Rockstar 101: every thing you need to know to make it
So you want to be a rock star?
Well get in line, kid — everybody wants to be a rock star. And why not? You can dress however you want, score lots of chicks (or dudes, if you’re interested), make mad cash while touring the world’s most exotic cities and be able to do, say and wear pretty much whatever you want.
But it takes more than dancing in front of your bedroom mirror and crooning in the shower to make it in the music business. First, you need to understand that “making it” here in the Triad means having someone pay you to play your music — all the better if you can actually make a living at it. Also, understand that the music business is hard work, often for very little pay, and that no amount of labor guarantees success. And for every band that gets onstage each weekend, there are dozens more practicing in their garages and storage sheds, working to earn those spots.
Still want to be a rock star? Then read on. For this primer we’ve tapped some of the Triad’s most notorious and successful musicians and supporters of the scene for their advice on “making it” in our little rock universe. Some of it is useful. Some of it is funny. All of it is required reading if you want to take it to the stage.
How to accept criticism by Ryan Snyder
Dealing with that criticism is the inevitable consequence of seeking out publicity for your band. You rack your creativity to its breaking point to write music, play dozens of takes of the same song in the studio to get it right on record, endure the mind-numbing publishing and promotion processes or sweat through a two-hour set in a dirty bar, only to read a review contrary to everything you believe your work to be. This is the pitfall of seeking opinions of others on your work: You might actually get them.
Sometimes writing anything vaguely negative is like poking the dormant bit of crazy that lives in the artist’s brain with a sharp stick. One minute the writer is planning out the next run of copy and the next they’re being screamed at over a telephone because she thought your acoustic cover of Black Sheep’s “Flavor of the Month” was pretentious. It takes a thick skin to be successful playing music over the long-term, particularly in the age of the internet where pesky things like editors aren’t necessary to buffer the gratuitously harsh and the cloyingly fluffy.
It’s okay for artists to get angry when they get a bad review; it’s a natural reaction to having something so personal cast in a bad light for so many to see. What’s most important about accepting a review is deciding for one’s own self whether it was a passionate opinion. Never mind the rating — that someone thought so strongly about an album as to take the time to lend their unadulterated judgment to it is an honorable gesture. In the end, it’s just one person’s opinion. When the bad start to far outweigh the good, however, maybe it’s time for an honest self-critique.
How to get a gig
by “Doc” Don Beck
Doc Beck is co-owner of the Blind Tiger in Greensboro, open in its current location until Nov. 30, then reopening at 1819 Spring Garden St. by mid-December.
“These days it’s all e-mail and websites, so I have to have your site and I have to be able to click on your MySpace or Facebook to hear your music. The first song I click on should be your best song, a quality recording. I can tell when bands don’t have the means to make a good recording. But it has to sound good musicwise, talent-wise.
“Every band wants a weekend, but if they’ve never been in here they need to prove themselves, and we do that on a Tuesday or Thursday. Unless I know the band, they’re never gonna get a weekend.
“Try and open for someone — that’s a good way to get your foot in the door, open for an established act. Come prepared to give me your best set.
“I ask myself, ‘Are they gonna bring anybody?’ Of course, they have to bring their own people to the gigs. They have to promote themselves even if it’s just posters. In our new place we can sell more tickets, so the bands need to prove themselves.
“Definitely having a lot of thirsty friends helps.”
Why your sound sucks by Daniel Bayer
Daniel Bayer owns a sound company, Spudkat Productions (firstname.lastname@example.org) and plays bass for the Raving Knaves
“Always listen to the guy at the soundboard because he’s sitting in the room and you’re not. He’s listening to it from an audience perspective — it’s not gonna sound the same in the room as it does up on stage just because of the nature of acoustics.”
“Some clubs have their own sound systems, but a lot of the low-end venues — house shows, small bars, performance spaces, things like that — they’re not gonna have a PA, or not a very good one. You don’t have to invest a lot of money in it, but you can get a good power mixer and a set of main speakers and a set of monitor speakers, you’re on your way.
“A mic has gotta have clarity. Ideally you want a mic that only picks up sound in front of it so you’re not picking up the bleed from the amps and stuff.”
