Category Archives: Educational

Flunkies, and Putting Stickers on AC/DC’s Tourbus

We woke up in a splitter van in a supermarket car-park somewhere in Cleveland. I think it was Cleveland, it could have been any one of those mashed-potato central-east states in the USA. There were six of us in the van. The van was jammed full of us, merchandise boxes of clothes and stickers and Berzerker CDs, our smell, and our rubbish. The drummer was a particularly filthy specimen, as drummers are wont to be. He had taken to draping his sweat-drenched unwashed gig top over a seat he’d marked as ‘his’ in the van. The stench was incredible. It smelled like someone had murdered a pig and then left it in a hot sauna for a month. No-one really wanted his seat, not after he’d let his miasma soak into it.

I hadn’t really been sleeping much in the previous weeks. I had taken to sitting in the front passenger seat. Although we agreed pre-tour to move around all the time, you end up claiming seats as your own after a week or two. I think it comes from living in such close quarters. The borders of privacy get pushed back so far that you start claiming turf and ownership, no matter how small and petty the object of that may be. So the front seat by that point was ‘mine’. I had a good view of the USA as we drove straight past all the lovely bits straight to the ghettos where our gigs invariably were. I could talk to the driver – a huge Puerto-Rican called Tito – which wasn’t necessarily pleasant but was often interesting, and made for a nice change-up from the bitching coming from some of our session musicians. I could hear the stereo clearly, and bands such as At the Drive-In and Deftones were being forever linked up in my mind with travelling the US. I could be alone, or as alone as you can be in a splitter van of six people. But the downside of the front seat was that you couldn’t stretch out and it was almost impossible to fall asleep in it. Somehow that night, I had managed to actually get some sleep. Not much, but enough to keep me going for a another few days.

So we woke up. It was a bright sunny day. The car park was completely empty except for us and an enormous black bus parked only one hundred metres away. We all goggled at it. It was a sky-liner, a touring bus. We saw the words AC/DC on the side of it. Jesus Christ, it was the AC/DC tour-bus. We remembered seeing billboards advertising their show in Cleveland, same day as ours. Then we saw Angus Young’s name down the side, with the words ‘On Tour Now’ and the website address for the ‘Angus Army’. Fuck…the entire bus was just for Angus Young. The bus was so big it looked like it ejaculated splitter vans. To be a touring band and have your own sky-liner is pretty damn luxurious. For each member to have their own personalised sky-liner was beyond ridiculous. The difference between us and them couldn’t have been greater.

 

ape-monolith

“Lads, we’ll be there one day. It might take another 100,000 years though”

 

Yet when we thought about it, there were actually similarities between us. We were the first Australian heavy metal band since AC/DC to do a full tour of the USA. One or two others had popped over for a show or two, but no-one else had actually done a tour tour. To add to the similarities, we had a session guitarist called Mark Evans. Their 1975 album “High Voltage” was released the day before I was born. Shit, we were practically brothers!

The course of action was obvious. We grabbed a handful of t-shirts and hoodies, some CDs, some stickers and headed over to the bus. We had images in our heads of Angus skipping up and down the front of the stage doing his mental-drooling-schoolboy act wearing a Berzerker t-shirt. Our CDs were insanely heavy, our stickers were insanely strong. Seriously, the stickers were industrial strength. Luke and I had put them on road cases and they were impossible to remove. They were possibly the only things still holding my cases together. I had tried removing one from my guitar case once, and it had ripped a hole in the side.

We arrived at the bus and knocked on the door. After a minute, the door opened. The smell of clean fresh vehicle and leather seating flooded out and we were met at the stairwell by a short, fat, bleach-blonde American bus driver. We explained to him that we were an Australian metal band on tour in the US, come to this very bus to pay homage to our forbears, and that we had brought gifts of music and song and stickers and shit, and could he please do us the honour of passing these on to Angus? Furthermore, was Angus home and could we have a chat? We were all Australian after, and we could enjoy ourselves some antipodean repartee and a breakfast beer.

“Fuck off” said the bus driver, and closed the door in our faces.

It took a further minute or so for our enthusiasm to finally deflate. We hadn’t expected to get on that bus. What we had expected was for the bus driver to say a couple words explaining Angus’s unavailability, accept our stuff, and probably chuck it in a bin, or better yet leave it on a table for a few hours before chucking it in a bin. We knew the only way Angus Young would wear our shirt is if he woke up, realised the only clothing he had was his sweat-soaked tour shirt that was beginning to get that dead-pig-tour smell, somehow didn’t have another shirt to hand, and threw on the nearest clean clothing out of desperation. We knew that. But we also knew that if you play enough long shots, one of them might eventually come through. I was a small-town Aussie boy on a tour in the US with my Earache band, after all. Anything can happen.

We wandered around the outside of the bus and ended up at its hindquarters. There was a fetching photo of Angus looking demented on the back of it. We wondered if he was asleep up top. The back of a sky-liner is the obvious place to put the bedroom if you’re kitting it out for one person. We thought about banging on the back window but knew no good would come of it. Then we realised what we were holding.

The course of action was obvious.

I put a sticker down on the bumper bar and pressed it good and proper, no loose edges. That one sticker was going to take someone a lot of time to get off. I put another sticker on the back picture. Then another. And then the other guys grabbed some, and we stickered the shit out of the back of that beautiful custom sky-liner. Getting them off would require hours and hours of elbow grease or a professional service and would likely damage the surfaces they were on. Some might have called it vandalism. We saw it as the gift that kept giving.

 

acdc

I always preferred Slayer anyway, you midget

 

******

Silly bus driver. He just created so much extra work for himself by lacking some basic manners. I’d come across this shit time after time after time in the music industry. You get flunkies who have bigger attitudes than the bands that they’re working for. Angus Young, by all accounts, is an absolutely lovely guy. Almost every band I’ve come across are decent dudes who are more often than not lovely and polite. But on occasion the drivers, roadies, tour managers, and support staff can be such dicks. It’s almost like they absorb any residual ego which would normally attach itself to an artist. And every time one of these guys acts like a shit to someone, they tarnish the reputation of who they work for. Given the choice, I prefer the pleasure of tarnishing my own reputation myself.

