5 Lessons To Learn From Local Bands

Break out of your local music scene by learning some important lessons on what not to do from your fellow locals.

Ultimate Guitar

Are you like the majority of musicians trying to move your career forward and 'make it?' If you are, you're probably already spending lots of time and effort researching and doing things that will propel you to the next level. Finding the correct things to do for your music career is easy, have you ever thought about what things you shouldn't do to hurt your chances? This is an often overlooked, but very important, aspect of building and maintaining a career in music.

Lucky for you, I'm sure you have a bucketload of examples of what not to do in your own hometown. Local bands who are stuck on the local level, when their goal is to move forward (yes, some bands do want to stay at a local level, which is perfectly fine), can be perfect examples of what you should not do if you want to move your music career forward.

Let's take a look at five lessons to be learned from local bands and give yourself a hand up on the local scene or, if you're suffering these problems, fix them!

1. Don't cut corners!

When you're on a budget, it can be easy to cut corners on a lot of things just to get projects finished. Whether it's photos, home recordings, or other components of your public image, don't go cheap. Your photos are usually the first thing people will make a judgement about your band from, especially when on the web, and people can tell whether a professional took them or your mom/girlfriend. Same goes for recording. Unless you're a highly experienced with recording, save yourself (and your fans ears) a lot of frustration. In a world where the industry standard for recordings is auto-tune and time-mapping, casual music listeners have been conditioned to hear perfection. So live up to that standard. I'm not saying you have to use auto-tune or use a click track if you don't want to, but unless you're immaculate with your recording many people will be able to tell, and you don't want that to end up hurting you. In all areas dealing with people seeing or hearing you, seek out the professionals who will make you look and sound your best and use them.

2. Other local bands are NOT your competition!

Competition seems to be human nature, but competing with your fellow local bands is more likely to hurt you than help. It can be easy to pit yourself against your other local artists, but they really are not your competition. Your competition is the artists on Billboard's charts. Other local bands are your support network. It's much more beneficial for you and other bands in your area to work together and be supportive of one another instead of competing. When you realize your competition is at the top of the charts and other local bands are your friends, it helps you see beyond your local level to keep you moving in the direction you want to be headed in. So remember, local bands are your friends, not your competition, so help each other out.

3. You're not entitled to anything, no matter how awesome you may be.

So you've been playing a lot of shows in your local area, you've got some killer songs, and you're starting to have quite the following. Does that mean that every show you play from now on should be headlined by you? No, it doesn't. No matter how successful you may be in your local area, that doesn't entitle you to any special treatment or privilege. I've seen too many bands, who may be great, keep themselves from moving forward because their attitude of entitlement keeps people from working with them. Avoid an inflated ego, remain humble, promote your fellow artists, and be grateful for any and every opportunity you receive (even if you think you deserve better). By doing that, you'll keep yourself from becoming the band nobody wants to work with.

4. Performing music is as much a visual experience as it is an aural one.

That's right, people are going to pay attention to how you look while you play your music. Think about the last time you went to a concert, did you tell everybody that you were going to go LISTEN to your favorite band in concert? Or did you say you were going to go SEE your favorite band in concert? I don't know if I've heard anyone say they were going to a concert just to hear the music, for that you could just turn on a record and listen to it. So when you're preparing for shows, don't just think about how you're going to sound, but also think about how you're going to look! That includes a number of things, from your clothing, to the stage layout, to the movements you make on stage. Work on those things and you'll get yourself closer to breaking out of your local scene.

5. A record deal 1) isn't going to fall out of the sky and into your lap. And 2) even if you get a record deal, it isn't the end of hard work or a cure-all for your problems.

So you want one of those elusive record deals...great! There's a million reasons why you should want a record deal, but there's also a million reasons why you shouldn't want a record deal. But let's face it, record labels are not in the same situation they were even 10 years ago and in today's music industry, you really do not need a record deal. If that is what you want, though, I think the process of getting a record deal is where a lot of myths lie. First of all, the stories you've likely heard about a person recording a song in their basement, some big shot manager hearing it, and in then in a matter of weeks the basement artist is headlining stadium shows, are NOT what you should expect. Sure there are some pretty sensational things that have happened, but the reason why you hear about those stories is because they AREN'T the norm. So don't expect a record deal to come find you on your mom's couch surfing the net, those days are over. If, after assessing all the options in todays music business, you still want a record deal, you're going to have to get off your butt and go work for it because it's not coming for you.

So let's say that you do get a record deal...great! That's awesome! You will have accomplished something that thousands of people dream about! Now you get to live the good life....right? Wrong, just because you have a record deal doesn't mean that you're going to be rich, owner of several Ferrari's, or dating NFL cheerleaders. As I talk to bands on major labels, the more clearly I see that being signed to a label is not much more than just being employed by the record label. That's right, it's a job. And they expect you to work, and do as you're told. And guess what, you're still going to have the same bills you currently do. Sure being on a record label seems glamorous, but unless you can leverage that opportunity to make a lot of money that you wouldn't otherwise, don't expect your situation in life to get much better.

Bonus Lesson!

