May 24, 2011

Week 34

(This is Week 34 of my Fifty-Two Weeks of Music Do-It-Yourself Music advice)

The Average Lifespan of a Band
Music is said to be a young person’s game. Mostly because by the time you reach your mid-to-late 20s you have things you want to do with your life that doesn’t include being out until 2:00a on a Friday night. There was a country song by a little-known country artist by the name of Rusty Schramm who I believe has retired from music (ironically) called “College Daze” (I think… it’s not online) that recalls the good times of college and mentions that is was all before “Kids, careers, and wives.”

Image by Gregfuqua

Sometimes music is just a hobby and you form a band to play in your garage for kicks and grins. That’s fine. When you try and get out and make money at it though… that’s when it turns serious because you’re not just involving the members of your band, there’s a whole music support system you’re feeding into that includes other musicians, bars, clubs, bartenders, sound guys, promoters, advertising, booking agents, fans, restaurants, taxi service, hotels, and much more.

I was talking to a good friend of mine, who is the booking agent for one of Austin’s clubs. He let me know that the life-span of a band these days is about a year. That’s the full life span. Getting together, gigging, recording, and breaking up.

It used to be that a club could be the home base of a band while they learned their performing chops for about six months to a year…they’d play weeknights and early slots on the weekend. The club would pretty much break even on them (pay for the sound guy and sell enough alcohol to regulars to pay for staff). Then the bands would improve, create a following, and end up “paying” the club back for their “investment” by killing it on a Friday or Saturday for about 5-6 months before moving up the ladder on the scene.

These days many bands are cocky. They expect instant success. They think they are doing the club a favor by playing there. They get hit in the face with reality a few times and quit.

While I think that’s a crappy ending for a band, I also think it’s survival of the fittest. 75% of the bands who are gigging this weekend will not be around next year. And that’s OK. Those are the people who shouldn’t be a band anyhow. If you can’t handle the business when you’re playing a dive bar on Red River in Austin, there’s no way you can handle dealing with all the pressures of advancing your musical career.

People idolize the wrong things. I was a fan of Nirvana and Alice in Chains, but Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley were not prepared for the life of fame. When the Seattle scene hit big time, they were propelled to the spotlight, which if anyone knows anything about that scene… it wasn’t about the spotlight… at all. It was about the dark corners where people hid NOT to be seen.

Those two didn’t need a tour manager, they needed rehab…or they needed to be left alone.

Don’t get me wrong. They made their own choices in life and chose death, so there’s nobody to blame for their demise but themselves. Fame just advanced something that was probably already going to happen.

Allow me to step off my soapbox.

The point is, if you are going to play music, commit to it. Realize that, while you are making music to satisfy yourself and your personal needs, you are entering a life that is bigger than just you and your 3 band mates. Realize that you are part of the great song that is “music” and contribute. There are plenty of people out there that will support you, and there are plenty of people who will try and exploit you.

Keep that head on your shoulders and make decisions with a clear mind.

11 Ways to be around in a year:
  1. Choose the members of your band wisely. Choose people who will work with your to make the band work.
  2. Don’t gig until the band is ready. You can do more damage than good by gigging early. Practice for a few months and develop a sound, set list, and performance feel.
  3. Have regular band meetings, at least once a week, where you talk about how things are progressing… this is NOT a practice, but it can happen after one.
  4. When you DO gig, never let people off stage know something is going wrong.
  5. Love the music you’re playing.
  6. If a member is no longer contributing and it’s a problem… make a change.
  7. Make sure the people who are important to your band members (loved ones) know what’s going on, but also know that this is a business where decisions are made for the band by the band.
  8. Decisions are made for the band’s sake… not for an individual member. The band is bigger than any one member (just ask Van Halen). Sometimes it’s necessary to step down from playing to allow the band to continue making music. That’s OK.
  9. Remember all of the people in the music world who helped you out… and make sure that you give back.
  10. Don’t have a manager until you’re so busy with the band that you can’t keep up. Most bands are 4-5 people… learn to handle your own business.
  11. Never play drunk / stoned / stupid. This is a job. Keep a clear head while doing it.
Now, don’t let me paint a completely bleak picture here. There are bands that are going to be around for the next decade. There are bands who have successfully integrated marriage and kids and life outside music with their musical career. It’s hard, but if you’ve got the music in your heart and soul, and a clear head on your shoulders… you can do it.

I WANT you to become better. I want you to record an album. I want to review it and recommend it to the world. The issue is… you need to be around to promote the album… or it was a waste of your money, and the world’s time.

I want an invitation to the band’s 5 year-anniversary show at the club that gave you your first gig. If you and your band make it to five years, to me… you’ve made it.

Sean Claes is the owner of Austin's INsite Magazine and has been a freelance entertainment writer since 1996. For an introduction to his "52 Weeks of DIY Music Advice" visit this link - If you like what you read... please share. To visit Claes' homepage, go here -

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