NOtes from behind the kit
Why Are You In a Band?
(July 5, 2017)
If you’re in a band already, you’ve probably experienced some level of self-doubt at one time or another. It could have occurred during or after a bad gig, or after the bar owner doesn’t pay you your full rate, or when you have to shell out money for new equipment or to repair your gear.
At some point in time, you ask yourself, “Why am I in a band?”
Great question. And there’s no easy answer, but trying to answer the question will give you a great opportunity for some self-assessment.
Chances are that you originally got in a band because you thought it would be fun. You’d get to play your instrument with some friends in front of an audience, and maybe even get paid for it. Over time, though, things changed. Maybe the friends you started the band with have left the band. Maybe you don’t like the songs you’re playing. Maybe you’re working too often (or not enough). Maybe you think you should be getting paid more. Maybe the band is interfering with your personal life, or your professional life, or vice-versa. Maybe it just stopped being fun.
So, why are you in a band? Be honest. To show off your talent? To play in front of people? To make money? To get free drinks?
Now, let’s take that question a bit further. If you’re in a band, are you a fully engaged member of the band, or are you just “there?”
Every band is comprised of the same basic members – and if you’re in a band, you’ll recognize these people.
The leader – he (or she) is the one who seems to do the lion’s share of the work.
The players – they’ll learn their parts, show up on time for gigs and practice, but not much more.
The lookout – they’re engaged in the band, until they’re not. It seems like they’re just waiting until something better comes along, and they’re gone.
So, if you’re in a band, are you doing all you can to help? If you’re a “player” (as defined above), is that enough for the leader to keep you in the band? What other special talents do you have that aren’t being utilized? Could you be doing more? Chances are good the answer is yes.
A band is more than just musicians playing their instruments. Let’s look at some of the other roles that need to be filled within a band setting to keep a band moving forward. Maybe this will give you some ideas on how to improve your band, or at least make you more valuable to the band.
Getting gigs – someone (hopefully more than one person) is reaching out to local bars, promoters and talent agencies to try to secure gigs for the band. If you have management, someone needs to be the point person between the band and management. Usually this is the role of the leader, but that doesn’t mean that he or she can’t use some help.
Scheduling practice – Someone needs to take charge and schedule where and when practices will occur. If you’re at a rehearsal studio, someone needs to call that place and schedule it, and to collect the money on a nightly or monthly basis to pay the rehearsal studio.
Song selection – Bands need to play songs. The question is, which songs? Maybe your band has a wonderful and organized way to select which songs to add to your setlist. Then again, maybe not. One person should be responsible for making those final decisions, then letting everyone in the band know which songs to learn for the next practice or gig. While we’re on that subject, someone also needs to prepare the set lists for each gig.
Set-up/breakdown – Everyone has their own gear to move, but some people have more gear than others (especially drummers). Pitching in occasionally (or better yet – every time!) to help your bandmates is definitely appreciated. And if your band has lights, a sign, or banner, why not be the guy (or girl) who makes sure that everything is set up before each gig and taken down afterward?
Talking to people – At your gigs, are you mingling with the people who attended? Do you thank people for coming out to see and hear you? Are you passing out business cards, or asking people to check out your website or Facebook page? If not, why not?
End of night payment – Someone needs to collect the money from the club at the end of the night and pay everyone in the band, including the sound and light personnel.
At this point, we’re gonna take a quick break to point out that none of the above jobs require any special talent. Just about anyone can do any of the above. If you’re in a band and you’re letting someone else do all of the above roles, exactly why are you in the band? Think about it.
Now, let’s look at some of the roles that nearly everyone can do, but they require at least some level of talent.
Publicity – This is a tricky one, only because there is no 100% “right” way to do this. However, there are a lot of wrong ways. For the purpose of this article, let’s just concentrate on Facebook. Let’s assume that one person in the band runs your Facebook page (you do have a Facebook page, right?), and creates the event listings, and all you need to do is “like” your band posts and share the events. How many people are you sharing the event listings with – 25? 50? 100? 250? The answer is, you should share it with as many people as possible! However, if you live in Maine and you have friends in California, chances are they’re not going to make it to your next gig. But there’s no reason not to invite everyone you know who’s local. Even if they can’t make the gig, at least they know you’re in a band, they now know the band’s name, and there’s a chance they’ll come out for a future gig. As the old saying goes, “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.”
Some other forms of publicity include writing press releases or creating an event notice for local media and websites, as well as the general upkeep of your band’s website. By the way, the local newspaper and website listings are usually free, so there’s a great additional source of publicity – besides Facebook. And even if you can’t write a press release, you can help out by looking for other places to publicize your gigs.
Newsletter – Are you collecting e-mail addresses and sending out a newsletter on a monthly (or quarterly) basis? Someone can take care of this job.
Legal stuff – Depending on where your band in its career and how popular you are, you may need to get a lawyer involved. If you’re comfortable in dealing with lawyers and with legal jargon, I’m sure your band members would appreciate you stepping up for this role.
Owning sound or lighting equipment – The only special talent this takes is money, and the ability to haul everything. Most musicians can run a basic soundboard, or set up lights. But if you own sound equipment and/or lights, you’ve just become more valuable to your band.
Again, this is just some of the roles that need to be handled within a band situation, but by no means is this a comprehensive list. The point is, if you’re in a band, there’s more to being in the band than just playing an instrument. So ask yourself again – “why am I in a band?” If you don’t like the answer, now you have some ideas on how you can change it.
