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  • The fork in the road

    Hey all

    It's funny how when someone comes here and posts dilemmas, we all chime in and reflect on our experiences and give advice (usually good advice lol), but when it comes to our own bands, we can still struggle with the same issues, I'm guessing because we carry biases and other baggage that clouds the issues, so I wanted to discuss my current band and get some feedback or ideas-



    So we are at the fork in the road.. been there for quite a while now, and can't seem to move forward.



    In our area, it's pretty much a lot of local bars, with no built in sound or lighting, so bands are on their own. Even the step-up clubs with moderate built-in crowds have no real stage setups. So we all have to maintain our own lighting and PA's, which we do. We always stress that we could have better lighting and better sound.. could use a sound guy, etc..



    But anyways- In these local bars, most bands either play for a combination of the door, or a set rate of about $300, while the better or top local bands max out at $400 for a gig. We've hit the ceiling and command $400 per gig, at every gig. Once in a while when we have a really great crowd, a bar might throw us an extra $50, but that's more rare than common.



    We want to get into the "B-clubs" where pay starts at $500 and goes up.. but can't seem to overcome the hurdles with getting bookers at these places to give us the chance. We've been discussing the reasons why, and at points we've argued over it, not always agreeing on what we need to change, or even how.



    As it stands, we're struggling financially- Between constant gear repairs, gas, band van maintenance, etc.. we really are only making spare change. Factor in dinner/drinking and it becomes a wash. Of the things we talk about changing, the primary ones are:



    Dress code / image - looking more like a band

    Fluency - eliminating delays between songs

    Banter - engaging the crowd more/better

    sound - improving it

    lighting - improving it

    performance - level of skill, tightness

    demos - getting professional demos

    gig frequency - we all have day jobs and families



    Our problem becomes that we can't agree on what is more important, or how we want to achieve it. Some will argue that dress means nothing, where others feel that our lighting is not good enough. Some argue that our PA is good enough, but that we are not sound guys and not utilizing it well enough. We toy with the idea of adding a sound guy, or a manager (tried to find one, and failed). We discuss getting demos done. With gig frequency, we all pretty much agree that we can't gig more than 3-4 times a month, and some feel that clubs won't book us without having a full(er) calendar.



    Most of this stuff costs money, and would run the band into a defecit, which is a problem to at least half the band where money is tight, and others feel they already put enough into it. I will admit that shared gear ownership is slanted right now as some members put more into purchasing and repairs than others. It's not a huge issue where anyone feels they own stuff.. the agreement is that everything stays with the band, period.. it's a cost of membership, and that actually works for everyone, but continuing costs are starting to plague us, and we've had to take (some) gig money to pay for repairs several times recently. At our last gig, one our power conditioners died (in the middle of a song ugh!), we've had one monitor and two power amps need several repairs recently. It's starting to drain us.



    I'm droning.. back to the issues at hand- I feel like we are at this fork in the road, and we can't seem to make the next step, or agree on what issues to address, as we can't do it all until we're playing these places and earning better money, but also we can't afford to address everything to get booked.. it has become a double-edged sword.



    I've intentionally kept my personal feelings on these items aside in this topic, as I'm biased and cannot wrap my head around it anymore to look at things from an outside perspective. Like any band, we have some levels of egos and attitudes, and even some drama, although no existing drama is serious enough to threaten the core band.



    Any thoughts or suggestions?
    Sig Fail

  • #2
    You can improve fluency and banter without spending any money, so why would you choose to have these at less than your best-possible level?



    My personal feelings on these:

    "Heeeey! How you guys doing to-NIGHT?" -- good stuff



    "This next little song, it's a good ol' song from Texas, made famous by a bunch of guys with big long beards.. They wouldn't play it on the radio when it first came out, way back in nine-teen sssseeeeventee three. Ooooh yeah. A Texas tune from a Texas band, these guys rock it like nobody's business, off their Tres Hombres Album, it's.... can you guess it? Yeah? Yeah? Originally by ZZ Top, let's hear 'La Grange'" ---- SHUT UP ALREADY



    Dress code - you can probably improve this for less than $25 per member. Try guido's advice - wear nice clothes and pick a common highlight colour. Or find matching fedoras at the local thrift shop. Whatever.