I remember being on the way to a European festival in a van with some of the guys from Mithras and Pain and one of the guitar techs for Opeth. We had all been picked up from the airport. The tech’s self-regard was so enormous, there was barely room for the rest of us in the van. I think it was one of the Mithras guys who later showed me a clip on YouTube. It was Opeth live onstage somewhere. They were mid-song, and Mikael’s guitar had cut out. In the middle of it was the very same guitar tech, running around trying to get it all working again. It took minutes and minutes for him to get it going, while the band tried to jam and banter and do anything to fill in the silence. It was excruciating.

We laughed and laughed and laughed.

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a comment about money in music

I’m back! And I think the three or four people who read this blog deserve an explanation as to my absence. I’ve spent the first half of this year learning French and Australian Taxation Accounting (french for fun, tax because….I have no idea why I learned that, actually) and my spare writing time has been spent writing for Australia’s HEAVY magazine. Then I pissed off to England to grunt evil vocals about satan and headjobs with Akercocke’s David Gray, Matt Wilcock, and Voice’s Sam Loynes for an as-yet unnamed project, then I sailed around Turkey on a boat, then watched people celebrate Ramadan in Istanbul by shooting an infidel each evening from a cannon into the Bosphorus. That didn’t actually happen. It would have been awesome if it did.

Now I’m back, my plate is slightly less full, and I have a backlog of articles to squeeze out. But first, a word about money.

Professional suppliers of essential liquids for musicians – aka ‘Jack Daniels’ – are doing some video series called Jack Daniel’s Future Legends. The first vid I’ve seen is called ‘The Truth About Money in Music’ and has interviews with a range of Australian bands. Sorry guys, no metal in this one. For those interested, here it is:

Hearing them talk got me thinking about my approach to money in music, or at least how my views changed. I can do an article about how we ended up actually being able to squeeze some coin out of this squalid rock called ‘the music industry’, but that will be a later post. This is about something far more fundamental.

I remember when I started playing in a band, money was the absolute last thing on my mind. My priorities read something like this:

1. Create fearsome and terrible band
2. Crush all other bands, hear the lamentation of their groupies, put on horrifying gigs
3. Get hammered
4. Destroy everyone including myself

Money was nowhere to be found. I was merely satisfied if we blew the back out of a gig, and got overseas tours so we could terrorize more people. This was the state of mind in which contracts, band agreements, and all matters financial were decided for at least the next five years. After watching the above video, it doesn’t sound like I’m the only one who approaches things like that.

This is as it should be. No-one should start making music because they expect payment out of it, you should do it because you can’t freaking help it. First band on that filmclip perk up when they hear the board snap, and they can’t get over what a sharp snare sound it makes. That’s what it’s like walking down the street: you can’t stop hearing music in everything, and every normal task is getting in the way of when you arrive home and plug in and try and see if that music sounds as good outside your head as it does inside. 

However.

However, however, however….at some point, money will become an issue. And time is a linear thing, so while it’s passing by and you’re doing your band, you will be getting older. And money rarely becomes less of an issue the older you get, to put it mildly. And if your music is not making you money, then as sure as taxes, as surely as atomic decay, as surely as the heat-death of the universe, the time will come when you have to choose between being in a band or working full-time. You can always do music as a hobby, as I do with The Senseless, but at that point your income from music stops growing as does your band. These babies require full-time attention, dedication, and work to expand.

The point of all this is, you need to think about money from the word go. When you start a serious band the clock is ticking, and the longer you go without getting any sort of income from it, the closer you get to the day when you have to walk away from it all. And that is a fucking heartbreaking experience.

Make the music you want to make the way you want to make it. Run out there and put a stamp on the world. But the minute you think that you are even half-serious about your music, start working on the money side. There is no longevity without it.

how I like to independently release material

A friend called Pip – hi Pip! – is just nigh on completing his new album with his freakcore band aAnd? This post started as a personal letter to Pip, but it has information which I get asked for a bit so I figured I’ll slap it up here for people to refer to.

For some strange reason Pip asked me for advice on how to independently release a metal CD. Why he asked me for advice, I’ll never know. I cocked up aspects of the release of ‘The Floating World’ as my previous post described and I’m far from the model of success as an independent artist. Nevertheless, I love giving advice and pretending that I know things so here we go.

aAnd? are at the following stage: they have an album’s worth of recorded material, a bucketload of promo shots, great artwork and logo, sexy skintight morph suits that they wear when they play live, and some top industry contacts. So all they need is to get their music out cheaply and professionally, make sure it’s promoted (with the aim of selling as much of their music as possible), and avoid getting torrented into nothingness. Simples.

Getting a CD made

Once the music and artwork is done, this tends to be the simplest part. I use a bunch of dudes out in Asia called Mobineko. They are cheap and horrifyingly efficient. Go to the quote machine on their page and check it out. I tend to go for the  12cm standard CDs with the 10mm jewel case, and my last CD had an 8pp stapled booklet with double-sided rear tray. But go with whatever floats your boat. It is entirely possible that there is a CD production place in your vicinity that can do you a better deal but if you can’t be arsed searching for them, Mobineko are pretty sweet.

If you’re wondering how to get your spunky fab artwork onto the CD and into the booklet, then you’ll find there’s a section of the website that has photoshop PSD templates that you can download. Most online CD manufacturers have templates on their website to use but if they don’t, the ones on the Mobineko website are perfect. May I suggest that you download the templates before creating your album artwork? Even though I thought my dimensions were perfect, I had to redo everything once I tried fitting stuff onto the template. I’ll assume Lewis (reader note: Metal Hammer art editor) is doing your artwork so I don’t have to remind him to do the work in CMYK. And if I can give one awesome bit of advice for the artwork then it’s this: once you’ve done it, take it to a local printer and get him to print proofs. Make sure that your fonts and colours actually work when they are printed out onto paper and cardboard. This may cost between 10-20 quid, but it’s the best insurance you’ll ever have. You don’t want to be getting a box of CDs from the factory after spending hundreds and be bricking yourself wondering how they’re going to look.

