How To Get Big, Part 1

I’ve heard this question from young bands a few times and I’m not sure why I’m asked it, to be honest. Berzerker never had a magazine cover, we never had roadies, never had a headline US tour of our own. We were rather notorious though and many people had heard of us even if they hadn’t actually heard us. In retrospect, I can say that if we remained full time as a band we would have been making a decent living from music by 2007 mostly from live performances. Problem being we hated touring, each other, metalheads, the industry, and ourselves so it wasn’t really an option. Anyway, if the ability to make a living from music and worldwide notoriety is ‘big’, then at that level we were big.

So I get asked the question from young bands, how do we get big? We’re just starting out, how do we get to Berzerker size? If you do a search on the net you get all sorts of advice from all sorts of industry figures, and they’ll all say different things depending on which part of the industry they’re in. I’m not going to give advice on making the best PR sheet or website, or how to get a facebook page with thousands of likes. Other people can give better advice on that than me. My advice however is untainted – I’m not a band manager writing a column telling you that surrounding yourself with great managers trustworthy people is the way forward. The advice I’ll give in this post covers two fundamental principles which, if adhered to, will immediately put you at the top of the pack of your music genre in your country. I will cover further actions and further principles in further posts, but for now here are the Big Two:

 

BE DIFFERENT

There are millions of bands out there. Why should I listen to yours? If you’re just making Slayer songs, or At The Gates songs, or Burzum songs, sorry, but why don’t I just listen to the original bands you’re copying instead of listening to you hmmm? Be different. The world doesn’t need another cover band.

When you’re a deathcore band, you are competing with the hundreds of thousands of other deathcore bands out there. You have to rise above all those thousands of other bands to get your piece of the pie. If you’re a band like Genghis Tron or Melt Banana, then you are plowing virgin territory and your only competition is yourselves.

Ask yourself, who are the biggest bands out there? The ones who pioneered new forms of music, or the ones who have copied them? It’s the pioneers who go down in history, my friend. There are bands who play established styles and don’t bring new forms to the table, but let’s face it – if you are copying the pioneers you have to be twice as good as them. Sepultura swung from Slayer’s nuts, but does your band honestly have a Max and Igor Cavalera? Evile are playing Metallica-style thrash, but you’d never see Metallica able to perform an Evile song because Evile are twice the musicians they are. It’s a fact. If you’re not an innovator then you better be world-class musicians with a lot of other things going your way.

So is it just the music that has to be different? Consider this statement: many people, to varying degrees, define their identity from the bands they listen to. That’s why people have these big retarded arguments about genres, and which band fits in what genre. This is why people like a band’s old stuff better – before they got popular, and the scene kids came in, and the person realised that the original identity they created by following the band had now changed. It’s easy to see with the ‘uniform’ or identity that people adopt when listening to their music in a live setting. Classical music enthusiasts will be suited or well-dressed, metalheads will have their distincitive hairstyles and black bloody band-shirts, the psytrance crowd will be dressed in furry bright colours with props, the country music crowd is in their moleskins, flannelette shirts, and boots. No, not everyone dresses as per their genre. Thank you Captain Obvious. And yes, it is totally possible for someone from one group to appreciate another genre of music. I’m not here to coddle your politically correct pedantic ass. I’m here to tell you that many people form their identity off the music they listen to. If we are talking about being different, then realise that this covers not just the music that you do but also the identity that your band provides. If you haven’t realised, this is why so many genres of metal have sprung up….power metal, battle metal, folk metal, blah blah blah blah blah. It’s a lazy way for bands to try to define both their music and identity. I don’t recommend doing this by the way, it has been done to death already.

Every band thinks they’re different, everyone thinks they’re special. Here’s a quick exercise for you:

Tell me in one sentence what makes your band different from everyone else

How’d that go? Did something just flow off the tongue? Did you have to think for a minute or two? Even worse, did you give the answer that I get from so many people: a shrug, followed by “we just are”?

Here’s an example. For my longtime band The Berzerker, this would be my answer:

“We are the heaviest and most extreme band in the world, we hate absolutely everyone, and write industrial death-metal with big speedcore kicks at the fastest speeds in music and the sickest samples”

Dissecting that, you get the following: I name the two elements we do that no-one else does, namely the industrial death-metal and the speedcore kick samples. When I name other factors that other bands may share (heavy, fast, samples) then out come the superlatives – we are the heaviEST, the fastEST, etc. Are we really the heaviest and fastest? Who knows? I’m not writing a thesis with footnotes to back my claims. This isn’t wikipedia. To hell with facts. By describing common factors as superlatives then we identify with the crowd who are in search of the absolute limit in extremity. We know people define their identity as being into the sickest music, or the most intense experiences. The superlatives help them identify with us in response. We put the cherry on the icing by saying what we’re about: “we hate absolutely everyone”.