    You might also be able to improve your sound for cheap by hiring a sound guy for an evening. Be up front, tell him that you are trying to figure out what you're doing wrong vis a vis sound setup. If you are well-connected you might be able to trade favours with somebody who does this stuff. Hell, a pro just doing your sound check and leaving could actually make a difference.
    <div class="signaturecontainer">--<br><br>Hammond: BC, M3, Split L111, L122 / Leslie: 51, 760 / Yamaha: DGX-620, PF-85<br><br>Follow my new band, <a href="http://DrBombay.ca/connect.html" target="_blank">Dr. Bombay</a>! We're going to be organasmic!</div>

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    • #3






      Quote Originally Posted by wesg
      View Post

      You can improve fluency and banter without spending any money, so why would you choose to have these at less than your best-possible level?



      My personal feelings on these:

      "Heeeey! How you guys doing to-NIGHT?" -- good stuff



      "This next little song, it's a good ol' song from Texas, made famous by a bunch of guys with big long beards.. They wouldn't play it on the radio when it first came out, way back in nine-teen sssseeeeventee three. Ooooh yeah. A Texas tune from a Texas band, these guys rock it like nobody's business, off their Tres Hombres Album, it's.... can you guess it? Yeah? Yeah? Originally by ZZ Top, let's hear 'La Grange'" ---- SHUT UP ALREADY



      Dress code - you can probably improve this for less than $25 per member. Try guido's advice - wear nice clothes and pick a common highlight colour. Or find matching fedoras at the local thrift shop. Whatever.



      You might also be able to improve your sound for cheap by hiring a sound guy for an evening. Be up front, tell him that you are trying to figure out what you're doing wrong vis a vis sound setup. If you are well-connected you might be able to trade favours with somebody who does this stuff. Hell, a pro just doing your sound check and leaving could actually make a difference.




      Good stuff- I guess this is where I have to give more detail...

      Banter- I feel we have that. I also feel that fluency, going song to song without delay kind of goes against banter.. can't do both at the same time.. but also on the list, I would say that I feel that is the area we are least weak in. I don't think other bandmates would agree. But as you stated, it's free lol.. and there's always room for improvement.. I guess where I don't know how to address it comes from the "when".. how many songs do you play back-to-back before engaging the crowd, or how often? It's a common agreement here on bwtb that the more banter the better, but then you can't run song to song ... this is where the double-edged sword rears in.



      Dress.. yes, I agree with you, but other members feel it's unimportant. They can, and do- cite other successful regional bands that wear jeans and t-shirts, which I can't find an argument against.



      I agree about hiring a sound guy, I think that is a necessary evil, at least for a couple of gigs, to help us learn.



      Thanks for the input, keep it coming
      Sig Fail

      Comment


      • #4
        What do the bands in the B clubs have that you don't? Better looking? Better PA? More fans? Better players? Or is it marketing or personal relationships with the bookers? Agents put a lot of weight in the picture of the band. How's your band pic? hot girl up front? Or unified image of guys who look like musicians? Or random dudes?

        Will 100.00 more split between the whole band really make any difference? That seems unlikely. It may make you all feel better for a while that you moved to the next level, but will that feeling be sustained with 100. raise? What is it your trying to do with this band? What's your ideal senario? What bands in your area have acheived it? And how?

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        • #5
          Primary things I would improve if I were in your shoes:



          1. Lighting. People want to be able to see the band and they want it to look cool too.



          2. Clothes. Look a bit more 'bandlike' onstage. Perhaps a similar color scheme. I've tried to do this with my own band to no avail. The guys are set in their ways, so you might run into the same problem. But at least you can look more bandlike, even if they can't.



          3. Fluency. We do this (for the most part) and I've done it for years. Keep the party moving, keep the songs going on the dance floor. I can't tell you how irritated I get whenever the drummer stops and stares into a dark floor, squinting to see what the next song is as I watch the dance floor clear (this happens whenever the song starts out with drums). People will leave the floor within 10 seconds. If you want to keep them there like a DJ (our arch enemies), keep the music flowing.



          4. Lastly, but probably most importantly, gig frequency. If you are playing too much and it's causing tension and flare ups, ease off the gigs a bit. If you're gigging every other weekend, maybe drop it down to every three weeks. If you're doing that, once a month. Whatever you can all agree on so you feel like you have a break and can spend time with your family (very important). I know I feel the tension whenever we play three weeks in a row, and I only have a wife (no kids)!