“A lot of musicians don’t think about sound, but it’s a good idea to do some research. It helps if someone in the band has an interest in live sound rather than regarding it as an afterthought.”
“The biggest problem I always run into is bands who play too loud for the room to the point where people actually leave.”
How to buy a guitar by Marcus Horth
Marcus Horth is guitarist and singer for the Mantras; www.themantras.com
“Beginners should try a guitar that’s a little more affordable so you can see how much you want to get into it. Spend a couple hundred bucks on a starter pack — a guitar, amp and cable, all that. When I had been playing a few years I bought a Fender Stratocaster — I wouldn’t have spent more than $400, $450 on anything. I figured for that price I could get something that would work for a long time.”
Style and substance
“Your style of music influences what kind of guitar you buy. If you’re playing jazz or blues or something like that, you might lean towards getting a semi-hollow body guitar — it has an open chamber so it gets a little more sustain. Rock music, a lot of people use a Fender or a Gibson — a Gibson Les Paul.
“Different kinds of woods influence the tone, especially with acoustic guitars. Maple is a little bit brighter sounding. Mahogany is a little darker in timbre. Rosewood, spruce, cedar — they all have different qualities.”
Try before you buy “You definitely want to sit down and play itto see if it feels comfortable. It can get annoyingfor the people working in the store to havelike eight guys in there all playing badly, but itis the way it is.” His guitar “I’ve played so many over the years. Istarted out with a Fender Strat. I had a Gibsonhollow-body. I’ve played Les Pauls and Telecasterstoo. A couple years ago I traded in allmy guitars and got something I really wanted:a Parker Nitefly. It’s pretty lightweight — ifyou play guitar a few years you definitely willhave some back issues. And I like the way itlooks. I’m not gonna buy a guitar and play it ifI don’t like the way it looks.”How to be a pro by Evan Olson
Evan Olson’s main gig is as half of the duo Evan & Dana. Their first CD will be coming out in mid-September. He’s also in AM rOdeO with Jessica Mashburn, with a new CD called Doot. They play at Printworks Bistro on Wednesday nights. One of his songs, “Brass Swamp Blues,” was featured in the pilot for the new TV series “Justified” on FX.
I don’t consider myself a “rock star.” The label of “professional musician and songwrit er” feels more comfortable. I also don’t know what’s going to work for everybody but here’s what’s worked for me: There are, in my opinion, three fundamental characteristics you need to make a living as a musician. These three things I have always lived by and so far (knock on wood) they’ve worked.
1) You have to be good: It’s the most misun- derstood. Just because your fraternity brothers say, “You kick ass, dude!” doesn’t mean you need to stop practicing. People tell me I’m a great guitarist and I’ll say, “Thank you very much!” but I know there are thousands of other guitarists that could blow me off the stage. It’s important to remain humble and always strive to get better.
2) Good work ethic: If you want to make a living as a musician, you have to treat it like a business. I formed an S-corporation over a decade ago. I file payroll taxes every month.
I advertise. I’m not in a band to make friends and party. I’m there to give the best perfor- mance I can, get paid and go home. I love what I do but it’s not all about living that “rock star” lifestyle. 3) A good attitude: This seems to be the most elusive trait in musicians. For some reason being a decent musician gives certain people the justification to act cocky, be disre- spectful (i.e. late for gigs) and sleep until three in the afternoon. To those people I say, “Keep it up!” It’ll just open up more opportunities for me.
How to be a front man by Benton James
Benton James fronts the Urban Sophisticates. Check them out at www.urbansophisticates.com.
“To be honest, it’s really fun. It’s the most fun I’ve had doing anything.”
“A front man is kind of the headmaster or pastor; as such he carries all the visual atten- tion from the crowd so it’s a good amount of work. Your role is to entertain all the people in the room from start to finish. You have to sing your songs, sbviously, but you have to do it in a way that keeps people interested. Between songs you have to say things to keep people interested. It’s a full process. “In my band I have to cue solos. Sometimes we don’t write set lists so I have to let every- body know what song we’re playing next.
“[The front man] is usually pretty gregarious. He’s the one who goes up to people after shows, the one people go up to after shows and say, ‘What’s up?’, ask questions about the band.
