Unsigned and in a Bind

July 16, 2008

Dear Dude,

My band just finished recording a full-length record and since it’s our first and we are unsigned, we have printed 300 copies of it independently. We have booked a big CD release show with bigger signed bands in a large local venue. We have enough CDs printed to last us a while, but we’re stuck with the hassle of having to get everything pressed and packaged at our expense. We’re attracted to the additional organization, promotion and “backbone” that a label can offer us, but the few deals we’ve been offered don’t seem proportionate to the amount of work/money we put into this record. What do you think the best approach to formally releasing a record in this day in age? Do you think it’s worth singing with an indie label that’ll “loan” us the CD printing, but take a lot of our profit and get us slightly better tour packages? Or do you think it’s better to keep it DIY until we find the “perfect” deal, without the hype factor and resources that a label has to offer?


Unsigned and in a Bind

Dear Unsigned and in a Bind,

This is a very interesting and complex question. In an effort to answer this in some kind of reasonably short fashion let me just preface what I am about to write by saying there is no one correct way to release a record (regardless of the era or state of the music industry). Different bands choose different paths and, just for the record, this Dude does not judge. That being said to DIY or not to DIY has always been a burning question. In 2008 a lot of the rules have changed and doing a record on your own can be both profitable and easily obtainable. So lets dig in!

I’m afraid there are really two questions: one – what do I think the best approach to formally releasing a record in this day in age is, and two – what do I think you should do in your current situation. Since the latter is more important, I’ll just get the first question out of the way. I believe that in the 2008 music industry climate current artists can have success releasing their own material or playing the music industry game. It’s almost an open market, I have seen bands have success both ways and both have their advantages. With the exception of Fugazi, I have yet to see a band self release material and sell more then their contemporaries who are signed to labels (sure bands like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead are self releasing records but these bands have already reaped the benefits of the label game). At the same time I can tell you for a fact that I would have made more money in the long run if I had not signed to a record label and rather self released all the material. So, in a sense you have to pay to play the game. Both have their distinct advantages but this brings me to my answer and more importantly my advice for you. My suggestion isn’t to pick a side but rather play both games. I think that the best way to grow a band in 2008 is to follow both routs and in turn use the strengths of both systems.

Look, you already have your record recorded, laid out, and pressed. You even already have a CD release show set up. At this point a record label can’t do much for you except promote the release. Honestly you could hire an outside promotions company to do the same thing and probably make more money. The real thing you don’t have that a record label can offer is distribution. You are not going to be able to get those CD’s in “real” stores and honestly it really shouldn’t matter that much at this point. To me the CD is a dead medium. You got to start thinking MP3’s if you want to move into the future and get your record up on the internet! Release it on iTunes, Music Exchange, or shit, even build a way to buy it right of your myspace page! You have to make that record available to as many people as possible, and with no record label involved you have to cover all the basses yourself. As a DIY artist the MP3 digital version of your record is way more cost effective. Think about it, no more pressing CDs, its all virtual and that means a bigger profit margin for your band.

I think your best bet is to continue playing shows and selling your self produced record while also pimping the music out over the web . The worst thing you could do right now is sign to a record label out of desperation. This has been the downfall of many a band. I say take your time, keep playing shows, sell your own product, and most importantly create that buzz! Because it’s that buzz that is going to attract a record label who will offer you a deal to do it right.

Don’t be afraid to do things for yourself in the beginning, you may just find the skills you learn are going to help make your band bigger but also keep you from getting taken advantage of later. There are many advantages to being a signed band and working within that world. You mentioned touring that is probably the one place that being signed is the most helpful. Not to mention the built in promotion that comes with record labels advertising your band along side of other established bands. But it’s by building your band, its fan base, and its integrity that you will be able to survive and take advantage of the things you will be exposed to and offered when you start playing the “signed band” game. The DIY skeleton you build is going to work as a base for everything forward and your going to need it to survive life under the iron fist of a record label.

The Dude

Run for Cover?