          Another point that kind of goes hand-in-hand with sound: don't turn up too loud. If you are blasting people all night, they will get numb to your music and everything just kind of sounds the same. You might even drive them out of the club. Use dynamics. Play some songs with variety and have some songs that are quieter than others. Kick it up a notch on others. This is key to get a crowd into your band and thereby recommended into the B (and possibly A) rooms. A soundman might help here, but you're already making pocket change so it depends on how much you want to invest (and how badly you want to improve).
          (This is my Non-Signature.)

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          • #6






            Quote Originally Posted by MartinC
            View Post

            What do the bands in the B clubs have that you don't? What is it your trying to do with this band? What's your ideal senario? What bands in your area have acheived it? And how?




            Answer these and we'll talk
            <div class="signaturecontainer"><b>Vocal Gear:</b> Audix OM3xb, Boss VE-20 | <b>Synth Gear: </b>Muse Receptor V1.0 | <b>Controllers: </b>M-Audio Axiom Pro 61, Roland AX7<br><br><br><br></div>

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            • #7
              All very good points Tim 7 and I would second those. Two items I have not seen mentioned are song Choices and Connecting. Argued constantly with my old band about this. They seemed to think that a "new song" was Smell Like Teen spirit. Which is what 22 yrs old now? Really got to make a conection to get around 25% of the list to be modern tunes that younger people can relate to or else you will be percieved as a Dad band. And, whenever possible you've got to connect to the people. Smile, make eye contact, and talk to them during breaks. This can be a drag when you want to go to the bathroom and have a drink but it really makes a difference. I think about the bands that I loved when I was young and first going out. They seemed to know me and wave when I arrived.

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              • #8






                Quote Originally Posted by MartinC
                View Post

                What do the bands in the B clubs have that you don't?




                My response would be better demos, representation, and to a point- song selection (more pop).

                Elaborating on those factors:

                Better demos- There is a place that does really great audio/video demos - see here: http://chaplinsrecording.webs.com/makeanepk.htm - it's a really good deal for the price and the place has a pretty solid reputation for quality work. We've decided to go for it, and have already put the money aside, but myself and another member are purposely not moving forward with it (yet) because of other issues, such as dress code and personal practice.. nothing would piss us off more than to show up there with one or more members who are not rehearsed and refuse to adhere to a predetermined dress code. We are attempting to address these issues.



                Representation- This is a big one, because some places only want signed bands (media 5 in this area, couple of others), and signed bands are required by contract to gig a LOT. We gig on average 3-4 times a month, and that's our limit. Nobody is keen on gigging on weeknights.. we even avoid Friday night gigs simply because of less crowds than Sat nights. Don't know how to deal with this though, and don't know how much it affects our ability to move up.



                Song selection- this one I didn't really address because it's one of the few areas where we are making huge progress. We've tapped into the modern rock / pop of today and are learning a lot of material (as discussed in other threads). We continue to excel in this area, and are soon going to be adding more pop to the sets. We already can get the up dancing, and keep them there a good portion of the night. One downside is that we have always been a "hard" rock band, often getting very heavy in our 3rd sets, playing a lot of godsmack, rage, drowning pool, seether, etc.. and our core fans love it.. it's hard to shake that off, and generally when we've tried to do more poppy stuff, it hasn't gone over well. The new material (neon trees, killers, fun, imagine dragons, lumineers, black keys) seems to be bridging that gap pretty well though.









                Quote Originally Posted by MartinC
                View Post

                Better looking? Better PA? More fans? Better players? Or is it marketing or personal relationships with the bookers? Agents put a lot of weight in the picture of the band. How's your band pic? hot girl up front? Or unified image of guys who look like musicians? Or random dudes?




                Well, we're mostly in our early 40's but all appear younger, luckily lol. Our singer is mid-30's and a total chick magnet, so that's covered. Fans are tough.. around here it's who you bring.. and really every band that does well does so simply because they have more friends/family show up than other bands.. It really sucks in a way because the 'better' bands in the area aren't necessarily better than anyone else. I will admit that generally speaking, most of the bands in the position we're trying to get to are really good and have proven themselves. With us, this year has been a bit of a break through in the sense that we actually started getting 'real' fans coming to gigs rather than just friends and family. This alone has been a major factor in separating us from the majority of other bar bands in our current market, but not the whole reason, as new songs and more engaged performances have also been a driving force for us.