“I’m an outgoing dude, so I love being the center of attention, and I would say every front man loves the attention. You get to be heard, so whatever you say is what people are listen- ing to, that’s what people’s impression of the band is about.
“I have this motto that imitation breeds innovation. Study other front men. I’ve copied off Adam Duritz from the Counting Crows, Aaron Weiss — that’s Me Without You, on the opposite side Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco. That kind of stuff always breeds new ideas. When Lenny Kravitz was breaking into the music business he was trying to copy off Prince.”
How to be a sideman by Sam Fraizer
With 30-plus years in the music business under his belt, Sam Frazier is currently the guitarist for the Martha Bassett Band and frequently performs with Bruce Piephoff. He also plays in the Numbers, with Britt “Sn’zz” Uzzell. His next gig will be with the Numbers on Sept. 17 at the Garage in Winston-Salem.
Know your role
“Say I’m playing with Martha or Bruce. You’re there to support the person and to add to the song. You’re not really there to do your thing. So you gotta keep your ego in check as much as humanly possible. People are gonna laugh when the read I said that.”
Know the music
“If I’m playing with Sn’zz, I’m not gonna be playing the same as I am with Bruce. Sn’zz doesn’t like certain things and I’m not gonna do them if I can help it.
“Bruce is open to whatever, but he plays a certain folk kind of music and certain things aren’t appropriate… like a wah-wah pedal.
“With Martha we do everything from country to jazz, and you have to sculpt your tone to fit whatever style you’re playing at the time. You have to listen.”
“Try to make the person you’re playing with feel good about you being there, and whether you’re a sideman or whatever, I think the best thing to do is make it easier for everybody else. There’s no bigger drag than playing with someone who’s up there doing this thing as if there’s nobody else around him.
“If you can express yourself and still make the band better, then you’re doing good.
“Also, be on time.”
How to write a song by Jordan Green
Bruce Piephoff has written maybe 1,500 songs since leaving the UNC Tarheels Mens Basketball team to be a bard.
It would be hard to find someone more qualified in the Piedmont Triad to talk about how to write a song than Greensboro folksinger Bruce Piephoff. After all, he taught a class on it at GTCC’s Larry Gatlin School of Entertainment Technology.
More to the point, he’s written a lot of songs. Just how many is difficult to say.
“I’d say probably… maybe 1,500 because I’ve been at it for 40 years,” he said. “I know it passed a thousand a long time ago.”
That body of work spans across 20 albums, including two live recordings, that are solely comprised of original compositions and poems.
Songwriting can be a mystical process of drawing from the well of detailed observation and life experience, and then fusing the play of language and storytelling with the right riff and melody. He can also break the process down into a formula for the classic American pop song, which he does for students who want to know how to write a hit song and make a lot of money. Piephoff doesn’t write those kinds of songs. He described his expressive types as “story songs, poem songs, blues songs or love songs.”
“They kind of build in my subconscious,” Piephoff said. “I carry a notebook and I write down things that I think will be interesting topics. I have to take some time out with my guitar, notebook and a pencil. That’s the most analogue approach I can think of. I just sit there and take these different ideas. It’s kind of like making a collage and running a string through these different processes.”
To put it another way: “I feel like you’re writing songs all the time. Then you have to find the discipline and time to pull ’em out. It’s like fishing.”
He’ll have a notebook out on the dining room table that might hold a scrap of an idea or a stray lyric. It will be stuffed with paper napkins and newspaper clippings. He writes the songs out in composition books, of which he has filled 20 or 30. Eventually, the songs will be filed on the computer.
Bruce Piephoff (courtesy photo)
The best way to write great songs is probably to listen to the music of great songwriters.
“I think my style evolved out of the sixties songwriters like Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt,” Piephoff said. “I listen to all their stuff. It’s osmosis. Your style comes out of there.
“Take a songwriter like Guy Clark:
He’s written a lot of songs that are only four or five verses, but he gets everything in there,” he continued. “It’s about paring everything down. The thing I love about Woody Guthrie and Kris Kristofferson is their language sounds so simple, but it runs deep. And it tells a story. A song like ‘Me and Bobby McGee,’ the lyrics don’t talk about love and beauty, but you get love and beauty from it.” Piephoff considers John Prine the master of “great choruses.”
