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Miscellaneous - The Rules of Being in a Band

  by Jon Rogers

published: 3 / 10 / 2011

Miscellaneous - The Rules of Being in a Band


In 'Hitting the Right Note' Jon Rogers provides a list of tips and rules for being in a band

Just how many times have you been out for an evening's entertainment watching a band when you've realised that they really haven't got the faintest idea? And that applies to not only the newly formed band playing the back room of a pub, but also to the stadium filler who utter the immortal words "Hello Liverpool, it's great to be here." When in reality it's Manchester. So, being the aging old fart that I am I thought it was my benevolent duty to inform those that may need a little guidance in these things to the unwritten (perhaps not quite so serious) 'rules' or tips for being in a band. OK, so these rules - complied with some other Pennyblack writers - Mark Rowland, Lisa Torem and John Clarkson - won't lead you to the crossroads where you can make a pact with the devil in return for being able to play like Robert Johnson, but at least they will (hopefully) stop you from making one almighty arse of yourself. 1. Watch 'This is Spinal Tap' If you don't know what I'm even talking about there really is utterly no hope. Give up your dreams of being a musician now and content yourselves with being a shelf-stacker at your local supermarket. For everyone else, watch this film closely and make notes. This really is your guidebook to being in a band. Then when it's finished watch it again. And again. And... again. It is probably best to watch it about 20 times and then once more for luck. Absorb its knowledge and wisdom and understand its message. Basically, if you follow this guide you really can't go too far wrong. But too many bands, U2 strangely come to mind here, just ignore it. Do that at your peril. Oh and if any music store owner offers to sell you an amp that goes up to 11, walk away. 2. No Solos Remember, no one likes a show off. Perhaps they have a problem with the size of their penis and are just over compensating for their feelings of inadequacy, but I really see no need to for some moderately competent guitarist - or even worse drummer - to subject me to some interminable solo and prove to me that their instrument is a substitute for their own, er, instrument. Let's get this clear, they are all boring and dull. Without exception. Yes, even the supposed maestro of them all, Jimi Hendrix. I don't care how fast you can play, how you can make your guitar weep, or even pull off some 'amazing' feat of dextrous playing. You're just an egotist wanting to show off and I'm not impressed. The only slight exception should really be if you are some jazz legend of the Ornette Coleman stature then you might be able to get away with it, but even then only for a few minutes. 3. Don't Trash Your Instrument This is all too often connected with the previous rule. Our 'axe hero' so taken over by the power of the flashy solo that he (or she) has been so moved that the only thing to do next is to trash their guitar. You utter, utter knob. Surely, as some musician you should really respect the instrument you're playing, not wanting to trash it by smashing it up on stage and sticking the remains through your speakers. Just on a financial note, doing that is a costly business as you'll have to go out and get yourself a new guitar and have you seen the price of them nowadays? They're not cheap. But even if you are a millionaire musician and can afford all the guitars you want you still look utterly ridiculous, yep, even Hendrix. And all too often just how contrived is smashing up your equipment anyway? Oddly, Ritchie Blackmore would go and change his guitar (no doubt for a cheaper model) just before smashing it up. How lame is that? There's one thing to be carried away by the moment and another to consciously set out to do it beforehand. And oddly, why does all this equipment smashing take place at the end of a band's set? Funny how the angry young man persona only transpires at the end of the allotted 30-minute set. Is it all just a performance? I'd like to see a band come on stage and without playing a note, just smash everything up. Now, that would impress me. 4. Don't Let Your Haircut Dictate the Direction of the Band You can just picture the scene, some over-priced house-share in east London, where everyone of the inhabitants is a subscriber to fanzine 'Shoreditch Twat' and fails to see the irony. All complain about being poor and how daddy's trust fund isn't enough to live on in the capital, but strangely can afford to frequent the trendy boutiques and hair salons every few weeks. It's as if Syd Barrett's 'Vegetable Man' was written with them in mind. You can just imagine the conversation... "Look, Tarquin, sorry mate, you're just not right for our band, you've got the wrong haircut. That angular Hoxton styling is so last week..." Basically, stop worrying about what you look like and whether you're