The New Year’s Phenomenon

At the end of year, you may have noticed that Craig’s List turns into a hotbed of musician postings: old people looking for new projects, young people looking for “working” bands, neophytes demonstrating first attempts at networking with poorly worded ads.  Plus lots of ego, enthusiasm, ADD, and cynicism clearly worn out on the sleeve.  But the common denominator is that everyone is searching for something new.

Definition of a treadmill: a device having an endless belt on which an individual walks or runs in place.
Definition of a treadmill: a device having an endless belt on which an individual walks or runs in place.

In some ways, this is similar to the craze every weight loss and fitness center experiences; lots of people coming out of their caves, mid-winter, to try to shed some pounds.  In January, they sign contracts in droves, packing the treadmills, and then dissipate by the end of February.  So too with many musicians…and here are some of the main reasons behind the spike in activity:

Our Winter of Discontent

In Colorado, the dark, snowy months mean retreat to warm houses.  Social activity is generally limited to the “social networking sites” and people forget they are living in bubbles.  The term for this in the mental health world is “Isolating,” and it’s not at all healthy.  This is the time when people start talking to themselves more and more, listening to others less and less, creating self-delusion and convincing themselves that the grass is greener somewhere else.

If a person feels powerless with their role in the band, they might amplify that victim mentality without a proper sounding board.  If a person thinks they know better than anyone else, they might stay up all night replaying arguments, creating victory in a parallel universe, or at the very least, getting sleep deprivation that will surely cloud future judgement.

This is also a time of year when people switch jobs, have stressful obligations (also known as “Forced Family Fun”), and get seduced by the boob tube.  Add to that a lack of vitamin B and an extra contentious election year and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Magnetic Poles and the Strong and Weak Forces of Nature

A band is a clump of matter.  And all matter is basically maintained by gravity, electro-magnetic fields, and the strong and weak nuclear forces.  There could be other energies at work as well, but at this time that’s about as much as scientists can wrap their head’s around.  We are all subject to gravity, but take a look at the other influences…

Betchya remember this from grade school: like poles repel and opposites attract.  When you encounter a band mate that you’d love to run away from, or punch in the face, remember that you are probably looking in the mirror.  Every weakness you see in another human being is most likely a flaw you know exists in yourself.  Take that to the negotiating table when it’s time to talk turkey.

The strong and weak forces are harder to discern – even our best scientists can’t get a good handle on them.  But in band life, it’s good to remember that every member is a force of nature, with aspirations, dreams, goals, likes, dislikes, triggers, and personal agendas (we’ll talk about this more in a moment).  All of these forces are interacting and developing subtle bonds.  This is how new matter is created.

Now let’s go back to gravity – we know for certain that it takes a lot of energy to attain orbit.  The term for this is Escape Velocity, and every human being on the planet is trying to escape gravity’s pull, to reach their dreams (effortless effort out in space).  But another word to think of for gravity is reality.  Gravity pulls matter together and ultimately destroys it, creating black holes.  A band will need to work extra hard to beat this force.

Black Hole: 1) a region of space having a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation can escape; 2) a place where people or things, especially money, disappear without a trace.
Black Hole: 1) a region of space having a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation can escape; 2) a place where people or things, especially money, disappear without a trace.

Interdependency = Maturity

In Stephen Covey’s famous book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he describes the first three habits as efforts to bring a person from a state of childlike, victim mentality (dependence) to a more grownup mentality (independence).  But then the next three habits stress the amount of maturity needed to move from Independence to Inter-dependence.

If a band is nothing else, it is a product of Inter-dependence.  The whole is without question greater than the sum of its parts.  But people forget.

And that’s when they get on Craig’s List.  They might think it’s easier to find new projects than maturely talk it out with old band mates.  They might convince themselves that they won’t repeat the same old habits with these brand new strangers.  Yes, people forget.


DHAs, not to be confused with the DTs (delirium tremens), although some symptoms may appear similar…
DHAs, not to be confused with the DTs (delirium tremens), although some symptoms may appear similar…


One last reason for discontentment comes in the form of Deadly Hidden Agendas (or DHAs).  Make no mistake – everybody’s got ‘em.  The truth is, every musician is a perfectionist in one way or another and everybody has a dream.  And so ultimately, everyone has an agenda.  This can be very, very bad for a band.  Or not.

Once recognized or acknowledged, a DHA is no longer hidden and can be talked about.  More often than not, you may find that your agenda could actually help the band better achieve orbit.  Or perhaps you’ll find that your agenda does not match the band as a whole and you’ll realize that you were not honest enough with yourself (and others) when you signed up for the project.  That’s on you.


So the take-aways are: 1) evaluate your discontentment, 2) don’t make decisions in a vacuum, 3) history does indeed repeat itself, 4) band mates are mirrors, 5) seek first to understand then to be understood,  6) be kind – because everyone is dealing with demons (or perfectionism) in one form or another, and 7) own up to your DHAs.  Good luck out there!

