Band Psychology: ID, EGO and Superego

Behind every band, there is a plethora of dynamics, alliances, and fun medications at play.  But the human drives at work are perhaps of most interest: the ID, Ego & Superego.

The ID

The members exhibiting the basic drives (sex, drugs and rock & roll) are far and away the most entertaining feature of the ensemble.  These band mates live for self-gratification and move instinctively toward pleasure (groupies & property damage) and away from pain (mortgages & dependents).  You might think they are the main reason for band sabotage, but you’d be wrong…

Drummers are usually the biggest ID fiends.  They are the bedrock for such fine musician jokes as:

What’s the difference between a drummer & a pizza?  A pizza can feed a family of four.

How do you tell if the stage is level?  The drummer is drooling from both sides of his mouth.

What do you call a drummer that breaks up with his girlfriend?  Homeless.

Most drummers’ energy is so uncontained that they beat everything hard: drums, relationships, their physical anatomy…

Bass players are sometimes other likely ID-mates, as well as the extra guitarist, the extra extra guitarist, and the percussionist (especially those limited to cowbell).  But as mentioned earlier, ID players are usually prone to self-destruction, not the cause of band implosion.

The Ego

Those players exhibiting EGO tend to be the riskiest for band maintenance. Lead guitarists, lead singers, pretty much LEAD anything can lead to trouble.  In this context, EGO is equivalent to hubris, overly self-importance, and the like.  EGO should never be confused with pride in one’s abilities, or self-esteem.  That’s a whole other animal.

The biggest problem with EGO is that the band mate won’t recognize their role in the band; self-interest induces excessive playing habits.  The EGO fills up the music and chokes off the rest of the band.  EGO has a hard time understanding that the quiet spaces between notes really are as important as the notes themselves.  EGO also gets easily confused about the ultimate band goals.  If left unchecked, EGO will single-handedly destroy the band.

Enter the SuperEgo

No, superego is not just a really big version of EGO.  Superego is the aspect of the band that aims for perfection, works to keep the ID-mates from self-destructing, guides the EGO’s to see beyond themselves, and brings organization to the chaos.  Hopefully, the band leader has some degree of superego.  Hopefully, the band manager does as well.

If you start to notice that the band is lacking superego, or leaning obsessively towards ID and/or EGO behavior, you have one of two choices: start looking for a new band or start drinking heavily.  Good luck either way!

Five quick tips…

…to being  a better original musician:

1)  Be true to your music.

Attempting to impersonate other bands or an icon from the past is simply cheesy and that will come across in the performance.  When an original band forms, that configuration has also never before existed on the planet.  Use that to your advantage.

2)  Louder isn’t better.

Fuzzier isn’t better either.  These are masks to hide behind when a musician is unsure of their true talent.  Whenever possible, write your tunes with an acoustic instrument or clean channel.  Effects should be an icing, not a cover up.

3)  Less is more – no, really!

All personnel in the band need to know when and much more importantly when NOT to play for the sake of the overall arrangement.  The musician that thinks he needs to fill up every empty space or be perceived as playing nonstop through every song is only fooling himself and sabotaging the band.  Need further proof?  Pull a CD out of the old collection and listen to the dynamics.

4)  Practice.  Practice.  Practice.

There are no short cuts here.  You can buy excellent gear, a great costume, take dance lessons, become a great video editor…but if you’re unwilling to spend time alone with your instrument, don’t be disappointed with anyone but yourself.

5)  Always have a teacher.

It’s said the teacher will appear when the student is ready.  Unfortunately, many musicians don’t realize that they need a teacher.  Days turn into weeks and then years of informal training, bad habits, weak tone, and amateur status.  Being afraid to take the time to learn music theory and technique will teach you some ugly lessons in the long run – like getting kicked out of bands or venues.

