Demo Shop’n

May 9, 2008

Dear Dude,

My band is currently circulating a four-song demo, but I haven’t sent it out to any record labels yet because it sounds like what it is: a demo recorded for a few hundred bucks. We want to show labels that we have our shit together as a group, and I think having awesome gear and a really nice-sounding demo would help prove that. We’re saving up money to buy better gear and make a crisper recording, but how much does production quality matter when shipping out demos? What do we need to show labels in order to prove that we do, in fact, have our shit together and are ready to make this band our careers?

Thanks,

Demo Shop’n

Dear Demo Shop’n,

Getting a band signed has always been, well, interesting to say the least. I have seen bands get signed over anything from someone leaving a demo in a bathroom to someone at a label thinking a band was a totally different band at first. The jist is that sometimes it just seems like dumb luck, and of course it always feels like other bands have more money to invest then you do, better connections, better hair cuts, etc. You get the idea; in band life the grass is always greener. So how much does production quality matter? What do record labels look for? To answer those questions I went straight to the top to get some feedback.

First, I turned to the person I’ve known the longest who works at a record label. Wouldn’t you know it just happened to be the founder and owner of Victory records, Tony Brummel? Tony took some time out of his day to give me some feedback to pass on to you.

I asked Tony how much demo production matters to him when he’s thinking about signing a band. Tony replied, “It depends on the band but, if someone has the gift they can hear magic from a boom box recording. More importantly seeing the band is the best “DEMO.” Seeing is believing. Trust me you can even ask the dude.” Tony is of course referring to the signing of my metal band, Darkest Hour. It wasn’t a demo or even a CD that really got us signed. It was our live show for Tony and the Victory staff that sold us.

On whether production value is more important than songwriting Tony answers, “Songwriting, its all about the band. I always try to make the decision after seeing a band. With Protools and today’s current recording technology I have heard a lot of great demos and then ended up seeing a very mediocre band.” No doubt that Tony is right on that point. Computers have given artists many tools and at the same time given those same artists many crutches.

I also reached out to another friend of mine, Josh Grabelle, founder and owner of Trustkill Records. Josh was kind enough to write us some thoughts on what he looks for when signing bands:

“The bottom line is this is all about the music, it has never been about how GOOD it sounds recorded, after all, a band should be reaching more people with their live show than they reach with their recorded music. When I got into punk and hardcore in the late 80s, the records I loved back then sounded like TOTAL SHIT. I didn’t care at all though, I loved it. Again, it’s about the music and the feeling you get, not the production or how many hours you spend on pro-tools with auto tune. In the early days of Trustkill I would sign bands that didn’t even HAVE demos, let alone shitty sounding demos… it was about the music. Now, 10 years later, any band can record a demo, the shit is so easy my Grandma could do it with Garageband.”

Keep in mind you still need to be competitive… Now a days you can’t just send in that boom box recording, it has to at least sound like the band does live. Josh expanded on this point by saying;

“To say that the QUALITY doesn’t matter isn’t entirely true. If I open up 50 demos in one day and one of them sonicaly kicks the shit out of everything else, what does that tell me? Either these are a bunch of rich kids, OR, more likely, these kids take their ART and their BAND very seriously. THIS is what we are looking for, a band made up of kids who are willing to throw it ALL away for their band, give up their life, their jobs, their girlfriends, to get quality gear and truly get a grasp on what it takes to record music in the proper way. So, do you NEED to have a PERFECT sounding demo to send to a label? No. But if you want to compete against the other 10 bands in your high school, or the other 10,000 bands in the country, you should put in the extra work.”

