101 Tips To A Better Band: #9. Create ways to constantly get your ideas down... you need more than you think!
... so I have just shy of 25+ blogs and 70+ Tweets in draft form... some are well over a year old but for whatever reason, they were set aside.
Often it's because of the wording/rambling... but usually because of the timing. Sometimes I think some of the topics hit a little too close to home for who/what "inspired" them. Some of the blogs are #DearBands^10.
They always come from a good place in the heart though... but I gotta say... sometimes I just scratch my head as to what some people are thinking out there... or at least wish they'd be upfront and honest with what they're actually thinking.
I'm sorta comparing all these drafts to songwriting... I have lots of ideas in various states. Some flow naturally... some start with (what I think) is a great idea and take a little longer to develop/execute. This way I always have a deep pool of ideas to draw from. It can make all the difference in the world if you're a creative.
... and just like songwriting, you need to develop quick ways to get your ideas down... because you will forget the best ideas you have if you don't.
"Why aren't people taking us seriously?"
That's basically what it gets down to when I hear people grumble about why they can't find shows, or a manager, or a label, or sell cds, or merch, or get more people out to shows... or find investors. You name it, there's a good chance it falls under this umbrella.
This video might seem a little harsh at times... and you can sense the hesitation they have on certain topics (so they don't come across as assholes), but in my opinion, it's right on the money.
I've decided to do a sort of "Coles Notes" version for those who might not have the 30 minutes to watch right now. Oh by the way, I tried to setup the link to start at 6:46... the time before that is spent talking about a dog, new born babies, and poo.
So... in a short... this is why people don't take your band seriously.
... and I'm putting the headings in bold caps so the super impatient can skim through... and so you feel like you're being yelled at. I know what your hearing is like... since most of you don't wear ear plugs.. and most of you reading this are probably guitarists or drummers.
1. YOUR BAND PHOTOS AREN'T GOOD ENOUGH.
It's the awful, honest truth, we judge a book by its cover. Life is too short not to. Make sure you stand up to what's going on (aka considered professional) in your genre. Hiring a great photographer doesn't have to cost a fortune and that one great pic can last you a year or two.
If you look like hacks, you get treated like hacks. It might not seem original, but at least try to look like a band... as much of the time as possible. You will anyway if it becomes your career.
2. YOUR RECORDINGS AREN'T GOOD ENOUGH.
We've entered a stage of very affordable record production. There's a lot of misguided carobbyists (career hobbyists) who think they can produce, record, and mix their own albums... or their buddy can do it for a case of beer in his spare time. There's been a few great albums made in the past this way (often demos remixed after being shopped for a deal), but most often they fall short.
Experience, time, and talent... those are three important elements to the outcome of any creative project. When it comes to recording, rarely someone with all three is in the band or doesn't do it for a living already.
Will that change in the future?
Are we there yet?
... lol. No.
I could go on for a while about this but bottomline... do your recordings stand up to what's out there?
Don't just ask your friends and family what they think of your recordings. Actually put your best song between two successful songs on your iTunes playlist. How does it sounds? Then factor in the time/money spent, and people involved on theirs versus yours.
Does it stand up?
Do you need it to? <-- be honest
If it doesn't and it does, perhaps change your formula, and try again.
... backing up for a second... how are the songs?
3. YOUR SONGS AREN'T GOOD ENOUGH.
Now a good song is subjective... but... if you know your genre, and you know a few people with "great ears" within the genre, you'll know what your best songs are... and if they're in fact, good enough at all.
I've met a handful of people over the years who I think have "great ears" regarding "great songs". My old assistant Tyler, even at 17 years old, could pick out hits by new artists well before anybody else I knew. He loved discovering new tunes and has a real ear for it.
This is the #1 piece of advice for bands out there trying to do something serious with music... you can write cool songs that are self serving and please your imaginary fanbase... but you'll learn to love those "hit" songs that put you on the map... they're what can actually launch your career. It's hard to name a successful band that doesn't have a "hit" song behind them... regardless how far in the rearview mirror it is.
4. YOUR WEBSITE ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH.
Update it often. Constant quality content is queen these days.
There's also this misconception that simply buying your domain name and linking to your FaceBook or Reverbnation page is good enough... well it's not... and it's stupid to rely on these things in the long run.
What if they disappear overnight or fizzle out? What happens when people move on? You want these sites to feed into your main, personal website. The one you have ultimate control over. That's where you need to direct your core fans.
I use Weebly for my site... it's easy... and at least someone in your band should be able to figure it out in an afternoon... if not, you've gotta know at least someone who can help you.
I'm gonna go out on a limb though and say a weebly site is better than majority of the dated and clunky sites I see built by friends and family. Keep it simple and don't pad your content if you have nothing to talk about in your bio... nobody needs to read 37 paragraphs about a band that hasn't done anything worth mentioning.
