(photo: Mitchell Wojcik)
July 28, 2014
by Evan Weiss
START A BAND. THROW A BRICK.
As a (near) 30 year old man, and having been involved in DIY/punk/hardcore subculture since I was in my early teens (frankly, longer than I care to remember or extrapolate on) I have started (and quit) my fair share of bands. Bands with different goals and absolutely different outcomes. All of these goals ranging from recording a demo and playing a few local shows to touring as hard and as long as possible; writing a couple EPs worth of music and never playing out to never recording anything and crashing local VFWs to play for 15 minutes.
All of this being said, I was extremely disheartened reading Brandon Gepfer’s article “YOUR LOCAL DIY BAND PROBABLY ISN’T READY TO TOUR (YET).”
Let me begin by saying that I have the utmost respect for Brandon creatively, and as a writer speaking off the cuff about something that has (maybe?) been frustrating him for quite some time. I can totally relate. Furthermore, while a lot of his points should be well-received, my concern in them lies in the delivery and perhaps the overall message which, to me, seems to take the wind out of the sails of any flowering band looking to grow and get their feet wet.
Brandon makes some excellent points.
Yes, I agree – your band should have a demo or a proper release (if you can) before you decide to jump in mom’s minivan.
Yes, I agree – your band should practice more. Practice a lot. Practice till the fuckin’ cows come home. Make something great!
However, after you read everything I have to say and take both of our opinions into consideration… ask yourself this question: “Why am I playing in a band?” If your answer is, "I DON’T WANT TO BE FINANCIALLY BROKE IN DIRECT RESULT FROM PLAYING MUSIC AND I ONLY WANT TO PLAY KILLER SHOWS WITH LITTLE TO NO RISK. ALWAYS,“ then Brandon’s answer is the right one for you.
You’ll have a great time growing locally, playing shows with little-to-no risk, when opening for bands coming through your town where it doesn’t really matter if the shows are good or bad. You didn’t really need to spend much money or work THAT hard to drive down the street and play for your friends and/or people who live within a 5 to 20 mile radius of you. It’s safe. It’s the difference between treating your creativity as a hobby or something more. No shame in that. But if you are looking to see ANYTHING further than what I just described then you should be making plans to get in the van.
This isn’t knocking playing locally. Playing at home is a HUGE part of being in a band and surrounding yourself with a community that cares (not to mention supports) what you do. However, every aspect of being in a band is a learning experience, and touring is above all the greatest learning experience you can put yourself through. It’s the ultimate litmus test in how you can handle both the best and worst situations, not only musically but as human beings. It’s a series of little wars, that end in both victory and defeat, resulting in personal highs and lows. But most importantly, it’s the best way for new people everywhere to be informed about your band on a broader scale; it’s the best way for others (especially your soon to be out-of-town peers) to take you seriously; it’s the best way for your band to make a name for itself.
Of course it’s going to start small. VERY SMALL. It’s going to stay small for a while. Years maybe. It’s fuckin’ tough out there. Be prepared.
If you view those shows as an opportunity to really impress those "friends that the promoter guilted into attending” rather than being disheartened by your small crowd in that city that you’ve never played in before, you’ll realize that word of mouth is a powerful resource. The crowd isn’t your enemy unless you allow them to be. You can’t MAKE people like your band, but going into a new situation with an already poor or antagonizing attitude isn’t going to win you any points with potentially hopeful strangers. This kind of outlook will in fact hurt your band in every situation. In my experience, people like to talk when something is great, but those same people will GO OUT OF THEIR WAY to discuss (in detail) when something is bad.
Touring in a band is singlehandedly the most fortunate lifestyle I can consider for human beings living near or below the poverty line. It’s a way to see the country (or even the world) along with some of your closest friends at a self sustaining expense. If people are prepared to complain about this fortunate opportunity then maybe they need to reevaluate why they are doing what they are doing in the first place. I wouldn’t trade the two/three years I spent living out of my car for anything. I wouldn’t trade my first band’s tours in 2002, sometimes playing for ONLY the bartender, for anything. Every popular band you have ever known has the same stories. It’s a rite of passage. It’s all important. It all culminates to one goal. It’s the ultimate test.
With a positive attitude and a little confidence you can see those 10 people become 15 people in any city. Then 15 people become 25 people. 25 people become 40 people. And so on.
Work hard. Make something you are proud of. Get in the van.