                Quote Originally Posted by MartinC
                View Post

                Will 100.00 more split between the whole band really make any difference? That seems unlikely. It may make you all feel better for a while that you moved to the next level, but will that feeling be sustained with 100. raise? What is it your trying to do with this band? What's your ideal senario? What bands in your area have acheived it? And how?




                Well we already split $400 5-ways, so any less and it's a total wash individually. Of course we do it for fun, but when it's costing us more than we are making, we feel like it is counter-productive, if you know what I mean.

                I honestly can't site an other 'bar band' in our current status/area moving to the next level.. the clubs we're trying to get into primarily have bands from philly, NJ, even deleware and MD.. I'm starting to wonder to myself if maybe somehow that's all part of the equation, meaning- do we need to establish ourselves in other markets first? That would be difficult considering that we couldn't possibly pull our fans into other regions..



                My ideal scenario is that these clubs we're trying to get into have built-in crowds.. bringing a following only helps bands marginally.. it becomes far more about entertaining successfully, which I feel that we can do even in our current state- if only we could get INTO these places.. that is the main crux and the whole point of my thread.. I'm not asking what can we do to be a better band, although that's part of it- but asking what is more important in regards to breaking into a new level of bookings.. or better said "how do we get in??". I feel that once in (just like we did in the local scene), we will be able to prove ourselves by entertaining the crowd, but getting in seems to be the biggest hurdle.. I'm going in circles now.. sorry lol
                Sig Fail

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                • #9
                  I'd second the point about the extra $100 being essentially inconsequential, which begs the question of what you're trying to accomplish by moving to different environments. The cost-benefit calculation might suggest that making the change might cost more than you'll get in return, at least for quite a while. If the extra money for each show isn't really meaningful, is it worth the angst, effort, expense, and tension to achieve it? Maybe it is if the $500/night venues would be a stepping stone to even better gigs down the line, but if that's about as far as you could get even with additional investments in lighting, PA upgrades, clothing, demos, sound guys, agents taking cuts, etc, maybe you've reached an appropriate plateau where you are. More $ is always better than less $ if all other things are equal, but here it seem like a good bit of money and effort will have to be invested in order to perhaps be able to be booked at what is only a slightly higher compensation level per person.
                  <div class="signaturecontainer"><a href="http://www.engine14.com" target="_blank">www.engine14.com</a></div>

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                  • #10






                    Quote Originally Posted by GmanJeff
                    View Post

                    I'd second the point about the extra $100 being essentially inconsequential, which begs the question of what you're trying to accomplish by moving to different environments. The cost-benefit calculation might suggest that making the change might cost more than you'll get in return, at least for quite a while. If the extra money for each show isn't really meaningful, is it worth the angst, effort, expense, and tension to achieve it? Maybe it is if the $500/night venues would be a stepping stone to even better gigs down the line, but if that's about as far as you could get even with additional investments in lighting, PA upgrades, clothing, demos, sound guys, agents taking cuts, etc, maybe you've reached an appropriate plateau where you are. More $ is always better than less $ if all other things are equal, but here it seem like a good bit of money and effort will have to be invested in order to perhaps be able to be booked at what is only a slightly higher compensation level per person.




                    I think I probably didn't state that correctly

                    local bar bands round here start up at door only. This equates at anywhere from $50 (or less) to about $250 if I had to guess. I've seen $100 nights. I've even seen a $20 night. Glad those days are way past.

                    Medium grade bands usually work for door or combination of door plus set rate, or just set rate. I'd guess it averages in the $250-$300 range.

                    The better bands cap out at $400 set rate.



