“My drummer forgot his snare, can he use yours”? Seriously, this happens. A lot.
And I don’t mean to take a dig at drummers here with this. You can interchange any member and any piece of equipment in that statement and it would be just as relevant. I’ve been touring for the better part of the last decade, and in that time I won’t say that I’ve seen it all. But I’ve seen my damn fair share. At the end of the day it boils down to how you approach your position. Are you simply just playing some gigs with your friends every couple months? Cool, there’s nothing wrong with that and maybe going on stage in a cutoff muscle shirt and flip flops isn’t the worst thing in the world (more on this later).
Are you cutting your teeth on your first DIY tour? Are you trying to gain attention from industry personnel? Are you even further up the ladder and wondering why the bands on your tour package get frustrated with you after the 9th time you ask to borrow that cable? If that’s you and your bandmate,s it might be worth your time to read what follows. Take it all with a grain of salt. Throw 99% of it out the window. But maybe something will set off a light bulb in your head and highlight a small shortcoming in your game.
I want to start with an image. I mentioned earlier a kind of broad sweeping stereotype I see a lot. The cutoff tee, cargo shorts, the flip flops etc. I’m not knocking cutoff tees. And I’m from Florida, so I’m clearly not going to knock flip flops. (However, cargo shorts can go straight to fucking hell). There’s no “uniform” for being a musician. Wear whatever you want. Just be aware that the audience’s first impression of you and your band.
Before you play a note, is how you all look. Does your drummer look like he just got done landscaping his back yard? Maybe? Maybe it’s time to bring a change of clothes with you to the show. You and your band are there to perform. You are there to be larger than life; to get on stage and make art, in whatever form, for whoever is gracious enough to come see you. Make it look like you give a fuck. Again, there’s no uniform. You and your bandmates should wear whatever fits your band, but make it look good. Everyone’s gonna judge you based on appearance on stage, that’s shitty, but make it work in your favor.
So now lets talk about that snare drum our favorite drummer forgot earlier in the story. That wasn’t something I made up. That really happened. More than once. I’m pretty sure more than once on the same tour. When we are touring, I end up being the de facto stage manager just because it’s easier, and let’s face it, I’m cheaper than hiring an outside SM. This means you can usually find me babysitting the stage from the first local support act through until the headliner goes on stage making sure that everyone has what they need and not accidentally screwing up the tour packages backline. What this also means is I get to see every train wreck in real time. Here’s some things, that you would think are very obvious, that I’ve taken away from those train wrecks.
Before you pack up your car/truck/van/scooter to drive to the show, make sure your gear works. While packing said vehicle, make sure you have all the pieces of equipment you need to perform properly. Yeah someone at the show probably has a spare instrument cable you could use, but then you automatically become that guy. Don’t be that guy.
When it comes to what you and your band are physically bringing onto the stage, maybe skip the ego risers and 8 foot wide scrims and instead make sure your drummer’s cymbal stands aren’t in some decrepit state of decay. There’s nothing that makes me cringe more than watching a band scramble to set up lights, fit oversized scrims in front of their gear, and bring up home made ego risers that are certainly going to kill someone one day. Just to get on stage and, I’ll politely say, be mediocre. BE good before you worry about LOOKING good.
If you and your band have backing tracks, (I could write a damn book on this, so I’m going to keep this as succinct as possible) make sure you figure out the absolute simplest way to run them. Have all of the cables, dongles, etc that you need to make them work. Never assume the venue will have that random adapter you use at home. Theres nothing worse than seeing a band battle with a mountain of tangled cables, scrambling franticly to get their tracks working in the fifteen minutes between sets only to end up cutting into their own set time.
Lastly, if you play an instrument that can be tuned, TUNE IT. Tune it well, tune it often. Tune it the day before the show. Tune it right before you play your first song. Get a tuner pedal and tune the fucker between songs. IF THE GOD DAMN THING SOUNDS OUT OF TUNE MID SONG, TURN AROUND AND TUNE IT DURING THE SONG! (note: those clip on tuners are for middle school music teachers, not the stage, c’mon).
I could keep ranting forever. But you’d get bored, I’d get bored, vicious cycle. No one want’s that. Instead I’m gonna wrap this up with merch.