cool or not and basically put in the hard work of coming up with some decent songs. Just look at the New Romantics. All style over substance. More interested in being seen in the right clothes and the right nightclubs to actually bother about having some decent songs. Pennyblack's resident 60's aficionado Lisa Torem, however, strikes a cautionary note and supports all those groovy bands of the era all decked out in matching suits, shirts and ties and copycat haircuts. Those cool cats could pull it off but, unfortunately, it can also mask the fact that the songs simply aren't there. Which then all leads on to: 5. Don't Put Your Stage Show Before the Music Some musicians simply aren't content to just come out on stage, have a bit of banter with the audience, play some of their best-loved songs and then go off again. Oh no. Instead they are caught up in the desire to 'Put on a Show'. Razzle-dazzle the audience with a spectacular spectacle. And no, not just a few flashing lights or a strobe. No, some have to have cars, enormous models of spiders, fireworks... Or in the case of ZZ Top on their 'Tejas' tour, try and take a whole rodeo with them, complete with cattle and snakes. Make everyone go 'ooooohhh..' Or if you're some pop princess... have a stage that has more props on it than an RSC production of 'Hamlet' - with at least two costume changes per song and a raunchy dance routine to top it all off. Why this need nowadays to dazzle the audience with a show? Are you perhaps hiding the fact that your songs are, well, just not that good and rather flimsy? 6. Put Some Effort Into It While I don't want some dazzling stage show to blind me to the music similarly I don't want a group of slackers up on stage who look like they really don't care less and it's amazing that they could be even bothered to get out of the bed let alone be bothered to organise a gig anywhere. C'mon put some effort into it. Look like you want to be up there. If you can't be bothered to even put the slightest bit of effort into it then maybe I won't be bothered to go out and buy your record. And a touch of glam and starpower doesn't go amiss either. But don't overdo it. No one wants to be next Gary Glitter. 7. Be Careful Who You Let into Your Band OK, so you've all been mates from school, grown up together, hung out on street corners with nothing to do and the group has come about naturally and organically. And now you're all a bit older, had some success, settled down, married, bought a place in the country and you're wondering what to do next... And hey, my partner can play the tambourine... "Hey, lads, I've just had a fantastic idea for the next album. How about a 10-minute tambourine solo?" "Yeah, fantastic Jeremy, and maybe my partner can accompany them on the triangle?" Or perhaps they could join the band as a keyboardist and backing singer when it's clear that they have no discernable talent in that area? Bringing in someone from outside will just disrupt the harmony of the group and lead to friction and bad feeling amongst the others. It's the beginning of the end. 8. Watch What Drugs You Take (particularly cocaine) Drug taking and popular music (as well as sex) go together perfectly, just like sausages and mash so to pretend musicians might have liberal views on taking illegal narcotics would be foolish. And just like US comedian Bill Hicks comments, drugs have had a positive effect on popular music. Certainly music in the twentieth century would be in a much more impoverished state if people like Hendrix, Jim Morrison and many others hadn't indulged. Now the road of excess may lead to the palace of wisdom but watch what you're taking and how much. There's a fine line between breaking on through the doors of perception but you have to find your way back again. No good being an acid casualty and burbling inanely at a full moon. Many a fine record has been made with the band all high as a kite but also a lot of utterly self-indulgent, pompous dire crap has also been produced. Cocaine, as even Eric Clapton would warn you, is bad. Nothing like an artificially inflated sense of ego to make you think that actually, yes, doing a musical interpretation of the Crimean War... on ice would be the way to go. Cocaine is really just God's way of telling you you've got too much money. 9. Don't Live Out the Cliché of the Rock 'n' Roll Lifestyle So you've paid your dues and now found worldwide fame, the royalties are pouring in, you're playing to packed out stadium where the people at the back even have to strain to see the video screens let alone the actual stage. Men want to be you and women want to be with you. Groupies throw themselves at you and shady-looking drug dealers supply your pharmaceutical requirements... And all done whilst wearing leather trousers and shades and a bottle of Jack Daniels by your side. Aaaargggghhhh! Stop it. You are now a walking cliché and artistically bankrupt. No, you're not some rock god, just a pathetic loser.

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