                    The step-up scene (college bars, popular clubs), consisting mostly of b-clubs, a few A- clubs are:

                    starting bands $500-$600 usually in any combination of door+set rate

                    Medium grade (in this elevated category) probably $700 avg.

                    max out - mostly around $1000-$1200 (I'd imagine this is where grants band generally is)



                    We need to start at the botom of the rung, of course, but I firmly believe we can quickly elevate to the medium level, or somewhere between the medium-top level of this category, if only we could get our foot in the door-



                    So it's not about making massive changes to get $100 more per gig. Sorry for any miscommunication of that detail.
                    Sig Fail

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                    • #11
                      You have a list, that's the hard part. Start with the low hanging fruit and work down the list an item at a time.
                      <div class="signaturecontainer">Greg</div>

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                      • #12
                        Without seeing a picture, it's hard to say, but if dress is thought by any of you to be an issue, it probably is, and fortunately is the easiest fix in the bunch. I won't say what would work best for you, but for us, simply darkening the jeans and shirts makes a huge difference. Button downs, all that. Dress won't get you rooms, but it can keep you out of them, as silly as that is.
                        <div class="signaturecontainer">Free prog-related metal from Michigan.<br />
                        <br />
                        <a href="http://www.silentlapse.com" target="_blank">http://www.silentlapse.com</a></div>

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                        • #13
                          Decide who is doing what you want to do, who is where you wanto to be... and emulate them.



                          Really. But dont copy, use the general attribute and redefine it. Generalize the trait. They dress cool and look like theyre in the same band. They play nonstop and play dance music even though its not from the dance charts. They never let people walk off the floor, they sell booze over the mic, the have a kick ass PA, there young and skinny, theyre trendy...



                          Youve got to be honest. Whatta they got that we aint got. Then get it, but dont copy it, dress it up different.
                          ___

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                          • #14
                            Sounds like you're stuck between hobby and business, having basically maxed out the hobby side of it. Not sure what it's like up there, but down here there aren't too many hobby bands playing B rooms.



                            We've looked at this ourselves, and have realized that to move it up a level, there are certain requirements.



                            1. Motivation/dedication. Whether it's everyone philosophically aiming toward the same goal, or if not, then at least having strong enough leadership to motivate anyone that may rather just be employees. This includes following the company line about dress code.



                            2. Time. You really need someone, pref more than one, in the faces of booking people regularly, and keeping your brand out there (website updates, social media, networking/shmoozing, other promotional vehicles, etc.). Also need more time available to gig, as more frequent gigs and traveling to different locations is probably needed. Tough with full time jobs and families. An agent can help with the booking part of it, but they usually don't come crawling out of the woodwork unless you show them in some way that you can make them money.



                            3. Talent. You have to have bandmates that are at least competent at their jobs, which we all know in this game means not only being a decent musician, but having engaging personalities, stage presence, a fluid show, and generally some type of appeal that makes people want to come see you. Like any business, you need people that are up to the job otherwise they shouldn't be there.



                            4. Money. Any business requires some sort of up-front investment. In your case, it's a better and more reliable sound system (or contract sound guy), lights, advertising (demo, signage, web ad space, etc.). You have to be comfortable with losing money initially and recouping it later.



                            Depending on your motives, you may be better off just staying as a hobby band. Another option is for you to personally trade up to a better band.
                            <div class="signaturecontainer"><a href="http://thereallybigshoe.com/site/" target="_blank"><font color="#006400">Band</font></a></div>

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                            • #15
                              All of that stuff is important. FWIW, I went and saw a friend's new band a while ago. Great musicians, terrible band. Here's why.



                              Lighting. Nowhere near enough. They were just guys standing around in the corner. Nothing visually distinguished them from the rest of the bar crowd.



                              Sound, and this was the biggest issue. Good instruments, good tone, but nothing was miced except keys and vocals. That just killed the energy. There was no thump from the kick and the instruments just sounded removed or distant. Getting a good PA and putting all the instruments in it, makes a huge difference. It brings the sound out to the audience, rather than keeping the sound back on the stage.



                              Appearance. Dressed like everybody else there. Off the stage, nothing would have distinguished them as being part of the band. People want to be entertained, and entertainers should look a bit larger than life. People should know you're the band as soon as you walk in the room.



                              Energy. They played great, but with the pretty much no body energy, along with the sound and light issues, there was nothing that compelled anybody to get out of their seats. You need to be visually stimulating too.



                              To me, being in a band is about being the life of the party. You've got to entertain and get people excited. They need to know that wherever you are, that's where the party is. Most of that comes from presentation. Dress like a band, look like a band, sound like a band, act like a band and you'll get people excited. Look like four old dudes sitting around the back porch strumming their guitars, not so much.

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