Since my re-entry into the music world 3 years ago after a long break (marriage and kids) I have reconfirmed what I’ve known since 1976:
Bands ain’t easy.
Sure it looks like fun, and all you do is “play” and you make money, and people want to hang with you, but it’s not like that at all. It takes a lot of work to get a band up and running and out the door. I could easily write a book about it all (and several have) but it comes down to this list:
1) Direction – genre, C&W, hip hop, metal, pop, classic rock, 50’s rock, chris rock, the list is endless and often picking which songs to play leads to disagreements in the band
2) equipment – the PA, the mixer, who’s gonna run the mixer, microphones, etc
3) Personel – the BIG one. More on this below
4) Promotion – In the “olden” days you needed a photo, a set list, and a demo “tape”. Now they want a portfolio on nice paper, photos, CD or DVD (preferred), cards, web site, myspace page, facebook page, mailing lists, and maybe even a twitter account with updates like “Working on a new song while Bob goes to buy a new set of drumsticks!!”
Once you get a gig, it doesn’t stop there. There is arriving on time, setting up, sound check (hope you brought 2 of everything cuz chances are you’re going to need it some day), dealing with the club owner, home owner, wedding party, whoever is in charge. You play 4 hours with breaks, hopefully get paid, then comes tear down, wrapping cables, hauling the stuff out to various vehicles. It’s now 2:00am. If it’s a Friday, you probably got up around 7 to go to work that day or go to school. The elation of having a nice performance (hopefully) carries you through the rest of the packing and driving home, but by 3:00, it’s milk and cookies (or Jack in the Box) and lights out.
Gee, this sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? And if you’re doing club work, the worst paying type of gig, don’t count up your total hours (setup + play + tear down) and divide by your pay. You’re being paid barely more than the kid who served you your Jumbo Jack on the way home. (Hey, they’re not all that low paying but some are!).
So why do it? Why not flip burgers as a 2nd job and not worry about the whole “self employment” responsibilities of running a band?
Because it’s fun. Well…it CAN be.
Back in the late 1980’s I worked my way through San Jose State in a busy little band called Undercover. I made more money with that band than all the other bands I’d been in combined. Our female lead was very good, and eveybody on stage was experienced. Life was good, right?
Wrong. I hated it.
Just like high school, adults can form “cliques” and this band of 5 had a core of 3 people and normally excluded the guitarist (me) and the drummer. These people would make plans right in front of us and not invite us – little things like bowling, or big things like the Who concert (that was ok, I got better tickets from my roomate for that and enjoyed a gloating chuckle at their expense next practice when they complained about the lousy seats they had).
In other words, it became a job. It was something to make money with and that was it.
This second time around, I worked on surrounding myself with people I could like and respect, with mixed results. Some people were nice and couldn’t play (can’t have that). Some people pretended to be nice and weren’t (can’t have that either).
I resigned myself to only original work with a band named LIPSHOK when I was contacted by an old friend here on facebook. He was starting up a band and wanted to know if I was interested. The lineup is nearly complete but as we started to audition people, the #1 priority was “is this person a good fit for our band, our personalities?” I think that’s a great approach. You spend a lot of time with these people – 4 hour rehearsals, and on gig nights more like 6 hours. If someone gets on your nerves (like those Undercover folks did) it can make it a long night.
I’m hoping I’ll be gigging by the first of the year with these guys and will finally be able to answer the question “Where can I go to hear you play?”