The verses tell a story in a concrete manner. And then the chorus lifts sums up the feeling: “Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger/ And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day./ Old people just grow lonesome….”
“You need to be able in most songs to tell a story that makes sense and rhymes,” Piephoff said. “If you’re just trying to rhyme something, how do you go from one line to the next and have it make sense? Using the language in a creative way is important. Shakespeare has basically written all the lyrics already. Your choice of words is what makes it original.”
How to live on the road by Jordan Green
Fred Wesley is legend. See for yourself at www.funkyfredwesley.com.
Fred Wesley has spent much of the past five decades on the road as a working musician, with a 10-year interval in the 1980s when he mostly occupied himself with studio work in California.
Hit Me Fred: Recollections of a Sideman, first published in 2002, details much of that experience: Started with Ike & Tina Turner in 1961, a run with Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, working his own group with Master Sound, seven years in all on the road with James Brown, work with the various funk incarnations in the George Clinton universe, a jazz tenure with the Count Basie Orchestra in the late 1970s. Then a comeback period with the JB Horns and Maceo Parker including extensive roadwork through the 1990s and early 2000s.
Lately, Wesley has been splitting his time — and a recent European tour schedule — between his band, the New JBs, and Abraham Inc., whose sound is a fusion of hip hop, klezmer and funk. He was recently in Paris to promote Abraham Inc.’s new album, Tweet Tweet, with a day of press conferences and interviews leading up to a concert on Sept. 4.
The journeyman trombonist has embraced something of a regimen after a half-century in the business.
“Now, I try to eat as lightly as possible and exercise as much as I can,” the 67-year-old Wesley said. “Most of the exercise comes from being on stage. I try to rest as much as possible between gigs. I’ll eat some fish or chicken, maybe some salad. In the old days I used to eat everything and do everything. I didn’t really have any rules until now, because now I have to. I’ve got to make the most of it because I’m not going to be around forever. You can’t eat real heavy and sit around all day because that puts the fat on and it brings you down.”
Life on the road is a little more forgiving now than when Wesley was paying his dues.
“I don’t know how it is today; I know how it was back in the day,” Wesley said. “When I was with James Brown, we traveled all the time. If we had a day off, it was very rare, maybe two or three days for Christmas.”
Fred Wesley catches up on his “True Blood” viewing. (photo by Joya Wesley)
There are some logistics involved, but horn players enjoy the advantage of at least usually having their equipment onstage when they get to the gig.
“The horn player usually carries his instrument with him,” Wesley said. “Sometimes the airline won’t let you carry your instrument, and they make you check it in with luggage. The trombone, it’s not so hard, but a saxophone it’s over if you drop it. You have to realign it. It’s best to carry it. You’re taking a risk if you check it in.”
There is a lot of time to kill between gigs, and pacing oneself through the down periods is part of the vocation’s discipline.
“I watch movies and try to write,” Wesley said. “I’m working on three or four books right now. I’m interested in music — Middle Eastern music, in particular — and I spend a lot of time listening to my iPod.”
The clich’ of “wine, women and song” is not just a clich’; it has an element of truth: Being on the road affords lifestyle opportunities that don’t come to someone consigned to a desk eight hours a day and five days a week. At the same time, the tedium of the road after the high of being onstage and performing creates temptation.
“Sometimes drugs can become involved,” Wesley said. “You should stay away from that. It could be a habit. You could come off the road and be stuck with it. There are some things like drugs, girls and sex; you can handle that on the road. When you get off the road and all the girls come to the same place at the same time to see you, then you can’t handle it. Things that you can handle on the road, when you stop traveling, become a big deal.”
Above all, this journeyman’s wisdom: The purpose of being on the road as a musician is to play music.
“You should practice your instrument,” Wesley said. “Even though you’re playing a gig it’s good to keep your chops up. Learn other things other than what you’re playing every night. Playing the same thing every night can get stale, but if you’re practicing and you keep stretching your talent and skills, you can play anything. But you have to keep that up.”
How to get noticed by Ryan Snyder
Since things like music publishers and attorneys are luxuries ill afforded to the beginning act, actually getting someone — anyone — who can help you is a frustrating endeavor. In the music business, image is just about everything for the upstart. That doesn’t include growing a beard, wearing thick glasses and sporting a houndstooth coat and matching hat; the most important image is how a band presents themselves to those from whom they’re seeking press, a booking, a listen, etc.
