Once again Justin Gosnell, guitarist, keyboardist and producer of Vestascension, is back with his monthly column on the music business, being in band, and the general process of becoming a super-famous rockstar.
Wednesday saw the release of their sixth track of the year, “Wishes in Awakenings”. Vestascension are releasing one new track on the first day of every month throughout 2011, for FREE, and it’s all part of a bigger scheme which sees the band trying something different, rather than trying to get signed and make pittance. This month Justin talks about spending money and getting your band ‘up to scratch’ – read on!
Getting Your Shit Together Like A Boss
Well hello there, good to see you again!
If you’ve been following along up until this point then you know last months article was meant to be a starting point or better yet a ‘cleansing point’. Before we begin this month I did want to address a few things I didn’t spell out too clearly in my previous write-up which I should have and I apologize for that. To be totally clear: the bands/musicians I’m focusing on in these writings are ONLY ones that have the desire to make a full blown lifetime career out of music. I made a few comments last month basically stating that anyone that isn’t serious and willing to put their heart and soul and a shitload of hard work into it should just quit and I think that came off wrong or could have been misinterpreted.
I was NOT aiming that at any/every musician out there. I got lots of responses and some great conversations going in my gmail account from people that had written in that were in cover bands or that were just musicians playing for fun who were put off by what seemed like me stating that if you weren’t in music to make a career out of it then don’t play music. I ABSOLUTELY do not feel that way at all!! I would NEVER want anyone to stop playing their instrument! My articles are pretty much just directed towards people that are trying to make a career out of it but aren’t serious or willing to put in any effort or that think it will be easy. Even if you are one of those people, my advice is that they should quit following that career path – not quit the instrument all together. Just wanted to clarify that! I love people that just jam and that do the “weekend warrior band” gig, doing covers and whatnot. The main thing I love about them is that they KNOW what they’re looking to get out of it and don’t have delusions of fame and fortune – it’s strictly an enjoyment factor or income source, so my apologies to anyone that took that the wrong way and was offended by it!
OK, so for those of you looking to make a career in music, let’s move on…
Last month I suggested that you wipe the slate clean and start rebuilding from the ground up if you’re a band/musician that currently doesn’t have a professional package you’re offering in regards to your music/photography/merchandise/etc. I don’t think you have to completely trash everything you have (you may need to though) – I basically just mean tossing out your current operating procedure and starting with a fresh one.
I believe the best way to do this is to sit down and lay out a plan of action before doing ANYTHING else. Being organized is key. Write down what your goals are and a timeline that you’d like to see them accomplished by and make sure you do everything in your power to STICK TO IT AT ALL COSTS!! Make sure everyone is in agreeance with your plan of action and willing to work together and push each other to see your plan through. It doesn’t have to all happen at once. If you can focus though, and discipline yourselves and your band as a whole, I think you’d be AMAZED though at how much you CAN accomplish in a pretty short amount of time. So, I suggest you gather everyone together, pick up a couple of six packs, and sit around a table for a night and hash it out. Also, you do have to make sure your bandmates are all on the same page and all willing to work hard and stay dedicated.
You may have to make some hard choices. I’ve been in situations where I’ve kept people in bands I’ve played it because I knew it may ruin a longtime friendship if they got fired, but they just weren’t serious or willing to work hard. I eventually learned you gotta do what you gotta do to survive and it has cost me (in the worst case scenario I dealt with) a seven-year friendship. So keep that in mind…
So once you have your killer team lined up I’d recommend that your first step be to draw up the order in which you want things to get done. There are many different ways to do it. Maybe you want to get the recording done first and then move onto photography and merchandise. Perhaps you’d like to sprinkle those things in between your writing recording. I’d suggest making sure the recording is covered first. That’s the most important part so make sure the money is there to make that happen before anything else. Try this approach:
1) Be specific about what you need to get done. Professional recordings (either on a final CD or not depending on how you want to release it)? Photography? Design work and building of a website as well as designs for other social networking pages you want to utilize? Merchandise (both design as well as the amount you want to have printed up)? Maybe you want to go beyond that with your list. Does everyone need some updated gear for live use? Maybe a van/trailer?!
Next, go ahead and find out the cost of these things NOW. Get suggestions from other bands you know. Find out who did the artwork for national artists albums/merch that you really dig (you may think they’d be out of your price range but you’d be surprised). Keep in mind that it NEVER hurts or costs anything to inquire. Don’t assume anything. Remember the old saying that the only stupid question are the ones you don’t ask.
