I have always been attracted to music. Ever since I was a young kid I was fascinated by music, my favorite toy was the fisher price record player.
When I was 7 or 8 my dad had to go to Germany for work and one of the healing things that occurred for me was he sent a cassette tape with his voice on it and some music. I would listen to what he had to say and then play the music he had sent. It was not a replacement but it did help heal me from missing him.
We recently had a trip that we took where we had stops and performances each night. On each night a different story was related to me and all stories had a musical healing in them. All stories were random and unexpected from the source they came from and out of ordinary conversation.
The First Story:
There was a woman who had gone into a coma. Someone she knew wanted to visit her upon hearing this but her location was undisclosed. He somehow managed to find out what hospital and room it was she was staying in.
He went to her room and upon seeing his friend laying there in a coma he did not know what to do. So he simply grabbed her hand and started to hum not a melody just hummed. He left sad that his friend was in a coma.
The next day he received word that she had come out of the coma.
He went and visited her. She then told him that she had been lying in this void she knew she was in a void but had no idea what to do to leave the void. And then she heard humming and while it took her hours to find her way out of the void it was the humming that sent her back to consciousness. Humming to me is our primal music it had to be the first thing a human did on their discovery of singing.
Story No. 2:
We had finished a gig and were doing the usual stand around and share stories laugh and enjoy each others company. I became engaged with a woman who shared this story with me. The loss of color and back.
There was this girl she had known who had attended a catholic school as a child. The school had an art assignment of drawing flowers where you make the circle and do the petals out from the circle and paint the petals a certain color etc.
Well this child was an artistic child and had paid attention to flowers very closely and so some of her petals were big and some were small and some were white with a hint of purple or red or whatever artistic choices the child felt it needed to make.
This was not taken to kindly and the student was reprimanded by the teacher with a paddle or spanking. This spanking caused the child to not be able to see color for years.
Then later on in life this child who had not seen color for years started playing the violin. As she started becoming a decent player on the violin she started seeing color again.
Story No. 3:
A musician friend of mine was asked to play at a lunch party for a community organization working with individuals with disabilities. He set up and played for a room of about 15 people.
When he stopped he went around to each person and shook their hand and asked their name and said thank you for listening to his music. It was such an amazing experience just playing to them, but then he came to a girl in a wheelchair.
She was obviously pretty low functioning and had to be pushed in her wheelchair. He started to shake her hand and introduce himself and the staff told me she doesn’t speak… and before they could finish saying that she spoke up loud and said “Music” clear as day!
I’m going to say something that is going to upset a lot of musicians.
I totally understand why you feel the way you do when you complain about fans at shows constantly having their phones out and taking pictures or videos of the performance instead of just watching it without using mobile devices.
But with cell phones, cameras, and social media all playing such a major role in society and the way we communicate, we have to understand that they are not going away any time soon.
So we can either keep bitching about them….or we can find a way to make them work to our own advantage.
This was the internal dialogue I was having in my own mind a few months ago while driving to Austintown, Ohio to work with the lead vocalist of one of my client-bands, Amanda Jones & the Family Band.
And it was during that 30-minute commute on Interstate 80 that I started kicking around an idea; one that I knew Amanda and her band would be the perfect band to experiment with.
This article, the first of two parts, is a detailed look at that idea, how we implemented and rehearsed it, and some of the important decisions that had to be made going into it. The second part, which I’ll release in the next week or two, will delve into what happened the night of the show, problems that arose and how we dealt with them, and will include video of the entire Facebook Live broadcast as well as video shot from the floor of the venue.
But I’m also going to talk about the things that could have gone better than they did as well as what I think we should do differently the next time we attempt something like this. Even the most planned out shows can have things go wrong or pop up forcing musicians to think on their feet and adapt. Like boxing legend Mike Tyson used to say…everybody has a plan until they get punched.
THE PEOPLE INVOLVED
It would be a good idea to introduce you to the folks involved and why all of this went down in the manner that it did.
