Jan 26, 2011

The Song (list) Remains the Same, but it shouldn't

Dear AAP=
My band gets along fairly well. No one is a douche and we're all kind of on the same page style-wise and musicanship-wise. Now that we've been together for a couple years though we're having one problem over and over again - too many songs. EVERYone in the band comes in with songs or 'ideas for songs' and while that is fun when we're in the practice space, when it comes time to making up a setlist for gigs, we get into arguments over what songs to include. Like I said, we're all fairly reasonable about this, but you can still tell that people are getting pissed off, or getting their feelings hurt if this song or that one doesn't make the list. How do people deal with this particular band problem? - co-writer.

Dear C-w
Too many great songs to chose from. wow... that sounds like a fairly good problem to have. The most important thing is that you sound like a fairly democratic band made up of reasonable people. So what to do?

So someone in the band brings in a song they've written or a idea for a song and you all give him/her the floor to run it down. Then everyone decides whether or not they like it, or what they might add to it. So far so good... but you're right, if you've got a bunch of creative people constantly bringing in new songs, you can build up quite a backlog after a couple of years.

It almost sounds like you're all maybe too polite with each other - not wanting to hurt each other's feelings or stifle someone's creative ideas. That's great... but sometimes a little more stringent honesty is called for. So you have to ask yourself IS this new song at least as good as the other stuff you're already playing - or is it hopefully WAY better than the other songs? That is what you should all be shooting for... not just turning in another "ok" song but instead creating something so awesome that everyone else jumps up and says "We GOTTA play this song at our next gig."

So a new song has to get put to a REAL vote by the band members, and if a majority likes it then the trick is to find a slot for it in your set list. THIS of course raises more questions for me. You said you've been together for a couple years, but I have no idea how often your band actually plays out. Are you steady-gigging every week? ...or, like most new bands, do you go months between shows? This matters because if you're booking tons of shows then it should be easy to slip new tunes into the rotation for at least one 'try-out' ...but if gigs are more rare for you then the set-list is a much bigger deal... I'm guessing since your band is so cooperative, that you all somehow make a committee decision on your set list... That might work, or you might take turns letting ONE person make up the whole set list. Other options: You could each pick your top ten songs (in order) and then tabulate the results and play only the songs that got the most votes... However you decide to do it, it is critical that afterwards the band discusses what songs worked and what songs didn't... keeping in mind that figuring out the right songs is only half the battle.. getting them in a good ORDER is a whole other issue.

The real key is that you're all creative folks and you're all trying to move your band forward creatively and cooperatively... that is a good place to start. Sure there will always be groups that orbit around one supreme talent/artist, but most of the best bands thrive thanks to their "us against the world" energy... and you don't want to lose that by bickering over which song goes were. You can really feel the difference - watching a tight/cooperative band vs. watching five people who just happen to be on stage and playing the same song at the same time. The audience can always feel that difference.

I think you got the right mindset - wanting to do what is best for the BAND and not for your songs (or someone else's) ... and anybody who feels like their songs are getting unfairly ignored well, that's what "solo projects" are for.

Jan 19, 2011

See if you can detect the theme.

Greetings all. A rare embarrassment of riches this week as I got several questions/emails instead of the usual trickle, but in a case of bad timing I find myself in the midst of some personal, logistical and miscellaneous shall we say "issues" ...so I don't have a lot of time - but I can't spread the questions and answers out over the next four weeks (or more) because they all sounded more time critical than usual. So here are some uncharacteristically short answers followed by what I hope won't be a rambling summary.

To Passport to Adventure: You're young and trust me, it won't get any EASIER for you to move to Europe as the years pass. Do it and have the experience. Life is short.

To Waste Not-Wanton NOT: As long as you're being honest with your partners, not exploiting them or yourself and of course practicing safe sex (EVERY time) then embrace what you referred to as your "apparent slut phase." Life is short.

To Garbage Man: Your friends don't know what they're talking about and they sound unremittingly horrible. Find new ones as quickly as possible. Life is short.

To Simpler Than I Thought: Congratulations. Now to get rid of that continued "empty feeling" try to figure out what you can do to help other people. It matters and, well, life is short.

That sums it all up pretty well I think, but don't get used to these short answers because I find them very unsatisfying ... if I was comfortable writing in short bombastic blasts, Ask A Punk would be little more than a twitter feed. Of course I DO have a twitter feed (@askapunk, of course) but I don't use it as much as everyone tells me I should.

Anyway, yes, as you can tell, I'm not in my normal, expansive frame of mind. There are a few things pulling me in too many directions at once and as the frustrations etc mount I have to keep reminding myself that LIFE IS SHORT... cut out all the BS whenever possible and try, try to stick to what really matters - and I don't mean selfishly, I mean karmic-ly. SO much of what you're worried about today, right this instant either 1) Isn't going to happen or 2) doesn't matter much anyway. Think I'm wrong? .... Think about what is causing you the most worry and anxiety at this moment... got it? now... can you tell me what was fueling this same level of worry/anxiety six weeks ago? six days ago? ...except in rare cases, I'm guessing you don't even remember what it was because it either didn't come to pass or it didn't really matter all that much.

Gotta Go.
See you next week.

Jan 12, 2011

The collapse of society will not be written in ones and zeros.

Dear AAP-
I use a computer, obviously since I'm writing to you here. I'm no the web every day like everyone else - for news, email, work, research, killing time whatever. I'm saying I get it , but I'm still concerned when I see my kids and their dependence on all things online/digital and really not just my kids but also my co-workers and some peers too. They get lost in it and I'm thinking this is going to have some serious negative consequences down the road, for our society I mean. I know that sounds dumb as I type it, but I'm asking seriously, what can a person do to go against this tide? - Not Anti-Technology. Just concerned.

