Blog Archive

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Tips For The Traveling Band

TIPS For The Traveling Band

by

The DNA Vibrator

Little Pearls of Wisdom Crapped Out One Beautiful Bead At A Time Just For You The Road Musician

This project started out as a small collection of things that The DNA Vibrator learned through its time on the road in a traveling band. It wasn't trying to preach, nobody needs platitudes from a faceless internet presence, but DNA thought that this is something it might write which would actually be useful to some young kid just starting out. So, over a short time, this collection of hard truths has grown, and has needed to be organized into its own page. DNA will still write up its tips in the pages of the blog, but it will collect them here, in one easy place to see them all.

TIP #1: Always bring a soldering kit with you. Know how to use it. On a gig to Ted's Wharehouse, many years ago, The DNA Vibrator realized that the problem with its bass was not replacing a battery, but a short in one of the wires coming from the pick-ups. If we didn't have the tools, we would not have had a show. At the same show, we had to solder the connecting wires back onto one of the speaker jacks in one of the guitar cabinets, too. In order to be able to comfortably use the soldering iron, you should get real comfortable with your instrument and equipment. Not only should you know how to play, you should know how your instrument and your equipment works. Getting personal with your equipment will make you a better player.

TIP #2: Pack a traveling pharmacy. Include pepto, immodium, execedrin, benadryl, sore throat lozenges, band aids, anti bacterial stuff, and a roll of toilet paper. Clearly life on the road is not always agreeable to one's stomach. And if you ever have had to use a bar or club toilet after standing in line 4 deep while the current patron is having explosive diarrhea and vomiting, then you know it is better to plan ahead than have to attempt to shit while standing on your tiptoes straddling a filthy backed up toilet, praying that no bit of you touches a bit of it, all while the bathroom stall door flaps open for no reason.

TIP #3: Always keep at least one guitar on stage that you can swing as a weapon if you need to. At one show, The DNA Vibrator swung his Ibanez SDGR bass (didn't have it for long, a little too cheesy for its own good) to clear out a group of belligerant bastards who had a little too much to drink, and were being a little too threatening to the band. This is a too common occurrence, when Joe Wish-he-had-the-balls-or-talent-to-put-together-his-own-band somehow feels that you owe him the opportunity to let him come up on stage and try to sing his music, which in reality is a retarded, drunken chorus of "Louie, Louie." So, of course, you say, "Get the fuck off my stage. You wanna sing, get your own fucking band," as nicely as possible while screaming at the dumbfuck. Somehow, dumbfucks always take this the wrong way. For whatever reason, dumbfucks also tend to think that if you are in a band, you are probably a pussy, and feel the need to flex their beer muscles in front of the redneck brigade which drove their trucks in with dumbfuck. Which leads to previously stated situation, which leads to bass being swung like a sledgehammer. After swinging it, and having dumbfuck come within about an inch of the hospital, everybody's jets cooled down a bit. The bar owner cleared the redneck brigade out of the bar. Then, as as the ruckus finally settled down, and we were ready to play again, The DNA Vibrator set the bass in its stand for a moment, and it fell off the stage, face first. It bounced when it hit the ground. The bass was so solid, it didn't even go out of tune. That's a multi-purpose instrument of sonic destruction for you. Probably should have kept it.

TIP #4: Buy an inline tuner for each of your guitar and bass players. Buy an extra. Don't care if your guitarist is a prima donna perfect pitch prick, when stage volume is brutal, monitors suck, and half the guys in the band are drunk, it's not worth the aggravation of attempting to tune your guitar by ear.

TIP #5: Spend whatever money you need to have a cheap guitar on hand as a spare. Nothing kills a show quicker than when a guitar goes down and it takes 20 minutes to fix it. $100.00 will get you what you need. That's about one show's take if you are beginning and in a little club. Do yourselves a favor, don't spend that gig money on a 2 am feast at Denny's (those come later). Go out the next day and get yourselves a spare guitar.