June 5, 2008

Dear Dude,

I play drums and am into fast hardcore/metal music like Darkest Hour, Dillinger Escape Plan, Devil Driver, Unearth, etc. l I have been jamming with these dudes recently and they are more interested in covering songs and doing just covers where as I’m more interested in making my own music and possibly playing shows. What advice would you give to me? Should I spend time working on these covers or should I find some dudes to play my own music with?


Run for Cover?

Dear Run for Cover,

First things first, I learned how to play guitar by learning others peoples songs. Learning riffs, solos, techniques, all made me, and continue to make me, a better guitar player, songwriter, and musician. However, too much imitation can lead to creative stagnation. Sounds catchy, I know, but you get the point. You have to learn to balance imitating & creating.

There is not one true path to either stardom or creative satisfaction. Shit, I know numerous musicians that play in cover bands who make more money, have steadier work, and play to bigger audiences then us touring types. And sometimes it’s a path to success; just look at Eddie Van Halen, Dimebag Darrel, and Randy Rhodes for example. All shredders who started playing in full time cover bands.

All that aside, my honest advice is to find some other dudes you can make your own music with and don’t look back. The thing is, you’re probably not going to be able to make a living (or even get a gig) playing covers of Dillinger Escape Plan, Devil Driver, or Unearth. If you truly love metal, punk, and hardcore then you have to reach out and start expressing yourself in the genre. Sure, you can still jam with your dudes who want to play covers, as I said, it’s a great learning tool, but I wouldn’t have it be your only outlet. What it comes down to is it’s always better to try and be yourself then a pretty good copy of someone else.

The Dude

The 5’2″ Tower of Vocal Doom

May 29, 2008

Dear Dude,

I have been observing your nuggets of wisdom, and I am hoping you can help me. I am currently 18 years old, and I am a 5’2″ female death metal vocalist. I have been developing my own style for more than 2 years now, with all my own original lyrics and I have even done a home recording of a cover of ‘Eaten’ by Bloodbath to showcase my sound. Despite this, I have been unsuccessful in obtaining a position as a vocalist, and have even had trouble getting replies from bands searching for vocalists! Although the presence of females within all genres of heavy music/metal has become more noted in recent years, it seems that within a male dominated music scene there still is a stigma attached to female vocalists, especially if they can hold their own against their male counterparts of today!

I am not exactly a feminist, but I am wondering the reasons why I can be overlooked, or even dismissed, before guys want to give me a shot, because at first glance… a petite, 5’2″, female does not exactly epitomize ‘brutality’. Also, I am looking for some other measures to undertake, so I can be noticed, and be considered as a legitimate vocalist???

The 5’2″ Tower of Vocal Doom!

Dear 5’2” Tower of Vocal Doom,

Metal, punk, and hardcore have always been boys clubs. I remember when I went to my first hardcore/punk show there were maybe ten girls out of a crowd of three hundred or so. The same holds for the first few metal shows I went to (in fact there were even less girls around at those shows). Truth be told now a days there are definitely more girls at shows, and more importantly in bands. And this new breed of metal rocking chick isn’t your old coat hanger groupie. Ah no sir, some of the women I have met who are in metal, punk, and hardcore bands now a days know their shit! So why would dudes who are looking to start a sick ass band overlook or dismiss a female singer? And what things can you do as a female vocalist to get noticed, taken seriously, and break your way into the boys club of metal

1. Break Preconceived Notions.
Some dudes may never have seen a girl sing in a metal band and thrash it up! It’s a fucking shame but there have been very few metal bands who have female singers who have really broken out. Sure there have been women who have paved the way like Arch Enemy, Lacuna Coil, Otep, Kittie, Crisis, and even Lita Ford! Metal has had all different types and styles of front women. But for every few bands that have a kick ass front woman there are millions of metal bands out there with menacing dudes screaming as low as they possibly can. Dudes in bands tend to want to emulate the bands they love. I mean I didn’t buy an SG as my first guitar for any other reason then I wanted to be Angus Young. Although that’s a really simple way to look at it you have to remember when you’re out there looking to start or join a band some dudes may never have even considered finding a girl singer.

