11 Things You’ll Learn When Your Band Goes On Tour

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Artist’s rendition of what you’ll be hallucinating from sleep deprivation after two weeks on the road

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It may have a waterbed and a bitchin 8 Track Stereo, but a 40 year old van might not make the best tour vehicle.

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Also probably not the most practical tour vehicle choice.

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The “Rocker Stare” is important to cultivate. It stuns groupies, fans, and promoters trying to bleed you dry.

Your band Death Hippie has been paying its dues locally for awhile, and the time seems right to take the act on the road. Almost any musician that’s ever played live has wondered what it’s like to go on tour. It seems like the next logical step toward world domination for any band bold enough to head out on the highways in search of fame.

Like many things involving playing in a band, there are lessons to be learned about planning and executing your own tour, and some of them are tough lessons.

1. Your Tour Vehicle is Very Important. Choose Wisely (You Probably Won’t).

Whether you’re just playing a week’s worth of cities in your own state, or going across country for three months at a time, any touring band will be depending on their vehicle. In rock music lore, there’s the legendary “Tour Bus,” but no one starting out is going to have one of those rolling clubhouses sitting in their garage. Tour buses and the professional drivers that shuttle larger bands around are very expensive.

Most bands end up touring in some form of van or a similar vehicle. It’s a good idea to buy a dependable one, and renting might be a better option.

That thirty year old Chevy van that’s for sale down the street might seem like a great deal at $2,000 with its wizard mural and waterbed, but it will quickly lose its appeal when Death Hippie finds itself broken down in a mountain pass 700 miles from home, drawing straws to see who gets to eat the others to survive.

It’s also important to try to find a vehicle that’s not uncomfortable to ride over long distances. Four or five (or more) people forced to be around each other for long periods of time are going to get on each other’s nerves anyway, so any features that make those journeys less pleasant will quickly lead to the singer stabbing the drummer with a salad fork (all bands travel with a full set of dueling silverware, it’s a requirement of the “rock code”).

2. Your Band is On Its Own.

This may seem obvious, but any band members hitting the road for a tour are leaving behind most of their individual safety nets. We may be more connected than ever – I’m sure a band that’s sitting by the side of a country road watching their surrounded van get closed in on by cannibalistic mutants will have time to post a status update on Facebook or Twitter before merciful death finally takes them, but the only people you’re going to be able to count on to help in an immediate crisis are the people you’re with, i.e. your bandmates (and that includes the bass player who eats his own snot when he thinks no one is looking).

It’s true most of us will have people that we can call back home if there’s a problem, but short of sending money, there’s not much they’re going to be able to do fast in a pinch. By the time any of them can come to the rescue, those cannibals will already be wearing pants made out of your beautifully tattooed skin.

No matter how well a band plans their tour, there will be problems that crop up unexpectedly, and sometimes those problems are serious ones. Any band that can’t come together as a solid unit to solve those problems needs to safely stay in their home town.

3. Any Bad Habits or Issues Your Band Members Have Will Be Amplified.

Let’s say that Death Hippie’s rhythm guitar player likes to get drunk after every show, and occasionally makes an ass of himself sloppily hitting on women. Sure, that can be irritating when your band is playing local clubs, but imagine him doing that repeatedly on a tour when everyone in the band is accountable for everyone else’s behavior.

All it takes is for that rhythm guitarist to drunkenly put his hand on the wrong woman’s butt, and the rest of you end up tied naked to metal chairs in some psychotic guy’s basement, wondering why the drummer’s screaming stopped in the other room, and who will be next.

Even if no one’s personality quirks or problems get the band in trouble, they’re still likely to cause trouble among the members themselves. Members of the band will be spending a lot of time together in close quarters, and any irritating behavior is going to get a lot more annoying than it might back home. At least there, you can always get away from your bandmates if you want to. Try getting away from someone when they’re two seats down from you, and there is still 400 miles to go before you get to the next venue.

4. Touring is Physically Grueling.

Unless you’re already famous, or happen to be independently wealthy, no one is likely to hire you any helpers for your tour. Rock and roll is full of legendary lore about “roadies,” but you won’t have any. YOU are your roadie.

