So You Want to Be in a Rock & Roll Band? - Phase 1 (page 2)

This month the column is about what to do right at the very beginning of putting a Rock band together, BEFORE things screw up! It's the best time to get things started on the right track, before you waste months or years and have to work really hard to re-do damage done!

Loud Fast Rules magazine issue 1
Continued from previous page.

"Why do it at all?", the average person on the street would ask. Well, the truth is, being in a band and making music is NOT for "anyone", its not true that "anyone" can do it. Who popularized this idea? Well, in my opinion it is zines like Maximum Rock & Roll, who needed to create a desperate readership so that they can sell more zines to more naive people. Today people see playing music like it is some "cool" career choice after graduating college! The real truth is that being an real artist (musician or whatever kind) is very difficult.  Talent is something one is born with, and no amount of money is going to make someone have something that they are not born with.  It takes a special kind of person to want to and be able to create great songs and lyrics that are going to make other people feel excited.  People who write great music are not like everyone else, they have to be able to face the public, to be able to get on stage and communicate with a large group of people, they have to be able to feel what the audince is feeling, they have to be able to move on stage, and most of all they have to have INFINITE PATIENCE! That's the one thing that devides a real artist from anyone else! That no matter how many obstacles they face, they continue to preservere until they achieve the success they want. Most people in bands give up right away, as soon as they face any real obstacles in their path, because they don't really have a real goal in mind, any true and noble purpose for them being on stage. BUT many thousands of these mediocre people continue to play act at being in a boring band when they shouldn't be there in the first place so that they can make believe they are important instead of getting a real job.

Quit and get the hell out of the way for the real people that are the real entertainers, I say!

There's nothing better in the world for someone in a great band than to be in front of a crowd of people that are actively engaged with the energy that the band is giving off on stage. When the crowd becomes one group and everyone is connected and communicating with the band, it is both a sexual and religious experience at the same time. Emotions are high, a sexual charge is in the air, and new energy is created out of this connection between the audience and those on stage. And the audience needs this music too, it make them feel recharged, excited, and inspired to go there and make their own mark in life in their daily struggle.  It helps people blow off steam and keep their sanity, remember "Music has charms that soothes the savage beast". It is one of the most UNIQUELY human things that one can do, performing on stage is beyond anything any animal can do (besides do some stupid tricks) and maybe heads in the direction of the divine and taps into what life is all about. BUT, boring mediocre bands don't know about this, they just go through the motions of being there and they don't even really care deeply about being there, you can see it on their faces when they play, so why the hell are they clogging up all the clubs all over the country? Don't they have anything better to do?

The answer is simple: These crap bands think that they are playing some kind of music business lottery and that at any moment they are going to hit the winning numbers that are going to bring them fame and fortune. AND that's the point: FAME and FORTUNE! ALL the crap bands do it for fame and fortune, but all the real bands, the ones that actually do get popular, they don't really do it for fame and fortune, that's their reward in the end, they do it cause they HAVE TO, they thrive on connecting with the audience. The lure of easy money, sex, and drugs, of being able to be lazy and not "have to work", about how much time and equipment they have invested in, is what I hear the most pathetic bands talk about mostly. Worse of all these mediocre bands don't even know that they suck! They can't tell if they wrote a great song or not cause they aren't there for the right reasons, they are just faking it. Lying to themselves and to everyone else.

With all these thousands of garbage can bands ruining the music scene, some really great bands out there get lost in the shuffle, and so they need all the advice and help they can get from people who do care about the quality of music. It is so frustrating to see some of the BEST new bands in the world disintegrate because it is so hard to get noticed because they don't know what to do business wise and process wise to step past all the crap. So, in the interest of helping great music be made and it reaching the people who care about it most, here's the nitty gritty about the music biz from the ground up!

First, band names and what to do with one. One of the very first thing a band has to do is to have the right name. Before even all the people in the band are secured.  The name of the group is what sets the tone for everything that is going to come after.  The name of your group instantly tells anyone what it is all about. It is the most important first step any band has to make. There are no successful bands with boring and shitty names, notice that? Every successful band has a name that is easy to remember, evokes some kind of image or feeling, is easy to pronounce, and is uniquely different from other band names.  You don't know how many bands I have met that sound great but no one wants to know about them once they hear their name, and once I find out their name, it totally sucks and has nothing to with anything. And that's what other people that you need, like the audience, will think: if they don't care about their own name why should I care about them at all? Grab a local music paper and look through the bands that are listed for each club. Do you see any names that grab you and make you interested in at least finding out who they are? Nope, I'm sure. Please make up a name that is catchy but good. The just plain awful names that many bands/projects have is never ending and you will never know how many doors have been closed to you with a lousy band name. If you can't tell if a name is boring or stupid then I think you should already give up and do something else.  A bad band name is the equivalent of a booger being stuck to your face when you meet someone you are interested in! Look at the names of all the great bands that you like and see what was cool about their names.

So, once you have your nifty name, what do you do? Let someone else steal it? Get it taken away from you?
Well, first you need to find out if someone else is legally using the same name somewhere. You can go to the US Government Trademark Offices on the internet and look on their database to see if someone else already has the name. You can call them up as well and speak to someone that can help explain things to you. DON'T make the mistake of using a name for a long time and then along comes a Rap or Hip-Hop band that just gets put together and they get the legal right to use that name and you don't it! It has happened a few times recently. There are people that deliberately steal band names of bands that are getting popular but haven't registered their names properly.

