Are you a musician? Is your band having issues? Our new advice columnist, who we’re going to call Fan Landers (a.k.a. Jessica Hopper), is ready to give you Real Talk about any problems your musical outfit might be having—whether professional, practical, or sartorial. Send your problems to sotc at villagevoice dot com; confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
Last year, I self-released a solo record and toured for almost three months in support of it. However, the reality of the times, coupled with the fact that I’m now working alone on music, really kicked me in the gut. When I was younger, my bands would home record, tour, sell records, get paid, sleep on floors, and glean a profit by the time we got home. Now, no one seems to buy records and most of the venues won’t pay. If they do, it’s $50, which doesn’t go a long way.
I used to be able to email newspapers and blogs for reviews and almost always, I’d receive a response of some form. Recently, nothing. No reviews, no one writes back. I have the feeling that blogs are swamped with people self-releasing their records and they just don’t care. I’ve come to realize that for the first time, I’m going to have to hire a PR firm in order to break through the noise. It is, however, expensive and I’m starting to think I just can’t afford to make music. I’ve tried to find young people to play with, but anyone who’s at a certain level of technical proficiency wants to be paid as a session player. I paid a few esteemed peers to record some songs (the best songs I’ve ever written!) in a professional studio with a great engineer (I paid him and the studio, too) and now, I need to pay someone to mix and master. Not only am I paying for rehearsal space, recording, players, and engineers, I’m going to have to hire a PR firm (if I can find one to take me).
Unfortunately, I’m also a woman. I look younger than I am (everyone I meet thinks I’m in my mid-to-late 20s), but the kind of upkeep I need to do to look young and remain relevant in the current cultural climate is expensive. Looking as good as Lana Del Rey is not easy, nor is it cheap.
So tell me, Fan Landers, what words of wisdom do you have to give to a woman who doesn’t want to quit? How do I find a PR firm that will represent me when I’m not a 21-year-old hot new body? I’m writing the best songs I’ve ever written and have finally gotten to the point where I’m confident, glowing, and in control on stage. When I’m dressed to the nines and looking good, you can hear a pin drop in the audience.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve DIY’ed myself into oblivion. How do I climb out of it? Why did I insist on having “ethics” and self-releasing my records for so long? I just can’t afford to “do it myself” anymore and I don’t want to quit—my new recordings really are that good.
P.S. Please don’t suggest I use Kickstarter to “fund my dreams.” Crowd-funding and donation-based record sales really only work if
you’re Amanda Palmer or Radiohead and have had a label’s tour and PR
support in the past.
Is this request for suggestion entirely rhetorical? I get the sense you are totally one of those people who complains and when people try and offer useful advice you totally shut them down. (Are you?) This isn’t about DIY-ing yourself into oblivion—this is about your disappointment. It’s also about the capitalist patriarchy seeping into your brain and your art. What’s all this BS about competing and looking young and that’s what makes you relevant? “Upkeep” is for boats, girl. If this is what you really think (and isn’t you feeling sorry for yourself) it’s no wonder you are having such a wretched time.
So, you thought it would be different at by this point. That’s the tuff titty of 34, musician or no. Rock n’ roll isn’t a garden—hard work doesn’t mean you are going to reap a bountiful harvest. Do you even want that harvest? You are already telling me how it’s not going to work out while you write for advice. I dunno if that is self-sabotage or just a terrible attitude. Confront whatever that is about. You’ll probably get some good songs out of it.
Here is the thing—you don’t need to stop, but you need to slow your roll and put this thing in park for a minute (pardon the extended metaphor). Before you spend one more dollar, you need to sit down and think about what it is you want to get out of all of this. What, in your dream of dreams, do you want to have happen? Have a label scoop you up? Just get a good booking agent? A manager? Be the next Lady Gaga? Write it out. What does the dream look like? Do not be pragmatic. Be honest about your ambition. Don’t fear or fence in the dream. This is where yr power and energy lurks.
Once you have it written out, you are going to start at the very beginning and baby-step this shit. Just concentrate on doing the next right thing, one little bit at a time. It’s time to hit reset.
Stop spending money. You are a solo artist. Stop paying for a rehearsal space; stop paying ringers to be in your band; stop laying out for engineers and studio time or PR. Throwing money at things is never a good way to try and make things happen. Band up your cash and just sit on it for now.
You have toured a ton recently and have a new album to promote. You are in a prime place to hone your live set into something amazeballs. Do that. If you cannot find a backing band that is willing to just split what you make at shows, get one sideperson. Hustle for the good opening spots for national bands. Ask booking agents and promoters for exactly what you want. You are ambitious and tenacious, that should not be hard.
Get all your fundamentals in order. Your Soundcloud/Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr/email list/Bandcamp game needs to be tight. Lock it down so that it is really easy for people to hear your music and find out about shows and attach to your online presence. These are the modern basics. You can resent it all you want, but do it anyhow; get good at Twitter, it’ll behoove you when on tour and promoting shows. Hit up sites and blogs that care about women making music and cover your local scene. Concentrate on the lower-hanging fruit. Work up from there.
As humbling and weird as it might initially feel, holler at some of your successful peers and friends who have made it—folks who have the career you want. Ask for advice. Tell them “this is the career I want, this is a thing I want to make happen, and I feel like I can’t get any traction” and see what they tell you. They might give you a pep talk, or they might give you their booking agent’s number. Be open to what they suggest. Maybe do this with a few people who you trust, people who visibly are on a path.
Do these things and then assess how you feel—not where you’re at or whether it’s worked. Do you feel re-invigorated? Is baby-stepping toward something and having a real, exact game plan helping you feel better about playing music? That is crucial. You may only move nominally toward your dream, cartoon-inchworm-style, and your progress cannot be what all your worth and hopes are pegged to—that is not sustainable. Lessening your expectations about accomplishment and ‘making it happen’ is going to give you a better sense of satisfaction. You believe in your work, and unfortunately, that may just have to be what floats you.
Got a problem? Ask Fan Landers (a.k.a. Jessica Hopper) at sotc at villagevoice dot com.