While utilizing spellcheck and ensuring the Caps Lock wasn’t on before sending an e-mail should be a no-brainer for most semiintelligent people, it’s a surefire way to ensure you aren’t taken seriously. This is selfpromotion at its most basic level, and it’s amazing how often bands fail at it.
When sending solicitations via e-mail, make sure you aren’t attaching files larger than a couple hundred kilobytes. For one, it’s more likely to get deleted without being read when a writer’s inbox is near its capacity, which it often is. Second, it’s a pain to download and organize attachments. It’s far easier to click links to view an electronic press kit, which every serious band should have online. This includes a bio, high-resolution photos, streamable music, discography with album credits and tour dates. Having the appearances of organization and credibility is Step 1 to getting yourself noticed. Like Q-Tip said in “Rap Promoter,” be alert, look alive and act like you know.
Should someone eventually bite and ask to hear a completed product, offer a download of the album first, since it’s far cheaper to simply send a SoundCloud or RapidShare link. Some purists insist upon an album though, so make every effort to indulge them, even if it costs a few bucks in postage. Most importantly, follow up. It’s like going to a job interview. Sometimes you have to just ask for it.
As far as the music reviewer goes, it’s often a highly unscientific process that gets an artist’s album selected for critique. Usually, it coincides with release date or a performance in publications with limited review space, though larger magazines with dedicated spreads almost always feature new releases from artists relevant to its specific audience.
Sometimes, however, deadlines dictate that it’s whichever albums lay at the top of the stack.
For the intermediate, yet still unsigned band, playing shows relentlessly is of the utmost importance.
Those shows have to count, however. Playing dozens of shows in a short time frame in a small geographic vicinity might make you a lot of new friends that will buy you drinks, but rarely does it build a profile. Aim for summer festival bookings, even if you have to play for free. You’ll be exposed to a larger audience than you ever were before and at worst, you’ll get fed pretty well.
How to kick someone out of the band by Molly McGinn
Molly McGinn plays guitar and sings for Amelia’s Mechanics. Their next Triad gig is with Laurelyn Dossett at Blandwood Mansion in Greensboro on Sept. 26 at 2pm.
The saying goes that a clean cut heals quicker. So if you’re working to save something you love, be kind and be clear about the decision. And be damn sure you’re not the one everybody else wants to fire.
Are you the ass?
Before you blow up and have to block your best friend on Facebook, ask yourself a few key questions: When’s the last time you took a music lesson? Showed up on time for practice? Took constructive criticism humbly? Wrote something? Baked a cake?
It’s not you? Okay. Make a list: Professionals and Convicts
List the things you do and don’t like about the musician, the pros and cons, and how it affects the whole band — not just you. Go over the “con” list again and mark any changeable things, like showing up on time, carrying equipment, crank-calling the prayer hotline on the way from gigs (oops! That was supposed to be in the “Pros” column).
For the fixables: Make a business meeting
Decide first how the person will respond best. Some people do better in one-on-one meetings. Don’t have the conversation in rehearsal, or in the bathroom five minutes before a gig. Make a business meeting at a time when people are fed, sober and in good spirits. A rare combination, I know.
It might be me, but it’s definitely you
If you’re trying to create a band where everybody plays and performs their best, say that. Then let the other person know what’s getting in the way, and how it’s affecting you and the band. Give them uninterrupted time to respond. Then ask if they’re willing to work on a few things. Finish by asking if there’s anything you could do to improve that experience, listen to it and take notes. Work on it. Check in with each other a month later. Chances are you’ve both agreed that the situation is or isn’t working out for the both of you.
If you’re super ready to fire the rocker, check your dates
Promoters and bar owners want you to show up with the same number of people they see on your poster. If you show up with a different product than the one you pitched, people notice. If you fire someone with gigs still on the books, consider whether or not they can make those dates. If they can’t make those dates, call the promoter ahead of time and give them a courteous heads-up.