I haven’t heard your cover of Bloodbath, but I bet since you know who they are it sounds pretty good. Most dudes have preconceived ideas about what they think a girl who sings death metal sounds like. It’s not the typical voice you would expect to hear from a woman, so its natural that dudes would be concerned that your voice wouldn’t sound as strong or as similar to all the bands they love or are influenced by

Women have unique outlooks on life, not to mention they sometimes can have very unique qualities to their voices. Have you ever wondered why some people think its normal for a man to sound the way he does when he sings death metal? If your going for a Chris Barns type low Death Metal voice then sure you expect to see a big ass dude with dreads bellowing it out. But what about the other type of death metal vocal, you know the super high Swedish scream? What about that is exactly manly? I mean its super high screaming, why cant a woman do that? I would argue that good vocals are good vocals and that there are female death metal vocalists out there who can bellow with the best of them and shrill with the sickest of them

2. Hanging with the Dudes
Some guys (and girls) can’t deal with co-ed life in a band. Touring can be hard, it is like living together, running a business, and being an artist with 5 other people all rolled into one. A lot of dudes just aren’t that comfortable being around girls all the time. It seems crazy but let me tell you having a female dynamic around your band is a different thing. It is something that should not be feared, but regardless, is something that can be an issue for some dudes

Sure life on tour is hard and having that female element can change the dynamic of your band but it actually can change that dynamic for the better. I have observed many bands with female members and they function just a good (or bad) as most all male bands. Shit there are examples all over the place outside of metal where female fronted bands function just fine. So why should it hold that it always has to be this way in metal? Fuck, if the idiots in country music can make it work, so can metal

3. Sex Appeal
Image sells and un-sells: The world views your band differently when you have a female lead. I mean I haven’t seen Revolver do the ‘hottest MEN in metal issue’. Flip through the latest edition of any guitar, bass, tuba, whatever, magazine and probably the first girl you’ll see is in the back wearing a bikini, selling a guitar strap. Sex sells, image sells, and when you have something like that TO sell, people will want to exploit it. This can make things difficult for a band, to say the least, and it’s quite likely your potential band mates don’t even want to think about dealing with those issues. They would rather go with the dude in the Slayer shirt; it’s the norm, its easy, its simple, and worst of all its been done a million times so you know there is little or no actual risk in it

Now, this might be a reason why dudes would overlook a female singer but let me say this; this issue really doesn’t affect the bands I know who have female singers or members. Sure, it’s not the norm but the bands with girl members use this to their advantage. That doesn’t mean they sex up their female members on purpose, it just means they use it to make their band original. Lets not forget that women buy records too! And if you have the ability to reach both sexes with your music then you have the ability to take metal to a whole new place and that’s really exciting

I suggest you keep searching. You are going to find that band you want to join. Or, this may even blow your mind, you may just find yourself starting your own band! All you need to do is find musicians that want to jam and have just the slightest open minds. Recording that demo is a good step. Put that thing up on your Myspace, launch your own website. You need to get that recording out there. Hopefully your vocals will speak for themselves and if they don’t, well you’re going to have to work on them until they do. Musicians respect other musicians who have worked hard at their craft and show a true love for what they do. If you continue to work on your own music and get your take on metal out there, then you will find that musicians of both sexes are going to take you seriously and see you as the legitimate singer that you are.

The Dude

P.S. For a woman’s perspective on what it’s like to be a metal singer in today’s scene check out Ask the Dude’s interview with Laura Nichol from Light this City.

Mr. Roboto

May 28, 2008

Dear Dude,

I just recorded and my site started to blow up once it was online, because I promote over 10 hours a day. When I don’t promote my site basically doesn’t do as well. I also noticed that there are things like ‘friend adding robots’ which many bands use. I don’t know where to find a good one, it would free some time up for me since I’m a one man band its hard to do it all on my own. Honestly, I know all these big bands cheat! My question is simple how do I safely cheat the way other bands do so I can keep up? I have great marketable stuff and I’m sick of watching tons of shit bands get huge and signed. Times are hard for new bands, especially that play emo, because Myspace no longer lets you add people under the age of 17, which is basically all the people that even like what I play. Do you know any tricks or secrets that could help give me some hope or something? Please get back to me if you have time, cause honestly I don’t have a clue who to ask these questions to. All I know is I have good music that people would like, but other than promoting, I don’t know what else to do. I can’t find a good manager and I don’t know how to attract record labels. I’m really stressed by all of this. Your advice would mean a great deal.


