Does Guitar Hero just not cut it for you anymore? Do you like the idea of bra-chucking groupies? Do you crave the adoration of a sea of fans? Or better yet, do you just want to create and share beautiful music? Well then, it may be time for you to start a band, and there’s no better time than while you are still surrounded by the comfort that studying offers.
Perdeby caught up with Johannesburg-born songstress Lucy Kruger, who studied music at Rhodes before moving to Cape Town to kick start her music career. “For me, the biggest benefit of playing while studying (particularly in a place so isolated, where there is not much pressure from the industry) is that music remains what it should always be. It is fun. It is not the stressful part of the day. It is about letting go and sharing. Every gig you play is practice. If I were to have come to Cape Town having never played in front of an audience, I would have been in a very difficult space now. It gives you the time to experiment without too much pressure,” she says. With that in mind, we have put together a couple of pointers that will help you launch your music career successfully, with tips along the way from Lucy Kruger.
Decide on a style
Actually, your music doesn’t have to be influenced by one specific genre. It is helpful, however, to reach a consensus on what kind of music you want to play before you get started. It’s a good idea to decide on what type of music you want to play and then find people that best fit the roles you need filled. That way, you ensure that you have the best people for the job. What’s also important is deciding on what your band’s look and feel is. It creates consistency and allows audiences to become familiar with your band. It’s also important for creating your band as a brand. Die Antwoord’s zef look (which basically entails them wearing pyjamas on stage), enhances their zef music and, therefore, their zef brand.
Kruger’s tip: Don’t let your career concern you too much. Take time to experiment and find what it is you want to do.
Find band members
Traditionally, a band is made up of a lead singer, a bassist, a lead guitarist and a drummer. You don’t have to stick to this formula though. Add a keyboard player like progressive synth pop band ISO, or a trumpet like ska pop rockers December Streets. Be innovative and scrap the lead guitarist and include two bassists like grunge rock and rollers Beast, up the dance ante by adding a synthesiser like Zebra & Giraffe, or add a loop pedal like Jeremy Loops. It wholly depends on the sound you want to create. Either way, a good band needs good musicians. The more experienced each band member is, the more the band will thrive. Good musicians can play their instrument, know how to integrate that instrument with the band as a whole and know how to improvise and be versatile.
Kruger’s tip: There should also be, as contradictory as this will now sound, a focus on getting to know your instrument and taking time to just play as opposed to being in a rush to get yourself out there. You will go much further more quickly, and have more fun doing it, if you are confident with what you are doing.
Find a band name
Ah, the band name. You can’t go too wrong here. We’ve heard it all. There are, however, band names that are just plain bad. Examples? The Hobbits of The Shire, Poets and Pornstars, Cerebral Ballzy and Test Icicles. For obvious reasons, these names are catastrophic. Just remember, your band’s name is part of your identity and your brand. Your band name can come from a member’s name (like Bon Jovi), or from a song written by another artist (like Radiohead). It can also come from a pop culture reference, or from looking up random words in the dictionary. Whatever it is, make sure it’s memorable (in a good way) and easy to spell.
Find a practice space
Be disciplined and set a regular time to practise, because you need to be able to play your entire repertoire backwards in your sleep. If the noise won’t bug the neighbours, you can practise at someone’s house. Otherwise, consider a rehearsal space which you can rent hourly or on lockout.
Spread the word
You can play the greatest music in the world, but if you don’t market your band properly it will mean absolutely nothing. Being in a band is much like running a business and so, you have to promote it as one. Take professional band photos and make posters and flyers. Most importantly, use social media to your benefit. Create a Facebook page which includes some of your music. Don’t forget a Twitter account and posting music videos on YouTube. And please, use these platforms to interact with your fans. If someone tweets you, tweet them back. If someone asks you a question, answer it. It makes all the difference. Once you get your feet off the ground, start working on band merchandise to sell at gigs.
Let your music be heard
This is a tricky one because there are so many musicians out there who are dying for some stage time. Play at an open-mic night, even if it is only an acoustic set. Alternatively, try to find a venue that will book new bands. Most places require some level of experience, but don’t give up: someone will give you your break. You just have to be persistent. Also, be realistic. Don’t try to book a venue that is out of your league. There is a ladder to the top and you can rarely skip steps. You can also enter competitions. Some of South Africa’s successful Afrikaans bands like Die Melktert Kommissie and Ef-El won the competition Rockspaaider.
Kruger’s tip: I studied in Grahamstown at Rhodes University and one of my major concerns when leaving Jo’burg for Rhodes, was that there would be no space for me to perform musically. In my first few weeks at varsity I heard about an open mic that was happening at a venue called the Old Gaol. I took along my guitar and played a few songs. It turns out that it is much easier in a small town for word to spread and therefore to get more gigs. I obviously did not gig the amount [of times I do] now, but it was certainly something. I played at different events, society evenings, live music nights, benefit concerts, etc.
Once you have a collection of good tunes, record them. As already mentioned, put the recordings on your Facebook page or your SoundCloud page. Make a few CDs and really consider handing them out for free at your gigs. People will pirate your music anyway. It’s a reality that you can’t compete with.
And one more thing: balance your fledgling music career with your studies
It would be downright stupid to just neglect your studies in favour of making music. The music industry is tough and it’s probably a good idea to have something to fall back on. The art of balancing the two is even more important if you aren’t seriously considering making a career of music.
Kruger’s tip: One obviously has to keep in mind that one’s studies take time and because it is not a nine-to-five, you have to maintain a sense of discipline. You cannot simply neglect your studies for music. If you are studying, and that is your choice, there is very little point in doing the bare minimum. I simply took gigs when it was viable for me. In some ways it was easier for me to validate taking time for music because I was studying both music and drama and so gigging seemed complementary to the courses. I suppose it is just about balance. At times I got frustrated and wanted more time to fiddle with music, but the time apart did make me appreciate it very much.
Illustration: Simon-Kai Garvie