There it is that ugly word right at the end: work. It’s almost as ugly as ‘practice’ but the fact that it shows up a lot in this column, has to mean something right? Anyway, it’s clear that record labels are looking for a band that can play a good live show, that spends it’s time working on songs and music, rather then buying amps and looking on eBay for guitars. They are looking for dedicated, hardworking, musicians who are willing to risk everything. Why? Because a dedicated musician should be driven enough to go for it, no matter what the odds. My advice is read this letter and listen to that demo again. Do you feel like it’s a good representation of your band? Are the songs good? Are you confident your band can hold its own against other bands out there. If so, start shopping that bad boy and playing some shows. If you read this letter and change your mind about that demo then make sure your band is ready to slug it out. Practice and jam as much as possible till you find the sound that says you. Practice (MORE!) until you can play those songs with your eyes closed (this is so you don’t waste anytime when it comes to laying down those tracks). Then find a studio (but preferably someone who has recorded local bands, or bands for cheap. You don’t need to spend a million bucks just make it sound like a good representation of your band live). Take that demo and those songs on the road and share them with the world. Whether or not you sign that million dollar deal you have to always remember the reason your writing all theses songs and going through all the bullshit is to be able to share music with people. If your intentions are true and the music does speak to people, well then don’t worry, there will be plenty of record labels that will want to sign your band.

The Dude


Flaky Band Mates

April 10, 2008

Dear Dude,

Hey man, me and my bud have been trying to get a serious band going for over a year now, but all the drummers and guitarists in our area always flake out on us when we get something promising in the works. Advice?

Thanks,

Flaky Band Mates

 

Dear Flaky Band Mates,

There are few constants in the music business that I have witnessed but one of them is definitely that musicians are NOT reliable. The age-old stereotype is sadly often times true. But that doesn’t mean ALWAYS TRUE. There is also sometimes musicians who are reliable, dedicated, determined, and willing to go through just about anything for NO MONEY. They are motivated by the urge to rock the world! They are motivated to put on sick rock concerts! They are…you get the point. That’s the type of dude that you want to be in a band with.

Now that doesn’t mean every person has to be a leader or some motivated work-alcoholic. It takes many different types of dudes to make a team of dudes that work well together but, that’s advice for a different day.

So how do you replace or avoid members that are too flaky? Well the first thing you need to do is to find new people. You need the numbers, you need options, and there are tons of ways to do that. I love putting up fliers. It sounds pretty old school but it kind of works, for real. Find your local Guitar Center (or a great local music store) that is tied in with local musicians and put up fliers! My favorite is Atomic Music in College Maryland. It’s a good example of a real community music store, and I love to see that there are still places like that out there. Guitar Center would work too. Just find where local dudes interact because its like blood for sharks. Where there is gear there are dudes.

There are, however, more subtle ways to meet musicians. My personal favorite is to ask other musicians you’ve met on the road. Now you may not be touring yet so that won’t help at all. But maybe you have been in another band that played one show or you have been to shows of local bands. There has to be other local bands in your area in similar situations. If you haven’t been around local bands then you need to start going to local shows (if your not sure how to do that well….just write in another question). The point is network with other musicians and you will eventually find dudes who you will like to jam with. I mean, that’s how Van Halen formed!

So, is that it? Well no, not really. I couldn’t leave out a response about this without mentioning the Internet. The most important communication tool of the 21st Century. If you’re creating music get on the Internet and post it. Make a Myspace page and send it around. If you want to survive and do music you love, then shit, you may have to resort to doing something as lame as finding dudes over the internet. It just doesn’t matter, the point is you have to try, and like I said ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

Now you will still find flakes, but that just comes with bands in general. I can tell you that as soon as you start networking you WILL find dudes who feel the urge to rock as hard as you do. To sum it up: network and try to get your music out there anyway possible. Your best bet is to tie into your local music scene. Find those other dudes who are making it work and rock hard with’em!

THE DUDE


Bands vs. Friends

April 6, 2008

DEAR DUDE,

I play guitar and I attempt vocals, and to be honest, the only reason I can think of playing music or practicing an instrument is to enjoy it, and for me, that means playing live, in a band with a group of people who are your best friends. I also think that bands made up of best friends make the best, most genuine music. However, at the moment, all my friends who are musically inclined are unwilling to make any attempt to form such a kick ass outfit. So my question is this: is it better to try and make friends who will start a band, for that sole purpose, or should you always try to make a band with your best friends?

Thanks,
Friends Vs Bands

Dear Friends vs. Bands,

This is an interesting question. I didn’t know half the members of my band till they joined. Sure, me and the singer were great friends but we had met the other dudes at a few shows and really didn’t know them that well. I had to start jamming with people I didn’t know because simply, I didn’t know enough musicians. There was just no way I could have TAUGHT all my friends how to play music.

