Thursday, July 14, 2011

Nobody Gives a Shit About Your Band

So please stop talking about it. And making posters for it. And making t-shirts for it. And creating various websites promoting it. And asking people to pay for hard copies of your albums. And turning every conversation we have into the music you're making. What is it with almost every new and upcoming "band" or "solo artist" that took one course in marketing and another course in composition and turning into a virtual one-trick, one-dimensional droning pony? I don't know what it was like in the music scene of the '60s and '70s - because I was still in the process of being re-incarnated from my former life as an SS Officer - but the United States couldn't have humanly been flooded with this many poseurs.

Let's get a few things straight: you can't sing, you have great trouble playing an instrument and you own an iMac loaded up with pirated music software. You live in a town so small that a tree falling not only makes a sound, it kills 3/4 of the local population. Your Mom has kicked you out of the basement and the attic and your bedroom and moved you and your asshat friends to the shed, where you keep tripping over the lawnmower to get to your pedals. Your bassist can't remember any of the chords, can't remember to shower and thinks weed is a profession. The drummer you found on Craigslist is middle-aged and not allowed around children or the elderly.

So what are you going to do? Well, if your genre is some kind of rock, you're going to scream like there's a bamboo shoot being rammed into your pee hole. You're going to turn the amps up and make everyone forget you have no idea what you're going on about. You're going to make up a lot of the words because you left the Post-It note you scribbled the lyrics out on in your used Volvo. For the ten of your incredibly supportive friends that you robbed of $8 to watch you "perform" (when they were just hanging out with you hours before), you're going to shake and sweat. Somewhere in your twenty-minute set, you're going to play a shitty cover of some decent song from a reputable band but put your own "spin" on it by making it "ironic," i.e., making it completely unrecognizable. Someone in your band will be wearing plastic-rimmed sunglasses. Another will probably be in drag. It doesn't matter: it's gonna be loud. And loud is good, right?

Or, instead of the obnoxious, you can take the mellow road. You can brood. Oh, Christ, you can brood. Tired, disheveled, wearing soiled corduroys and a bracelet you stole from your dead Grandfather's casket, you can sing about hurt. The beard you sport makes the hurt look worse. And you can play your odes on an acoustic guitar you stole from a thrift shop while your former drummer shakes a tambourine and your former bassist holds your Pabst and nods along. Everyone in the slim audience will be waiting for your next deep proclamation, waiting for you to say the words that everyone thinks they experienced but really haven't because they still have their parents drive them to softball practice. You can talk about love. And remorse. But keep it Hallmark card simple. A C chord and a line like "you have the simplest head of hair / like a macaw ascending toward hope" will cause everyone to disintegrate emotionally. The ladies will swoon. The guys will swoon. The doorman will swoon. The girl at the service counter will be playing on her cell phone.

If the mellow road isn't for you, and you consider yourself more danceable and techno-friendly, you (and your pals) can do what Richard James and Daft Punk and the Fuck Buttons dudes did: gather as much equipment as possible and hook all that gizmo-y gadget shit together. There's a plug? Find a hole. See a hole? Find a plug. Just shove everything together. Hide behind it if need be. And then, after you've taken three and a half hours to set-up, start playing pre-recorded loops. Keep pressing buttons because that really gets people jumping. It doesn't matter if the loops and sound-effects are in sequence. It doesn't. But make sure it's loud. Add in an electronic drum-beat. Girls love a drum beat. And it doesn't matter if any of the sound clips go together musically: the few people in the crowd will be so loaded up on pills and grinding their teeth so hard it won't make a difference. Also, don't forget strobing. God yes, strobing. Strobing is God's way of keeping epileptics away from concerts. Remember that the strobes and the beats and the sound effects don't have to be timed together or anything like that. If people collapse from exhaustion, that means you're good.

Once you've decided what kind of musical hack you're going to be, you're going to have to remember to always play the part of the hack. And in being an expert hack, you have to advertise yourself with the aforementioned swag and handouts and flyers and websites. You need to pump up your band to such an extreme degree your friends will want to set your shed on fire and delete your number from their phones. The talentless are generally full of braggadocio; the meek are the ones you wouldn't know ever conceived of a song. For example, arguably the most thoughtful actual musician I know personally is currently huddled in his room wearing a cardboard box mask and a lab coat. He has Styrofoam shoved against the walls to keep out the "hum from the refrigerator." He doesn't perform in public, because that would involve leaving his bedroom. He doesn't record anything, because the very act of recording "murders the shape of the notes." When I inquired as to what he was working on just last week, he shook a piece of ripped crepe paper in front of my face and asked me if I thought it properly simulated the sound of a man with polio shuffling through a wheat field. He won't tell you he's in a band. He won't give himself an alias. He'll tell you about the celestial rhythm of millions of human breaths exhaling in divine harmony. Then he'll take his medication and sleep for fourteen hours.

In other words, all of you "musicians" need to start fazing yourselves out and you definitely need to delete SoundForge and Cakewalk and ProTools off your hard drives. Asthmatic Kitty and Warp and Matador aren't going to sign you. You need to recognize you don't have a voice (literally and figuratively), you can't just mash on buttons or chords and make something lasting and nobody wants a black size XL tee with your face silk-screened on it. You know what I really want to hear about? I want to hear about people doing the old-fashion-y kind of art that requires time and dedication. Tell me about your pottery wheel. Talk to me about ceramics. Making mosaics and tribal masks? Kitsch, but I'll take a peek. Video art? I'll view it (just please don't ask me to review it). Don't hand me a CD-R or a glow stick or a cup of hot tea to absorb my sorrows, hand me a hand-made ashtray decorated with a decal of a rotting lung. Or you can paint a picture. Get some goddamn watercolors and remind me what a fucking sunset looks like.

For the record, just make sure you keep your art in the shed.