I often have bands ask me for advice on how to grow their acts, or get better gigs, and for many years I’ve given this sort of stock, but no less sincere or honest answer about how it takes ten times the amount of work off-stage for a band to be even moderately successful on-stage.
When I had the time in the conversation, I used to add pragmatic details about how most bands might think they’re getting paid to play, but they’re actually getting paid (if they’re lucky) for all of their pre-show promotion, getting to their shows on time, their beer sales during the show, and their late-night drives to the next gig. But the idea of them getting paid to stand on stage and play music is a pipe dream. That’s the icing on the cake and the thing that any true musician would do for free — it’s the behind the scenes stuff that they actually get paid for.
It is never easy reminding bands that a big part of what they do is sell booze, and the better they can do that, the better off they’ll be. No artist wants to hear that, but that’s not to say it’s not at least somewhat true.
This month, though, when I was talking with Mary Ramirez of The Detroit Cobras, it dawned on me, despite my well thought-out rant, that I will be changing my answer about what it takes to be successful from here on out.
The new one is this: Don’t be boring!
Ramirez and I had been discussing art without passion, music without dedication, when she said, “Bands playing out, they don’t have to be great, they just have to be sincere. I think the worst thing a band can be is boring. You can be bad. You can be wankered… but you’ve gotta be sincere. Art without sincerity is just pure garbage.”
Now that’s kind of an easy thing for her to say, considering her band is far from boring and plays upbeat garage rock and soul. But when I started thinking about it across genres that aren’t as flamboyant, it started to make even more sense.
You can have the loudest, most in-your-face song in the world and it can still be boring, and on the contrary, you can have the most mellow, simply instrumented tune in the world and have it be completely enthralling. The secret is in the sincerity.
I think it’s a pretty good rule to apply to all of life, whether you’re a musician or not. You can be an insurance salesman or a cabaret dancer and the only thing that will set you apart from everyone else is the sincerity you bring to the table.
This doesn’t mean that any of us, musicians especially, need to act like attention-grabbing jerks, it just means that we need to act from the heart. So go, run, jump, dance, take this summer and smother the boredom right out of life — or you can sit around like mopey teenagers that have all they want and need and claim they’re bored. It’s up to you.
See you at the shows.