That being said, now I am older I have more then a few bands and side projects with many of my friends outside of my main band. My point is that you can do both. Sure jam with your friends, have a good time, spend time playing music with people you love. But that doesn’t mean stop jamming with new people or people that you don’t know that well. In fact I love meeting and jamming with new people. It’s how I’ve made some really cool new friends and it’s how I have been able to truly push myself musically.

It is, of course, important to be around people that you love and make you happy. So I would never recommend joining a band soley for money, fame, chicks, or any other shallow reason I left out. You just won’t be happy unless you like spending time with the people in your band. Sometimes the best moments of tour have been those wasted few hours sitting in a truck stop eating lunch, laughing, and just hangin with the dudes.

Its all about moderation, you have to find a place you can fit in musically and socially. All you need to do is be honest, friendly, open, and most of all dedicated and you will find your group of dudes to rock with! It’s the willingness to open your self up to new people and new opportunities that helps you become a better musician and well, a better person.

THE DUDE


Need A Band Name

April 4, 2008

DEAR DUDE,

Hey … I’m in a band, and our first show is in may, but we still need a name we’ve got a few ideas. There’s”Ethereal Dissonance” but our drummer doesn’t like the name then another one is “S.T.D.’ because there’s 3 members…and that’s our initials. What one would you say we should go with?

Thanks,
Need A Band Name


Dear Need A Band Name,

Ah, well I wouldn’t call your band S.T.D. because no one wants to buy a T-shirt with that on it! No, but seriously picking a band name is fucking hard. I have been in a band for 15 years that picked its name because we had a show and just needed to have something. So we made a list and then, bam, picked the one that made our stomachs churn the least. It’s funny we even agreed that we would change it if we thought of something better. One thing that’s true for all bands is that they love to make half decisions you know ones that can be changed at any time. It’s good so that way no one really has to make a real decision. Actually, its not good, that’s bad but well you get the idea…Anyway, how do you pick a good band name? Well I like to run it through the patented 4 step naming machine. Just make sure your name fits in here and your probably good to go. (notice I said probably!)

Step one, its good to start by not picking a real offensive one. I mean if it’s something that is going to have to be edited all the time on flyers and in other sorts of promotion then let’s just say its going to make your life a living hell. So don’t pick something like Assfuckers Zombie Death Fuck. I mean it may seem funny but it probably won’t get popular.

The second variable in the old name hunt is whether or not your name is Internet survivable. We are on ASKTHEDUDE.NET because someone owns the dot com. It’s not a big deal, but you don’t want to name yourself something that will get lost amongst internet word searches. For example The Cars might have had a hard time starting a band in 2008. Plus you want to have an easy to find facebook, myspace, and whatever the hell else website you have to have (seems like a band needs to have a million faces these days).You want an original name that you can have control of in both the virtual and real world.

Step three, and this one is really hard. Its good when you find a name that when you hear it, you only think of the band. Some friends of mine had a band called Frodus. No one (or nearly no one knew the band name came from an alien on the monkey’s shows) when they named their band frodus well that’s it. I mean what’s a frodus its nothing the only thing you really think of is the band .

Step four, keep in mind your band has to shred. I mean Slayer wasn’t the best band name in metal till Slayer kicked ass. And Metallica didn’t really mean anything till it was the band that put out some sick ass metal records. So make sure that name fits with your band and you can hold it down. Slayer would not have been good if they sounded like Limp Bizkit, even if they were still named Slayer. It’s the band that makes a name, not the opposite.

If you follow the top 4 steps then you will be headed on the right track to finding a good band name that will stick with you and speak the identity of your band. However If you noticed I said probably a few times above. That’s cause in the music biz well anything goes. There are bands that have names that break all the above rules and find success to no end! And just maybe one of those crazy band names could be just crazy enough to blow your band up. But the truth is not probably! So go with the steps above its just a bit safer…oh and if anyone out there calls their band Assfuckers Zombie Death Fuck send me a T-shirt!

THE DUDE