It was only a few days ago that I was ranting on about how failing is winning. Today it seems the Lazy Susan has spun towards an ugly beef and black bean sauce, known as, success within the music industry. So here is a little piece on advice for bands starting out.
For some time I have been trying to get my head around what the term ‘success’ actually means. But the reality is, that success is in the eye of the beholder. Success to some may be the small things, for example, to write a song and play it in front of a crowd, to that person and their goal, this is success. They completed what they set out to achieve, even if it was only playing to the dude at the bar and your mum and dad. Where as to some, success equals fortune and fame. This maybe a goal but to most it is an unrealistic dream. It is simply like winning the lottery and if that’s what you set out to do, those expectations are only setting you up on a path towards failure.
I put out to my friends on Facebook, what they thought was the major reason for bands failing to succeed and some advice for bands starting out. The feedback was overwhelming and actually quite down the line of what I was thinking. It was good to know that people thought similarly to me on this topic. I never like to hold back on my thoughts and for one, I don’t like to make excuses for anything I do. To me, excuses are a copout, they are weak and when you lack any accountability and throw blame at others, it’s pretty lame. It is bizarre to think that I have been involved in the music industry and actively playing in my band longer than anything else I have done in life, what was I thinking?
In trying to write a list of things for the topic of this post, advice for bands starting out, I was trying to think of everything I would have done better, stuff I would have done a little different but then I realised, I wouldn’t change a thing. I have definitely learnt a lot along the way and have a shit load of advice I can give from my experience with my time in Bronson. But it’s hard to write about advice for bands starting out, when I honestly feel like I have done everything I wanted to do. I know it sounds wanky to say that, but I really don’t care. Acknowledgement of your achievements is an extremely powerful thing to do.
I’m getting side tracked though, this is not about me (apologies for my rant), this is about anyone who is looking for advice for bands starting out, anyone starting a band or anyone who just want’s some tips on launching anything really. To be honest, a lot of what is written below could be used in regards to launching anything in a team environment because that’s what a band is right? So after collating all of the feedback and my own thoughts, this is some of the advice for bands starting out, according to the people (note there are probably a lot of other things that contribute to this discussion. There are plenty of so called ‘experts’ in the industry and if you would like to add some more spice to this succession curry recipe, feel free to in the comments below):
A list of advice for bands starting out
1. High Expectations and no goals – Just use the analogy of climbing a mountain, when you decide you want to climb a mountain, you’re not going to start with Mt Everest straight off the bat. You might try your local hiking track , then move on to 1,000 steps Ferntree Gully (which is crazy hard also), then you might try something harder, you get the point right? Reduce your expectations, set achievable goals and plans to get there. Hitting those goals can be very fulfilling and gives you the encouragement to take that next challenge. But don’t set the bar too high. Don’t discount an end goal, but you need a path of little goals to get to the final destination.
2. Poor work ethic – Seriously, if you don’t want to work hard for it, it’s not going to happen on its own. Typically you will have 3-5 people in a band and everyone needs to pull their weight. As the saying goes, you are only as strong as your weakest link. Everyone needs to understand the minimum expectations of being part of the project and the consequences if they don’t fulfill these. I know this makes it sounds like a job, but if you are going to take it seriously, sometimes you need to treat it that way. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to be fun. If you want to smoke bongs and chill out, maybe you should think about something a little less goal orientated, like Video Games.
3. Lack of business skills – In my opinion, probably the most most important part of creating a commercially successful band, along with song writing abilities. Business skills revolves around everything that isn’t music related, whether it be organising tours and shows, creating marketing, budgeting, PR plans and networking within the industry. If no one in your band is good at any of this, you better get someone involved who can or someone better learn quick smart, or you will be floundering in your mum’s basement for a long time.
4. Lack of Originality – What is originality these days anyways? Meh, what is success? It is a debatable topic really. I do think originality is not just the sound of what you are producing, it is the total package. The music, the image and the attitude. A new favourite quote of mine from a book I read this past year, from an inspiring book that I totally recommend any creative person, called ‘Steal Like an Artist’. This is not the specific quote but it went down the lines of, borrow from one and you will be labelled a stealer, borrow from many and it will be considered creativity. It makes sense, how many new idea’s can you have today? Everyone is inspired by someone. Take all of what inspires you and make them your own.
5. Persistence and Desire – It is easier to quit than to push on through the hard times, I must admit in a decades journey I have thought about throwing in the towel plenty of times. But the thought of not being involved with the band anymore is one that I could’t seem to handle. While I have the ability to continue creating, performing and hanging out with mates, why not continue this thing I love? It’s easy to quit, but with a hunger and desire for your music, great things can happen. Your next opportunity is only around the corner and typically most people quit, when that big opportunity is waiting for them. Winners never quit and quitters never win.
6. Learning how to write good songs – While I am no ‘real’ musician, I understand the importance of constructing a good song is truly and art in itself. As Gary the guitarist in Bronson says, it only takes one song. Further to that Fieldy the bass player from Korn put it so well, it doesn’t matter how good your chops are, if you can’t write a good song, don’t bother (insert Hetfield voice) because nothing else matters.
7. You’re actually pretty shit – Sometimes you really just aren’t that good. The ability to receive feedback in this instance is crucial to becoming better at your art. There are plenty of stories of great musicians who didn’t start off so well, Elvis was told after his first show that he should give up and continue driving trucks. He took that advice on board and worked on his craft to become one of the greatest artists of all time. Perseverance is a trait that separates the winners from the losers, and your ability to hone your craft is one, which will set you apart from the rest of the noise. Check out this article on why failing is winning for some more tips.