Congratulations! You and your band played a couple shows. You scraped some money together and you’re gonna get merch! That’s awesome! Merch is the number one way bands make money; whether you’re playing in your home town every few months, or you’re a national touring act, merch is life. So why then would you fuck it up by half-assing it. Why would you leave it up to that one guy in your band that has a pirated version of Photoshop from 2007 to make all of your designs? If the first thing you ever print is just some hacked together version of your band name in a font treatment you guys found on the internet, blasted across the chest of a plain white or black tee shirt. (this is me, I’m talking about the first time I printed merch here) don’t be surprised when no one wants to buy one.
The internet is a wonderful tool that connects people all over the globe. Some of those people are graphic designers, and a lot of them are just like you; trying to get their name out there, hoping to be one of the big guys one day (that means they probably wont charge you a lot of money for some very decent design work). Spend a little money on your designs. Fifty bucks to have a designer make you some real artwork will go a long way towards helping sell your merch. Every show, every time a fan walks by the merch tables with a twenty in his or her pocket, all the bands are in competition. That person is about to spend their hard earned cash on one of the bands. Do you think your merch table with the aforementioned basic hack job tee shirt and a bunch of burned CDs in paper sleeves strewn about is going to draw that person in?
You actually read this far? Wow. Um, I kind of don’t have a way to bring this home, but that wont stop me from trying. Everything you’ve just read, every mistake, every wrong way to do something. I did them.
I have been in the local band that had the world’s worst merch. I have had the absurdly complicated backing track setup that failed and took half of our set time with it. I have showed up to the venue without a tuner and tried to huddle together with band mates and tune by ear (pro tip, that doesn’t work).
I have probably made all the mistakes you can think of, and you know what. That’s okay. No one comes out of the gate getting it right. Most of the time you have to spend years doing it wrong before you figure out that its wrong. Hopefully what you just read will help shave some of that time off.
Hailing from Petoskey, MI, post hardcore outfit Famous Last Words [consisting of JT Tollas (vocals), Evan Foley (guitar), Mathew Bell (bass), Craig Simons (drums), Tyler Myklebust (guitar)], formed in 2009 and have collectively sold over 20,000 albums/30,000 single sales to date. With a band name reflecting the final articulated words of an individual before death, often to be immortalized as the centerpiece of a particular movement, Famous Last Words is a pertinent name for a band whose lyrics, concepts, and themes revolve around life, death, hope and love. Utilizing heavy guitar riffs, catchy hooks, folly, and symphonic elements, the band introduces detailed stories into their lyrics and album structure; transforming their band into more of an art project. It was characteristics like this that lead the independent label InVogue records to sign the band in 2012.
It was their first full-length album, Two-Faced Charade, produced by Joey Sturgis, which hit #2 on the Heatseekers chart, #1 Alternative Artists chart, #177 Top 200 Billboard.com chart that put the band on the map. Sturgis coined the albums “one of the most exciting concept and storytelling records” and praised the band as a top 10 favorite projects list in 2014. Lyrically, it depicts the story of a psychopath whose twisted idea of love drives him to the furthest point of insanity. The band then released a music video for the song “The Show Must Go On,” which quickly erupted on YouTube, reeling in millions of views. In light of the video’s massive success, the band collectively decided to shoot a 30-minute short film depicting the entire story behind the album. The movie “A Two-Faced Charade: The Story Revealed” was released on April 2015.
After a heavy touring schedule, the band rode on the coattails of their own success, releasing their second full-length album in 2014 through InVogue records titled, Council of the Dead, which debuted at #91 Top 200 charts, #18 and Independent Albums August 2014 chart.. Recorded by Nick Sampson, they again based the entire album around a single concept. But unlike their previous album, Council of the Dead tells not one, but eight individual narratives, each delineating a specific story. The stories cover a wide range of circumstances, each portraying an idiosyncratic account of a person’s life nearing death, but also bearing a positive note in that it ruminates upon a person’s life as if looking back from the afterlife. Overall the album is not only a collection of stories, but also a tale of the preserving human spirit through the greatest trials and hardships that life has to offer.
Famous Last Words has no intention of slowing down as they inked a deal with North Carolina based record label, Revival Recordings and released their third album, The Incubus, produced by Taylor Larson on September 30, 2016 featuring “Pretty in Porcelain.”
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