The Lessons of session musicians

In the cover band world, a group starts to transcend hobby status when sidemen enter the picture.  Sidemen, aka freelancers, aka “guns for hire” or session musicians are contracted on a temporary basis for their chops, and their ability to fill a hole quickly.  Of course, an original band can obtain the same benefits when this flexible mindset is embraced.  And all you need is money…

Jazz is known for some of the greatest (and famous) sidemen.

The session musician can sit in for a recording, stand in for a gig, and even join a tour.  Imagine what that could do for your original tunes.  Your needs and (again) your billfold are all that stand between you and quality musicians.


Making the best use of session musicians

You may have noticed that when you take the time to record your songs, it becomes faster for a new band member to learn his/her part.  That’s because they are now learning to “cover” a song.  A session musician will expedite that process ten-fold, because this is their bailiwick.   Record early and often (and copyright, of course).

Ask your session musician to dress the part when being compensated to perform on stage.  This goes with the territory of solid, live performers and you should receive little argument from a pro.

Back to recording – hiring a session musician for your initial recordings will not only add quality to these tracks but also set a high bar for future session musicians.

Check their references.  Any session musician worth their weight should have a reasonable list of projects to cite.  Verify those projects with a few quick calls or emails.  Particular to Denver, there once were many bassists roaming the front range, claiming to be the first string for Katrina and the Waves (of “Walking on Sunshine” fame), back when her band was called Mama’s Cookin’, back when they served in the military, before the internet, when it was a little harder to vet the BS.

Many session musicians are also multi-instrumentalists.  This will give you more flavors and may inspire you to add that violinist or xylophonist permanently.

Multi-instrumentalist: Richard Tyler Epperson
Multi-instrumentalist: Richard Tyler Epperson


Where to find the pros

Recording studios are a great place to start your search – the more professional the studio, the better.  If a studio owner can’t give you a good lead, they can probably at least connect you with pro bands that have a stable of decent performers.

Other networking includes: The Denver Musicians Association (local musicians’ union), Denver Performing Arts, and any professional music venue in town.  Anywhere that teaches music will also fit the bill: think Swallow Hill for your acoustic players.  Set your sights high.  And if you go on Craig’s List, you’d better remember that you’re rolling the dice…


Vet your sidemen carefully - ultimately, there's no one to blame but yourself. [Shown here, V. Putin on sax]
Vet your sidemen carefully – ultimately, there’s no one to blame but yourself. [Shown here, V. Putin on sax]
Some last words…

Your session musician should come with no baggage or drama of any form.  If you notice any sharp edges, blunt (or defective) instruments, lollygagging, dictator-esque language, chaffing, punctuality issues, or non-work-related behaviors, box them back up and send them on their way.  Zero time should be spent drawn into their likes, dislikes, political or religious leanings.

If hired properly, session musicians should provide quality, flexibility and reliability.  They’ll help you grow as a musician and maybe even lead to a few songs sold.  And isn’t that worth it?  It’s what the pros do…

A simple question for music venues…

Open the doors...where are the people?
Open the doors…where are the people?


“What’s your following?”  That’s right – what’s the following of your music venue?  Isn’t that a fair question?  Bands get hit with that one occasionally, and sometimes often.  But seriously, you opened this business, with the intention of providing music to the community.  So again, what’s your following?



“We count on the bands to bring their following”

That’s completely foolish.  Musicians aren’t marketing pros.  The average musician doesn’t possess an MBA – many good ones have no college degree whatsoever.  And ideally, any waking hours a musician has should be spent honing their craft, trying to create a jaw-dropping display of talent and/or entertainment value, not walking around with a sandwich board.

Do you realize how many hats the average band has to wear just to get off the ground?  Someone has to write the songs.  Someone has to learn the songs.  Someone has to learn the songs better and replace the people that weren’t playing them so well.  Someone has to record and copyright the music.  Someone has to handle social media, and graphic art, and alcoholism, mental illness, and marriage disputes.  Someone has to book the shows and someone has to follow up to make sure the show isn’t double or triple-booked.  Someone has to coordinate (or be) the “street team” and…that’s your venue’s marketing strategy?!?


Lastly (and many thanks to L.A. musician Dave Goldberg for this insight), if you are counting on bands to supply clientele, you will never have a consistent cash flow.  You will be dependent upon the bands to bring the customers every single night.  In the business world (and you are in the business world), that’s the equivalent of having to rebuild sales from scratch…every single day.  Good luck with that.


Is there possibly something wrong with your joint?

