They fail almost all the time, because musicians often throw caution to the wind and have a mind that it’s a simple endeavor. I am here to tell you that it’s not. If you’re not taking your music seriously, and you’re in a cover band or you’re just playing with friends, then fill your boots my friend — more power to you. But if you intend on actually making money from your career as a musician and you intend on doing it with others, there are some things you need to know before even starting. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but here are some of the more important things to keep in mind on why bands fail.
Get to the know the people you’re with
Like I’ve always said “Joining a band is like marrying four or five people all at once.”
Get to know these people really, really well. You’re possibly going to spend months in a crappy van with these cats, and it’s important to have the right kind of people next to you in that situation. It’s very important that you avoid joining up with musicians who aren’t tolerant at all, who get in terrible moods because of the poor conditions and fly off the handle, taking out their frustration on everybody else. Keeping a band mate like that is an exercise in futility for your career; you’ll spend five months on the road and then without warning your bandmate has either left mid-tour or afterwards, and you’ll have to end the tour prematurely wasting everyone’s time.
Or you’ll have to spend even more time looking for the replacement and teaching him when you get home. I don’t care how talented he is, I don’t care what he can offer, if you find yourself with that person then avoid them at all costs. Humor and a relaxed behavior is important here, because you’re going to fail a lot and – while that’s OK – some people overreact and they make a mountain out of a molehill, and it can kill the morale of everyone.
Now, If you’re doing drugs and you’re not ruining your life, I don’t care and neither should anybody else. It’s not our business, some people can handle their drugs really well, they aren’t addicts, and they aren’t a problem. (Editor’s Note: SuperNerdLand does not condone drug use, but not all laws in the world conform to a single standard of prohibition. Drug use — and abuse — exists in the world, deal with it.) Putting aside heroin as choice drug for obvious reasons, I know people like this and they are fantastic people, but if you start to see a budding problem where some people in the band are irrational and violent because of this then it’s time to find another band.
That is a ticking time bomb, and you need to distance yourself before you’re caught in it’s blast radius. You might find yourself picking up their habits, and as far as crossing borders go, you’re going to find yourself on the seven O’clock news whether you were doing drugs with them or not. Sometimes a major — or even minor label — might not pick you up if you’re a bit of a flight risk. I’m not knocking drugs, just find someone who can handle their stuff and keep it at home, or in the very least not travel across borders with it.
If somebody has kids and a wife, house payments, a job they can’t take leave of, their schooling, or a girlfriend, then you’re most likely just setting yourself up for disappointment. These people have responsibilities beyond the band that will most likely conflict with your ability to tour, even sometimes with regular six hour practice sessions and studio time. You can rarely find somebody who can juggle these things with relative ease and if you’re really looking to make something of yourself as a musician, your career has to be in your top two.
My hat goes off to all those mothers and fathers who still pursue the dream, but if all of your band mates have overbearing girlfriends who require all their attention, or a job that simply can’t be left for a tour, then that’s an obstacle you can avoid by just not joining up with them. Sometimes it’s a little easier to take the safe path and avoid the possibility of the problem all together, especially when probability isn’t in your favor.
Safety & Maintenance
Before you hit the road, get all of the equipment checked out by a professional and fix any problems that arise. Save up money, and keep spare parts and extra patch cords/XLR cables at all times. When you lug electronics from place to place with alternating weather conditions, there’s going to be some wear and tear, and you’re going to have crippling problems.
Speaking of crippling problems, if somebody steals all your equipment out of your van while you’re sleeping in your hotel room, you are going to be fucked beyond all measure. Don’t bother with locks on the van, don’t bother with alarm systems, fuck that noise and bring your equipment into the hotel rooms. If you’re all going out to party, leave somebody behind to watch it. I don’t care if it doesn’t fit, I don’t care if you’re tired, I don’t even care if your bandmate is pouty about not joining the party, make it fit, put some elbow grease into it and tell him to bite the bullet or you are going to lose all of your equipment. Be absolutely firm on this issue and do not waver.
It’s an industry
The music industry is an industry; it’s not a club or a hobby. First and foremost you are selling a product. Major labels don’t pick people up because they’re talented, they pick people up because they can make money for the label. Part of understanding how to make money with your music is looking at how modern artists write their material, how they structure their songs in a condensed and palatable format. That’s something you’re going to need to conform to whether you like it or not, because while you might love twenty minute contrived as all hell solos or ten minutes of noise without structure, the largest demographic today does not.
They like monotonous crap that’s about as predictable as any horror movie today, and I get it. I don’t like it — I really don’t — but that’s where the money is and this is your job. I’m not telling you to make Pop music if you’re a metalhead, I’m saying use their structures and keep it simple and repetitive, so it’s catchy enough to stay in the listener’s head.
You might say that this is selling out, but I beg to differ, I call this “Investing in your Pursuit.” Spend ten years, do three or four albums like or whatever’s on your contract, and you’ll have enough money to start your own label. Then you can produce and create whatever sound you want, and you can tour and shill it all to your hearts content directly to your audience.
Remember, it’s an industry, so if all of these things aren’t at least something you consider and you aren’t serious — then relax — but heed some of my advice. It will save you a heap of trouble in the future.