For those of you reading this not already familiar with me, I’m Wade Sutton from Rocket to the Stars – Artist Development and Music PR. I work with bands all over the world (thanks to Skype) and provide to them an array of PR-related services like bio and press release writing (I have an extensive journalism background), website and press kit creation, and more.
I also help artists hone their live performance skills and assist in the production of their live shows. I previously founded and directed one of the largest singing competitions on the US East Coast, one that saw the live attendance at the show’s annual finals surpassing an estimated 27,000 people.
The band involved in this little experiment is from an area just outside of Youngstown, Ohio, which is about half way between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. They have been clients of mine for about one year and we were just recently beginning to really dig into their live show.
The lead singer, Amanda, has been singing for several years but didn’t truly throw everything she had into music until after graduating from Mt Union University in Ohio. The band, Amanda Jones & The Family Band, is just that: a family band. Amanda’s father, Michael, is the acoustic guitar player. Her sister, Brittany, is the keyboard player. Brittany’s husband, Nathan, is on bass. The drummer, Frank, and electric guitarist, David, are not relatives but have been with the band for some time now.
When they first started performing, they were a Sugarland tribute band. It isn’t difficult to figure out why because Amanda at times sounds strikingly similar to Jennifer Nettles. But wanting to be something more than a tribute band, they began putting more time and energy into writing original music. The current set list is made of up a healthy combination of originals and covers. And while their music would most certainly fall under the country genre, their original music, individual style, personal likeability, and energy gives them an incredible amount of crossover appeal.
They also don’t burn out their local audience, instead making it a point to book dates outside the Youngstown area, including shows in Cleveland, the Pittsburgh market, and even down into West Virginia.
The band has also received its fair share of media coverage as well. They have performed live (more than once) on the television morning news program on Cleveland’s FOX TV affiliate in addition to making multiple appearances on Froggy radio in Pittsburgh.
So this is a group that has worked hard to grow beyond being a local band and, while they aren’t famous or well-known, they are performing and operating on a regional level.
LOOKING FOR SOMETHING A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT
Back to the day I was driving to work with Amanda.
This idea of artists blasting audiences for using their phones at shows was weighing on me and I kept coming back to one question: If fans at a live show will have their phones out, what can we do that will get them to use those phones in a manner that benefits the bands.
I knew a couple of things going into this. I wanted it to be something that involved Facebook Live and I wanted it to be something much different than what people typically see of a FB Live broadcast.
I began formulating an idea that was born from two immensely popular performances I had seen over the past few years.
The first source of inspiration for the idea was a U2 performance I saw a couple of years ago in which the band invited a member of the audience to join them on stage. The woman they selected was given a cell phone tied to the band’s Periscope account. For one song, the fan was given free reign to walk around the stage showing what ever she wanted on camera and it was all broadcast live on Periscope. If I remember correctly, this all happened in that time period between when Twitter really started pushing Periscope (in direct competition with Meerkat) but before FB announced that it was working on the now popular Facebook Live feature.
The second source of inspiration for the idea was when Bruce Springsteen performed during the Super Bowl halftime show several years ago. The thing about that particular show that I always carried with me after watching it wasn’t how much energy Springsteen had on stage but was how he interacted with the cameras in addition to playing to the live audience. It created a sense of breaking the fourth wall and made for a television broadcast that was much more engaging for those watching on TV.
So taking those two performances as sources of inspiration, I knew we wanted to do something that was extremely engaging for both the audience attending the show live as well as the folks watching on Facebook AND we wanted to create something that would encourage people to share the video AND we wanted to walk away from it with incredible footage that the band could then repurpose and use for marketing materials, including a sizzle reel that could be shown at trade conventions or to send to colleges at which the band is hoping to be booked.
There is an inherent problem with the vast majority of Facebook Live broadcasts done by music artists wanting to air portions of their live show. More often than not, the artist places their phone on a tripod (or has somebody else hold it) and the phone is situated off to the side of the stage. The artist then performs for their audience and totally ignores the camera. So it leaves the viewer watching online feeling like they are a fly on the wall…a passive observer.
It results in a very strong feeling of detachment for the viewer, something that is in direct opposition of the engaging experience artists should be trying to create for fans.