After you’ve drawn up your list of things you want done, maybe schedule another meeting a week later after you’ve taken that week to gather information on the different costs associated with what you want. Split up the tasks. Have the drummer contact the studios, bassist contact the web guys, etc. Don’t be afraid to cut deals with people too. Getting a professional final product does NOT mean you have to hire the best of the best in the industry – while it usually is a “you get what you pay for” situation, there are exceptions. I see many up and coming photographers/designers/engineers that all have great prices and that are open to working with you. Maybe via a payment plan? Maybe in exchange for them doing the sessions at a discounted price/for free you’ll post their link on your website or allow their watermark to be on your photos? Who knows – there are endless possibilities.
Don’t be afraid to ask, however do it tastefully! If a guy at a pretty professional level that’s already established tells you a website is gonna run you $2,000 don’t ask him to do it for $500. That’s just insulting. Also, pay your damn bills. If someone is cool enough to do some photos for you and give you them first before you’ve paid don’t fuck around getting them their money. That’s an asshole move and sadly I hear stories of this happening all the time from super cool people that have tried to help out bands by hooking them up and trusting them. I am vigilant about taking care of the people that take care of me. I’ve even been known to hook them up a bit more as a sort of tip or a thank. Sometimes this is a really cool thing to do – an example would be if a web guy or a designer or engineer you’re working with that you’ve agreed to a set price for their services goes above and beyond. Maybe the contract said you’re allowed to make three revisions to what they send you and they end up doing seven free of charge. It can be very hard to find people that are dependable and will deliver a great product. I’m happy to provide you with some great contacts I have which I’ll post at the end of this article – I HIGHLY recommend these people and I’m not about hoarding my contacts – remember I am trying to help! In my experience web builders are veryhard to find and graphic designers are usually flakey as fuck – even very high-end ones that work for major artists.
2) I’d begin as soon as you can getting together a band fund. I know shit can cost a lot of money but remember that you don’t have to pay it all at once and that it adds up way faster when there are, say, five people throwing in. Don’t accept bullshit from another band member saying that they can’t afford to put in money – especially if they’re hitting the bar on weekends or buying weed all the time. You have to make sacrifices! Also, saying you can’t because you only make eight bucks an hour at your job is pretty much horse shit. You DO have other options besides just being content with being a fry cook at McDonalds ya know!?
I’m not some trust fund kid – I’ve never been handed free money like some people assume I have. It’s funny to me that people see someone spending good money on a band and just assume that it’s not from them working hard and saving every penny. I moved up from job to job until I’m where I’m at now making good money and putting myself in the position where I can tour and still have a job (VERY IMPORTANT). Luckily I can do two ‘leave of absences’ a year for 120 days EACH and still have a full-time job when I return. (I’m a bartender at a Romanos Macaroni Grill if your’e curious). I didn’t really need any special qualifications to get there. I started out as a server and knew the bartenders were making all the dough. I spent 6 months coming in on my own time for free, just to intern with the ones doing it because my boss at the time said they wouldn’t put in my training on the clock. There’s a reason tons of servers/bartenders are musicians – it’s the flexibility! Even if I didn’t get to take L.O.A.s I have the ability to give up shifts I don’t want to other servers – bartending shifts are the coveted ones so it’s always easy. Need to take off for a month tour? I can have all my shifts covered in 3 minutes of time spent texting other bartenders. So get a good job that’s catered to your needs as a developing career musician. It’s gonna take a lot of money and years of building your band before you can hopefully quit your day job somewhere down the line.
As for spending money; remember, this is gonna be your career. If your career path was to be, lets say a doctor, you’d have to pay upwards of $100,000 and spend YEARS paying off those loans. It’s part of having a career in any other line of work – why shouldn’t it be the same for a musician? It doesn’t even have to be much. If you have 5 guys tossing $20 a week into a pot within a year you’d have $5,200! You can get a SICK album done for that price! Don’t tell me you can’t afford $20 a week when this shit is supposed to be your career-if you think that then you’re one of the people that should quit now!
