Part 6 — Pearls, Swine, and the infinity of opinions
There were no clubs that had lines down the block for rock bands in 2014. The band had to bring that audience, not the club or promoter. Record label executives weren’t waiting in the wings to woo us. Most industry people we wanted to work with wouldn’t make our shows unless they could be seen (which is industry speak for “not famous enough”). And EMI isn’t gonna call you to support Justin Timberlake at Staples Center because cat impersonator Ariana Grande got the sniffles. They figured that shit out beforehand, ok.
To go to a show for independent bands at the Whiskey a-Go-Go, House of Blues, under any L.A promoter, usually costs the fans somewhere around $50. $10-15 for entry, $8-14 for parking, $10-20 for that two drink minimum, all for a 30 minute show that nobody promoted, has no real production value, while the band had to pay at least $300 in pre-sale tickets at $10, or sometimes $20, a piece. And only half (at best) of that $10-$20 dollar entry price is going to the musicians, and only if they can bring more than 20-50 friends of theirs.
Their friends are probably all doing them a favor by even showing – So what happens when those favors dry up? Pay-to-play is not sustainable when there are no venues truly being supportive to the community by creating a structure for connecting the large amount of musicians just trying to develop their ideas, to other musicians who need a community. Sure we got Open Mics, but there is The Voice just down the road.
How does our comparison of local shows line up with paying $85 dollars for okay seats at L.A. Live or Staples Center for Nine Inch Nails, when they have the best fucking visual show in existence and a 3 hour extravaganza, promoted by the venues, Live-Nation, major media, and a ton of other sources?
It doesn’t, and it wont ever.
I would hear people say exactly this in every music store I ever went into: “Where are the good rock bands who actually sing their songs live and can write something not about bullshit that doesn’t matter?”, as if they had a section in the record store with that long title. Oh, yeah, it used to be called rock. Its like I’m over here waiving my arms around, and they think I don’t exist. Our music wasn’t like the current music trend of EDM backing tracks to vocalists, or even heavily in another popular genre, but it wasn’t exactly like the other established alternative acts of the past. I sang, but not like a competitive singer. How to display our message became the most important aspect of our bands existence.
But, if the music isn’t comparable to the modern trends, we were advised, we migh† miss the established genre age groups. The major labels want you to bring an audience everywhere along with you or they wont promote you to their audience. And, like I said, the good production companies only deal with bands attached to “established labels or representation” and don’t take “unsolicited material” either, so they exist, but they have essentially closed their eyes, covered their ears, and shut their mouths to the underground. Even in the punk genre, its conform or go away. Perhaps they see us as a threat?
But no! Nay, I say!
“If doors close, open a window.”
To overcome this problem we realized the “real” music industry isn’t anywhere near the bottom rung. Everywhere we played, we met one after another band playing tired cliches with hopes to ride the coattails of a genre fad, and everyone claps because “gotta support the arts!”
…even if its shitty, cliched and you hate it? Don’t we want to foster the best because, “where are all the rock bands…”? Remember? Am I the only one who gives a shit about the rules anymore?!
Who the hell am I kidding? I’m asking Los Angeles to change for me? Why should I even expect anything at all from the city built on the business of exaggeration?
The people we played for, though, they sat and listened. Quietly, and contently. Young and old. Like they were enjoying a glass of wine in Napa amongst the peaceful rolling hills of vineyards on a summer day, and contemplating complex issues; like why people killed each other for money, and how slave labor still exists in the 21st century; while headbanging at times. A real space to question the world as it is; and stare at your phone. Most people don’t take the time to let their guard down, even for a little while, to think of things not relating to their immediate situation. I’m still trying to figure out what the hell I created.
Thankfully, we never had to watch the room empty because of us; more people usually came in. It was the reactions we got off stage from them after the show that made us feel like we had something going on. Honest criticisms of complex issues coming from a band in a bar on a small stage might have gone over peoples heads, but not everybody’s. We wrote of betrayal, anger, loneliness, helplessness – dealing with life as the systematically unfair, yet infinite cycle that it is; all hard points to get across to people in an environment like a rock club, but they felt what we were saying, even if they couldn’t understand exactly what I was saying. Most importantly, they told us how they thought we could improve parts of the music and help us find new ways to make it successful. They genuinely wanted to help see us make it work because they saw potential in us. Money never changed hands.
I appreciate all the advice and conversations with all of the fans. I love the part of Los Angeles that loves Los Angeles. They wanted to know the inspiration for this or that song, or sit down and share a blunt and some stories. And then they said the best thing we could hear: “You said/played it, but I wish I thought of it.” That’s the beginning of a good idea, and, in this town, possibly lawsuits as well.
We realized that playing shows for no money, or selling tickets for unknown bands in unknown venues to the general public, or paying to play without a guarantee of exposure, and hoping and praying to Hendrix, Joplin, Cobain and Morrison that we get noticed was a waste of our time and not helping any of our goals except to play in a live setting. We needed to be playing gigs that were supported by other businesses locally or regionally, while combining the buzz grown from other bands that had songs available to hear in a promote-able package because when they do promote, it seems to work. In the local scene, the #newrule should be its the promoters, the venue, and any marketing people in their corner’s job to promote each show if they want their business end of things to survive, plus the band, not solely the band’s job to promote shows.
If the band is so underdeveloped that they don’t have pictures and/or music to create promotional material with, and no quality gear because you didn’t bother to check or hear them actually play beforehand, you and the band are a no-go. Maybe its time to give somebody with real potential a try on a main stage. Or, just bring 100 people to the San Diego House of Blues tomorrow at 6pm, which is the “standard” offer. (Yeah, just let me grab my clown car with my 97 clowns in it. I got it at clown college. The band’s got a separate bus.)
Or maybe you need a night just for all of them newcomers to hear each other and intermingle. Maybe they need development, and fuck if you know anybody wasting their time with that anymore. Maybe you need to know how to put on a rock show. Maybe we all, each need to go back to their day jobs or garage and practice some more. Maybe your mom does, in fact, go to college. Maybe your patronage is made up of stuck up morons. Maybe your audience left you and you never knew it, and you are unwittingly selling a dying value of exposure to people who depend on that promise, but you’re too focused on your sagging bottom line to notice or care that you’re pulling the entire local scene down with you? Everybody’s got an opinion. You have to decide which ones are the most valid for the situation. Maybe I’m bitter.
But lets all get over that, mmk?
One thing remained for my band: as much as it may seem like a hyped deal with the devil, we needed industry establishment. Better than a grassroots type of beginning that could take 10 years or more to build through touring bars for a month while working some non-industry based job for 6 months, rinse and repeat… this was not our idea of being successful.
We needed to reach for the next rung; which meant we needed, and needed now, a “good image” (well-produced pictures from published photographers), “solid recordings” (professional sounding demos recorded in quality studios with engineers and producers who know how to use their tools, and for us to have existing knowledge of songwriting, song form, composition, performance and studio etiquette, while still leaving enough of our ego at the door for a potential producer to add their stamp to it), and “press” (somebody somewhere, on some legitimate media source, said something about you and it was good because you got the first two right. If not, bupkus.) Anybody with any business to provide us wouldn’t consider giving us their business unless we had all those things in order, all of which costs monetary investments, and a knowledge of where you want to position yourself in the genre/market you are shooting for, before you even begin.
I told you, but after a while, advice becomes an implied task.
Stay on for Part 6: The artist centric business model.