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An Industry Essay:
Your Band Is Boring
by Christopher Ford
I’m writing today from a couch that I didn’t choose or buy but that I agreed to host in my living room temporarily, temporarily now being forever, it seems. It has since hosted many guests of house concerts featuring musicians from all over the country. I was supposed to be writing from a bus that was going to take me from Des Moines to Omaha for a solo performance tonight. The show is still on but damn that bus was leaving early and I made the executive decision to find a different way to the show. It’s going to be fine.
The purpose of that introduction might make sense a bit later, but for now, let’s talk about the title of this piece: Your Band is Boring. Well, that’s just it, isn’t it? It’s boring. If you are in a band and you are reading this, then I’m going to go ahead and make the assessment that the world would spin on without your band, that 99.99% of the human population has never heard of or will hear of your band (that’s a very generous percentage in your favor, by the way, but I’ve got a length cap on this piece), and they won’t know what they’re missing, which is quite possibly not much. You might even be bored by your own band.
All this should be read in light of the fact that I have no idea what the fuck I’m talking about, because I’ve never seen or heard your band. But I know all the above is or has been true at some point in time about my band.
Reasons for being boring: uninspired, unoriginal/derivative, totally obvious, lame lyrics that do nothing to open the gate to deeper contact with the human experience and definitely don’t hold a mirror up for the audience to see themselves in, poor musical arrangements, technical skills mismatched with the execution you aspire to, you look dumb, you act dumb, you say dumb things.
Musicianship is about so much more than proficiency at playing notes, chords, timing, pitch, etc. These are rudimentary tools we use to build a vessel that is the song that can, if it isn’t boring, carry the creator and the listener (an important part of the creation, by the way) through the seas of absolute shit that is everyday life.
Ultimately, the reason your band is boring is because you don’t live it. It’s a fun thing to do, a hobby, something you fit in between watching the new Avengers movie and playing Xbox, talking about the new operating system whatever for your phone, stressing about saving money, walking your dog, planning a work holiday party, whatever.
Put down the fucking remote. It’s time to live it.
You can do this. Sweep away the bullshit and take your lifelong passion for music and the skills you’ve developed and build a goddamn boat. Right now your boat is leaky. Stop being a musician and become an artist. And be good.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Actually get good. Practice every day. As in like actually practice your instrument. You’ll be doing us all a favor by developing your skill and making your instrument a part of your being. And the more you play, the more you will love it. This is critical and always overlooked in the DIY community.
- Step up your game. If you’re reading this, you are probably at a level in your music scene in which you are considered a “local” artist. This, unfortunately, reads as “not very good”. Fuck that. Do everything that your favorite bands that aren’t considered “local” artists are doing. Don’t be afraid of copying. The more you do it, the more your own voice will make itself heard. Produce your albums the way they need to be produced, actually promote your music (don’t lie to yourself and say you aren’t creating a product as soon as your music leaves your bedroom; you want people to hear your creation, and if it can enhance someone’s life, there is absolutely no shame in marketing the fuck out of it to get it on their iPhone, Walkman, or turntable), play shows you care about, promote the shows (like make posters and actually do something to make people excited about your art, if you aren’t excited, why should anyone else be?), have badass photos and album covers and music videos, have a decent website for christ’s sake, just FUCKING TRY. Try to do what the big boys do. You’ll find with some time and experience and the help of some friends (if you don’t have friends that can make amazing things, hire people who can - this is still DIY because you are writing the check and you are the boss), you can get pretty damn close, and people will respond to it. And by the way, this might cost money. It might cost a lot.
- Get money. Why are DIY-ers afraid of spending money? Your band is a small business. You can do a band with very little money but to do step 2, you will probably need money. Make a plan, invest the cash (I don’t care where you get it from), and work your ass off. I’m not interested in investing my money into buying your album if you aren’t interested in investing your money into making it.
- Don’t be boring. Here’s the deal: if you develop your skills, step up your game, and get the money and courage to spend it, then you can make whatever kind of musical art you are driven to. Take some chances. Do what nobody else has done. Dig into your mind and and fearlessly say what you actually think. Do it loud, do it quiet, do it backwards and upside down. Say fuck in a church and pray to God in a hipster bar. Your job as a self-proclaimed artist is to see the world in a way that nobody else does and to show the rest of us what we’re blind to. If you aren’t doing that, then you are boring. DON’T BE BORING.
Two quick points about evil for anyone who is pissed at me right now:
- Spending money is not evil. You are spending it on something you believe in and likely supporting photographers, filmographers, designers, publicists, engineers, and the like who believe in the same thing. You are saying you value what they do just like you want people to value what you do. You are helping to create a world in which talented creatives can maybe make a living doing what they love and making our world more beautiful. Just be sure that you get what you are paying for and if you are hiring someone to help you, make sure they’re the right person for the project. Don’t spend money just to spend money, spend money to make something awesome.
- Marketing is not evil. You’ve gone through the steps to not be boring. You now are creating something that will mean something to someone. Somewhere out there in the world is someone who can be inspired or comforted by your art. But they don’t know it unless someone tells them. Appropriate and effective marketing is simply taking action to find that person and to communicate to them that this music exists and it is for them. You know that one song that you love so much and makes you cry every time you listen to it? Be thankful that someone actually marketed that song so you could hear it.
In closing, with my combined experience of hundreds of shows, a variety of different tours from extreme DIY to higher end, helping run a record label, putting on concerts, producing albums, and being a part of a diverse music community in Iowa, I just want to tell you to live it. Play shows all the time, put your music before everything else except food, friends, family, and rest (you will need a life to be able to create art about life). Everything else goes down the list. Be a pro. Value yourself. Always create. When you aren’t playing a show, host a show. Get inspired. Don’t spend money on a couch at IKEA, spend money on an outboard analog preamp so you can lay down some ripping vocals. The couch will find you. If your car breaks down, don’t cancel the show. Fuck that car. Find a friend. Get on a bus, plane, train, whatever. Live it. No exceptions.
Christopher Ford is a musical artist, producer, and record label director. He performs as Christopher the Conquered and as one half of the duo Gloom Balloon, in addition to performing regularly with a variety of other Iowa-based groups. He is co-founder and director of boutique record label Maximum Ames Records and currently serves as program manager of the non-profit Des Moines Music Coalition. He loves Nina Simone and thinks his band is boring.
photo: Antonio Rodriguez