May 1, 2013

Future Rock Gods get Impatient

Thanks for the kind words and suggestions after last week's "200th Post" post. A few suggestions were potentially very useful ( note: I have moved the 'subscribe' button closer to the top of the sidebar to the right )  ...but I don't think I'll be starting a line of "T-shirts and mugs and stuff to help defray costs" just yet because I don't think the time and effort required to design them and create an online 'store' page somewhere - yes I know they can be had for free - would be a productive use of my time at this point... I mean come on, people are "afraid" to leave comments, they're sure as hell not going to plunk down $$ for a mug or T-shirt. If I'm wrong about this dear readers, please let me know... but I doubt I am.

And so we come to this week's question about ambition(s.) 

Dear Ask A Punk - 
I'm in a pretty good band. We can headline any club in our semi-large town and we've been featured in the local music blogs and press and stuff like that. We've van-toured a little bit just in the surrounding states and have gotten a decent response. We're not assholes, we're just a good band and I think people can tell when you're legit and sincere. We all enjoy the same kind of parties, meaning no one is a junkie and stuff and we all get along reasonably well. At band meetings, my only question I have is "How big can we get?" ...but some of the other people in the band ask "How small should we stay?"  Do you know what I'm saying? I'm all for keeping our "cred" or whatever, but name me any decent band that doesn't always want new and more people to hear their songs and pay to come to gigs and all of that. The whole "don't sell out" thing is a cliche anyway. Rappers are only considered legit when they finally become rich and famous. My wanting to be, ok I'll say it - more of a 'rock star' whatever that may mean nowadays, does NOT make my love of the music any less sincere. It means I really want this to be my LIFE not some art project or something I can say I did "when I was younger" or something. 

I think my bandmates are lying to themselves. Why would they build out such a big-ass website and pose for pictures and put stuff on soundcloud etc if they  don't want to become more well-known and in-demand. I mean at some point you have to call bullshit on it, right?  They bitch about my being too "mercenary" but I'm sure if or when somebody hands us a big record deal, they sure as fuck won't turn down their share of the big check. Know what I mean? So why is there so much I don't know, shame, attached to wanting  to rock bigger and bigger venues? 

I know I'm sounding like a douchebag writing this stuff, like I'm full of myself. I swear I'm not. I just know I've worked hard at getting good at this stuff and I am. Like when a jock gets to be star quarterback at the high school, of course he then dreams of playing in college and then the pros, right? so why is that a bad thing for a punk rock musician?  I guess the big thing I'm trying to decide is: Should I just find or start another band where everybody knows, from day 1, that we're going to be going as big as possible? Or should I ride it out with this band, which I DO really like, and just wait for the rest of 'em to come around? -- Lady tired of being in waiting.

Dear Lady - 
You don't sound a like a douchebag. You sound like someone who has been paying some dues and is expecting a pay-off for all that hard work. That is perfectly normal. The tricky part is that you're involved in a creative endeavor which means that success and happiness are NEVER guaranteed, no matter how much hard work & effort is put in. On top of that, you're involved in a group creative endeavor - which means you're not only dealing with different personalities, strengths and weaknesses but also differing levels of ambition and different definitions of "success."

As usual, I'm really sort of vamping here while I figure out how to answer a question without some key and useful pieces of information. I wish you had included your age and what your role in the band is (singer? drummer? etc.) ...heck, you didn't even hint at the fact that you're female until you signed off. ...and yes, that kind of information would have some effect on my answer.

I'm assuming you are on the youngish side, because you're so full of balls-out ambition, and because I don't think you have a clear understanding of the music business - neither as it was or as it is now. The truth is the vast majority of musicians never get "the big record deal" the further truth is that the vast majority of musicians who DO land "the big record deal" still end up broke, screwed and decidedly not "Rock Stars." Courtney Love actually did a good job of explaining it all on Salon.