That means that the members of your band will be unloading all of the gear for the show themselves, and also breaking it down later that night, and packing it back up. This is a huge task, and a lot is on the line. If you forgot some important piece of equipment at the last gig 500 miles back that’s a problem. Under the best of circumstances, most bands will be carrying a lot of heavy equipment around on a daily basis. If a club is up or down any stairs, that chore becomes much more difficult. Your awesome steel “Death Throne” prop that looks great on stage will become a lot less appealing after you’ve had to carry it up or down three flights of stairs twenty days in a row.

A busy tour schedule will also ensure that you’re not getting very much sleep. Unless you’re good at napping in a moving van, and are not the person driving it, you will probably go for days without getting a real night of sleep. The hectic pace of touring just doesn’t allow everyone to settle into a nice comfy bed for eight hours at a time. Not to mention, most bands starting out aren’t going to have the money to consistently stay in a nice motel room anyway.

Whenever my old band went out on the road, I felt like a zombie after a week. You learn to adapt. You learn to live off of caffeine. You learn to hate clowns, because the lack of sleep will have you hallucinating those white faced bastards in no time.

5. “Hurry Up and Wait”

So finally your band arrives at the venue they’ll be playing later that night, and no one has killed anyone yet. That’s good, that’s very good.

But now it’s time to face the tedium of waiting for the show. Any small band that tours will be familiar with this routine. The band has to rush to get to the club and meet whoever is opening the doors for them. This usually happens in the afternoon or early evening before the place opens. If there’s a long distance between destinations, there can be a frantic scramble to get there on time, just to be met by some unenthusiastic club manager, and then after the band loads in, hopefully a sound check.

Then the wait.

Nothing is more boring than an empty club or bar in the daytime. It’s no wonder that some people in bands develop drug or alcohol habits, hours of waiting around bored in a bar will drive people to drink (or worse) just to have something to do.

If you’re lucky, the club is in an area of town that has a few interesting things to do and see to kill time. Otherwise, it’s a lot of hanging around a dressing room (if there is one) until show time. If you’re unlucky, and that is more likely, the venue will be in some awful “warehouse district” or equally dismal area of town, and you’ll have to amuse yourself for several hours by naming and racing cockroaches with the hobos living in the alley.

6. You Will Rarely be Comfortable For Long.

This is related to the “grueling” aspect of touring in a unsigned (poor) band, but is it’s own challenge. It is likely that such a band won’t be rolling in dough early on, and might actually be losing money while on tour, spending more than they take in. At the very least, money will probably be tight, particularly if the tour goes on for several weeks or longer. So the fantasy of staying in awesome hotel rooms while beautiful groupies lavish attention upon your groin area are probably going to stay in the realm of fantasy.

What’s more likely to happen, is a lot of crashing with shady promoters or fans, sleeping on couches or floors, or even in the van. Maybe you’ll get lucky and get to stay in a motel room once a week, but that gets expensive, so you might be sharing a bed with your bass player, “Farting Charlie.”
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Wherever you’re staying, things like showers or having the bathroom to yourself for more than a few minutes will become complicated maneuvers, where you try to get in line before all of the hot water is gone, or the singer’s back hair has clogged the drain. Routine things like washing your clothes can become rare treats, and you’ll have to adapt. Did you know you can make dirty clothing wearable by spraying them with Febreze? That’s a pro tip. Enjoy.

7. You Will Have to Deal With a Lot of Weird People.

Sure, fans can be weird. Goes with the territory, right?

Yes they can, and yes it does, but you’ll be getting constant exposure to some weird folks. You will be hanging around and sometimes depending on lots of people you don’t know and have just met. Any touring band will have to rely on numerous strangers at every town they play in. Besides the people that run the venue, they’re also likely to have a local promoter or two at each stop, and others. I can’t count how many floors and couches I slept on, offered at the last minute by a fan or friend of the promoter.

What happens is that a small-time band ends up depending on the goodwill and treatment of a lot of people they just met. This will give you a feeling of vulnerability at times. As you wonder if your new “friends” are going to treat you nicely, or are serial killers that want your heads for a special art project they’re working on. You end up in the strange cycle of meeting new people, rapidly forming some sort of bond or at least mutual goal, and then the band leaves town, and you might never see those people again. Repeat. It’s a weird way to interact with folks.

