Part 3 — Creating the Invisible Monsters- it’s not always about money.
When you tell someone you are a musician in a band, some weird encounter will happen. It’s like an automated conversation of not noticing the elephant in the room: the obvious fact you don’t have an instrument in your hands and you aren’t up on stage at the moment. Either out of sheer avoidance of controversy about your degree of famousness (since they’ve never heard of you), or actual concern with how much of your life you may have wasted on the idea of you hitting metal strings on an instrument as enjoyment for other people, everyone asks me the same obligatory question:
“How long have you been playing in a band?”
The first thing that comes to my mind as an answer is: when I was 15 years old, I’d written around 30 songs on guitar, with 3 years under my local-legend guitar teacher while I had been singing in community and school choirs since age 4. My first teacher was a blues player, but knew everything about the guitar and how to play anything from the last 100 years- Jazz, classical techniques, swing, the entire catalog of every 60s and 70s rock band in existence, pop of the 90s – He taught me how to play Stairway to Heaven at 14, learning “Crossroads” by Cream note for note, including the solo. At that time, the Greek modes seemed like a mystical land void of logical conclusion. Jimi Hendrix was the first and best Voodoo Chile of musical psychedelia. My first guitar teacher was the musical encyclopedia that never got written, embodied in a 50-something year old rocker who grew up in the 60s that I blame for all the self-inflicted guitar study…
What? You don’t care?… “oh shit, I forgot, now where to begin?”
Or maybe the band started in 2009 when I decided to devote my entire waking life to the church of guitar. Living the humble life of a music monk going to music school: eating nothing, drinking everything, and smoking weed to discover another way to play an F#7b5 in a way nobody thought of before, as these were my lessons handed down from the guitar Sensei (minus the weed part). And our mantra for survival: Stretch before play keeps tendonitis away.
I graduated with an Associate of Arts in Guitar Performance and music business studies in 2012. More than anything else, I was told, Musicians Institute is all about the tools you take away from it, not what you immediately receive or create. My experience in other areas drove me to visualize something more than just playing what everyone else heard. I wanted to give the audience a view into my mind. I had professional training in acting, professional audio engineering training for live and studio environments – 15 years of experience in performance from the front, back and on stage in many levels of productions. I have experience playing guitar or singing in most settings you can think of. I don’t get stage fright anymore; I know how to power through that. I’ve played my 10,000 hours, now I gotta make something of it. And along with the wisdom and advice from every person I’ve ever met, I was apparently ready to go be a professional musician.
The most valuable lesson I learned in my journey was how to create what isn’t there. If someone told you the thing you studied, practiced and trained for is now worth nothing on the open market, it would make a sane man want to murder someone. Or throat punch them. Just a knee jerk reaction. But, I had heard this before when I was honorably discharged from the Army, and now I was hearing it again as a guitarist. Knowing how to jump out of planes, kick down doors and shoot people in the face tends to not yield many fans. In Iraq, or anywhere else for that matter. So being a soldier didn’t help practically, but the lessons and experience of being one would.
You can find a bunch of direct “how to” articles on a flurry of sites – but the truth is the major labels prefer self starting bands. To become an artist or a band, you need to have a clear and realistic vision. The universal truth of starting anything is to do it yourself.
I’m not “signed”, and I don’t want to be; not in the industry today. I can’t tell you how creepy that word makes me feel, now, and glad that I don’t have to buy into that business model made before I was born. I would like to think enough has happened in my lifetime to warrant a change in thinking.
I soon realized that what I had was a bunch of superstitions, cryptic advice, and rumors of a mythical music industry beast that will eat your soul and shit you out as a debt funeral pile. There were some pieces of advice that were universally true that could help me decide the right path in this proverbial trip to Mordor; that is, the business of making music and having it be not ALL about the money- artistic and creative control matters, too.
Nevertheless, I was finally, if only notionally, brought into the “real” music industry, so I at least am able to speculate on how it should work. After all, if the greats made it up as the went along, why, oh, why can’t I? If there is one thing I learned from trying to find the “real Army”, it is that, very possibly, when someone says a “real ____”, when referring to an establishment – that means that the blank only notionally exists, as if reality just got suspended in some kind of Catch-22/”Wizard of Oz” mash-up. And here I was thinking I had been just a musician my whole life.
I have to create my own album art, logo, stage show, and make sure it can earn the band some money too, which from an investors standpoint is the worst position to be in. I have to invest money into the project before WE can even get the attention of anyone to help and use the established networks for promotion. We can create, but if nobody hears it, we might as well have not even created in the first place.
So… progress? Kind of.
I said its not ALL about the money, remember? Haven’t you been reading? A great villain in a Batman movie once said,”If you’re good at something, never do it for free”, but he also said “Money, money, money…Why’s everybody so obsessed with money when explosives are so much more fun.” I’d agree with at least one of the Joker’s quotes…
Follow our blog to stay tuned for parts 4-8.