Your band goals for 2012…

So, another year flies by…and the band is still together!  After you’ve stopped celebrating and sobered up a bit, it’s time to start contemplating your goals for 2012…

Original bands can get stretched pretty thin when it comes to goal setting.  There’s song writing and recording, performance improvement, tour ambitions, merch sales and so much more.  But before you get overwhelmed, think about your band’s primary goal, just one, that if accomplished successfully will keep the band together for another year…and then make it happen.

  • If song writing is the goal…try to write one new tune every week.  This goal worked for The Fray, and it will work for you too.  The more mud you throw at the wall, the more likely something will stick.
  • If recording is the goal…take the time to make a full album.  Don’t play out again until you’ve gotten the initial tracks cut.  You can also make this a gradual goal: first record a demo (3 songs), then an EP (5-6 songs) until you’ve got the full album (9-10 tunes).  Consider rolling the songs out once per month as free downloads for your loyal fans.
  • If performance is the ultimate goal…go for “sold out venue.”  This means, start with a small venue that you know you can pack with fans.  Then pack a slightly bigger venue, and then a theater.  Vow never to play an empty room again – it’s demoralizing for band mates and financially unrewarding.
  • Making a video…while this might seem like a frivolous little side project, know that we are well into the multi-media age.  Creating the right mix of music and images could be the trigger to help you sell more music, or find the right sponsor, or at least help build the fan base.  Creative, amateur viddies can be especially enduring (and low cost to produce).
  • If touring is the goal…know that keeping costs down on the road is the single best way to ensure making a profit.  Think about building an infrastructure of cool people you can crash with when in town.  Make this desirable for them as well:  maybe throw a private party or after-party at their house?  Maybe bring them on stage or back stage VIP?  At least set them up with some free band merch and CD’s.  Set up hostels (crash sites) in every city you visit.

Setting one concrete, achievable goal will make a big difference.  It will lead to the next goal…and the next.  Band members will gain a sense of stability and commitment and pride.  Venues will see that you have your shite together.  Fans will enjoy the experience all the more.  Here’s to getting busy in 2012!

Does your band have a mission?

Every organization has a mission, or purpose, or reason for being, whether stated publicly or not – your band is no exception.  Do you recognize your band’s mission?  And more importantly, do you know how to leverage this mission for the benefit of the band?

Why a mission?

Why not?  Your band is stepping into the public forum.  You might be broadcasting your tunes or publishing lyrics in some obscure corner of cyberspace, and you are most probably performing in public.  You are…public figures.  You have the potential to sway young minds and challenge stodgy conventions.  You wield a form of influence – why wouldn’t you use that?

Once you start to recognize that you could have an effect on the world, the next step is to understand that your mission will have a dramatic effect on your band.  Here are just a few ways your mission will help you:

  • Lyric writing – Every song is a message and when messages are tied together in strands, they form larger themes.  You will struggle less for song ideas when you have a well developed mission.
  • Stage presence – Having a hard time figuring out what to wear on stage?  T-shirt and jeans not cutting it?  Your mission may suggest or inspire a specific uniform, mask, face paint…or certain symbols (see talisman below), or props…or even a logical type of lighting, video backdrop, choreography or more.
  • Talismans – Stepping onto a stage can be a nervous venture for some musicians.  Think about different icons or symbols that represent your mission or theme and wear them for personal strength.  An artifact that you can touch from time to time, like a necklace or body art may help you keep focus.
  • Artwork – All things graphic art will be influenced by a mission.  Your posters, CD design, tattoos, newsletters, and stage props can all be enhanced by embracing a specific theme.
  • For profit…or not – Your band may discover that making income is a trivial pursuit and so participating in a selfless cause that aligns with your mission may be desirable and possibly far more impactful in the long run.

Once established, your mission will influence everything from when and where you decide to play out, to how you will treat your fans, and what kind of show experience they will enjoy.  But most importantly, it will give you a sense of purpose, clarity and consistency…and may even help keep the band together longer.  Now, isn’t that worth a little soul searching?

Income for original bands – an oxymoron?