Now go back an read the DATE of that story. ...she wrote that 13 years ago. Look at all that has happened since. The "record business" as it was then doesn't even exist now. It. Is. All. Gone.   ...but the good news is: This is a GOOD thing.

The whole idea of "The Music Business" was a fairly new, and thankfully, short-lived thing. For most of mankind's history, music could only be experienced "Live" and musicians made their living by playing gigs. Period. ...but then, about 100 years ago, recording technology was invented and that led to: Middle-men,people and companies that controlled WHAT got recorded, and how it got distributed. They controlled the recording equipment and the cash, so they controlled the music and the musicians. No matter how young you might be, certainly you're aware that "The Record Lablels" all have a pretty-much non-stop history of lying to and exploiting the musicians, keeping nearly all of the money and basically screwing everyone, right? 

...and screw them.

I hate sentences from older people that start like this, but... It used to be that, if a band or a band really wanted to "make it" they often HAD to move from wherever they lived to the nearest "Music Mecca." ...some of these meccas are more-or-less eternal, and which one you went to was determined by what kind of music you played/loved. Cities like Nashville, New York, Chicago, Kansas City (yes, Kansas City), Chicago. Other cities had their mecca moments where, for whatever cosmic reasons, a ton of great music started happening at the same time: Athens, Seattle San Francisco etc. A lot of bands and musicians still take this route. They escape their personal podunk for the big city with their instrument and their dreams. Some of them get what they wanted, most of them don't, but ALL of them have the satisfaction of not having to lead a "what if...?" kind of life. 
But today that isn't the only option. 

Back when I was playing in bands in Western Massachusetts (about 4 Presidents ago.) You could have THE biggest band around... but that meant your fanbase would still top out at about 300 people. Travel 20 miles in ANY direction and you'd discover that no one has every heard of you or your band. ... IF you wanted to develop a bigger following you had to go where there were more people. HAD to. ...and that led to the demise of countless great bands. This is the point where a lot of bands would break up and a lot of musicians would hang up their gear - hearts broken that their kickass band had fallen apart. The bands that DID make the move to the new city often broke up too... A lot of growing up and changing gets done the first time you live away from home, and that pressure exploded plenty of great bands.

You don't have to go through all that. You already know you don't. As everyone tells you, and as cliche' as it sounds - with the Internet, you have an almost limitless potential audience just a few clicks away. I won't now go on for six or seven paragraphs on how to do all that because I have to assume these are all things you kids already know how to do (ie: use Pro Tools, Photoshop, Tumblr, Twitter etc.) 

So if we now know that your idea to drag your bandmates to a bigger market isn't necessarily the best thing for ANY band to do anymore, if staying in your current town is what everyone else in the band wants to do now, then the question is: Would you/Should you leave anyway?

And this makes it more about YOU and less about them. You said yourself it is a good band that you're happy to be in, so it just seemed odd that you would be so willing to casually abandon it because I'll tell ya - being in a good band, with everyone more-or-less on the same page, is a RARE thing. Haven't you been in any bad bands yet? How is that possible?

If the music is good, the chemistry is decent and everyone is fairly polite, why would you want to leave? As we've already covered: You must already know that you can get plenty-ass famous without leaving your backyard these days... so why, when you're part of such a potentially great band, are you agitating to leave town? I'm not use it is 100% for "career ambition" reasons. Are you really not getting along all that well? Are you feeling creatively stifled? Are your opinions not being respected?  -- This is why I wish you had told me what you do in the band. Are you writing the songs etc? This stuff is important.

If you're a drummer you can feel pretty safe quitting any gig at any time, because you know you'll be in demand - the world always needs more drummers. The same goes for bass players (in most cities) but if say, you're like I was:  a half-assed and not very good guitarist/fake-ass singer with ill-defined songwriting ambitions.... well, you're lucky to be in any band that'll have you, and a fool to drop out of a good one. Know what I mean?

What is your real ambition: To make it big with this band?  ...or is it just to get out of town yourself? Answer that.

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