"I hope this works."
... when you run a business... any kind of business... there are two points which are the toughest. When to (actually) start, and when to stop... and although I haven't worded it so eloquently in the past, I've learned the phrase "strength to begin and the strength to destroy"... but in the life of an entrepreneur there's also the courage to pivot relaxing with its feet up in the bottom of your gut.
... and your gut is what drives you... especially when have big plans.
I wanted to post something a week ago since it's already official but I didn't like what I wrote... I'm up to 37 unposted/unfinished blog posts now by the way.
... I routinely look at my schedule, bank account, personal life, career goals, etc. I had a list of conditions written down in my business plan before I took over the studio...
October 6th all those conditions were met.
At the end of the month I'll be locking the door to The Pawnshop for the last time... the place I've musically called home for the last 7 years... I've always used the poppies pinned above the door as my official total... and a reminder.
It doesn't feel like that long at all... and that's the scary part... how quickly it's flown by...
My mentors told me early on that money is the easy part... you can always find money for something that's worth it... it's the time you can never get back... and to be careful how you spend your time and how other people will try and spend your time to free up their own.
... and that was the major upside I saw with the studio... how I'd be able to spend not only my time but with the bands and artists I saw potential in...
I remember crunching the numbers, consulting with a few mentors, friends and family, putting together a 5-year business plan, taking out my 3rd loan, signing the lease, shaking a couple hands... and what it felt like standing in the live room the first day...
I'm a big believer in externalizing things... I think it's good to (occasionally... and in a reasonable tone) let the universe know what your thoughts are... and I feel important moments in life should be accompanied by a few simple words adding up to a timeless phrase to help mark the occasion.
"I hope this works."
I remember laughing to myself and saying it a couple more times in the middle of the room...
It wasn't a "wtf am I doing?!" moment... but I just wanted the universe to know that I wanted to look back on my time here, regardless how long or short, and for it to be a net positive.
... 60+ albums/EPs, 700+ songs... from the first guinea pig 3-piece band I found on Craigslist to the last Age Of Days acoustic EP... Luke Michielsen's first full length album... Charlie Hope's debut children's album and Juno nomination... 4 Parabelle albums (and 1 DVD)... rehearsals... writing sessions... xbox vocal breaks... Team Canada/Leafs hockey gatherings... work slowdown during any and all Olympics... the many rants, debates, arguments, hugs, high fives, and laughs... and the times I've been a trusted ear for artists to unbottle the dreams that drive them and the fears that hold them back.
You learn a lot about people when you're in emotionally demanding close quarters for long periods of time... you learn a lot about yourself too...
... so many good times.
So... am I quitting music/recording?
... well I shouldn't say that... but safe to say 99.9% not.
Considering the schedule... Dec/Jan things usually quiet down for the holidays and with Age Of Days heading out on tour Jan/Feb... and plans of touring a bit more in 2016, it felt like the right time to make the change.
... but the main thing about the change I'm looking forward to is having (a little) more free time and flexibility. There are other people I'd like to work with, other places I'd like to work in, and other things I'd like to do. The past year I've (loosely) started 2 more businesses I'd like to dedicate more time to... and tour... I really miss playing live... and I'm not getting any younger... apparently. (lol)
*"wrap it up" music fades in*
I'd like to thank everyone who's been a part of this chapter and helped make this little studio in Kensington Market the great place it's been. The people really do make the difference... anywhere... and I will miss the vibe of the market. It's one of a kind!
In closing, the great thing about the strength to destroy/pivot is you already have the momentum to start again and begin the next chapter.
... now... to find the right words when the time comes.
- Mike :-)
DRUM BEAT BLOG - Buy On Band Tips
This article popped up a few times on my facebook feed yesterday... and quickly opinions came with it.
For those who don't know, a "buy on" is a spot on a show/tour a band can pay for hoping the slot will put them in front of similar music fans who might like their band... and become fans.
So what's the big deal?
Well... I think it gets down to how you see this "pay to play" opportunity.
The main argument against is that any band or artist could simply raise enough money (the richest wins!) to get on a tour... and that the headliner (the one actually selling the ticket fans are buying) only cares about cash and not the quality of the band that takes the spot.
This may be true... and money does talk... but in my experience, a few things factor (talent, sound, attitude, professionalism, team, etc) into the selection of a band looking to... pay for a slot on a tour that's for sale because the established headliner knows it has value.