More importantly, you will learn just how much your band depends on the promoter and other people they barely know. If your band is booking their own tours, chances are you’re relying on some stranger, maybe someone you have emailed a few times, to help promote your show. It’s not like a band driving across the country can really do much to promote a gig hundreds or thousands of miles away. That’s where the promoter comes in, and promoters tend to be a weird bunch of people. They come in two basic models – people that promote for a living, and people that do it for fun. Of course, there is usually some grey area between these two extremes, but generally they trend one way or the other.

Either scenario can turn out good or bad, but it’s definitely not a good sign to discover huge piles of flyers that you sent the promoter laying on his desk, never having been distributed, or discovering that he’s a local drug lord.

8. You Will Probably be Broke.

The sad truth is even if you start out a lengthy tour with a decent amount of money, you will probably soon be nearly broke. It costs a lot to travel around the country, and unless your band is making serious coin at each show, the members will quickly burn through any funds they brought along. It’s not uncommon to be barely scraping by, limiting yourselves to a $10 a day budget or something equally spare, and hoping that Death Hippie sells enough t-shirts that night to fund truck stop sandwiches for everyone (except the drummer, he seems to live off of cigarettes and hatred).

It’s a tough way to travel, but the plus side is you’ll soon be able to squeeze into those old leather pants that you’d gotten too fat for. Bonus!

9. Speaking of Truck Stops…

You’ll probably come to look forward to them. They are Meccas of convenience for weary travelers. That’s a weird thing about touring, you learn to go where the truckers go. If you see a stop with no big rigs outside, keep on going. They probably use dog meat in the burritos or something. What you want to see are the big, modern truck stop centers. Huge places with comfortable bathrooms and a restaurant inside, preferably some kind of inexpensive buffet. The people that work in those places are used to seeing all sorts of freaky stuff roll through, and that probably includes other bands. If you’re still in your stage clothes from the night before, covered in the fake blood that Death Hippie famously bathe in on stage, the people at a big truck stop probably won’t bat an eye. Whatever you’re likely to need can usually be found at such a place.

10. The Fans.

Yes, the people you’re (hopefully) enthralling with your nightly performances. You’ll be interacting with a bunch of people that come to see you play, and it can be a lot of work. Unless your band is already somewhat famous, it’s not like you’re going to be insulated from the people that come to watch you perform. Huge bands never have to personally meet and mingle closely with their fans unless they want to. They’re shuttled to and from the venue, whisked backstage while an army of minions attend to their needs, and then play the show, and are whisked away again. Unless they actually want to meet their fans, they never really have to.

Your band, on the other hand, is likely not in that position, and will instead be hanging around the same club with your audience members until your show begins. Yes, most places will have some rudimentary backstage area where the bands can hole up before the show, but some don’t. So unless you want to stay in the van until show time, you’re going to end up mingling with people that came to see you play, or maybe just showed up to see anyone play, and don’t care about your band at all.

Some musicians I’ve known love hanging out with the folks that come to their shows, and others do not. Obviously, these people will cover all sorts of personality types, and some will be easy to deal with while others won’t be, but you’re going to have to take the good with the bad. Becoming famous as a stuck-up prick isn’t going to be doing your band any favors. So when the ugly guy that’s been following your band around the Midwest shows up AGAIN, and wants the members of Death Hippie to sign his pimply ass AGAIN, keep that in mind.

11. You Will Not Be ABle to Escape The People in Your Band

Traveling across the country in a rolling metal box with four or five (or more) other people doesn’t allow a person much personal space or private time. My old band would go on three month national tours, and in that whole time, I might have a few minutes each week where I felt like I was alone.

Since a tour is a group effort, your group will be around you constantly. It’s not really conducive to band business for members to disappear for hours at a time, and it can be really disruptive if that member goes off on his own and then runs into some kind of trouble in an unfamiliar town. If you’re lucky, you might get a few minutes of alone time when you take a shower or use the bathroom, but even then, the rest of the band is probably right outside the bathroom door, possibly plotting to throw you out of the band for using up all the hot water.