It’s a bit of an understatement to say that original bands have a tough time making income for their performances – much more so than cover bands.  When a band plays covers, they understand their singular purpose: to entertain the masses.  The venue has employed them to make sure the crowd has a good time.  People should be dancing, drinking, eating, drinking some more, reminiscing about songs from their youth, ordering birthday shots, singing along, hooking up and you know…perhaps a little more drinking.

In exchange for playing the role of the human jukebox, cover bands are rewarded with something called…payment.  In Denver these days, payment is typically $400-$800 a night (for the whole group) when performing at most local bars.  And so a typical four-piece ensemble might make $100-200/man for 4+ hours of work (more like 6+ when you take into account load-in and out).

  Cover bands often have to lug their own PA system as well.  Apart from obvious liability issues, they will need to employ a sound man, maybe to take an equal cut of the pie, or maybe even a flat $100-$200 rate out of the total gross proceeds, thus cutting individual band member income even further.

Original bands are usually not even welcome in the haunts of cover bands.  Thankfully, there are venues dedicated to original music and many of these are more desirable to play than the bar circuit.  There are formal stages, decent sound systems in place and maybe even lighting and more; a far cry better than scooting a pool table out of the way to make room for the band at the local bar.

But because these original music venues typically have less walk-in traffic or “regulars,” a large part of the onus falls on the bands to supply the people.  Original bands usually play multi-band lineups with short sets (45 minutes to an hour) to bring fans out in decent numbers and not fatigue their ears.  If your band can clear $150 for a set (30 fans @ $5 each), you’re actually starting to approach the hourly income of a cover band.  But you can surpass the hourly wage mentality altogether if you’re willing to be an entrepreneur…

Here are some suggestions to optimize income for original bands:

  • Play with bands you like (aka partner bands).  If you like their music, there is a good possibility that your fans will also like their music and their fans will like yours.
  • Partner on every aspect of the show.  Consider designing show flyers that jointly feature all bands.  This saves money, time and energy.  Make sure every band is an active part of the street team.  Share the drum kit as this saves time and energy.
  • Supply your own door guy, or have a friend available to tally the door, right next to the venue’s door guy.  You’d be surprised how much more income materializes when you are in control of the door.
  • Make sure you have a formal and organized band merch kiosk and consider partnering with the other bands (that you trust) to run the kiosk competently.  Pretty merch girls are always helpful.
  • Don’t forget the tip jar!  It may seem sad and desperate, but tip jars are still good vehicles for collecting fan appreciation, especially when passed around by those same pretty girls.
  • At the event, actively promote other opportunities to support the band, such as kick starter.  Pleas for support can be made right from the stage.
  • Consider setting up shop at a location that doesn’t normally feature bands but has walk-in traffic.  This is the best way to stay in control and income is typically maximized.  In exchange for dragging PA and sound guy, you can often control the door, the sound quality and many other features of the environment.

In short, don’t fret about the fact that you will need to mobilize your people in order to get paid these days.  This is a fact of life in the new millennium.  To make decent income you will need to stay in control of the environment, collaborate whenever possible and, oh yeah, produce the best possible music and live show you can.

Tryout for the People’s Fair?

The 41st annual CHUN People’s Fair is June 2nd and 3rd, 2012.  If your band would like to play this high visibility event, applications are being accepted now.  Here’s what you need to do…

Apply

Visit the People’s Fair site  and submit an application (under “People’s Fair” then under “entertainers”).  You can submit online or print it out manually and snail back to them [CHUN People’s Fair, Attn:  People’s Fair Entertainment, 1290 Williams Street, Ste 102, Denver, CO  80218-2657].  You will be asked to complete a stage plot for the band and submit 3 recordings as well.  If you attempt to submit recordings online, keep in mind that these need to be under 7MB in size.  If your recordings are larger than this, plan on submitting on flash drive or CD.

What Next?

The People’s Fair has a committee of judges that conduct listening sessions to decide which bands to call back for auditions.  They will also review stage plots to see if you know how to complete one of those – a good indicator of your stage experience.  But not to worry, there are plenty of directions for completing one of these online.  Approximately 80-90 bands will then be asked to audition at the UMX on March 24th & 25th.  Don’t be surprised if it turns into 110 or more…

The UMX?