Mr. Roboto

Dear Mr Roboto,

Myspace’s weight in the music world is continually growing, while the anonymity of the Internet still allows for all sorts of cyber-manipulation. Logic than follows that it might be easy to fake, or project, the appearance of popularity in order to attract record labels, booking agents, managers, and of course that all coveted “heat” (or “hype”). Bands will do just about anything to get all of the above and it’s easy to get sucked into the game and compete, or worse feel like you have to “cheat” just to get your music heard.

How do you safely cheat the way other bands do so you can keep up? There is a very simple answer to this question: DON’T! Sure, bands will scam, cheat, lie, and steal to be popular. The music business is full of ugly people, but my suggestion is make a conscious decision to NOT be one of them. When Darkest Hour first started the big deal was SoundScan. It used to be all the rage amongst bands to add numbers to their live SoundScan forms. See, when bands play shows they write in how many records they sell every night and then once a week fax the info to their record label. It was real easy to turn a 2 into a 20, etc. That was the way to cheat in the 90’s. Enter the next generation, the Myspace count cheat.

Have I seen bands get big off of using their Myspace page for promotion? Yes. Is it possible to fake your profile into looking sick as shit and attract the attention of a few managers and record labels? Yeah, sure that’s possible too. But you have to think it all through. First, forget that its just plain stupid to fake anything (especially being a rock star, I think that’s probably the lamest thing you can try to fake) but just think about what might happen if you do convince that record label, manager, or booking agent to work with your band because of fake numbers. How would you like to do a tour that no one shows up to because you don’t have any real fans, or your record comes out and no one actually buys it. The point of Myspace is not to just have gigantic numbers, it is to network your music so people can hear it and your actual fans can keep in touch with the happenings of your band.

I think you’re missing the point of Myspace all together, and more importantly I think you’re missing the whole point of playing music. You mentioned you’re a “one man band.” I am sure you have already encountered how hard that is going to be. My suggestion is take those songs and get a band together. You have a flying leap start, by already have songs written. You just need to take your music to the real world, in addition to the virtual one. You have to start spending 10 hours a day playing music, not sitting in front of the computer. If you are going to spend ten hours a day on Myspace promoting your band, then you might as well just have a 10 hour a day office job, instead of trying to be a professional musician. Why do I stress playing shows and jamming with other band members? Because actually playing music for (or with) people is the interaction you should want to have as a musician, not the interaction that comes from the other side of a computer screen.

The Dude

Play-By-Ear Guitarist

May 16, 2008

Dear Dude,

I’ve been playing guitar seriously for about 2 years. I had my guitar before that but, I didn’t play it much. It’s not my first instrument so it wasn’t that hard to start. Ever since I’ve started I’ve been absolutely obsessed. I taught myself how to play, and got a little advice from the Internet. However, I’ve run into a couple problems. I tried to take lessons once and the guitar teacher basically told me that whatever is comfortable is right. I mean, as far as I’m concerned I could have been playing the guitar backwards and he wouldn’t have known. So I stopped. Ever since I’ve worked really hard on playing with good technique and rhythm. However, sometimes I worry that no matter how much I practice, and no matter how good I get technically that I might not ever join a band (I’m only 16) because I have never learned or studied music theory. I mean, I know music theory as cello goes… but I never took the time to learn music theory for guitar. I can’t read treble clef so I wouldn’t be able to read the music. So my question is, do you think that I have to learn music theory if I want to join a band? Did you? Because I have no problem playing’ stuff by ear but I’m afraid that’s not enough.


Play-By-Ear Guitarist

Dear Play-By-Ear-Guitarist,

To learn theory or not to learn theory that is the question. Or at least, one I hear all the time. It’s just so fashionable to be a classically trained musician (fuck especially in metal). Although it may be fashionable, learning theory can be a lot of work. Very rarely do I meet someone in a band that actually has any musical training or has studied music theory. Does that shock you? Well it’s the truth. Most dudes who rock in pro metal bands have not taken formal classes in any type of theory. So is it better to have learned or not learned theory? Do those guitarists have an upper hand? Are you going to have problems joining a band because you can’t read or don’t have an understanding of music theory? These questions all demand answering as soon as we open this Pandora’s box.

