Garage to Gigs, interview with the author

Thursday, September 4th, 2008 | by

I was in LA last weekend to celebrate the release of a new book, Garage to Gigs: A Musician’s Guide. It was written by a friend, former bandmate, and musical collaborator, Andrew Thomas, whose two solo CDs I have been fortunate enough to help record.

Despite a busy gig schedule and the demands of near-simultaneous book and CD releases, Andrew took the time to answer a couple questions in an exclusive RecordingHacks interview, which you’ll see after the jump.

As the book’s title suggests, it is a guide for working musicians, filled with smart and easy-to-read advice for every stage of the career path, from solo practice to auditions, rehearsals, performance, promotion, and recording. I recommend this book for all musicians who are looking to take their game to the next level.

This is good stuff — insider info from a guy who has seen it all. If you want to play music, whether for love or money, this book will help.

The book is billed as a musician’s guide, so I guess it covers all the things working musicians need to know, like how to flake on rehearsals, be late for gigs, and spill drinks on the drummer?

Andrew ThomasHa! Your question is right on the money except for one thing. “Working” musicians don’t stay that way for long if they flake on rehearsals and are late for gigs. On the other hand, spilling drinks on the drummer has never cost a musician a gig. In fact, it’s almost a requirement for some gigs. [^@#*$&@# bassists! –Ed.]

Seriously, though. This book was written in part because a lot of musicians make the kinds of mistakes you mention, yet don’t really know that in doing so they are blowing their shot in a band. Garage to Gigs can help these musicians, and bandleaders, become more efficient and more productive — which will correct issues like being a flake, or consistently late.

Of course, for any change to occur, the passion to perform in a band has to be there. If you are a screw-up, and don’t really care that you are wasting people’s time, then the book can’t help you. But if you want to learn how to maximize practice time so you can learn 20 songs two days before your big audition, or how to set a realistic and efficient rehearsal schedule so your band doesn’t burn out, then this is a book that can help.

What’s the range of acceptable behaviors for a bandleader? For example, can a bandleader fire a band member during a gig, on stage?

Every bandleader has their own style. I’ve played for some really mellow bandleaders and for some bandleaders that were so mean, you’d be scared to death they were going to fire you mid-set. I’ve never seen this actually happen, but I’ve been in plenty of situations where it was clear certain musicians weren’t going to be on the next gig.

I have a lot of respect for bandleaders. It’s a tough job. Bandleaders are typically the only people that can prevent musical chaos, which is inevitable without them. My idea of hell is a rehearsal room where the guitar player is constantly tweaking his amp, the singer can’t stop her mic from feeding back, the drummer is perpetually banging on his floor tom, and I’m yelling for one second of quiet so I can tune my bass. So I guess my answer to your question is bandleaders can do whatever they want, as long as they keep my hell from becoming reality.

When offered by a club owner to take “50% of the door,” former JAR guitarist and mutual friend Steve Sparks famously invited the owner to “kiss 50% of my ass.” Does the book offer etiquette lessons for bands playing the local club scene? What can musicians do to ensure they get invited back?

Wouldn’t a better dig be to kiss 100% of his ass? [I can’t speak for Steve, but for me, any more than 50% better include dinner and a movie. –Ed.]

Yes, Garage to Gigs does offer advice for musicians on how to deal with club owners and booking agents, and I probably wouldn’t recommend antagonizing them. In most cities, you can count the venues that host live music on one or two hands. These people all know each other and talk about the talent they book. Getting blackballed from one club could mean being shut out of all clubs, and that would make for a very short career.

In regards to actually addressing club owners and booking agents, I’ve known a lot of musicians who are afraid to speak to these folks. I think of a big part of that is that musicians come from a world where they are creating music and it’s very personal and artistic. Selling your music and band to a club turns the process into a public dog and pony show, and that’s a tough transition for a lot of musicians. In the book, I break down two scenarios of bands interacting with bookers. It’s in script form and goes through how to concisely articulate your points and sell your band so you can land the gig. I wanted to bring readers right into the phone conversation that gets your band booked so there’s no ambiguity in regards to the process.

The only way to get invited back to a club is to follow through on your promise to the owner or booker. If that promise was that you would bring 20 people to the gig, then you’d better bring 20 people. If the promise was to play quietly so people can talk over the music while they eat their salads, then you’d better play at whisper-level. When you book a gig, be clear on that promise. Then, after you deliver, you follow up with the booker or club owner and make sure they know you delivered. It’s in that conversation that you talk about when your band is returning to the venue.

Can you share a favorite anecdote about what not to do? What’s a good career-limiting move for a musician?

My favorite career-limiting anecdote actually relates to your earlier question. I used to play in a band that convinced a club owner to open on a Tuesday night, a night he usually kept his club closed. Our rationale was that our drummer knew a friend who was having a huge birthday party and she guaranteed 80 people would be at our show to celebrate her big night.

“The guy was old-school Italian and I really thought he might have us all killed.”

Four people came to the gig. We were playing our set — poorly, I might add — when the owner walked in. He took one look around and ran up to the front of the stage, where he proceeded to drag his forefinger across his throat, which stopped us cold, mid-song. The guy was old-school Italian and I really thought he might have us all killed.

When club owners open their doors, they are paying for electricity and the wages of the door guy, the bartender, sound guy, and maybe a bar-back. We probably cost this particular owner four or five hundred bucks.

He didn’t have us rubbed out, but we were banned forever. The lesson here: don’t lie about your draw. If you can’t deliver a certain number of people to a gig, don’t book it. Wait until you’re ready; otherwise, you’ll play the venue once, burn a bridge, and that’s it. If you wait until you’re ready, you can establish a relationship with the venue and play there repeatedly.

Turning to a favorite topic around here… what can a recording engineer due to make an artist comfortable and productive? What are you looking for in a recording studio (besides the free blow and sandwiches, of course)?

My favorite recording engineers are people that aren’t afraid to get involved with the musicians in the studio. I’m talking about beyond just hitting the “record” button. Let’s face it. Recording is tough, and most musicians aren’t in the studio enough to get so good at it that they can kick butt their first time out.

When an engineer can constructively guide a musician to maximize his or her performance, everyone ends up with the best result. The musician or band get a recording they can be proud of, and the engineer has another audio showcase to use to get referral business.

At this point I would typically get into some heavy gear questions, but I know there’s a new CD coming our way in about six weeks, so we’ll check back in then. In the meantime, you can hear Andrew’s first CD at his MySpace page, and you can preview the book by clicking on the cover shot to your right. Thank you, Andrew!

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