This is your tryout for the People’s Fair, known as the Ultimate Music Xperience (UMX).  It’s held at Bender’s Tavern on Saturday and Sunday (3/24 & 3/24, 2012, 10AM-6PM) and you don’t want to skip this.  There are two stages at Bender’s, which are a little bit of a foreshadowing for your chances of being selected, but they are also based on audition availability of the bands.  The regular stage inside is the better bet – the outer stage (often sponsored by the Onion, yuk, yuk) is smaller and muddier for full bands.  You’ve been warned.

The judges will be grading you on sound, setup and tear-down competency, stage presence, and the number of fans you can draw as well.  There will also be a bunch of voting cards the general public can complete to vote on their favorite bands – so, yes, the more fans you can draw the better.

Then what?

Then you wait…for at least a month or more.  You’ll probably start to hear from other (better) bands in town that they were called to duty.  With any luck you will be part of the top half selected to play.  But if not, you will eventually get a letter in the mail saying “thanks, but try again next year.”  Good luck!

Upper Colfax Root 40 MusicFest is coming to town…

Upper Colfax, from Grant to Josephine, is taking a plunge this spring towards helping Denver become a real music city.  Attempting something akin to Austin’s SXSW, the Upper Colfax Root 40 MusicFest is scheduled for April 22 through 28th, 2012, featuring music from every willing and able venue along the strip.

This week-long event is designed to “entertain, enlighten, educate and encourage new participation in Colorado’s music and performance community.”  It’s other purpose is to raise awareness and scholarship funds for local musicians and support for some of Colorado’s homeless population.

The event kicks off with the COMBO EXPO at the Fillmore, tentatively scheduled for April 22nd, 11AM to 4PM, with music following the expo.  COMBO, or the Colorado Music Business Organization, is an all-volunteer nonprofit that helps educate local musicians on the in’s and out’s of the music business.  COMBO also hosts monthly educational seminars around the Denver metro area.  This expo will feature music wholesalers and local music vendors plus lots of educational opportunities and networking. 

The nonprofit Musicians In Action will also be involved in this special event.  M.I.A. is an all-volunteer organization that mobilizes local musicians to perform and collaborate to aid Colorado’s homeless.  M.I.A. plans to aid The Gathering Place, Senior Support Services and the Empowerment Program, three homelessness agencies near the event site, with various shows throughout the week.

Do you want to perform at this first ever event?

Send an email to info@MusiciansInAction.org, including best phone number, band website, and your general availability.

Music School 101: Placing a Craig’s List Ad

So you’re about to post another Craig’s List ad, eh?  Let me guess:  you need a bassist.  And you’re still fuming because no one responded to that last ad?  You know – the one with a seven paragraph rant with your list of outrageous demands?  Fear no more; here is all you need to get some decent responses…

Rule #1   Explain your project

State very clearly what type of project you are assembling or what kind of personnel you need.  It seems simple enough, and yet so many ads flood the good old CL with obscure notions that one almost wonders if they’ve posted in the wrong category.

Are you an original band…or do you slog out covers with a half-hearted soul?  [This is the Denver Original Music blog, you know].  Do you play a specific genre, or do you just want people to show up on your doorstep with tuba in tow?  Are you playing around town, or quaintly just stuck in someone’s basement?  Be specific, please.

Rule #2   Explain your expectations

This is really rule #1b, as you’re still explaining your project, just a little better.  What are your…GOALS!  How often do you practice?  Are you planning on playing out once a month?  Twice?  28-31 times???  Not at all?  Are you going to tour?  Record?  File for bankruptcy?  Gawd, just get it all out there, please.

