music morsels indie music August 2007

FEATURE ARTICLE - Thinning the Herd:  When bands really need to hang it up
by Mark E. Waterbury

Mark Waterbury
Mark Waterbury

OK, perhaps right off the bat this may seem a bit cynical to some. After all, one of our main goals with Music Morsels has been to attempt to instill into bands just what it takes to have a successful music career. There is one problem that many hard working bands who heed advice and have the proper work ethic come up against although it is not necessarily their fault: we face a glutted market in today’s music scene. There are tons of bands, musicians and songwriters out there, and only a limited number of avenues for them to at least eek out a decent living, much less snag that holy grail of “making it big.” To be brutally honest, there are too many bands and musicians around that should just hang it up. They are clogging up an already choked market, and often, because of their attitudes and actions, are making it even more difficult for the hardworking bands with good attitudes and tenacious work ethics to further their own careers. So yes, this is a bit of a harsh article aimed at what type of bands and musicians should find another career path, but maybe it will work to some extent to thin the herd a bit to better the odds for the serious musicians out there.

People who do not take their craft seriously:
We’ve all gone to clubs or picked up local demos and have heard bands who quite frankly suck. Of course, if it is their first effort or they have not been together very long, they can improve. The people who need to hang it up are those who suck but think they are the greatest band in the world, or those who suck and do nothing to sound better. It is truly astounding when you hear a band that is flat out terrible at a club, and you find out that they have been together for awhile. They walk around like they think they are better than any band around, while they are chasing the patrons out of the club with their suckage. First you have to wonder, how did they even get a gig? Without trying to lay all the blame on club booking agents who don’t do their homework (that would be a whole new article) - still, this is the kind of thing that makes club bookers and other professionals leery about new bands. Also, it is a shame that there are bands that are talented and do bust their humps honing their talent, yet they have trouble getting gigs because these crappy bands took the slots they should have had. Clubs and other business entities should have brochures from the local technical colleges to give out to musical hacks they come across; maybe that will give them a less than subtle hint. So make sure you do everything possible to be a good band musically or find another way to make a living, because you probably won’t make it in music anyhow. This is difficult because most people can’t admit they stink at something they think they are great at, but they have to look inward. Don't ask your family or good friends for advice about your music either. Ask unbiased industry people who you are only acquainted with if you want the truth. You will spare yourself loads of toil and heartache if you do so.  Do you ever wonder if people try to become musicians because they...

Think of a music career as a get-rich-quick scheme:
Three key words for this: PLAY THE LOTTERY! If you don’t take music seriously, you will have better odds getting rich quick off winning the lotto than taking up space in the music business glut. Of course, then you have...

Musicians doing it for the girls, partying, etc...:
OK, they may have gotten away with this in the 80’s, but if you go into a music career thinking primarily with your “little” head, you are not going to go anywhere. While there are still people out there who are by no means angels, most bands who make it these days realize that the enjoyment and buzz comes from getting out on stage and performing your music. Not from some outside substance or from seeing if you can catch up to Gene Simmons. No one says you can’t have fun. I do remember what it was like to be in my early twenties, but you can’t let the party factor be the paradigm that you base your career path on. If that is what you want to do, just be a bartender, and leave the music to the serious musicians.

Music hobbyists who chase the pipedreams of their youth:
Some people think they can make a career change by being a musician later in life or after retirement, even if the last time they did anything musically was playing trumpet in their high school pep band. All of the sudden they get inspired and write a few songs and then get a wild hair thinking they can get a label deal, or more commonly, can get someone else to record their songs. Not to say people beyond their twenties and thirties who are new songwriters are incapable of writing a good song, but if you are of that age your chances of doing much of anything in the music business if you have not at least got your name out somewhere in the past are extremely slim. There are plenty of avenues for music hobbyists who at least have some chops. A lot of churches have worship teams with intensive music programs. Schools and local organizations need extra bands and musicians for their events. And although I really don’t completely condone cover bands, I have accepted the fact that they are there and have their place, and you can always try to get in one of those and play clubs, weddings, and family events. If you do insist on sticking your head into the music business maelstrom because you think it would be “cool” to try music now, you can become a hindrance for those who have always had passion for music, and have always pursued that passion. That quite simply is not fair to them.