I’m going to take a minute right now to share a really helpful tool with you that I thought of about 5 years ago and have since utilized with every project I’ve been a part of to this day:
3) Create a band “forum” online. Php boards are free and very easy to set up – all you need to find is a spot to host it online. If you don’t have a spot you can find good deals to buy a .com for as little as $2 a year which breaks down to 40 fucking cents a year per band member – if you can’t afford that, well…
Set it so that’s it’s private and have only the band members join. You can create different sub forums in it and different thread. This works verywell in helping to stay organized. It’s about a million times better than discussing shit via email where things can easily get lost or overlooked (Even gmail “reply all” threads can become nightmares!). It can be a real pain in the ass when you know there was an email from six months ago where you discussed somewhere in it a certain job you were supposed to get done and you have to search to find it. It’s also easy for others to make excuses when they didn’t do what they were supposed to get done: “Ohhh I didn’t see/get that email!”. Heard that one before?! Or perhaps an argument breaks out where someone doesn’t remember things the way you did. “You didn’t say that I was supposed to get this done by that date”. It pisses you off – especially when you know for sure you did tell them that. Using a forum is great for not only keeping things organized but also holding someone accountable when they aren’t holding up their end of the work load. When you ask them why the merch wasn’t ordered by the 21st and they respond with “you didn’t say to order it by then!” you can quickly pull up the forum, go into the “merch” thread you’ve made, scroll back a few pages, and send them a link and say “oh well here you’ll see we all agreed 2 months ago that the merch order needed to be placed by this date and that you were to be the one responsible for doing so and right below it you posted that you were on it!”. They’ll change their tune very quickly. You’ll find this keeps everyone on top of their game for sure.
The great thing about this method is that there are tons of ways you can organize things. My band’s forum will have a separate thread for each song we’re working on, where we’ll keep discussing whatever changes/ideas we have for it. Then we’ll have one thread dedicated to meetings, then one for merch where we discuss and vote on which new designs we’ll use and/or changes we want to make. Just anything you can think of that the band needs to make decisions on. A good idea is to have a separate sub forum that’s just dedicated to the tasks each person is given. Create a sub forum called “Individual tasks” then in it create a new thread for each band member and list all the tasks that have been delegated to each members dedicated thread. To give you a better idea of what I’m talking about here’s a screenshot of my bands forum. Note that I did black out a few things that give a bit more personal information than I’d like to give.
[Editor’s note: creating a ‘secret’ group on Facebook, whilst less micro-manageable, serves a similar purpose, and you can bet people will see new message when they sign in – no excuses!]
So now you’ve gotten this all ready keep these things in mind:
Make your VERY FIRST priority to write and demo “X” amount of songs until they are THE BEST they can possibly be! This IS the most important piece of the puzzle so DON’T RUSH THIS ONE!!! Make that shit fucking amazing! Don’t think that you must make an album – you’re better off releasing one killer fucking song instead of 12 pretty good ones, I promise you that. The added bonus of taking your time with writing is that during that time you can be saving more money for the studio and other things you’ll need down the line – you’ll see that your band fund will be racking up big numbers in no time at all!.
Obviously one of your main goals will be to hit the studio to do the final recording. The final recording doesn’t have to be done all at once in one straight session. If you want to do that then cool, but spreading it out a bit can offer some really wonderful options. One, you can get the best of what each different producer/engineer has to offer! Maybe you know a guy who records bands and his albums as a whole don’t sound too great but the drum sound is killer and then you know another dude who always has the most amazing bass tone on his recordings. There’s no reason at all that you can’t piece things together at different studios – Vestascension is all about this!
The key to doing this and having it turn out great in the end is making sure that the songs are fully written before you enter the studio!!! You should do this regardless of whether you record bit by bit or all at once. It doesn’t matter what the fuck your demos sound like that you do at home; hell you can do them on a karaoke machine if need be. Just as long as they’re 100% written prior to doing your final recording. Money burns up at an alarming rate in the studio so writing in the studio is a pretty shitty idea unless you have the budget to do it. You may counter this by saying that you don’t have a way to demo your shit. I say that’s ridiculous. You’re better off spending $150 ($30 per band member if there’s five of you) to invest in an old eight-track to demo on as opposed to wasting $1,500 at a studio writing there. Plus, when you do things last minute you don’t have time to live with the ideas you’re creating. Sometimes that’s cool; often it’s not.
You may be there tracking and writing a part in the studio and think SHIT THIS IS AWESOME!! So you record it and later after it’s all said and done you think damn, I could have made that part way cooler if I’d had more time. The exception to this is if you’re working with a producer who’s going to be giving input/co-writing. A good idea is to always put back extra so you have a safety net. If you think it’ll take 3k to do what you need done put back 4k. You don’t want to compromise the final product if you get in some scenario where you run out of money before it’s all at the level it needs to be at. I actually just chatted up a really great producer who had a band in his studio doing an entire album. They had a budget and burned it up just tracking and what did they decide to do?! They just had the guy burn down everything right where it was at when the money ran out and released the shit!! What the fuck?! They spent good money tracking the shit and then didn’t get it mixed OR mastered! Words can’t express how much of an epic fail I think that is.