When I arrived for my appointment with Amanda, the idea was pretty much fleshed out and we immediately began planning it. We were going to take a three song portion of an upcoming live show, put together a high-energy performance for those three songs, and broadcast it live on Facebook Live…and we were going to have the camera operator moving around on the stage with the band. This meant making sure the camera operator knew everything that was going on performance-wise so she would have the camera on the appropriate band member at any given time and so we could capture specific angles at specific times. And, most importantly, the band was going to be performing to the camera as much as the audience at the venue.
We were essentially creating a live mini-television production for FB Live.
We then decided to add an additional layer by erecting a video screen at the venue on which the broadcast would be shown as it was happening live. The reason we did that was because we wanted to encourage fans at the show to break out their phones, share the broadcast with their own Facebook friends, and leave comments so they could see their own names and comments pop up on the screen next to the stage…all things that would make Facebook detect the video as “interesting content” and hopefully push it into more people’s news feeds.
WHAT WE HAD TO DECIDE
In planning out this three song broadcast, we had to make some pretty important decisions. The two things that jumped out immediately were figuring out what three songs would be performed during that broadcast and during what live show would the broadcast take place.
As far as what three songs we would use, we took a look at all of the band’s options. As I said previously, their set list includes a combination of originals and covers. I suggested to Amanda that we stick to using only originals for the broadcast. As many musicians know, Universal Music Group has been on a tear pulling down covers of their songs done by music artists and posted on Facebook. Even though we could have used covers owned by other publishing companies, I felt the broadcast and video content was too important for the band to risk butting heads with any publishing companies. And it wasn’t like they were lacking quality originals that could be used for the broadcast.
I also wanted them to use originals that were upbeat because the performances during that broadcast were going to utilize an extensive amount of movement. I wanted the entire broadcast to be full of energy so anything remotely close to a ballad was tossed from the start. We eventually whittled it down to three songs: Jones Family Reunion, Ready to Fall, and Wine, Whiskey, and Beer.
Jones Family Reunion was the perfect song to start the broadcast with for several reasons. Not only is it a very fun and upbeat song, it also does an incredible job reinforcing one of the most interesting aspects of the band’s branding in that most of the members are family. That was extremely important because it is one of the things about the band that a lot of fans remember when they are first exposed to them. So starting the broadcast with that song allowed us to introduce people watching it to one of the things about them that is different from most other bands out there and it was done in a very high-energy manner.
Ready to Fall was a natural fit for the second slot. It gave us an opportunity to do a song that was about falling in love but wasn’t a weepy, slow song. And while it was upbeat, it was one we could bring down the visual energy (for the first half) by having Amanda sing at the mic stand and putting more attention on the lyrics for a period of time. We did this on purpose because we wanted to come out of this song and ramp up the visual energy for the end of the broadcast but we needed the audience to SEE the energy increasing over that time period. Doing so keeps the show visually interesting for both the audience at the venue and watching on Facebook Live.
Wine, Whiskey, and Beer was the finale for the three song broadcast. The song is a fan favorite and includes a call-and- response. It was also a very appropriate song to continue increasing the visual energy coming out of Ready to Fall enabling us to keep a very natural flow to the show and the Facebook Live broadcast. It also gave us an opportunity to show that even though the band’s performances are branded as something that families can take their kids to, the band can still let loose in a manner that parents would be okay with having their children at the show. It is a party…but it is a controlled party.
So all three of the songs were selected because not only were they catchy and energetic, they all had their own way of reinforcing the band’s brand and image. This is an area in which I’ve always felt too few bands are giving their attention and it is holding them back in a big way.
The next thing on our plate was figuring out at which show this Facebook Live performance was going to take place. We had several options available to us but there were two that stood out: the band’s appearance at WinterFest in downtown Cleveland or at their show at a venue called Bootlegger’s near Yankee Lake, Ohio.
