The panel I sat on at South by Southwest three weeks ago was supposed to offer lessons to music writers about covering their local scene. Numerous musicians, hoping to get a peek inside the mind of the media beast, attended, and the discussion devolved into a how-does-my-band-get-noticed thing--which was fine, because the original concept stiffed.
We critics were pretty withering, perhaps because we see the same mistakes made over and over again. Nothing gets the panties in a bunch quite like chronic incompetence.
On me, the panel worked like a picked scab; frustrations poured out like pus. So I compiled this list of do's and don'ts for musicians. Some tips are subjective, but most are stone-cold locks:
Play out of town. The money sucks and the crowds are thin, but it will make the band better.
Befriend a mechanic.
Don't chat with your friends from the stage. Play to the people who don't know you from the guy who sold them their last burrito.
Be kind to opening bands. You were there once, and, chances are, you'll be there again.
If you are an opening band, be grateful for the opportunity, and don't whine about the pay.
Never reference the film This Is Spinal Tap. You're not being clever--we've all seen it.
Nonmusicians really don't care how good a player you are as long as you're competent. My mom's a great typist, but you don't see anyone plunking down five bucks to watch her do it.
When people ask what kind of music you play, have an answer.
Most managers are pretty worthless.
There's no shame in dolling up a little when you play.
Playing CBGB isn't that big of a deal.
Very few people are good drunks, so don't test it onstage.
Throw in a cover at your live shows. Your art is not so precious as to suffer from it.
Only one member of the band should address the audience, and it doesn't have to be the singer.
Name-dropping is unbecoming.
Don't skimp on your band photo. If you think it's good enough, it's probably not.
Two kick drums send an ominous signal.
If you can attract women to your shows, the guys will come.
Don't be evasive about your influences. Everyone claims to have eclectic tastes, including the creepy UPS driver in your neighborhood. If you get off on Metallica or Sly and the Family Stone or Carole King, say so. Most of us are not so naive as to think your music just appeared out of some wormhole in space.
The last thing the world needs is another crummy punk band.
The last thing the world needs is another crummy metal band.
The last thing the world needs is another crummy ska band.
The last thing the world needs is another crummy rapper.
The last thing the world needs is another crummy Dead knockoff.
Never mention that a major label has interest in the band until you've all but sipped the wine in Clive Davis's private collection.
The ability to play guitar does not make you inherently special.
Keep the liner-note thank-yous to a minimum. Especially, don't thank God and music critics--our names are in print all the time.
Play in a cover band? You're kidding yourself if you think anyone but the staff at the local lube shop will take you seriously.
If ever in doubt about doing one more song, don't.
No one but you listens to vinyl anymore.
Make friends, but don't hang around the clubs so much that people wonder if a) you're just there to be seen, b) you're a raging alcoholic/drug fiend, or c) you're looking for pointers.
Don't alert the media and your fans anytime someone in the band takes a good dump. If, in the rare case, something important happens, we won't care. Anyone affiliated with the JiMiller Band or the Electric Ghoulardis should read those last two sentences again.
A whole piece could be written on band names alone, but suffice it to say that the only thing lamer than umlauts are misspelled words. Anyone in a rap or metal band should read this last sentence again.
If the people who work in the clubs like you, take it as a good sign. They see more crap than anybody.
Play hungry. A musician friend says that he likes to feel as though he's chasing a waffle across the stage.
When writing your bio, the thought to keep in mind is utilitarian.
Don't trade in irony. That's what cable TV is for.
If something goes wrong onstage, the last ones to know about it should be the people in the audience.
Six band members is at least one too many.
A good rehearsal space is more valuable than a good bass player.
Didn't stick around the Copa Friday night long enough to check out Krayzie Bone, who was in town to pump his new CD, Thug Mentality 1999. Krayzie didn't go onstage until some ungodly late hour. I did see his limo, a 36-foot-long white Lincoln. What was remarkable about the vehicle is that it was styled like an SUV.
Punk rock died a little death when Eric Davidson, lantern-jawed displaced Clevelander and New Bomb Turks frontman, agreed to model springwear in the recent issue of Columbus Monthly.
Boy Wonder Jinx performs at Speak in Tongues Friday, April 9, in support of its new CD, The Problem With Fun. The band is fronted by two Fairview Park natives, Greg Eyman and Scott Phillips, who formed Rotary Ten in the late '80s. That outfit left Cleveland for Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1994 and changed its name to Boy Wonder Jinx.