Clarification: When I write, I don't prepare or organize my ideas, I just write what I would say if I was talking to you in person, so sometimes my blogs end up a little messy. I don't even proof-read what I write before posting it so you may find grammatical mistakes and poorly written sentences. Sometimes I'll read my blogs a day or two after publishing them and I may re-write things that weren't too clear and any embarrassing grammatical mistake. Also, English is not my first language, so I apologize if reading my blogs become a struggle. Of course, if this is the case, I would imagine you wouldn't continue reading.

Jul 26, 2010

WITHOUT YOU WE'RE NOTHING - Being In An Indie Rock Band

If I asked you what do you think being in an indie rock band is, I would imagine some of you might say you think it's a fun hobby in which you meet with your friends to play and write music, perform live once a week or so, have a few followers and admirers, probably get laid every once in a while, and make an extra couple hundred of bucks a month. I think this would be the general idea for someone who's not too familiar with the music scene, and maybe it does describe how it is for some indie musicians out there, but my experience couldn't any more different. Being in a band is extremely rewarding to me but for very different reasons. When you take music as seriously as I do, being in a band is no different than any other job, a job that you love, that is.

I've been thinking a bit about what being in a band is for the past few days, particularly, about the "and make a couple hundred extra bucks a month" part, and there are a few things I'd like to say about this - money and music -, things that perhaps none of you, non-musicians, wouldn't know if someone like myself didn't talk about it or if you didn't ask.

First, I just want to say that during all these years of making music and being in bands I have not enjoyed one single penny from music. Not one. In fact, if I had kept an accounting book for this "hobby", the balance would be minus several thousands of dollars, and by now I believe it already passed the minus $10.000 mark. This is without counting all the time spent, professional time, mind you, which could easily take it to over 50 or even 100 thousands of negative dollars. I bullshit you not. But being the guy with the studio and the audio engineering/producer chops this is no surprise, to me at least, and it does not bother me. You might think there might be something wrong with my calculations, I mean, we have CD's for sale all over the web and all over the world, we play amazing shows with really big acts now and then, we got merchandise, and we probably get donations from fans, among other things... The honest truth? Let's see, let's start by saying that you probably don't want to know how many t-shirts we've sold, but if you do want to know, the number is 2 (two), as for the "big" shows which we do play kinda often, 95-97% of the time we get paid $0 (zero) which is pretty much standard when you have a "local" band opening a national or world touring act, then on local only shows we're lucky if we get $200, it's usually more like $100, and even when you can still buy our CD's on a few sites and our mp3's are sold on iTunes and many other sites, the sales are not substantial, plus we are currently giving all our music away for free on our site and a few other social media sites. There are times when we sell a few CD's here and there, but we barely make any money out of any of the products we sell, since we want to keep prices low because this is not about money. What drives us to do what we do is not money but love. Yes, we would love to make enough money to be able to live from music, and we would love to have enough money and time to make more music and play more shows all over America and the rest of the world. But at this stage we are more interested in getting the word out there, so everyone knows who we are and what we do. The reason why we only make about $2 for every shirt we sell is because we believe we would benefit more from people wearing more of our shirts than from the extra $5-7 we could make from the sale of fewer t-shirts.

But does this reality matter to me? Yes and no. It does not matter because I love doing this. We love doing this, and by we, I'm not only talking about me and my bandmates, but about all the other independent musicians out there, and as far as I know, at least in this town, no one is making a dime from music. Those $50 we might make out of sales, those $100 a club might give us after a performance are gone in the blink of an eye. Just paying for the practice space rent (which usually comes out of our own pocket), our instruments, guitar and bass strings, drumstick, equipment, equipment repair, gasoline, food, hotels and many other things, we fall in the deficit territory. Houston is also a really tough town for musicians, the music support here, in my opinion, is at best mediocre and could be a whole lot better. Maybe the reality of indie musicians in other towns is a little different, I don't know. Don't get me wrong, there are quite a few people in Houston who support music to the max, but outside these few caring souls, it seems that no ones gives a shit. "Big deal", we say, if that's the case, then so be it. That ain't gonna stop us.