Budget enough time between the firing and the next gig to work in auditions for a new player. Let folks know you’re auditioning for a few dates and ask if they’re available. Then set them up for a great audition and provide the following:
Three stylistically different songs E-mail lyric sheets and chord charts Send mp3 recordings of the tunes Appoint someone in the band to follow up a few days later. And actually do it. If it’s a no, say thanks for your time and good luck in your musical career. Don’t burn bridges. Greensboro is a really wonderful, small town.
Have a heart
Don’t put up with somebody’s crap because you’re afraid you can’t find something better. If someone is standing in the way, unwilling to compromise and change, then let him or her go. If it’s simply about tweaking a few changeable things, and they’re up for the challenge, give them the list of things to improve on and be done with it. If what you do is good and true, the music will play on. It will outlast all the mistakes you make a long the way. So relax. One person can’t ruin you. The point is to find the players who help you do your life’s best work.And ideally, you help them do the same.
How to front a band by Jordan Green
Robin Doby Easter currently plays with two bands, always front and center. She just came off a stint at the Blind Tiger with her soul outfit, Doby. And yeah, she’s still on MySpace: www.myspace.com/dobymusic
Fronting the band is something like being a shaman in Robin Doby Easter’s hands.
That might account for her nervousness before every gig, and the fact that she holds back on emotional investment during rehearsal so she can put it all into the performance. There are a lot of roles in an ensemble; hers is to instantly connect with the audience on an intuitive level while staying keyed into the chemistry of the band.
“I have this phobia about listening too closely in rehearsal or really mulling over a song,” Doby said. “The look inside someone’s eyes can take your song somewhere else. I don’t want to be robotic. Sometimes I’ll just focus on one person. Someone in the audience is going through what you’re singing about. If it has to be a private concert between you and that person, the others will be drawn in. They might be dressed in their finery, but their facial expression or their body language tells me their suffering.”
Formerly the lead singer of the blues-oriented StovePipes, Doby Easter is currently balancing two projects. She performs in Love Machine, the Barn Dinner Theatre’s tribute to the music of Motown, and fronts the funk-soul unit Doby.
“Your job as an entertainer is to bring people through,” Doby Easter said, “to let them know they at least have the power and strength to make it one more day, one more week, one more month. Drop your inhibitions. Drop the problems with your job, family, friendships, maybe a broken relationship.”
The person fronting the band needs to have a look that’s visually arresting because that’s who the audience is mainly looking at.
“That is the hardest part of my day, is finding something to wear,” Doby Easter said. “I tell God: ‘Tell me what to put on.’ Dressing is hard. People say, ‘Just put on what you have.’ You have to put on something that you’re comfortable in, something that’s not too restrictive.”
It’s nice to have a loving and supportive husband, although clearly not every woman who grabbed a microphone has enjoyed that asset.
Robin calls Jason Easter “a lovely, Godsent gift to me.”
He comes to her shows when he can. He tells everybody he sees where the band is playing, when it goes down and how much it costs.
Sometimes she calls him from the venue when he has to work.
“He says, ‘You want to pray now?’” Robin said. “And I say, ‘Yeah.’ Those are thing things that I go through.”
The front person, typically the singer, is not the same as the leader of the band. Although she is her current band’s namesake, Doby Easter identifies bassist Jeff Hindson as Doby’s leader.
“The leader,” she said, “they’re involved with the structure of how the song is going to go, and the genre and the sound that that band is putting out.”
But like the leader, Doby Easter said, the front person has to be attuned to the personal dynamics of each player.
“What I want for whoever I sing with is, it’s not just about me,” she said. “That drummer could feel something that perhaps we hadn’t done in rehearsal. Spontaneity is what makes it magic and spectacular. The drummer, bassist, guitarist, if they feel something and you say, ‘Don’t do that,’ that makes them feel like they’re in a box, and they won’t want to be in that band. My position is just, go.”
Richard Emmett’s guide on how to promote your band by Keith T. Barber
Richard Emmett and his wife, Kim Lawson, have owned and operated the Garage for the past 11 years. Emmett also serves as the chief operating officer of the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County
Host an annual event
There are a couple of local bands that have built reputations by hosting annual events. The best example is the Bo-Stevens and the annual Cash Bash. Emmett said the event has allowed the country/rockabilly band to network with bands all over the region. “Big bands host festivals, but small bands can host an annual event,” Emmett said. “It helps their band and it helps the local music scene as well. It’s one way to make a name for yourself.”
