09 Sep Starting a Successful Band (or any other kind of musical venture)
As the modern pop-culture rose to power, there were, and the number is still growing, more and more people trying to achieve something in the world of music. Now, it may sound easy, there are 12 notes and a limited number of combinations and variations between them, but even if that was the only aspect of this story, you’d be surprised how complex it gets to finally succeed in making a hit song or album, or even become one of the greats.
Most people who have achieved a certain level of popularity will tell you to “just follow your heart”, or that it’s all up to practicing on a regular basis, or some other stereotypical claims. It is important to follow your heart, since music is only good if it comes from the heart, and practicing is a major factor in your playing, but again, that doesn’t give you the whole picture.
What’s the Purpose?
This is the main question you have to come to terms with. And the conclusion you get will set you in one or the other possible sphere of music. The two choices are that you either listen to your music, letting it cleanse your soul in a way which is a more culturally-oriented approach, or you want your music to allow and induce dancing as a form of expression, which is a more fun-based approach. Neither one of those is bad in its essence, just to be clear, they just represent two different approaches to music. Being that music is probably the only man-made thing in the world that is harmless to nature, I personally feel a certain degree of respect for it and its closeness to divinity, if I may put it that way. So, I tend to respect the primary, auditory, aspect of music first.
That basically means that music serves primarily to be listened to, and dance may come as its secondary function, which can upgrade it to a next level, if done properly. Now, I’ve talked about how music can and does influence one’s soul, and from that we can see, that if you take away that aspect of music, and just leave the fun (dancing) part, it just leaves us with a sort of an empty shell, and a cheap thrill. Sadly, that is the trend nowadays, and people don’t listen to music with such concentration and respect as that was the case until just a couple of decades ago. But hey, that’s how we humans like it. That attitude towards music may switch at any given moment, and today’s popular music may well be substituted with a certain “deeper” form of music in the mainstream. Of course, technology is a major factor here, and now, we’ll see how it influences the understanding of music in general exactly, as well as how it influences the process of making music.
Friend or Foe?
With audio technology spiraling upwards in the last few decades, making music became easier and easier, and music got more and more abundant, and in various forms. Just 20 years ago, there were not that many people who knew how to play an instrument, and DJ-ing wasn’t at all easy to do. Nowadays, you can find tutorials for every single instrument on the Internet, and being a DJ can actually mean just playing music to people using Winamp, or something like that. So, being that technology significantly lessens the effort needed to achieve a certain level of music-making, it can prove to de-value music as a whole, if the approach to the tool is wrong. Keeping an open mind and, again, knowing what your goal actually is, helps keep a straight course on this journey.
That means that you can either aim to make a one year summer house hit single, and get loads of money, with just a couple of notes (using only natural scales, too – that’s a major factor, but we’ll talk about that later) literally drawn in some music making software, or you can try and use that same software and its endless possibilities to make something which may not be approved by a wider audience, but will definitely have more value, and will need more time to be worked on. And, you can be sure that the small number of people who are going to listen to that, will listen to it carefully. The bottom line here is that technology is a huge friend to musicians with the right approach, but sadly, it has been abused in modern times, and that led to the occurrence of millions and millions of would-be musicians and DJs who look at it as a means of skipping the “hard parts”, and gaining easy money. Almost like nuclear energy, as it was supposed to be a tool to achieve an abundance in energy, but it has mostly been used for mass destruction. Technology can be a friend to music, but human misuse of it rendered it a foe to the most basic values which music is supposed to represent.
The Sociology of it…
This isn’t a paragraph about the sociology of music itself as much as the sociology of one’s musical venture. If you want to start a band, or even become a solo artist (you’d still need a team around you), that must involve other people. And people don’t like to serve others. So, finding a crew loyal to your music is of the essence. A strong team directly means strong results. But how hard can it be, you ask? Very, very hard. People involved in any kind of art are prone to extreme vanity, which can finally lead to treason, so you have to watch out for those small signs of vanity in your artistic team or band. With such groups of people, it is important that, if you really need to, determine the “star” of the project, and just go with it. If it isn’t you, don’t be sad. You’re still going to be a somehow vital part, and it doesn’t lower the level of your importance to the whole project. You’re just going to end up somewhere else, but not under the spotlight – no big deal.
If it is you who is the main star, then you are going to have to be a leader, as well as the best musician in the crew, or maybe just the prettiest one, again, depending on the approach. And that’s hard, because you’re going to find yourself in between your own tasks, and the personal problems and schedules of your whole team, and you are going to be the one who is going to be responsible if it all fails, which is tricky since it definitely isn’t ALL up to you. So, don’t rush towards being the central figure, it is a challenge more complicated than you’d like to think, and try to respect the whole band or crew behind you, since you’re all in it together.
How to get attention?
There are, yet again, a couple of approaches to this problem. One is that you simply need to be good looking. That really helps, but it helps reaching the people who watch music, rather than listen to it. So that can help you if you want a pop-music related career, other than that, it makes no big difference, since your looks have absolutely nothing to do with the value of the music you’re making.
The other approach is that you don’t venture into extremely complicated music. For example, you can make it rhythmically challenging with switching time signatures, or just odd accents, but if you use only natural major or minor scales, the musically uneducated majority will still say that the song is catchy, even though it may be extremely difficult to play. Minimizing that “virtuoso” factor can help your audience to pay more attention, but will significantly lower the objective value of your music. Of course, going wild with your instrument won’t help either, since there is a fine line between a virtuoso and a madman with an instrument, and that line shouldn’t be crossed at any time, especially if you seek the attention of a wider audience.
Achieving a fine balance between these numerous factors is the sole thing needed to succeed in music. You can play any kind of music – house, techno, drum and bass, metal, country, blues, you name it, and become popular, even though that kind of music may not be in the focus right now.
Just remember to control your own vanity, do not try to be the next Mozart, have a loyal and coherent team around you, and keep it simple. Because that is what the regular Joe needs, and what he can understand and relate to. If you do opt for not keeping a balance, that too may work, but you’d have to be hella amazing to make the spotlight hit precisely you, and besides, even if you get famous with a brave and unprecedented style, you’d still need a team (someone for your visual identity, a PR, roadies, a whole bunch of them, really).
To sum up, and give you some concrete pointers, please try reading this article, written by our very own Pavle Dinic, just as a sign of trends to come, which will, if he’s right, enable you to stay ahead of the game. Of course, all of this makes no sense if you do not know how to play an instrument, or do not know your way around music software. That is, of course, the first and basic condition for your success as a musician.