These are but a sampling of the scenarios that a small-time band will likely become familiar with when hitting the road seeking fame and fortune. There are many more lessons anyone with that ambition will soon discover, but I’ll save them for another day. Just remember, you may be the main talent in the band, but you’ll need your bass player. He can drive for hours without a break, and he doesn’t smell too bad after five days without a bath. He also looks like a fitting sacrifice to the cannibals if such hard choices should become necessary

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9 Lessons You’ll Learn Playing in a Rock and Roll Band

Most people have entertained the fantasy of becoming a wealthy rock star, and a lot of them buy an instrument to fiddle around with. Most folks eventually just throw that instrument into a closet after they move to another hobby, while a few become proficient players but never leave their bedrooms. This leaves a small number that actually form bands and take a stab at playing live to real audiences.

So what are some of the lessons that these aspiring rock stars are likely to learn or encounter on their way up (or down) the ladder of live music success? It’s not all mountains of cocaine and groupie gang bangs on the tour bus water bed, is it?

Let’s explore this further.

1. Almost No One Will Care About Your Band For Quite A While.

That’s the hard truth. You might be great, your band mates equally adept at playing, but unless you’ve already been around your local scene for a few years and attracted some fans that might care about what your new band is doing, you will have to work your way up to that point. And it’s hard. Lots of playing shows at shitty venues, to a handful of personal friends and significant others that will come out to see “Death Hippie” play at noon on a Wednesday (if you’re lucky).

I’ve known people that were so desperate to play that they’d gig just about anywhere, over-saturating themselves at shows almost no one would care to go to. Gothic band playing a taqueria? Great idea! How could that fail to shuttle a band to instant fame and success? At least the tacos are there to soak up your tears after playing to a homeless guy, your girlfriend, and a stray dog that walked in.

It takes a lot of work and luck to build a fan base, even a small local one. If after a year or two of steady gigging that success hasn’t happened, it’s time to reevaluate the “plan,” or the viability of “Death Hippie” itself.

2. Many Venues and Club Owners Are Assholes To New Bands.

It would seem like club owners and the bands that play at their venues would have a close working relationship, maybe even a level of friendly cooperation since they both, in theory, want the same thing – to pack the club with a huge crowd of people. Makes sense right?

Well sadly, it turns out that’s not always the case. Maybe not even usually the case, because bands and club owners want the same thing for different reasons.

Club owners want a crowd, that is true, but they want a crowd of people willing to pay a cover and drink the shit out of some overpriced bar drinks. They don’t care how they get to that outcome, and would gladly book a band of howling baboons instead of your band if they thought that would fill their club. In some places, they’ll grant a newer band the “privilege” of playing their dive bar, but only if the band manages to presell a certain amount of tickets. If they don’t, then they’ll have to pay for any unsold ones themselves – the dreaded “Pay to Play” scenario.

There are reasons that certain famous venues seemed to be at the center of musical revolutions. Besides being at the right time and right place, they usually had a club owner that was willing to allow young unproven bands a chance to play and develop a scene. If Hilly Kristal had stuck to his original plan to feature country and bluegrass music at his Bowery bar, people might never have experienced The Ramones, and CBGBs would likely be a long forgotten dive. Most of those club owners are in their business purely for the money, and will book whoever can make them the most cash with the least amount of effort on their part. They simply don’t care that Death Hippie could revolutionize the world of Jazzy Space Metal.

3. Not All Venues are Created Equal.

I’ve seen so many bands booked to clubs that were bad matches for them, and it’s a common mistake . It’s probably more normal to find in places with fewer music venues, but I’ve seen weird band to club matches in cities with great places to play. I already mentioned the Gothic band playing at a taqueria (which is a real scenario I witnessed), but I’ve also seen hard rock bands booked into restaurants that cater to sedate yuppies, and I’ve seen metal bands trying to work their magic at wine bars. If your style of music is likely to repel people and drive them from the type of venue you’re playing at, it might be time to look for a different place to play.

4. The Sound Man is Your Friend (Or Worst Enemy)

This should be obvious, but I’m always surprised at how it somehow isn’t. Assuming that you’re playing a venue that regularly features live bands and is equipped with some form of in-house sound reinforcement, you’re probably going to encounter a sound man or two. These range from completely unskilled imbeciles (a friendly/angry hobo that the bar owner has let in, for instance) to trained professionals (people that actually took classes to learn the trade).

