A Life In Music # 5 by Lord Zion of SPiT LiKE THiS Print E-mail
Written by Lord Zion   
Tuesday, 08 June 2010 05:55

zionjuneI should be severely repremanded for the amount of time it has been between blogs.  Apologies for that but, in my defense, your Honour, it has been a very busy time for me.


I'll get on with the blog in a minute, but I do want to excuse my absenteeism, if you'll indulge me? First up, we managed to get über producer Chris Tsangarides on board to record our second album. I am sure that just about everyone reading this will own an album whose knobs Chris has twiddled (ahem) - everyone from Ozzy to Priest to Tigertailz to Sam Fox!  To say that we're excited by this is a teeny bit of an understatement. We commence on July 5th which meant, not unsurprisingly, that we had an album's worth of material to write. This was completed back in April and, I am proud to say, is really, REALLY good. 


We also finally confirmed a publishing deal with Enorm Music in Germany. This has been on the cards since December so it was a bit of a relief to finally sort that out back in April. Enorm is co-owned by Thomas Jensen, who runs Wacken, so that earned us a slot on the bill at this year's Wacken Open Air festival in Germany, alongside bands like Mötley Crüe, Alice Cooper, Slayer and Iron Maiden! Yes, I do have a stiffy just writing that last sentence.


It was upon completion of the writing of the album that we parted company with our guitar player of a few years and replaced him with new boy, Rob Riot. I've known Rob for many years and he is, in fact, co-writer of one of our most popular tunes. And it is this latest development that sparked the thought for the theme of this blog: How To Start A Band And Keep It Running.


A question I get asked a LOT is "how do you start a band?" To me, it seems a pretty obvious answer, you just do it but, when I actually think about it, it is a lot harder than that.


I look back at my own musical adventures (which were outlined in my first blog and realise that, on the whole, it has been a bit of a bloody struggle. In fact, it was only when I decided that a band needs a headstrong uncompromising visionary to actually succeed that it all started coming together.


So there is my first tip for the budding rock star: have a vision. Have an idea. What is, to use a marketing phrase, your USP? You need something to separate you from every other band out there - it could be an image, it could be a style of songwriting, it could be that you are all underzionjune2 4 feet tall - whatever it is though, that is your biggest strength and everything will grow from that.


Once you have determined what your USP is, you need to dig your heels in and become somewhat of a dictator. You have to sell your vision to a few other musicians just to get the ball rolling and, if your vision is weak to begin with, finding other like-minded individuals willing to make the sacrifice necessary to follow you is going to be hard.


Let's presume that your USP is out-of-this-world and you've ganged up with some musicians who are willing to play ball, it's pretty important that you like them and get on with them. Those annoying habits that you can kind of tolerate on a weekly rehearsal basis will become huge, gigantic PROBLEMS once you start touring and become road-weary. If you aren't best mates before you start touring, one of two things will happen once you start: boom or bust!


But I'm being pessimistic. You are all awesome mates, love hanging with each other and everyone is more than happy to do what you tell them. That's great now, the next trick is to write some damn songs. If you're the guy in charge (and, seriously, someone has to take that role), you'd better be able to write a tune otherwise you will soon be usurped by those that can! And they better be half decent. A good rock or metal tune is basically exactly the same as a pop song, just played with different instruments. Don't kid yourself into believing anything else. Metallica didn't get to be where they are today without writing some awfully good pop tunes ('Enter Sandman' anyone?).


The next stage, once you've Lady GaGa'd your 3 chords into something bordering on catchy is to try and get yourself a gig. It's quite important, at this stage, to be prepared for the worst. Chances are, your first gig will suck in virtually every way you can possibly imagine. If you strut on stage, as I did at my first gig, pretty much convinced that you would be hailed a new Rock God within approximately 30 seconds, you're going to be disappointed. There will either be no crowd or, if there is a crowd, it will be your drunk mates (who will probably just heckle you and call you a wanker). None of your gear will work properly. You will soon realise that neither your bladder nor your bowel function quite as they did the day before and you won't get paid. And those are the good ones!


This is another one of those times when bands break up, after their first gig. The novices realise that rock n' roll isn't for them; people get grumpy at other people because they played the HRH3_418wrong intro at some point; singer and lead guitarist soon discover that they have to fight each other for most attention and the clash of the egos starts.


