So you’ve got the itch to start a punk band. You want to change the world and hell, the booze, drugs and occasional human sacrifice sound kinda fun too. Once you’ve made the commitment, though, you’re going to quickly realize that if you want to have any impact whatsoever you might have to cut down on the cocaine infused sacrificial rituals and redirect that energy into other slightly more mundane things.
My name is Jeff Hanula, I play in a hardcore punk band from Chicago and I’m here to share 6 harsh realities that any aspiring rock stars should be aware of before starting a band.
1. When Starting Out Nobody Is Going to Want to Book You
So, you’ve got yourself a couple of friends and some music gear. You all love punk rock and you’ve all got an expert-level appreciation for power chords, snare hits and yelling into the microphone. You’ve got a kick-ass name, you’ve written a couple songs about the government or drinking and you’ve learned a few cover songs. You’re all set to start taking your area by storm and partying it up.
Except no one wants to book you.
Diabetic Daterape may be “totally ready” to play the next big basement show, but, because you don’t have recordings, no one has heard you and the local kids would rather see the more established acts. Unless you’re good friends with someone who trusts you enough to book your band sight unseen, you’re gonna have to fight to get your first bookings. You will be playing bars for an audience of the other bands that are just starting out, but at one of those shows eventually you’re gonna have someone there who wants to book you at a bigger show, and it’ll get a lot more fun from there.
Going into playing music with a rockstar mentality is a surefire way to make other people hate the fuck out of you. Don’t do it.
2. Merch = Time & Money
What’s more punk rock than spending money on promotional items? You’ll be spending your hard-earned cash on stickers, patches, shirts, dildos, pins, massage chairs and banners, all with your band’s name on them. You’ll also be spending a lot of time trying to get the best deals on all of these things, which can get expensive incredibly fast. You can take the DIY route on shirts and patches, but unless you know what you’re doing, they’re gonna look like they were done by an epileptic toddler, and unless your audience is into that sort of thing, you’re gonna want to provide the best product you can.
If you have any kind of merch for sale or even for free, the chances of people remembering your band the next day will be exponentially higher, especially if they have music to listen to.
Come to think of it, you’re gonna need recordings…
3. Recording = Time & Money
So, Surgical Battering Ram is all practiced up and solid, and you’re ready to get some recordings out there. Your buddy has a “fucking rad setup” in his garage and your band goes and lays down some tracks. That sound like they were recorded underwater. With a handheld tape recorder. That’s also on fire. You may get punk points for your DIY or Die attitude, but recordings are the one investment that absolutely needs to be taken seriously. Sure, a lot of amateur engineers have worthy setups, but finding someone that knows what they’re doing and can make your band sound their best is a rare occurrence.
Needless to say, for a quality recording, you’re probably going to spend a fairly significant amount of money on it, and it’ll totally be worth it. Once you get the first copy and jam it in the car at full blast, you’ll understand.
Whether you decide to sell your music or just have it available for free download is up to you, but in my experience, especially for a band that’s just starting out, having music available for free is your best option. Anyone who wants it will be able to hear it and people are going to be more inclined to pick up your EP if it’s free, even if they’ve never heard of you. And if you utilize a site like Bandcamp, which features a pay-what-you-want option, you will more likely than not have people pay for your music out of the goodness of their hearts.
Your recordings, if they’re awesome, are capable of opening many doors for you, so they’re the one thing you should never skimp on.
4. One of You Will Have No Free Time
If you take playing in Toaster Surprise Party seriously, one of you will spend every waking moment promoting, booking shows, ordering merch, making merch and generally doing all of the mundane, not-playing-punk-rock stuff. If it’s not you, you need to make sure that whoever’s doing it knows that the rest of you appreciate their hard work; there’s nothing worse than committing all of your free time to something and not being recognized for it.
Between working, practicing with Nightmare Bathmat, playing shows, recording, writing music, promoting and handling every other non-musical task, it’s easy to see how your band’s gatekeeper has no time for anything else. Lend a hand when you can, help out with anything you’ve got the time for and make sure everyone else does, too.
Every team needs a captain, but never lose sight of a band being a team, even if that team has the occasional lover’s quarrel, because…
5. Sometimes, You’ll Hate Your Bandmates
From time to time you and your band will have arguments. Sometimes they’ll be a simple “Hey, you played that wrong” type of situation, and other times they’ll be “I will skin you alive and drown your cat, you stupid motherfucker.”
Regardless of the severity of your arguments/threats/murders, they’re gonna be a part of your band’s existence; anyone that says otherwise is a dirty liar and is NOT your friend. The thing is, being in close proximity to your bandmates for as long and as often as you will, their various quirks and eccentricities will become more apparent and bothersome, and some arguing is bound to happen. In my experience, these arguments usually blow over pretty quickly, but desperately wanting to fistfuck your drummer’s face is something you’ll either have to keep inside or deal with.
When these arguments happen, let them happen and be done with it. After you play your next kickass show, you’ll forget all about it.
6. Band Relationships Dictate A LOT
So, your band has been around for a while and you’re enjoying a moderate amount of success. You’ve got connections in a wide area, your first EP is going over really well, and you’re in high demand for shows; everything is coming up Millhouse. But what do you do when a band you’re friends with starts shittalking the scene you’re both a part of?
This kind of thing is unfortunate, but it does happen. Usually someone gets too big of a head and says things that will damage their band and their own reputation. If you talk poorly about promoters with a large sway of influence, or bands that the local scene adores, the amount of people that are going to want to play with you or book you is going to start dropping like flies.
Most of the people in my scene are hugely supportive of one another, we do what we can to help out whenever possible and we view our relationships with other bands and promoters as mutually beneficial, but when someone starts running their mouth like a jackass, working with that person is going to reflect poorly on you. You do not want to be associated with someone who has no regard for what everyone else does, and neither does your band. Don’t work with these people.
Playing in a band and doing things the right way is not for you lazy punks. Taking the time to get your band noticed and to write quality songs is what will make or break you. Sure, drinking fifteen beers and five shots sounds like a good night, but when you get onstage and you fuck up so bad that your whole band is pissed at you for the rest of the night, you’ll see that it’s not one big party.
Stick it out, put in the work and play your fucking heart out.