Rule #3   List any other criteria (but in a nice way that doesn’t make you sound like a head case)

  • Sure…maybe no girls are allowed…or boys…or barnyard animals.
  • Over 21 so they can play the bar scene?  [Keep in mind that younger kids can play too – they just need a work permit].
  • Under 55?  Alas, too old to rock & roll but too young to die.  [But please don’t underestimate the power of senior discounts].
  • No posers?  Shoe gazers?  Mama’s boys?
  • No addicts?  [Just remember that addictions come in many, many shapes and sizes…]

Rule # 4   Don’t undermine yourself in print

As you spout the details of rule #3, remember that everyone can tell if you’re a head case just by how you write.  Curse words can betray obvious hostility.  Poor spelling indicates a lack of intelligence, or simply laziness at the reluctance to use a spell checker.  CAPITAL LETTERS ARE A SURE SIGN THAT YOU’RE HOSTILE, passive aggressive or trying to hide some serious skeletons.

Rule #5   Share your music

Come now, you must have some recordings you can post!  Do not be afraid to share as this is the only way to allow others to qualify you.  From recordings they will be able to tell your style, your skill level, and where you are at in the whole process.  If nothing else, they will know you have kahunas, and that’s a noble part of being a musician.

Rule #6   Fill in your location

That’s what the SPECIFIC LOCATION box is for.  And you guessed it – the more specific the better.  When assembling a group that you hope will endure for more than a few months, proximity rules!  Sure, many musicians will travel to the ends of the earth “if you’re good enough.”  But many more will reply to your ad if they know they won’t have to invest in that evil Exxon company just to play in your basement.

Rule #7   Be polite and professional

Yes, the old saying “it doesn’t cost anything to be polite” still holds up.  You catch many more bees (and bassists) with honey than scraggily rants.  Just give it a try.  And being professional hasn’t gone out of style yet either.  Raise the bar and it just may surprise you how others respond.

In summary, when you post a Craig’s List ad (short for advertisement), you are giving others a chance to qualify you.  They can sit and judge your music, your goals, and decide if you are right for them.  So what?  They will be doing that anyway.

But in this single act, you are also pre-qualifying them.  If they don’t like your tunes you probably don’t want to hear from them anyway.  If they plan on touring Canada and you plan on staying put in Denver, why bother with a few fruitless email exchanges?  If they are 13, you could wind up in jail!  Do yourself a favor and just weed all of these out ahead of time.

Stay tuned for the next class:  responding to the responses…

The most critical personnel for your band….

The single most important ingredient of any band is the person known as the band manager.  Do you have one?  For better or worse, I bet you do…

Band Managers

Band managers are the goal setters, sometimes visionaries, schedulers and organizers, and often a lot of other roles wrapped up in one: booking, promotion, marketing, negotiations, graphic artist, hygienist, group therapist, financier, transportation, and the list goes on and on.

Often enough, the band manager is also the leader of the band.  This is the (hopefully) responsible soul that sets the goals for where and when you’ll play out, record, tour, and get paid.  They will create the roadmap and make sure everyone stays on the same page.  They will help the band foster a state of constant improvement and generally keep everything together.

Without a competent manager, original bands tend to implode within six months to a year (or less).  But with the right personnel, bands will typically get:

  • paid(!)
  • Booked consistently
  • Develop stage presence
  • Focus more on song writing and recording
  • Develop a following
  • Discover their mission

Types of Band Managers

Most bands can’t possibly afford to pay someone else, let alone pay themselves.  So here are the best options for working on a shoestring budget:

Give someone in the band the specific role if you haven’t tried this already.  As previously mentioned, this is usually, but not always, the leader of the band.  Some bands have tried sharing the assorted responsibilities.  This can work well as long as people are reliable and doing what comes natural for them.

Find a friend or devout (and trustworthy) fan to help with the cause.  Ideally, make them another “member of the band” that gets paid a share of the spoils.  This can work well as long as you don’t recruit someone with too close of ties with a specific member of the band (i.e. girlfriends, wives, etc. are almost always a bad idea).  It’s in the best interest of the band to try to find someone as objective (and honest) as possible.