TIP #6: Book shows at clubs which serve food. Almost always, they will comp you some food as part of your gig.

TIP #7: Your band may actually inspire some people. They will want to be part of your experience. Let them. Let them sell your t-shirts, stickers, and CD's. Let them book shows for you, and let them load your equipment in and out of clubs. In return, let them be seen "with the band." Comp them tickets, or get them on the guest list. Give them t-shirts and CD's to wear and listen to. In Crank, we were lucky enough to have a person who really liked what we did who worked hard on our behalf just for the experience. Carolyn booked shows for us, settled up with club owners after gigs, helped load equipment, and sold stuff for us. She often would travel with us and put up with four stinky, crude, and loud guys, all cramped in our van. When we could, we paid her. In the end, she used her experience with Crank to help her become one of the booking agents for First Avenue in Minneapolis, one of the most famous clubs in the midwest, Prince's stomping ground.

TIP #8: Don't finance your other band member's equipment with a high interest rate charge card, no matter how fucking much you love each other. AfroDJYak had a new credit card, (back in 1990) and it was Christmas for The DNA Vibrator and Gone Brian Vaughan in, well, December. We found a sufficiently cool music store on the north side of Chicago, and began window shopping. When we went in, we hadn't actually formulated a plan, but in about 10 minutes, and to this day, The DNA Vibrator is not sure who suggested it, but AfroDJYak was more than willing to fork over his credit card to buy new equipment. The DNA Vibrator purchased a GK head and Trace Elliot cabinet. Nice stuff. Gone purchased a Mesa Boogie 50 Caliber. Nicer stuff. It has been so long, The DNA Vibrator doesn't remember what else was bought, but we certainly came close to AfroDJYak's limit. We spent the next year paying the card off in installments. It was some of the best money we spent. More important than any gear, however, was the trust we had in each other. How many of your friends would drop $2000.00 on their credit card for your stuff? We never betrayed that trust. Of all the bands The DNA Vibrator has been in, the nucleus of the Coolies best embodied why people get together and form a band. We formed a brotherhood, which still manifests itself when we get together, to the aggravation of our wives.

However, we were lucky, not smart, that that little shenanigan didn't make us the bitterest of enemies. Don't go into debt for a band member. Musicians are notoriously unreliable: use your gig money to help each band member buy new stuff.

Tip #9: When you go into the studio to record, LOCK THE DOOR behind you! It is your time, which you paid a lot for. Nobody else needs to be interrupting you. Tell your engineer to take the phone off the hook. You are paying for EVERY MINUTE of his time, and that is no bullshit. Until you actually record in a studio, you have no idea how quickly your time and money ebbs away. Read the December 2006 archive and look for the entries titled "Busted Lips and Hospital Trips..." if you want a taste of what an uninvited visitor can do to your recording session.

TIP # 10: Be nice to your sound man out live. When DNA first started in bands, like most musicians, DNA didn't really know what it was supposed to get, or supposed to do about live sound. It always seemed like the house sound people got paid more than you (at first, they do), had the same lackadaisacal attitude towards you and your band as they did towards every band that they did sound for(most do), and weren't particularly interested in making you sound good, as much as they were into fucking around with the latest effects unit they put in their rack, and getting their "share" of free drinks (pretty much, is how it is). However, if you suffer through a few nights of sub par sound, and get to know your sound man, particularly if you work several of the clubs this guy or company works, pretty soon, you can cultivate a relationship with the sound guy. The sound guy holds your performance in his hands, and will make the difference in your opus sounding like static on an A.M. radio or sounding like Thor, god of thunder.

So, just-beginning musician, following some basic rules out live will help you sound like you did in the studio. First,

TIP #11: when you get in the club, find your sound people and remember their names.

TIP #12: Be professional.

TIP #13: Load your shit in when they need it in, not after your guitar player makes it back, cuz he had to meet this guy at this one place to buy some stuff, y'know? Say, "No, I don't fucking know. Load yer shit in, and do your sound check before you have to disappear."