You need three paragraphs basically... who are you, what have you done, where are you going. Your blog/YouTube/Twitter updates are for what you're doing.
5. YOU DON'T TAKE YOURSELF SERIOUSLY.
So many bands play the "we just want to get together in the jamspace and see what happens... it's just for fun... if it goes somewhere, cool" card. Well... as long as you know it's just for fun, have fun! My men's league hockey is just for fun... despite all its glorious moments (W 3-0 yesterday, 1 G) I ramble on about to friends and family.
If that's your attitude, it'll go nowhere... or the people in the band that want it to go somewhere will eventually dump the rest of the band once they find better people to work with.
Lots of successful bands are a collective of what I call "heavy lifters". The ones who get sh*t done... or at least don't make things more difficult for the ones getting things done.
The successful in any industry are hardcore lifers. If you want to do something that's hard, you have to make your goal not to simply "accomplish it", but to see it through... it's the difference between having a kid and raising one... since there's no real end goal if you're in it for the right reasons.
P.S. It was a garbage goal... but that isn't what they mark on the gamesheet. :-)
101 Tips To A Better Band: #7. Submit For Things (Grants/Awards/Etc.)... Even If You Don't Really Care About Winning
Another Juno Awards submission deadline passed yesterday... a handful of projects I worked on were submitted by the bands and artists... and a handful of projects were not.
In the past I never cared much... since I always felt like these types of things were out of my reach...
What's the point in submitting if you aren't going to win?
It costs money... I hate wasting money... and if I was to flush $50-$90 down the toilet... I'd hope the meal was worth it.
The thing is... it's not about winning... it's about giving yourself (and more importantly, your music) another opportunity (and approach) to get heard... this time specifically by industry folk. You're probably looking for help still... why pass up this really easy opportunity? This is a form of networking in my opinion.
Every week I get emails from new bands/artists... and every week I get a few "We're broke!? All we need is someone to help us out! We just need to get heard!"... someone looking for a deal routine... and me being me... I'll give them a half dozen ideas to consider to help provide solutions to their problems... if I think their music is good of course.
Huge pet peeve... and a sure way to get on my "wait... why do I care?" list... is shooting down every cheap (affordable) and easy idea. While it's easy to say "no" to everything... it probably took more energy to plead your case than to actually try something.
Submitting for awards/contests/grants/etc. probably won't bring you fame and wealth... well... from my experience at least... but it will get your music past some more industry ears. If your music is good or great, people will do their homework on you. If it looks like it could be worth/making money (important), they might want to get on board... or at least pass you along to someone who might.
So... with another Juno Awards submission deadline passing... as the old saying goes...
"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."
– Wayne Gretzky
It pairs well with this other old saying...
“Listen to your mother kids, aim low; aim so low no one will even care if you succeed.”
– Marge Simpson
Which one are you now... and which one are you going to be this time next year?
Ok... this is kinda part 2 to the last post... but if you know you're getting a good deal... don't push it. I used to just see this as people trying to negotiate... some people have been taught to try and negotiate everything. What's the harm in trying right?
The harm is you run the risk of coming across as a complete douche bag. A douche bag who either doesn't know the value being exchanged, and/or a douche bag who wants to leave the meeting feeling like they've totally screwed over the other party. That makes them feel awesome! Meanwhile in life, those types of people typically get screwed over constantly. We all know them... and nobody has the hard to tell them to pick better battles... or at least fewer... since they don't seem to learn.
In my opinion, in business, you should generally want do good business on both sides. Trying to screw the other party over, or even attempting to, isn't good business... and guess what else? It affects your reputation dealing with others. Funny how that works, eh?
So a quick recap... negotiate where you can, work out a deal if you can... there's no harm in no deal being made if simply no deal could be made... but don't try and push too far past a good deal. Sometimes that's what breaks a deal. I know it has on my end in the past... why would I want to work with someone who so blatantly showed they don't value my time? It's that whole "give an inch, take a mile" thing
Whenever I'm talking to a band about budgets, I know two things after about 5 seconds... Is their focus on the people involved or simply the costs involved?
If the focus is on cost, and it's outside their budget, they'll shut down the conversation pretty quick.
"We can't afford that!?" <-- Their brains.
"... just do some quick math... carry the 1... they want me to work for $3/hr." <-- My brain.
Keeping in mind there's usually 3-5 people splitting up a few thousand dollars of said budget... which I now laugh at because bands/businesses are really expensive if you can't stomach numbers past $5k or $10k.
If they'd done their homework, they'd have a ballpark idea what the costs involved are. If they actually didn't have any idea what the costs are, the next question they should be asking is why the costs are what they are. <-- Pro Tip For Life In General
When a band is genuinely interested in working with someone, and the costs seem to be a bit more than their initial budget, the next thing they'll do is ask if there's a middle ground or any flexibility... you know... negotiate! This doesn't mean low ball... this means find a way for both parties to get the important pieces of what they need. This is what a deal is... and don't confuse this with compromise... which in my opinion is settling for less by giving up some of your main objectives.