Have you reviewed your business in a while?  Maybe there are a couple very good reasons why you are not known as a music venue with a following…

  • Poor customer service tends to top the list in any business. Is the wait staff making your customers wait?  Does the owner bother to walk around to gauge quality control?  Or is the door guy basically in charge?
  • Is the quality of music in your venue inconsistent and/or just plain terrible? Maybe your brother-in-law shouldn’t have first crack as the “house band.”  It’s pretty simple: people have lots of choices these days and amateur music drives people away.  Who’s in charge of quality control there?
  • Does the sound system need an upgrade? Not having quality PA gear at a music venue is like not having a quality freezer in an ice cream shop.  And if you don’t even have a PA, and you promote yourself as a live music venue…are you serious?  Are you sure you are not just a bar?
  • Is the sound too loud for the room? If you really don’t know the answer to this question, you probably won’t own this “music venue” for very long…
  • Are the bands being treated badly?  Double booking?  Poor pay?  No pay?!?  Another little note from the business world: people don’t usually tell you when they’ve had a bad experience at your place…but they will tell LOTS of other people.  Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth.
  • Are you killing your customers?  Read here to learn more, but bottom line – when your customers are dead…they don’t usually come back.
  • Are you a “Me too!” kind of venue? Is the owner so unimaginative that you haven’t tried to create something unique in the marketplace?  So, you sell drinks and have live music – maybe you could draw more people selling drinks and playing Bingo?
  • No advertising? This is one of the easiest things a venue can do.  Are you waiting around for bands to bring you their precious marketing flyers?  And how many shows have you gone to, based on seeing a flyer?  Real advertising is a little more complicated than that.

You may notice that the one common denominator here is Quality, or lack thereof.  A band needs to focus on the quality of their product if they expect to develop a following.  Likewise, a music venue will never develop a following if they are ignorant of quality.  We’ll take a closer look at music customer buying habits next…

Audiences have a lot of options these days… [Shown here, a Samsung virtual reality music concert]

COMBO songwriting contest winners announced…

combo-walnutroomThis is the 4th year that the Colorado Music Business Organization (COMBO) has held a songwriter’s competition.  Winners were recently announced and featured on a compilation CD that was distributed at the Durango Songwriter’s Expo, Omni Interlocken Hotel & Resort in Broomfield.  COMBO is also going to showcase many of these songwriters on October 29th (7PM) at the Walnut Room in Denver.

All songs are judged primarily on lyrics and melody – less emphasis on production and performance as they are seeking to recognize well-written tunes.  The songs are also submitted anonymously to a panel of judges to prevent bias.   The highest score belonged to Rod Tanaka and the late Johnny Brown for “I Lose My Breath.”

Other winners included:

● “Back Page” – by David Henning

● “Mine All The Way” – by George Whitesell

● “Carry On” – by Kenzie Culver

● “Serendipity” – by Donnie Schexnayder

● “Colorado” – by Rebecca Folsom

● “Whale Mountain” – by Gordon Lewis and Grace Easley

● “Welcome to the USA” – by Donnie Schexnayder

● “Going to Louziana” – by Ghostman: Joel Ashmore, Felix Abram, Guido Valeri, Steve Fitzgerald, Doug Moe 

Left-handed guitarist, Doug Moe of Ghostman.
Left-handed guitarist, Doug Moe of Ghostman, featured here with your Denver Original Music author.
                   Kenzie Culver

● “One Day” – by Seina Soufiani & Dave Groover

●    “Love Again” – by Kenzie Culver

● “Simple Girl” – by Traci Lynn

● “Catch Me” – by Adrienne Osborn

● “Come Find Me” – by Travis Smith and Ross MacDonald

● “Had Enough” – Peter Majekodunmi (a.k.a Zidane Majek)

● “Killin’ You With Time” – by Chrystal DeCoster

● “The Man In The Movies” – by Rob Roper


Rob Roper
                         Rob Roper


Kudo’s to COMBO as the Durango Songwriter’s Expo is an excellent opportunity for local writers to grab some national attention.  Time to start working on next year’s submissions…



What does a patron of the arts look like?

gateswithslashApart from a halo, some wings, maybe a silhouette like Bill Gates…what do you think a patron of the arts might look like?  And perhaps a better question: where would you find someone that might support your art?  And how would you approach them?  Let’s take a look…


Patrons are usually rich!

A supporter of this magnitude is probably going to have some significant disposable income – would you agree?  Sure, the average Joe is a patron of the arts when they purchase a CD, download a song, or go see a show.  But a patron that can help you produce your next recording session, host your next concert, or at least tip you well…probably lives in a swankier part of town.


Wealth by the Numbers

The easiest way to find wealthy folks is where they live – in affluent zip codes.  You’re probably already aware of the biggies in the Denver Metro area:  Cherry Hills (80113), Greenwood Village (80111), Castle Rock (80108), and there are some millionaires hiding out in Ken Caryl, Golden, the Pinery, and even Aurora.  You can expand that search by taking a brief trip to your local public library.  To jump start the effort, book a session with the Business Librarian (it doesn’t cost anything, and most libraries have one of these).

Courtesy of the Denver Business Journal...
Courtesy of the Denver Business Journal…

Another way to find the wealthy elite: the donor list of any major nonprofits, a list of political supporters, a list of country club members.  Be creative, and don’t forget about “the millionaire next door.”  That guy with the humble abode and a boat and camper in the alley could be your new best friend.  And think about it – everyone has a birthday at least once a year.  But do you know how to ask?


Engage or Perish

Here’s a strong truth:  Ask for money and you’ll get opinions.  Ask for opinions and you’ll get money.