Something you need to be aware of: if you intend to actually distribute your CDs through retailers, a barcode needs to be on the artwork. Don’t ask me any more questions about this, because I totally skipped it. After the experience I had with retail on my first Senseless album, I’m happy never to do retail again. It’s an ego boost, but nothing more. You probably won’t get any retail distro as an independent anyway, unless you cosy up to one of your PHD guys. Once distributors and the outlet take their percentage of your sale, you get very little return back. And half the time, your stock doesn’t get displayed on the shelves. Then after a few months, the stock is returned to you and you are charged for it being returned thus obliterating any profit you made from retail in the first place. Having said that, Australia’s JB HIFI is a fair mainstream retailer to get stocked at if you can find who does their metal ordering and you want to shift some units. I can’t speak for any other country though.

How many CDs and promos to print? Oh jeez, I don’t know. I’d suggest getting at least 50 promos done, and no more than 100 CDs at this point. This is on the assumption that you’ll be playing live monthly and running a merch desk at shows, as well as selling CDs online. If you don’t intend to play live and don’t want to set up a webstore, then make it 50 CDs and 50 promos. If you guys are actually going to go balls-and-all with the promos and foist them onto all the nobs that you know then print 100 of them.

Selling the music

What do you need if you’re going to sell music? You need an entity for people to give money to. In this day and age, this means PayPal. So open a PayPal account if you haven’t already. If you haven’t got a PayPal account open, then you have a decision to make: you can either register a business and open a business PayPal account which you can all access, or you can just nominate the most trustworthy bandmember and use their PayPal account. The problem here is that you’re all English which means that one of you will probably try and steal all the money, or ‘borrow’ large chunks of it with false promises of “I’ll pay you guys back, honest”. You all seriously need to invade another country and drop all your scum off there. NOT ‘STRAYA, WE’RE FULL (of bogans).

The pro’s of using a business account is that this is the most fair and transparent way of sharing and keeping band earnings. The problem with this method though is you’ll need to register a business, open a business bank account, declare earnings and submit tax. Knowing and loving England as I do, this will be difficult and expensive. The best halfway point is to create a PayPal account using a joint band email address you all have access to, and nominate the most trustworthy bandmember’s bank account. So if he rips you all off, at least you can log into PayPal and confirm that the money is indeed gone.

Selling music in an electronic format is easy: go to CDBaby, open an account, pay a small one-off fee, upload music and artwork, update profile, DONE </Gordon Ramsay>. This now puts you onto Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, Pandora, and all the millions of other online retailers selling music. You can also link your Facebook page to your CDBaby account so anyone visiting your Facebook page can click a button and buy your album.

CDBaby doesn’t put your music onto bandcamp however. I recommend you create a bandcamp profile and upload music there as well, because a lot of people actually buy their music from that site. I didn’t create a profile there when I released the last Senseless CD, and it was the first site a lot of Europeans and Scandinavians went to when they wanted to purchase an electronic copy. It sells high-quality files like wavs or flacs, and you can nominate your prices and even sell merch from there. You can also have your entire album stream from there, and I find it’s useful to have the one location that streams your music also making it available for purchase. There is no upfront fee, they will just keep the profits from 1 out of every 10 sales for themselves.

Selling physical CDs online is slightly harder, but you are capable chaps and I’m sure you can nut it out if you put your mind to it. What I did was this:  I created a website (domain name and hosting from fasthosts.co.uk ). Then I created paypal BUY buttons – you do this by heading to paypal, logging into your account, looking up how to create paypal BUY buttons, and following the instructions. This generates some HTML code for you. Then I created a sales page for my website and stuck the HTML code for those buttons in it. BOOM! People can now visit my website and order a CD just by pushing a button. I get an email (which I’ve linked to my phone alerts so I get a funky ‘ping’ whenever someone buys my shit), and the email has the name and the address of the person to send the CD to. At that point, the money is already in my paypal account.

The other way of selling CDs online is to use consignment services – I know CDBaby offer one. The problems here are quantity. You either have to get them to hold a LOT of stock, or (in the case of CDBaby) they can only hold around 5 CDs at a time maximum….again, until you start shifting big figures. CDBaby also have a service where they can print CDs for you and ship on your behalf….I’m not sure, but it might be a service where they print on request (in other words whenever they receive a CD sale). This keeps them from having to warehouse large amounts of stock. This may be worth looking into. It wasn’t an attractive option back when I released ‘The Floating World’ but they are updating their service all the time, so it might be a good option now.

Can’t work out how much to sell your CD for? Okay, work out maximum postage for a CD (I recommend sending it as a ‘gift’ on the customs form so that your customer never has to pay customs or import taxes when they receive it). Now get the number of CDs you printed, work out what 80% of that is. Get the total cost of CD printing, divide that 80% figure into it. The result plus the cost of maximum postage equals your minimum price. If you’re looking at adding more onto that, I recommend doubling the result of the CD printing cost divided by the 80% of CDs produced: this means that costs for your next production run are taken care of once you sell out of the current run. And if you’re wondering why I nominated 80% of CDs produced instead of 100%, it’s because you will lose, damage, or give away around 20% of your CDs.

Promoting your music

I talked in my previous blog post about mistakes I made promoting my last release, so it might be worthwhile to check that out as an example of the “don’ts”. In a nutshell, you need to create the most amount of noise possible about your release in a short space of time and you need to create that noise for two months before and two months after your release. I can confirm that doing a ‘slow burn’ release where it is promoted in various ways spread out over a year does not work. And there are many traditional areas of media where you won’t be covered unless a good percentage of their peers are already talking about you.

Have you guys got a bio in PDF format that you can either send out, or print and mail? I believe I may have said one or two words on this topic previously. When you’re reviewed, people will want to know your label status and where they can buy your material so make sure that information is included.

