Fan Landers: When To Call It Quits And When To Commit
Are you a musician? Is your band having issues? Our new advice columnist, who we're going to call Fan Landers (a.k.a. Jessica Hopper), is ready to give you Real Talk about any problems your musical outfit might be havingwhether professional, practical, or sartorial. Send your problems to sotc at villagevoice dot com; confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
My friends and I formed a band in January 2000. Though we changed our name in 2004 and the drummer and I are the only original members, we're still pretty much the same band. We used to tour a lot, but now that some of us have kids and better jobs, the best we can pull off is an occasional weekend jaunt a few hours away from our hometown of Montreal. Hopefully, we'll be able to tour for two or three weeks at a time now and then once the kids are a bit older.
I believe we make vital, interesting music. To paraphrase David Bazan, "[One of] The Only Reason[s] I Feel Secure Is That I Am Validated By My Peers." Over the years, we have played with a number of bands that we admire and their reaction to our music has always been overwhelmingly positive. Not enough to recommend us to their label, but, you know: sincere handshakes, a gleam in the eye, a pat on the back, etc. Enough to convince me that we are not wasting our time anyway.
All this to say that we have never succeeded in attracting many people to our shows. I thought of a metaphor for our situation the other day: while some bands are like those sticky gummy hands when you first buy them (they stick to whatever you throw them against), our band is like that gummy hand a week later. Some dust and cat hair has accrued and it no longer really sticks to anything. How do you explain the inexplicable, to me at least, magnetism of certain bands? I have seen frenzy rise and fade and it only lasts in a few cases, the "early adopters" (i.e. people who don't only go to big summer festivals and arena shows) having usually moved on once the so-called "lamestreamers" and "dad rockers" have taken a liking to whatever buzz band.
This brings me to my second thought on the matter: after a certain age, most people don't really go out to discover new bands. I realized not too long ago that I myself haven't done so in years. I still go out fairly frequently, but really only to see friends play or bands that I already like. So I've come to the conclusion that we need to put out a record (we already have three under our belt, two of which were released by local labels that are new defunct) that people like enough to come out and see us play songs from it live. Last year, when I was trying to promote our record, a journalist told me that I was "at the bottom of the heap" because I was contacting people on behalf of my own band. I took that to mean that, nowadays, you need a publicist to get reviewed and played anywhere. The most we have achieved is sporadic local college radio play. And yet every year, there are indie success stories like Das Racist, who grind hard and get mad respect for doing everything themselves. So why, I'm wondering, is it seen as "so fucking amateur" to contact weeklies, blogs and college radio by myself? I asked a PR dude how much he charges for tracking and promo the other day, and he said "$1000 for a new release"but is this money wisely invested? My bandmates laugh at the thought and hate the idea. I don't like it either, but I want to do what it takes to get our music reviewed and heard... For many years, I believed in the old "cream rises to the top" mantra, but with the current glut of better-funded and hyped bands, I'm no longer sure that's the case. How do you suggest we proceed? Do we just keep putting records out ourselves and hope for the best?
Fanless in Montreal
You are asking me a lot of questions, but whether to hire a publicist isn't really what you are asking. You want me to give you a reason to continue on with your band and I'm not going to. Lets look at the facts as you have laid them out: You are eight years into being what you termed a cat-hair-covered gummy hand, you are jaded about a game that favors kids, their energy, ideas and newnessall of which you feel alienated and frustrated by. You are wishing rock n' roll was fair when you totally know better. Making another record is bad idea, it's going to be a waste of your time and the Canadian goverment's money: name a band that "broke" eight years in. (Other than Fucked Up.) If you must make a record, do it at home for cheap, throw it up on Bandcamp, and email the link around. Don't be vain and commit effort to pressing a record for a band that doesn't tour or draw. Maybe it's your band's fault, maybe you're boring, but maybe you are awesome and it's just wrong place wrong time. Most of the time, music is a fucking crapshoot. At best. It's time to pack up your gummy hand band and call it a day. You tried. The end.
Now, you can keep making music or start a new band, but, before you do so you need to put some meaning back into your musical life. You said it yourselfyou are only seeing friends' bands and, I'm guessing, a steady diet of reunion tours. With kids and a real job, you can't really spend Saturday morning digging through the new singles bin at the record store. Nevertheless, you need to find a way to dig back in, find a couple new bands to get into and maybe some old obscure shit that is genuinely inspirational. Find a couple MP3 blogs you can trust and check out a few songs every week. Go buy a record on your lunch break. Rather than being wrapped up in all this negative bullshit about your band's failure to launch, or what that writer said to you, you just have to move on to something posi that is going to affirm your belief in music. Otherwise your self-pity and poor luck will sour it permanently. Hopefully you will be re-inspired, write a few songs. But, hang back, have modest aspirations, throw some stuff up onlinedon't focus on how you are going to make it work this time, just have fun. If you can do that, the rest will fall into place. Maybe.