Musicians with relatives/significant others/friends who have no clue about the music industry, but run
their careers for them:

This may be one of the most irritating things a music business professional has to deal with. This is not to say that all bands who have their girlfriend or college buddy or dad handle their business careers are bad bands. However, it seems more common that when they do have someone trying to run a business who does not know what they are doing, they tend to be less serious about their careers as well. There are very few exceptions where you have a relative or friend who does know the music business, but for the most part these people only THINK they know it because they are so enamored with the band’s talent, they cannot accept any type of rejection or lack of career growth. They then start to get the attitude that they know more than the professionals the hire, including the band's team members who have the most expertise and are doing the most to try to help them. So perhaps this is more targeting the friends and family, who if they are not an actual music business professional, should stick with just being supportive fans. If however a band feels that they want to fire their agents and managers and publicists to let a non-knowledgeable person run the show just because of their personal relationship, that band is headed nowhere and needs to hang it up as well. They are not thinking properly and are gumming up the works for those who are. I have found there is a large amount of arrogance among bands who hire their fathers to manage their band. Granted, there are exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, like father, like son.

Those who do not listen to their professional team:
When you actually do have knowledgeable professionals working with you, whether they are managers, booking agents, publicists, label reps or whatever, you have to heed their advice. We have hammered this into you several times, but many musicians just don’t get it. Some seem to think that even though they brought in someone for their particular field of expertise, that they themselves know more about the business than the professionals they hire. Often this is bred from the band or musician not wanting to do the actual work involved in their career that is usually required from your professional team. So if you are not going to listen to those who are trying to help you the most, why bother pursuing music and taking up the slots of those who do listen?

Dishonest musicians:
Yes, there are dishonest business people in the music industry as well, but there are far more dishonest musicians than most musicians would like to admit. Dishonesty can carry many forms; from reneging on promises to outright lying. The more people in the business who get burned by dishonest musicians, the less likely they are to trust ANY musicians, even those who are honest. Dishonesty is toxic for any career or relationship, so if you are not an honest musician, please at least be honest with yourself and move aside so the honest people can rise to the top. Do something where dishonesty won’t matter - become a politician!

Prima Donnas:
You have to at least MAKE IT BIG to even somewhat warrant prima donna behavior (though I wonder if it's justified even then). What amazes me is how many new or fledgeling bands there are that have this idea they should get everything handed to them, and how everyone should treat them like rockstars.  It can germinate with something simple, like maybe they got lucky and played a fest where they got paid and treated very well. Or they had an excellent review of their CD. If they don’t stay realistic and are the type just waiting for a reason to have their egos over-inflated, then this could become a detriment to their music career. If they start making unrealistic demands of others working with them, or entities like clubs and booking agents with a, “Hey, look at what this writer said about us” or “Hey, we got big bucks at this festival, we deserve it at your club, too” attitude, they are liable to get plenty of doors slammed in their faces. It is not that you cannot use any pluses in your career to try to keep climbing the ladder, but you need to do it in a proper way. If you are the type who thinks automatically that something good means that you are a rock star and everyone should start bowing down and worshipping you, then you need to go do something else with your life.

Those who just don’t want to do the work:
You have to put everything into your music career. You need to eat, sleep and breathe it 24/7 because it is one of the most difficult careers on this earth. If you are not willing to bust your butt and go the extra mile, you are just taking up valuable space. If you think it is not worth breaking your back because you most likely won’t become a rockstar anyway, then you are not in this for the love of the music anyway,

What this all boils down to is that if you truly love music then you will do everything possible to get through the roadblocks to make your career a success. You will be flexible and let the people in the know take the lead. And that will snowball so everyone will want to work with you! If you are not doing everything possible, or are guilty of any of the infractions listed above, then you are unfairly getting in the way of those who are trying so hard. Some musicians do this unwittingly, while musicians are just downright disrespectful, inconsiderate and self-absorbed. So really search your soul, and if you feel that music is not what is really lighting those fires inside, step aside and make room for those who FEEL it. They will be grateful, and, in the long run, you will be as well.
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