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 have been in a band for five and a half years and, despite playing shows all around NYC, releasing a record, and doing a tour I can honestly say we have zero fans beyond our friends. I know it isn’t because we are terrible; we all majored in music. But we clearly are approaching this whole band thing completely wrong. I’m at the point where I’m ready to give up, but it’s my passion so the thought of that is horrific. Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated. I hope to hear from you soon!
Maybe you are just in the wrong place for what you are doing (New York hates anything with the waft of failure on it). Maybe your sound is unfashionable. You could be horrible live and on record. Maybe your band is straight up awful. Be grateful for those friends, though, as five years is a eon in the life cycle of obligations to your friends or roommate’s terrible band.
What is the right way of doing a band? Recently, I did an interview with Tim Kinsella–he’s been prolific despite popularity and sales and critical attention waxing and waning rather wildly over the years. Right when his band took a critical and sales dip he even became more prolific–22 albums in 18 years. Most bands would give up, break up because the world is not recognizing their efforts. But he soldiers on regardless, which sort of goes against the general understanding of bands as this vehicle for your ideas and into band as an artistic practice. Which sounds like where your band is, or at least where you are feeling. Which calls up the very question: Why a band? What is a band for? What does being in a band mean to you?
You do not say how many friends you have as fans–but whether it’s 3 or 300–it’s hard to feel gratification or even a sense of process if your band feels static. If it’s your passion, let’s assume you are doing all the promotion stuff right, being vigorous in flyering or social media, that you are networking to get on a decent bill here and there–those sorts of things. Do you feel comfortable asking a trusted friend or promoter what they see as the issue? That said, if their feedback is that your band sucks or is unfashionable or too political or sounds like a more tepid Coldplay–do you even really want to bother trying to adjust for that?
If you play a show and no one cares except the members of your band, who get great satisfaction in performing or expressing themselves, that’s a totally valid approach and existence. Is that a waste of people’s time, like promoters and your friends or other bands? Maybe? They know music doesn’t always have a payoff, not every band makes it–which might be a reality you are resisting. Most bands are destined for nothingness, but that doesn’t mean they can’t keep going or enjoy the ride to it’s fullest.
Best of luck,