WinterFest was a great opportunity for them. It was a performance that was tied directly to a much bigger event (so they weren’t solely responsible for bringing in the crowd) and it was one at which a lot of people were expected to turn out. But there were some cons to trying to do the broadcast there. Because the show was going to be outdoors on a November Cleveland day, I was concerned the wind would nix any plans to erect the video screen on which the FB Live broadcast would be shown. One strong gust and that thing would have been sailing into the air and out over Lake Erie. And even though we knew attendance for the festival was expected to be pretty high, we knew attendees would have a lot of things to do and look at and we didn’t know to what extent that would suck people away from the stage to do other things. Lastly, WinterFest was right around the corner from when we started fleshing out this idea and we wouldn’t have very much time to rehearse for it.
Bootlegger’s was the other attractive option. The band had performed there on two other occasions and, both times, had big turnouts. The venue is pretty much in the band’s backyard and, like I said earlier, they make it a point to not over-saturate the local market by doing too many shows locally. The show was booked for late January and gave us more time to prepare. And, most importantly, we discovered that the venue had just spent major cash on a new lighting and effects system that would blow people’s socks off. Having decided that we wanted to take video from this performance to use for marketing purposes, this was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
We circled the Bootlegger’s date as the show during which the Facebook Live broadcast would take place.
INTO THE REHEARSAL ROOM
We set aside two Sunday afternoons to work on the production of the broadcast, with each session lasting two hours,
In helping the band with this, I had to focus on two things: Making sure their performances were planned out with a lot of energy and I had to work with the camera operator on walk her through everything we would need her to do. Remember that she needed to know everything that was going on during the performance, where on stage it was happening, and where she was going to have to be to get the best angle. A friend of the band, Alyce, volunteered to be the camera operator so I asked that she be present at both rehearsals.
We addressed the performances first. Fortunately, the band brings a lot of experience to the stage as well as a willingness to try new things, is fantastic at accepting coaching (a rarity in this business, believe it or not), and already came in with a greater than average level of energy and enthusiasm. So it wasn’t difficult to get them to ratchet the energy up a few more levels. We then focused on creating visuals that would stick out to people watching the show. This included sections in the broadcast in which Amanda was on her knees with Michael and Nathan on either side of her, Amanda tossing beach balls out into the crowd, and Amanda actually singing while riding on Nate’s shoulders while he walked around playing bass during the finale of the broadcast.
It was all stuff that would look great performance-wise even without the impressive lighting at the venue. Since we had only a couple of hours to sort everything out, we took a “broad strokes” approach creating and working on these very cool visuals in cleaning up any major problems that popped up.
While we were hammering down all the movements that would take place during the broadcast, we also had to hash out things like when Amanda and members of the band would be performing to the camera operated by Alyce vs when they were performing to the crowd attending the show at Bootlegger’s. Proving that they were in fact the perfect band to run this little experiment with, the band had no problem hamming it up for the camera during rehearsal.
Once all of that was done, we had to address the final layer: Alyce’s presence on the stage during the show. I wanted to make this as easy as possible for her so grabbed Brittany’s iPhone (the same one we would be using for the Facebook Live broadcast) and I had the band run through each of the three songs while I recorded the video as if we were doing the FB Live broadcast. We then sent the video file to Alyce so she could study before the second two-hour session. It basically provided her with a video walk-through of where she had to be and where the camera had to be pointed at any given time.
The second two-hour session was spent doing repeated run throughs of the three song set. We also worked on Amanda’s delivery during the transitions when she would direct the crowd to sign-up for the band’s e-mail list, give them the rundown on the merchandise giveaway that was being run through sharing the FB Live video, and directing the audience on the call-and- response going into the last song. And this gave Alyce several opportunities to operate the camera through the entire set while we made adjustments to the performances and added more movements to the show.
We wrapped up that second rehearsal with a ten-minute FB Live broadcast during which the band and I discussed the work that went into it.
So now you know about everything leading into the show and the Facebook Live broadcast. In Part 2, you will get a very detailed look at everything that took place during the show, problems that popped up, things that went exactly the way we were hoping as well as aspects of the show that could have gone better, and you will get to see the actual Facebook Live broadcast in its entirety as well as video of the performance shot from the floor.
