First appeared in Halix Daily
10 Lessons from 10 Years in the DIY Underground
The post you’re about to enjoy was written by Lance Waste, vocalist and founding member of the indie punk band Darling Waste. Lance has spent more than a decade of his life building a career in music, and along the way he has been able to secure some amazing opportunities, including multiple song placements on major television networks.
Hi there. My name is Lance. Over the past 12 years I’ve been in an indie rock band. I’ve also ran a record label, ran an artist management firm and worked for various labels and management firms. A couple times over the years I’ve been approached to write books on touring or marketing your band and various things like that, but I’m really no expert and I’m not sure I have much to contribute that hasn’t been said a thousand times before. This is a list you’ve probably already read before, and you will probably roll your eyes at how obtuse and general these “Lessons” are, but I promise, they come from a place of honesty. If you follow them, you will succeed.
1. ART COMES FIRST. ALWAYS.
BE ORIGINAL BUT BE ACCESSIBLE. DEFINE WHAT YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU STAND FOR. Work harder than anyone else. be obsessed.
The first thing I will say is this. Always put the music first. If you want to be romantic about it, art is the reason we are doing what we do. If you want to be practical about it, you are selling a product. That product is your music. It doesn’t matter how good of a salesman you are or how flashy your pitch and branding is, if the product ain’t there, nobody’s buying. Spend time thinking about who you are, what your music wants to say. Find your voice. Find that line between being original but being accessible. Don’t ape your favorite bands. But find a perfect blend of your influences while finding your original voice. Be tireless in perfecting your craft.
2. LEARN HOW TO PROPERLY RECORD YOUR MUSIC
There are no short cuts while being a DIY musician. You’ve got to write the songs, perform the songs, find like minded individuals who want to play your music, teach them your music, sometimes even write their parts for them and sometimes even teach them how to play their instruments.When it comes time to record you need to know your stuff as well. You could pay to go into a studio but the reality is you probably won’t have a good enough budget to get the sound you are looking for. So get a DAW, get an interface, get a couple of decent mics and start recording. Just like anything, practice makes perfect. Be diligent. Can’t get the sound you want? Unsure of how something works in your DAW? Youtube it. The answers are all there.
3. BOOK AND PROMOTE YOUR OWN SHOWS
Booking shows in your region is as simple as doing our homework and putting in the calls and emails. Often times I look up bands that are slightly larger than mine, I research their tour schedule and contact all of the venues and promoters they are working with in my region. I ask for available dates and send them a one sheet. Make sure you follow up. Don’t ask for more money than you are worth. If you can only bring 5 people to an out of town show don’t ask for $100 for gas. Why should a club or promoter pay out of their pocket for you to live out your rock n roll fantasy? Take door splits. Ask for food. You may lose a little money the first couple times out but nothing burns a bridge faster than getting a big guarantee you didnt earn.
4. PLAN YOUR LIVE SHOW
Growing up, I loved music, comedy and magic. As i got older, I realised something they have in common: Each artform takes something that involves a ton of preparation and makes it seem effortless. In jazz, you can’t improv and solo before you have mastered the basic track. This is true for live music. You can’t have those “magic moments” during your live show if you don’t have your songs down perfect. Your will see your songs begin to evolve and take on lives of their own the more you play them. Over the years I learned to drive to the next town after the show. This way we would be hours early to the venue. We would have time to meet locals, promote the show, do radio interviews, lineup in store performances and get a great sound check. All while not being rushed or stressed for time.
5. TOUR SMART
You don’t need to stay in hotels. That drains all of your cash. Sleep in the van. Or set up places to crash with your friends,fans and family. Ask the clubs and promoters for places to crash. Also as I said earlier, I like to drive to the next town after each show. Part of the reason is to have a great show the next day in the next town, but part of it is also to save on places to sleep. Rotate your drivers. One person drives for two hours, the copilot stays awake and plays the music. The Copilot is so vital to keep the driver awake and keep you all alive. Everyone else sleeps in the back. Every two hours, rotate. The Copilot drives, the driver sleeps, and every two hours one of the sleepers becomes the Copilot.