Trust me, bands care about who's opening or direct support. The live show is more important than ever so the bigger acts want to make sure the bill is worth every penny... even if the entire crowd is there to see them (the headliner). You can't steal the live show. It has a price and it has an expiry date.
Another valid argument is bigger bands should help smaller bands since they have the audience to help grow talent.
I agree 100% and if my soapbox ever reaches that height, I certainly would!
... that's how I felt several years ago at least.
The problem is once you're a professional touring act (or a professional in any industry I'm sure)... there's tons of people wanting to ride your coattails... for basically nothing in exchange... you know, because they asked, you now magically owe them something.
Maybe they're trying to do it on the cheap, maybe they can't afford to run the band as a business, maybe they're daydreaming hobbyists just looking for that "one tiny chance" to hit the big time... because that's all they need right? Opportunity! They have the talent so that should be able to make up for the money they don't have (want) to invest.
Once you reach a certain level the tables turn and so does your focus... and you can no longer help the majority of those bands.
... because they can't help themselves... and they wave that flag, high and proud.
They tend to be pretty unprofessional (on several levels) and/or they can't afford (or not willing) to run the band as a business... and when you've made the sacrifices (I'm talking financially, since nobody cares about what your time is worth when you aren't willing to invest everything in your own idea), a band or artist knows the value of that spot on the bill and offers it up to someone who's going to make the most of it.
... or has a boatload of cash.
Believe me, if your band sucks (musically, professionally, and/or personality wise), you'd have to offer a lot of money... so much they'd be insane not to take it. In that case, the band (and crew) probably won't care to meet you, interact to you, etc. You're just around for a bit. You're just a wicked paycheck.
That being said... in my opinion, the costs (per show) for this arrangement probably just goes towards the headliners crew. Is it so bad to offset some of the production costs for the headliner? Again... they're the one selling the ticket, not the opening band. They're the one the promoter is taking the risk on to make a profit. Follow the money and things make sense... and this isn't a bad thing.
There's the argument it's just as bad as radio being bought and sold. Well perhaps, but my opinion of radio is it also simply gets down to advertising space.
Radio campaigns can be expensive and a huge risk if you don't have the rest of your musical machine cranking along in the background (single and/or album, touring, marketing/promo, etc).
I get asked often by bands if I think buying on a tour is a good use of funds. Well? Chachi's first point in his post... is it worth it?
Often it isn't.
Why? (... assuming your band is actually ready.)
The headliner isn't big enough, not enough dates, weak bill over all, terrible routing/dates, etc. Sometimes it looks like a cash grab and I don't want to say "go for it" knowing the band is probably going to end up paying $250/show to play to 17 people for 5 nights.
That's just not worth it.
When is it worth it?
When you know the headliner thinks your band is decent and you know they can sell tickets.
... back to radio for a second. When you service a song to radio, you're hoping it a) gets added to the rotation and b) someone hears it... and likes it enough to find out who the band was.
This is asking a lot. Not everyone checks the charts Tuesday afternoon like I do.
So say you were paying $10,000 for your radio campaign, this is high or low depending on genre/market, but it's easy math for the time being.
Your song is amazingly 3 minutes long. You're played 3 times a day for 3 weeks.
9 mins/day X 21 days = 189 minutes or 3 hours 9 mins total playing time.
(... yes we don't know how many people this station reaches... and yes we're sort of a assuming this is only 1 station, in 1 market... but keep in mind 21 spins (3 spins a day X 7 days) a week might get you into the Top 50 on Canadian radio! I'm not joking!)
... stay with me here... yeah I'm sorta pulling numbers out of the air and I know every case is different! It's more about the concept!
... anyway, in our example, you've paid $10,000 for just over 3 hours of airtime. You're hoping someone hears it and hoping they like the song enough to follow up and Google the band.
... keep in mind, if that single takes off... you really should have some money around to tour and support it. Don't pretend money will magically appear giving you the ability to tour!
Now with a buy on, let's say it's $500/show to open for a band you know is going to put on average 500 people in a venue per night.
Simple math again, we have $10,000 to put towards a buy on. $10,000/$500 = 20 shows.
Sweet... 3 week tour! Let's just round it to 21 days.
Now, you have a 20 minute opening set.
20 minutes X 20 shows = 400 minutes or 6 hours and 40 mins.
I know we're not factoring in the costs of touring at this point, but you can see a major advantage in time already... we could even cut that buy on budget down to $5,000, do 10 shows, and have $5,000 left for tour support and be back where we were timewise for our radio campaign.