These people can save or ruin your show. Be forewarned.

Being an asshole, ridiculing the dude’s hideous blonde Afro or beak-like nose, is not a good idea. Being dismissive or really demanding is also a dumb move. You don’t want to kiss these guy’s asses, but being somewhat friendly and positive when dealing with them is a good idea. Because if you’re not, they can fuck your sound up royally.

Being up on stage in front of a crowd is a uniquely vulnerable position to be in. It doesn’t make things any easier to discover that the blond Afro and beak-nosed sound man you pissed off earlier has enacted his vengeance during the climax of your rock opera about kittens. Suddenly realizing that you can’t actually hear the other players in your band, because your new enemy dropped all of it from your monitor is not a comfortable feeling.

It’s best to not argue with these guys, unless you’re paying them yourself. Also, developing a good relationship with them pays off if you plan on playing that venue again. Tipping or buying the guy a beer after the show are not bad ideas either.

5. Being in a Band is Like Being in a Relationship (and it can be a dysfunctional and abusive one where the police are called and the neighbors hate you).

I think most people start out forming bands with friends. It’s likely that people in the same circle of friends will share similar taste in music, and also less likely that they’ll tell you how much your playing sucks.

The problem is that being in any band is tough, and involves a lot of hard work under the best of circumstances. Just showing up to practices consistently and on time can be too much for some folks, and there’s a lot of loading in and setting up of heavy equipment. If you have a lazy slacker “friend” in your band, resentment will build quickly.

After a certain point, it is likely that an ambitious musician may find himself joining a band consisting of people he doesn’t know, or doesn’t know well. Yeah, probably everyone gets along alright, but they’re not close friends. It’s more like business partners in a very strange and difficult business.

A person in this situation will get to see the best and worst of the people he’s collaborating with. If the band plays shows out of town, it’s likely that the members will be cooped up in a van together, smelling the bass player’s curiously fruity farts, and hearing the singer talk about how he once auditioned for “Whitesnake” back in the day “when they were trying to dump Coverdale” for the two hundredth time. You’d better be up for seeing the ugly and selfish side of your stinky bandmates, or this will slowly drive you crazy. If anyone in the band has a drug problem or is a drunk, you’ll experience the fallout from that sooner or later; if they’re thirty five years old and like sex with teenaged groupies, you’ll deal with that too.

6. Bandmates Can Have Different Agendas.

When I was in my first really serious band, I DID feel like we were a family. I felt an intense loyalty to them, and passed up some pretty good opportunities for myself as a result. If I’d treated being in that band less like being a member of a family or gang, and was more mercenary, I might still be touring in some outfit. Who knows, I kind of sucked back then, but it might have happened.

The thing is, not every person in a band is always on the same page, or feels the same amount of loyalty to the band. Some treat it as a side project to what they’d really like to be doing, others want to secretly (or not so secretly) find a slightly more popular band to jump to. The point is, a lot of people base their band affiliation on what’s in their own best interest. This is understandable, but it takes a concentrated effort by everyone to make anything happen, and having a bass player that wants to leave “Death Hippie” the minute “Ass Assassinator” asks him to join can be disruptive and demoralizing.

7. It’s Like You’re Also in a Relationship With The Other Members’ Significant Others.

Make no mistake about this. When you join a band, not only are you entering a weird relationship with the other members, your entering a relationship with their significant others.

It’s likely one or more members of any band will already be in some kind of romantic relationship, and will have a girlfriend or boyfriend, or husband or wife lurking in the background. Even if they don’t, being in a band automatically triples anyone’s ability to attract a mate, and you will soon have at least one or two bandmates with a romantic partner. Totally normal right? That’s certainly not a big deal is it?

Yes, yes it is.

Even if that significant other is a more or less cool person, they will likely tire of their boyfriend or girlfriend always being at a band function without them, and they will start to come to every one of those functions. I’ve been in bands that had a “no girlfriends at practice” rule, and they still showed up.

