3 Things We Do When We Should Be Getting Better


These are some things that often hold me back as a musician. Really if we zoom out enough, we can probably apply similar ideas to other professions. I just happen to be a working musician right now, and hope that by working to overcome some of these things, I can get closer to making a living with my songs. 

1. Blame it on the Venue 

After a great or not-so-great show, we wake up the next day, and instead of focusing on what went well, and taking note of things we could fix for next time, we dwell on the sound guy's inadequacy. There will always be some weird relationship between "musicians" and "engineers," to some extent, but this dynamic does not exist in the great studios and great venues (Fillmore East and West, Abbey Road Studios, etc). So far I'd say my musician hat is way sexier than my engineer hat, but I do have experience with both, and I feel comfortable stating it is not that difficult to eliminate that tension. 

We are all part of a team. The bar owner wants to bring drinkers in, the sound person wants the band to sound good so the drinkers are happy, and the band wants to kick ass so the drinkers like them and the bar owner asks them back. Everyone has an idea about how to make that happen, but in the end, the owner is boss. Shouldn't be too hard to meet their demands, since musicians and audio engineers are great listeners.

So make a plan for "dealing" with venues. Obviously there will be moments you cannot anticipate, that's the glory of rock and roll, but many issues can be mitigated before they even happen. Always introduce yourself to the venue's staff. We know, as lowly musicians, that the workers are the most powerful. We want that bartender who appears to be "in charge" to like what we're up to. She's the person at the business who has the most contact with the patrons, and has the owner's ear. The more drinks she sells, the more money we make. 

Next Saturday, after that show, wake up: think of how awesome it was that the cute bartender remembered your name and sake the owner to invite your band back, let go of the resentment toward the sound person, maybe even e-mail the venue-owner thanking them for having you in, and dammit get back to work. Pick up your guitar, sit down at the keyboard, run your rudiments and crank out more hits. 


2. Bitterness toward the Successful 

I often catch myself talking shit on successful bands that are "not that good." Hint: they are always "that good." It doesn't matter what our scale is-- financial, crowd size, whatever. If a band's success is apparent enough to piss us off, they are "that good." Maybe their songwriting is derivative, maybe their shows are the same every time, maybe their album is full of production gimmicks. Guess what? Most people listening to and buying music are not trained musicians. They don't usually notice many of the things that irritate us, and if they do, it doesn't bother them. Plus, don't we all know how hard this game is? To write a song at all, let alone a song that people want to listen to? And then rehearse that song, plus 9-10 others, with other musicians who also have opinions and ideas? Then you have to play that song after a full day's work, after setting up all your gear, without time for dinner? Damn, this band really is that good. 

Rather than spending time and energy undercutting these bands, and their dumb fans for listening to that crap, we could open our ears to the secret in their sound. Why is it working for so many listeners? How come when I try things like that doesn't work? If listening to some bands really does make us bitter, we must stop listening to them! We have buckets of great music available, and we must not waste our time and efforts by gardening resentment. 


3. Do it all from Facebook

I am the most guilty of this. Social media sites are enormously powerful tools for artists. When I was living in small-town Iowa last year, I was essentially a digital artist-- not to the extent of Gorillaz, but my main presence was online. With these tools we rarely have to make posters, or send out CDs/tapes to labels and licensing companies, and we can get "press" by sitting in our underwear in bed and snapping off a quick blog. 

However, do not let them suck your time, and do not think they are a substitute for hard work and talking to people about your art. Sometimes I post things on the web, and I assume all the people who listen to/like my music will see it. Even if this were true (which it is not), I'm still only reaching people who already have an interest in my music. It's important to tell your story always. This doesn't mean we should all be "that guy" everywhere we go, boasting and loud-mouthing about how awesome our music is. But it does mean we are confident and comfortable telling people our story, face-to-face. Next time you have a spare $2, get off the couch, pack up your laptop, and go to the coffee shop. If you work on that new banner at the coffee shop, someone might see it and like it and ask about your art. Oh yes, this is a banner for my new website. I'm a musician… 

If you rely on social media to do all your networking because you're agoraphobic, this might not be the business for you. 

If you rely on social media to do all your networking because it's easier, stop being lazy.


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Thank you for reading. My name is Erik Jarvis and I'm a musician living in Omaha, Nebraska. I believe in fostering great communities everywhere, I believe the group is stronger than the individual. Collaboration over competition.