It’s that simple, really.  Asking for money is akin to begging, while taking the time to meet someone in person, getting to know them and learning about what motivates them is an art form.  Do you have the stamina and resilience to do this?

Sales guru Harvey MacKay had a brilliant model for this topic known, of course, as the “MacKay 66.”  The gist is, if you can learn 66 thoughtful things about anyone, you will know them so well that you can turn them into a customer for life.  It works the same way for patrons.  Find out what is most important to them.  What do they love (and hate)?  Who are they voting for in the next election and why?  What are their kids’ names?  Birthday?  Anniversaries?  Favorite color?  Come on – you could make your next album cover purple if they paid for it, right?


The Corporate Myth

It’s tempting to think that there is a lot of low-hanging fruit in the corporate world.  But most corporations tend to be stodgy.  They have to be very mindful of their conservative image and might not appreciate your band’s public image connected with theirs.  (Think “Smell the Glove”).


Another fact, known to the nonprofit world, is that most money comes from the general public, not from corporations.  If you are going to squeeze some money out of them, at least search for the privately owned companies rather than formal corporations with slow-moving boards of directors and heavy finance restrictions.

Now you might have some better luck asking for in-kind donations.  Local Celtic-fusion band, Potcheen, once secured a sponsorship with Guinness – probably a lot of beer on that tour bus.  Other in-kind donations might include music gear, hotels for the tour, a new web site, a little free dry cleaning?  Cutting costs really does equal making income.

But back to Bill Gates.  Microsoft, the company, doesn’t give out that much unrestricted money.  Bill and Melinda Gates personally donated over 28 billion dollars to their foundation.  You can bet they’ve also held their share of private parties.  At least one birthday bash a year each.  Maybe an anniversary party too.  So start looking for your patron of the arts, get creative and get out there…

Tired of being paid to move PA gear? Find a patron of the arts…

In the music industry, it would appear that there are the 1%-ers and then the vast, lower-middle class.   The 1% is heard on the radio, is steered by very experienced managers and promoters and occasionally sell out stadiums and/or their singles go platinum.

The lower-middle class barely eke out a few hundred bucks per performance – maybe $100/man, if lucky these days.  This seems to hold true across genres: from many jazz professionals to classic rock cover bands and indie touring bands alike.  Often, the Sunday church gig or funeral will pay more.

Moving Stuff

The estimated cost of this high tech PA system is $1.4 million. Be careful with those cables, Eugene!
The estimated cost of this high tech PA system is $1.4 million. Be careful with those cables, Eugene!

If you’ve spent enough time in a “working cover band,” you’ll realize that these musicians are ultimately paid to move PA gear.  And if they start calculating the hourly wage, most would make twice the income working for a real moving company.  But it’s not about the money, right?  Wrong.

It’s about valuing yourself, whether measured in dollars, pesos or French fries.  If you don’t value yourself, you can bet that pretty much everyone else won’t either.  And this may be the reason that the average wage for a “working musician” has probably declined and certainly hasn’t risen in the past two decades.  Now really, how is that possible unless the average musician is mired in self-deprecation?

Supply and Demand

One reason might be a simple law of economics – in the context of original music for the greater Denver Metro area, there are roughly 100-500 times as many bands as there are established music venues.  Odds of 500:1.  Is it starting to sound like the race track?  But that’s what it’s like for any company in the business world too.

Your band is going to be a bottom-feeder if you cannot demonstrate expertise at your craft, significant entertainment value, and/or some other unique selling proposition.


Now before you start getting all strung out or depressed, consider another way that you might be able to secure more value for your art, and for your band mates…

From the beginning of civilization, there has always existed a certain class of citizenry known as Patrons of the Arts.  These were often the fat cats that appreciated good tunes, sexy drawings, or a quality, clinical study.  The patron was the change-maker and had the ability to turn a $9/hour musician into a middle class wage earner, and maybe even into a wealthy celebrity.

The patrons of the arts are still among us today.  But you’ll need to do some homework if you expect this kind of support.  One form of patronage comes from crowd funding (Kickstarter, etc.) – you’ll need to be creative for this to really pay off.  Another form is making the patron feel like a celebrity.

One local songstress recently created House Party Packages, where the host(ess) pays a more generous fee to have the house filled with live entertainment.  Any number of details might go into one of these packages – free autographed CDs for the guests, maybe a few t-shirts, maybe an enhanced wine and cheese spread?  A couple $1500 packages per month and you are well on your way to the middle class.

Shown here, a house concert in Oklahoma. Come on - you've played worse venues than this...
Shown here, a house concert in Oklahoma. Come on – you’ve played worse venues than this…

Is there a mission?

Many previous articles here have referred to having a purpose or supplying unique content.  Have you thought lately about why your band is together or why you write certain types of songs?  Is there a common thread or a reason for being?