Additionally, if you haven’t already grabbed yourself a free copy of my music business book, The $150,000 Music Degree, you can do so by jumping over to www.GiftFromWade.com.
It’s easy to be hardcore when you’re a young musician. I remember those days well. You’re willing to play any gig at any time, drive as far and in whatever weather as needed, compromise your own comfort and income, drive a beater, live on ramen noodles and cheap beer, and to do anything else required to live the life you love, because, deep in your heart, you just KNOW that it’s going to pay off. You are gonna write that song or create that sound that sets the world on fire and it’s all gonna be gravy after that. You just need a little more time.
So time passes. Some musicians do, in fact, set the world on fire. Not you, though. High school turns to college, twenties turn to thirties, and the same lifestyle grind continues. You’re not that old yet, right? You may have picked up a spouse and/or kids by now, which changes the game a little, but you will just pick up some cover gigs for cash and maybe teach some lessons and all, you think, will be good. But it isn’t. Your original music isn’t paying the bills, so you go full on cover band. At least you’re a working musician, right? Not so bad, you get paid, and more time passes, enough time to notice a crucial difference. Where before you played to get past local gigs to the next level, now you just play a circuit that keeps you busy, hopefully, but leads nowhere. Maybe you’re in your forties by now, day job and all, and, one night on stage as you bash out “Mustang Sally” or “When I Come Around” for the millionth time while an over-served girl pukes on the dance floor, you start thinking that being a live juke box for suburban drunks isn’t what you signed on for, and maybe it’s time to adult up and quit this nonsense for good. I mean, you tried, right?
You might have lived out a variation of this tale. I know I have. I ended up so far away from where and why I started out that I forgot, for a while, why I ever did this music stuff in the first place. I learned a whole lot about the game of music and about myself over thirty years in the rock and roll trenches and I today want to share a few tidbits of that knowledge with you, Gentle Reader, in hopes of improving your mental game and saving you a step or two. Here goes nothing!
TIDBIT #1 – THE REASONS WHY WE PLAY ARE IMPORTANT!
We all must be who we are, as musicians. We have to accept our deep, inner identity because that is the part of us that made us start playing. If you had a burning desire to write songs when you were sixteen, part of you probably still does at forty. You have to honor that or it will drive you crazy. That was the big mistake I made. I started as a songwriter but got seduced by cover band money in my thirties and gave up writing for over a decade. I only made music for money. Thing is, music is not only about money. If you need both money and creativity to be happy, a balance between is needed. Cognitive dissonance is your enemy and will breed resentment. Keep your reasons alive!
TIDBIT #2 – BAR BAND LIFE SUCKS AFTER A WHILE!
Let’s face it, playing in a four- set-a-night bar band is not for everybody. It has its moments, to be sure, and is great for your chops, but it gets old fast for some of us. It’s a world away from life in a one-set original music band. No one dreams of getting old playing hours and hours of overdone material to an often indifferent or even hostile crowd of drinkers. Combined with a day job and a family, this life can be a spirit killer. Some folks are fine with it but, if you’re not, admit it to yourself. A gig is most definitely not a gig. Play in projects and venues that inspire you to do it again, not to just get drunk.
TIDBIT #3 – NOT QUITTING IS ALL ABOUT MORALE!
People quit things that they have lost enthusiasm for. The more years you spend in the game, the more vital it is to nurture your enthusiasm and positive morale in order to keep playing it. If you lose those things, you’ll be phoning it in forever and people will know. No matter what gig you’re doing, you’ve got to want to be there and feel good about it. Dig out your inner teenager again and remember why you first joined a band. As long as you can feed that inner teen with what he or she needs, your outer adult will be able to get through the tough nights and low points that come with all levels of music. Your mental game really is everything. Play it well.
I’ve come through these lessons and many more and am happy to be a fifty-year-old original music artist. My cover band days are probably done. Writing and recording music is why I’m here and always has been. I’m still hardcore, and I’m totally ok with with what I now do. To hit that point is to truly master The Art of Not Quitting.