TIP #14: Insist each person in the band pulls their own weight. Hey, the bassist didn't have to buy the dual 4 X 10 cabs which each weigh 120 pounds. The drummer didn't have to bring his 60 inch gong, but he did. This isn't to say you can't help, however. There is nothing worse than having one band member up at the bar knocking back a beer while the rest are still loading shit in.

TIP #15: Even though rock and roll is an idiom best served very fucking loud, when you turn your Marshall full stack up to 8, do not expect that your vocals will sound good. Bluntly, that is fucking stupid, for lots of reasons. Reason 1: Your little bitch of a guitar only puts out a certain range of frequencies, and frankly, they don't take a hell of a lot of power to push out at high sound pressure. So, when you turn your Marshall up to 8, even though it is only a 100 watt stack, the bassist is having to clip out his1600 watt bass cab just to lag behind your sound pressure. Reason 2: The monitors you will have on stage are not powered by a very powerful amplifier (compared to the mains, for example). The sound coming out of the monitor will perhaps be the only way you will hear what your own vocals will sound like. The monitor can not compete with a Marshall stack. You will get feedback like crazy as the sound guy tries to get you a monitor mix which you can hear, even a little. Reason 3: Your hearing! Which you won't have in five years, even with ear protection. At high db's, those high frequency notes put out by the guitar will cause permanent damage to your hearing. What? I said, your hearing! Okay, the joke doesn't work on paper. Yeah, fuck you, too. Reason 4: When you and your band mates are on stage, you might acutally want to talk to each other, or talk to the sound man to adjust your shit on the fly, which is awfully hard to do if the sound pressure is so great that you can't even hear your own brain aneurisms burst while the guitarist drags his pick lightly across his strings and shakes the windows at the back of the club. Many more reasons abound, but DNA is through ranting. Keep your stage volume at a reasonable level. Even reasonable will be really loud.

TIP #16: Don't depend on the sound guy to just "know" what you want. You have to talk to him, buy him flowers, tell him he is pretty. More importantly, communicate to him what you want. Write down your set list, and give it to him. Tell him in advance of any special things you plan to do that show. Perhaps you want to run certain prerecorded loops in between certain songs. Easily done, but not if the sound guy doesn't know what and when.

TIP #17: Treat the sound guy like the "n"th member of your band, because he is. He is the one that makes or breaks your performance. DNA has always liked the Gary Larson cartoon in which the sound guy's hand is hovering above the "suck" knob on the mixing board. If you treat the sound guy with the respect he deserves, then the sound guy will respond. Every guy likes to be stroked, and though DNA doesn't recommend literaly stroking the sound guy, metaphorically, its your ticket to a kick ass show.

TIP #18: Don't call out your sound guy in the middle of a live show. You might hurt his feelings. He might wreck your show.

For example: The time was 1989. The DNA Vibrator was in the Nightsoil Coolies. We had just started playing clubs like the Hangar 9 in Carbondale regularly. This meant that we were now introduced to the journeymen and pros who had been doing sound in Carbondale long before the Coolies were there and likely long after we would be gone. Looking back, we were no more or less "professional" than they were, but the onus to be professional was on them, frankly, because for the sound companies, this gig WAS their profession, while for most bands, this gig was at best an experiment in how bad you could suck and still make a few dollars at the door.

So, no one expected bands to be professional---they are full of musicians, for Christ's sake! Sure, during the show, at that time, bands have more grandiose dreams, but in reality, clubs like the Hangar are just part of the lumps you have to take at the rock and roll school of hard knocks. Don't get DNA wrong---DNA loves the Hangar: Sally, Richard, the whole crew. They certainly gave many local bands an opportunity to play. But, the Hangar is not the place where the next great band will be discovered; it may be the place where the next great band gets to make enough money to survive to the next show, and to hone their craft in a relatively safe environment. So, the bands were full of punk kids being punk kids, and unfortunately, too often, the sound companies also employed punk kids to do sound for them (DNA should know---DNA moonlighted with Robco Audio for a couple of years).

