Alright. Seeing that I have been at this music industry thing for a long time, I feel that I have some decent advice to impart and many things to share that I feel can help a new artist that is coming up on the scene and even that artist that has been grinding for years but cannot seem to get to that next elusive rung on their ladder. So, from time to time I am going to do up a post and see if I cannot help to fuel some of those juices that I know thrives inside of every single musician that I know.
Today, I want to tackle being original. You may be sitting there and scoffing. Wondering why I would tackle the topic of being original first when talking to the bands that we work with who are in large-part original musicians playing original tunes. Well, that is the conundrum isn't it. If you are already on that stage performing tunes that only your truest family, friends and fans know the words to, what else can you do to stand out from what is a crowded industry? The answer is simple...be original!
I have watched literally hundreds of artists take to the stages that we produce events on. Each artist that takes the stage is great in the eyes of their fans and each band likely has fans that believe that they are the "big thing" that people are missing out on. Personally I have felt this way about a lot of bands, whether it has been a personal friend taking to the stage or an artist that I have never seen before that knocks my socks off at one of our events. The problem is that even when a fan attends one show, you are usually sharing that stage with at least three or four other acts. If someone is at an event to check out an artist that they know and watch their performance, odds are great that they will catch at least a part of your set...but the downside is that even if they LOVE what you are doing, they may not have a clue who you are, how to find you or how to ever see you again.
Now, we all know that two things are very important for an artists. Sound and branding. Your sound is the very first thing that you develop when creating a musical product. Obviously you need to at least loosely settle on a genre, settle on a sound that will define you and start writing and working on that aspect of what you are going to do. The second step is obviously branding. You are going to create a logo, create designs, create album covers and maybe even create a poster for the stage that blasts your band name out to anyone that is looking at the stage. But that brings a problem of its own. If you are playing at a bar or an event where people are out how do you ensure that they look at you or even look at the stage? That is where my point comes into play.
DO SOMETHING ORIGINAL!
In this world where there is always another concert and always another band you need to develop an idea that makes you stand out from the other artists on stage. People can read your band name while they are looking at you on stage but can you be assured that they will remember that name the next day or a week later when reminiscing about the show they attended? Or will you just become "that grungy rock band" that played after my brother's band?
I am going to give two very personal accounts that happened to me at shows where someone stood out to me to give you an example of what you can do to stand out from the crowd.
The first one happened at The Red Dog Tavern in Peterborough many years ago when I was still working for a different concert company. I was running a Battle of The Bands event with probably 10 different bands on the bill. Great musicians, great talent, but the truth is that I can maybe only remember two or three of the artists that performed at that show. Prior to the show I had a record label reach out to me and ask if one of their rising bands could jump onto the bill for exposure and I of course added them onto the bill. During the show, the band came up to me and asked me if they could use their own drum kit. I advised them that it was easier for everyone if they would use the back-line kit available but they pressed on and told me that they would greatly appreciate if they could use their own kit. They told me that there was a reason for it but that they could not tell me because it was a surprise. Finally, I gave in, and I was glad that I did.
At the end of that band's set the front of stage musicians put their instruments down and charged at their drummer and his kit. They took out the drums and the drummer and in a scene of pure punk rock glory the crowd cheered and we had a moment. A moment that may have wreaked havoc on the band members' bodies but a moment that would ensure that years later people would ask me about "that band that attacked the drummer" and with that, Caught Off Guard ensured that their band would be remembered for doing something different in a day of continuous artists.
The second difference maker that I encountered was much more subtle but just as effective as it involves a close friend of mine, Brian Gallagher, who as an aside I feel is one of the best song-writers that has never made it, and his band Happenstance. Happenstance is a band that I have been honored to work with over the years. The band changed singers a couple of times, but one thing that you could always count on at a Happenstance show was crowd interaction. Whether it was Brian bickering with his singer between songs or it was their trademark of holding up a glass and hollering "SOCIABLE" followed by a drink with their crowd...Happenstance stood out. The benefit of their ability to talk on stage was two-fold. One, if you paid attention between songs you would share in a laugh or two and two, if you had been to more than one Happenstance show you always knew to have a drink in hand and wait for that moment that you could share with the band!
These are just two small examples of ways that you can do things at a show to stand out. Two very different examples of originality on stage but two examples that worked very well in my eyes. I for one will never forget the names of Caught Off Guard or Happenstance but sadly can admit that even I have forgotten many band names over the years.
At the end of the day, stage presence is more than being able to rattle off all of your social media links on stage and it is more than knowing to mute your instrument while tuning between songs...for many bands it is a forgotten art. I would recommend though that along with your sound and your brand you work on a third important element to expanding your fan-base, and that is originality. What can you do to stand out from the crowd? What can you do to help yourselves be remembered?
Until next time. Support Local Music!