The problem is that many of the basic things it takes to be a member of a popular band are not things that are good for a romantic relationship. There are reasons that this is a cliche. A bandmate with a significant other will have added pressure placed on him to choose the best interests of that person over what is good for the band. You finally got a dream show opening for a huge band? Oh wait. It’s Charlie the cowbell player’s girlfriend’s birthday that night. He won’t be able to make it

Or the member in a relationship will have a built in “number one fan” that will usually eagerly point out how he’s the most talented member in “Death Hippie” and the rest of the band needs him more than he needs them.

Or maybe the significant other will just hate someone in the band for some reason, or have some strange problem with the direction the band is going in.

It’s not going to make things easy if the singer’s new girlfriend is a fundamentalist Christian and thinks the other members of “Death Hippie” worship Lucifer.

8. Image Is Important, Whether You Admit it or Not.

Ah, yes. A lot of bands get criticized for being image based. Usually that goes hand in hand with “They have no talent” and “Anyone could dress up in those monkey suits and dance around.”

To a lot of people “image” equals “not talented.” This of course is a really stupid thing to believe. I suppose David Bowie never made any music worth listening to, but “Poison” sure did.

My point? Image shapes people’s perception of a band, and gets their attention. But a LOT of musicians think that they can make it big without giving their image any thought at all. I can’t count how many local bands I’ve seen where it looks like every member walked in from a different band. Your band better be AMAZING, and I mean, transcendent in their ability to entertain in an engaging way, if you have a bass player that’s 40 years old and dresses like an accountant, a drummer that looks like he wants to be in W.A.S.P, a singer who thinks a Hawaiian shirt and flip flops are cool, and a guitar player that looks like he’s in Duran Duran.

Actually, that sounds kind of awesome, like a kitschy 80’s tribute band, but my point is that too many bands don’t give any thought at all to how they will look on stage, or they have an actual stance against having an image of any kind.

All this means is that they didn’t choose an image, but the audience will choose it for them. Unless they are the most amazingly brilliant band to ever come through town, the image that most audiences will assign such an outfit is “Suck” or “They looked stupid.” Well played, anti-image band guys!

No one is saying that a band has to dress up like Prince, but not wearing your clothes from the day job at Pizza Hut is a good rule of thumb.

9. Most Bands aren’t Democracies.

I think there’s some lingering “ideal” that most people have, and even some musicians have, that bands are run like democracies. The idea is that everyone contributes equally in the decision making processes, and every member has a hand in contributing to the songs.

The fact is, I’ve never seen a band that operated like that. I’ve been in a few that were closer to that ideal than others, but generally speaking, someone has to steer the ship, and usually one or two members make the lion’s share of the band decisions, or at least have the deciding vote. They’re usually the ones writing most of the songs too. That doesn’t mean that the other members don’t contribute anything creative to the mix. Usually they do. But hard feelings and jealousy will often arise when someone thinks they deserve to contribute more, and I understand that feeling. Musicians tend to have egos, and we all like to think that we have some classic songs locked up inside, and if Andy the goddamned singer would just let me write one fucking reggae song for “Death Hippie” then the world would see my genius.

Andy’s a dick though, and he owns the van.

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Struggling Musicians, and the War They Wage.

If you are a struggling musician, there is a constant war that you’re waging.

You may say, war? Are you crazy? I’m a sensitive artist, and my talents will soon be known.

Yeah, good luck with that. The thing is, every musician out there is fighting an uphill battle, whether or not they acknowledge it.

There are a few exceptions, like folks that view their musical pursuits as a hobby, and one that they have no interest in taking beyond their bedroom or home studios. They play for the sheer joy of it, and nothing else. However, even these pure hobbyists can become the enemy of aspiring “serious” musicians under the right circumstances. More on that scenario shortly.

However, the struggle is on many fronts. Most musician types seem to start out with an idealized view of what it’s like to be in a band. After all, we’ve all been fed the same fantasies about being instantly discovered and immediately famous and successful. Sadly, these are almost always fantasies, and one that millions of people have. One look at a “Guitar Center” catalog proves this point. Plenty of cheap entry-level instruments all marketed with “The perfect tool to help launch you to success!” copy.