The point is, bands weren't invested in the sound companies, and sound companies weren't invested in the bands. DNA knows this situation is not unique to Carbondale: it's true in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Davenport, anywhere you have a local club at which bands play. It was the same old thing, show after show. As a band, you would be up at the club you were going to play at, and do a sound check. Invariably, the kick drum was all clicky on the top end as the gate closed on the signal, and all fat and definitionless on the bottom as the sound guy pumped full power to the crown amplifier which powered the subs. The guitars sounded like buzzsaws---all distortion and no tone. God forbid that a bass guitar would be miked from the cabinet, or that the bassist might actually be treated as a part of the band, and not an afterthought, as if the second best guitarist in the line up was forced to play it. As a bassist, DNA always questioned why the fuck it spent thousands of dollars on great equipment only to have the sound guy hook a direct box in line to its bass. Not to get too technical for you non-music gear heads, but basically, a direct box takes the signal from the guitar, "dumbs it down" for the mixing board to manipulate, and allows the sound guy to use the mixing board to control the level and sound quality of the instrument. When you have a bass and bass rig like DNA had, this had the effect of taking a great bass sound and making it sound like every other bass in a live club---indistinct, or tinny, depending on who you got on the soundboard.

After you got the same lame mix, you would step down from the stage for awhile, negotiate your drinks, and maybe say a couple of words in passing to the sound guy. To the sound guy's credit, what he did at the club worked in its fashion, and it is never easy running live sound, even on the best of days. Rarely would a band have actually listened to the sound guy's first word of advice to them if he had the chance to say it anyway---to bring the stage volume down. This implied giving up control over your sound, and that is very hard to do. Particularly when you don't have faith that the sound guy is on your side.

The basic communication just didn't happen. Usually. On this particular night, after a particularly decent first set, the band had really started to loosen up. So was the sound guy. So much so, that he was interested in experimenting with some of the vocal effects. After the second or third time some unexpected effect was placed on the vocals, or a different sounding gated reverb was placed on the snare drum, DNA had enough. Once the song we were playing was finished, and there actually was some applause, DNA stared through the haze of cigarette smoke, made eye contact with the sound guy, and with force, said, "STOP FUCKING WITH THE EFFECTS. THANK YOU." DNA couldn't have said it with more venom or contempt. Still, it was only a small rebuke. Doesn't sound so bad, right? Wrong. DNA just picked a prime time moment to call out this guy who in all likelihood thought he was helping the sound song cooler---which his work very well may have. DNA took its private aggravation and made it public, and embarrassed this guy in front of patrons, but also in front of his peers and the club owners. (As DNA said before, guys in bands can get a little too righteous about the "importance" of their music, or their gig, etc., and sound guys can get a little uninvolved in what is actually happening right then for that band to know or care what the band is going for artistically. Instead of talking to each other, both sides tend to let each other do their own thing.) What ended up happening is that for the next two years, a sound guy who did really great work, who really did "get" it, and who really was trying his best to make the bands sound good, thought we (meaning every band DNA was in---but particularly, the DNA Vibrator itself) hated his guts, thought he was stupid, and called him names on the playground. It was only after a battle of the bands show in which this guy was doing sound did we have a chance to talk to each other before and after the shows. The sound guy told DNA after one set that he was surprised that he heard we asked for him. To which DNA responded, "Why?" and then the sound guy recounted the tale above. At that time, DNA had all but forgotten that encounter, but was quick to make amends, told the sound guy that everybody knew that DNA was a thoughtless dick, and that DNA didn't mean anything by its comments, and that DNA was sorry it handled the event two years back in such a childish and unprofessional way.