Dear NA-T.JC
If you really want to go against this tide, just do it. Unplug, then tell your friends they'll need to buy stamps if they want to send you messages because you don't have email any more and then dig out your phone book so that you can look up phone numbers again... and with the cash you save not having to pay for internet or a text/data plan on a cellphone, you can buy a bicycle, get outside and spread the word of your new, happier lifestyle.

...but ok, you said you're not a Luddite. You know the utility and usefulness of all this technology... but YOU can handle it... you're concerned with how other people can/can't handle it, how "Society" is going to crumble because other people aren't as savvy as you are about these things? Is that it? I've got some news for you: Worrying about 'the other people' in this case is just code for some kind of elitism, and besides that I should tell you this: Unless you own ComCast, your actions aren't going ot have much of an impact on our society one way or the other.

We are a digital society, and growing more digital by the day. Get used to it and accept it. Bad weather here in Southern California knocked out my internet connection for eight days and I thought I was going to lose my mind... Not because I didn't know what to do with myself but because I couldn't DO any of the things I have to do in the course of a typical week. Granted I'm not addicted to an MMO game or some such thing, but still, it felt like a kind of withdrawal. Am I proud of that? No. Am I aware of it? Sure... but that has more to do with my own weaknesses and habits than it has to do with the technology itself... I recently watched a documentary about people who have developed addictions to online gaming etc, and for my money, it always seems to come down to this: addictive types are going to find SOMEthing to be addicted to... whether it is heroin, ham or digital heroics... and it seems that for every addict who destroys their lives with a videogaming addiction, you'll find a story about some wheelchair bound recluse who found friendship and real connection through an 'online community' of some kind.

The real point that I'm slowing coming around to is this: Society has problems and most of them are NOT caused by WoW or FaceBook or anything else flowing into your house through the DSL line. From where I'm sitting "kids today" are not more isolated by all of this technology - In fact they're waaaaay more connected. Think about it. My nephew is a high school freshman. He sends/receives 1000s of texts/messages each month, to/from everyone: friends, cousins and of course his parents. When I was a freshman in HS, I had just a small group of maybe 4 friends who I pretty much only saw or talked to while AT school, maybe got 2 or 3 phone calls a month and basically spent all of my time sitting in my room alone (ie: "isolated") and listened to records... and when I graduated from high school I immediately lost track of most of those friends. Then it was off to college where the whole thing started all over again: figuring out who your friends might be etc etc... but now, kids are always connected to 100s of people and they STAY connected, not based (as we did) on who is or remains most geographically convenient, but by who best enriches their lives with communication... and when/if they do go off to college, they still have all their old contacts just as close by as ever (in their 'contacts' list) and have also probably already found (through online means) like-minded people & groups at what will be their new school.

Seriously - our society isn't "changing" it has already changed in more ways that you or I can truly comprehend... and those changes aren't going to stop any time soon. We're humans, changing our society and our living conditions based on improvisation and innovation is what we DO as a species... Get on board with that and stop with the self-righteous concern about "society" ..."society" will be fine and continue on its current trajectory whether you're sitting in front of your flatscreen or on your high horse.

Jan 5, 2011

Best Band in Town.

Greetings all -
Without a lot of hoopla, I just wanted to point out that today is the 3 Year Anniversary of ASK A PUNK and I wanted to thank everyone who has spent some of their internet surfing time here. I'll keep writing, please keep reading and help spread the word... thanks again!

Dear Ask A Punk -

I live in a small town and my band is great. I'm sick of everyone who thinks the only way to be a great band is to move to some big city, find the 'cool' neighborhood and then live like a cockroach while you compete with a 1000 other bands for the same stage time and all that BS. It is just stupid to incur all those expenses just be be cool. My rent is cheap. I have a yard and a dog and I live in a great and safe neighborhood. How many "dudes in bands" living in some big place say that? Not many. And of course with the internet we have access to the same 6 billion+ music fans as any of them do. If some guy in Finland digs my band he isn't going to notice or care exactly where I'm living. So why do people still do it? - Hicks Rock.

Dear HR-
I'm not going to try to change your mind on this. You make some extremely valid points. I'm a guy who grew up in a small town - I left it and moved to my first "big city" (Boston) for reasons that mostly had nothing to do with bands or gigs and so yeah, even to this day I sometimes miss the ease, quiet and relative safety that comes from living in a less urban setting... but unless your name is Justin Bieber or you're planning a Scandinavian tour, that dude in Finland isn't going to be showing up to one of your gigs any time soon.

I love the internet (obviously.) The way it has decentralized power and made worldwide distribution as easy for a small-town band as it was for the major labels is awesome to me, but as much as the internet has enabled bands to reach out further & wider for fans (while dealing that blessed death-blow to the major record labels) the bottom line is this: Most groups want to be a BAND not a 'studio project.' ... and the way to do that has always been to play live gigs in front of an adoring (and hopefully ever expanding) audience. The only way to do that is to go to where the people are... and where do we find great teeming hordes of such potential fans in the flesh and on the hoof? ... in big cities. The bigger the city the bigger the potential fan base. There is a reason that towns of 4000 people don't have rock clubs with an audience capacity of 1500.
It is that simple. I also have to say that it is much much easier to be, or perhaps just think you are, a 'great band' in a small town. Spend a year (or ten) playing hard gigs on bills shared with two to six other bands and you'll have a much much better idea of how good, great or awful your band might really be.

As far as the 'attitude' you feel you're getting from the majority of 'urban rockers' all I can say is this: Your email fairly dripped with attitude itself... so maybe those people are picking up your hostile vibe and just preempting you.

Either way keep playing and enjoy your yard. Maybe next time you run into some City Rockers you'll invite them out to your place for some rural hospitality so that they can see what (you think) they're missing.