to go for dinner. When they tell you just remain silent and stare at them. Watch what happens. They will start to do the talking and they will start to negotiate with themselves. When you work out a deal don’t be the weak guy that negotiates with himself.

———————————————————————————-

So this brings me to the last point of my rules for negotiation.

4. Always work out your deal before you start to negotiate.  If you are going to negotiate a recording contract get your shit together, find out what the possibilities might be and discuss them with the band. If you are negotiating a gig fee have an idea what your band might be worth in that situation.  If someone tries to get you to bargain without doing your homework try to get out of it long enough to sort out your position. This is not always possible but if you spend some time working out a basic framework of what you want then you will always do better.  Be careful not to ask for the sky and the moon. The point of negotiation is to better a deal you are being offered. If you ask for too much you may end up with nothing which is a step backwards.

All of these rules are techniques that can be learned. If you learn them so they become second nature then you are on your way to Succeeding at Rock……………………………..

Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

Lesson #11 How to get out of town…..


 
So far most of the blogs I’ve written are designed to be a basic set of helpful hints for bands that are just starting out. If you are further up the food chain some of my comments should help. No one has written a comment that says something like “the wife of this guy wants to sleep with me and she’s maaried to the President of the Major Label the band is signed to so what do I do? She’s smokin’ so I’m a little confused”. If someone does write about Major Label problems including the one I just mentioned I’ve got a strategies. Since most of the comments have been about basics I’ll stick to that for now.is signedfor beginner bands and some are for bands that are further on. No one has written a comment saying “the wife of this guy wants to sleep with me and see he’s the President of the Major Label the band are designedSince I am just building up a small catalog of blogs to choose from there is not much variety yet. I’m workin’ on it. Stay tuned and feel free to suggest topics.

Let’s assume that your band has conquered the small city that you live in. You’ve played the local venue enough to have a drink named after your drummer and you’ve played the shitty free local rock station festival thing that always sucks and you’ve played at some rich kids house for remarkably good pay and you’ve reached the point where you have to limit how much you play so that you continue to pack in the punters. What do you do? You get the hell out of town that’s what.

This is how you do it. (well at least this is some of the tricks and techniques) Get a map. If you’ve never seen one and you slept through that class ask your dad. He’ll be thrilled that you are asking about something like a map instead of a bail bondsman. Take said map and tack it to the wall of the band’s practice space. Now put a marker, a large bowie knife will work, where you live. Next draw a circle about 60 miles outside town, then another 120 miles outside town, then 180, then 240. If you live in the middle of a vast desert and these circles contain no human life go to chiropractor school and give up the band. For all the others, start with the smallest circle. List the biggest towns and cities. You’re only listing towns and cities that are at least as big as the one you currently play in. Also list any colleges. Now scratch your head and think about the first list. Are any of these towns worth playing? Yeah, maybe two, and there’s a community college about thirty miles away. Now move on to the next large circle and do the same thing. What you are looking to do is come up with ten cities or towns to play within about 4 to 5 hours of home. Once again colleges are key.

So now you’ve got your list. You can easily fill in the hip club that everyone plays that’s two hundred miles up the road. Ok that’s an A list target. So you’ve got ten lousy big towns and one lame city. That’s perfect. Remember each of those towns and certainly that city contain bands looking to play outside of their local hell hole.

I’m sure some of you are thinking, Brad you don’t understand what it’s like in Central Iowa. You’re right. But I do know that this works in most places. If you must travel eight hours to buy batteries then I’m not sure I can help you. For everyone else, yes i know that a twelve hour drive takes you to that great city two states over but that will cost 4 times your gig money in gas. What we are trying to do is expand our base in a region to start with. This will increase all your other options greatly. Just think of how many rich kids are inside those circles. They’re all gonna have birthday bashes and some band is gonna get the 5 grand that daddy thinks is the going rate for live music.

Now you do some of these things.

