It’s all about being famous again…..


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

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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.

————————MONEY——————————————————–

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 #13 Label? What Label?


I’ve gotten quite a few requests to write about Labels. Record Labels that is. Most of the requests come from readers that would like me to discuss how you start a label. This is a topic I know a great deal about since I started a few along the way. In many ways the reasons I had for starting up a label had more to do with advancing the interests of a particular act rather than owning a powerhouse label that helped decide what played out of your radio. The last label I founded was called Absolute A Go Go Records (’87). It was far and away the most serious and successful of the labels I either helped start (Incas records ’83) or started on my own (precedent records ’81) For a good portion of my life owning a label was like being in a band or going on tour, it was just what you did. Everyone did it, didn’t they?

Looking back I now realize that starting up a record label had a long and honorable history and the era that I was a part of, the rise of that evil movement ALT ROCK, has more in common with the way bands become successful now in the internet age than the 40’/50’s R & B single jukebox era. That means that the promotions and distribution problems I encountered are essentially the same ones you’ll run into now.

So here we come to the question, how do you start a label? I am going to approach the question from the angle that you, the reader, would like me to explain, in detail, how to actually set a label up and run it.
It’s quite simple. Make up a name, like MegaMonsterHit Records and go to your county government office. There you fill out a form saying that you are starting a business. Hmm, now you gotta check those little government generated boxes, Sole proprietorship? (this means you’re the boss and the only boss. You’re the label and the label is you) Partnership? (You and your buddy(ies) are gonna own it which means you will eventually want to kill each other ) Corporation Sub Chap S? (this is like a baby corporation. Until you have a relationship with an ACCOUNTANT this is not the way you will go) or finally Corporation. (Yes, that evil giant octopus business that is part of the conspiracy to destroy the world. Once again you don’t want this until your ACCOUNTANT gives you a good reason why). Now that you’ve got that over you give the county people $25 bucks (about) and they give you a business certificate. This is just a piece of paper that lets you walk into a bank and open a checking account. So go do that and come back. I’ll wait. Ok, now you’re in business…let’s move on.

Soon you will need a bar code. That the little box with lines in it that you scan at check out. Without this item you can’t get your CD’s in any real store. The real name for this little baby is UPC code.

Here’s a link that covers that topic:
http://guides.wsj.com/small-business/starting-a-business/how-to-get-upc-codes-for-your-products-2/
It can cost you about $750 bucks to get your own bar code. So you put that off until you absolutely have to do it. Remember though that it takes about 6 weeks to get one. That can feel like an eternity when you are waiting to launch a record. There are also some businesses out there that will give you a bar code using there master bar code number. This means you can get one for $50. That’s ok for your first release but if you are really gonna sell records you will need a bar code for your label. if you’re a hyper christian and you believe that the bar code systems is the mark of the devil and that is all controlled by the anti-christ then I suggest you write a few hit singles that say exactly how upset you are about it and that should balance some of your bad karma.

So now you’ve got the tools to actually do business and create a product. As I write this, physically manufacturing CDs is still essential. Sixty percent of music that is sold is still on CDs rather than downloads so for the foreseeable future you will be in the business of making CDs.

Now we got to stop and ask some basic questions.

Why are you starting this label? Is it just to promote your own band? Is it to help you make a mark on the local scene? Are you aiming to work your way into the big labels as a career? Are you starting your label with the ambition to become the next Richard Branson and build a mega monster multinational business. All of these are good reasons and there are quite a few more.

To add to these questions you’ve got to ask yourself are you going to sign other bands? Are you going to produce? All of the answers to these questions are going to help determine what you do to make your label successful.  For this blog I’ll assume that you are starting the label to release your own band, release projects that you produce and with the ambition for the label to continue on after you’ve reached enlightenment and become a eerie ball of light that we all worship.  I won’t follow this through all the way to the part where Mr. Spock does the mind meld with you and you bugger Simon Cowell.