Finding a patron might become even easier if your music/lyrics lend themselves to a cause or a specific mission.  Counting down to a major event (like a national election) might lead to a series of shows funded by collective patrons.  Can you imagine the Dirty Trumpettes, or a Hillary “Burning Woman” (effigy) party?  Sounds like fun…

Ed Minevich, kissing up to some of his patrons...
Ed Minevich, kissing up to some of his patrons…

Rising to the musical middle class is certainly a challenge in this new digital age.  But again, the patrons of the arts have always been among us and they are merely waiting for the most creative artists to present some novel proposals.  And isn’t that brainstorming effort more exciting than just moving PA gear?

Hobbyist, professional musician, or…?

Have you thought about your status as a musician lately?  Are you a hobbyist, a pro, or perhaps something in between?  How you see yourself will have some dramatic implications for yourself and the music scene at large, so ask yourself a few quick questions…

  1.  Have you been paid to play live or for a song you wrote and/or recorded?
  2.  Have you been paid consistently to play live (or record, or write songs)?
  3.  Have you made profit as a musician the past three of five years?
  4.  Is music your primary form of employment?

Were you able to answer “yes” to all of these questions?  If so, congratulations(!) – you are a professional musician.  If not, you are probably a hobbyist.  And that’s…OK.  The vast majority of musicians are hobbyists, just as the vast majority of golfers are hobbyists.

The grey area is when you can pursue a hobby and still receive some income for this thing you love to do.  But make no mistake – you are still a hobbyist.  There are also hobbyist Astronomers, Fishermen, Gardeners, and Storm Chasers. But it’s probably a good thing we don’t have Brain Surgeon hobbyists.


So now let’s go back to those four questions.  A lot of musicians can say that they have been paid to play, whether live or for a recording on CD Baby.  Being paid “consistently” is a subjective concept, but if you are calling yourself a “Professional” musician, it might behoove you to earn to some form of payment on a weekly basis.  Acid test:  can you pay your mortgage with gig money?

The third question is even trickier and more significant.  Have you made a profit the last three of five years as a musician?  There are a lot of hard and soft costs (business deductions) associated with staying current as a musician.

Here are some hard costs:

Gear that needs to be replaced (strings, reeds, etc.)

Gear that is lost, damaged or stolen

Gas and car mileage

Lessons, to stay up on your craft

PA Rental

And some softer costs:

Being present at a venue for four hours…to play your 45 minute set

New shock absorbers…when the subs, mains and other cabinets ruin your suspension

Hiring a lawyer…when your spouse decides you’re not around enough to handle her/his needs

Hiring a therapist…if substance abuse becomes an unintended consequence of your craft

As you get older, might as well throw in Physical Therapy too…


Profit & Loss

All of those hard and soft costs, if deducted properly, could reduce your profit significantly.  If you think honestly, the many costs associated with being a musician might realistically leave you in the red year after year, after year.  And if so, the Federal Government has something to say about this as well.

According to the IRS, your business (band/musician) can be reclassified if it is not an activity engaged in for profit.  To quote them exactly: “Generally, an activity qualifies as a business if it is carried on with the reasonable expectation of earning a profit.”  But if you cannot demonstrate a profit for the last 3 of 5 years, the IRS can re-classify your business as a hobby.

Here are some other questions the IRS asks, if you intend on taking business deductions:

  • Does the time and effort put into the activity indicate an intention to make a profit?
  • Does the taxpayer depend on income from the activity?
  • If there are losses, are they due to circumstances beyond the taxpayer’s control or did they occur in the start-up phase of the business?
  • Has the taxpayer changed methods of operation to improve profitability?
  • Does the taxpayer or his/her advisors have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business?
  • Has the taxpayer made a profit in similar activities in the past?
  • Does the activity make a profit in some years?
  • Can the taxpayer expect to make a profit in the future from the appreciation of assets used in the activity?

And now the last question: is music your primary form of employment?  The government can’t penalize you for being a poor business owner.  And if you only made $2 profit last year, that’s still a profit, right?  And…a large number of musicians make less than the Poverty Level (currently $11,880.00 for an individual in the US).  That’s just a reality.  But can you live off of your musical endeavors?  We’ll talk about ways to do that next…


Collecting guitars - a hobby within a hobby?
Collecting guitars – a hobby within a hobby?

Band strategies brought to you by the game of Scrabble

Scrabble is probably the world’s single greatest word game.  But it also contains some very powerful Life Lessons.  See how many of these can be applied to your band – but bonus: learning these lessons can up your Scrabble game as well…


Creativity has a structure of limits

IMG_0459In Scrabble, each player starts with 7 letters.  These letter may be arranged to form “legitimate” words but must be played horizontally or vertically.  As you play letter tiles, you replace them, to always have 7 tiles.  And you take turns playing.  Those are the basic rules.

Many songwriters start with the notion of “Western Music Theory,” with a finite number of notes (7 actually, but 12 when you add in the half-steps).  Often, the “legitimate words” here are the keys.  Most songs never change key, but this is certainly possible to do within a great song.

You put words together with letters, and often arrive at longer or more complex words when you think in terms of portions of words to create prefixes (like “pro” or “rep”), suffixes (like “ing” or “iate”), and plurals.  So too, with musical phrases.  In computer jargon, these are like macros (an organization of steps).


