Jul. 14, 2010 - Issue #769: Musician’s Survival Guide
Music is war
F&M offers some tips for surviving the front lines
This week's cover model is Ryan Anderson of F&M, an Edmonton-based group led by Ryan and his wife Becky. F&M has been gradually working its way through the war zone that is today's music business. With a third album set for release this fall, one would think that Anderson has learned a thing or two in his time touring across this country and as far away as Europe, and so Vue Weekly asked him for some tips to making your way in the music world today.
The music biz is a blast but it's a mess and only the strong survive. F&M is a shy, quiet, yet determined group. We're also getting ahead, I believe, because we make music we love, we're big on working, learning and sharing, and we've figured out that music is not a competition. Here are some suggestions and thoughts F&M has on getting ahead:
The Music. Don't pander, don't suck, get better and write music you like.
Listen to feedback. We all get defensive, but try to hear what others are saying while maintaining your vision and integrity. Also, learn how to give feedback. Sandwich the constructive feedback with a positive on each end.
Take responsibility. If people don't attend your show, what can you do differently? Don't blame the promoter, the media or other bands, and never the audience. Play better and do better next time. Life isn't fair and people aren't perfect—what do you need to do to succeed?
Find a mentor. Glen Erickson of Shameless Records Canada has helped guide F&M's career. Look up the word "sycophant" and then find the very opposite.
Negative musicians suck. Run from those who use the word "can't" and whine a lot. And don't slag other bands. Jealousy is not attractive and won't get you ahead.
Every opportunity is a good opportunity. Empty room in Kamloops? No sweat, impress the sound guy who then facebooks that people missed a great show. Next time 30 people will be there, and so on.
Take Lessons. Ariane Mahryke Lemire told me to take vocal lessons. I had two choices: get mad or explore that feedback. I've now been working with the amazing Anna Beaumont (performer and vocal coach—google her!) for a while. I record the lessons and do a lesson every day, even on tour. I have more range and can sing four-hour sets if need be. Thank you Ariane and Anna!
Practise, practise, practise. Practise on your own, and with the band. And practise well. Practising crap makes you a master of crap! Focus on arrangements, on the small transitions, on the beginning and on the end, etc. (ie, don't just run through songs).
Play every show like it's your last. Never phone a show in no matter how lame it seems. My music-snob non- player friend Nevin told me recently he was tired of a local alt-country band acting road weary and annoyed to be performing. That's a great observation.
Sometimes the only thing you can control is you. At NXNE this year, F&M flew in from our West Coast tour with hours to spare. None of our gear made it, but we didn't panic and we politely asked our handler to try and track down some gear. She did. The Wheat Pool walked off their own stage and raced across town to bring us additional gear ... and stood in the front row and cheered us on. Thank you again Wheaties, you're real gentlemen. If you can control how you respond you'll find that others respond a lot better to you and solutions are found.
Get out of town. If you actually want a career in rock music you have to tour. A local crowd is no indication of how good you are for various reasons. Touring forces you to get better and actually gets you ahead.
Transportation. Transportation is a huge question among bands actually touring. Find a band of similar size that genuinely tours and ask what they use or recommend. F&M uses a Roadtrek 200 Van (google it) so we always have a green room. Paul Bellows and James Murdoch co-own a small bus that they've outfitted for their purposes (a mattress, fish cooler and a beer fridge, I believe). Daniel Moir is taking the train using a VIA Rail program he researched where you play on the train for food, your bed and transportation on the train. Shout Out Out Out Out has a huge band and tour a fair amount, in what Lyle Bell describes as your standard band van. The Old Wives punk band toured as a four-piece and just got back from the USA using a GMC Safari (which is tight!) without a trailer. Remember to get something safe and reliable as you are transporting your talent and your gear—without these there is no show.
Good songs silence crowds. Don't turn up the amps, turn down the amps. If your songs are good the crowd will shut up and listen. If they're not good songs, then louder volume will just irritate everyone that much more.
Getting your name out there. Getting media and industry folk's attention is not a one-shot deal. There's no magic meeting and no one's waiting to make you a star. There are books on this huge topic, and you should look them up. It's a process where if you keep at it and keep everyone comfortably in the loop and your music is good, you'll get attention. Be diligent and assertive but not desperate.
Ask Questions. I never mind answering occasional emails. I won't do the work for you, but I can guide you. We worked hard for this, and learning is part of the process! Asking questions is a sure way to get ahead—we always do.
In the end, have fun! Becky and I were chatting with Ayla Brook, I was explaining that we tour as a trio (without drums and bass) because of the cost. His response: "Yeah, but drums are fun!" Music is a business ... but it's also about fun. Have fun! V
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