A band that Chris and I have played with a couple of times in the New England area recently asked me if I had any connection to the band Interpol. Well, aside from a show described in the Wikipedia entry for the Luna Lounge (yup, my old band played after that “secret show”), I do have a loose connection. The kind of connection where I’m not getting backstage passes anytime soon, but if I needed to get the lead singer’s signature as part of a treasure hunt wherein I win a million dollars, I could do it. In short : a pal of mine plays guitar for the lead singer’s solo project. I recently watched my friend play with said solo project on the David Letterman Show. And speaking of the Late Night king, Chris’ brother played on that same stage with Ludacris. Yes, Ludacris. Oh, and as anyone who has spent more than say, an hour with me knows, I have a very famous ex-boyfriend and a pseudo-famous ex-husband. So What?! I mean, I rode an elevator with Jack White once, walked by Debbie Harry at the same party and in the past I’ve opened for The Metric and The Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’s. I guess I know, and have rubbed elbows some famous people.
But what our band pals didn’t understand and what most people don’t understand, is that knowing a famous person does not help you and your band to suddenly “Make It.” Let me tell you a little bit of why:
- Yes, you need to know people. You need to know other bands, fans, party-goers, music writers, bookers, promoters, DJs, festival organizers etc. etc. etc. These are the people who make things happen in the music scene and the more of these folks you know, the better.
- Knowing a famous person in a band, however, does not necessarily help you. Most band members have little say over who opens for them, or who else is signed to their label, their management company, booking agency or promotions company. This is a business, and band members are basically employees. Just because I know the person whose hands squeezes the Nuva Ring in all the print and video ads for this birth control does not mean that I have an “in” and might be able to act in their next ad campaign. Knowing a major label artists does not help your band become more popular than you are able to make it on your own. (I do, incidentally know the hand model in those ads)
- Of course there are exceptions. M.I.A. heard Sleigh Bells and in a stratospheric ride to the top of the festival scene in 2012, this band “knew someone” and it catapulted them to success. But the likelihood of something like this happening is slim, and the only way to ensure that it might happen, is to get yourself out there and get heard.
- True Story: I went with the previously mentioned Mr. Valensi to a Guided by Voices show at Irving Plaza in NYC one spring night in 1999. He went right up to Mr. Pollard at the end of their set and shoved a demo CD into his hands. Did this pushy, “get my music in the hands of a famous rockstar” help the Strokes in their quest for stardom? I don’t think so, but the attitude that Nick’s band was the best band in the city and that he would stop at nothing to succeed was undoubtedly an important ingredient in his recipe for success.
So my best advice is this: There is no magic key and there is no guarantee to being successful in the music business. But I can tell you that confidence, networking, relentless self-promotion, kindness and determination will all help. Along the way you might meet “famous” people, but you’ve got to put in the work in order to put yourself in the situations wherein you have the opportunity to talk shop with your idols. But even if you do meet Joan Jett (oh wait, that’s my dream there) these folks are weary of every person they meet wanting something from them. Thom Yorke doesn’t sit around lamenting the fact that some band from the middle of Iowa doesn’t send him their Demo so he can whisk them under his wing, give his life new meaning and answer the dreams of four farm boys from the mid-west. Of course once Henry Rollins hears our second full length album he will want to do a talking/rocking/grey-haired/
In the meantime, just like you, I’m going to keep practicing, playing as much as I can, asking for favors, providing as much help for others as I can, and enjoying every opportunity I can create for myself. See you on the road Henry, I’ll be working on my biceps and hardened sneer.