Media needs to be courted. The old school radio and print media like news, and you will notice it’s called ‘news’ and not ‘olds’. If they don’t get the drop on all the blogs and websites then they tend not to give a fuck. By this point you should have your website up, your Facebook page and bio completed, and your CDs sitting in the house. It’s no use courting the press with jagermeister at the Crowbar and Big Red if you don’t have music and websites to immediately point them at. They tend not to wait for bands to get all their materials assembled.

I recommend getting online and putting together a list of at least 50 media outlets and high profile blogs, and mailing a physical promo and press sheet to each one. If you know anything about who you’re sending the press pack to then tailor it for them to increase the chances of them actually paying attention to it. Try and give the print media around three weeks advantage over online media. Once the press packs are sent, wait a fortnight and then start contacting the recipients to make sure they’ve received them. If they haven’t, keep hassling or resending promo until they either confirm they’ve received it, or tell you to go away. The majority of media – if left to their own devices – will not review the materials they receive unless given a nudge. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because you know the person you’ve sent material to, or people at that company, that they’ll do you a favour and review you. Even friends will forget about the CD you’ve given them unless you give them a few gentle reminders. And I also recommend hand-numbering the CDs – again, so that it creates the impression that they’re special or limited, and also to imply that they’re watermarked to discourage uploading.

YouTube is the most popular place for people to hear new songs, so pick the top two or three tracks and get a YouTube vid up there. If you can actually do a music video, then ace! Otherwise just do what every other shmuck does and stick a band pic or album cover to the song and upload it. Don’t put the entire album there, for god’s sake. You want to get people interested enough to buy it.

For doing PR online, use Haulix. This is what all the big boys use: you create an online digital promo so that reviewers who want to listen to your album can listen but can’t download, or the download is watermarked so you can find out who leaked. Don’t provide your mp3s out of a dropbox willy-nilly, as you will get torrented into a living death and your sales will immediately stop. I’m totally not kidding. Once the eastern Europeans get a hold of your mp3s then it’s game over and your online sales will cease.

I’ve mentioned before, but I believe the quality of your press is better than the quantity when it comes to online sales. The temptation may be to scattergun press releases and mp3s to every single blog, facebook review page, and website in the hope that you get a large difficult-to-avoid online presence. I find however that small blogs and review pages usually offer crap reviews, don’t help sales, and offer a high torrent risk. Give me two or three large magazine or website reviews over ten small blogs any day.

I had an idea – or I heard or read it somewhere else, I forget – but that idea is to pirate your own stuff first. Upload your entire album, but tweak each mp3 file so that the music fades out halfway through each track for thirty seconds and there is a big voiceover sales pitch telling people where your website is and where they can buy the music. If you get at least five up with different naming conventions and spread them across file-sharing and torrent networks then this can make life inconvenient for the casual pirate looking to rip off your stuff. You may get whiney little pin-dicked nerds whinging about how stupid it is to ruin your own tracks that way, but fuck them – they’re not going to buy your album anyway. They’re just going to pirate your work, write about how it sucks, then give it away to everyone for free before getting back to being spanked by Luke Berzerker in GT6 online. Congratulations on making a style of music whose demographic perfectly matches that of the people who understand how torrents work!

I’m seriously all out of advice.

**********

A thanks to Leon Macey for some of the advice that appeared above. The Final Torrent Solution initially appeared during a conversation with Pip….except we discussed distributing a virus instead of sales pitch/music files.  Finally, if you wish to check out aAnd? then head on over to their facialbook page.

20 inches of aAnd

aAnd? : Destined for greatness

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Promotion 101 – bios and interviews

A friend of mine from a metal magazine wrote the following on facebook today:

If you write “next big thing”, “best kept secret”, “Australia’s best/biggest/brightest/loudest/heaviest/hottest”, “upcoming” or “leading” on your band’s bio, you’re probably not. Just ‘coz.

This was pitched at Australian metal bands, so naturally everyone began falling all over themselves in an effort to miss the point. Although it was a discussion I was involved in at the start, some of the issues covered required many words, and I HATE being one of those facebook people taking themselves super-seriously and writing massive long heartfelt semi-intellectual passages. So I thought I’d save it for the blog instead, and make some constructive suggestions instead of just calling everyone a thicko.

The point my friend made was that by using one of those clichéd phrases, you create a bad impression for your band before people responsible for publicizing it even get to listen to it. For people who work with words, getting slugged with these phrases is like getting bukkaked in the eyeballs with sticky liquid stupid and they will HATE you for it. They will HATE you for it because they see these phrases used regularly by dumb semi-literate bands and labels, and 99 times out of 100 they are bullshit. By using those special combinations of words, you prime the recipient of your press to expect their ears to be rammed full of withering averageness when listening to your crud.

I must also note that there are a billion sensible articles out there about how to write bios or do interviews, and how to submit press. This is not one of them. This is addressing a few of the big fundamentals that I think a lot of today’s metal bands are lacking, and if this stops one more band from treating their press like a school writing project then hooray. And just in case you think this article whiffs of self-aggrandizement ….you’re goddamn right. I’m going to illustrate all my points with my own bands.

The purpose of your bio, press, and interviews is to get people interested in you – not bore them to death.

Is your music imaginative? Colorful? Psychedelic? Psychopathic? Or all of the above? THEN WHY ISN’T YOUR BIO?!

Seriously, people write their fricken bios these days like they’re worried that their teacher is looking over their shoulder. For god’s sake, let rip. Yes, you do have to let people know who you are and what you’ve done. But you’re not writing a goddamn Wikipedia entry with footnotes. The purpose of the bio is not just to inform people but to make them WANT to listen to you and WANT to like you. You don’t do that merely by listing dry statistics.

Use colorful phrases, use anecdotes. Don’t say you toured the east coast of Australia with Band A and Band B….you smashed the balls off the east coast, with Band A and B riding your coattails (“…we’re all really good friends though!”). You didn’t play Wankfest, you made a Special Appearance at Wankfest! Your guitarist hung from the scaffolding by his knees. Your vocalist punched someone. The bassist disappeared after the show and reappeared three days later. Press queued at your feet and kissed your ring.

