For those who don't know, I am a "moderately successful" touring musician by day and a shitty web comic artist by night. Somewhere in there I try to force myself to do something physical, but I just get fatter.
Anyway, there's not much I couldn't tell you about today's music industry since I'm knee-deep in the trenches. For the past several years this horrible blob of an industry has been shedding its mostly corrupt skin and unveiling a more artist friendly monster.
With that in mind there's just no simple way to put it: if you're a band and you're not on top of your game, you're going to fail. HARD. Hell, even IF you're on top of your game you're still likely to fail. The odds of making a decent living are SO against you. Less than ONE PERCENT of bands "make it," so to speak.
Yup. But why is it like this?
I can tell you that 1) Pop music will always dominate due to the ridiculous amount of marketing they can do with their infinitely deep pockets and 2) there is more music than actual people out there.
Seriously! Think about how many of your friends are in a band or have tried starting a band. Multiply that number by several bazillion. Too much supply, not enough demand.
(FYI, I have submitted "bazillion" to become an actual denomination of measurement)
However, if you love being a musician you shouldn't quit due to the oversaturation! Just do it because you love it. Just keep in mind that in order to FAIL as miserably and horribly as you can make SURE you follow these steps:
10. Sign that Magic Contract
This model has pretty much died over the past ten years, but there are still many bands out there who think that some gigantic label is gonna gobble them up as a no name band and shit them out as megastars.
Back in the day labels could put in a few million bucks into a band and recoup their cash all while making a profit. They had all the power. Nowadays, this sweet, sweet thing called the internet has shifted the balance of power and the industry has gone through a very dramatic transformation.
It's nice to have a say in what you create. Trust me.
9. Create a Confusing, Hard to Remember Band Name
My band (Psychostick) has been struggling with the fact that the word "Psycho" is hard to spell. I know, stupid right? Luckily Google can correct spelling for those who search for our band, but many promoters and other acts don't bother to check their spelling.
We've thought about changing our name at times to something like, "Fart Boat" or whatever, but hey... we're helping educate people with their spelling, right?
Yes, this is a true story.
8. Conform to the latest trends and never evolve/innovate
There was once a band I knew of in the early 2000s that had a great thing going. They had a Deftones-esque sound that worked well. Then Glassjaw became popular, so they completely dropped all of their old shit and sounded just like Glassjaw. After that, they grew emo haircuts and switched over to The Used.
I don't know what happened to them. I know that things didn't pan out for 'em for some reason.
Another disadvantage of this is short term success. The very same band had a decent local following and they were growing rapidly. However, since there were more famous bands doing the same things and doing it better, they kind of got... stuck.
7. Say crap like, "I Just Wanna Rock, Man!"
Back in the music industry's cancerous eighties era*, the old fashioned "rock star" was reigning king. All bands had to do was write a catchy rock song, then a catchy power ballad, and sit back and enjoy the sluts and drugs.
This is when true mass market appeal became a formula. Hate Justin Beiber? Tired of those douchey pop songs? See that shitty band with the stupid hair getting all the attention purely based on appearance? Blame the eighties*.
Sometimes this attitude will still carry over into some of today's bands.
All I will say is this: Trends come and go, but bands with that shitty attitude nowadays won't last very long.
*Clearly just my opinion. 95% of that era was shit.
6. Don't appreciate your successes.
If you start a band and put real effort into it, eventually you will encounter a victory here and there.
When this happens make SURE you understand that you are growing. If any of your band members bitch about the success, you might wanna find new ones.
5. Never invest into your Band
If you've never been in a touring band before, you probably have absolutely NO idea how much it really costs. It really is a "get what you pay for" type of industry.
The sad truth is that you will have to spend way more of your personal money on your project, most of which you will probably never see again.
I do all the bookkeeping for my band and I get a throbbing, veiny finance boner if we walk away from a tour in the positive.
Must... not... draw... last... sentence...
4. Neglect Your Internet Presence
If you're reading this chances are you're already familiar with what I mean by "Internet Presence." As of this writing Facebook, Youtube, Bandcamp, Spotify, iTunes, and Last.fm are just SOME of the leading resources for finding music.
The internet has single handedly bitch-slapped the radio, MTV, CD stores, Record Labels, and other traditional mediums that deliver music to people.
Get your songs online. Make them as available as much possible to everyone as much as possible. This cannot be understated. People in general will default to, "I don't give a shit," and they'll find any reason to dismiss you and find something else.
3. Burn Bridges
At any point in your musical career quest, especially if you're just getting started, the fastest way to fail is to completely shit talk your way through everything.
If you're going to talk shit or vent, make sure you do it privately with people you trust.
The reality is that you never know who knows who. That crappy band with the stupid songs might actually be close friends with a band you could tour with someday. It's that whole "six degrees of separation" thing.
Success in this industry is more about who you know and less about your actual music.
It's depressing but true. May as well not be your own worst enemy.
2. Deny the fact that Touring isn't for Everyone
This is probably the first piece of advice I give anyone who asks. If you want to find out if your band has what it takes, book a regional tour for a couple of weeks and tough it out.
If you can tour for a few weeks and not kill each other, you just might make it.
1. Allow Dysfunctional Bandmates
We all have our flaws. Some buckle under pressure, others just want attention from girls/guys/dolphins, and often times we let our egos get the best of us.
You're going to clash. You're going to argue. You might even have to bail someone out of jail. The real question is, are you going to put UP with it? Is it practical to keep those individuals or is it better to simply find someone who is a better fit?
It's extremely similar to being in a high-maintenance relationship.
If you and a bunch of other guys/chicks/hermaphrodites ever get together to do a creative project, band or not, chances are you'll have one of those "fail at life" types.
Final Thoughts by Jack Handey/Jerry Springer
You're probably really discouraged right now. I'm really sorry. I wasn't trying to make you want to stop. In my own stupid, twisted way I am imparting my "learned the really, REALLY hard way" experience unto you.
I guess what I'm trying to tell you is make music only because you love it; because you want to. Any other reason is stupid.
Right, Mr. Elway?