Ten New Year's Resolutions for the Local Musician
Be Yourself . You are never going to be Joe Strummer. Joe Strummer was Joe Strummer and you are you, which is not a bad thing. The most attractive thing you have to offer as a bandmate, as a performer, and as someone an audience wants to watch (more than once) is being yourself.
This can be challenging while you are building your confidence as both a player and performer, but listen to your instincts. When your instincts tell you to do it the way someone else does it, listen to the deeper meaning. What are they really telling you?
Practice more? Study the way your hero does it? Improve your craft?
They might be telling you that being in a cover band is the way to go, for you, but probably not. It's easy to emulate and even easier to follow the path someone else has already paved, but you have to ask yourself if that's why you picked up your instrument in the first place. The bottom line is that when the band is broken up or the last gig has been played, if you've been true to who you are and what you set out to do, you are going to feel better about the outcome, even if you played to a crowd consisting of your significant other, two drunks at the bar, and a handful of incredibly supportive friends.
2. Practice. Play your instrument. Practice with your bandmates (unless you're a solo artist -- although some of you solo folks probably have imaginary friends you like to rock with, so have at it.) Play your instrument some more. Learn a song by your favorite band and play that, then learn another.
The more you play, the better you will get. Your band needs to practice. You are not that good that you don't need to work on your craft, local musician. Do not fool yourself. It's not always fun to practice, but If it's never fun practicing, you've either got the wrong bandmates or you really don't want to play music very much.
The audience isn't impressed when you suck, even if you drunkenly mumble into the mic that you haven't practiced in a while. All that says is that you didn't care enough to prepare for them and that is no way to get them to come back to see you, unless you are a fabulously entertaining drunk, which you are not. Although, come to think of it, the local scene sorely needs "The Foster Brooks Experience." If you don't know who Foster Brooks was, look him up.
3. Don't Over-Book. Remember, this is a list of resolutions for the local musician. The word "local" means that you are from here. Your friends are from "here," which means the place in which you are at . . . or something like that. You philosophical types should just take this one off, or your heads may start spinning.
Your friends are loyal, and that's great, but loyalty only goes so far. The more you play, the more they will stay away, even if you rock. Unless they are independently wealthy and have nothing but time on their hands, there is only so much they can invest in supporting your hobby.
Club owners aren't too keen on giving you a great slot when they can look at your Facebook page and see that you are playing two miles away the next night or even the next weekend. Another thing to consider is how it makes you look to other bands who might be setting up future shows you would want to play. Why should they ask you to join the bill when you already have two or three other gigs that month? The only time this is even remotely acceptable is when you are:
A. Just starting out and paying your dues B. Learning your onstage chops C. Billy Joel
4. Learn/Pay Attention. As a local musician who wants to achieve even the tiniest amount of success, you need to continue to learn about your scene and pay attention to what is going on with the clubs, other bands, and the press in your town. Being oblivious does not make you cool nearly as much as it makes you uninformed about what is happening around you.
Music scenes are constantly shifting and if you don't stay on top of it, the next thing you know, you aren't getting the good gigs anymore, or the best deals on gear, or in on which band to play with because people are actually getting off their couches and going to see them.
Case in point, pay attention to what is happening at the venues. Which club is having issues with their PA, or where did the killer soundman just start working? Staying on top of these things will only help. Learn the names of the folks behind the scenes who assist you and make sure you treat them well.
5. Be Thankful; Be Humble. Sure, your onstage persona can be frightening, and you may act like you don't care about anything, but even the surliest of rock stars take the time to let their fans know that they appreciate them. Do your thing, of course, and if you sing, scream, or shout crazy lyrics or spit blood on your fan(s), great, but when you are done, let people know you appreciate them coming out and spending their money to support you.
Let your sound person know you appreciate the effort, even if it only by saying thank you. A lot of times they make more than you do at a gig, so tipping them might not be an option, but the best way to get them to care about how you sound is showing that you are thankful for their hard work. Use the power of the mic to let people know to take care of a good bartender or say thanks to the people who helped you schlep your gear. Thank the promoter for booking and, hopefully, paying you.