Photography. Get good shit done – it’s more important than one might think. Some people will check out a band just when they see a quality photo of one that catches their eye in some way. Others will see one where the guys look like slobs and just assume their music is also amateurish, and that would really suck if you did have a killer sounding disc.
Image is important. I know I know, you’re not about that; you’re about “keeping it real”. I’m not saying to dress up like toolbags or anything – yes I like to look like a big douche in my photos, but you don’t have to. It’s just little things. Maybe you shouldn’t wear that faded AT&T shirt that you got for free when you signed up with them seven years ago?! Maybe you shouldn’t wear fucking Jnco jeans from 1993 that have the huge bell bottom blow out legs with the kangaroo on the back pocket?! I’m just saying guys – looking pro helps with everything from attracting new fans to having a new venue give you a shot and everything in between. Also, skip having your bass player who thinks he’s awesome at photoshop ruin your shit by badly cutting you guys out and placing you on a fucking comet or some ridiculous shit.
Website. You should definitely have a very clean, professional, easy to use one. It doesn’t need to be something you spend 5k on; you can keep it simple and still have a good one! You don’t need some ridiculous intro page with a big flash animation. Remember: a lot of the country is still on dial-up (believe it or not – I personally would end myself in that scenario). If they decide to check it out they probably will get frustrated and leave your site if it takes five minutes for the page to load. I’ve even seen some pretty nice looking band sites made FOR FREE using iWeb on their Mac! Just make sure it looks like a quality product, okay?
I’ll end this month here-there’s a lot of shit here to digest. Still not sold on the idea of having to get your shit to a professional level on your own?? Think that you’ll land a label deal and they’ll handle all that shit?? Next month I’m gonna give some fresh insight into that way of thinking, so until then, thanks for tuning in! As always please feel free to give your feedback on all this!!!
Now for those hookups I promised. Be sure to tell ’em that I sent ya! ;)
AWESOME mixing from a dude that is very trustworthy and reliable. Can’t recommend him enough. You can be from anywhere in the world and he’ll mix your shit! (He does all of our final mixing):
Another great mixer who also does a killer job mastering tracks-AWESOME pricing too!! (He does all of our mastering):
And another great engineer. If you’re in the PA area and looking for a reasonable priced recording option use this guy! He did the drums on 6th-10th releases and will probably do our next 3 after that).
SICK producer and engineer. He used to sing in Periphery and his new solo album is gonna blow your fucking mind. He’s located in Los Angeles so you’ll have to fly out there to work with him but if you need songwriting help he’s the fucking man – I just can’t recommend this guy enough for that!
Killer design work! The most professional dude I’ve found to work with – he did our entire seasonal line of clothing and other designs we’ve yet to release as well as my studio logo which can be seen at www.theacidlab.com. Also, he’s done some great work for Dillinger Escape Plan, and has very reasonable prices.
Another fantastic designer and also one of the singers in my band. He did our website as well as our album art we release each month. He’s so fucking creative it kills me!
Another great designer. He did some shirts that we’re releasing later in the year. He IS a little pricey but this is because he is very high end – I won’t name drop but if you see his portfolio you’ll understand and really be blown away):
And another great designer. He did designs for us we’re releasing later in the year. Great prices; cool dude.
Yet another killer designer. He did our logo and also is a beast at doing websites. He’s a little on the pricer end but his work speaks for itself and is of the highest quality. He’s does some pretty big-time work so his prices are justified. Very cool dude!
Sahisnu Sadarpo at Sahisnu Epix Photography
Wicked photography! Obviously you’ll need to be close to the MD/VA/DE area or be coming through here on tour. He does our seasonal promotional shots exclusively, as well as a large portion of our individual shots. Such a creative and awesome guy!
Amazing live photographer. Again, you’ll have to live close or be on tour – she’s located in PA. Vestascension hasn’t played live yet, but I’ve worked with her for many years in other bands and she’s wonderful and has very reasonable prices! She’s also shot many HUGE bands.
That’s it folks! Until next time…
Keep up with Vestascension on Facebook and Twitter. You can also download all of their music for free on Bandcamp!