8. Understanding a want vs expectation – Simply don’t be a douche, having a set expectation that you deserve some level of achievement is just stupid. It is great to want an outcome, but to have blind expectation is just dumb. Just as respect is earnt not given, you need to embrace this. Nobody owes you anything, let alone nobody really cares. But if you do a lot of the things mentioned here, it can only help with how you want to succeed.
9. Not enough Hawaiian Shirts – Ok this was a selfish one a friend of mine pointed out. But what I wanted to point out from this, is don’t be afraid to be different. There is so much beige in the music industry, for example in the Metal culture, which I am involved in, so many people seem to look the same, dress the same and act the same. It is just same in so many other music cultures, Indy folk and their op shop gear, hip hoppers and their homie G stickered hats. This is a personal opinion of mine, but I think that’s just f%$cking boring. Push the snooze button, for all those that claim they are different. Meh shut up! But standing out from a huge over populated band crowd is even tougher today, you either sink to the bottom or float to the top, so don’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd doing something different.
10. Team Work – Remember there is a group of you, make sure to share responsibilities. It will be team effort that will allow the band to gel as a unit. Make sure that not one individual feels the burden of organising stuff, whether thats related to the actual music or business related activities. How many times have I heard people say things like ‘well I’m not an organising kind of person, I’m a musician’. Well that’s nice, but I’m sure there are other things you can help out with, involvement from all can only be for the greater good of the project and help with not letting specific members burn out from all the responsibility and really, its just selfish.
11. Killer live show – Well this one is pretty self explanatory. Go out there and entertain, thats what being part of the music industry is about. People pay money to be entertained, whether precision playing and creating the ultimate music experience or if its a ridiculous over the top energetic live performance. What ever it is, you need to WOW the audience, otherwise, what’s the point? There is none really, get the f$%k off the stage, sounds harsh, but seriously, I don’t think live music performance is your thing. You’re probably better off trolling in your bedroom.
12. Image – This is often a contentious and debatable subject. I do think that picking something the whole band is comfortable with for some level of consistency will always help. I mean you can can go way over the top, eg. Slipknot and Kiss, or you could have the attitude of looking like you just got out of bed. It really doesn’t matter, but please, be consistent in your message, especially of what you actually look like.
13. Be your true self – Simply don’t play music you think is popular, play music you love.
14. Get rid of the ego – Don’t be a dickhead really. The music community in Australia is small and so very tight, just like the inside of a rubber glove? The word can get around quickly if you are a dickhead. Show respect, be nice, it’s not so hard, common courtesy and manners goes a long way. Don’t be a band that walks around with some kind of entitlement, it will make you no friends. My personal pet peeve is bands that take ages to get off stage after their set. You know the ones, telling each other how awesome they are, just get off the f$%kin stage mate. We all have a job to do, do your thing and pack up as quick as you can, respect the other bands that are sharing the stage with you.
15. Courage – Yes we all have our insecurities, but if these insecurities are holding you back from getting up there and putting your music out to the world, then you may need to rethink whether or not this is for you. It sounds harsh, but some people are just not made for being on stage. As much talent as you may have, if you fear being judged then your in for a horrible ride. Thick skin and the ability to take criticism is all part of it. People don’t realise how good feedback is, it lets you know where you need to improve. Although sometimes, there will be plenty of baseless opinions, that type of shit you just need to ignore.
16. Don’t make excuses – Excuses are lame. Don’t blame and make excuses, take it on the chin. A real person takes ownership of all bad situations. Sometimes you need to grow a pair and be accountable. The other thing, which really rubs me the wrong way, is the old adage of success in this industry is not about how good you are, it’s about who you know. Well refer back to point number 3, business skills and networking, make your own luck and network with the people you know can help your music career. Write a list of everyone you know can help your progression and begin that relationship now. Don’t make it an excuse, make it a plan.
17. Have Fun and don’t take any shit – If it’s no fun, then why are you doing it? If someone is being a dickhead call them out. It’s simple, communication in whatever form, whether it be your band mates or those outside of it, tell them how it is. You will be surprised by how being candid with people can result in a great relationships. Some people feel they need to flex muscle, sometimes you need to flex intelligence.
18. Think outside the square – The music industry is very much a different place to it was 20 years ago. For some reason so many people are still stuck on this idea of ‘build it and they will come’. Whilst endless touring can be a formula to doing well, there are so many other ways to go about it in todays tech society. Don’t dream of landing some kind of record contract, that is so 1990’s. DIY self managed is the future and most profitable model. Be brave and be different, continue to stay relevant, there is so much noise out there, do everything you can to stand out from the crowd.
So there it is, a not so concise look at advice for bands starting out. Thank you to all who provided some input, it really did help in creating this list. I’ll be honest, this is all from experience and I don’t know everything, that’s for sure. There is probably a lot more advice that could be added to this. I am pretty sure if you follow most of these rules, this can be a recipe for a successful and fun music career.
Remember that point number one is extremely important for setting up your success, because success as earlier mentioned is in the eye of the beholder, create reachable goals and expectations. I only wished I knew a lot of these when I first started out, it would have saved me a lot of headaches and friendships. If you are reading this for some tips on your own musical journey, I wish you the best of luck. It’s not easy, but its a heck of a lot of fun, stay true to yourself and succeed in what ever way you want to. I hope this advice for bands starting out will help guide you on your way. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.