The 7 Deadly Sins of Bands
Thinking anybody gives a shit. It’s the “big fish/small pond” syndrome. If anyone ever tells you that your band is the best local band in the city, mentally punch him or her in the mouth. Thank them graciously, sign the CD, and know that “local” should be a four-letter word. Having a small circle of friends who come to your gigs, tell you your CD is the most amazing thing they’ve ever heard, and boast to their friends that they know the band means NOTHING. Outside of that safety zone, out here with the big boys in this rock and roll machine, nobody gives a shit what your friends think. Until you’ve gone multi-platinum, you’ve accomplished nothing. You’ve only just begun to crack the code.
Thinking you don’t have to spend money to make money. Presentation is everything. Don’t waste your time or money on a shitty studio, a crappy publicity photo that your drummer’s girlfriend took, or a bio that was born on a cocktail napkin one night after getting smashed. Your image is the first thing a label has to go on. You can have the most kick-ass record in the world, but if the CD graphics look like crap, the publicity shot is a photocopy, and the bio reads like a high-school paper story on bad cafeteria food, your whole promo package will be in the trash before you’ve left the post office.
The belief that you’re not disposable. You are. There’s someone twice as young and three times as hungry waiting to devour you and your work the minute you get fat and lazy and start resting on your laurels. You have to keep up a breakneck pace for the entire length of your unsigned career. You can’t expect the phone to ring if you’re not out there busting your ass daily to book shows, following up on the mailing list, and e-mailing people about upcoming shows. If anyone approaches you about an interview, a review, anything, suck up like a like your last name is fucking Hoover. You must keep your name in the press. It makes no matter what they’re saying as long as they’re saying it.
Staying with the wrong management out of some sense of loyalty. Case in point: small band gets big deal. Their manager didn’t know shit about the music biz, but had booked the local shows, passed out the flyers, and stood by looking like a manager to give the band some “above local” credibility. The label gods in all their wisdom tell the band to drop their manager and offer them the services of a top-notch professional who had managed some of the biggest, consistent label acts in history. The band said no, the label said fuck off, and now you can catch them playing your choice of local hole-in-the-walls, proms, and in cover bands on any given weekend.
The belief that the female bridges you burn won’t come back to set your ass on fire again. So the girl you had some hot random sex with dated the head of PR at the biggest label in the world. You do her, dump her, and have a laugh with your bandmates about it. What you didn’t know is that she and the PR guru are still the best of friends, and he’s the one she called at three in the morning crying when you treated her like crap. You’re fucked. Mr. PR may not remember your name, but he will remember your band’s name, and she will at the very least make sure of that. When you reach Level 2, you’re sleeping with women in the industry now. Treat them well, because the rumors are true: hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Repeat it, know it, understand it, and believe it. Sex with the right woman at the wrong time is the biggest no-no there is. She could easily be the deciding factor on whether or not you get the opening slot for Nine Inch Nails or if you’re forced back into the trenches opening for the biggest “locals only” act. This whole business of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll is icing, but don’t even begin to taste it ’til you’ve got the label paying your bills with a few hundred thousand dollars left to blow. Do the groupies who know no one, befriend and respect the women in power.
Being in a band with people you hate. No matter how great they play or what or who they bring to the show, if you don’t trust your band members now, it’ll be you’re undoing once you’re signed. So Joey the guitar player blazes on stage and sends the crowd into a frenzy. So what? He’s always late for rehearsals (if he shows up at all), he’s got a nasty drug habit, and you think he may be trying to fuck your girlfriend. You fight constantly and you’d rather put a gun in your mouth than deal with his bullshit. There’s a potential Johnny Bravo/Judas in every band audition. Pick your members wisely.
Thinking your life will change now that you’ve gotten signed. Big fucking deal. Only one percent of bands who get signed aren’t dropped after the first tax write-off record hits the stores. I could give you a list of locals who have signed with major labels, and two months later are back to being counter help at a local pizza joint. The most important part of shopping for a deal is finding the right A&R guy, the right label, and the right management. No matter the dollar amount they dangle in front of you, it’s the same thing they’ll be suing you to get back six months later if you don’t do your homework. Check the label out, look at who their artists are. Are they even about the kind of music you do, or is their biggest act a rockabilly band? So say they’ve got a young gun A&R guy who has a secret fascination with Pearl Jam and thinks your band could be the next big thing. You need the whole label behind you, not just one hothead trying to make himself a name.
All in all, this whole process of being a success in the music business is completely doable. But you have to stay focused, put in the time, and watch your back. There are a million and one reasons a band fails, and a million and three reasons a band flies. Pay attention to the details, and realize early on that people are the details. Embrace your fans, love what you do, and be consistent. If you consistently suck, suck away. If you consistently pack houses, and it took 1000 phone calls, e-mails, and flyers to do it, do it every time you play. Just know that the odds are stacked against you from the starting block if you’re not ready. Don’t book the showcase if you have no hooks and your drummer is out of town, don’t book the show for beer money, and don’t expect the world to fall at your feet because you think you’re the next Jim Morrison. Doors don’t open without keys and a lot of heavy knocking. Be prepared to pound.