1) PRODUCTION: Get a great PA, and yes, lights. Knowing that great PAs are expensive, rent one. And get a guy running sound from out front. And let’s add a fogger or hazer, too.
There. I said it. Hello? Anybody still there? Crickets? Wow, that cleared the room fast. And that’s also why so many bands are stuck, as a friend of mine said, making $600 a gig (if that) in the dive bars.
Those of you who are still in the room shouting and protesting about money and bills and not being able to either afford a great rig for your show…I get it. I know. Money’s tight. But I’ve also seen enough bands sound absolutely kick ass playing on such a rig for a special show (ie, the Voodoo or some SECT or Harvest-provided PA event), only to see them in a bar (literally the next night in one case) on their own crap rig sounding like ass. ABSOLUTE. ASS. Same band. Literally the next night. Empty bar. Night and day difference. I wonder why???
And my definition of “production” includes several elements that are sure to be parsed. In particular lights and especially the fogger (and probably even getting a guy to run sound from out front). Even if you would concede the part about having a great PA, the rest of it will surely be distasteful on some level. Because I think it veers away from the musicianship that’s at the heart of any band. “It’s about the music, man! We’re musicians, man! Lights and fog are for pussies covering up for their lack of talent, man! We just need us on stage doing our thing, man! We’re not posers, man!”
(Granted, I recognize it can also really just be, “We simply can’t afford that shit, dude”.)
But you’re reading this because you want to know what I think it takes to be a big band. And I’m telling you what my observations are. A full scale production is vital to becoming big. Because I’m not talking about simply being a band playing in a bar…I’m talking about putting on a show that’s the main event. An event that turns a bar into the place to be. That is what sells. Something that people want to be part of. I haven’t gotten into lights (and fog), and perhaps it should be broken off separately; suffice it to say having a good light show enhances the experience and elevates it. I feel like I should elaborate further because lighting really is the red-headed stepchild of the production world. Being a visual person, a photographer, I pay more conscious attention to this aspect of it more than most, but even those who aren’t “noticing” the lights are “experiencing” it. Remember, I’m talking about putting on a show, and good lighting is part of that. Not a couple par cans with dull red gels washing the stage, but movers and pre-programmed scenes. There are PA vendors who offer such lighting.
There are some bands in town that get this, and are doing this. In fact their formula is what I’ve adopted as my vision. And there are absolutely some bands in town who could completely blow up if they adopted the same approach. (The band I alluded to earlier can be such a band.) But with a crap PA…nothing clears a bar faster, in my opinion. Especially a crap PA cranked up to eleven; that’s always wonderful. Bar owners love that.
All I can say is, a band has to decide if they want to commit to getting to that next level, and perhaps suck it up for a given length of time by pouring their money from each gig into covering the costs of said production in an effort to build up your fan base, and ideally get to the point where the bar/club owners are willing to pay you more because they know they’ll have a full house when you show up. It’s an approach that I’ve seen work. And I don’t speak to this out of ignorance or insensitivity: as a photographer, I’ve had to invest a lot of money into my gear to achieve the style and the look that I’m known for, as well as paying for my studio to help me further my goals. They say that a good photographer can take great pics with any camera, and that’s true. To a degree. But there’s no getting around the fact that in order to get a certain look (like the nice bokeh isolating the subject in a portrait, or great lighting) you have to pay good money for the right lens or lighting gear. It’s not all that different from what I’m talking about here. I mean, you paid good money for that kick ass guitar you treat better than your own child. Pay to help it sound as kick ass as it really is.
Remember, as a cover band your job is to help fill the bar and keep it full of patrons buying beer and shots all night. You don’t want a crappy PA driving everyone out the door. But that’s not all it takes. I’m not remotely suggesting that getting a great PA is the only thing you need to do to be successful. Even for the band I singled out above, it’s not the only thing.
Stand by for more…