Featured Column:Getting Your Band Out Of The Garage And Into Bonnaroo (Part 3 of 3 Contest Included!)
Real True Confessions With Padre PienbiqueIn the first two installments, we covered the basic basics: 1. Start a band and make sure everyone is hungry. 2. Just because you make a demo CD or whatever- Don’t believe that anyone cares. (Myspace.com is not a record company- It’s a tool and nothing more.) 3. Put music in people’s hands, preferably with upcoming gigs posted on the sleeve. 4. For the love of Pete: Don’t worry about success as if it’s coming any day now. You’re learning a trade, not counting royalties from records you haven’t even recorded yet. Worry about writing really good songs. 5. Get a manager of some kind, even/especially if they are super-fans. And then give them the resources to do everything you ask of them. (Read: Give them some money to do their job.) 6. Once you’ve invested that much, give your manager some respect. Let them mediate visionary disputes between band members, talk to club owners, etc. This is what they do.
SO SORRY, BUT THE MUSIC BUSINESS IS A BUSINESS
Now it’s time to put a plan together. If you’re a in a band and want to play at Bonnaroo, you would be wise to get your house in order: Get the band to the gig on time, coerce the manager to accept their role as both inner-band councilor/real-world spokesperson, and learn that playing music for a living requires business smarts.
Make no mistake: I’ve had plenty of conflicts with band mates over the business of being in business. For every artistic dreamer in the group, there needs to be somebody that will write off the bullshit in order to facilitate the art of surviving in the music business.
First off, make your band a legal entity by forming an LLC, or Limited Liability Corporation. This is neither as hard or sinister as it sounds. Get a family friend that practices law to draw up the band’s rules (Example: “Any member that quits while the band is in debt is liable for his or her share of the debt within 90 days of resigning”) into a coherent document that defines and protects individual members from taking the blame if something goes really, really wrong. Filing this with the Secretary of State costs less than $200. Don’t be as cheap as the member that whines about this. Leaving the ground rules unwritten is dumber than worrying about which band member will collect x-amount of pennies per copy of each record sold. Besides, you can’t do the former without the latter.
SOLID BUSINESS: DO YOUR MATH
If nothing else, open a band checking account with every band member on the signature card. In these modern times, everybody can keep tabs on the checkbook balance online. Whether or not they do check it is irrelevant: The information is there for them to personally inspect. Nuff said.
Now that the cash flow is accounted for, teach everybody that it takes money to make money. If you’re reading this and thinking “This ain’t about money, Bro! This is about THE MUSIC!”, then go back to the garage. Rent happens to everybody, especially musicians. Tightening the business up frees musicians to create without worry. Fucking around with the band’s money distracts attentions from the creative process. Bonnaroo, The Grateful Dead, Phish and your father all balance their checkbooks every day. You’re not that special.
SHARE THE LOVE- IT’S CALLED “PROMOTION”
Since you know how much money you have, don’t be the chump that goes cheap on promotion. If you’re playing a club- or fifty of them in sixty days! – You’ll need to print cool tour posters, and have them mailed out to all the venues ASAP.
Betty V., the resident Big Wu artist, made posters so cool that promoters often asked to be sent several extras because folks would steal them off the walls weeks before we got there. Now, that’s good promotion! Please don’t forget to mail the promoter a couple extra CDs to give away as well. If nothing else, they won’t need as much stuff the next time your band comes through town.
As long as you’re sticking CDs in windshield wipers during the local YMSB gig (See: Part 1 of 3), go ahead and hand out flyers for your next gig as people are leaving the show. If getting your band’s name and music into somebody’s attention is good once a night, then doing it twice is three times as good! If you’ve got something worth hearing, then create the opportunity for someone to hear it.
“COMMUNITY” MAY BE A SIMPLE NOUN. TREAT IT LIKE GOLD
Okay, now you’ve got music, someone outside of the band to preach the word, resources for them to get the word out and a business model for the band to live within. Let’s talk about tying it together into a package that allows your music to become something bigger than a few dudes/chicks ripping solos over E Major chords Let’s talk about Fans.
