New Format and things I like…………..

Any old readers, returning to this blog, will notice that I have dumped the old format of Black and Red. It worked well for awhile but as the number of posts grew it became unmanageable. So I have trotted out a new format.

I haven’t posted in a dogs age. Instead I have been compiling everything I have written and expanding the material for a book. This, unfortunately is not as fun or easy as tossing a blog up onto the web.  Feel free to send comments on the idea of a book and what should be included.

Well that’s enough blather, on to today’s subject – listening to cool bands.

So far all of my postings have dealt with the mechanics of being in a band and promoting yourself up the food chain. I haven’t spent much time writing about music. Music, is, of course, central to the whole damn experience of being in a band. In some of my early blogs I posted what I was listening to as I was writing. I did that to, hopefully, turn people on to cool bands that they hadn”t heard.

A large part of being in a successful band is writing undeniably cool music. Even if you are gunning to be the next Madonna you need to understand cool music and have a good grounding of all the rock gods that have come before.  The more you listen to music the greater the spread of your tastes should become. For me this is certainly the truth. I have been steadily listening to music since 1966 and I am still finding cool things that are new to me.  If you only listen to your favorite band and the half dozen other bands that sound like them you are doomed to writing music that is derivative and likely boring. Your influences are like a color pallet is to a painter. You need many colors and influences in order to have depth and art to your music. You can argue that Picasso painted cubist masterpieces with one basic color scheme. You would be correct.  If you are the equivalent of Picasso in his blue period then you don’t need my advice on influences. Of course Picasso traveled through the history of painting and explored color and light and perspective masterfully before he decided to reinvent art by becoming a cubist.  If you ever had the great fortune to meet Picasso and ask him how to be a great painter, and he answered your question (he was notorious for being cryptic). He would likely tell you to teach yourself the history of art.  It’s the same in music. You need to know the past in order to forge ahead.

So my advice in today’s blog is to learn to listen to new things. Be aggressive about it. Dig into the info on bands you love and find out what their influences were. Then listen to those bands/artists. This will take you down new paths that will provide inspiration.

In my next blog I will post a list of some great bands that you may or may not know. It’s impossible to be comprehensive but the list may introduce you to a few names that you have never heard. I also encourage every reader to post band names in the comment section. DO NOT POST YOUR OWN BAND! That’s a cheap trick and we reserve cheap tricks for me.

© 2012 Brad Morrison/ Billiken Media


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.


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

Promote Your Blog

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 #4 Getting a gig (part two)…….

I’ve heard that 95% of the bands that form never play a gig. I’m not sure if I believe it but I have seen no evidence to overturn this statistic.  I’m not sure if I believe it because every band I ever played in played gigs, usually lots of them. I was always the one to book these gigs. Along the way I learned lots of tricks. On top of this I opened and ran a nightclub for two years.

If you are every feeling lonely just decide that you are now a promoter. I don’t even think that you have to tell anybody all you gotta do is decide to do it and your phone will start ringing. You’ll pick it up and a kid will say “Hey my band’s great can I send you our promo package and  can you book us on a Saturday night?!”.  You’ll say something like “How did you know I was thinking about booking shows at the Knights of Columbus Hall and who gave you my cell number?” The kid will clam up. He got the number from a friend, who got it from a friend, who got it from a fanzine, that wrote about it ’cause some kid reporter heard about it… Here’s the lesson in that. Trying to call a promoter is actually impossible. They will screen you out, duck your calls and generally be a pain to get in touch with until they have a reason to book you.

When I ran the nightclub I had a secret rule. If everyone asked me if I was booking a certain band, after about the third request for the same band, I’d say ‘ I’m thinking about it. Ya think I should?” When everyone in the club was talking about the same band I would book them figuring that all the kids would show up to see it. This rule worked. So here’s the key. You got to be talked about. You’ve got to be popular with the club’s regulars.

I guess a good place to start talking about getting your band a gig is to talk about your first local show. Later I can move on to getting out of town gigs and playing giant stadium shows where you arrive by Jet copter.

Here’s a little story that cleverly conceals a lesson to trick you into learning something.  There was this Chapel Hill NC band, for this story we’ll call them small 23.  The funny thing is there was actually a great band from Chapel Hill called Small 23 and they were buddies of mine. This story didn’t happen to them I just feel like misusing their name. SO this band gets together a smokin’ set and wants to play their first gig. They call and call and call the only promoter that books local bands onto bigger bands shows when they come through town. Of course they get nowhere. They try to talk to him at the nightclub and he takes their tape (yeah this was long before the last ice age) and gives em the brush off.  They talk about renting a hall and booking a show (sometimes this is a great idea) and decide they are too lazy and since they have no money and their drummer usually gets drunk and breaks things that this isn’t a good idea.  So then they hit on a good, stupid idea. They plaster the town with posters for an upcoming show featuring a band that’s out on tour but not stopping in Chapel Hill. They make up an all ages club and, of course, list themselves as the opener.  Two days before the show they go around and stamp “sold out” on all the posters.  When their friends call them they give out vague bullshit stories. The night of the show kids wander around Chapel Hill looking for the Gerbil’s Lunch nightclub. By Monday they’ve spread rumors that the show rocked. By Tuesday the rumor sweeps the clubs that it was a hoax.  By Wednesday the paper writes a “local band creates stir with hoax concert” story.  By Thursday the promoter ads them to the bill for a show the next month. (ever notice that whenever newspapers write about rock bands they always call it a concert.  It can be eleven under age thrash bands at the skate park and it’s still a ‘concert’) Why’d they get the gig? Everyone knew who they were and were talking about them.

