Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist and is the author of The Girls’ Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her — confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
I’m a freshman in college in Pennsylvania. Before enrolling, I was the lead singer of a Buffalo, New York band. We are reasonably successful and noteworthy in the area (having played nearly all of the biggest venues of the area, recording an EP with the bassist from the [famous ’90s band], but obviously this has not translated into success anywhere else. The band is still ongoing (we have shows planned during breaks from school and fully intend to pursue music full-time after college), but the school year has curbed my ability to perform. The other members go to different colleges in different states. I am unhappy in college and know that all I want is to play music. My drummer agrees. At this stage we both feel willing to drop out and move to New York and just play. The way my heroes did it–Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Kanye West. Obviously our fan base would not follow us to NYC, and we’d have to get jobs. We would have no proverbial “Plan B.” I know how dangerous it will be. But I’m obsessed with the idea.
What is your advice here? Should I forget about it? Should I focus my ambitions on a different area? Is there a way we can continue to play and promote and progress without sacrificing higher education?
Sometimes even getting our heart’s desire is not what is best for us. You are what, three weeks into college? It’s gonna suck. Naturally, you are going to long for the freedom or security or status of your baller high school band. You seem reasonable so I am going to be straight with you: This is a bad idea–but! mostly in how you are thinking about going about it. What I am going to propose is to just a route change and some patience.
Some bits to burst your bubble first: Iggy, Bowie–they had recording contracts with major labels during a simpler time when that meant something very tangible. It has been rumored that Kanye’s mom (RIP) found early but substantial investors when he was still in Chicago to underwrite his early career. Dreams are important, and doing foolish things is a part of being young, but as a young man with no secondary education, the kind of jobs you get in New York or Brooklyn, knowing no one there–you will likely not be able to afford to be in a band. You may not have the time, working two and a half jobs–or the energy. Or you might have to live in a studio apartment in Queens with your whole band. Having no plan B is one thing, having nothing to fall back on outside of wanting to make it big in the big city is just tragedy in the making.
Here is what I suggest: plot with your other bandmates–secretly!–to transfer to the same school. All you have to do is get good grades; lots of times all you have to do is apply online. You guys can all go to the same school. Doesn’t even have to be NYC proper–just someplace with a scene and some infrastructure. On your transfer application do not mention your band is the reason you want to move. I am going to suggest finding some place that is a just-as-good school that still meets the needs of your academic interests. (Have them! Cultivate them! Bands are rarely 4-ever! Being able to talk about things other than your band and TV is important!) If it is someplace cheaper than New York (which is anyplace outside of SF) then you can find a cheap practice space or rent a house together off campus. If your band really takes off, you guys can take a semester off and go on tour. Don’t jump the gun and try to force it all into being. Having a degree is useful; and a trade or skill are valuable things. You might not want to be a bartender at 44. You might end up living in your parents basement way longer than you want to otherwise.
I never went to college, and moved to the big city (L.A. at 17) to do my music-business dream and moved home twice that year before I got it even half together. I lived in my dad’s unfinished photography darkroom where one wall was a dirt hill while I worked an 18-hour a week job for months. I am glad I went the route I went, but I was 25 before I ever made more than $20,000 in a year; it was kind of brutal. My other friends who went to college where like “wheeee, dormlife!” and lived in punk houses and went on tour in the summer and they have different kind of jobs now, or they do music, or they have hobby bands–but you know, it waited for them. Music is always there.My husband dropped out of a top flight pre-med program when his band very suddenly got a deal with a major label; they got dropped before their record even got mastered. Sometimes the surest things fall apart.
Sure, you guys might suddenly turn into Vampire Weekend–then take a gap year, drop out when you go top 10. You want this band to be your joy, not your misery–so don’t put so much weight on it to be your whole life.