I just don’t get this whole obsession with merely the aesthetics of success which seems to pervade a lot of local music nowadays. What I mean by that is that I see so many bands signing up with managers, booking agents, record labels, etc., totally unnecessarily.
People seem to think that if big bands do these things, then they should too. So they get a bunch of outside people involved, they make a stupidly expensive music video of all of them posing, they get their booking agent to book a local “single launch”, they hire a PR team to essentially pay to get a mediocre review in a well-known publication, and their manager collects his cut for doing not a whole lot in reality.
I’m not for the whole pissing contest mentality of the DIY punk scene where they all seem to feel so hard done by (“boo to money! Boo to touring bands who like not to lose too much money! Boo to capitalism! Boo to anyone who thinks they’re more DIY than me! Why does no one want to come to my show?”) but what I am for is the rejection of this idea that a load of extraneous people behind a band is equivocal to a band being successful. It just means more people to pay and less control over the mechanics of your own band.
My band Friends In America, for example, play pop music which seems to have some kind of wide appeal. The circles we run in, however, seem to be wrought with these people that think that somehow getting a management team and having a big corporate PR push and making expensive music videos will pay off because bigger bands do it. News flash - bigger bands can afford to do that because there is a profitable business model behind them. Whilst I reject the argument out of hand that a band being liked by many makes their art worthwhile, if they’re making money out of it then at the very least they have a well thought out business plan.
Friends In America had no money, so I recorded our record for free with shoddy equipment that I was constantly having to fix and stress over. We spent two years making our record as good as it possibly could be, artificial deadlines and an expectant audience be damned. it’ll be ready when it’s ready. We control our presence very carefully - we barely play any shows to avoid saturation and it worked in our favour (the air of mystery meant that people who had seen us raved about us, and people who hadn’t were instantly curious about what they were missing). We only play shows we’re comfortable playing, we make sure we are suitably reimbursed for each gig we play and we sort everything out direct with the promoter. We booked and promoted our own launch gig for the record and made it work. We were able to cover the cost of printing the record (which we paid for ourselves, and put together ourselves), pay the supports pretty handsomely for a local show, and still make a profit on the door alone (that’s not including the records we sold on the door). Every record we sold after that has been all profit, and I have personally personalised, packaged and sent off every order we have received. As for PR, again, any publicity we’ve received has been totally off our own back. We recently had our track featured in a small advert for the Hilton, which we got a fair amount of money for. We didn’t have to do anything to get it and we were comfortable having our music aligned with that because hey, we worked so fucking hard getting to this stage that a little money to help out with other band things, for something like having your music in an advert, that’s not something we’re going to turn our noses up at. My idea of selling out is never making enough money from a band in order for it to sustain itself, so having to work a soul-destroying job (which we already do) and thus take valuable energy away from the process of creating a worthwhile piece of art. A lot of artists work really fucking hard, only to get called sell outs by the so-called DIY community. Fuck you just as much as the other guys. Your half-arsed attitudes towards the values of art and actually being smart about the work ethics of your bands is what keeps you from really realising any potential you might have. In the words of Henry Rollins, pay them, pay them double, pay them now.
And it’s not like we haven’t had the chance to pass the buck onto someone else - infact, we’ve had many opportunities. Every time, however, we’ve rejected it on the basis that these people can offer nothing that we can’t do ourselves, so we’d rather just make that extra effort and save ourselves having to pay someone else.
The result? Whilst we’re nowhere even remotely close to being a “big Scottish band”, and we’ve not made huge amounts of money (not even close, all money we make goes back into the band), this is still easily the most profitable band I’ve ever been in, and we’ve achieved that without ever having to agree to things we’re not comfortable with. The money we’ve made off the record alone will pay for the next recording and we’ll still have money to pay for t-shirts and stuff. You just need to be smart and think about what you’re trying to achieve.
On the flip side, I hear a lot of bands complaining of managerial bullshit, being forced onto shows and tours they don’t want to do, and most importantly, despite having this whole team of people behind them doing all the legwork and getting a lot of exposure from it, they can’t seem to get their heads around the fact that they can’t seem to make any money from it.
My point is that neither the pissing contest attitude of the DIY crowd or the work-shy, aesthetic-driven nature of the more commercial music world seem to work. The only thing that matters is making your own little world work. Fuck what anyone else does or says or thinks. In fact, fuck what I say. The way we do it won’t work for everyone. The point is find what makes your band work, be smart and retain all control, and don’t do anything you’re not comfortable with for the sake of achieving some artificial vision of success. Because let’s face it, when you reach that point, you’ll probably find yourself quite fondly looking backwards. Always look forwards. THAT is what real DIY is all about and fuck anyone who tries to tell you otherwise.