At coffee, I run into everyone. Our town only has one coffee shop, so it’s easy to find everyone there. I ran into a couple of musicians that I’ve jammed with, and I dig their tunes! Well, like me, they signed up for Distrokid – and like me, they have the eternal musician’s struggle: Record, listen, hear the mistakes, re-record, listen, hear something “lacking”, re-re-record, listen – and so on.
The thing that a lot of us (musicians, writers, artists, people) do is that we work hard on whatever our passion is, look at it, and then find everything wrong with it. Even when it’s someone like me who LOVES the little mistakes (read: “nuances”) that make things imperfect, I constantly hear things that need to be fixed. Even when a recording is produced and polished, I love having a little something that is off in it, but it has to be just the right kind of wrong.
So many of us keep shelving things because of those little mistakes. The wrong drum hit at that moment, a wrong note hit, a line of lyric misspoken – more and more things make us keep our music/art to ourselves.
Listen to some of the great recordings of the past. Listen to Zeppelin live at The BBC, listen to Tom Waits’ recordings in a barn (or his amazing VH1 Storytellers), listen to BB King live, or John Fogerty! They all have these moments that the rest of us struggle with! And, what do they do? They keep going! They released the music, they let the art out! Sure, a lot of artists rely on the beauty of our technology to help produce a “perfect” track…. No comment.
So, what do we do? Do we allow our mistakes to be a little part of our performances and recordings? Do we keep all of this wonderful music, writing, art to ourselves out of fear of our worste critic (it’s ourselves – The Storyteller), or maybe we just do something crazy like emphasize the mistake?! Whatever we decide to do, just get the art out there! Perfect or not, just bloody let it out!
Someone once asked the rhetorical, “what if Hendrix had left his music on a tape in the studio instead of releasing it or playing shows? What about Kurt Cobain or Joe Cocker? What about Janis Joplin? They all made mistakes, hit “wrong” notes, they were all perfectly human on their recordings – so why can’t you be?”
That was the thing that pushed me over the edge. Sure, I still want things mixed and sounding like they do in my mind – but if there’s this or that on there – a dog or car in the background, or a note that doesn’t quite go with the tune, or even a ragged vocal moment – I let it sit for a while before I say I need to try again. And, as I let it sit, they grow on me and I learn to love those little moments in the songs. Even the hiss of the amp can sometimes add another dimension to what I’ve been working on.
It gets worse (or “less perfect”) when playing live. When I was playing with a band, I would mess up a lot, I mean a lot. Now that I play solo shows… I mess up even more! It doesn’t matter to the audience how many things I have to think about; which pedal should be pressed, what distance I should stay from the mic, switching from a barred aug9 chord to an open min7th… Most audience members don’t ****ing care. They only care if it sounds good and they’re having fun. So, I’m learning (yes, still in the process) to roll with the punches of messing up on stage. In fact, a few of the screw-ups I’ve made on stage gave me ideas to change the songs for the better! How cool is that?!
So, let the mistakes be heard! Maybe do something crazy and accentuate them! Don’t do a million takes to try and make it perfect, you’ll never be satisfied – I know I’m rarely satisfied at the first dozen listens. I’ll always have the struggle of the musician who loves the sound of raw music and emotion mixed with a person who is, in many ways, a perfectionist about how I want things to sound or be presented. I’m letting the former win the fights more and more just so I can get the music out there. Even if only one person hears it and enjoys it on any level – that’s better than none.
So, I will continue to release music, wrong notes and all.
Now, while I appreciate all forms of music, I think that these classic jazz musicians nailed it with their quotes:
“There are no wrong notes; some are just more right than others.”
“It’s not the note you play that’s the wrong note – it’s the note you play afterwards that makes it right or wrong.”
“There’s no such thing as a wrong note.”
“Do not fear mistakes. There are none.”
“There are no wrong notes, only wrong resolutions”
“I played the wrong, wrong notes.”
Musicians can be the targets of a LOT of harsh words.
It sucks when coming from strangers. But it cuts EXTRA deep when they come from “supposed” friends.
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
“Are you enjoying your hobby?”
“Honestly, I think your band sucks and I’d rather be dead than caught on a stage with you.”
