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Ask yourself questions! - By Chris Standring
It's about communicating your art. If it's not communicating, what are you really doing?

I think one of the big reasons bands fail is because they do not ask themselves the right questions. I would go further. I think a good many artists don't ask themselves any questions. By questions I don't mean "Who won the world cup in 1966?" (by the way that was England!), I mean asking yourself serious questions about your career. These are crucial factors in enhancing your present situation.


Strangely enough, I tend to ask myself more questions these days than I ever have before. Why? because I now have to compete with the big boys at radio and I cannot hope to compete if I don't recognize my weaknesses as an artist. If I don't see those weaknesses, how can I improve them? If I can't improve, I can't possibly expect to compete in, what has become an over saturated industry. If I can't compete, I lose my record deal and have to start again. And frankly that would suck!

Nobody should be more critical of your own product than you. Having said that, everyone else who hears you play live or listens to your CD will be critical too. Everyone has an opinion. However, those opinions matter much less than your own self criticism in my view, provided you are clear and "objective" about it. That's a tough one I know, especially when the product itself is "you". It's not like we're selling potato chips here. The product is the artist him/herself.

So yes, questions. The most relevant source of self improvement in my view, and in a business as competetive as it is right now, one has to be harsh on oneself in order to have any kind of fighting chance. Let me give you one or two examples. Let's take your live show for instance;

"How good do I think it is?"

This may be a question you have asked yourself. This is a better one;

"How good do I think my audience thinks it is?"

Very different. To explore this question further, you should ask;

"How does the audience respond to us when we perform?"

To go even deeper,

"How does the audience respond to each individual song we play?"
"Do they nod off in the slow songs?"
"Do they dance to the up tempo songs?"
"Do they smile at any point in the show?"
"Do they ever scream in ecstasy at any point the show?"
"Are they distracted and start talking at any point"
"Are they lost completely at any point in the show?"

This last question is a good one don't you think?

Be extremely honest with yourself. It's too easy, once you have put all the work in, to justify it as "Well if they get it they get it, if they don't - then that's their loss!" Ah yes, the all too common pitfall.

I think it is important to be an artist, you know, do your thing uniquely. It's also a complete waste of time if you're not getting over. Now, the other extreme is the 'performing monkey' syndrome, where juggling, tap dancing and singing as high and as long on one note as possible is utilized. It's not about milking applause either. It's about communicating your art. If it's not communicating, what are you really doing?

How about these;

"How does the band look onstage?"
"How does the audience think the band looks onstage?"
"Does the bass player look too depressed on stage?"
"Do we really look like stars up there?"
"When I talk in between songs, am I interesting at all, am I amusing, engaging?"
"How can I be more witty, funny and engaging?"
"Is there too much time that lapses between each song, does the audience start talking while we figure out what we're going to play?"
"Is our show really a SHOW?"
"How can we make our show even better?"

Get the idea?

We are in the business of entertainment. People want to be entertained. People also want unique art. There is a fine line. Address these questions and others with regard to your demo or your master CD also.

"What is the response when someone listens to certain tracks on my CD?"
"Do people want to skip over certain tracks on the CD?"
"Do I think this song has a chance at CHR radio?"
"What is the competion at radio in our potential format right now?
"What the heck is CHR radio?"

Let's address the business side of what you are doing. When you play a live show, look at the number of people in the audience.

"Am I doing all I can, within my means, to promote my live shows?"

Don't forget, if your shows aren't well attended, nobody wins. The club booker may not have you back, and you certainly don't make money. If you play to a packed house, everybody wins, and you get to go on to do more gigs.

"What can I do differently, to get more folks to my next show?"

Stay "on" yourself all the time. There is never a time where you can totally relax about these things. Ask many questions. Discuss these issues with your band members. Having said that, I don't propose you make yourself ill with stress! Just make sure you do everything in your power to be the best that you can be. You can never do more than that and at the end of the day, that's probably all it takes anyway.

By Chris Standring (A&R online)

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