From there on, our live shows were not to be missed. The sound was great, our performances were usually right on, and instead of being two distinct parts of the puzzle, we worked with our sound guys like they were in the band. We talked to them, we understood the limits of their machinery, they understood the limits of our talent! We purposely sought this sound guy out, because from that moment on, we had a personal stake in each other's success, and we understood that. That sound guy was Scott Munson, our pal, the guy who got his ribs kicked in on our behalf, and one of the best people I know. Read December's archive if you want to know some more about Scott.

TIP #19: Always remember to tell patrons to tip the bartenders and waitresses. It might get you that extra drink for free later on.

TIP #20: If you can get a live recording off the board, (for most live sound set ups, this is easy to do), spend the few bucks it takes to do it, or spend a couple hundred of your own money, and buy a nice Edirol or Morantz stereo high quality digital recorder. You can hook that right up to the board or use their built in microphones to record the show as it sounds, and then dump it in CD quality audio files to a computer.

TIP #21: Make sure you get a receipt from the club owner for the money you were paid for the show. You will likely be paid in cash. It's easy not to document this transaction. In fact, when you start out, it seems inconsequential to keep track of it. But if you make more than $600.00 at that club in one year, you will need to claim this money on your taxes. You will be considered an independent contractor by the club, and more importantly, by the IRS. Getting a receipt means that the club can't cook their books in their favor (meaning that they claimed to make less because they had to pay you more than they actually did) and stick you with an unfair tax burden.

Tip #22: Practice, practice, practice. Do not let your live show become your third practice that week. Practice the details. Practice your tempo, song spacing, emotional and dynamic range. Practice trading off who gets the spotlight when. Practice.

TIP #23: Record your practices, so that later, as you drive home, as you go to work/school, you can listen to what worked and what didn't work. Also, archive this shit. An idea that dies in one practice can be resurrected days, months, or even years later. DNA is doing that right now on its new album.

TIP #24: Even if it is "your" band, and the other guys are players of "your" stuff, you are not Beethoven. You are not the composer who lives sealed off from the orchestra. You and the band function together. There will certainly be times that you should take credit for your compositions but never, NEVER delude yourself into thinking that the people you play with didn't add their own unique take to "your" idea.

TIP #25: Along with that, protect your compositions. Each band member, and the band as a group, should create a publishing company. At first, it doesn't have to be more formal than stating that your composition is owned by XXX Publishing. For example, DNA publishes under Brainmilk Music Publishing. When DNA was with the Coolies, years ago, the Coolies published collectively as Labor Machine Music, Incorporated. You are stating to the world that you own the international rights to your composition.

TIP #26: Even if you are the principle songwriter or lyricist, encourage the others to also write their own music. You may be the poet, but all of us are poetic in our own ways. Maybe you think their compositions are trite or sophomoric, but how can you expect your bandmates to grow and be better composers, and also appreciate more what you do, if you don't encourage their own musical growth? Try to collaborate as much as possible.

TIP #27: Accept that your first idea about a musical phrase, line, drum beat, etc., might not be the best idea, and that you can improve what you do by listening to your band.

TIP #28: Recognize that you and your band mates have limited talent. Even if you are great, there is somebody better. DNA doesn't know who to attribute this quote to, but this paraphrase gets right to the point: "If you had wanted to play like (insert your favorite band here), you would have replaced everyone in the band, yourself included, a long time ago." So, you must recognize that collectively, your band creates a box which is defined by your creativity and your ability to play your instruments. This is not a limitation. In fact, part of the enjoyment of playing together comes from figuring out how to make the box different than the boxes that other bands have made. The best loved, most famous, most interesting songs, the ones that really "hit' what emotion the writers and players are going for, are not the most complex songs played by the best players. "Every Breath You Take" by the Police comes to mind. This is a simple song, played by a three piece with few additional tracks (a synthesizer and piano are added as the song develops). Granted, this three piece was one of the best in the world, but the song is very basic. However, have you ever heard a cover band attempt to play it? When bands try to cover it, they suck at it. DNA has never heard anyone come close to covering it well. It is deceptively simple. The song capitalizes on the unique strengths of those three players. No one plays rhythm guitar like Andy Summers, no one plays drums like Stewart Copeland, and no one sings and plays bass like Sting. Together, they produced music that was beyond their individual talents.