You don’t have to make it a laughfest, but just make it interesting.

strict-teacher-wearing-eye-glasses-17075900

“‘Kataklysm’ is spelled with a ‘C’, Jenkins”

Ditto with interviews. My dear sweet Jesus, bands can take the whole interview thing so bloody seriously. Yes, you are being asked questions. Yes, it’s fun to get all self-indulgent and talk about yourself and your opinions. But your answers have a dual purpose: to inform but also to ENTERTAIN. You are an entertainer goddamit. You don’t stop entertaining people just because you’re not on stage at the time. Think I’m being harsh? Pick up a metal magazine these days and try and read all the interviews in it from cover to cover. I promise you that you’ll fall asleep halfway through.

Got a tour on the way and want to promote it? Don’t just say the dates. Say something like, it’ll be a bloodbath and anyone who isn’t bleeding by the second song will be dragged onstage and pummeled (we actually said that for a Berzerker interview). If you’re a bunch of boring-ass prog musican wanker-types, then tell people you have been studying ways of combining your unique scales with Fibonacci fractal progressions, special frequencies, and a custom PA that is guaranteed to get people high. If you do that flared jean stoner rock shit, tell everyone that your set drips with so much sex that people shag in the moshpit and you average three pregnancies for every show. Tell people something interesting. But be aware that saying you’re “the next big thing”/”Australia’s best kept secret” etc is not interesting. It is boring, because media (and a bollockload of the public) have seen those phrases a million times already. Oh, and anyone – in the band or in the media – who use the phrase “saviors of metal”? I will track you down and murder you with my bare hands.

Admittedly, it can be hard to give interesting answers in some interviews. It’s almost like the interviewer is trying to ask the most boring Interview 101 questions that have been covered a million times before and appear in your bio. “How did your band start”, “What music do you like”, “Do you play live”….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz BOR-ING.  I remember Blood Duster had a great technique they’d use, which we adopted: ignore the question completely and write whatever answer you want. Almost always, the interviewer is happy just to have an interesting answer to work into whatever narrative they’re constructing.

A band is responsible for their press even if they’re not the ones writing it.

One of the points that came up in the facebook discussion from today was someone saying hey, my label writes the bio and sends the press out, so there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s in their hands. Nothing to do with us. None of us can write for shit anyway.

BULLSHIT.

A band may hand responsibility for the more boring activities over to a willing label or PR agent. But ultimately, YOU are responsible for the impression you create and it is in your interest to pay attention to how you are being represented.

What would you do if the press photographer wanted to put you all in clown suits and pose you at the local ice rink? Say hey, they’re the photographer, I guess they’re the expert on this? Nothing to do with us, none of us can take photos?

What would you do if the guy making your filmclip wants to dress you up in lingerie and put you in a kindergarten chasing greased pigs? Say hey, they’re the filmmaker, we don’t understand this stuff, we’ll go along with this?

What do you do when the bio that the label writes for you is so incredibly fucking boring that you, a metal fan who loves your own band, falls into a coma while reading it? Say oh well, none of us can write anyway? They know what they’re doing?

FUCK THAT.

A band knows the impression they are trying to create better than anyone. That is what your music does, when you drill down to it….it creates an emotional and aesthetic impression. Everyone that you work with is a tool to assist you in creating that impression. A band is the CEO and everyone who works for them does so at their implicit instruction. When CEOs are unaware of what their employees are doing on their behalf, that’s when companies fail. Bands don’t fare much better.

If someone is trying to make you look like a dick in a photo shoot or video, try and advise them as to what a better alternative would be. If they persist, tell them to fuck off. If a label writes an elementary school standard bio, you have three choices: make them do it again until it’s acceptable, engage PR who will do it for you, or write it yourself. Seeing as though labels usually rely upon unpaid fresh-out-of-school interns to write bios you can usually do a better job yourself. It was also pointed out in the Facebook chat that labels are quite often delighted to have a proactive band relieve them of some of their workload, the work-shy bastards. Bands who refuse to confront people offering shoddy work on their behalf are lazy. If your label is misrepresenting you, speak to them. If they don’t get it, yell at them.

We have hours of footage from the Berzerker days of yelling at Earache on the phone. We told them with the first album not to use the masks in the artwork, and made huge efforts to supply them with the album cover artwork. The masks were to be a huge surprise when we played live and between the strobe lighting and smoke we were supposed to be barely seen when onstage. Earache went behind our backs and plastered the US release with pictures of the masks. We confronted them, and they actually said something like hey, Slipknot is popular at the moment in the States so we’re putting the masks front and center on everything. Cue a big forehead slap from us and Luke screaming at them so loudly they could have probably heard him in England without the phone. Even we knew that portraying us as a Masked Metal Band Just Like Slipknot would turn away the super-extreme people who stood the most chance of enjoying our music. It took years to undo that mistake and for a lot of our dedicated audience to find us.

If the people you employ – and when you are signed to a record label, ultimately they are employed by you – misrepresent you, or make you look boring, then it’s your responsibility to fix it. Not unless you’re happy to be called ‘the hot new best new top secret saviors of metal’ and have everyone with half a brain laughing at you, and looking through other demo and bio submissions for something not so stultifying and brainless.

*****

Want to see how this shit is done right?

How to do an interview
How to write a bio

Better yet, check out the 5 Best Metal Interviews of All Time and see the masters at work!

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“Worst Promoter EVER” blog

I relish juicy tales of delicious misery, and after reading a few stories at Worst Promoter EVER I find myself rubbing my belly, smacking my lips, and declaring I couldn’t possibly fit anymore in.

Now in posting this link, I’m NOT saying that all promoters are bastards. I just like a good story is all, and….

…wait, am I validating myself?

Bollocks. Go enjoy.

http://worstpromoterever.blogspot.co.uk/

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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Ask Earache

I know I rip into Earache Records a bit based on years of association, but Ask Earache has been a guilty pleasure of mine for a year or two. It’s slowing down a bit now, but it still makes interesting reading for anyone who wants a candid window into the the thoughts of a once-legendary record label.