Here's' the thing though... you're hoping someone hears you on the radio. They are passive listeners. I listen to music playing in the grocery store, but I don't stand around in the cookie aisle and rock out if my jam comes on.
Exception being if Tame Impala comes on.
Again, these are passive listeners, being exposed to the radio... they're doing something else and your music has to catch their attention.
The live show environment is a completely different story. Those 500 fans waiting for your band to hit the stage are primed! Just like if you've ever been to a comedy bar, those inside are primed to laugh. It doesn't take much to get people engaged when they're primed. This is the huge edge to a buy on situation over radio. Active listeners.
If you have a great headliner (the one selling the ticket), you now have a captive, paying, engaged audience who will endure your entire set... and in this case, that's 500 people a night, for 20 nights.
You have your entire set to win them over.
That's 10,000 people... people you can meet at your merch table. People who might buy your album, buy your shirt, tag your band in pics and videos they post, etc. I'm not saying they all will... but if you leave a city with even 5 new core fans (1% in our example)... those seeds will grow.
Do the math.
Consider the cost vs value.
With anything in business, stop thinking you can't afford it and start thinking is it worth it?
The opportunity is there for bands willing to consider the opportunity... the price is often too high for those that complain about how the system works though... and it's usually a trickle down effect of excuses throughout their entire business plan. With any basic business plan, below "concept" is "capital". You have this great idea, but how do we fund this great idea? How do we get it out there in order for it to grow?
If you are in a band and do reach the level you have bands willing to buy on your tour... all I can suggest is do what helps you sleep best at night. Bad business comes in all shapes and forms but I think even though the industry is incredibly wonky right now, it's all for the best... growing pains.
Bands and artists have never had more control over their own careers or direct and instant access to their fan base. Many of the traditional gatekeepers have disappeared or lost power and the (smart) artists are gaining more and more control over what will become their industry... shaped by the fan and the artist through the exchange of ideas, entertainment, and dollars between them.
If you made it this far... thanks for reading and feel free to pass along.
Chachi is an awesome dude and an awesome drummer by the way.
- Mike :-)
P.S. Yes I know many people could shoot many holes in my radio vs buy on math. Please do! I'm aware of the endless variables but at least it'd get people talking about it... the realities at least. This shouldn't be a conversation bands think is on the downlow.
P.P.S. Don't get me started on "promoters" who ask bands to sell tickets to play shows in support of a headliner that can't sell the ticket... because you know, you can say you opened for them. It's just sad... sadder because that headliner often gets paid.
Today I remind myself why I choose to do what I do for a living.
Back in 2001, I was sitting in a York University classroom with a couple dozen other wide-eyed kids buzzing with their newfound post-secondary freedom. My course was based around computer science with dashes of graphic design.
My goal was to complete the 2-year program, find a job somewhere on the US west coast in the game industry, and work my way into doing music and sound design.
I figured the gaming industry was booming, eventually overtaking Hollywood blockbuster budgets, so it’d be a safe choice. It seemed pretty obvious computers in general weren’t going away, so it was as safe as death and taxes as far as industries go.
The chair of our program knocked on the door before entering to tell us the news.
We were free to leave the class to go find a TV… nobody made the first move, so nobody did.
We were on the second day of the program and still very much trying to make a good impression on our instructors. Besides, I was pretty sure CNN would have it on loop the next week.
Later that afternoon I was back at my dorm. CNN to the left of me, my Adobe Illustrator assignment (due the next day) in front of me. I started thinking about my motivations. I wanted to finish this/these assignments so I could go audition with a band on bass guitar downtown.
Work now, so I can play later.
I thought if I had a decent paying job, I’d eventually have enough time and money to spend more time and money on music.
I liked computers but I loved music.
I started thinking about how many people in those buildings were there simply for money… how many actually loved whatever game they were playing as their career. How many were hoping to make enough money to retire comfortably or at least afford the lifestyle they wanted to live around work and sleep.
Was it the gaming industry I wanted to get into or was it actually music? Something around music/audio was the end goal after all.
I returned from the audition later that evening and messaged a couple classmates still awake on ICQ. I made an appointment with the chair of my program the next day, and shared my thoughts with him. What he said always stuck with me.
“Education isn’t going anywhere, it’ll always be around when you want to learn.”
… it was the way he said it though… it was so casual… the way you give an old friend advice from the heart.
It was so f’ing cool.
He told me he’d dropped out early on and eventually went back in his early 30’s. He said he remembered me from the entrance test (I stood out a little at the time appearance wise) and he was planning on picking on me to scare the other students since he knew I could take it.