None of this changes the power that you, the listeners and the fans, have. In this day and age independent musicians aren't waiting to land a record deal anymore. We can't. Those days are over. We can't wait for someone with money to invest in our music, or for a publishing deal to materialize, or to suddenly have our music in big budget films and national TV commercials and make money out of licensing our music. Sure, that happens here and there, but waiting for such things to happen is rather unrealistic. Nowadays, it's all up to you, and I'm sorry to bear that weight over your shoulders, but it's the truth. We depend on you, and without you, we're nothing. Especially when you live in a town such as this one, when you can't even count on the local press (unless you are their personal friends) to help you the way they could help you get exposed your music to the rest of the country or even to the very own people of this city. Maybe we are not good enough, eh? Sarcasm mixed with true "I-don't-really-know-ness", that last statement was.

Even many of the people who call themselves fans share the same kind of apathy, but I'm starting to believe it's not apathy, but a state of mind you develop by growing up in certain regions, and it may have something to do with preconceptions  related to the information and education you get on the matter. This is the reason I'm writing all this crap, because...

I want to tell you about the power you actually have...

There's so much every single person can do, things that require almost no effort, like a click of a mouse, that could bring a fair amount of benefits to independent musicians. Other things, which could be considered a small sacrifice (donating one dollar, for example), could be massive! Just a dollar from you could translate into The Watermarks performing in your town! Let me elaborate.

A little less than two years ago I went on tour with my band, The Watermarks, along with fellow band Ladyheat. It was a simple tour through the mid-West that didn't last more than a 10 days, but we hit places like Chicago, Detroit and Cincinnati. Each one of us spent about $150-$200 out of our own pockets on top of all the band fund. Our expenses were, more or less, renting of the van, gas, hotel (only 2 nights out of the 10 days) and food. So when we subtract the expenses to the profit made, the whole thing cost a bit less than $2000. And believe me, those were $2000 well spent. We loved it, and most importantly, the people that we played to loved it too! Now, the sad truth is that we cannot take a week off work, or even a few days, off work to tour as often as we'd like, especially when we're not making any money.

Anyways, check this out, The Watermarks, at the time this blog was published, have a little less than 600 fans on Facebook, and I know that not all of them are "real" fans; a few will "like" you out of politeness or because they are also in local bands, there are also family members and friends who may feel obligated, etc, etc, but whatever, let's just assume we have 500 real fans for the sake of this example. If each fan donated $1 a month to The Watermarks, we would be able to go on tour in 4 months. This sounds easy amazing enough, but why it doesn't happen? -This is where I tell you what you don't know- You don't even know the amount of power you have, you don't know how much more we could do if we just had tiny help from you. And this isn't about helping The Watermarks only, but just about any of your favorite starving musicians, and there are many to choose from.

I'm going to make a comparison with another job to see if you are able to understand little better my point. When you go to a bar and the bartender opens a beer for you, you probably give him/her one dollar every time he/she opens a beer for you. If you drink 3 beers every time you go out and you go out 3 nights a week, you're "donating" to this bartender $36 a month. Now, maybe we can't open beers as good as bartenders do, but when you think about it, this seems a little off, doesn't it? One time a few years back, I was hanging out at a bar with a friend who made as little money as I did, and I noticed she tipped the bartender $5 for opening a beer. I had to say something, not because I thought it was unfair, but out of curiosity. I asked her why did she do that, and she said that she's been a bartender before and she knew how it hard it was to depend on the tips you make when you are a bartender, and other things. She's never been a musician before, so maybe she doesn't know how hard this is and how just $1 could help. Oh, and she didn't have to pay for my band's CD, of course, since she was my friend. Now, let me clarify this, I think bartenders deserve each and every penny they make, including $5 tips for opening a beer bottle, but what I don't understand is why a musician's tip jar is so empty in comparison. This is a job, and it requires work, and the only reason we can't live from it is because we would die of starvation if we depended on tips, like a bartender does.

Now, tips to a musician don't necessarily have to be money. In my opinion, every single time you leave a comment, every time you share our posts, or share our profile to your friends, or play our music to someone you think might like it, or blog about us, is an awesome tip. I'm not going to explain why, but we benefit immensely every time you do something like "liking" something we post on Facebook. Now, do you wanna talk numbers? Check this out, if each one of our supposed Facebook fans suggested The Watermarks to all of their Facebook friends and we gained 10 new fans per person (out of a couple of hundred friends each one of them might have) we would have 5000 fans. Then, if every one of those 5000 fans "tipped" us $3 a month, we would be able to live off music (I know the percentage of fans who would spend money on our music is much lower, and the idea of paying us monthly is absurd but I think you understand where I'm getting at). We'd work on music and videos all day long, and we would play in every single city in America, and we would release at least an album a year, and play around Europe, and communicate with you, the fans, even more. Shit, even when I love entertaining you and sharing things you may find useful or interesting, my personal social media "presence" takes time and effort too. I know I'm not Trent Reznor, but I'm helluva more fun than him, or his online presence, for whatever that's worth.

