Nine Things Playing In Rock and Roll Bands Taught Me
Most people have entertained the fantasy of becoming a wealthy rock star, and a lot of them buy an instrument to fiddle around with. The majority of them eventually just throw that instrument into a closet after they move to another hobby, while a few become proficient players but never leave their bedrooms. This leaves a small number that actually form bands and take a stab at playing live to real audiences.
Photo by Badulake/Wikimedia Commons You have a long way to climb if you want to reach the "Dio" level of rock stardom.
So what are some of the lessons that these aspiring rock stars are likely to learn or encounter on their way up (or down) the ladder of live music success? It's not all mountains of cocaine and groupie gang-bangs on the tour bus waterbed, is it?
Let's explore this further.
9. Almost No One Will Care About Your Band For Quite a While
That's the hard truth. You might be great, your band mates equally adept at playing, but unless you've already been around your local scene for a few years and attracted some fans that might care about what your new band is doing, you will have to work your way up to that point. And it's hard. Lots of playing shows at shitty venues to a handful of personal friends and significant others that will come out to see "Death Hippie" play at noon on a Wednesday (if you're lucky).
I've known people that were so desperate to play that they'd gig just about anywhere, over-saturating themselves at shows almost no one would care to go to. Gothic band playing a taqueria? Great idea! How could that fail to shuttle a band to instant fame and success? At least the tacos are there to soak up your tears after playing to a homeless guy, your girlfriend and a stray dog that walked in.
It takes a lot of work and luck to build a fan base, even a small local one. If after a year or two of steady gigging that success hasn't happened, it's time to reevaluate the "plan," or the viability of "Death Hippie" itself.
8. Many Venues and Clubowners Are Assholes to New Bands
It would seem like clubowners and the bands that play at their venues would have a close working relationship, maybe even a level of friendly cooperation since they both, in theory, want the same thing -- to pack the club with a huge crowd of people. Makes sense, right? Sadly, it turns out that's not always the case. Maybe not even usually the case, because bands and club owners want the same thing for different reasons.
Clubowners want a crowd, that is true, but they want a crowd of people willing to pay a cover and drink the shit out of some overpriced bar drinks. They don't care how they get to that outcome, and would gladly book a band of howling baboons instead of yours if they thought that would fill their club. In some places, they'll grant a newer band the "privilege" of playing their dive bar, but only if the band manages to presell a certain amount of tickets. If they don't, then they'll have to pay for any unsold ones themselves -- the dreaded "Pay to Play" scenario.
There are reasons that certain famous venues seemed to be at the center of musical revolutions. Besides being at the right time and right place, they usually had a clubowner who was willing to allow young unproven bands a chance to play and develop a scene. If Hilly Kristal had stuck to his original plan to feature country and bluegrass music at his Bowery bar, people might never have experienced the Ramones, and CBGB would likely be a long-forgotten dive. Most of those club owners are in their business purely for the money, and will book whoever can make them the most cash with the least amount of effort on their part. They simply don't care that Death Hippie could revolutionize the world of Jazzy Space Metal.
7. Not All Venues Are Created Equal
I've seen too many bands booked in clubs that were bad matches for them, and it's a common mistake. It's probably more often a scenario in towns with fewer music venues, but I've seen weird band-to-club matches in cities with great places to play. I already mentioned the Gothic band playing at a taqueria (a real scenario I witnessed), but I've also seen hard-rock bands booked into restaurants that cater to sedate yuppies, and metal bands trying to work their magic at wine bars. If your style of music is likely to repel people and drive them from the type of venue you're playing, it might be time to look for a different place to play.
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