Have I had studied music theory? Yes, the high school I went to had a very progressive music program and I took as many as two music theory classes. It’s funny because we really just used the class as a chance to torture the teacher for an hour or so. See it was me, a few punk dudes, a few metal dudes, and a few band dudes (band as in the band camp kind of band). While I may have absorbed some of the classes by just being there, really we just fucked around most of the time. My point is that no matter how focused and into music I was I just couldn’t translate that passion or understanding into music theory.

Did I learn by playing by ear? Yes, and more importantly I communicate my music to other musicians by ear as well. Where some people might write music down I tend to record or even play music when I need to communicate an idea to another musician. Actually, most bands I have worked with communicate this way too, although some use a combination of writing and riffing. So cast those fears aside little man. There are plenty, plenty, dudes rocking in bands worldwide who have never studied or even understand the first thing about music theory.

On the other hand, I have also observed musicians who not only can communicate in the above ways but, have also studied music and are able to communicate with other musicians in that way. In my opinion those musicians have an advantage. I think its fair to say that regardless of many wasted hours in that music theory class there is a bit of knowledge that sunk in. So yeah, you definitely don’t have to learn music theory if you want to join a band. But, you’re probably better off at least taking a shot. You obviously have learned music in some form (you mention the training on the cello) so you should be able to apply at least that same sort of thinking (or learning pattern) to learning the guitar. I mean as you put it yourself (your only 16) you got a lot of rocking ahead so don’t fear learning theory. Just try it out, you may find it helps your music grow while giving you another voice to communicate with other musicians.

The Dude

Stay at Home Face Melter

May 14, 2008

Dear Dude,

First off, at 28 years old, I’ve been following DH since you played about 8 years ago in an old church basement in Cincinnati so, naturally I’m a big fan. I’m in a unique situation, similar to yours. I have my Masters degree in Counseling, and a Bach’s degree in Social Work. I work now getting kids who are addicted to drugs off of them, and I love my job. I’ve been playing metal since I was 13 and my band, if I may say, melts faces. But we’ve all made a choice to play as a hobby. We love our families and our jobs here at home. But one question that keeps coming up is: Is there any way to have your music distributed on a national level (by a label or otherwise) without national touring? We just would all really love to go to Best Buy and be like “Hey, that band, Pterodactyl Battle, yeah that’s us. You can buy that here”. So, if in your spectrum of amazingness, possibly from a bubble bath, you can offer some good advice outside of giving up (heard that one), then your spectrum of awesomeness could only increase. Thanks so much (for your music and help)


Stay at Home Face Melter

Dear Stay at Home Face Melter,

Being in a band at home is actually harder then most people think. I have a bunch of friends who are in bands but also have other “careers.” It’s funny because when I was a kid I just thought it was all or nothing, like rock star or bust! You were either in a touring band or your band didn’t matter. Now that I have been slugging it out for this long I can tell you there are many ways of rocking in life, not just the full tilt rock star touring action. So you’re not in a touring band but you want to get your music distributed on a national level with out touring. Can it be done and if so how?

Lets get something out of the way first. Getting your CD in Bestbuy is probably not going to happen if you’re not touring. Also getting signed to a bigger independent record label is also probably not going to happen. I say ‘probably’ because you may be able to prove all of the above wrong by doing one thing: being an amazing, amazing band. Now that’s going to be really, really hard so I would think realistically. The truth is neither of these things needs to be part of your ultimate goal anyway. What I am saying is that you already have a way for your music to be distributed internationally and at very little cost to you. You already have a way to sell your product to the world without a record label OR best buy. You already have… the Internet.

First you need to record your music well. Its going to be self financed at first so play shows, do a car wash, play more shows, work a normal job whatever you need to do to get some cash. If you have a career and other band members do too, then its up to all of you to pool your money for a recording. Remember its like a tattoo, you will have it forever so be willing to spend a little bit more money and time on it then you first thought you should.

