January 2009: Building a Band For Dummies

I get at least one e-mail a week from bands asking how they can stand out in this crowded, crazy scene or just general advice like where they can find a good graphic designer or truck stop. I thought I would kick off 2009 by giving addressing some of these.
There are many things that need to be done, and they are all simple. The simpler you can make things, the better off you will be.

First and foremost, make good music. Sounds easy but it’s obviously not. There are too many Ragweed, or is it CCRw or CCR sound alikes. Garage bands without Cody’s songwriting abilities and musical sensibilities. If more people would just listen to the b.s. meter in their brain instead of focusing on the starts in their eyes provided by their friends and family they’d realize they are cranking out crap.

Another thing that is good to do is build a loyal, local following. Don’t try to tour outside of your home base until you are the biggest thing in that area. It makes no sense to drive 400 miles to play for the door in a town nobody’s heard of you in if you can’t sell out the largest venue in your town. You don’t have to live in Austin or New Braunfels either. Just because it works for some, doesn’t make it perfect for all. In fact, Rodney Pyeatt once told me that the Waco/Temple area had the best musicians he’d ever come across west of the Mississippi. And, it’s also a bit more appealing for a band to be based out of somewhere other than Austin. At least that way they’re following their own path instead of one paved a decade earlier by someone else.

Focus more on the show than the party. James Brown used to not let his band take booze on stage. I see too many bands caught up in their own hype or the fact that their fraternity came out to the bar to hear them that night. Remember why you are there and deliver.

Stick to a simple merch plan. One t-shirt. One koozie design. Having a Costco size inventory does nothing for you but take up space in the trailer. The perfect example of this is Wade Bowen’s “This Ain’t No Dancehall Band” t-shirt. Still a best seller and immediately identifiable. Doing this allows you to build a brand, not just pay for gas.

Network, not gurm. Go to as many shows as you can that you’re not involved with. Chat up the fans, the merch guy, the road manager, the bar staff etc. And if you get to hang with the guys and gals in the band don’t make an ass of yourself. Bring something real to the conversation other than “I really like your album.” They meet so many folks that they can detect a sales pitch.

Develop a web identity. In this scene that means being visible on Galley and RFT among others. But, take advantage of cheap things like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Blow those things up and provide potential fans a connection to you. As much as I despise Taylor Swift, at least she realized this early on and flooded MySpace with video diaries and blogs.

Find a gimmick. Not something hokey, but you need something to stand out. You must be true to yourself while doing so. Don’t don corn cob pipes iffin’ you ain’t from the hills of Kentucky. Don’t wear a bandana just because you saw Stoney wear one. Don’t pimp a castro hat because Bleu Edmondson did. Get your own thing. Heck, Sammy Kershaw used to carry a saddle bag for no discernable reason; so your canvas is blank.

As always, my best advice is to be simple and be real. You can’t go wrong.

Got some advice for bands? Stick in the comment section!


-Had a dream that I was at the Opry for RRB. When all of a sudden, I run into Rascall flats. Gary The Voice made fun of my clothes, I made fun of his music and Roy Acuff’s ghost gave me a high five. Chinese food.

-I’d like to see the majors take a fraction of Taylor Swift’s promotional machine and apply it to Ashton Shepherd, Jamey Johnson and RRB.

-M.I.A. needs to join forces with Snow to make “Paper Informer Planes” so we can have the must unintelligle rap song of all time. If anyone says they know what she’s saying in “Paper Planes” they are lying.

-Another sign that I’m getting older…just like Pearl Jam on classic rock radio…is CMT playing videos on their vintage block that were popular when I was in high school. Deana Carter anyone? Caught Travis Tritt’s “Put Some Drive In Your Country” on there the other day and found out that it was filmed at Gruene Hall. Pretty cool. If you don’t get this channel…harass your cable/satellite company.

-One favorite hobby I’ve taken up recently is scouring Wikipedia for updates on artists I see on VH1 or CMT Pure that I haven’t thought about in a long time. Did you know that Suzy Bogguss sings jazz now and that Michael Peterson works at a Shoney’s.

-I kid about Michael Peterson, but I was fortunate enough to see him so durnk that he puked on his drummer one night at a gig during the the height of his “Drink, Swear, Steal and Lie” fame.

-Caught VH1’s 100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs of All-Time countdown the other night. Should’ve known it would be a toolbag showcase when Bret Michaels appeared on my screen as the host wearing his own t-shirt. As always with these lists, I found quite a lot to disagree with. Where was Pantera?!?! JET!?!?

-Another Steamboat, another year I’m not there. Stupid real world responsibilities that make me cling to LJTs as my only escape!

-Really cool event coming up at Clubhouse Concerts that everyone needs to be aware of! It’s their big fundraiser. Miss Joni’s got a ton of details on the way about it and a slew of cool artists lined up to play. Make sure you support this fine institution that focuses on the music and not how much beer was sold!

-Glad to see so many people scooping up Waylon Payne and his fantastic overlooked album, The Drifter. It has been recommended in this space more than a time or two. Check out the article Jeff Prince did about Waylon a couple years ago in Fort Worth Weekly. It’s one of the most revealing articles I’ve ever read about any artist in any publication.

-Billy Currington and Jake Owen apparently think they are trying to get on a 70’s soul chart with their latest releases.

-Sad to hear about the South Austin Jug Band going their separate ways…but look forward to what James Hyland has up his sleeve.

-Rodney Hayden is the most overlooked guy in Texas. And that’s saying something when Josh Grider and Drew Kennedy are knocking around.

-Speaking of Grider and DK…plans are in the works for a DK/G-Ride Cruise this summer…I’ve already got my reservations in place!

-This month’s recommended film is: Charlie Wilson’s War. I didn’t catch this when it came out, but caught it a while back on HBO. I had always wanted to see it because I’m such a political junkie and had watched several History Channel documentaries on the real Charlie Wilson. Bonus points for Wade Phillips’ daughter portraying a belly dancer.

-This month’s recommended album is: Meet Glen Campbel by Glen Campbell. As I posted in the forums, his take on Jackson Browne’s “These Days” is a less macabre take on the Johnny Cash “Hurt” style legend looking back vibe. For the kids that only know him from his mug shot being on TMZ, pick this up. For those who remember the “Wichita Lineman”, pick this up.

-“Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.”-Mark Twain

Brad Beheler

Raised in Waco, refined in the Hill Country, escaped from DFW. I've worked in just about every facet of the music business for 20 years. I like to write about it all. e-mail Brad Editor-in-Chief

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