You make it past your first gig and you aren't a rock star yet. Hmmm, now what? Well, you have to do it again and, if you are like 99% of all bands that ever have even a bell-end of success, you will have to do it again, again, again a few hundred times before anyone starts paying attention. Be prepared for that! Lots of schlepping up and down the country, playing shiteous venues to fuck all people for no money. Sounds like fun, eh?! Did I mention that you better have a very deep rooted burning desire to get ANYWHERE in the music biz?!


It's about time to start thinking about photos and a website. Please don't be one of those "bands" that has their myspace up and running before they've played a gig or recorded anything. Do you know how freaking lame that is? And, OK, have a MySpace page because the player thing is quite useful, but also have your OWN website that YOU have control of. MySpace could close you down on a whim, or decide to start charging, or decree that any band using it must suck Satan's cock for all eternity - with your own site, you can do what the fuck you like and no-one can stop you. In this day and age, it also separates you a bit from other bands and makes you appear more serious.


Photos. Most band photos tend to be awful, dire, trite affairs that say nothing about the people or the band. Try and avoid this, if you can. Bring in a bit about your personality as a band, or an individual's personality. If your favourite band do a shoot near some traintracks, that doesn't mean you have to copy them. Try and come up with something original and striking and, yes, IHRH3_407 appreciate that is easier said than done. We all have shoots we regret! Oh, and if you can afford it, get a pro to do the job. It does make a difference.


Right about now it's probably a good time to start thinking about recording something. This is an area where we majorly fucked up and, if I knew then what I know now, I would have just bitten the bullet, maxed out the credit card and recorded an album straight away. Really, that is my advice to anyone that is serious, just get busy and record an album. Don't fanny around with EP's and singles, an album carries much more weight and you are more likely to be taken seriously. Damnit, we had a Top 10 rock chart "hit" back in 2005 with a single - didn't help us too much back then, because we had no album to back it up with. It was a case of, that's great, but now what?


Record your album but have some kind of concept for it. Think about the presentation of it - the artwork, the photos, will you have "Thanks" notes and so on. Again, hire a professional to bring your vision to life. This is really important, actually, so important, I am going to capitalise it: UNDERSTAND YOUR LIMITATIONS!! Even if you are a control freak like me, someone who likes to be involved in every single thing, you have to know your strengths and, more importantly, your weaknesses. For our current album's artwork, for instance, I knew what I wanted to see, but also knew that I could draw for shit so we paid a Very Nice Man to do that for us. I kick ass at putting stuff together in Photoshop though, so I was able to save us a zillion quid on the graphic art and layout department.


You have your album, it looks fancy, now what? Well, this is up to you and there are arguments for and against a self-release. Self-releasing is a VERY easy thing to do these days. It's how most people release their music and that's great, except that means there is very little quality HRH3_392control plus it also means that you are constantly swimming upstream trying to get press and your record actually on the shelves. Here is where those big, evil corporations known as Record Companies can help. You see, as long as you understand what they are and what they can do, signing to a record company isn't so bad.


Here's my logic. It's 2010, no-one sells any fucking albums these days anyway so, chances are, you aren't going to be seeing huge amounts of cash from the actual recorded work. Your CD is a marketing tool to try and bring people to your shows because that is where you CAN make money (ironically, by selling CD's). So, why not use the label's money and connections to get you as far up the ladder as they can? They can get you the reviews, the distribution, the interviews that you probably can't by yourself. By album 2 or 3, you might then actually be in a position to Go Pro and, if you are in that position, it means the label is making some money and, if they want to keep you, they will need to negotiate better terms. I've had some shitty deals in the past, but I would still (currently) rather release via a label than DIY.


Beyond this point, I don't think there is much of a secret to success other than to just keep going. One thing is for sure, if you stop, it will never happen for you. But, if you've followed my advice and taken the bull by the horns, you can steer your rock 'n' roll beast through all the ups and downs - of which there will be many. And, if anyone gets in your way or attempts to destroy what you create, remove them from your life. Don't be afraid to make big changes. Sometimes a small step backwards can be a giant leap forwards. As a leader, sometimes you have to be bold - embrace it!  


Until next time...


Zion x


© 23rd May 2010 Lord Zion