Take that recording and put it up on itunes, your website, Myspace, Pure Volume, Sound Exchange or any other website that sells MP3’s. I did that with my own band, Man and Wasp. We recorded the songs ourselves and released it on the Internet ourselves. Now we have a band that never tours, never plays, but has a record available for purchase anywhere in the world over the internet. It allows us to just keep writing songs and not have to think about the pressures of touring in a band.

If you want an actual product, well then, you can very simply start an online store. Bands of your size can get CD’s pressed themselves at places like Furnace CD. It’s actually run by the man who signed darkest hour to their first record deal. You can order say 1000 CDs and then set up a site to sell them through. It may mean doing a little more work yourself and fronting a bit more money but it will mean that you will have an internationally distributed record without having any pressure to tour what so ever.

All you have to do from here on out is promote the site. Play shows, pass out fliers, you can even “cyber” tour (you know just add friends to your myspace and promote your band via the internet). Especially if your career happens to be a boring desk job. Believe it or not you could use that cubical time to do some real “tour” work on the computer.

There is really only one reason for a record label to sign a band that is not going to tour all the time. And that’s out of pure love for that band. How many record labels in 2008 are making that decision? Lets just answer not enough. So fuck it, there is also no reason to sign to a record label if your not going to be touring or doing it full time. You don’t need them. You can do everything yourself, on your terms, and on your time line. That’s what the future of music on the Internet is really, at least I believe. Soon we will all be able to create music and distribute it ourselves straight from artist to listener.

The Dude

Drummer Bummer

May 13, 2008

Dear Dude,

I play bass in a metal band. We are just starting to get serious and want to do more things, such as play shows, make a demo, etc, etc. The thing is, our drummer is not exactly the most talented drummer ever. It is quite hard to write new stuff with him, and he does not know our songs very well yet. Should we stick with him and hope he improves?? Or move on to a new drummer?

Drummer Bummer

Dear Drummer Bummer,

As bands grow they often have to go through some major changes, especially in the beginning. Every band I have been in has had at least one line-up change before it got solid; it’s just the nature of being in a band. Regardless, it’s often a difficult, traumatic, and basically, the shittiest situation you can be in as a band member. It’s difficult to ask a band member to leave when there’s a personal dispute, but it’s even more difficult to ask someone to leave because of their ability. So, before you pull the plug think over a few things.

How bad is he really? I mean you have to live with the people in your band. Travel together, eat together, and sleep together. You’re basically going to be married for a short time to all these dudes (or dudettes) in your band. With that in mind if your current drummer is your tight bro take that into consideration. I mean if he’s cool, chances are you can probably (and tactfully) bring up the situation with him. You can tell him you want to play shows, record a demo and that means practicing a lot more! If he’s into it and you think he can actually get better, well then your boy deserves more time. A few hours of shredding in the practice space to get him up to speed is well worth it. To be blunt, you’re going to have to live, eat, breath, sleep, shit, with these dudes, so if he feels like family make an effort to keep him in the band and start practicing with him a lot more.

Ok, so you thought about it and well, you still think he’s not the right fit for the band. My advice then? Absolutely ask him to leave. I mean if you’re serious about doing this band and he is not willing to work, or just can’t keep up with you, then my advice is move on pronto. You need to be musically satisfied in a band too and if he is not going to cut it, it’s much better to move on now than later. I have seen bands hire a session drummer to play parts their own drummer can’t and it usually always results in the original drummer quiting the band. Its ugly, but dude, you don’t want to have to mess with this problem farther down the road. When money is on the line shit gets way more stupid, believe me.

The reality is being in a band with a good friend who has worked hard to get to his or her talent level is always more rewarding and fun then being in a band with a hired gun (you know someone you don’t know that well who jumps from band to band riffing). So stick with your man if you think he or she has got what it takes. Those hours of practicing will make you a better band anyway. Just remember if after that (or during) you feel it’s just not right and can’t get better well then go with that instinct. There just so little time, why waste it making sub-par music?

The Dude