– This article was written by Ryan Sweeney and originally appeared on WeAllMakeMusic.com on 11/09/10 –
When it comes down to it, there are two kinds of bands: bands who make excuses, aren’t willing to take risks, and are waiting for things to happen to them, and bands who overcome obstacles, sacrifice everything for their music, and make things happen themselves.
Whenever I get into a conversation with a band, I can usually decipher fairly quickly which kind I’m talking to.
Most musicians have the same goal: they want to write music and perform full time. Unfortunately, the truth is that most bands (80-90%, in my experience) will not get to this point because they aren’t willing to take the necessary risks.
There are two things that every band must sacrifice if they hope to get anywhere: time, and money.
Let’s tackle finances, and the strange reality that a lot of musicians don’t invest in their own bands, first. In these cases, the only money that is funneling into the band bank account is money from gigs and merch sales.
We all know how little money bands make from those income streams when they are in the beginning stages of their careers, and yet for some reason, these kinds of bands have something against putting a percentage of their personal paychecks into the band bank account. Not doing so begs the following question: why would a label or investor take a risk and put money into your band if you aren’t even willing to take the risk yourself?
Money is important, of course, but so is time. One important indicator of whether a band is giving it their all is how many shows they are playing each month. Granted, there are times in the year when a band is writing and isn’t playing out, but when you are in live show mode, you’d better be hitting it hard. Playing around 20 to 30 shows a year in a few markets will not cut it. Try upping that number to at least 100 shows a year, if not more. If a band tells me they play one show in their home market each month, and maybe one or two other shows in surrounding cities each month, it makes me want to scream.
I get all kinds of responses when I ask bands why they aren’t playing more shows. I often hear “We have jobs that don’t allow us to travel to other cities during the week.” But if you really think your band has it, quit your current job and find one that allows you to be a real musician. That may mean taking a pay cut, it may mean moving out of your nice apartment into a crappier one, or maybe moving in with some roommates, or maybe you have to give up drinking nice beer and start eating more beans and rice. But if you and your band members are serious about what you are doing, everyone will make these sacrifices and others like them.
Another explanation I often hear is, “We will start playing more shows once we get support from a label to cover tour expenses, or when we get a booking agent to get us high guarantees for our gigs.” Really? You think a label or an agent is going to work with you if you haven’t already been working hard on your own? You have to get out there and grind before anyone will even consider working with your band. Managers, labels, agents, marketing firms and so on typically get involved after you have proved that your band can write good music, build fan bases, and sell tickets.
Ultimately, the best measurement of how serious a band takes itself is how much time each member devotes to the band on a weekly basis. Between practices, live shows, promoting, booking gigs, and so on, if each member of your band isn’t putting in 30-40 hours a week, you aren’t working hard enough, and that should be the minimum amount of time you are putting into your band. The fact is that there are tons of bands out there that write music just as good as your music. The difference is that some bands work harder than others.
Which kind of band are you?