Also, try and plan your routes so there are no days off on tour. Nothing bankrupts a tour more than a day off. No income is coming in, everyone is bored and hungry and spending money. Book every day of the tour. Days off will happen anyway. Vans will break down, clubs will cancel, clubs will close unexpectedly.
6. BUY INTO THE LIFE …..
If you are in this to get rich, get out. Save yourself the years of disappointment. Spoilers: you won’t make millions. Especially if you are in a subgenre. My biggest idols barely make ends meet. Lead singers are living with girlfriend’s parents and their children are on WIC.
On the other end of things, you also can’t half ass this life. If you want to work a full time job, have a nice house and a social life, just resign now to make music a hobby. If you are going for the brass ring, mentally prepare yourself for the life of crashing on couches, eating dollar menus and having no real friends or relationships.
Understand that touring at this level is to grow your name and your brand. It’s to show your music to people and to build a fanbase. Do not tour with the frame of mind that you will make money or even break even. If this is what you want out of life. Do it while you can. Do it full on. Take no prisoners.
7. ….BUT NOT THE LIFESTYLE
You are about to run a sleepless, thankless marathon with no monetary reward. No need to destroy your body in the process. The best way to not become an addict is to never start. Don’t cloud your mind with drugs and drinking. You aren’t a rockstar, no need to party like one. Also, most of them die. And being dead probably sucks, so no need to rush to it.
8. REFUSE DRAMA
When I was young, I would watch football with my dad. I love the endzone celebrations. He loved when a player would score and hand the ball to the ref on his way back to the bench. He loved the quote “Act like you’ve been here before.” The older I get, the more I realize how right he was.
One thing I see at almost every local show is the one band (or one member of one band) kicking off. Getting loud and angry over something stupid. Usually time slots, sound checks, drink tickets etc. For some reason, bands think that being the loudest makes it look like you are important. It is absolutely the opposite. The pros have seen it all before. We all want to play right in the middle of the show, in front of the biggest audience, but at the end of the day, we get that it’s just music, and it’s just not worth getting upset over most nights.
This also goes for drama in your band. If something happens on stage, wait until later to discuss it. Nothing is less professional than a band arguing before, after, or god forbid during the show. Also remember that things seem a lot less dire after a good night’s sleep.
9. BE KIND ALWAYS
One of the keys to our longevity is our kindness. Sure there are people I’ve fought with over the years, promoters and other bands who hate me. You can’t please all the people all the time. But I’ve learned the easiest way to exist in the DIY scene is to hold no grudges. There are promoters and bands I don’t work with anymore. Maybe they screwed us out of money or were just personalities I don’t gel with. That’s fine. I don’t hold any ill will. It’s just entertainment at the end of the day. Kindness is important and will get you far. Don’t yell at the sound guys. Don’t fight with the bartenders. Strive to be the nicest guy in the room. Don’t back down on what your band needs to have a successful show. Don’t be a pushover. But find the nicest way to express yourself.
This goes for your fans as well. Don’t blow them off. The cute ones aren’t your personal playthings. Have restraint. And this should go without saying but never ever ever touch another band’s merch or gear. Ever.
10. TAKE A DEEP BREATH AND ENJOY.
Just by writing a song, releasing an album or getting up on stage in front of people ,you are doing something most people only dream of. If you are on tour, take lots of pictures. Keep a journal. Live blog each day. Record your memories and share them with others. This is a very special time in your life. Meet new people. Explore each new town. These will be the memories you cherish for a lifetime and the stories you tell your family for the rest of your life. Remember, live in the moment, don’t stay mad. Band members will quit. People will flake out on you. Your songs may flop. Fans will abandon you. You will make mistakes. Promoters will fuck you over. And it’s still awesome. Take a deep breath, relax and have fun.