One of the Animal Farmers working in our beautiful offices is Brendan De Belder. That’s not a real collar he’s got there. It’s just a piece of paper. But it looks good nonetheless. Brendan’s been working with us for a while and during his tenure he’s helped us develop ideas on how to operate as an emerging band in the cut and thrust of the modern business. He was recently on tour with someone in Europe and wrote a blog about it, which we are happy to post here. Scroll down….
I just got back from a month-long tour around Denmark and Ireland, with a successful American/Irish band, which is run and fronted by my cousin. I got to do pretty much everything except manage the tour and drive the van: sound engineer, roadie, singing lead on stage, merch seller, guitar tech, drum tech… But now that I have returned, it occurred to us that seeing this band run their career DIY, like a small business, is perfectly aligned with the ethos preached here at the farm and with the things we encourage our bands to do. They bailed on their label, because they run things tighter themselves. Imagine that.
These guys have honed their skills to the point of being called on by the likes of Bruce Dickinson, for solo projects; they get called to play on film soundtracks, like Titanic and Braveheart; they have met and played with many of their musical heroes… the band members have their status as career musicians, thanks to the undeniable skills they have amassed… but it all started by playing in little pubs. A lot. They learned by doing covers, put their own spin on them and now have some pretty successful songs of their own… It took ages, but it worked… Aside from bigger gigs and festivals, they still say yes to play in small pubs.
They also respect the process of discreetly making demos in the bedroom and then collaborating with producers, to create something that is market-worthy. It bores and frustrates them, as much as it would anyone, when people send their bedroom or demo-studio recordings to them, expecting nothing but praise and a checkbook to be opened. There seems to be an epidemic of this going around…
The gigging was relentless. 10 in 12 days at one point, which was viewed as ‘business as usual’. That’s the work rate that seems to have kept this band in business all these years. Some gigs were big, some small. It made no difference. There may have been occasional whinging about this, that or the other, but the job always got done. Done really well. And the whinging always turned out to be a waste of time, as ever.
There were definitely Spinal Tap moments. Plenty of them. Right from the start – the guitars didn’t arrive on the flight with the band and the bus driver would occasionally stop to ask for directions, only to turn around and urinate all over the friendly direction-giver’s garden… maybe that’s a local Danish custom… But we did find the venues and the guitars showed up for the first gig. So… cool.
The ease with which they handled every difficulty was astonishing. Things inevitably went wrong, but their experience and attitude made the whole thing a breeze (even when big arguments had to be had over things like pay… in Danish). No amount of hangovers, long drives, injured backs, getting trapped in lifts, exhaustion, bad news from back home, unexpected costs or delays in the schedule made any difference to their ability to hit the stage every night. I mean really HIT it. Not in a desperate ‘love me! love me! love me!’ sort of way, but with a commanding authority over their ability to bring the rock. That’s experience and dedication for you. A joy for a musician, such as myself, to behold.
(Brendan doing his rendition of 99 bottles of beer on the wall)
What draws the fans in:
Partly due to their fanbase being in their 30s/40s, there was no need to shout about things on social networks. No desperate feeling around trying to get something to go viral… oddly, in this advanced stage of the band’s career, there seemed to be little rush at all, certainly in regard to getting exposure, attention or making a big deal about something… The way they worked it, was by actually hanging out with the fans, giving them a break from their normal jobs and commitments, to hang out with a successful rock band. That means a lot to a fan. Some brought friends and family, because they knew they could introduce them to the band. Others discovered the band for the first time, by simply noticing the gang of revelers and wanting to join the party. This wasn’t the only way that the band promoted itself, but it was a well oiled cog in the machine.
The 86 American fans who flew over to Ireland to see the band perform 3 times over 10 days on this tour, all got to drink (a lot) and chat with the band. That’s how word got out about what the band was releasing; that’s how the band’s pledge funding went through the roof; that’s how they have kept a small, loyal fanbase.
Make no mistake – every band member was expected to put their time in with the fans. “If we don’t keep them rocking, they wont come back” was the mantra. The effort made, to just have a chat, went a long way and the many years of doing so showed, in the frontman’s ability to work a room like a rockstar. These were the “away” fans and they were treated in a way that ensured they would sing the praises of the band to anyone who would listen. Arguably, a lot of this happens on social networks now, at least in part, but when it’s done well, it works so well.
Practice What You Preach:
If much of this post sounds familiar, it’s because it’s an example of many of the other blog entries on here having been put into practice. At The Animal Farm we always face the challenge of getting new bands to actually do the things we have carefully thought out, planned and then recommended to them. But the most consistent motivator for continuing to urge bands to do these things, thus taking their career’s rate of progress into their own hands, is the recurring evidence of bands achieving results by these methods. At every level.
For some, it’s a difficult pill to swallow – that there’s more to it than just making a cheap recording, doing one gig and letting management do the rest. Particularly at first. But bands who appreciate the purpose of such guidance, using the early stages of anonymity to become very good in these areas – bearing the goal in mind and being results-orientated – develop a respect for the process, which can last an entire career.
(Ville says: a great blog can be made better with an occasional reference to squash.)