The reality of being in a young band – Sam Carter
Last week I joined my garage rock band Bad Knaves on stage to play a lovingly crafted 40 minute set for one drunk man. He thought the set was “forgettable”, and if you’re drunk enough – I suppose it’s exactly that, but then so are your family. The truth is – it’s summer, and It’s hard to get people to nod to sounds in the dark when cigarettes and outside exist. There’s a reason it’s called “The Great Outdoors” and that’s because you have to smoke out there now. We need a few more bums in seats, so It must be time to record all these new songs and force a few people to listen to them. There’s just a few things to consider.
Creativity is something afforded to people who aren’t fleeing from something in terror or doing 17 hour shifts at the trainer factory, luckily we live in Britain, so we’re doing neither. Still, spare cash is hard to come by – If it wasn’t we wouldn’t be in a band, we’d be lying on a Land Rover chugging Moet and Chandon Dicentenary Cuvee Dry Imperial 1943 like bloated, elated babies (I have Google handy, but i’m sure it’s a “great year” for fermented grape sludge). Comfort doesn’t breed creativity, but lacking the funds to put out a decent record doesn’t help either. Congratulations – If you own a device to read this on then you’ve found the sweet spot, the Goldilocks zone. You’ve got enough free time for your creativity to flourish. You can probably afford to pay a robot to poo out some of those shiny plastic circles and then make some people to listen to them.
Do people even buy music anymore? How much is your music worth? How much is anything worth? Does a newspaper cost a pound? A newspaper probably costs a pound. Is it OK to steal this newspaper? In some ways, I understand the temptation to pirate the whole Beach Boys discography in perfect, lossless sound quality. Stealing from an established, popular artist feels like popping down the Shell garage and nicking a Peperami. Except Shell would have you fined less. “The Beach Boys: Christmas Album” is £29.83 new on Amazon but with a few clicks and some fibre-optic wizardry you can have their whole back catalogue for nothing, in half an hour, and it’s amazing. When you’re thinking about putting out your own EP or album that makes things confusing, almost as confusing as Christmas on a beach.
When you’re just starting out It’s hard to tell if the best approach is to give your music away for free, or to give it an enticing price like “£2.99” – why not buy 200 neon, star shaped stickers while you’re at it? A three track EP, recorded in a studio to a decent level, mixed and mastered can be anywhere from £200 to £800. Do you want to recoup some of those expenses or should you suck it up, give it away for free and hope that encourages more people to listen? Or does that devalue your work? Is it even work? Music for a little-known, unsigned band (Especially if 40 hours of your week is taken up by that inane nonsense they call “job”) can sometimes feel like a really demanding, expensive hobby. Like tennis to the death, played with expensive, free range eggs – And there’s 4 people watching. Except I wouldn’t think about tennis this much. And you don’t lament that day you smashed a tennis egg at the sports centre. We’ve been getting a lot of practice done and getting very excited, and I have my eye on a studio I’d love to record in – but like everyone else we have things like petrol and socks and beer to buy and it’s distressing.
The other approach is to do some recording yourself, which sometimes seems like the oddball antics of San Franciscan Garage Rock hipsters, but has the potential to be an endearing, empowering and genuine process. If you can’t quite pool enough cash together to get into the studio you’d like to use then keep in mind that sometimes a DIY approach lends credibility to things. Depending on whether you’re Nikki Minaj or not (And I don’t know about you, but I’m not.) it might even suit you. It might be an interesting problem solving exercise for you and your band pals, equipping you with some basic techy knowledge along the way. The music business might just be worth a try – buy some gear, get a nice space, record a bunch of tracks – and if it turns out you’re shit at it, just sell it all on Gumtree to a shivering hippy. The joys of fancy preamps and the comforting embrace of an experienced sound magician are a wonderful thing, but you may also like to consider spending a few hundred quid on an audio interface and a few microphones and doing some home recording with no constraints, monetary or otherwise. Take as long as you like! It’s personal, unique, characterful, and you’ll see your songs in a different light, with lots of room to adjust. Provided you’ve done your research, enlisted a few friends and worked hard – you’ll have translated all those little eureka moments you’ve had whilst making sure the label on the sweetcorn is facing the right way, or sat at your stupid desk into a final product. And you haven’t had to blow a shed-load of cash. Just make sure those songs are good, or you’ll feel rather silly.
I’ll give you an update once I’ve dealt with the hippy.