Of course, not everything is open to negotiation... but at least it shows that you're willing to try and make something work if you really want it to work. There are always ways to attempt to work out a deal... so many aspects of a recording (ex. songwriting, masters, scheduling flexibility, payment schedules, etc) can be used to help reach that deal.
One of the no-brainers for project negotiations is to simply cut down the number of songs you were aiming to do. Say you want to do a 10 song album for realistically the cost of a 5 song EP? Or a 5 song EP for the cost of a 3 song Ep?
I know you really want to end up with that 5 or 10 song project but... quality is more important than quantity. All the time. Especially these days... when one song is what's ultimately going to make the difference anyway... regardless what stage you're at... but especially early on.
Straight up... there's a shit ton of money related topics so I might as well tackle one of the easiest to deal with.
Odds are everyone in the band have different levels of income, and just as important, their own list of expenses and responsibilities. Life costs money... but your band, which if you're reading this you're trying to run like a business, also costs money to get up and running and maintain... way more money than most of you think.
A common problem discussing recording budgets is the one person who basically goes "I can't afford that."
It's a band expense... not a personal one.
Is the band supposed to be held back because someone has a lower income or higher expenses? What if one or two people in the band can handle the financial investments/costs of running a band while the other two can't? Is that fair? Is that unfair? I can understand it's easier politically if everyone contributes equally but life rarely works out that cleanly... especially when there's this many people involved.
The way around this... have a serious sit down a few times a year to see where people are at financially. You're a band. You're somewhat all partners in a business. You have to have the money talk sometimes.
There are guys I've seem bank roll the entire project for years and guys who've said up front they can bring no help financially whatsoever.
Both are ok... just know that if and when money starts to come in, the ones who invested get to put their hands in the pot first (or at least have way more say regarding what to do with the money... this also applies to potential issues with private investors), while the ones who didn't invest/contribute need to keep their hands in their pockets.
Really keep in mind money equals votes/say in the band... and the band needs to be your baby. Whatever baby needs, baby gets. You'll see this is common among the hardcore folk in any passion... or vice.
That alone should motivate you enough to do what it takes, see the big picture, and make sure finances get dealt with. Don't cripple your band (aka business, aka baby) trying to set your budget according to whoever is able to contribute the least, regardless of the reason. If you are, this should be a red flag it's just for fun and not really worth investing in in the first place
Right off the bat... some will argue this is the problem with music today. It's not about the music! Oh, it's still very much about the music... just as much as any other time period if you really want to argue the score. The thing is, we're typically introduced to new music online... and we don't browse the web with black screens... I've tried it on my barely functioning 2006 macbook pro... nobody wins.
... so assume their eyes are always connected to their ears.
Odds are if someone shows you a new band/artist, it's on YouTube, or Facebook, or SoundCloud, or Reverbnation, or Myspace (cough), etc. There's always a way to catch the eye right off the get go, put the listener in the head space/mood you want them in, and THEN deliver with your awesome music.
Don't underestimate how much we value appearance... as a species in general.
Think about something as simple as picking apples off a stand. There could be 500 apples, but given the choice, we choose the ones we like, and pass over the ones that are bruised... unless you're one of those people who intentionally pick bruised apples just to tell people you only pick bruised apples... you know who you are.
Care about your image... you will learn to depend on it.
It's what keeps the door open with potential new fans.
Pick some bands you like (that are appropriate), go through their photos, discover what you like about them and how they could apply to your band... the common thread!.
Hire a pro photographer, or at least someone you trust that's semi-pro. Same goes for stylists, graphic designers, videographers, etc. You don't have to spend a fortune but don't be cheap... aka budget of around 1/4 of what someone good and affordable costs. At least test the waters working with pro's to see what you're missing and/or what you could be doing a whole lot better.
Whether you're on a date, a job interview, or you're trying to sell a pile of dirt on Craiglist, present it in a way that catches the eye and creates interest. Effective and efficient advertising (dirty word I know) takes a little time and costs a little money. Be smart about it and you'll always be above those who were too cool to care about their image... since even if they say they don't... you can always tell when they do... you know who you are.
#DearBands: Stop Jamming.
I hate jamming... straight up.
I was originally thinking of calling this "Stop Practicing" because I dislike practicing just as much as jamming... but I don't mind practicing... I just hate when people show up to rehearsal to practice.
What's the difference?
Well, it get's down to what your focus is.
Most of the time when I hear people are getting together to jam, what they actually mean is they're getting together to get high, have a few beers, sit around, run the set, play 2 chords over and over pretending they're writing a song, etc.