Build a good website
Quite often, bands focus solely on their music and don’t realize the importance of building a good website, Emmett said. Hire a profes sional photographer and post a high-resolution publicity photo on your website so the Garage and other venues can post the photo to their websites. Also, if an independent weekly or daily newspaper wants to do a band profile, artwork is readily available.
Make each appearance a special event
“Bands try to make a big deal out of every show they do without really having a plan about what’s special for that show that’s the hook that will be interesting for the media or the venue,” said Emmett. A CD release can be the best time to book a gig, he added. “Why is this show special?” Emmett continued. “Are you playing with someone special? Is it the first time you’re playing with an acoustic configuration? It’s about making each show special and finding a marketing hook.” If aspiring musicians can come up with a hook, it makes Emmett’s life easier when trying to promote the performance.
Build a loyal following
Building a fan base is all about relationships and effective communication, Emmett said. Successful bands communicate effectively with their fans through a blog, Facebook or Twitter page. “It helps connect fans to the band on a more personal level,” Emmett said. And the results are clear on a nightly basis at venues like the Garage. Bands that maintain close personal relationships with their fans have a stronger turnout at their shows. Also, bands that excel at maintaining relationships can utilize their fan base to fund their next record by selling advance copies. “The fans help you and you give the fans something special in return,” Emmett said.
Network with other bands
Equally important to fan relationships are relationships with your musical peers, Emmett said. “As a band you have to be very strategic,” Emmett said. “Most bands in my venue are playing only three or four times a year so each time has to be special. Who are you going to get me to put on the bill?”
Don’t give a venue owner a homemade CD with your name scribbled in magic marker on the front
“You wouldn’t do that if you were applying for a job,” Emmett said. Do your homework. Include background information on the venue, a bio on each of the band members and make reference to some of the great bands that have played that venue in the past. Remember, the competition for gigs can be fierce. “It’s incredible the inquiries I get every week,” Emmett said. “I’m pretty busy. If I don’t have a reason to listen to it, I probably won’t.”
‘Sn’zz’ weighs in on common mistakes bands make in the studio by Keith T. Barber
UNCG grad and Winston-Salem native Britt Harper Uzzell has played with, recorded, advised, listened to or supported pretty much every musician in the Triad. Catch him Sept. 17 at the Garage with the Numbers.
Sn’zz, otherwise known as Britt Harper Uzzell, has played in rock bands since the mid- 1980s and released 20 original CDs over the course of a prolific 25-year career in music. Sn’zz boasts an impressive track record, collaborating with such greats as Sam Frazier, Decoration Ghost, the Raving Knaves and Josh Watson. Uzzell now earns his living as a record producer, operating out of his farmhouse turned recording studio in Pinnacle. Sn’zz kindly offered his sage wisdom and advice for young musicians.
Sn’zz said young musicians often fail to comprehend the time-intensive nature of recording an album.
“I’ve actually had musicians show up with no studio experience under the impression that they had three songs they had to record that were four minutes long and it would take them 12 minutes to record them and it would take me about the same amount of time to mix it and that the whole process would take about an hour,” said Uzzell.
Sn’zz pointed out that producers can spend all day on a snare drum sound, and “people just don’t understand the process and the care involved when you’re recording.”
Uzzell said the timeframe can vary greatly from artist to artist, but it typically takes a year to lay down 10 to 12 quality tracks.
Another no-no is bringing boyfriends or girlfriends into the studio.
“It should be band members only because you’re critiquing each other,” Uzzell explained. “It’s tough to do when you have an audience. It’s best to keep it just to the people that are playing and performing.”
Recording can be a stressful experience and can really test the group dynamic, and Sn’zz often finds himself playing the dual role of producer and psychologist.
Another mistake young bands often make in the studio is having unrealistic expectations of the engineer or producer.
“If you suck, you’re still gonna suck, no matter how high your fidelity is,” Uzzell said. “Fidelity is overrated — it’s in the performance. Listening to a four-track cassette can be some of the most powerful, amazing music. I always hear through a recording no matter how good or bad it is and listen for the performance. That’s what really moves me.”
Paying attention to the recording process is something that few artists do, Uzzell added.
