Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Music writing-helpful hints

In the course of my job at the paper, occasionally I come in contact with a wide variety of musicians who want a little publicity to boost their album sales or fill one venue or another. Many are pretty clueless. It's not their fault. Nobody tells anybody anything. They wade blindly into the club scene and drink themselves into believing all sorts of horse shit. They make music videos before they can string together 12 credible songs. They invest a lot of effort on their myspace page (which is a good tool but not the end all be all), but the highlight of their show is a metal or punk cover of an 80s pop tune.

Here are some of my thoughts on how to better promote your band both to the media and to the public.

(Here are the first 10)

1-It is presumed you know how to play. Do nothing to discourage that impression, to the point of actually practicing. Everybody sucks in the beginning. You should strive to suck less. Turn it into you personal mantra, "I will suck less today. Eventually, I might be good, but right now, not sucking as much as I did yesterday is the most important thing."

2-Pool your money. Hire someone to take a good picture of the band. Having a press photo is kind of standard and makes it easier for guys like me to get you into the paper on short notice. You want every possible advantage and sometimes a staff photographer is too busy taking pictures of a senior citizen garden club to do a glamor photo shoot of a local rock band.

3-About good pictures. Good pictures do not have you and the boys holding various bottles of booze (especially if the lot of you have an average age of 20). Do not flip off the camera, give gangsta signs (particularly, if you're some weaselly-looking white kid from a middle-class neighborhood) or show off your new tattoos.
It's also a good idea not to put your girlfriend in the picture, even if she's kind of hot. If she doesn't at least bang on a tambourine, she needs to be out of sight. Do not allow yourself to be photographed holding a joint, a bong or wearing a t-shirt with a giant pot leaf. No paper that carries a Sunday funnies section for the kids is going to want to put you in their paper and you're not famous enough to get in High Times.

4-More about good pictures. Good pictures are not what your buddies shot at the bar a few weeks back and you put on your myspace site. Mostly, these are grainy, too small, too dark and there's probably a beer bottle on the speaker. Have a couple of shots available electronically, but are different than the egocentric stuff you've tossed in a folder on myspace for your own enjoyment.

5-Even more about good pictures. Don't pose like you're on the cover of one of the dwindling number of rock magazines. If you can be clever, be clever. Even better, be clean. Don't look like you just crawled from under a lawnmower. And don't be assholes. Assholes don't look good on the cover. They get parked in the back. As a side note, don't name your band "The Assholes" or something obviously perverse or profane. You might call your band Shirley Temple's Pussy, but unless you are almost as good as Pearl Jam, nobody is going to want to put you in a small city paper. Better to change that name to Stone Temple Pilots and let the hipster fans call you STP with a wink and a nod.

6-Write a press bio. Just a short and concise explanation of who the band is, how long everybody has known everybody and maybe something about how you came up with the name. Don't be cute or clever. Just write it. If you're stalled, find one those silly internet surveys that get passed around. Find one that isn't about getting drunk or how many people you've slept with. Fill it out and print.

7-Don't invest a lot of money in crap. If you've done six months of shows, you can probably sell a few t-shirts. Develop a following, then start merchandising. Don't do it the other way. It's annoying when a band who has played three shows comes out with a t-shirt and cd. It's even more annoying when they start shilling the crap right after the second song. Unless you are Paul Thorn, don't start pitching your merchandise until the end of your show. Nobody came out to the bar to shop. They came to drink, maybe work on getting laid and listen to some music. It's pretty much in that order. Never mention your t-shirt in an interview. Never offer to sell your t-shirt to the writer. It's okay to give him one, if he seems interested.

8-Test out your songs, work on them, take them apart. Don't sit down in an afternoon and squirt out a jam you and your buddies liked then call it a song. A lot of famous musicians talk about coming up with a song, just one afternoon out of the blue. Mostly, that's bullshit, like the uber thin fashion model who says she can eat anything she wants. Celebrity musicians lie and lie often. They lie like breathing when it comes to how a song is written. Many use writing partners or writing teams who do most of the heavy lifting. Don't make a recording of vague, unfinished crap and pass it off as a demo or worse, an album. See tip #1.

9-Practice your answers to easy questions. Figure out what you would say if someone asked you when you started to play guitar, the drum, the hula hoop, whatever... Be able to give a couple of interesting anecdotes about why you're in music, what you like about your music and what you really want out of life. Do not tell anybody you want to be a rock god who gets a lot of blow jobs and has a really cool house. This may be the reality of the situation, but your average music reader is only vaguely interested in the truth. They want to be entertained. They want to be inspired. People confuse pop music with high art and often think there is a higher purpose or some kind of spiritual mission involved with strumming a guitar and singing about how somebody broke your heart. Let them have it.

10-Show up on time to the interview. That should be a no-brainer, but it happens more often with the little guys and the big, big guys. The people in the middle usually call when they're supposed to or make sure they're available when they need to be.

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