Remember the words of Walter Sobchak: "No, Donny, these men are nihilists. There's nothing to be afraid of." Keep putting up that front that you don't care what anybody else thinks about your band, or that you are some scary death metal dude to the core, and we'll see right through it. We won't be afraid and even worse, we won't care about what you or your band are going to do next.
6. Talk to Other Bands . Yes, other bands are the competition, in many cases, and other bands may talk behind your back, but you still need to network and talk to other people in your town who are doing what you are doing. It is very common to hear people within the music community of ANY town whine about how "there is no scene here" or "back in the [fill in your favorite era] era it was so cool because bands worked together" blah blah blah. The "bands" are only a part of what makes any scene great, but they do need to be able to communicate.
Talk to your peers. See what they are up to and what they know. Where are the good places to record or get gear? Who's looking for a new member of their band? Help out where you can and people will remember it. If a promoter offers you a great gig, but you can't do it, recommend another band you like and then tell that band that you recommended them. If a promoter screws you over, let other bands know it happened so they can watch out for the same treatment.
Sure, there's competition. Be challenged by it. If you want to be the best band in town, go for it, but you're not going to get there by yourselves. Other bands are going to help you along the way, even if they want to be the best as well. Put yourself in their shoes and remember there is nothing wrong with wanting to be a great musician or be part of a great band. Rock 'n' roll and kumbaya do not always go hand in hand, but being a smug prick (sorry ladies, you rock too, and can be as condescending as any boy) is not going further your precious career.
7. Diversify. Play with bands that are not just like you. Don't be afraid of a little genre-bending. Play a different club every once in a while or play on a different side of town. Switch up the order of your set. Remember those loyal friends? Well, they really don't want to get to the point where they know what song is coming next and can lip sync your stage banter.
When it comes to practicing, if you can switch up the time that you practice here and there, it will pay dividends as you might be more creative at different times in the day. Listen to an old record you used to love or dive headfirst into a band or album you've never heard before, and see how it affects your songwriting.
The rut is your enemy, and when you get in one for long enough, it can seriously damage your progress. The rut creates tension and frustration and likes to cause fights between you and your mates. Don't feed the rut. Mix it up whenever you can. Diversify.
8. Read. Yep, that's right. Read. You're reading this, so that is a start, but read other things too. There are tons of lists out there of the best books -- about music or this band or that genre -- so check 'em all out. There is really some seriously good literature about music or being in a band or probably bands that you love. Read it all.
Read the blogs, visit music message boards, and what the heck, read the news. You can get great lyrics from both current events and reading just about anything that you like to read or be inspired to write an awesome riff. Even if it is not music related, doing a little (or a lot of) reading will help your creative process and make your music better.
9. Challenge Yourself to Write. Pick up your instrument and write a song whenever you can. If you have a smartphone, you have the technology to record everything you come up with, so do it. In the words of JB, "Always record." This way you won't have to write a song that is a tribute to "the greatest song in the world" like Tenacious D had to do.
You probably won't end up keeping everything you come up with, but you are still improving your skill. Challenge yourself, from time to time, to write when you are not in the mood. If you have time scheduled, stick to it. Do whatever you have to do to push yourself to write this year, and you will not regret it.
10. Remember That Playing Music Is Fun. That's why you do this, right? It's fun. Playing solo or with a band . . . It has to be fun, whether you get paid or not. For most local musicians, playing music does not pay their bills or even come close to paying for the act of playing music itself. There's practice room rent to pay, gas to get to gigs, strings to buy, amps to fix, recording time to pay for, and a whole list of other expenses that come along with making the rock.
The payoff, then, is that it has to be fun. When it stops being fun, it is time to move on to a new band or a new project or sometimes just a new song. If you are doing it for any other reason, the chances of being disappointed in the final outcome are pretty great, so remind yourself to have fun. Just look at the band fun. They seem to be having a great time, and would probably be doing so if nobody knew who they were.
Go out there and have fun this year, local musician. You deserve it and we want to watch and listen.
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