Time Magazine is currently running this article written by two brothers who front a New York City based band that I have never heard of. In the article, which reads as though it was written by one of the writers for the popular parody website The Onion, the aspiring musicians lament the fact that they have probably spent over $100,000 while trying to launch their musical career. He boasts that their single gets major radio play, and that companies want to use their songs for advertisements, and yet, despite all their triumphs, they are still dead broke and have made little to no money being in their band.
Now, far be it for me to call these guys, who despite constant trials and tribulations continue to pursue their career in a industry that has turned their back on them, complete and total idiots. But, I do have a little bit of a counter-point. In the independent music industry, there is this unspoken notion of “doing things right.” It isn’t really that hard of an idea to grasp and is broken down into this main idea: “practice often and hard, release solid records, tour tour tour, and put hard work in with every other aspect of being a band.” I don’t think the guys that wrote this article have done any of this. Photo shoots, hiring managers and entertainment lawyers and releasing “hit singles” is not “doing things right.” I’ve been playing in bands for about 12 years, and have been actively touring and a part of the independent scene for about 5. I’ve seen a million bands come and go, and watched bands with tons of potential waste away to the same thought that the complete and total idiots who wrote this Time article subscribe to. So, I thought I would offer some counterpoints to this article, and some insight on how to do “Do Things Right.”
The band asserts that their parents spent 15 years paying for guitar and piano lessons, and that they themselves currently spend $250 to $500 a month on voice lessons. Now, I am not a fantastic singer or guitar player, but I feel as though if you are in the middle of “launching your career” as a musician, you shouldn’t really need vocal lessons. If you are trying to really make it, you should have that shit down by now. You know what we did in the last band I was in that felt our singer needed vocal lessons? We kicked him out of the band.
They spend $50 for a three hour session in their rehearsal space. Now I know these types of things cost more in Brooklyn than they do in Atlanta, but I currently rent the largest room available at a rehearsal studio in Atlanta for $550 a month, but I personally only pay $33 a month. Do you know why? Because we stuff 4 bands (adding up to 17 tenants) total into the room. I am confident these kids are not looking for the best deal out there.
The part that scares me the most about this article is when the guys claim it costs $500 to move a piano down some stairs. I’ll do that shit for $50 and a burrito. But anyway.
The biggest problem most bands run into is not researching gear. Not everything has to be a brand new Mesa Boogie or Marshall or Fender amps. You can scour the internet and Craigslist for incredible used gear for half the price. A company called Music Man made some incredible amps in the 70s and 80s, and a Traynor Bassman might be the best, most versatile head out there. And you can get both of those for under $500. Guitars and pedals and cabs and PAs are all in the same boat. Gear will last forever if taken care of properly, so the key is to find some well cared for used gear and make it your own. And if you are really picky about tone and sound (which I am), find a gearhead who builds customer guitar amps. They are not hard to find, and will usually make you a handmade, one of a kind, custom amp for less than $1,000.
$1,000 to record one song?!?!!? $5,000 for mixing and mastering?!?!!? Are you fucking serious?!?!!? This is a perfect example of kids getting fucked and not knowing any better. You know what the average recording rate for a good studio in Atlanta is? About $45 an hour. If you spend 22 hours recording ONE FUCKING SONG, you should possibly follow a new career path. A lot of studios will work with you on project rates, or charge you by the song if you are recording a whole album. Project rates are great ways to cut back your recording budget while still having ample time to “experiment with tones” and “find your sound” and autotune your vocals because you couldn’t afford your weekly vocal lesson.
And again, if it costs that much to record in New York City…drive an hour to fucking Jersey. Bound to be something cheaper there.
So, if I am understanding this article, they hire taxis to carry their gear to and from shows? And they hire a drummer? Here is an idea: buy a fucking van and stop hiring studio drummers.
Of their whole article, this was the only section that didn’t make me want to open up an artery. But again, the internet is a wonderful thing. Use it wisely. Who hands out promo postcards anymore? Isn’t that what twitter is for?
Are you fucking serious? Who hasn’t lost wages because of a band? Find me one band that has never broken down on the side of the road and had to empty their bank account to get back home? It’s called BEING IN A BAND. That happens to everyone, and the fact that these kids lament their lost wages drives me crazy. They further assert that they have had to turn down work and jobs because of being in this band. Well guess what? That’s what you fucking do. If you really want to be in a band, and make a career out of playing shitty songs in front of frat boys trying to find a girl to bang, then you have to quit your fucking job, get in a van, and just do it. In what reality is an employer going to let you leave work for a month at a time? None. Losing jobs and losing work is something you have to do to be in a band, and if you are really serious about it, you’ll do it without complaining like a total baby.
Living in New York City
This is something I simply do not understand: “New York is absurdly expensive — but the band’s future demands that we live here rather than, say, our hometown in Maine.” How on earth does your bands future demand you live anywhere? I could make an argument that being this type of band in New York City is sort of like just being another drop in the bucket. No one demands that you live anywhere, they just simply do it because they think an A&R person from some label is going to be hanging out at a bar they are playing in one night. But I won’t get into that. Instead, here is a list of multi-millionare musicians who are (or were) not based out of New York (or even Los Angeles): Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Outkast, Nirvana, Aerosmith, and Slipknot. Ok, I know the last one is a bad example, but more people know about those weirdos from Des Moines, Iowa than these wieners from New York City.
I am about to be 27 years old, and have toured the entire east coast and most of mainland Europe. And even though I have to work a 9 to 5 job, and am by no means a career musician, I feel confident that I have always done things “the right way.” And even though my band’s songs haven’t gotten major airtime on New York radio stations, I feel confident my time spent being a musician is infinitely more enjoyable than trying to pursue this idealized, but total bullshit, rockstar fantasy.
Zac Hobbs is a former member of Mose Giganticus and a currently plays in the Atlanta based Campagin who you should check out here. He is every bit the grump this piece suggests.