Every single 13-year old kid whose parents buy one of those entry level guitar and amplifier combo packs thinks he or she is going to be a huge star. We all do at one point or another. Picking up a guitar and learning a few chords is all it takes to create a lifelong passion for playing in some people, and that’s a very special and cool thing.

The reality is that any serious move from playing alone and only for fun into the “joining a band” scenario introduces a player to the war.

First, just finding the right people to play with is enormously difficult. Most people who are in their first few bands are in them because a few friends decided to form one. There’s no real audition process, or networking. Your best friend Jim whose parents gave him a drum set for Christmas last year wants to “jam” with you, and he has a friend that he used to play soccer with, and that guy has a bass. You can all meet at Jim’s house to jam in the garage. Thus are born many first or second, or maybe even third bands. For the most part, they last a short time, until one or more of the members get bored with music or find another hobby. Maybe a few last through high school, or even manage to play a few “shows” in someone’s backyard or garage.

In these situations the war is a minor one. The enemies encountered are likely to be a neighbor that wants your band to turn everything down, or a parent that doesn’t want you to “waste” too much time chasing dreams of being a rock star. There will likely be mild scuffles, and occasional head-butting between your friends/band mates or from the aforementioned concerned parent, but nothing too dire. This is essentially the last time many people will seriously entertain any thoughts of trying to “make it.” Soon, the prospect of college or other pressure from impending adulthood will chase away any fantasy of becoming a successful (generally interpreted as “rich” and “famous”) rock star.

However, for those that continue to harbor dreams of success in a band, the next stage in their war is where things get more intense. This is where most of us are no longer living in the protected environment of a parent’s home. Some have moved on to college and have started a second stage similar to their high school years. They’ve discovered a few of their college buddies play instruments, and the natural next step is to form a band from these alliances. The perks are increased from the high school version, any person in a college band is more potentially fuckable than the same person would be if they weren’t in a band, and college is a strange environment where people are experiencing new things. The goofy Emo band that a guy loved in the 10th grade might start to seem stupid, and suddenly funk might be the edgy sound he longs to create. Most colleges also have venues that cater to students, and some of these will allow bands to play real gigs. Success seems right around the corner!

But there’s a war going on, right? So whose the enemy here? Well, usually it’s your band mates, and the fact that you’re all mostly there to earn a degree and then move on to “real life” where for most people, music is a hobby, not a serious pursuit.

For those that are still interested in that pursuit, but who didn’t go to college, things are perhaps clearer. The reason for that is that along with their musical aspirations, they must also make a living somehow.

I know guys that opted out of music scholarships at prestigious schools because they wanted to pursue their bands full time, basically a nightmare scenario for the concerned parent of a high school kid in a band. Either being young dumb asses or just not caring, they figured it would be a lot cooler to throw away that college experience for what they thought would be the more direct path to rock stardom.

These people often DO form bands, and also alliances with other people in other bands. Local “scenes” tend to develop, because everyone is chasing a similar goal. At their best, these sorts of scenes inspire a lot of creativity, and some truly good bands result. But they also usually create rivalries, which brings us to another aspect of the music war.

Yes, if you’re in an even slightly popular local band, some people will love you and support you. You might become a locally famous scenester, and have a certain amount of local cred. Often this will lead to a relatively comfy day job working at a trendy record shop or music venue. You may even become one with the enemy itself – the local music reviewer (we’ll get back to this).

But you’ll also probably make a few enemies, in some cases with people you have barely interacted with. Other people in shittier or less popular bands will be jealous haters if your band is doing well. Many musicians share a toxic personality trait – low self esteem mixed with a large ego. Any perceived slight is enough to create an imagined enemy. When I was in a semi-high profile local band, people I didn’t even know seemed to hate me because of the band I was in. It was stupid, but is often the norm.

Then there are the venues. More accurately, the people that own and run the venues you’re going to want to play in. The people that own any bar or club are really interested in one thing – making a lot of money, generally from bar sales or the cover they charge for entry. They don’t give a shit if you’re in an awesome new band called “Death Hippie” and the music is genius. If they think that the only people you’re going to bring to their club are your significant others and a handful of good friends, “Death Hippie” isn’t getting the gig, or will get wrangled into some abysmal “pay to play” deal, where the band has to pre-sell a certain number of tickets or ends up paying the club.

