Bus Call: 2AM
In 2006 I co-founded a pop rock band called The Silver Heart Club. Until that point, being in a band was something I had no prior knowledge of. Like most people, I assumed it would consist of writing a few songs, practicing some instruments, playing a few shows, and waiting for that magical moment of being discovered. How hard could navigating the music industry be? Well, the challenges came swift and the lessons were endless. With hindsight it was clear that everything I had assumed about being in a band was completely underestimated.
The distance traveled from learning how to pick up a guitar and composing what would be my first tolerable song was roughly 8 months. I spent 6-8 hours every evening through early morning churning out some of the worst “music” that could have ever been played. I was carried through this initial phase by a heaping portion of self-denial and unjustified perseverance. With the belief that this was the sole obstacle in the way of obtaining a successful career in the music industry, I kept trudging onward.
For most musicians that I have personally come across, writing original music is one of the most rewarding experiences one can ever be a part of. There is something indescribable that happens during the creation of a new song. A vocal melody, guitar riff, or piano piece suddenly reveals itself from the depths of clumsy noise. The music springs to life and grows into a defining a part of yourself that you did not even know existed. And while the method of creating does not always happen the same way twice, the excitement and pride with finishing a new song is something to be cherished for a lifetime.
After creating enough songs to form a proper set list, and rehearsing to a point of tolerable consistency, there comes the option to start booking and performing shows. What every freshly formed musical group can tell you is, not every venue is enthusiastic about letting a group of amateurs come play at their establishment, even if you offer to play for free! Unless you play covers, have 4 hour set lists, draw a crowd of 100 people and have the voice of a classic rock idol, the options for available time slots to play becomes slim to none. A lot of local bands are able to get past this wall eventually, though. For my band it was personal acoustic sessions in college dorm rooms and a local skating rink that started hosting small shows every couple of months.
This is where a lot of the realities of what goes into being in a band starts to sink in. Business meets art. The show booked for the end of the month needs a poster for the promoter and no one has the budget for a graphic designer to create one. The job title of: songwriter, performer, and booking agent starts to also include graphic designer. With some more of that self-denial and perseverance it does not take long to find a copy of Photoshop and start producing some half-decent show posters.
At this stage things really can start to move quickly. After playing more shows, reading the latest advice column in Alternative Press Magazine, and talking with other bands, it becomes clear that having something fans can buy at shows will really help the promotion of your music. It is time for that junior graphic designer to jump into the role of product and brand identity developer. Shirts, buttons, stickers, wristbands and sunglasses are created, ordered, and shipped. Welcome to retail. The time available for songwriting and rehearsing gets cut short by the demands of business. Hopefully at this point shows are going well, the merchandise table is being frequently visited, and people will even start asking about release dates for an album.
What could it require to properly record an album? This is where things start to slow way down. A lot of independent bands do not have the capital to get into million dollar studios to compete with radio quality recordings. That means you now have the monumental jump from being a songwriter, performer, booking agent, graphic designer, product and brand identity developer… to becoming an audio engineer and producer. Creating an in-home studio has become more affordable with each passing year, but knowing what to do with the right tools takes time and practice. There are: acoustic treatments, microphone placements, tracking, editing, producing, mixing, and mastering. The distance between attempting to record my first take and independently releasing a full-length album was 4 years; your mileage may vary.
In August of 2012, The Silver Heart Club released their debut album “Rookie Card”. There was a release show, new merchandise, tour planning and a larger focus on online presence. Distributor, tour manager, web designer, social media marketing manager, and blogger moved front and center. Summer 2013 we made plans to follow Van’s Warped Tour. We heard stories and read articles about bands following the traveling festival to promote their music to the people waiting in line. After mapping out the route, drawing up a budget, and packing up the car we were ready for the 20,000-mile journey. If you have never spent 3 months driving and sleeping in a car with the same person, it is an understatement to say that it gets uncomfortable. Learning how to be courteous, patient, and understanding are necessities if you want to survive touring.
Pursuing a career as a professional music group can be just as much work as starting any other business from scratch. Keep in mind this ambition is also usually squeezed between jobs on nights and weekends. There is no college degree available for starting and managing a band. The varieties of business strategies to consider are limitless as are the roads to failure. I hope to have brought to light some hidden struggles of successfully being in a band, and while the challenges and risks may be astronomical, it is, in my opinion, worthy of pursuit.