When you get enough people that dig your band, the one thing that separates you from everybody else sporting funny hair and guitars is the notion of community. Jam bands stand out from the stale world of commercial rock because the fans create a titillating atmosphere of fun and acceptance. Frankly stated: Our little corner of the universe thrives on experimentation and good times- not to mention tolerance. For all the diversity, the common ground of sharing the scene allows for people to speak up without being ostracized. Pay the due diligence and create a space for folks to connect- I’m talking about free forums on your website.
The Wu has had a couple different versions of this: One version was a continual conversation where anybody could drop a comment without signing up for anything, formerly known as the Yakkity-Yak. While the conversation was certainly lively on this, the free-for-all nature became so raunchy that certain folks became personal targets of tasteless remarks. Despite the comedy of the fore-mentioned panty-twisting, hosting that anonymous forum on the website became a liability, so we cut the cord on that.
The next best public forum is an email list-serve, where everyone signed up is included in the writer’s responses. I’m sure everyone reading this is on one, if not several of these. List-serves groups are great way for fans to talk about shows, swap recordings, not to mention spill comical stories featuring the keyboardist crawling on the floor of a 7-11 at four in the morning.
More importantly, this is how like-minded folks create a community that belongs to them- which can’t hurt if you’re playing well enough to get people to care. If playing music can keep you from doing the work-a-day grind, then go ahead and invite everyone to the party.
Just don’t be fool enough to jump on the first person that says something less-than-jolly about your last show. You already had your opportunity to play the music and now you’re done with the gig. Give somebody else the respect to tell you how you did. (Even if they’re full of shit And if they’re bitching about the song you chose for the encore, then poke fun at them from the stage at the next gig. Just kidding.)
A WORD OF WARNING, REGARDING FANS:
As a personal policy, I refused to touch the Big Wu list-serve for years. Other band members would say all sorts of things, but I kept the ethic that it was for- and by- the fans. I already knew if last night’s show was worth a hoot, so I wasn’t desperate for a second opinion. Then again, pissing away opportunities to keep my ear to the ground didn’t create a clearer picture of reality. I’ll simply advise that you need one of these. And if you participate as a band member, speak for yourself, not for the rest of the band.
SO- WHAT’S THE PLAN STAN? (A CONTEST- WITH PRIZES!)
If you’re in a band somewhere along the path between the garage and Bonnaroo, then listen up:
The good folks at jambands.com and Relix Magazine have agreed to sponsor a contest; Judged by myself and an unnamed, yet famous musician- the kind that regularly plays at Bonaroo- for the brother or sister that sends me the best Jam Band Business Plan!
What is “The Contest”?
Send an email to me by March 15, 2008 illustrating a plan to get your band to the next level.
Email your “Jam Band Business Plan” to me at:
If your band consists of you, yourself, and some big dreams: Tell me how you’re going to get to where you want to go.
If you’re in a band that is playing gigs, tell me what you’re up to and what you’re going to do next.
If you’re in a band that already plays Bonnaroo, tell me who I contact to collect the $1000.00 Bonnaroo still owes me from 2002.
The Famous Secret Judge and I are looking for detailed creativity combined with fun. Plausibility won’t hurt. (Getting Phish high backstage and hoping they’ll let you open their next reunion show won’t get you far.) Tell us your goal and how your band can get it done is the name of the game.
This is for real folks- Have fun with this
The Winner Receives:
-A Free Trial Subscription to Relix
-According to editor Dean Budnick :“Some Love At The Top Of Jambands.com” (Which you’ll both deserve and could use)
-A personalized phone consultation concerning your plan from The Judges.
The Scene always needs new music- If you can make/write/play it, then you owe it to yourself and your band to help make it happen.
Be nice to your Mother and Drink Your Milk!