“When I was in the studios in the late ’80s and ’90s, I wasn’t paying attention enough,”
Sn’zz admitted. “Mic positioning, pre-amps, compressors, ratios, gates and releasing — all these details that if you’re going to record yourself, you have to have these army of skills.”
Many of the mistakes young musicians make in the studio center on social decorum, like not turning off their cell phone, or talking on their phone during the recording process. Another common faux pas is eating the engineer or producer’s food. Taking a shower before entering the recording studio is also a good idea, said Uzzell.
Sn’zz also preaches the Boy Scout mantra of “Be Prepared” to young musicians.
“Don’t use the paid studio time to practice unrehearsed parts,” Uzzell said. “Once you get to the studio, there should be no discussion about how everybody is going to play their parts unless you’re a jazz [improvisational] group.”
And the number one mistake area musicians can make is not recording with Sn’zz, he said. Uzzell’s traditional farmhouse is situated among tobacco fields and he enjoys the acoustic isolation.
“It’s a good atmosphere,” Uzzell said.
“We can bang and make all the noise we want. Everyone’s far enough away that the sounds to reach. It’s my very, very modest fee that keeps them the happiest because they’re getting an amazing quality product for very little money because I know what I’m doing.”
Sn’zz is passionate about his job, which makes recording at his modest studio a joy for local musicians.
“Capturing sound is a thrilling experience — it’s just a blast,” Uzzell said. “The older I get the more obsessed I become with it — I adore my job.”
How to market and promote your music by Jordan Green
Tha Ruger can be found on MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Amazon.com, among other places.
Ed E. Ruger, Greensboro’s hardest-working man in hip hop, is a master at marketing and promotion. He possesses a fine attention to the details of the art, commandeering a plethora of technologies and media in addition to old-fashioned flesh-pressing. He is relentless and, admittedly, one to overdo things.
“I’ve never taken a class in marketing,” he said. “I learned most of what I know from Vince McMahon. I just paid attention to how they promoted different wrestling matches. Basically, you’re going to have to change up who the frontrunners are. You can’t have the same guy headline. We won’t headline Greene Street five times in a row. We will play, but we’ll bring in a bigger act to headline.”
Another nugget of wisdom from the World Wrestling Entertainment CEO: The average fan’s attention span is about three weeks, so it makes sense to design the promotional campaign around that length and focus on one event at a time.
On the topic of overdoing, Ruger was one of the first artists in the Triad to pioneer cell-phone texting as a promotional tool, and it fits right in his social media arsenal, which once relied heavily on MySpace (now greatly diminished in popularity) and now prominently features Facebook and Twitter.
“If you got someone’s phone number, the majority of time they don’t mind you using it,” Ruger said. “I just happen to have an assload of numbers in my phone. I’ve got 700 numbers in my phone from this area. My girlfriend, she cussed me out once because I ran up such a big phone bill. I use everything I can use. Even if you’re bugging them, they might be cursing your name, but at least they know your name.”
A promotional campaign for a Ruger show, which typically includes a large stable of artists and a rotating spotlight, also includes a traditional media angle. Usually, it’s two or three different fliers, an ad in a local weekly newspaper and some radio exposure.
“You guys have been a huge part of our success,” Ruger said. “A lot of people say that they don’t think traditional media helps. I don’t agree. Being a bartender, I see how many people pick up the YES! Weekly.”
Sure, the inclusion of such a flattering quote is self-serving, but it also neatly illustrates Ruger’s approach. The statement is sincere, but also reflects a fastidious kind of personal attention that tends to make people feel good about their involvement with him. Notwithstanding that the artist borrowed his stage name from a firearm, his business MO is all about reciprocating goodwill.
Which applies also to the most traditional marketing format of all: the flier. A flier gets lost on a bulletin board or in a crowded corner store window, Ruger said. The best approach is to put it in someone’s hand. Considering that you’re looking for a certain type of person — most likely a hip-hop fan, skateboarder or college student — that requires working off of a set of personal relationships.
“Most of the time we do it from the inside,” Ruger said. “Go inside, get a beer, get something to eat, talk to those people and they’ll let you hand out some fliers. It’s all about one hand wipes the other. People have to know that you’re not trying to take their competition. You have to let them know you need them.”