If no one does already have it, then the first thing you need to do is make a logo.  Take your time, compare it to the ones you like, don't settle for less! Make it readable! Make sure it is a well designed distinctive readable logo (a type face that makes your name look cool) that you are going to have to do two things with. HIRE A GREAT ARTIST to design it - spend the money! First thing you have to do with the logo, is make a 8 x 10 or large poster with it, put a TM in small print next to the logo (on the right side of the art), put the date that you came up with the name under the logo, and then photocopy it and paste it all over your city in the areas where you are going to play the most. Put it where people are going to see it. On the bottom of the poster, put all your contact information. You can put a cool slogan under the name as well and a live shot (not a stupid posed lineup against a wall idiot photo) of the band, if need be. This will do a few things - legally establish that you are trademarking the name and intend to do business under that name. Also, it will get people's curiosity going. And, it will make people think they've heard of your band before somewhere when they see it listed on a club bill (this really works every time!)

Next, Get a domain name and set up a website, with the same logo and TM mark posted on the front page with a contact address. If any else locally or nationally also has the same name and you don't know it, they can contact you. If you have it dated first and they haven't done anything to secure the name, you win. If no one challenges you locally for the name, the next thing to do is to contact the US Trademark Office and you will need to register your name and your logo art with them. You can register you name in two ways, either as a Registered Mark (shown as a circle with an R in it), which means that you are entitled to use that name for to do business with and / or you can get a Service Mark, which means that you are going to use that name to perform services, such as play live music and to record with and to sell merch with your name on it. It cost about $350 for each one. If you can only afford to do one first, get the service mark, it is more applicable to
more business situations than just a trademark. Once the you got your notice from the government that your name is now unchallenged and it all ours, change the TM on your logos to a circle R or SM (or both) on your website, etc.

Next, write or get someone to write an interesting band description. Make sure that you clearly mention the bands that you want your music associated with. Never leave it up to others to compare you or you will get some bizarre comparison that will follow you around like the plague. Writers are hard pressed for time, they will usually write your band description word for word when reviewing your music and this is your only chance to establish your act on the right foot. Now, don't lie or have so many bands that the comparison is worthless, pick at least 5 or 6 relevant ones and stick with it. Also, explain what you are intending on doing with this band. (Example: my band Electric Frankenstein, our intention was to mix hard rock and punk rock together to create a new kind of modern rock n roll that still had strong connections to rocks early roots, like The Dead Boys meets AC/DC.) Now that you have a great name, a logo that is yours, and a band descrption, you can show these to people that are interested in playing in your band and you can make sure that you are all on the same page. If some creep comes along that wants to completely change everything and their ideas are not better than yours, get rid of this control freak! You will be happy soon enough!

Next, put the band together, if you don't have everyone already. Get COMMITTED people in the band: no matter how talented some people are, if they are not long term material move on, it is not worth the heartache to keep replacing people just when you are getting somewhere and things get frozen for a while. Junkies, Drama Kings and Queens; Fakes, etc., can be very talented, but will drag you down with them because they have "fear of success". Sooner or later they will ruin everything. There are a lot of exciting and talented people out there that are smart and dependable, find them (usually by seeing a new band that has one good member and stealing them from this lousy band - very true!). Also, there are lots of people that will fool you and seem dependable by coming to all the practices, but just when it is time to play live or some songs are recorded and ready to be released, they quit!  Get to know the people and make sure this doesn't happen to you.  Many people are limited to what spare time their day jobs will let them have, so keep this in mind when putting the band together.  DON'T have the pipedream that you will all be able to quit your day jobs! Assume otherwise and things will be a lot less disperate. Accept your limitations and work with them.

Practice, practice, practice - please don't play live until the band has been practicing for almost a year. Yes, a year. At the very very least 6-9 months. It will take that long for a real sound and style to gel for a band and no one wants to see a band learn in public. They won't come to your later shows no matter how great the band got. Some bands today get together and within a few months or even weeks they are doing shows and it sounds pathetic.

Learn how to arrange songs - please really examine the songs that the band is coming up with and compare it to your favorite bands/ influences/ etc. If the songs aren't as good or better than these, keep working or work with other people. There are way too many bands in the world and lousy ones just clog up everything for everyone. If you don't care about the craftsmanship of the song writing, and just want to bang away in front of friends, please rent a rehearsal room and stay out of the clubs (or take the Monday night slots). Look at your selves when playing (video tape it). It can be a sobering experience. Keep working at it until it looks like a real band.

Finally, once all the other stuff has been taken care of, write a Short bio on each person in the band, make it creative but not silly or sarcastic. If someone did anything of note or played in a good band, write about it. Give people a reason to have some interest in your band members. If one is a great tattooist, or a skateboarder or artist tell about it in the bio. Put the logo, the band description, and the band member's bio all together on paper (and at the website) and you have the beginnings of a press kit.

Finally, comes the dreaded band photo - this is so super critical, one wrong photo and no one will bother with the rest of the press kit. You don't have to be attractive, just interesting. Dressing right is number one. Don't over or underdress for the style of music you are in. Don't all stand against a wall in a police line up, don't try to be "funny". Have 2 different shots - One of the band playing live (most magazines want to use this one) and one of the band themselves just being there (not lined up, adjust yourselves to be at angles to each other in the pose). The best thing to do is look at band album covers or magazine shots that really were cool looking and copy the poses. This will look professional and also remind people of the bands that you are comparing yourselves to and sets the mood that you want to portray.

Last but not least: at the rehearsal studio (or wherever) tape your songs on a good boom box or better. Make them not perfect, but representative of your live sound. Write about 5 songs and make sure that you feel that they are great. Play them for your friends and get their reaction. If no one thinks the songs are great, you better figure out why.

I'll pick up from here next issue! Click here to read Phase 2

Sal Canzonieri - /

(c) 2005 BGT ENT / Sal Canzonieri