He said whatever decision I make, I’ll do well… and that I still had a couple days to decide… before the school wouldn’t refund my tuition.
There was no pressure to stay or go. It was just a much needed 15-minute chat about life.
Leaving his office, I’d decided to weather the potential storm. I wanted to do music… I’d rather fail in music than be just another with their prized pristine condition, American made Strat or Les Paul sitting on a stand in the corner of a room… who's perfected their delivery of the line "Oh, I used to", whenever someone asks them if they play.
I could do music.
It was a lot to take in at 17.
September 11 became my "New Year’s" in a way… or I guess my anniversary to remind myself what I’m doing with my life, and what “meaningful work” means to me.
My hobby outside of music/studio life is hockey... this is pretty clear once you get to know me. I love to talk about it and happy I'm surrounded by people who either share in the joy of adult rec sports or humor me by listening and asking... it is now (summer) playoffs after all!
I don't message (spam) people with Facebook invites about my games.
I don't invite (spam) people to like my team(s) Facebook pages.
I don't worry about how many Twitter followers my team(s) have so people take it seriously.
I don't daydream about how to play for a living.
I don't complain about how expensive it is.
It's my hobby. It's for fun. I love it. If I was running my hockey career as a business (attempt at a form of income) though... it's considered a money pit.
The topic came up recently, yet again, about bands and budgeting... and it got me thinking.
Here's the quick math on how much I spent the last year to play hockey:
Team 1 - $600
Team 2 - $600
Team 3 - $400
Team 1 - $500
Team 2 - $500
*This is obviously excluding things like sticks, repairs, new gear, skate sharpenings, etc. It really does add up though!
So easy math, over an entire year, I spent about $50/week ($2,600/52 weeks) on hockey, my hobby... which I love.
Feel free to do the math on what entire teams cost... but think about how much money that $50/week could mean to a band of 3-5 people. People who apparently love their band.
3 X $2,600 = $7,800
4 X $2,600 = $10,400
5 X $2,600 = $13,000
Now if you're in a band for fun, this might comes as a bit of a shock, especially if you've never really sat down and figured out how much being in a band actually costs you, even just for fun... or more importantly, how much money $50/week could've raised for recording, touring, merch, etc, if you're somewhat serious and career minded.
Something to keep in mind... if you're running your band as a business, this is money invested... not simply money spent... and these numbers are still quite low for career minded bands... plus it normally takes a few years to get things off the ground.
There's a great book called The Indie Band Bible (written by Mark Makoway of Moist) which has this golden advice under a "band tax". The cost to be in the band.
Bands cost money, businesses cost money, and you need money to get them rolling and keep them going. If you find a way to pool money in some way (in advance), you won't run into what I think is a common (amateur) mental roadblock of "we can't afford that"... without actually thinking more importantly (professionally) "is that worth it?"
What do you spend your $50/week on?
That's what your priorities are.
... and this gets factored in when negotiating budgets of any sort.
... and the same applies to how you spend your time as well.
... maybe some day I'll share with everyone how much I've invested in my business in order to turn making music into a living. It's pretty obvious that's where my priorities are if you look over my balance sheet... and I'm glad I wasn't afraid to run my business in the red the first few years.
P.S. Huge 3-1 win the other night by the way. :-)
... so it's March already... and I have to admit... life has been a blur since xmas... the good kinda blur though.
As always, I've been trying to find time to write... even something short... but no dice... so I'm forcing myself to write something (anything) tonight.
Studio life has been kick ass since December. Usually the holidays are pretty tame... people are busy spending money they don't have and then dealing with their credit cards come January. This is a problem when it comes to budgeting for band related costs and investments... this wouldn't be a problem if more people actually budgeted for things... but that's another rant. A couple mix projects and EP's showed up though which filled up the schedule in a hurry.
They say when it rains, it pours... and it's definitely been pouring the last few months. All the major projects: Jason James, One Fire, The Sole Pursuit, The Divided Line, Blind Race, and now Luke Michielsen who started his new album yesterday, have been/are going awesome... and the mix and oddjob/editing projects have been fun as well. It's nice to have some variety, but really nice having so much positive energy floating around the studio.
A couple highlights...
Tony Roost from One Fire Movement asked me to produce a single called One Day featuring several of the One Fire artists. A sort of urban/soul tune along the line of Bruno Mars/John Mayer... but with several artists trading off verses and all singing the chorus together.
I'm sure you can see how this could get complicated and turn into a jumbled mess. You have to be careful taking on projects like this... recording is far from simply recording most of the time... I'll leave that for imagination and for another rant too. But I signed on pretty quick because I knew the level of talent that'd be involved, and when you've got singers who can sing, and egos checked at the door, the track will sort itself out.
I think the tune will be coming out in the next month or two. Looking forward to sharing it with everyone... it's definitely a departure from the norm around here.
The uber talented Samuel Bisson was in to track cello on the Jason James EP. It's an acoustic guitar/vocal based project Jason asked me to produce and during prepro he tiptoed around the 'c' word. It's easy to name off a wish list in the early stages of a project, but if you need session players, you have to either know the right people, or start looking now.
Not many people know session players for strings (or horns actually) that can just "play". I met Sam on one of the Parabelle albums. Kyle (guitarist for Parabelle) found Sam through Google. Sam showed up and threw down. He's been my 1st call ever since.
I'd like to write a post on what I think makes a good/great session player. The biggest thing I feel they should add to a project though is production value. Exceptional players make the whole recording sound better... strings especially make things sound expensive.
Some people might puke at the idea of paying someone $100/hr (standard around here for session players, and most will get through a song an hour), but after you hear what great players can do, it quickly turns into ear to ear smiles and a "shut up and take my money" situation. One song in and Jason fully understood what I was talking about.
Here's a link to Sam's site: www.samuelbisson.ca. Definitely send him a message if you need the good stuff.
I'm only listing two highlights because I said a couple earlier (a couple means 2... unless we're talking about cookies or ice cream scoops), and because I don't want to play favorites.
I've found myself staying at the studio late and getting up early simply because I'm excited to get back to work. Again, meaningful work... with appreciative people... it's a two way street... there's a lot of extra hours that go unnoticed (and unpaid) on the production side... or probably in the entertainment industry in general.
#DearBands: It's amazing how much further you'll go if you say thanks instead of making (assuming) demands... just because you think someone is working for you. There's more than enough music being made these days... and more than enough good stuff to go around... and the good stuff gets priority, if given the choice.
Heading in for 9am to get some mixing done before we get back to tracking drums on the new Luke Michielsen album. This is album #4 (including the Slowking album) I've worked on with Luke. He told me to "go crazy" sonically during prepro... thanks Luke. :-)
P.S. I put all that stuff in the title because I'm curious if it'll show up in search engines.
P.P.S. Hoping to get some tour dates for Age Of Days soon... I miss playing.
P.P.P.S If you puke at the idea of paying a highly skilled musician $100/hr, quit music now if your goal is to turn it into a career... and hopefully you can go through life without ever needing to call a plumber or electrician.
"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. :-)
For the record… no pun intended… I'm on Team Grohl.
I agree 100% with the idea that musicianship should be viewed not only as an art form, but a discipline. As musicians, or creatives in general, we're always striving to be better… and despite how good we are, we'll always hear or see someone better than us, that makes us smile and inspires us to keep learning.
With that out of the way… I haven't seen Sound City yet. I've heard mixed reviews from "It's amazing! It'll change the way you feel about recording… Dave Grohl is a genius!!!" to "It's basically a 2 hour promo for Dave Grohl to start producing albums… oh, and he's also got a boner for some recording console."
I'm cool with the overview my friends have passed along… which is sorta why I haven't watched it yet.
One thing that's evolved from Sound City, is this current movement Dave's spreading about keeping things raw… you know… just getting in the jam space, hacking out some songs, playing loud, and keeping it real! Play from the heart! That's the way it should be! Just go! Just hit record, giv'er, and go!
That's cool Dave… but there's a lot of bands out there who now have this idea that whatever they come up with, if they care about it enough, and work from the heart, it'll get noticed, and should do well. That "keeping it real" is better than that overproduced, co-written (or worse, pro-written) Nickelback garbage on the radio.
Over the last year, there's absolutely been an increase in bands choosing to shy away from production, having no idea what the word actually means.
'Production' - It's basically hair, make up, and lighting for your recording.
Yes, it can be overdone… but typically "overproduced" is the result of someone who doesn't know how to use the tools, and/or abused them and/or chose the wrong production style for the song altogether.
Recording to 2" tape involves its own style of production and if you don't know what you're doing, there's a good chance you'll throw it in the weeds. The right amount of cleaning up and complimentary production style is what separates pro from demo… or worse… the insanely expensive professionally recorded demo. There's an analog equivalent to most of the "studio magic" we can do in digital these days. We can simply do it much quicker in the digital realm. Use the technology as a tool, not a crutch.
Even with Dave swingin' from the rafters shouting "we didn't use Pro Tools! We didn't edit anything! We recorded on tape! We kept it real!!!" There's still a couple crucial things to keep in mind... besides the talent level and experience of the people involved on that last album.
Foo Fighters has done really well. They played by whatever set of rules applied at the beginning of their career and now they can afford to do whatever they want. Foo Fighters have a lot of value. Dave's already made his money.
…a similar case could be made with Radiohead releasing the first really talked about "name your price" album and Beyonce's recently released "overnight, zero promotion, iTunes video album"… these are established artists. They already have a fan base… arguably more to lose if they mess up but more to lose means you had something to start with… again, they've already made their money… and they can still fall back on their old hits if need be.
Back to Foo Fighters… I can remember my brother commenting on how much better The Colour And The Shape (1997) sounded than their debut album (1995). I would've been 13 years old at the time… and I heard the difference in production. But it not only sounded better… it had more, "good" songs.
They say you learn the rules so you can break them. That's this in the real world.
… what a great lead up to my last point about Grohlology!
"because the deep [album] cuts don't keep the mansion running."
I was trying to find the quote I read a while ago where Dave basically said "I only record songs I think are hits… there's no point in recording anything else."
This should kinda feel like a gut punch to a lot bands out there waving Grohlology flags.
Does that mean you shouldn't record those other songs anyway?
... even though they might not be hits?
I still believe if it resonates with you, there's a good chance it will with others. But when Dave says "don't bore us, get to the chorus", and encourages bands to shove their idea in pop structure to start… I'm laughing on the inside when a band waves the Grohlology flag in my face and argues boring pop structure... meanwhile they can't even identify their own chorus… yet they're thinking their song should be a single… and should get them noticed... and help get them signed... and should be able to get on the radio... because it's that good. It's that much better than all the crap that gets played on the radio these days.
I encourage people to read the article above or at least check out the video that's included.
Just to clear things up, yes, lots of music out there is not aimed at radio and is quite successful despite never having a "hit". Music needs to resonate and I think that's what we all love about Dave… regardless what he's doing in music, he radiates the passion... he's giving 100%… or I guess 1 Dave Grohl Unit. Just don't confuse passion and hard work with a ticket for attention and riches. Dave's done well because he came from a great band in a booming pop culture trend that *cough* figured out how to write a hit *cough*, and then went on to figure out the formula to start writing hits for Foo Fighters.
… anybody want to tally up the similarities between Foo Fighter and Nickleback songs… err hit songs?
- Mike :-)
... so it's that magical day where everyone reflects openly about their past year. I wonder what people did back before facebook... seems like everyone is talking about overcoming adversity of some sort... personal, financial, professional, etc... for me though, December 31 just means another year of taxes/bookkeeping comes to an end... if anything, people should reflect on their birthday... speaking of... I turned 30 a couple weeks ago... and thank you. :-)
I'm aiming to do a real 2013 recap next week. In short though, looking back over credits (and projects on the drives) for this year... and the iCal... it's been quite different than the last 4-5... less projects, but better projects, less headaches, yet bigger (more important) headaches... not to mention a few twists in the plot I certainly wasn't expecting at all... lol. People are funny sometimes... the winds of change were a'blowin' pretty hard this year... change isn't always easy, but it's much easier when they're pushing you in the direction you wanted to, and should be going anyway.
I had a lot of time to think while out on tour... I moved to Toronto around 10 years ago now... I think I started at Pocket in Feb '04. Between there and freelance I made $4k that year. Total.
... but I never felt poor because I kept a full schedule... with what I felt was meaningful work with good people... and I never complained about it... and I wasn't ashamed to tell people of what I could and couldn't afford to do at that stage in my life... or what my priorities were... not always easy... but then again... meaningful work is part of my own "meaning of life".
I'm very grateful for finding mentors and friends early on who were older than me... they've definitely shown me a few time saving approaches through their own experiences/advice... the music industry is still going through an awkward teenage phase in my opinion... but I feel I have a pretty good grasp on why some people can turn their passion into a living... and that's why I don't have a panic attack when someone says the word(s) "resume" or "job interview".
I'm sorta just rambling here for a bit while Pro Tools backs up some stuff... off to a family dinner this evening which as far as NYE goes... sounds good to me.
Happy New Years everyone and all the best in 2014!
- Mike :-)
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?
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.
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!