With The Senseless, it’s simple: “super-happy metal”. Any description of the band or music will include the word “happy” somewhere. Are all the songs happy? Hell no. There’s usually only about four or five cheerful tracks on each album, the rest of it is usually extremely mental or miserable. However, that distinguishes me from every other metal band and attracts a distinct crowd.

If you want your band to be big, make the effort to be original and different.

 

Tour Overseas

I can’t say this one enough: the fastest way to get big in your home territory is to immediately play outside it without delay.

DO NOT wait until you think your gig is ready.

DO NOT wait for someone to pick you up and book you for an overseas tour just because you’re rocking your local pub.

Playing overseas is daunting. It is easy to make excuses not to do it. It is very easy to put it off until next year, then the year after that. But here’s the fact: the sooner you tour overseas, the sooner your career starts. The world doesn’t care what you do in your hometown. They barely care what you do in your country. This goes double for Australian bands…you can play one thousand of the most amazing shows around Australia for five years and I guarantee you the rest of the world DOES NOT CARE. Most of the world barely knows Australia exists. We only pop up on the news whenever someone gets eaten by a crocodile or a shark.

I’ve known a few bands that paid their dues, worked their home territory, spent years getting their gig together, and then disbanded after their first overseas tour when they realised that their career was only starting with that tour. Simply put, original bands who tour globally have a greater profile and a greater income from music than original bands who stay put at home. To try and keep my rant sharp, here’s a few bullet points for why you want to tour overseas ASAP:

  • You make more contacts in one week of overseas gigging than in a year of domestic shows
  • International bands always get interest wherever they play by dint of being international. Think of when you heard that a band from Japan or Brazil was playing at your local pub. You were curious to see them, and you felt that you should know who they are. This is an assumption people will make about your band when you play overseas
  • You gain greater profile with your domestic scene if you play internationally
  • You give all news websites and magazines a reason to report on you if you’re playing international shows. Touring is still the most guaranteed way for a band to generate attention
  • International touring is an essential part of being a world-class professional band. It is also one of the more stressful parts. Want to know if you can all cut it on the road? Don’t waste time putting in years at home then having the drummer and vocalist quit after their first overseas tour. Do those overseas shows first and see if you all have what it takes
  • Having trouble getting on domestic festivals? Then apply for overseas festivals and get on those instead. Can’t get support slots for domestic tours? Then get on support slots for overseas tours instead. This is the quickest way to get your domestic industry to sit up and take notice of you, and start booking you for the good stuff. You may be thinking, how is it possible for us to get on overseas shows if we can’t get on good domestic ones? As mentioned above, bands always get greater interest in different territories by dint of being international. Your nationality becomes a selling point for potential promoters. Apart from the logistics, it is often easier for a little-known band to get overseas slots as opposed to decent domestic ones.

Here are rubbish reasons for not touring overseas:

  • No money. If you think of your band as a business startup, then you may need to do as businesses do and loan that money. Personal loans, government grants, loans off friends. Don’t wait for a record label or booking agent to offer you money to tour overseas. This does not happen anymore.
  • Losing one of the band members a week out from tour start. This is something almost all bands go through. We had to deal with losing a drummer with Berzerker ten days out from a European headline tour, and we were in a foreign country with no money. We found a guy. The tour went ahead. Nile lost bassist/vocalist Jon Vesano a few days out from tour, guitarist Dallas stepped up on vocals and they found a bassist with a day to spare. Both those bands have considerable global profiles. Legendary Australians Damaged lost a guitarist (they had two) a week or two out from their first US tour, and cancelled the tour. Their career success was miniscule compared to what it could have been.
  • Need more practice. Practice on the road, I say. OK, if you’re unable to complete one of your songs in its entirety then maybe you need to stay in the rehearsal room a little longer. But if you’ve done two or three shows locally and managed to make it through to the end of your set without utterly falling to pieces, then you’re ready. Don’t worry if you’re not polished, you’ll get polished doing five gigs in a row in some place you’ve never been, trying to win over a crowd that doesn’t know you.

 

So there’s my two bits of advice. Be different – more importantly KNOW what your difference is-  and tour overseas. You may have noticed I did not give any advice on HOW to tour overseas. That’s what the internet is for. The advice differs a little depending on your style of music, which country you’re in, and which area you wish to tour in. My mission with this article is to make bands realise that if they wish to get ‘big’, then these are essential components that cannot be shirked. The sooner they are faced, the sooner success comes.

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