6. Don't play shows purely for the sake of playing a show.

Yes, it's very important to play live shows, but make sure with those shows you're delivering an unforgettable experience to concert attendees. Don't just book show after show after show, especially if you're in a small town, if you're not going to be able to offer something different and exciting each time to give people a meaningful experience. If you're in a small area with very limited number of venues to play and you find yourself booking 2-3 shows a week playing the same set, you need to take a break and work on a new show. You want to be remembered for being incredible, not for being predictable, so make your live shoes something worth getting out for. Along with that, consider the bands you play with as well. If you're a country blues band, it may not help you out to play with death metal bands. So do get out and play shows, but make sure people will get a different, interesting show to keep them from getting bored with you.

Take these lessons and move yourself forward. By learning these lessons early, you can, not only move your career forward, but also become a valuable asset to everybody in your local music scene. Just be sure to keep watching other local bands for more examples of things you shouldn't do and you'll be closer to living your dreams, and for more excellent help on moving your band forward be sure to check out my friends at Rockstar Mindset. -- Brad Litton is a professional musician, guitar instructor, and guitarist for the band New Tragedy. For more information on Brad, including free newsletters and exclusive bonuses, check out http://www.VernalGuitar.net and http://www.NewTragedy.net.

Copyright 2010 Brad Litton

27 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I think this was a great piece of advice, with a refreshingly new view on this topic.
    Actually, the most important lesson I think (and this is serious) is that line-ups are the most mortal things ever. If you suck for even a second, you may end up losing everything. I've been kicked out of bands because I sucked. But that was, what, 7th grade? So I improved a lot. Now, the lesson works backwards - You may not, say, have a bassist. But a bassist might quit a band, and then you can catch them! When it comes to local bands, every band near me has constantly switching members. My band is a 2 man band, and my drummer constantly joins and quits other bands, but he stays steady with me. He started a band with a guitarist who was in a band with another friend of mine who plays drums, and that drummer joined a band at the last second, and then also joined a band with my Ex-bassist (who didn't quit or was kicked out, but we just lost contact and never bothered to invite him back) and another guy who is ALREADY in a band with my Ex-bassist. People start tons of bands, and my point is, if you can keep a steady line-up, but need some players, stay good friends with other musicians, and they could end up in your band! I actually prefer really steady line-ups, but ALL AROUND me are changing line-ups, and it bothers me.
    Marley Tokunaga wrote: Cheesepuff wrote: #2 is actually insanely important we're competing for space on listeners' ipods Unless listeners have big ipods:O My friends and I all have 32 gigs and above. I have the 120
    Marley, that's the point. The competition between local bands is fruitless because the end result ammounts to not much more than a couple of megabytes on the scene's iPod. That's what he means. It's not like before, when the only thing available were vynils and you had to choose whether you bought the Beatles or the Rolling Stones (just an example). Today this competition would be unnecessary, given that adding a couple of downloaded songs to your iPod is no big deal. Therefore, it's for the best if you pull together, instead of creating a rivalry whose negatives outweigh the positives.
    Marley Tokunaga
    Cheesepuff wrote: #2 is actually insanely important we're competing for space on listeners' ipods
    Unless listeners have big ipods:O My friends and I all have 32 gigs and above. I have the 120
    Really nice advice, I completely agree with you, but sometimes it's not only up to you, so it's not always easy to follow this rules! but I'll try my best to do this way
    Good article. It should also be noted that most record deals are nothing more a contracted loan, You have to do most if not all the work (writing, recording, producing, touring in support of and selling the album) and pay that money back with interest, it's not a free ride and no one just throws money at you.
    a lot of good advice. its unfortunate that most local groups, especially around me, think they are too good to understand any of this.
    I like this a lot. I see way too many bands in my local scene's doing the exact things you say not to do and I agree with you. This is great insight for me while I build my new band.
    This is good. Tell all of the local bands that it is NOT a competition, and then I can come in and sweep everything away from under them!
    Xeus wrote: ...surely thats 6 lessons? :p good read though
    It is 6 lessons, and don't call me Shirley.
    i agree with all of these, but i can't help but feel like the competition/rivalry between my band and a certain other one from our town has helped us both exponentially, especially when we're playing the same bill
    Great article. Every reason here is exactly why I left the band I was in over a year ago. And, not surprisingly, the rest of the band is still doing the samn damn things they were doing when I was in the band. Same set lists, same attitude. It's sad.
    Draven Grey
    Great crash course on being a successful band, Brad! The *only* thing I would add is starting, building, and maintaining great relationships. Try to see things from your fans' point of view, from all the gatekeepers' points of view, and anyone else that you need as part of your growing career. Most bands focus on a mindset of "what can you do for me?", when the ones making it far in the industry are the ones asking, "what can I do for you?" -- which pretty much encompasses all the points you made, I suppose. Again, great article!
    Great advice. It's all common sense when you think about it, but if people actually thought about it, then this article wouldn't exist. Good stuff.
    where im from it used to be i competition.....b4 i caused the breakup of every band here. now i have a monopoly. Just gotta go elsewhere to find other bands