Now that we’ve thoroughly exhausted the subject of band names, and you’ve arrived at your own, whether it be “Sausage: A Very Acoustic Band” or “Blue Ridge Railroad,” I thought we’d continue this series on band self-management, more-or less in chronological order, that is, in the order that things should be done when you form a band.
Ah! “And what is that order?”, I hear you asking. And a good question it is, because making career moves in the wrong order when you first form a band can hold you back from the vast riches that await you (in whatever your chosen day job in the oil business happens to be).
As an example, it is said that many bands choose to record too soon. I disagree, actually. It isn’t that they record too soon, it’s that they release what they’ve recorded too soon to the public. Here then, is a suggested order of things. There are no unbreakable rules here, and I expect disagreement on some of this, but it was the best I could do shuffling 3×5 cards around late at night:
- Find at least 4 musicians who can both play bluegrass adequately and spend up to 3 hours with each other in the same room (the length of the average rehearsal) without breaking into a fight.
- Name your band (see previous 3 columns here)
- Fire the mandolin player because he’s a nutbar and may have a criminal record.
- Seek out endorsement deals
- Discuss and select band clothes
- Purchase a band vehicle or destroy a band member’s existing vehicle in less than a year.
- Work up at least 24 songs
- Build a web site
- Record your first album
- Write your first promotional material using the words “dynamic” and “hard-driving” as much as possible.
- Book a gig
- Play that gig
- Take a band photo
Note: There’s a reason that the photo is last and is given the number 13, which I’ll explain in a later column.
I think it would be best to dispense with number 3 for right now. Your individual case may be different, and your mandolin player may be a perfectly upstanding guy or gal (as ours is, I’m happy to say). He or she may even be the band leader, in which case the criminal record part may be an asset, but I threw that in to make the point that while personnel changes hurt, making them sooner is better than making them later, after your merchandise money has disappeared.
This brings us to endorsement deals.
You are probably familiar with these arrangements: bluegrass bands agree to endorse brands of strings, musical equipment and/or instrument makers, usually in exchange for an agreed-upon amount of free products. The band or artists will often appear in advertising and will also do what they can to spread the word about these products through mentions on their web site, CD liner notes, etc.
This is all well and good, and it’s easy to see how both sides benefit from this arrangement, but why should musicians limit themselves to musical products? What about products we use to live every day, like soft drinks, motor oil, shoes, clothing or frozen foods? It’s a little known fact to the outside world, but the true goal of the professional musician is to get everything for free. This is why a musician, when presented with free food, has a hard time turning it down even if he or she just ate a super-sized burrito 15 minutes ago. It’s the principle of the thing.
It’s time to think outside the string box. We can look to Texas honky tonk country artist Red Steagall as an example. He had a hit in the mid-70s with a song called Lone Star Beer and Bob Wills Music. As the story goes, Lone Star beer was so impressed with this, they sent Red a large quantity of cases of Lone Star as a thank you. Red had landed himself an endorsement deal without even trying.
It did get the wheels rolling in his mind, though, because he wisely followed this up with a song called Two Pairs of Levis and a Pair of Justin Boots. I’ll confess that I’m not familiar with this song, and I don’t know if the ploy worked, but I personally would have upped the anti a little and named the song 15 Pairs of Levis, Size 32/36 and 5 Pairs of Size 11 Justin Boots. Perhaps this wouldn’t sing as well, but you get the idea.
You can see that the unsolicited musical endorsement can be very effective, and it may be the ideal choice for a band that doesn’t yet have a track record to promote to the head of marketing of a large company. This is really what writing songs about bluegrass festivals is all about. It’s the toe of a Justin boot in the door that would otherwise be slammed shut.
A well-written song entitled Mama’s Chicken and Some Birds-Eye Frozen Peas is likely to go a lot further in filling your band’s freezers full of frozen food products than a letter that reads something like this:
“Dear Mr. Birds-Eye (if that is in fact your name),
My name is (your name here), and I’m the band leader of ‘Virginia School District,’ a bluegrass band based in Wisconsin. In case you haven’t heard of us, we’re a very popular bluegrass band in this area, and members of our band have shared the stage with artists as diverse as Ralph Stanley and Celine Dion (what this means is that the dobro player in the band worked as an assistant stage manager at the local arena).
One of the first things we discussed when we first formed our band was our common love of your frozen food products….”
And the letter goes on from there, with a 90% chance that Mr. Birds-Eye has already tuned out and is thinking about the Brazilian lima bean crop this year.
The unsolicited endorsement through songs is bound to be a stronger strategy.
Here are some possible song titles you might consider to jumpstart your band’s list of endorsement deals (I request 33.3 % writer credit and 50% of publishing):
- Bush’s Beans and Ale-8-1 (get someone from Kentucky to explain this title)
- I’ve Lost Her and My Santa Cruz Guitar
- Where’s My Oral-B Toothbrush? My Baby’s On Her Way
- One More Shell Fill-up Tonight
- Pass the Green Giant Beans (I’m Home at Last)
- Running Back to Mama in my Nikes (I thought this was better than “…in HER Nikes”)
- Keep That Chevy Rolling, We’re Bluegrass Festival Bound (feel free to mention a specific festival you’ve been trying to get booked at for years)
- Seattle’s Best Brought the Worst Out in Her
- Back to the Mountains, Just Me and my Cessna (this is probably pushing it a little)
And I could go on, but I probably shouldn’t. I’m going to head into the kitchen to brew up some Millstone coffee and cook up some Bob Evans sausage. Happy Thanksgiving!
Next week: Setting up bluegrass music tours in war-ravaged countries, how to be a professional musician while living on an annual net income of $18.00, and dealing with bluegrass paparazzi.