But the general point is, you start with a finite framework to create an infinite number of possibilities.  Or as William Blake once said “True Infinity is infinity within the finite.”

Typically, your band also has a finite number of players, with finite skills, finite budgets for band gear, finite time to practice and gig out, etc.  The exciting thing is to see how you arrange all of those finite elements to create songs and a sound that the planet has never, ever heard before.


Connecting ideas

IMG_0460If you play one word at a time, stand-alone in Scrabble you will probably lose (unless your opponent also plays this way).  But if you learn to connect the word you play with as many other words on the board as possible, your score will double or triple very quickly.  This multiplier effect works in band life too.

If you are networking, you will find other bands and musicians to “play off of” and expand your traction.  For instance, if you play a show together, each of you will be exposed to a broader market of music lovers.  If you combine musical influences you may also create a richer, more novel sound.


A well-placed letter

Occasionally in Scrabble, a one letter play can be very powerful.  Like when the fates align and a “Z” could be played on a Triple Letter square creating words horizontally and vertically, or a Triple Letter square is tied with a Double Word score play.   Please don’t stop reading if I have lost you here…

In life, those opportunities do come along and hopefully you will be prepared.  Sometimes a small window opens up and all you need to do is move on it.  Don’t hesitate here as the opportunity probably won’t be around by your next turn.


Holding out for the big payout

Alongside of those power plays, is the concept of developing your hand until you can lay all of your tiles at once for maximum points.  This would be akin to focusing deeply on your music before bothering to play out in public.  You woodshed on the instruments, work hard on the harmonies, record nonstop and study those recordings to perfect your sound…and then explode onto the scene.  One myth tells that Lynyrd Skynyrd spent a year practicing relentlessly in a barn until they had written their best material and could play it inside-out.


You can work at perfection, but hopefully not too long.  In Scrabble, you can be sabotaged, constantly getting a series of vowels, or none at all, or “Q”, “X” and “Z” all at once.  And every replacement of tiles gets you more and more boondoggled while your opponent is steadily scoring points.  At some point you may have to cut bait…


Diversity in the gene pool

But to help get that big payout, what you ultimately need is a diversity of resources.  In Scrabble, this means never getting stuck with too many vowels or consonants.  It’s hard to make a word with A, E, I, O, U.  And three “U”s or four “N’s can be straight-up debilitating.  So your plays should always be mindful of this balance.

And you guessed it, having a diverse set of songs, a diverse group of musicians, a diverse number of venue options to choose from, of partner bands to play with, etc. is going to make you a more appealing band.

Diversity in band life, and an homage...
Diversity in band life, and an homage…

Wild cards, or blank tiles

Every once in a while (2 blanks in a game of Scrabble), life is going to hand you an opportunity you never expected.  That one big break that can turn you into an instant hit.  Of course, most successful songwriters will tell you how many decades it took them to become an “overnight sensation.”  But if that one break comes along, remember that the best form of luck is preparation awaiting opportunity.


Piano-ScrabbleMake it a game

So, follow some of the tips above and you’ll start to really enjoy the game of Scrabble.  And think about what motivated you to pick up an instrument or sing or write a song in the first place.  It probably wasn’t the idea of cashing checks with lots of zeroes.  You didn’t mindfully step into the “Music Business.”  Like most of us, you probably started with a hobby, making some noise and realizing other people appreciated it.  Many people tend to get fried when their hobby becomes a business, so never forget that your music is ultimately a game.  But we’ll talk about hobby bands next…

Let her R.I.P.? When does the band (or song) die?

TheFormerDrummerHenryThomasSometimes it’s pretty obvious when to put the band to sleep:  John from the John Doe Band decides he would rather sell real estate.  Artie, who’s mom bought the PA system, is moving to Las Vegas.  The brass section was involved in a bizarre smelting accident.  Or another drummer spontaneously combusted and the trauma is still just too fresh…

Those are all very familiar, right?  But suppose for a moment that your band is operating like a business.  This company probably has multiple partners, and every one of them brings different skill sets to the mix.  Do you just throw it all away because one of your partners needs to enter rehab?

Founders, Keepers?

Many times it is assumed that the founding members of the band are the torch-bearers.  They probably named the gig, figured out an initial set list, talked on and off about marketing strategies – stuff like that.  They may have invested deep.

They might ask for some reimbursements if the brand is strong enough.  If they have a clue, they will already be keeping some of those residuals for any tunes they wrote.  But if the rest of the band carries that torch, the founders might see some pay off down the road too.  They might even rejoin the band; we’ve seen that sometimes hell does freeze over.

Mediation is the key

It’s been said, “the best way to win in court is stay out of court.”  So much truer for the majority of musicians that live below the poverty line.  So use your communication skills and put away that axe.  Talk about the best departure steps and let everyone live to see another day.