“You’ll never make money doing that. When are you going to get a REAL job?”
“You’re just a singer. Not a REAL musician. Besides, you’re only a woman so you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You can’t fill a phone both with people that want to hear YOUR music!”
“You’re a musician, right? Can I get some weed from you?”
“Where are you playing next? So I can NOT be there.”
“Your music sucks!”
“You look like Muhammed Ali’s retarded cousin when you rap!”
“Gosh you’re so talented! Why don’t you put on some makeup, you know, fix yourself up a little, lose some weight and do some songs people actually know?”
Or one of my personal favs:
“Dude! If I hear another self-promotion about your shytty band I’m gonna fyck you up! Yes, I watched your videos and you can’t sing worth shyt! You give Utah a bad name and image, the only reason you’re ranked on ReverbNation is because ALL YOU DO is sit home and are an internet slut, do you play anywhere besides Fats?? Mishell is too nice to say no. I am going to message every bluesman in town and let them know you’re a fraud and if it weren’t for the internet you’d be unheard of! Every time I log in I get raped by 10,000 of your posts! SHUT THE FUCJ UP BEFORE I POST PUBLIC HOW SHYTTY YOU REALLY ARE STICK TO ART YOU TONE DEF FRAUD!”
My standard, practical advice normally consists of “Haters are a sign of success” and, “That’s the beauty of the internet, you can block those people”.
But the other night, during office hours for the “Musicpreneur Apprentice Program” we dove a bit deeper and I shared some advice that I’m sure you could use as well.
It comes from a book I recommend called “The Four Agreements”(by Don Miguel Ruiz). It’s a practical guide to personal freedom and inner peace, based on Ancient Toltec Wisdom.
There are 4 agreements you can make that will give you immunity to such cutting remarks. Fortunately, you make these agreements with yourself, so there ARE within reach:
Be Impeccable With Your Word
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using your words to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
Don’t Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and action of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama, With just this one agreement you can completely transform your life.
Always Do Your Best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to when you are sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse, and regret.
Of course I, myself, have not yet perfected these agreements. But anytime I feel down, I review them to see if I am breaking one of them. It always turns out that I am. I now have the tools to undo the damage that is done to my psyche by harsh words from others, AND from myself. And I want YOU to have these tools at your disposal as well 😉
Can YOU make these agreements with yourself? I believe that you can!
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If you know any musicians that have been on the receiving end of such harsh words, which by my calculation would be EVERY musician you know, please share this with them. That’s all for today 😉
Truer words have never been spoken. That is why I’m using this quote from an interview, I recently watched, as the title of this article. The quote is from my good friend Nate Compton, front man of ELISIUM, a national touring indie band. In the interview, which you can watch below, Nate talks about his experience traveling the country playing music and tries to answer a question he is asked a great deal. How do you know it’s the right time to quit your job and go on tour? This very question is one that I have wrestled with many times and am wrestling now as I write this post.
But, who am I?
My name is Greg Barrett. I play drums for a regional touring act on the verge of going national. For the past three years my band has been the proverbial weekend road warrior. I also do session work for a local recording studio from time to time. I’ve worked my entire life to get to the point where I’m currently at musically, and I honestly believe that I was put on this earth for the purpose of playing music. It was obvious from the time I was three that I would be following this path and chasing the dream.
And, just like my buddy Nate was a few short years ago, I’m standing on the edge of the cliff trying to decide whether or not to jump? Should I quit my job, to do what I love, or continue to work full time. Should you? Nate did, and believe me it’s a hard but fulfilling road. But don’t take my word for it, after reading this article, watch his interview.
First off, let’s cut to the chase and determine if you/your band is ready to take to the roads. Have you established yourself in your home market? Are you getting good enough guarantees and positive feedback in your home market to warrant branching out into new radius based test markets? Assuming you already have merchandise, are you moving it well at your live shows? Is everyone in your crew on the same page? Is your branding on point?
Branding? What’s that? We’re a band, not a business… WRONG!!!