This is just one trick and it worked one time. The point here is to understand that band’s need to be talked about in order to get popular.  Let’s move on I’ll come back to that later I’m sure.

So you put together a press pack. That’s the fancy word for a cd, picture of the band and press clippings.  You don’t have any of these things, then fuckin’ make them. Have one of the girlfriends take photos, ( for god’s sake dress like a rock band), make a recording of the band running through a short, well-thought-out set. You record this in your practice space.  For the press pack write a biography to start. If no one in the band can read or write then, once again, the girlfriend earns her keep.  I’ll talk about getting press in another lesson. There is a great deal to learn there but for the moment it doesn’t matter that you have no press.

Look around your town, or next large grouping of humans commonly called a city.  Are there clubs? Do these clubs book bands? No clubs, no shows then you must do it yourself.  The art of setting up gigs from scratch has lots of little details. I will deal with that in another blog.  I’ll assume that there is some hole that has shows booked in it.  Ask around or just call the club and find out who books the shows.  This person is your target. YOU DO NOT APPROACH THE TARGET DIRECTLY AT FIRST.  Should I repeat that? Nah, I’m too lazy. Go back and read it again.  Look back to the beginning of this blog. Imagine you are a promoter. Every idiot on the planet will be trying to call you. There is no way that you’ll ever get through to this person by just calling the number six thousand times a day. You want this person to have heard your band’s name from other sources before you ever call him (her) (I am not going to spend much time trying to be gender neutral. The whole world of rock is ambisexual. Let’s leave it at that)

Where can this mythical fantasy creature called the promoter hear of your band. Here’s a few ideas and there are lots and lots more if you actually apply yourself to thinking about it.

1. The cleverly planted hot girls that attend his shows and then he tries to pick up after the show. Of course they are girlfriends of the band, though they never mention that fact as they babble about how they love your band.

2.The fake posters that announce your CD release that you plaster around town.

4. T shirts, that you hand make and are worn by kids that attend his show.

5. The local college radio station where you went to the trouble of getting to know one of the DJ’s and he plays your live practice CD or talks about your fictional shows.

6. Your highly visible arrest that’s on the front page of the paper ’cause you’re the first band to steal a US Navy destroyer.

You get the point. Make noise. Get your name around.  After a few weeks of planting your band’s name it is time to move in. Now you go to the club. Have your press kit in your bag but don’t worry if you don’t hand it to the guy. You want to meet him and more importantly you want him to meet you and remember you.  A great time to go to the club is when a band that is playing there are loading in during the day. You just walk up to the guys humping gear and offer to help.  The promoter may be there early counting the last night’s door.  You want to start to live at this club without ever showing up for a show and standing on line. Go there early, go there late. Better yet get a job humping beer kegs a couple of nights a week. Become part of the scene.  Always remember that getting ahead in the music business depends on who you know and who knows you.

Your too lazy to do all this work? Here’s a trick to get on the phone with a promoter. Call the number and when you get his machine leave this message “I need to rent a PA for a private gig and all the local companies are sold out. Someone told me you know the name of some local sound rig guys..”  It might work because you are not asking for a gig and your asking for something that costs him nothing other than time.  (Oh yeah, here’s  a BIG point whenever you talk on the phone to anyone in the business. Make it short and then hang up. NEVER CALL SOMEONE UNLESS YOU HAVE SOMETHING INTERESTING TO THAT PERSON TO TALK ABOUT EVEN IF YOU HAVE TO MAKE IT UP) or try this one “I’m booking a show and I’m looking for local opener. If you have any ideas give me a call.” This will often get a response since he thinks he can get a local band off his back by finding them a gig elsewhere. It’s also  a good way to find another local band that’s gotten itself close to getting a gig. You call them up and pick their brain for ideas. The first time you speak to him don’t ask for a gig. When you ask for a gig he clams up. If he knows that you’re in a local band and you don’t ask for a gig after a while it will start to bug him ’cause everyone always asks him.

Of so now we’ll assume that you have met Mr. Gig, the promoter.  He’s heard your band name around and he sees the name in various places. Now is the time to start to ask for a gig.  There is one rule in asking for a gig. You don’t talk about how great you are, he’s heard that bullshit before and won’t even hear the words that come out of your mouth instead you talk about how POPULAR you are. It’s that simple. He will want to book you when you convince him that your band will draw fans to the show. That’s all he cares about. Try showing up with forty women as your support and ask for a gig. Then turn around a say “Everyone raise their hand if they will come to see my band play” forty hands go up and he offers you a slot.  (By the way when you play you gotta draw and tell your friends and fans to clear out the second you finish. Nothing moves a band up the ladder quicker than and half full club that empties for the second band)

This process may take months for the first gig but keep at it. Keep pushing to get the band’s name around and keep in contact with the promoter. DON’T CALL. Go at it a different way. Drop him a postcard. Leave a note under his windshield wiper. Be cheerful and friendly, never aggressive and annoying. Keep talking about one thing, how popular you are. He will try to brush you off. The way he does this is by saying “Call me”. When I booked a club I gave the local gigs to the bands that could draw a crowd and that I KNEW PERSONALLY.

 In case you don’t believe me I will let you in on a big secret. When Frank Riley of Monterey Peninsula Booking calls to book a stadium show for Phish, or Neil Young or the Foo Fighters he only talks about one thing to the promoter- how popular the band is, this is called the pitch and once the promoter bites then the talk turns to money, schedule and promotions. There’s more to come on booking gigs. Please ask questions ’cause this will spur me to write more and tell more stories that help you understand the way it all works.

[I posted a video on Youtube explaining why I am writing this blog. Check it out. ]

copyright 2010 Brad Morrison/Billken Media

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 #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