You’re in the zone when you’re up there. Being backlit by stage lights blots out most of the faces in the crowd (cigarette smokes helps too), you hear the thunderous claps (most likely from your long suffering friends) and then the most deceiving bit yet – the crowd laughs at your in-between-songs jokes.
And then the show ends and you slip off stage and drive your Malaysian-made car back to your apartment and wake up the next morning for another day at the office. You wonder why there isn’t a Guidebook for Band Frustration out yet.
Let’s face it, most young bands start out with fiery intentions of making it big, if not in the international scene then in the local one but then adulthood catches on before their band does and it gets relegated to a “side thing” they indulge in on weekends.
What does it take to “make it”? The sad truth is – it takes a lot. Sometimes way more than what most normal humans are willing to commit themselves to. Some amount of talent would help but most of it is hard work, marketing savvy and plain doggedness when things are not looking up. And here’s the clincher – all these will only work is you firmly believe in your band’s own genius.
So let’s look at what “a lot” means in a local and international context.
First, songwriting. This is crucial and forms the base on which your band will be built. As Californian music man David Knight puts it, “musically catchy and lyrically potent” songs are the fastest way to go. If it’s the masses you want to hit, then write songs that the masses will enjoy, don’t write for the lone ranger holed up in his bedroom combing through MySpace for the latest obscure band from South East Asia.
Second, live shows. This is your calling card because unlike Taylor Swift, you can’t screw up at the Grammy’s singing off key because one, you don’t have that much radio play to cancel out the memory-searing effect of a bad live performance and two, you are not a cute blonde with youth on your side.
Although the KL scene seems a bit stifling at times, bear in mind that we have it easy here. Sometimes a good scare makes us appreciate home turf more that the grass on the other side. Fariz Salleh, guitarist of Malaysian-born-Melbourne-bred band Saturday Afternoon dishes the dirt. He says that most venues over yonder pay bands by the amount of people they manage to bring in. If 15 people at a show specifically come to watch your set, the band gets paid 2 dollars for each one of them. The amount rises to 5 dollars if you get 30 people to come. To top it all off, you have to pay for your own soundguy (which usually burns up to 20 dollars) so after splitting the night’s takings between band members, you’d have just about enough to buy yourself a drink. Cheers.
Third and perhaps the most tiring of all is the marketing side of things. If you choose not to be a slave to artist management then be prepared to be a slave driver to your enslaved self (which is a messed-up position to be in). Buzz is generated not just by being a band with fresh sounds but largely through branding, styling, videos, tweets and other things that consume time and energy.
As Uncle Ben would say “with great power comes great responsibility” so if mass recognition and money to support a living is what your band is looking for then be prepared to really slug it out. But if you’re contented to make music without the glitz of the mainstream then by all means, just do what you love. So to avoid all that Band Frustration, pick a side as a band. Please don’t straddle, it’s painful.
By Adeline Chua