The link shows honest responses from Earache Records staff members to public questions and if you’re a fan of their back-catalogue or just extreme music in general, there are some fantastic stories in here. They also have the odd bit of advice which I recommend reading with a grain of salt; although much of it is solid gold, a lot of it is best read to educate yourself what a record label’s opinion or view is.

Image
Lovely people, too

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Tuck And Roll

Oh dear. I’m going to have to explain “Tuck And Roll”. I’ve got a couple more tour stories coming up where that phrase appears, so I’m going to have to illustrate how the band latched onto it and gave it a flogging.

First, a caveat: all bands turn into pirates within a week of hitting the road. ALL bands. It doesn’t matter what kind of music they play. Within seven days everyone in the bus will be unwashed, smelling of ass, drunk, and treating everyone around them including themselves like shit. You might as well all be in a motorised longboat looking for venues to pillage and girls to loot. Manners and hygiene just melt away, as do sobriety and sanity.

I say this not to seek forgiveness, but merely to explain. In this and upcoming stories, behaviour gets a bit questionable. We did things all right-minded people would object to. Whatever. I know that many people in our shoes would have done the same.

Tuck and Roll. This catchcry originated in El Paso, Texas near the start of a Berzerker US tour. We were all hanging out in the motorhome, which was freshly festooned with glowing christmas lights that one Jesse Pintado had found in a rubbish skip and kindly donated. We had some randoms visit that night, a young dude and his cute girlfriend.

Why do guys do that? For god’s sake, if you have a girlfriend never, never, NEVER take her to a tourbus. Not unless you’re one of those fellas who gets off on watching guys mercilessly hit on his girlfriend, in which case fill your drink with ice and go right on ahead. It’s guaranteed to happen, and half the time as soon as your back is turned someone will be getting it on with your girl. Or they’ll swap email addresses, or phone numbers, and within weeks your sweet girl will be haranguing you about being boring, or that she needs change and adventure in her life, and that will be that. Guys on tour are going to be sexually aggressive. They’re travelling to a different town each night, every night. They don’t have time to subtly ascertain a girls relationship status, or go through the slow process of trying to woo her with charm and character. They have a few hours at best to go from hey to money-shot, and don’t have time to faff around doing anything but being very, very direct.
 I’ve got a half-dozen stories lined up ready to go about the brazen shit we got away with when girls were on the bus. I’ve got a mental image right now of reaching drunkenly out of my floor-level bunk one night in Scotland and trying to drag in a terrified screaming girl by her foot because I liked the look of her ankles. Never, ever, EVER bring your girlfriend onto a tourbus.

Will shag anything on tour. ANYTHING.

So this young dude had brought his cheerful cute drunk girlfriend onto our tourbus. At that stage, we were onboard with Akim the tourmanager, and Walker. Walker was travelling with us. His exact role, I may or may not get around to explaining (and it requires a LOT of explaining). The young dude was pretty drunk. I remember a few of the guys were pretty into his girlfriend. They were into her the same way piranhas don’t give a shit whether you’re feeding them beef jerky or wagyu. Young? Cute? Drunk? Giddyup.

To cut a long story short, this young drunk dude decided at some point to drunk-drive his way home. Did anyone protest, suggest he was too plastered? I do not recall. I remember him telling the girl he was heading off once or twice, and she said she was coming. Well, she didn’t go and he eventually disappeared. This was a logistical problem for the girl as he was her ride home. This was no problem for us as now a cockblock had been removed.

It took about ten minutes before someone wrote on her tits with a texta. She encouraged us all to leave a mark, I remember writing “insert 9 inch dildo here” on her right buttock. A couple of the guys tried to ‘escalate’ with her. At this point, I should mention our camera policy, and it’s something I recommend to all aspiring young bands on the road:

As soon as you get girls on your touring vehicle of choice, roll the cameras. Get footage of them getting on the bus, enjoying themselves on the bus, you enjoying them on the bus, and them getting off the bus. One of the downsides of sexually and morally questionable behaviour is getting retrospectively accused of outright rape or molestation by girls having regrets a few days, weeks, or months later. Getting accused of that as an individual is fairly straightforward; someone accusing a band of that has multiple public outlets. They can – and will – accuse you on guestbooks, forums, and facebook and kick up a right fuss. This doesn’t create the outcry that instances of this crime would normally cause as the public expects its musicians to be savage and retarded. But still, we have parents and families, and we don’t want them reading about that shit. 

This was a lesson learned on the first tour of the US, and we didn’t even behave that badly. It was our first overseas tour and we were still learning the limits of our awfulness. We hooked up with a girl or two, one of them had abandoned her boyfriend during a pool game to come frolic. All was happiness and laughter. Then two months later, no doubt after her boyfriend realised what had happened and gave her a bollocking, she cried rape all over our fansites and everywhere. She only shut up when I requested she file charges against us with the police. So roll them cameras so you have a document of what really happened, and some evidence of consent. It’s easier these days as well, just get the video on your phone going and ensure the footage shows exactly what’s going on.

So the guys are trying to escalate with the girl, there’s a couple of cameras surreptitiously rolling, but no-one’s getting anywhere. The Napalm Death tour manager came up for a chat. They were just about to leave for Phoenix and wanted to know if we wanted to follow them? Gotta remember, this was before vehicle GPS was available let alone phone GPS. In those days, you would have to examine maps and make notes how to get from town to town. So we said, hell yeah we’ll follow you. Saves us having to pore over a map and argue with each other for an hour. Just follow the Napalm taillights. Sweet.

So we told the girl we were leaving. She asked us if we could drop her off home. We said no way. We had taillights to follow, and we weren’t deviating from their course. We said she was welcome to travel all the way to Phoenix with us though. She agreed. The cameras were rolling. After a few more minutes, the Napalm bus left and we dutifully followed.

