.It’s so easy to fall into mediocrity. The venues don’t care. The audiences don’t care. If it’s close enough it’ll pass at 1am. It’s science.
For some the fear of “you suck” keeps them from branching out and trying new things. There’s nothing wrong with playing “Sweet Child of Mine” just like the record, but when what you’re doing looks and sounds just like everybody else, why should a client/venue pick you over the 20 other bands doing exactly what you’re doing?
Most bands suffer from being too generic. They play what everybody in their town plays and there’s no defining item that sets bands apart. Every town is chock full of bar bands playing the same tired 50 songs the same way night after night.
So what can you do? Do you have to reinvent the wheel? No. But it would behoove you to be a student of your competition. Go see some shows. Look on youtube. Make notes of cool ideas other bands are using and incorporate that into your performances. It could be as simple as searching on youtube for a song you cover and watching a few of the highest played videos…
Do they have a cool transition from one song to the next? Do they have a cool stop in the middle that draws attention? Is there [gasp] a choreographed moment that looks fun for the audience? Maybe they do a stylized cover that another band did that is more energetic or raucous. There’s a lot of wiggle room.
And once you find a few of those things, incorporate them and try them out. It may not make a difference at first, but maybe over time you accumulate a stage show that really transcends the other bands around. Maybe you crash & burn on the first try or there’s a train wreck. That’s fine. You learn more from your failures than your successes.
Maybe you play a bar one night and a couple is there that want to hire you to play a private event. Maybe that event gets your more private event work and you don’t have to play out in clubs as much. A few simple upgrades to your set list and performance can get you a lot of return. It worked for my band.
This is a harder question to answer than you may think. In an ideal (musician’s) world, the only thing that should matter is if a band is capable musically and sounds good. I have been in bands with amazing musicians playing what we thought were smart tunes that went absolutely nowhere because we lacked the things that would set us up for success. Here are a few of those things:
Marketing Materials– Your band needs a good name, a quick pitch to what kind of music you play, and the required logos/photos/video etc. You may not think you need it, but you need a website. Even in the age of ubiquitous social media, a good website will get you hired more than how many facebook fans you have. You need a good video. Good means it shows what you look like, what you sound like, and how much fun your audience has. It doesn’t need to be professionally shot but it needs to be clear and informative.
Concise Song List– A band’s song list tells me more about a band than any bio or promo shot could. It shows your tastes, your musicianship, and your creativity. It doesn’t have to be avant-garde but there should be songs that stand out from the crowd of competing bands. Clients will usually pick their band on video and song selection alone so make sure they are accurate and up-to-date.
Musical Aptitude– You need to be able to play the material handily. Make sure you are rehearsed and prepared. In all reality your singer is the most scrutinized position in the band. If your singer sucks, your band sucks. Make sure your lineup is as solid as it can be.
Showmanship– You need to be able to bring people in, keep them drinking, and keep them entertained. You need to have solid stage presence. You need to be interactive with the audience. You need to be funny and engaging in between songs (even if it’s rehearsed). You need to be rockstar, emcee, and party host all in one.
Reputation– Your performance starts the second you enter the venue and ends when your pull out of the parking lot after load out. You need to be polite, professional and cordial to everyone you deal with. That applies to parking attendants, doormen, sound engineers, bartenders, event planners, and client contacts. Be accommodating. Be flexible when possible. Get to “yes” as quickly as possible when plans are changed. Your ability to work with others will keep you in business much more than your ability to put on a good show.
These are the biggest things you have to possess if you want to build a band, run a business, and get solid work. Even then they are no guarantee for success. This is a cutthroat industry and your ability to adapt and improve will determine where you go.