Let's get one thing straight. You and your band are probably not talented as the members of The Police. But, you can capitalize on your band's individual strengths to make music better than any of you can make separately. Compare the great things The Police did with the solo careers of Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland.. "Suck" Dick," and "Hard" come to mind.

TIP #29: This is a hard one: Know what you are willing to give, from yourself, and from your bandmates, to make your band work. If you don't know ahead of time what each of you are willing to give, then you will grow to resent each other for not giving what you expected the others to give. You will feel that somehow you have given more, and that because others have given less, they have ruined "your shot at making the band work. What is given covers integral areas like time, money, commitment, equipment, talent, freedom, independence, among many other vital commodities. You need to know ahead of time, or as soon as possible, that the guitar player won't travel on weekends, because that's the only time he has to see his son, or the drummer will not drive more than 100 miles for a gig unless there is a sizable guarantee. If you don't hash this stuff out, soon, you will start saying things to the other guitarist, or the bassist like, "You don't see ME complaining about the time I spend here on the weekend. Fuck, he knew what he was getting into when we said we wanted this band to really make it." You can only ask people to give what they are willing to give. Anything else will cause disruption, and ultimately, failure.

TIP #30: Don't make commitments you can't keep. So, you best keep a calendar, and either let someone do the booking for you (booking agent, manager) or communicate effectively amongst yourselves. Specifically, if one of you is the booking guy, the rest of you better make damn well sure you support the extra work he is doing.

TIP #31: Write what you know. This is what they tell fiction writers in beginning fiction class, but it also works for songwriters. Write what you know. So, if you are not from the streets of Compton, don't write about being from the streets of Compton. Others, who have lived that experience, will sound more authentic than you. Find the tragedy or comedy of being from the streets of Waukegan.

TIP #32: Become a member of ASCAP. It's not a hat for your butt. It's a performance royalty agency. How do you do that? Link here. When you do, it will give you the option of signing up as a composer and publisher. You should do it. Protect your work now, so later, if you do actually get luckier than fuck, you are already covered.

TIP #33: When your band starts to get some notoriety, don't sweat the small stuff----meaning don't get bent out of shape if you are not the "headliner" for a show, when you think you ought to be the headliner. You know who cares about that? You, and about 7 other people (the members of your band and the members of the actual "headliner"). We wasted so much energy getting pissed off that we were the second or third bill, when being the headliner rarely gave us the best time slot to play. As long as its after 9pm, there are few bad times to play. Once you headline a few shows, and realize that your night of hard work loading shit back out of the club BEGINS at 2:30 am, and that by that time, there is nobody around to help you lug your shit out, being the second or third bill doesn't sting so much. Anyway, once you're recognized, people will actually start to come out at the time you are playing, so you become the headliner, no matter what time it is.

TIP #34: Don't get wasted before or during a show. Particularly if you are the only one in the band who does this. You are fucking it up for the rest of the guys. And, unless you are Frampton, getting fucked up and playing does not make you sound better. It makes you sound like you got fucked up and went out and tried to play. Have a drink or two. Keep a steady supply of beers up on stage. You sweat and work most of that alcohol out as you progress through your set. But, if you want a great sounding set, don't get drunk, looped, fucked up, stoned, whacked, blown, freaked out, or any other euphemism for losing control of your faculties. Rock and roll is theater---its all about looking like you are losing control, and that takes concentration and LOTS of control.

TIP #35: Handle brushes with stardom like they are no big deal. You might share a stage with a big time band. You might be in the dressing room or backstage at the same time. Don't be all freaky. They are just regular guys, with likely only about the same amount of talent as you. The only difference is that they get playboy models offering them blowjobs when they go backstage. Yeah, that is a pretty big difference. One can see how easy and seductive the lure of being a successful band would be, and how that might change a person. It is hard to be grounded when everybody keeps lifting you up in the air. However, let the big artist know you respect their work, but don't go fawning all over them. Make it your personal mission to rock so hard that when you leave the stage, the big time artist is glad they saw YOU.