Anyway, I have a mission, I would like to tour the west coast with The Watermarks, and I want to release something on vinyl, and I want to be able to write a whole lot more music, each song better than the last. You, my dear friends, can make this journey a lot easier and faster, you can make this "fun hobby" become a dream come true, and if you want to get a whole lot more from The Watermarks, or any other artist that you appreciate, you should know that in this room, there's only you and me, there won't be a label/corporation/investor in between. Music is back to what it used to be before there were record labels, and you're back to being directly our employer. And we are working for you.

I'm still skeptical. Even if everyone was aware of how much they could help, I doubt anyone will suddenly think we're entitled to even a dollar a month or a Facebook "like". Perhaps this is the reason a lot of musicians work as bartenders? I honestly don't think anything will change any time soon, and I doubt people will adopt this new paradigm I'm proposing, but the show must go on, regardless.

I just wish it was a bigger and better show, much bigger and better.

I also wish it didn't have to ever stop.


JT said...

Outstanding. Indeed = "Perhaps this is the reason a lot of musicians work as bartenders?"

We know you love technology, C, but it may be cause for the glut of artists out there squeezing into the scene. People with worse ideas than yours, worse attitudes than yours, are making it b/c there's more money behind them. (Gaga anyone?) So there's the problem. But your new paradigm is doable nonetheless, but only by a conscious effort of any artist's fan base to recognize the power of its input (financial & otherwise) . . .which is exactly what you said!

Love it, man. Keep going.

Anonymous said...

Dear Cesar,
As a friend and fan of music, I can tell you that, what we fans do for bands, in general is out of our joy, when we enjoy your music we tend to share it. I am a broke person, so helping other bands with money is hard, but I try to do it by sharing your sounds, sounds of all the bands I enjoy, needles to say. I am with you on this, that if everyone did something, took action, in any form, all kinds of changes can happen. Although, just like anything else, the distraction we all have, is too much, I would think is in the way of art, we all have ways to express, is pretty easy now days, so it seems, that people perhaps, grow out of it, like you mentioned it, but not just that, there is so much art now days, that is hard to focus on a single image, or band, song, etc. If you think about it, there are millions of bands, out here that want, need, or would love help, but people's life's are more full of problems, that not many really want to bother, about someone else's problems. You see my point. I am not just speaking form my self, but, I personally get overwhelm with so many bands, but, that has not stopped me from sharing the music with more people, now, if I made time for each band, or some, per say, than I would not have much time for myself. I spend about an hour promoting indie bands, the reason, I love music, and I do believe in helping out bands, by promoting, or spreading the word about the band. Now what others do with the info I passed on, is up to them. The truth of the matter is that as we get older, we are more aware of what really matters, and entertainment in the end is the drug of life, but not a priority to survive. I understand it contradicts itself because it is what makes people happy and therefore is part of survival.
You guys create joy, is sad that bands don't get paid for all the efforts, I agree that it is a job. But where money exists, problems with it as well.
We have become multitask-ers online, in our daily life, in many things, we seem to have become almost like jugglers, trying to manage many things, at once; for instance, jobs, hobbies, play, time, family, friends, sex, lol, and so on. People continue to get distracted by personal issues, life in general, when one grows, we move on on to a next stage of our lives, but is a small world so we linger around the same people for life. I would say, that music, art, will become more of a bobbie in the future, sad to think of that, but I want to believe otherwise as well. The only problem with not been able to play as much is money, that is useless but yet like the drug again, we have to have to survive. A false hope, or way of living is what it is! The economy's problems are not invisible to anybody. Although, the support and life never stops, so life keeps going and we all go with it. Keep up the great work, things happen when there is action, ...I know there will be more fans to come.
Great music is always recognize, one can not hide a precious piece of art.
Your music makes me happy!!!
Best wishes!