There will also be less discussion if you took the time, way back when, to create a written exit strategy for members of the band.  This plan could be as simple as “we all go our own way.”  It might involve some payouts or an agreement that, no matter what happens, the singer always gets to decide what happens next.  🙂

Music & Karma

Ultimately, all songs come from the Void – that empty, creative space songwriters dive into.  And the Void is where we’ll all return in the end.  If you have an abundance mentality, that space is always accessible and productive.  If you dwell on a scarcity model, the Universe is going to be pretty stingy right back at ya.

Songs are kinda like real estate – when you own a chunk of land, do you own it clear down to the core of the Earth?

So…if you wrote a song with someone else, share the credits and any rare income that follows.  Be generous and open to all win-win scenarios.  Don’t let another tune be buried in an early grave…


A few important items in the “Band Agreement”

Does your band have an agreement?  You know, something written down that simulates a business plan or a constitution, or maybe even resembles your last will and testament?  A written agreement may seem pretty formal, but if thought through, documents can save a band a lot of heartache down the road.

Now don’t fret.  Most bands rarely even think about this topic.  You’re busy slapping the band together, scrutinizing all of the players to size up the weak links…and really, you’re probably still searching for a bass player, right?  Who’s got time to whip up a rock contract?  But even if you don’t ever get around to pressing pen to paper, think about these items and be prepared to convey the bylaws:


Who gets songwriting credits?

We might as well start with a biggie.  From a legal perspective, this is one of the most important aspects of your original music.  The most basic definition of a song is “words and melody.” But many a band has been ripped apart, simply lacking an upfront understanding of this topic.  Have you pow-wowed with band mates, or do you follow the advice of JJ Cale?: “What’s understood does not need to be spoken.”

"Control Freaks" or strong band leaders?  You make the call...
“Control Freaks” or strong band leaders? You make the call…

How are product decisions made?

Your songs, your recordings, your live performance and your marketing efforts (pictures, video, graphics, web presence, etc) are all part of the product.  When you are thinking about rearranging the configuration of the band or dress code, or what the stage plot is going to look like – these are all product decisions.

Are you on the road to constant improvement, or perhaps struggling just to get few less blurry pics out on the web?  Product decisions can make or break a band.  There better be a formal process in place and hopefully decisions are being made like a business.


How are players paid?

Now don’t fall down here…there’s no reason an original band can’t get paid for their efforts.  And it doesn’t need to be in the form of food, drinks and token gas money either.  Players should get paid if they are doing their job well.  And any band should be compensated if they are actually entertaining.  Beyond that, there’s a bunch of tax stuff to think about too.


Who gets to keep the bus if the band breaks up?
Who gets to keep the bus if the band breaks up?

And what about exit strategies?

Another biggie, what happens when a key player leaves the band?  Maybe even a founding member?  Is it automatically R.I.P. for the project, or do you have some understanding of how things will take shape?  Some of the other things to consider: who owns the band name?  The web site (and Admin control)?  The overstock of CDs and T-shirts and other paraphernalia?  What about images and videos?  At a bare minimum, you better have some Photoshop skills…


As you may guess, there’s a lot to cover in each of these topics.  We’ll touch upon them in more detail in the following segments.  Please stay tuned…

Finding band mates – the lazy Craig’s List way…

Here’s part II of your annual Craig’s List refresher course (auditioning and following up).  But first, keep in mind that there are two much more effective ways to find band mates, other than CL:

Network, network, network!

Get out and network with real musicians on the scene.  You know how it’s easy to blow someone off when you’re just texting or emailing?  Well, that’s even easier when everyone is employing Craig’s List anonymizers.  Be prepared for a lot of numbing conversations with trolls, and occasionally no reply at all.

Meeting competent players in person will have much more powerful results.  Plus you’ll be able to read body language and get a firsthand view of a candidate’s idiosyncrasies.  In person is also a great way to find referrals to good players.

Money talks

If you are in a position to pay the players, you should be in a position to find the cream of the crop, and call all of the shots going forward.   This is how many cover bands do it.  Employ the sideman, have them sign an Independent Contractor agreement and write out your list of expectations.  Just be careful about the spirit of your agreement, or the government might have a thing or two to say about this relationship.

You may think “I can’t afford to pay these guys!”  But if your venture is going to be meaningful, you may eventually find out that you cannot afford not to pay them.  And if you’re an entrepreneur, you should be able to find ways to do this, while making money for yourself along the way.  But let’s assume you are like many musicians – flat broke, and so back to Craig’s List…


Steps 3 & 4: Auditioning and Followup

So, hopefully you’ve qualified and re-qualified the candidates.  The next step is to line up as many of them as feasible for an audition session.  You’ll be able to compare and contrast talents easier when they are auditioning back to back.  Here’s a quick check list prior to the auditions:

  1. Share some of your music with them ahead of time and ask each player to knock out similar parts, again so you can easily compare and contrast abilities.
  2. Schedule some back to back sessions for whatever time you think you’ll need. 45 minutes to an hour usually works.
  3. Reserve a little time for meet & greet. There’s still time to pick up on destructive idiosyncrasies before they join the band…
  4. Reserve some time for open jamming if your band is so inclined.