1. Google the college radio station contact info for any college within striking distance. Do a little homework on any station you find. You are looking for the Program Director and Music Director. These guys are always key players in the local music scene. Once you have the names you call them and send them the usual promo pack and cd. NO PICTURE. Do you think you are that pretty? These guys are on radio. Let them imagine you are their fantasy band. You can also listen in on the stations on the web and call in to DJs that you think might like your stuff. Young DJ’s love to discover bands. When you talk to anyone at the station this is what you want to know. Are there any clubs? If so who books ’em and what’s the key to getting to the guy. They know. Is there a “Concert committee for the College? ” Is it just a group of idiots? This is usually the case. Get the contact info. When you talk to the station guys treat them nice. Be humble and tell them you’re looking to break into their area. THEN TELL THEM YOU COULD OFFER GIGS TO BANDS FROM THEIR TOWN. This message will usually get a response quickly. This message is the bait that you are going to spread all over those circles you drew.

If you get the concert committee and they are idiots tell them how popular you are. If they bring up any concert, even playing for the special ed dance, you immediately take the most you’ve ever been paid and multiply it by 5. This is your college gig fee. If you never made scratch your band plays for $2500, minimum. They have a budget and they have to spend it. I have seen concert committees pay has been drunkard hacks 100k and think they got a deal. College gigs are gravy. That’s why all of the shows will have real agents trying to lock them in. You are trying to get a middle slot or an opener. These pay too. If the committee of fools is paying some has been 60k then your 3000 will seem cheap.

2. Start to compile a list of venues, bars, theaters inside these circles. YOU ARE NOT TRYING TO PUT TOGETHER A TOUR. You are trying to expand your base. You are trying to find gigs that are in the “so painful to drive there” zone. That way, if you are offered something that is good visibility or status and it only pays $50 then you will take it. Now do some research on the towns. Are there papers? Fanzines? Does any of these towns host a Rhubarb festival? You may not play these things. It all depends on what your band sounds like and what kind of contacts you come up with. If you just go the lazy route and find out the name of the promoter at the really cool club 4 hours away, then you call his number every day for a year you will get nowhere. Once again remember that promoters are impossible to get on the phone. You are looking for contacts that you can convert to being one of your disciples/minions/slaves/groupies/fans. You want the promoter to hear about you from someone else first. If that happens to be the music director of the local station and he respects his taste or even better the promoter wants to butter him up to get his shows plugged then his mention of your band will open a door. The first time you talk to a promoter he should always say something like, “Yeah I heard of you guys. Didn’t your drummer have to be rescued by a military chopper or something?”

3. Put an ad on Craigslist/Facebook looking for bands, or put the word out through your contacts that you are looking for bands. Remember the bait. You need some fresh blood to open for you. Yes, it will piss off all your friends in other bands but in most cases you are going to dangle the bait and not get someone a gig. The key to this whole operation is that you want to get as savvy about all these other towns as you are about your home town. You want to make some friends in other bands. I’ll assume that you already have learned the earlier lesson and you are befriending any band that comes to town. You are letting them sleep on your floor and showing them the best late night pancake place. These are the kind of relationships that will get you gigs elsewhere.

4. You need to be able to land a gig for someone else sometimes. This means working it out with a local promoter. This takes times, effort and a little creative dealing but it can be done consistently, I know because I did it. One solution is to organize your own gig in a rented hall and bring in two of three openers from out of town. Now it never pays to help out shitty bands. You are looking for talent. This is always true.

So there are some pointers to get you started. If you work this for three to six months you
able to spread your band’s name around the region. This will move you up to being a bigger band. This is where you need to be to land a manager, or a label or to pull a rabbit out of a hat and get on a tour. If you try it it’ll work then you’ll be succeeding at Rock…………….

What should I blog next?
(polls)

Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

Lesson #10 how to find a manager (or how to be one) (pt3)


 
So far I’ve covered some scenarios where bands have ended up with a manager and talked about personality traits that are good in a manager. In most cases the possibility of a manager is one of the first serious issues that a band has to deal with outside of the band. This is often the first contract that a band will have to consider. It’s often the first of many relationships that can make or break a band. Is there a surefire way to have someone interested in managing the band. The answer is YES.

All you need to do is become a major national touring act and it’s certain that someone will step up and offer to take a cut of the money. Nice joke huh? Well in it’s essence it’s the key to all of the things I will be talking about in this blog. You have to work all of the different facets of being in a band to make the band grow. By grow I mean become more popular and increase the band’s ability to get a response from fans.