The vibe changed right about here. A couple of the fellas went to bed. We turned the main room lights off. I was wandering around packing things away, or writing my diary, or doing something relatively un-fun. The girl was obviously thinking, these guys are into me, I’ll wait until we’re getting near a turn-off road then I should be able to convince them to drop me home. But our switch from drinking, harrassing, fun-lovers to sleeping, navigating, driving tour-pros probably unnerved her a bit. After ten minutes the road headed out into the desert. She started hinting that the turn off to her road was in ten miles time. We said, no way. Didn’t you hear? We’re not stopping. She went quiet then tried again two minutes later. Again, the answer was a firm no. Someone pointed out to her that we had told her that we were going to drive to Phoenix directly. She started sniffling. I think Walker came up with comment of the night when he mused out loud, “I wonder how long it takes to bury a body in the desert?”

She was openly teary at this point, and someone suggested a compromise. That compromise was Tuck And Roll – you leap off the moving vehicle, tuck into a ball, and roll to a stop, hopefully without breaking anything. This seemed to distress her further and we only got her to settle down by explaining we’d slow to walking pace briefly. Still wasn’t happy though. She told us she had a five mile walk from the turn-off to her house right through lost-wandering-mexican-desert country. Not our problem. Couldn’t she see we enjoyed tears? I thought of the movie Salo, the part where a girl is crying and begging for mercy from one of the libertines and the guy says the chick’s tears are the most exciting thing he’s ever seen. OK, we weren’t quite that far gone but there were four of us present so the simile holds up in terms of bodycount.

We approached the turn off. Our road was long and straight, so we could keep an eye on Napalm’s taillights easily. We slowed down. Akim was constantly explaining to her that she would have to get off, and this was her one chance to be within walking distance of home. He had a very convincing and soothing manner of speech with women that saved us drama at various times. He always reminded me of a cut-price Gene Simmons. His monologue was punctuated by the door being opened and the RV slowing down. This girl looked from guy to guy to plead her case, but they’d all gone cold. She went to the doorway. I was closest. She looked deep into my eyes, begging me to do something – talk my cohorts into making the turnoff, or at least slowing to a stop. She was a cute girl, despite the texta we’d smeared on her. She had really nice blue eyes. We were travelling at about walking distance now. I saw the t-intersection of her turnoff. I shook my head no, and gave her a kindly push out the door then shut it.

Unhappy? Bored?
How about a nice cup of TUCK AND ROLL

 

Edit:  The girl in the last photo is not the girl from the story. This girl is alive and well in Brussels, Belgium. The one from the story is probably still lost in the desert

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Ten Steps to Instant Stage Presence

I went to another metal gig the other week and got bored into a living coma. Death Metal bands tend to continually fuck one important thing up when they’re onstage: stage presence. A gig is not just a chance to replicate your music note-for-perfect-note, it’s an opportunity to get people off on what you do, and how you handle yourself on stage is an important part of that. This is angry energy music, not freaking chamber music.

Below are listed some basics for creating instant state presence. With the live bands I’ve done, we’d try and adhere to these as much as possible. These are guidelines, not so much fast rules. I saw Deftones recently do an amazing gig, intimate for a theatre, and the band members broke all the rules I’m about to make. They shuffled self-conciously, never looked up, stayed fixed to the ground…and they were still spellbinding. Your band will create a stage-presence all of its own with time and practice, usually on tour when you’ve played every night for at least straight week or two.

However if you’re just starting out and haven’t had time to develop your stage show then follow the below tips. These will put your performance ahead of most bands you’ll play with.

1: Do Not Walk

 If you are playing completely savage music at a million miles an hour, you will actually create an illusion of slowness if you sidle around. Someone shuffling casually onstage removes about 50bpm from a band’s perceived speed. If your emphasis is on appearing to be as fast as possible then no walking, from any of the members. Stride confidently, jump, sprint, twirl…but no walking. If a member can’t adhere to the no-walking edict, then nail their feet to the stage and have them play on the same spot all gig. But absolutely no sauntering around. No. Verboten. And now that I’ve said it, you’ll notice it when other bands do it. Sorry about that.

2: Make your performance congruent with the crowd

 For example, it’s best not to play to thirty people as if you’re playing to three-thousand. Tone down the “HELLO SPRINGFIELD I CAN’T HEAR YOU” yack. Talk to people. If the stage isn’t too high, try get into the audience. Still play your hearts out to anyone there, but match the performance to the crowd. If their energy is high still throw yourselves around if that’s your thing. If they’re more into sitting down and focussing on the music and musicianship then tone down the antics and ensure your playing is flawless. Great live performers know that one size performance does not fit all.

3: Use the stage

Move around; let different parts of the crowd get to see you. Feel free to jump up on the drum riser if there’s one. Don’t stay in the one spot the entire gig. If there’s foldback, put one foot up on there. Play to other bandmembers occasionally, especially moments where you have to lock in as tight as possible. Movement gives the eye something to follow, if the ear is tiring of following the music. Success coaches often say “motion creates emotion”, referring to how you can change your emotional state by changing your physiology or making movements. I think it works the other way too – how you move onstage affects your audience’s emotions, or at least their interest.

Emotions may include both fear AND terror


4: The less you have to stare at your instrument, the better

It’s difficult to create a connection with a crowd by ignoring them. When you see people speaking in public, who comes across best: the person reading off their notes who won’t look up, or the person who glances up at the audience as they talk?

Obviously you have to look at your instrument as much as possible so choose your moment to look out at people. Sweep your gaze around, stare people down, glance…all of these create a feeling of energy coming out from the stage. This is something both Gaahl and Zak DeLa Rocha do well. This is something you will have to rehearse. Most musicians are conditioned through years of practice to always be looking at their instrument.

5: Work on having as few leads and cords on stage

Those that have to be there, have them gaffa-taped down out of the way whenever possible. Otherwise you WILL trip over them, fall over, and cause random unpluggings. Nothing kills a performance like tripping over onstage, or having to stop playing and go plug your instrument back in. Schoolboy error this one. I sometimes see even experienced bands fall victim to random unpluggings.