Jamming is a focused, complete lack of focus, that bands will do 3-4 times a week, months on end, pretending they're being productive within their rehearsal space.
This is not productive.
This is hobbyist, recreational, weekend warrior, friends and family nod their heads when you talk about the band, shouda, coulda, woulda, in textbook form.
So still, what's the difference?
Practice: In a band sense, something that should be done on your own time.
When you shit the bed at rehearsal, take those soiled sheets home with you, and practice on your own time. Police yourself. You know what you have to work on if you have any competency in your ability whatsoever. It's one thing to run over a part a couple times in rehearsal in order to clarify something in context... but if you flat out can't play a part, don't know a part or the arrangement, or can't remember the words/melody. Practice. At home. On your own time.
Rehearsal: In a band sense, something that's done to prepare for shows and/or recording.
Although it does apply to preparing for the studio, usually the goal is to iron out the set... you're practicing the set... not jamming out the set... unless you 100% plan to jam it out on stage.
What you do in the rehearsal space is what you're going to do on stage... and bands wonder why they end up getting drunk and stoned at shows, spending huge amounts of time with dead air between songs, meanwhile still "killing it" to an empty room.
Writing: In a band sense, this can be mistaken for jamming, but writing is introducing new ideas with the goal they become new songs.
You can pretend your hero's get in a room and jam... but they're actually writing. It's premeditated. There are ideas brought to the table, a pecking order to vote up/down ideas, and there's focus. Most of the time they aren't doing most of their writing in the rehearsal space anyway... they core writers are doing that on their own time, and refining the ideas there, with the rest of the band.
The amount of times I've heard bands run over the same two chords for 20 minutes, truly believing they are breaking new ground, especially in the rock world, just to show the idea to the singer, and expect them to make some lyrics fit.
This is the wrong way to do it.
Sure some bands get lucky... I've seen it first hand... but most of the time trying to jam and stumble across a new song... it's going to suck. We all heard that song Paul McCartney and Dave Grohl did... they were "just jamming and it's what they came up with"... that's along the lines of what Paul said to a massive crowd... the ol' pre-song disclaimer.
Think about that.
Paul and Dave jammed... wrote a new song... and it was sucky.
... and they knew better.
... and you think jamming is going to work out for you?
... it's not a good choice... I'm telling you... as a friend.
Personally, I think they knew it kinda sucked (hence the disclaimer) but because of who they are, they knew people would eat it up... or at least forgive them for jamming when they could've been writing... then again some days you sit down to write and nothing comes out.
... I'm getting a little off topic, but you get the idea. Stop jamming unless the main goal is to simply have fun.
If you're trying to run your band as a business... every time you pick up your instrument, have a goal in mind. A goal to practice, to rehearse, to write, or as much as I hate to say it, even to jam (fart around). Your time is valuable, especially since you most likely have a day job and other commitments. Jamming should be at the bottom of the list once you get going, or at least once you decide to start going... because once you get going, you'll quickly learn how little time you actually have to spend playing music.
... yup, read that last bit again.
Ok... so I don't know if I'll actually hit "101 Tips" but I've decided right now I need a place to extend some of my #DearBands into mini rants.
... yes mini rants... rants under 10,000 words.
So the last week I've been going through a digital stack of demos submitted, and my ever growing list of bands to check out online. It's hard stomach at times, but when I have a spare hour or two, and I don't feel like doing something WAY better with that spare hour or two, I go through a 15-20 bands on the list, and email the ones I like.
I typically get a response 24-48 hrs after emailing... but some of the responses really show the person on the other end really didn't do their homework... at all.
#DearBands, do your goddamn homework!
Seriously... anybody emails you, check their signature, and be a dick. Put on your dick coat, dick glasses, and dick hat... and play detective! That's what Google is for... and Facebook... and ReverbNation, and BandCamp, and iTunes, and SoundCloud, etc.
I'm not saying I'm going to change your life, but it should take 90 seconds to do your homework on me, or anybody else that emails you, and have an idea of what they can bring to the table.
Some of you make such asses of yourselves in emails it's insane... insane and entertaining... meanwhile your band might be really good! Imagine it was a label, management, or another award winning producer (cough)... I'm pretty patient with people but time is always valuable... and after 3-4 messages back and forth... and it seems like whoever is on the other end is writing you back on their iPhone while sitting on the toilet... c'mon. I quickly forget about them and move on to bands that are ACTUALLY somewhat serious... or at least seem to be trying a little.
Most of you complain nobody out there is helping you and you're trying to get by on shoestring budgets. Do your homework, network, make the most of meeting anybody at any opportunity.
Do your homework.
As a friend.
Mike Langford - Official Blog
Being on both sides of the glass, I get the chance to wear many hats in the music industry. This is a place to share my thoughts, views, predictions, rants, stories and news!