The list could go on and on and on, but all of them are legitimate questions that need to be addressed. All good topics to revisit in later articles, especially branding. We’ll cover the first few for now.
Welcome my friends to indie touring!
Is everyone in your team on the same page? They had better be if you’re planning to spend days, weeks, or months at a time in a smelly, cramped, van. You will all be running on minimal sleep and a diet of who knows where the next meal is coming from. Hotel rooms will be a rarely afforded luxury, so you’ll be mostly sleeping in the van, and showering at truck stops and gyms. The gym option is a great choice! Let’s face it, who couldn’t use some exercise? Just make sure to join a national chain. Needless to say, the last thing you want is to be out midway through a tour, 900 miles from home and a member decide the road isn’t for him/her. Everyone in that van should have the same drive, determination, and work ethic. Everyone should have a designated job to do and be pulling their weight. You are about to leave the happy-go-lucky and comfortable world of music as a hobby and enter the realm of full time, always on call, real deal music is my JOB. Is everyone willing and able to completely uproot from normal life, sell off most everything not needed to be as debt free as possible and not get paid often? You had best be finding out! Unless of course you are loaded to the gills and able to just finance or bank roll a tour, a bus, or accommodate your crew every night with lodging, food, and pay. Or, you already have major label backing and enough leverage in your deal that they provide for all of it. Even most of the signed bands out there are lucky to be provided with a 15 passenger van and trailer.
Lets focus on your home and radius markets.
Your home market is your first anchor. Assuming that you’ve established a healthy following already in your hometown, you should be drawing sizable crowds, getting reasonably good venue guarantees, and be moving merch well. These two latter points will be key to survival in new markets where you will be working to replicate that hometown market all over again. This never stops. Each time you win a large following, that market becomes an anchor. You should be working to establish these anchors roughly 3 to 5 hours apart for weekend strings and as far out as 9 plus hours for tours. Guarantees in new test markets will, in all likelihood, be minimal at best if any at all. There will be a lot of times starting out when fuel and food between stops is a luxury only afforded by your merch sales. That’s where those anchors come into play. Routing more than a couple test market stops between your “meat and potato” anchor stops WILL break the budget. So will running out of merch… DON’T DO THAT!
Survival on tour is all about budgeting and being prepared for whatever gets thrown at you. You can never count 100% on getting paid your full guarantee or being paid at all for every date booked, even with signed contracts. This is especially true when you’re working new rooms and contacts. Any tour that ends up breaking even should be considered a success. If you do turn a profit after all the expenses, then that’s a huge success! The real objective is to get your name out there in new markets and build that following.
The whole landscape of the music business is shifting and constantly changing. A recent topic of debate among many of my peers has been, is touring profitable anymore? I have many friends on both sides of that fence. Some who got in the game when venue pay and general attendance were high, which allowed them to generate large enough national followings to still warrant hefty guarantees, are now in the catch 22 of “always on tour”. They simply can’t afford to not be on tour full time now. On the other side, with guarantees way lower, it may be more profitable to tap into other revenue streams, than to try to stay out on the road all the time. The bottom line is, touring is still the most effective means of developing a strong following. People still love to see a killer live show and actually meet the artists.
Don’t let me discourage you, but be aware of what you are about to do. Making the jump from hobby to career is no smooth path. It’s a lot of work. Touring can actually be fun, rewarding, and give you a whole new perspective on life. It will broaden your horizons, make you laugh, cry, and open your eyes to that big world outside of your box. Nothing beats the feeling of knowing you left every ounce of yourself that you had to give on that stage night after night.
Is there ever going to be a “right time”? Probably not…
But, as my friend Wade Sutton from Rocket to the Stars says, “Sometimes you jump. Sometimes you get pushed. Either way, you’re going to learn to fly.”
Alright, there’s my two cents, now watch Nate’s interview, and go start planning that maiden tour!
Greg Barrett is the drummer for the indie rock band Seasons of Me, session musician for The Sound Asylum Recording & Mastering Studio, and follower/student of trends and marketing strategies in the new music industry. You can read his bio on his artist page at the Saluda Cymbals web site and check out his band at their official site using the links below.