3 signs your band isn't going to make it

Posted on January 8, 2020

I will tell you the three deciding factors in your band’s success. However, the important take away is to acknowledge any shortcomings and do something about it. I know you want your band to be in the elite group of bands that do make it.

Through thirty years of experience with working in music, I have found that you need to gauge how receptive a band is to feedback. Often, I discover a lot of bands are not looking to change their habits. They want to tell you why what they are doing is fine. That can be quite hard, and you have to go with it. However, in today’s video I’m not going to do that, I’m going to tell exactly how it is, it is up to you what you do about it.

However, before discussing this, there is another point I want to make. The effort and time that you put into a band or solo project is never wasted.  You pick up loads of skills that will stand you in good stead for the rest of your professional life. I was twenty-three when Little Angels split, and I use the stuff I learnt thirty years on. These are lifelong skills!  If you approach music like a hobby, those years will tick by and you’ll look behind you and say, ‘what was that about?’

Tip no.1 - lack of pace

This is easy to quantify and measure. You need to think about what you have achieved over the last twelve months. How much activity has there been? Are you implementing audience building exercises? Is there music being released or series of gigs?

Your activity needs to focus on building an audience, improving your music and the work that goes into building a brand. Now, imagine your bands activity is on a graph, there is a starting point (now), and there is the five-year goal on the other end of the graph. Five years is a good indication of whether it's going to work or not. If it is not happening after five years, then it might not be happening.

'Your definition of success is entirely up to you.'

Let’s take a hypothetical example of success; touring the UK as a headline and playing the 02 to 2000 people. That’s our London show, and we want to have a fanbase of about 10,000 people. It’s perfectly achievable for a good band, and you might be able to do it even quicker.

Now, how can you tell that you are going to achieve that? Firstly, you need to look at where you are currently and how much activity you have done in the last month. Things like gig’s, building an audience and developing your music. These are all the activities that go into building a successful brand. If we multiply that by twelve to get the year, and then a further five, this will give the likely progress you will make in five years. Is it on course for the 02?

If it does not add up to getting the 02, what can you do about it? Now, I appreciate that this equation is a bit ‘pack of a fag packet’. However, this measurement of progress stands up time and time again. Pace is what gets bands through, the trouble is there is a compound effect. If you are a bit lazy this month, then you’ll have to do twice as much on the next month, to catch up with the bands with drive and ambition.

This is a tough one to change, after working with generations of musicians I have realised that drive is a very hard thing to teach.  I can’t do this for you, you need to do it yourself. Equally, for you, you may be super driven but have band members that are not.  They simply do not have this inbuilt sense of urgency. Now, if that’s lacking and everyone is super chilled about the lack of activity and think it will transpire into a career - they are living in Walter Mitty land. That is not how it works.

'What can you do about it?'

You are going to call a band meeting, and you are going to say that these are your career expectations. You are either with me or not. At this point it’s very common for a band to talk a good game. You need to put in some very specific goals and test everyone out over the next three months. If you haven’t made significant progress in three months, then you need to make some hard decisions. These might be people that you are friends with, but life’s short and you can’t afford for years to go by without making progress and learning enough. Thats a problem, so sort it out and get a business that works.

Tip no.2 listen to the right people

When you are involved in music everyone has an opinion. You have to look around you, music careers are pretty quantifiable, and they are fairly easy to predict - there is an established way of going from point A to B.  You need someone in your team who has done it, and has done it fairly recently. Listen to that person on how they did it. Otherwise, it’s like trying to drive to Scunthorpe without a map. You’ll probably end up in Burnley or something.

So, who is it near you who has done this and are they helping you construct a plan? It’s all about getting from A to B without going around in circles. You need a navigator.

When I chat to managers, it's amazing how many bands come, pay the money and explain why the person giving the advice is wrong.  It happens the majority of the time, as the band just wants to accept that everything is fine. When you explain ‘oh yeah, it’s fine because’, ‘it doesn’t work like that for us because’. It makes you feel better at the time, but it’s a false sense of security.

Now, these people are giving their opinion but it’s an informed opinion. It amazes me how readily they will take pub talk as advice, and usually it’s just stuff that makes them feel better at the time. The music business will challenge and push you. Most bands will not listen and therefore will not make it.

Tip no.3 - not knowing what a good song is

Now, you know what a good song is from a point of a consumer. You buy good records and cool stuff. We tend to get that bit right, but we don’t apply the same standards to our own band. When I was in a band, we had a team of A&R people kicking our ass. We had to go back and write until we had the single.  Careers were made and broken with the Radio One playlist meeting.

We don’t have the gatekeeper anymore so bands can put out what they like. However, the top performers and artist tend to have an inbuilt sense of quality.  You need to push yourself and have someone kicking your ass.

A bunch of good songs are of no use to you. You need a career defining track. In old money we would call it a hit record. That’s what you need to push through.  Pure genius tells the world, where you have been and where you have come from. You need to separate craft (sounding good) from art (saying something). If you understand that difference that will get you through.

If you are interested in learning more and are serious about progressing in your career as a musician please join us at WaterBear HQ for an Open Day or Order a Prospectus.

By bruce.dickinson

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