6: Don’t be fazed by any technical problems

Don’t yell at the mixer or foldback guy mid-gig. Don’t make your between song banter a tirade at front-of-house. If you have technical problems, get about fixing them with as little drama as possible.
Early Berzerker shows were often write-offs as the singer would spend the first third of the set ignoring the performance and yelling at the stagehands and soundguys to get the sound right. The integrity of the songs was impaired, and the crowd were embarrassed and uncomfortable no matter how good you’d get the sound for the last half of the set.

That’s not to say don’t signal front of house, or the monitor guys, and give them brief instructions between songs. Hell, make light of them! Asking for more guitar in the mix? Command over the microphone: “Soundman! The people cry for more guitar! GIVE THEM MORE GUITAR!” Broken a microphone? I remember David Vincent doing that, playing through to the end of the song without vocals, and when it was replaced saying “They don’t make ‘em like they used to, I’ll tell you that”. And there will be plenty of times an amp will stop working or you break a string, or the kick triggers will go dodgy and you need to fiddle about with them mid-set.

But whatever you do, don’t get upset or lose your cool. People can handle dodgy sound to a degree, or a five minute break due to swapping guitar leads or drum skins, but they’ll be less forgiving of a band having a tantrum over sound problems  *

7: If the crowd is a little quiet but you sense they want to make noise, walk down the front of stage between songs or during the quiet parts of the set with the microphone pointing out at the front row

People will yell out trying to hear themselves over the PA, and it’s an easy way of squeezing the most energy out of a small crowd.

8: A Big Stage Performance is different from any gig you’ve done

All the tricks you’ve learned playing clubs and pubs can be chucked out the window. To a crowds over 3,000 you will appear to be small…sometimes ant-sized. So they won’t catch any subtlety. EXAGGERATE all your movements. EXAGGERATE your performance. Festival crowds more easily respond to prompting than club crowds, so if you are fist-pumping or doing “oi-oi’s!” give the crowd time to respond…don’t move too fast for them. And any talking or banter needs to be done loudly and SLOWLY. Talking can be muffled or lost in festival shows because of the large space that sound has to move across. Make yourself as clear and commanding as possible.

9: Mention your band’s name three times during any festival performance

This isn’t really necessary at club gigs, but at festivals you have heaps of bands playing and lots of random people who happen across your show not knowing who you are. Mention near the start, the middle, and at the end. First time I played a festival with Mithras I forgot to do this. We played a great show, and left roughly about nine-thousand or so people wondering who it was they just saw.

10. If you’re not a charismatic frontman, practice banter

Oh god, this is such an Australian thing. You get an amazing band, brutal singer, and they’ll absolutely kill their way through a number…and then at the end of the song, the singer mumbles something inaudible staring at his shoes, says something self-deprecating, laughs self-conciously, time stretches….aaaaand the next song. Urgh. It loses me every time.

If you’re a frontman make sure you make yourself understood when you speak into a goddamn microphone. If you’re aware enough to know that this isn’t your forte then practice a couple of lines, maybe even practice your between-song chit-chat during rehearsal. Hey, Silverchair did it on their 2008 tour of Australia. Every night, same off-the-cuff remarks at the same point in the show. And if your band is hinting that you need to improve your talking, take notice. As far as hints go, that’s a billboard-sized.
The best band I’ve seen for banter – BY FAR – was the german group Knorkator (Devin Townsend runs second). The singer spoke totally in german and I only understood every seven words or so, but I was totally entranced. I was there with another foreigner who didn’t speak any german and she was just as hooked. Raw charisma gets you over the line every time but if it doesn’t, then practice your banter, or leave it out altogether.

Now that I think of it, there’s one other option: the old-school grindcore style gig where you finish one song and immediately start the next one so quickly the vocalist can barely bark the songtitle out before you take off. It’s especially effective if your show is all about violence, and it removes any need for the vocalist to scream anything but the bandname, lyrics, songtitles, and thankyou-goodnight.

* heard a Henry Rollins story about touring with Cypress Hill where they had a technical fault in front of thousands of people, and dealt with it in the best way possible. Basically, the lead got pulled out of the jack on their DAT leaving them with no music mid-song. They dealt with it something like this:

RRRZZTT <crunch>
<music stops>

B-Real: Hey everybody, guess what
Massive Crowd: WHAAAAAAAT
B-Real: We Fucked Up
Massive Crowd: YEEEAHHHHH!!!!!!
B-Real: Now, I want y’all to say “Cypress Hill You Fucked Up”. One, two, three….
Massive Crowd: CYPRESS HILL YOU FUCKED UP
B-Real: We Fucked Up
Massive Crowd: YEEEAHHHH!!!!

Apparently they promptly fixed the problem and kicked straight on with it. Turned a nightmare situation into a fun interlude.

Thought I’d also throw in this Nile gig as an example of how to get it right. Not the best stage performance, but pretty good considering how gnarly those damn tunes are. Karl and Dallas keep the walking to a minimum. When they stand, they use an exaggerated stance that denotes power instead of hunching over all pigeon-toed and self-concious. A technical hitch is dealt with onstage with minimum fuss. They do big arm movements that the enormous Wacken crowd can see. The song is announced relatively clearly. Jon Vesano especially looks like he wants nothing more in life than to transform his bass guitar into a battleaxe and take on the entire audience, bonus points for that. None of this came about by accident. When touring with them in 2003 I’d see them going over crowd participation, what to say, and what worked best.

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Creativity, the opening salvo

Received this message on facebook today from a mate:

In all seriousness though well done on the album dude, someday I hope to achieve that kind of creative direction and focus when it comes to a project. Any tips or insights would be very welcome!

I’ve got heaps of thoughts about this, but I’m dying for a cup of tea and a sleep so I’ll post a link instead to a famous pdf entitled “How to be Creative” by Hugh MacLeod. The guy had drawing or writing in mind when writing this document, but a lot of it easily translates to music. It is so right-on it’ll have you pumped up and kicking over furniture and pot-plants:

How To Be Creative

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