You'll want to space out those auditions - don't bring them all in at once!
       You’ll want to space out those auditions – don’t bring them all in at once!


During the audition, you want to make your candidates comfortable and, you know, actually want to be a part of your band.  Don’t stick them in a dark, cramped space or on a crotchety, old stool like they are a tax auditor.  You might even offer them a refreshment…

Lastly, now is not the time for the rest of the band to get into squabbles.  Get everyone on the same page so it feels professional on your end.  It wouldn’t hurt to thank them for coming and recap your followup process with them as well.


Followup…or it’s all a waste of time

This is the make or break step.  Make sure you have all of the contact info in place and respond to any communications quickly.  A few things to keep in mind here:

  • They are probably also auditioning for a few other bands if they are auditioning for you. Don’t let too much time go by when you find a good player.
  • Be clear about band expectations when you make an offer. If you sense that they are already on a different page, things may not work out down the road.  That’s why the qualifying and prequalifying steps are so important, but think about this as your last opportunity to qualify a new band mate.
  • If an audition does not go well, allow the player to keep his dignity or make sure you accompany him on the way out (unless you are pretty handy with drywall repair).


If the audition doesn't go well, make sure to escort them off the premises...
If the audition doesn’t go well, it would be prudent to escort them off the premises…


One final thought

Be polite and be respectful of a player’s time.  Musicians get screwed on a daily basis these days.  Venues don’t pay nearly enough for good talent.  Booking agents often carelessly double-book acts.  And just about everyone thinks you are a hobby project, waiting to give your talent away for free.  The least you can do is treat other musicians with respect.  Be kind out there…

Your annual tips for making the most of Craig’s List

The average band has the need to source at least one new player every year. If you haven’t been networking all along, this process might sneak up on you, and chances are you’ll revert to the simplest, cheapest route for recruiting new talent – good old Craig’s List.   Back in the day, and were the quick, default methods but CL definitely has a bigger selection and typically faster results.  Just remember – you get what you paid for.

If done properly, CL can be a very effective way to recruit. But for a variety of reasons, most musicians don’t seem to grasp the fundamentals.  These are: prequalifying, requalifying, auditioning and following up.  These concepts are so commonly misunderstood that it’s worth revisiting them annually.  So here we go…

Prequalifying the masses

This is the single biggest time-saving step you can take when posting a CL Ad. When you prequalify, you are doing all parties involved a big favor.  You are expressing your needs, your goals, and your abilities, and you are getting it all out there right away so other players can quickly determine if this is the right situation for them.

You want them to figure that out easily. Think of how much time is wasted with back and forth emails, texts and phone calls due to vague and uninformative ads.  Or how silly it is to have the “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine” mentality.  So here are the basic, minimum items you will want to include in your initial ad:

  • What position you are seeking and a description of your existing band configuration
  • What style of music you are playing (or what styles you are open to playing), or a list of your influences
  • Your general goals: how often you play out and practice
  • Proximal information: where you plan to play out and practice
  • Are you an original band? Covers only? A hybrid?
  • Some samples of your own recordings and/or video

Many bands are tempted to skip posting recording/video links. But that is the most honest way to convey your abilities and where you are at as a band, and demonstrate your cahonas.  Get it out there.  Some other things you might want to mention in an initial ad:

  • Does the band have age range preferences? It’d be nice to think that doesn’t matter amongst musicians, but you might be surprised. Click here to see why proximity in age might be important.
  • Are there certain things about the band that might be good for everyone to know up front? Is it an all-girl venture? Do you only play nudist colonies? Does the lead singer think he is Christ incarnate? Is the band excessively recreational? You never know what might be an instant magnet or repellent – best to get it out there…
  • Include contact info – anonymous CL links are not always the most reliable. Think about including an email or even a phone number. You can always make the request that text is preferred for any initial contact.


Requalifying (or cutting through the BS)

Once you start receiving inquiries from your ad, you are going to want to vet the prospects in a timely and thorough manner. If you do nothing else, please do the CL community a favor and REPLY to all inquiries.  It’s simply polite and it’s also another way prospective musicians will prequalify you; if you are too flaky to acknowledge an email, text or phone call you are probably not going to be the most reliable bandmate.

Requalifying means getting a better sense if prospects are appropriate for your band…before bothering with any auditions. Before you call them, make sure you have a pen and notepad handy, and a few questions prepared – you will learn a lot in that first phone call, guaranteed.


Requalifying Tip: take good notes when talking to prospects.
Requalifying Tip: take good notes when talking to prospects.


Here are some strong red flags:

  • They talk and talk and talk about their pedigree and pet peeves and never bother to ask a single question about your project.
  • They are embellishing their musical background and the longer you speak with them the more obvious this becomes.
  • They sound like they should be auditioning for somebody else’s band.
  • They are slurring their words. Especially take note of what time you have called them.
  • They have no links to audio or video…and are even unwilling to whip out their cell phone to record a sample.

Assuming you’ve found a few good candidates, auditioning and following up are the next two steps.  We’ll look more closely at those in March…