It is a band’s draw and popularity that will attract attention from a manager. In short your band must have a big buzz. For years I ran an indy record label and managed bands. I listened to thousands of demos. Let me correct that I listened to tens of thousands of demos. I found a few bands for my label through demos, I found more bands to produce and I found no bands to manage. All of the bands that
I decided to manage I first heard of through other people. It is very rare for an established manager to sign a deal with a band that is unknown.

I’ve had many bands ask me if they should send demos to management companies. They generally are talking about management companies that have large rosters of well known artists. These are the only management companies that are public enough to end up on industry lists of contacts. Smaller companies of one or two managers are never widely known outside of the record labels. So, think about it for a second. You send a tape to an agency that has 14 managers covering 60 bands. The tape may get listened to but what motivation does the large agency have to pursue this artist that is completely unknown? The answer is none. A large agency’s time is always better spent making more money for their client list or signing the hot new thing. So they may listen but they won’t sign you. That leaves smaller on or two person operations. They may very well be interested in developing a band or two. The problem here is that you will never find these companies without extensive contacts in the music business. (oops there’s that pesky who you know thing again) But there is one opening for bands – you may not be able to find them but they certainly can find you.

Through the years as I got more and more experience managing I looked further and further for acts I was interested in. That’s how I met Shelleyan Orphan an English band. How did I find bands? I listened to what bands fans were talking about. I listened to the buzz.

What is buzz? It’s the band’s story. The better and bigger the story the more substantial the buzz. OK let’s take a high school band as an example. What is this fictional high school band, The Turd Chompers, story.

Well, let’s see…. Oh yeah they played Jimmy McDonald’s keg party and the singer poured a pitcher of beer over one of the prettiest cheerleader’s head. Didn’t they make some tapes with that A/V dick that claims he has a studio in his dad’s basement? I also heard that they are playing at the school spring dance and the school paper is supposed to write about it……………

Now let’s try a brand spanking new Alternative band Big Toxic Blast… Hmmm this is a little easier…I saw they played the local venue opening for Chu Chu Rodriguez and that show was packed, how’d they get on that bill? I heard the drummer humps beer behind the bar on Tuesdays. Don’t they hang out at the Faghanistan Cafe with all the other artsy assholes? Someone told me that they are doing demos with that kid that’s starting a label… I see their posters all over. I heard that the Rum Swagglers are pissed ’cause their drummer split to jion that band. Isn’t the main guy some sort of druggy? It sucks that the paper keeps mentioning them . The review of the Chu Chu show said the opening set was rocking. That guy that writes all those reviews is an idiot he hated our latest CD…..

The buzz on a band that’s just about to move up to regional tours and, perhaps, the big time is a larger version of the same thing….We’ll call this touring machine Battleflag Pickup….Shit man did you see battle flag pickup is opening on both the Cornpone Festival and the first slot for Jeepers Creepers at the Marlybone Theater. They suck. There is no way that they can draw that much. I think it’s cause The Art Fart magazine got all excited over their newest release when it was featured for a day on I Tunes. What the hell man, it was only one week. Sanchez says he heard from George’s girlfriend that it was actually a mistake and that’s why it was only one week. And he said that their guitarist was acting big at the Guitar Graveyard, he bought both the sunburst 61 Paul and the Blue flame strat. That sucks because I put $50 down on that strat. It doesn’t matter since Rolph from Gnome army is probably gonna kick the stuffing out a him for stealing his girlfriend…….

Buzz is Buzz. It doesn’t matter if it’s high school or hollywood in many respects it’s the same. The main thing to notice is that someone is talking about the band. They are talking about the bands STORY. This is what promotional consultants do, they generate and define a band’s story. They then package it in a way that the press, radio, TV and the internet can repeat easily. What a band does onstage is part of creating this story. If you are unfamiliar with the early history of the band then here’s a link. Genesis They were led by Peter Gabriel who is a master showman. They combined theater with rock and were one of the early great bands that put on a show that was something that people talked about.

All of this brings me back to a manager. In order to get a manager you either have to recruit one from the circle of people you know and work with him to get him up to speed or attract one. If you want to go the route of luring one in then you need to do lots of the things that a manager would do for you, get press, get talked about on the radio, get gigs, get arrested…. As the band raises its visibility the chances are that someone will come out of the shadows to scout your band. Most bands that get signed are seen by industry people long before they realize it. Labels hire scouts and a good manager will always be asking around to find out which band is worth seeing.

Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010