Meeting Famous Drummers (part three)
What are you doing here?
The other famous drummer I had the good fortune to meet is Max Weinberg, who is most famous for being the drummer in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band.
I was at the NHL All-Star Game in Denver on business. In the lobby of the hotel where I was staying, autograph seekers were busy scurrying around trying to get signatures of current and former players. Standing by the check-in desk, alone, was Max.
I walked up to him and asked if he was, indeed, Max Weinberg. He said that he was, and told me he was in town for the All-Star Game, since he's a huge hockey fan. I told him I was a drummer, and that I had the same problem with my wrist that he suffered from previously, so we talked (like old friends, I should say) about that, drumming, how much I liked his style, etc. I joked that I probably bought a lot of furniture for his house with the money he made from royalties from Springsteen concert tickets and CDs I purchased.
I scrambled to find a piece of paper and pen to get his autograph, and told him I would add it to my collection of "famous drummer" autographs, which included a signed picture of Stewart Copeland, and a drumhead signed by Buddy Rich. Max told me that if I ever wanted to see the Rich autograph to get in touch with him. I told him I definitely would, and shook hands and walked away, my 15 minute-brush with greatness complete.
Or so I thought.
About three weeks later, I was near the locker rooms after a Philadelphia Flyers-New Jersey Devils game, as part of a part-time job I had. I saw Max and his wife near the locker rooms and casually said "Hi Max." He gave me that puzzled, "I think I know you" look, when I told him that we had met in Denver at the All-Star game.
He said, "You're the guy with the Buddy Rich drumhead! Are you ready to sell yet?" I was speechless till I blurted out, "Not yet but, dude -- you just made my night!" (Yes, I called Max Weinberg "dude.").
I still have the drumhead, Max's autograph, and some great memories. And that's what makes meeting a celebrity so cool.
Meeting Famous Drummers (part two)
The Near MIss
(May 26, 2015)
So, we had a few questions about the "near miss", so let's tell that story first.
Like many people who loved music during the 80s, I was a HUGE fan of the Police, especially Stewart Copeland's unique drum style. I was in Los Angeles on business, and the company I was working for at the time was creating a VNR (Video News Release) for an event that we were staging. We were under a brutally tough deadline -- we shot the first part of the video in the morning, and wanted to upload it so it would be available for the early news. After that, we were going to shoot more video and release that for the late newscasts.
After the morning shoot, we negotiated Los Angeles traffic to get back to a studio to edit the video we shot and to format it for a VNR. At one point, I needed to use the bathroom. I left our studio and nearly barged into Copeland in the hallway. Not expected him to be there, i mumbled a quick "hi" and "sorry about that" before moving past him. Then it hit me -- that was Stewart Freaking Copeland!!!!
At that point, I couldn't turn around and chat with him or anything, so I used the restroom and went back to our studio. I asked our engineer if that really was Stewart Copeland, and he casually answered something to the effect of "yeah, he's next door doing a video." I half-jokingly asked if I could go say hi, and got a very stern no.
So there I was, with one of my drumming idols in the next room, and I couldn't say hi, ask for an autograph, a picture -- nothing!!
Worst near-miss ever!
Meeting Famous Drummers (part one)
(May 25, 2017)
Have you ever met a famous drummer? I'm not talking at a post-concert "meet and greet," but actually had a chance to talk to him or her?
Luckily, I've been fortunate to meet two of them -- and just missed on a third. Here's how I met up with Jon Atkinson, who at the time was playing with Howard Jones.
I was watching TV one day (I think it was VH1 Classic), and they were showing a festival from England. Howard Jones was one of the many acts playing. Having always liked his music, I watched for a while. Every now and then, there would be a picture of his drummer, who was playing the most unique set I had ever seen. It basically looked like a poker table you would see at a casino -- basically a half-circle with a smaller cut-out so the drummer could get close (If I'm not drawing a good picture for you, imagine being seated at something that looked like the letter "C)."
Anyway, the set had some pedals/triggers as well -- and that was it...nothing traditional about it.
I was curious, but didn't know how to get any info on it, so I googled "Howard Jones drummer" and about 6 million matches came up. So I went to Howard's website and sent him a note, telling him about the show I watched, and I wanted to get more info about this drummer's kit.
A few weeks later, I got an email from Jon Atkinson (his drummer) who went into great detail about his set, etc. From there, we started to correspond occasionally, and he asked if I wanted to see the band if they were playing locally. Eventually, they played a local gig and he left tickets for me to the show, and we met afterwards. What a cool, down-to-earth guy! We talked about drums, his set-up, sticks (imagine that!), travel, etc. Just a great conversation. I'd highly recommend following him on Facebook or Instagram.
I'll follow up soon with my other story about meeting a famous drummer, plus the near miss....
Small Changes, Big Result
(May 15, 2017)
Did you ever make a minor change to your set that had major implications?
I decided that I wanted to sit up higher, to be more visible behind my set when I’m playing with my band. I tend to slouch, so sometimes people can only see my head over my toms. I thought if I adjusted my seat it would make me more visible.
We played on Saturday night – two, 90-minute sets with a 30-minute break. I spent all day Sunday and Monday morning limping around with a pain in my hip – all because the minor adjustment to the height of my seat altered by playing style so dramatically.
Luckily, this week we only have one practice then a short, 75-minute gig this weekend. Hopefully, I’ll be fully recovered by then – and playing on a lower seat.
What about you? Did you ever make an adjustment to your gear that bad (or good) consequences? Let me and your fellow drummers know!