So now you’ve got a label, and I’ll make another assumption and say you’ve got an album mixed waiting to be released. This is going to be the big step up as you launch your label and rise to fame.  We’ll also assume that your band gigs regularly and that you can gig in a couple of cities within spitting distance of your home base.

So you’ve finished the record now you scratch together $750  and send the project to disc makers with a list of songs for them to put on the back and a picture of the band ROCKING THE WORLD for the cover.  WRONG. You are far from ready to put the record out.

There are numerous things that you gotta do before you release a record. Skipping any of them is a good way to insure that your small chance of selling lots of records becomes much smaller.  If you do follow these tips you will be set up for a decent shot at selling enough CD’s to get your money back, which is the key to running a label for longer than one month. If you just wish to blow $4000 on putting out a CD and you’re dying to have 2000 copies of the CD in your mom’s basement for the rest of eternity then you should just plow ahead.

Things to do to set up a release, either your own band or any band you sign to your label.

1. Have the finished, mixed down, album MASTERED.  This means that a MASTERING STUDIO will take the recordings and change the EQ and Compression. They will make sure all the songs are at the same level and are as LOUD AS POSSIBLE. (this is a modern mastering thing and for rock it’s a must) They will make sure that all of the mixes blend together from the standpoint of playback EQ. This is essential. It will make the difference between an OK sounding demo and a POLISHED ALBUM THAT WILL ROCK THE WORLD. I will probably cover what you should do during MASTERING and how, on a basic level, it is done on another night.  Great MASTERING STUDIOS are extremely expensive. You can’t afford them. Don’t worry about it. If you post a comment looking for a reasonable mastering studio I will email you a couple of names.  You should be able to get a project MASTERED on the cheap for about $500. If you know a really good, pro studio with nice pro gear you can ask the engineer to Fix your record. Take it from me, they always need fixing. DO NOT USE THE SAME STUDIO WHERE YOU MIXED. If you do it is generally a waste of your money.

2. Plan and Design the CD cover art. This must involve someone that understands graphic arts and printing. Creating a great CD cover takes as much talent as writing a great song. Your package should stand out when it is in the CD rack. It should look professional and IT SHOULD SAY SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR BAND IT SHOULD HELP GIVE YOU AN IMAGE AND MAKE THE BAND LOOK SUCCESSFUL. Look at the covers of bands that are in your style of music. Which ones are great? Why?  Imagine the CD cover as a T Shirt. Is it a smokin’ T Shirt that will make your girlfriend look like a million bucks?  Some labels have built up the label image by having every release for the label have a certain “look” to the CD art. 4AD in England and Dischord in the US are two labels that used this trick to make the label famous and help the artists sell.

 Part of the artwork process is working out credits and liner notes.  I personally believe that a CD package that has something to read, something that fills out the band’s aura and image is a great help in turning a casual listener into a hardcore fan. Lots of bands have done this kinda thing well, look at Beatles (after Revolver), Rolling Stones (69 -79, with Sticky Fingers perhaps being one of the greatest LP packages ever), Pink Floyd, Genesis (Lamb Lies down on Broadway) The Clash (Sandinista)…….

3. Prepare a promo list. What’s a promo list? It is a list of names and addresses of writers, promoters and radio stations. You must compile this list before you send the record out to be manufactured. You also need to set aside some money to pay for postage. If you don’t do these two things before you order the record they will not get done later and the record will do nothing to help you get famous or help your label survive and flourish. It’s ok to only set aside $200 bucks it doesn’t have to be 3 grand.  But you must spend some money promoting the record. It is better to order less copies at first, like 500 instead of a thousand in order to free up some money to promote the record.  Not having enough records to sell is NEVER A PROBLEM. If you put out a record that goes wild and starts selling like cookies at a fat farm you will order more and they will arrive and that will be that. Never worry about how many copies you ordered. Only worry about how you are going to sell them. My record label Absolute A Go Go Records would always give away at least 750 copies of every release, usually more.  You want to send copies to any writer that writes about bands like yours, any college station that plays any rock at all, any promoter that fits into the band’s current plans for expansion. Don’t send records to big commercial radio stations. Don’t send records to Rolling Stone. Don’t send records to promoters that are far outside the circuit that you have set up by following the instructions from my earlier blogs.