TIP #36: When you start to make a little money, do yourselves a favor, open a savings account, NOT a checking account, get one that will allow all of the band members to be signatories, and also one the requires at least half of you to to sign a withdrawal slip to withdraw money. It won't cost you anything extra to set it up that way, the savings account will earn you some money if you can hang on to your funds for any length of time, and the signatory stuff will prevent you from making rash decisions with your cash, and prevent one or even two band members from getting pissed, draining the account, and leaving you high and dry.

TIP #37: Purchases. As a band, you will want to make some purchases together. We have already discussed some things NOT to do (run up a credit card with debt, for example), and some things TO do, like buy inline tuners, get and extra guitar, etc. However, there is a purchase that you might make early in your career which bear a little closer inspection: Getting a band vehicle.

There are lots of possibilities. For example, one of you may already have a nice van, and he or she doesn't care if it becomes the band vehicle. Hooray. Your problem is solved, unless, of course, he or she leaves the band. Then you are back to square one. Or, you may choose to rent a vehicle, or rent a U-haul when you are traveling. It may be an option, but it is expensive. When Crank did a recording out in New York with Kramer, the band rented a nice van for a week. That was worth it (renting the van cost as much as the recording itself, however). Or, you may each choose to drive cars to gigs, caravanning and carrying your equipment that way. That too, can get expensive, and is never fair, particularly when one vehicle gets really bad gas mileage, for example. Probably the best option, particularly if you stay together for a long time, is to get a "band" vehicle.

In a little less than a year, if your band is playing out regularly, you should be able to afford a good band van. You need to identify the basics. It must be mechanically sound. Because you are going to put 100,000 miles on it, the powertrain better be in good shape. Be willing to accept no frills---it doesn't need automatic transmission, however, power brakes and steering are your call. It doesn't need a good stereo. Eventually, you will put the stereo you want in it. It doesn't need air conditioning. It does, however, need a heater that works. There is nothing worse that driving to a show in January, and having more ice build up INSIDE the windows than outside, from five guys breathing and generating body heat. It doesn't need carpet, a headliner, a moon roof, or even seats beyond a driver's seat. It needs working doors and windows. It needs to be watertight around the glass. Lastly, gauges need to work---speedometer, gas, oil temp and pressure, etc.

So your band has saved up about $1000.00. Start locally, and you will find easily 10 to 20 vehicles in the less than $1000.00 price range which will meet your criteria. You must test drive the vehicle. If the seller won't let you take the van to a mechanic you know, or allow you to test it through a variety of different speeds and conditions, then move on. There are lots of cars out there. Look around for cities or municipalities, fire or police departments that are selling fleet vehicles. The city or company which owns them spends money to keep them running. You are more likely to get a documented service history with the vehicle from these sources. The first van that DNA and friends bought was owned by a private contractor who was also a volunteer fireman. He had to keep that vehicle up and running for those reasons. We paid $400.00 dollars for it, and after three years of crisscrossing the country, sold it for $1100.00. During that time, we replaced a radiator, a battery, brakes, and a clutch. Not a bad investment at all.

After you find the vehicle, then you will be amazed at what you can and will want to do to customize it. If it doesn't have the right seats, go to a junkyard, and buy the seats you want (less than $100.00). We built a loft in the back of ours, so that we could store all our gear down low, and sleep 4 guys up top (granted, it was a little claustrophobic). We still had two captain's chairs up front and a nice bench seat we bolted behind it.