Pay for an experienced band manager.  This may seem like the hardest option, but it’s actually the fastest method for alleviating headaches and getting good results.  Keep in mind that you can always fire the wrong personnel before getting in too deep.  The best way to locate a good manager is to get referrals from other bands that are successful on the scene.

Remember, too, that the band manager is there for these primary roles:  booking, organization and negotiations.  Do not get them confused with a Media Specialist (PR) or even with the promotional efforts (marketing, street team, etc).  They will probably not be qualified to act as producers either.  The more of a burden they carry in scattered activities, the more likely they will fail across the board.

Find yourself a quality band manager and chances are good that you’ll eventually want that PR agent, that business manager, that lawyer, those roadies…

Your band: business or hobby, or both…or neither?

When confronted with the question “is your band a business or a hobby?” let us hope that your answer is “yes.”  And you certainly will be confronted with this question on an on-going basis:  there will be negotiations with band mates, venue owners and even fans; there will be sales and marketing chores galore; licensing rights; key personnel to hire and fire.

From the moment your band is formed, whether you realize it or not, you are scribbling out the very first semblance of a business plan.  You may think that you are merely following your passion for music.  But the consequences of your planning will become more obvious as the band develops.

On the other hand, you first picked up an instrument, or sang or wrote a song and sustained your efforts because you probably felt drawn to this passion.  Music is a form of art, or a way of life; turn it into work and suddenly the enthusiasm starts to fizzle.  What is a musician to do?

Let’s take a quick look at the two propositions…

Business:  an organization engaged in the trade of goods, services, or both to consumers.  The term “business” implies the state of being busy either as an individual or group or society as a whole, doing commercially viable and profitable work.

Hobby:  an activity pursued outside one’s regular occupation and engaged in primarily for pleasure.  Hobbies are practiced for interest and enjoyment, rather than financial reward.  Amateur is another term for a person that does something for fun, without significant payment of services.

The ultimate question here, then, is: are you a professional or an amateur?  Whether they admit it or not, most original bands in Denver are amateur.  And here is a litmus test for determining your status – you are probably an amateur if:

  • You play for free.  Or worse, you pay to play.
  • You have a day job that provides your primary income.
  • You don’t report your music income on a Federal tax return, and you don’t deduct your music expenses on that form either.
  • You do not have key band personnel: a band manager, business manager, promoter or PR assistance, a lawyer, a producer, etc.

Coming to grips with the identity of amateur is the first step towards working to become a professional.  Awareness begets change.  You see, in an ideal world you will want to bring your music to life as an artist but run the band like a business as much as possible.  And here’s why:

  • Club and venue owners will take you more seriously; providing agreements and conducting yourself professionally at the venues will go a long way to providing income and respect.
  • As a band manager (the common role for most leaders of the band), paying your players will ensure that they are around for the long haul – or you can employ new players fairly quickly.
  • The basic rights and roles for each member of the band will be spelled out clearly in the beginning, thus eliminating a lot of future bickering.
  • Public performances will be examined under the context of business viability.  Unless your band is a nonprofit (which could be a good way to go), there should be a reasonable expectation for making the performance worthwhile.

Ultimately, you are setting clear expectations for the band the day you decide to run it as a business.  You are creating goals for future sustainability and growth.  Passion will always fuel the music, but operating as, or working towards operating as a business will allow the artist in you to achieve greater success.

Denver Original Music

Welcome to Denver’s original music scene!

Some of you may remember me from a past life as the Denver Original Music Examiner.  Some of you may have bumped into me coming to a Musicians In Action show.  And some of you might have shared a stage with my band, Odin’s Other Eye.  In any event, thanks for finding me again!

I’m here to dig through the nooks and crannies of the Denver original music scene in all of its land-locked glory.  I’ll be speaking with (better and lesser known) bands, club owners, recording studios, music schools and other resources, and maybe with you too.

Are you involved with the local scene?  Musician?  Venue owner?  Promoter?  Photographer?  Zealous fan?  I definitely want to hear from you!  Send me a line and I’ll probably make you a byline.  Cheers to Denver’s struggling music scene!