Ok so now you have done these things because you are crazy enough to believe me. (I did after all do this kinda thing for about fifteen years) There are a few things that you need to understand in order to run a record label. It doesn’t matter if the label is for your stuff or for band’s you find in the frozen food freezer at Wal Mart these are fundamental truths.

First, nine out of ten records will not sell. This applies to your band as well. Face up to it or you will never succeed at rock. Most of the records that you release will only serve as a very expensive but necessary calling card to help that particular band’s career. Get used to this idea before you spend your first nickel. If you don’t you are gonna end up depressed and walk away from something that you could have done successfully if you had the correct attitude.

Like I just said most records don’t sell. You should be trying hard to sell them but in the end if you sell enough to break even, lose a little cash or make a little cash then you are doing it right. That can’t be right!!! Well it’s true. Let me explain why. If you look at any label that survives and perhaps thrives they have operated in this manner. The secret here is that when you release ten records and nine of them flop you still have one that sells. The one that sells will make mountains of money and will pay for the other nine, plus a month in Rio, a new Mercedes and the legal fees from the lawsuit that the successful act’s drummer creates when he supplies Jack Daniels to his hometown middle school. Get used to this fact or don’t start a label. If the act that goes big is your band, great! Congratulations! But the odds are against it. If, on the other hand, your band releases 6 albums over five years and finally the last one sells well then the label served its purpose. The most likely way your band will make it big is to slowly, steadily become popular and grow to the point where a great song can become a hit record.

In a music market where downloads are rampant and will continue to be a fact of life it will be extremely hard to make money with a label.  Instead you need to view the label and the CD’s it releases as a machine that helps the bands get ahead. The real cash will come from concerts.

Since this is the new reality it is only a matter of time before labels will demand, and get, a cut of the band’s live money. Perhaps your label will be the one that rewrites that part of the Rock Book.

This brings me to another point. The price of your new releases WILL BE $4.99 or $5.99!!!! This is not negotiable. Each release that is over a year old will be priced at $3.99!!!! The days when CD’s sold for $15.00 or $20.00 are over. The major labels will realize this fact when they are dead and buried. You need to realize it now.

Two years ago a Blue Grass band called Fetish Lane ended up hanging out at my house after a concert. They hung around drinking heavily and playing old country songs on guitar, fiddle and banjo. Nice guys living the dream of being Hillbillies. (I’m not sure what planet this dream comes from) This band played lots of hippy festivals during the summer. They had a couple of CD’s out and they were bragging about the fact that their CD’s sold about 2000 each per year. In Hillbilly land 2000 records is almost a gold record. With the cost of recording and manufacturing the CD and paying the girlfriend that hauled the merchandise table around they figured that they were making about $5000 a year on CD sales.  Like everyone else they sold their CDs for $15.  I was in a preachy mood so I ended up arguing with them until the sun came up about the price of their CD.  Since they were living the Hillbilly Dream they did the idiotic thing and decided to listen to me. They lowered the price of their CD to $4.99.  In the next year they sold TEN TIMES THE CDs! They made four times the money and, most importantly,  they had TWENTY THOUSAND fans listening to the CD. Fans started buying extra copies for friends and relatives. If you are selling your CD for $3.99 you are doubling your money on each sale since even the most expensive CD pressing deal will cost a lot less than $2.00 per disc to manufacture and package. The idea that something you buy for a buck or two, must sell for $15 or $20 is insane. Most other businesses are happy if they can make 10 or 20 percent. The music business screams bloody murder if they don’t make 1500% or 2000% on their product. Smarten up. If you sell your CD for five bucks kids will buy it to support the band and not bother with the hassle of downloading it and ending up with a burnt disc with no art.

More on running a label in future blogs………………………………………………………………….

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Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010