Whose name is it in? Who insures it? Does anyone use it as a daily driver? Who pays for upkeep? All good questions. DNA's advice: Answer these questions ahead of time. Spell it out. Otherwise, someone will feel like they are being used. In our band, the van was in DNA's name, DNA paid a portion of insurance, DNA paid for daily driving gas. The band paid for part of the insurance, gas for gigs, and part of the operating costs, like tires, brake jobs, etc.

You bought it, you customized it, and now the band is caput, and you want to sell it. Guess what? You have a built in buyer. Likely, someone in the old band will want it for their new band. Sell it, and split the difference between you. Or if that is not the case, sell it to someone else and split the money. Either way, you win, or at least, you don't lose money in the end.

TIP #38: Buy good earplugs. This should have been tip number one. Sound pressure on stage can easily top 120 decibels, which is about the pain threshold for most people. Most people don't realize that a decibel is a log scale, a ratio of one sound of a certain power, to another sound of a greater power. Increasing db's increases the force behind sound by a power of 10. A jet engine rattles at about 130 db. Permanent hearing damage can occur from sounds much less intense than that. Buy good earplugs.

TIP #39: When you crash at people's houses after a show, don't piss on their bathroom floor, shit and use all the toilet paper, drink all their beer, etc. Although they may expect this kind of behavior, surprise them, and respect their property.

TIP #40: While crashing at said house, if you snore, for God's sake, sleep in the basement while the other guys get the upstairs rooms. Or, sleep in the van if it's not too cold out. No, fuck it, even if it is too cold out, if you snore like a chainsaw, you gotta leave your bandmates in peace after a show. Guess what: You probably don't know that you are the one who snores. So, bandmates, do him a favor, instead of suffocating him in his sleep, or purposely feeding him 8 darvon with his last beer, TELL him he's got to fix the snoring problem. but, he won't believe you. He knows he doesn't snore. So, record his thunder and confront him in an intervention-style meeting the morning after all of you are bleary-eyed from being tortured by a night of non-stop jackhammering from your bassist's schnoz. If you haven't guessed, DNA was the snorer. It was freakish how loud DNA snored back then.

TIP#41: After the show, as you are getting paid, and you have your receipt, before you walk out of the office, COUNT THE MONEY. It's not that you are saying you don't trust the club owner, but your are saying that you will double check the math. 20's and 50's look an awful lot alike when they are flipped in front of you quickly.

TIP# 42: Fall into the category of buying the right stuff for your gig. Let's see, this is like a laundry list. A laundry list DNA forgot about until it had a recent show. Here goes: Duct tape, make it a color, like red or blue, so it's easy to discern from the sound guy's roll of duct tape. Extra cables. Even the best cables only take so much abuse before they start to short out. Have extra handy. Wrap a piece of your color duct tape around the ends of each cable. Again, at the end of the night, it will be easy to tell your cables from the other bands' cables. Guitar stands for everyone. If you have extra guitars, don't skimp on the stands. Have enough so that you can shock and awe everyone with the 7 guitars and basses the band has. C'mon, if the drummer had two drum sets, you know he'd have the second one set up somewhere. Have enough picks. Almost anything can do for a pick in a pinch, but don't be in that spot by accident. Use a quarter, or a bottle cap, or your fingers by CHOICE. Picks are cheap.

TIP# 43: this may seem like overkill, but if you are a bass player, buy an AKG D112, or equivalent microphone. Why? Nothing sounds better than a good bass cab miked right. Unfortunately, most sound guys will only have one AKG D112, to mike the bass drum. Bring your own. Impress the sound guy. Get the sound you want. You can find one used for less than $100.00 and they are just about indestructible.

TIP# 44: It's time to buy a field recorder. Make it better than the $20 voice memo machines you can get a Best Buy. Have it with you no matter where you travel. The idea for a great song will strike you at the strangest times. DNA can't tell you how often he would hum a song to himself, which he really dug, only to forget it completley once he was in the door back home and barraged with all of the demands of life. Little memos, little clips, will keep that song idea in your head until you get the opportunity to unveil it to the world.

Return to the top of the page.

No comments: