Being in a band is cool. You get backstage access, tons of drugs, free drinks and people just keep handing you money. Everyone tells you how great you are and the phone is ringing off the hook. Legions of fans come to every gig to cheer you on. They get tattoos of your band logo and wear the band’s T-shirt every day. Private jets, limos and fabulous vacations. “That ain’t working! That’s the way you do it; get your money for nothing and your chicks for free,” (Money For Nothing, Dire Straits, 1985).
Alright, back to installing microwave ovens and moving color TV’s. In reality, being in a local rock ‘n roll band is not like that at all. Maybe life is like that for The Eagles or The Rolling Stones. They’ve certainly earned it. But for the struggling musician, it ain’t so easy.
First, you have to find a group of musicians that you’d like to spend the next several years with. I’ve spent almost 8 years with the four men in my band. There has to be some sort of friendship there right from the start. Luckily for me, there was. I’ve spent countless hours with these four dudes creating a four-hour rock ‘n roll cover show. They are like a second family to me. We do every gig together, for better or for worse. All for one and all that stuff. Every member is crucial to the band and it just wouldn’t be the same without them. That being said, it’s not always sunshine and flowers. There are five different band members and that means five different opinions, five different schedules and five different personalities. Have you ever stood in front of jukebox with a friend trying to pick one song to play? It can be a full-blown argument! Try choosing 40 songs that will be performed over and over, gig after gig. I’ve picked songs to perform that no one else is interested in and vice versa. One must be careful about choosing a beloved song. Of course, our band’s version won’t sound the same as the original and hearing a song repeatedly for years can erase that loving feeling, if you get what I’m saying.
Great! You’ve got some guys and you’ve learned some songs, let’s get out there and play! Before you pack your gear in the car, there are some things you need to do first. It’s important to have fans. How do you get fans? You need to talk about your band non-stop to your family, your friends and even the nice young man bagging your groceries. You definitely need business cards, an email address and a Facebook page. Oh yeah, you also need a demo CD and a press kit. Here’s a tip: get a guy in your band that knows how to record a band, has the recording equipment and loves recording and mixing. Studio time is crazy expensive. You have to play the songs correctly, no perfectly, and then pay someone to mix it all together for you. Then, you have to pay someone to make a lot of copies. You need several paying gigs to pay for your studio time, but no one will book you without hearing your band first. That’s kind of how things work. You should probably keep your day job a bit longer. Okay, the CD is done and sounds great. Get those tunes out on Facebook, Reverb Nation and any other site you can think of. Don’t forget to write a riveting bio of your band for everyone to read. Hopefully someone in your band is a good writer. (Yeah, that’s me.) Someone also needs to pay for a website and update your social media outlets regularly. You need to keep your fans interested and engaged.
Alright, you’ve got your press kit, Facebook page and demo CD. Time to call, email and visit bars in your area. Guess what? Most bar owners and promoters don’t have time to talk to you on the phone. They may or may not return your email and they definitely don’t have time to listen to your CD, but they won’t book you without that CD. (I know, it’s really frustrating!) Maybe they’ll take a quick look at your Facebook page and see how many “Likes” you have and read what kind of band you are. The first question most bar owners/promoters ask is, “How many people can you bring?” If your band can bring 100 people, you’re in. It doesn’t matter if you sound horrible and your guitar player barely knows how to play. If your lead singer forgets all the words and just jumps around the stage spitting water on the crowd, that’s fine, as long as you bring 100 people to the bar. Yeah, that’s right, all that practicing, recording and arguing about song choices…it doesn’t matter nowadays. Many local bands talk about this problem. Bar owners want the band to be responsible for filling the bar and making the bar a ton of money. A lot of bands think that bar owners are responsible for getting people to their bar. The band is the entertainment provided for the bar patrons. I feel that if a band is talented and entertaining, people will stay, at least that’s what I hope for. Sometimes two or three bands will do a show together to get more people to come out. If you’re a cover band, you have a better chance because people will recognize your songs, sing along, have a good time and drink a lot. People have a low tolerance for original music in the suburbs. Playing original music is a whole different blog. Let’s stick to cover bands.
A bar owner has agreed to book your band, now let’s talk about payment. Let’s see…if we charge a $5 cover, the band gets $3 and the promoter gets $2. The band brought 30 people to the gig, which comes out to $150 total. That’s $90 for the band! Hooray! You loaded up your car with all of your heavy gear, set up the PA, did a sound check, performed for 3 hours, bought your own drinks, tore down everything and loaded up the car again. You take home $18! Good job! Those 30 friends you brought drank beer all night and probably spent at least $30 each on drinks. So, that’s about $900 for the bar. Yep, that’s the reality of it, my friends. My band doesn’t play bars too often anymore. It’s tough to do. It’s a ton of work on stage and off. You can be a marketing wizard and it’s still difficult to get people to see the band. Private parties and summer outdoor festivals are ideal, but those are hard to get. You have to play shows to get private parties and people who book outdoor fests need to have at least heard of you. How can they hear of you if you don’t ever play out? Well, you can offer to play benefit shows. It’s rare that we are paid for a benefit show, but it’s rare that we’re paid for a bar show. At least you’re helping to raise money for a good cause and people are appreciative of your talents. Most of the time, we even get to eat some food for free! That’s a nice perk.
Let’s talk about other bands for a moment. My band has had the opportunity to meet and perform with quite a few other local bands. You always hope that everyone will be respectful and supportive. And some people are exactly that. Our friends’ band, Convoy (http://www.facebook.com/convoyinsanity) has always been a pleasure to deal with. We’ve played several shows together. They are gracious people who have no problem sharing a stage with other talented musicians. We can share a drum kit or a bass rig with them without a problem. When they are performing, we are there to listen and support them and vice versa. For the most part, this is a rare situation. I think that we are all in this together and if we could all be nice to each other and work together maybe we could affect some real change in how things are done. One band can’t play every single gig in every single bar/venue every night. It’s not a competition. I don’t really see a reason to be rude or condescending to another band ever. Even if they suck. (No, I’m not naming names.)
So what’s the point? Why bother? Well, it’s important to realize one’s goals and share them with the band. If the goal is to make money, that band will fail. If the goal is to get famous, that takes a lot of work. You’d probably have to quit your day job and focus on playing, recording and getting gigs wherever you can. It’s a hard life, but some people are on board for that. What it really comes down to is love of music and love of performing. It takes a lot of courage to play or sing in front of a room of strangers or friends, so you really have to love what you’re doing. It is a rush to perform a song perfectly and hear applause at the end. It’s fun to watch people dance and sing along and then tell you what a great time they had, especially if it’s someone you’ve never met before. I am lucky enough to be in a band with my husband which makes performing even more special. It’s a unique experience that we are able to share together, the good times and the bad. When a gig goes well, the entire band is invigorated and the sense of togetherness is moving. It’s a special kind of love that is shared with my bandmates and I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.
That being said, are you looking for a band for your next event? 4th of July party? Do you know someone planning a benefit? Do you know of a bar that books talented bands? Well, I’ve got the perfect band for you… http://www.facebook.com/puddinheadband and http://www.sonicbids.com/puddinhead. ;D