In a lot of cities, the only types of bands that clubs want to feature are cover bands, because they tend to bring in enough drunk idiots to make a lot of money. Understandable, but not ideal for any musician or band trying to push their own original songs.

Fortunately, larger cities usually have a handful of venues that will feature bands playing original material, and that will allow new bands the chance to play without too much hassle. These are the types of clubs struggling bands should try to find. Generally, the more of those type there are, the better a town’s live music scene.

In the long run, all bars and clubs are in the business of making money. If your band isn’t going to help them do that, then why should they let you play? It’s not a matter of artistic merit, it’s a matter of economics. It’s also why some bands end almost before they get a chance to play out. There aren’t enough venues with an owner adventurous enough to take a chance on something that might not pack the place.

Another enemy that can destroy a band’s chances at local success is the local music reviewer. Almost any city of a certain size will have a weekly local music and culture paper, or the Internet equivalent. As such, they will also have a number of reviewers going to local shows. All it takes to hurt a developing band is one or two shitastic reviews by one of those people. And bands take this stuff seriously. I used to know a band critic for “The Austin Chronicle” who got occasional death threats from bands she’d given bad reviews to. On the other hand, I’ve also seen cases where some local band that wasn’t great got rave reviews, probably because someone in the band was a pal of the reviewer.

So what’s the best tactic for besting this enemy? Have someone cute in your band fuck them, or better still, gut the reviewer like a fish. That would be my advice. If those aren’t options for you, then I would try to evade the creepy eye of the critic until your band is popular enough that their potential scorn can’t hurt you. But really, just murder those guys. No good music scene needs them.

After one has been pursuing their musical goals for a few years, one of two things usually happens. They may become almost ridiculously positive people. This is not a bad thing, but it’s really a survival strategy. Because if they let the negativity and rejection they’ve faced chasing their dream affect them, they’d probably never leave their bedrooms again.

The other extreme are the shell shocked, battle hardened music veterans. They’ve been in gigging bands for years, and have adopted an “us verses them” attitude. Understandably, it usually is a realistic attitude to have. They’ll generally have a very professional, but jaded way of dealing with everything. No longer caring if their band mates are friends with one another, everything is a business decision, even their haircuts. They’ll sometimes talk about all of the sacrifices they’ve made for their art, but it’s just as honest to say that they didn’t make “sacrifices” so much as decisions, and some of those decisions don’t guarantee success.

A lot of the time, these types of individuals and bands will uproot from whatever not-so-happening scene they currently live in, and flock to places like LA, or wherever the new hotspot for music is. The problem for them is that they soon discover that LOTS of similarly motivated musicians made the same decision, like thousands of cutthroat pirate businessmen following the same trends.

Another huge enemy to the aspiring musician is the acquisition of a significant other. Yes, some manage to score the golden ticket, and actually find a muse that doesn’t want to capture them and then force them to quit doing the things they were attracted to to begin with, but a lot of them don’t. It’s a cliche for a reason.

And it makes sense. Being the boyfriend or girlfriend, or husband or wife of an even slightly successful musician is tough. They’re going to be away from home for long periods of time, and there will be attractive men and women throwing themselves at them. For someone that’s young and still really motivated to chase fame and fortune as a musician, it’s probably best just to avoid serious relationships. Sounds harsh, but it’s true. I’ve seen more band drama caused by an angry significant other than any other cause over the years.

The “war” is a life-long one for many of us. Playing music and being in bands gets in your blood – Almost anyone that’s played a few live shows will know what I’m talking about. The idea of just permanently leaving that behind seems incomprehensible, but maintaining one’s sanity and relationships while trying to go further with musical goals is a tough road to follow.

But it’s the only one some of us CAN follow. Our goals may change, and the ways in which we pursue those goals may change too, but quitting entirely is just not an option.

I always try to remember that haters are going to hate, that fools and creeps will try to tear you down, but in the long run, at the end of your life, you can still say “fuck it, I did something here, and it was worth it.”

But first you have to start murdering all of those troublesome club owners, music critics, and rival bands.

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