Musicians Without Ambitions

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Editor’s Note: This is an opinion piece by Deric Nails Boneski (as if everything on this site isn’t opinion). I met Deric on Facebook through Underground Music Coalition, a great group for bands. You can keep up with Deric on Facebook and Twitter @official6bit.

-Damascus Wootz

Since you probably have little to no idea who I am, I’ll introduce myself in as few words as possible. My name is Deric “Nails” Boneski (“buh-NESS-kee”), I’m 32, and I’m originally from Louisiana, now living in Portland, OR. I’ve been playing music since I was a kid, started playing more seriously at 15, and I’ve grown into a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and composer who engineers and produces music as a hobby. I’ve cut some demos and first albums for a few people, played bass for a couple bands, and fronted my own long-time music project. At this point in my life, I’m writing, producing, and directing an indie film of my own, making a sort of career move from music to movies in hopes of combining the two once I know how to do both. I also write as a hobby and budding career, hoping to pursue that more in the future as well (like right now).

Now that you know my qualifications and where I’m coming from, I want to point out some of the differences between the underground music industry and its cinematic counterpart, as well as what should be expected from anyone, be they musician, actor, model, or overnight stocker. I warn you, some of this may sting, but I’ll make it quick.

Since I’ve started seeking a cast and crew for my film, I have been sought out and contacted by some of the nicest, most professional, most well put-together actors, actresses, and film crew people you can imagine. The actors and actresses have their head shots, resumes, and even demo reels and movie snippets all organized as digital portfolios, telling me what films they’ve been a part of, what other skills they have, etc, and the workers are just happy to help make a movie. No one who’s offered even wants money, except a few who offered special rates, but all of these people look like they really earn it with their skills. They’ve all offered themselves up to help in any way they can, such as lending a hand with the set, finding more people, spreading the word, all of that great stuff. I’ve truly encountered total and utter professionalism in every single actor and actress, aside from a few people with slight attitude problems.

I don’t even have to tell most of you what it’s like to deal with other musicians. When you find them and offer them a spot in your band, project, or whatever it is that you do, you’re auditioning yourself to them, even if your band has been around longer than they’ve been playing music. You’ve had time booked for a week, and they still show up two hours late without a call or text. When they finally stroll in, you’re the one with the problem if you wanna know where they’ve been, and they revel in knowing that someone had to wait on them. They won’t talk about the band or the songs, nor will they shut up about anything else. Then, when you finally try to show them how the song should go, what their part is, what your vision is, how you feel, anything at all, they say, “Actually, I wanted to show you this thing I wrote…but we can do that after you. I mean, no big deal. Also, I think this song sucks. We need more covers, too. You know that Hoobastank song?”

Bruh.

Another problem is the lack of actual comradery among musicians. We like to think of music as a tight brotherhood, but that’s only because the bonds that we have with other musicians become solid due to the fact that there are so many flakes and backstabbers around us; when we find someone we can trust, we don’t let them go. It’s hell trying to network with musicians, too, because it’s hard to find the ones who want to acknowledge the existence of others. I don’t know how many times I’ve talked to people who really wanted to maintain a level of mystique, or were too shy, and refused to really do much talking in return. Social skills are something that more musicians could really use, whether we like it or not, because it’s usually our own fault that we get no recognition or opportunities, but “outgoing” is not always synonymous with “artist” or “guy who plays guitar in his bedroom.” If you don’t go up to your fans and talk to them, they’re not as likely to come to the next show, and if you don’t talk to other musicians, they won’t help you get your next show booked, or help you get into your next band. If you don’t talk to the guy asking you to play in his band, you need to start over because your ass is where your head should be.

The difference is really in discipline. We musicians don’t always encounter situations that teach us to take orders or follow instructions, and we often have a personal goal and vision of greatness that only includes faceless dudes who fill the band we didn’t form yet, so we don’t always appreciate it when an actual group lets us in. We could all learn from these actors and actresses, though. They actually have to work to get where they want to be. You don’t act for five years in your basement and get a big break the first time to recite Shakespeare in front of the right person (usually), but you can play guitar in your basement for five years, audition once, and be on the road in no time. They know that the chances of a major motion picture company casting them after their first, third, sixth, or tenth indie film are pretty small, unless they’ve worked their balls off in that time, and they don’t all have delusions of grandeur, whereas your first band’s first demo might actually get you a record deal. When you think of film people, you probably think of spoiled stars in Hollywood, but, unlike some (or many) relatively unknown musicians, the people involved in Portland’s indie film scene are completely aware that they haven’t come close to making it yet. While a musician may name the one band they were in and expect you to have heard of them or care, these people are giving me lists of movies they’ve been in without expecting me to be at all impressed by or familiar with the title, hoping that I judge them based on their contribution and not the talent of the filmmaker. The quality of their portfolios is impressive as well. The other night, I realized that a head shot sent to me was so hi-def that I could have counted the pores in their nose. If you actually get a demo from a musician, good luck making out the notes, since they made it with their phone.

Here are a few pointers:

When you’re contacted by anyone, be they major record label or just a guy with a guitar, be respectful and reasonably humble, representing yourself without too much ego or too little, and conduct yourself as an average person, forgetting how incredible you fancy yourself to be. Make sure to provide them with all necessary material, such as the best demo that you have available (I was just busting your balls about the phone thing), references who know that you can play and can attest to your work ethic (mutual friends are preferable), and a resume of the previous projects that you’ve been a part of, whether it was a band, a recording project, a film, or a job that required some cross-skills, such as a customer service position that may qualify you as a spokesperson in a band of otherwise antisocial individuals, or a carpentry / construction job that would prepare you to help a theatrical band build their props (you may not include it, but I would hire you that much quicker for a band if I saw that you had other skills). If all of this is done through conversation and not email, talk openly to the people about your skills and past works. Make sure to be friendly, conversational, and forthcoming with all information that will sell you to the prospective musician or band. You’re not there to give them reasons not to call you back. If you are, leave. You’re stupid.

If you actually make it into someone’s band or project, that doesn’t mean it’s time for you to shine. No one is taking you nearly as seriously as you’re taking yourself, so consider this a trial period. Whether you’ve joined a democracy or a dictatorship, it already was what it is, and you weren’t brought in to change things (unless you explicitly were). If the band has a certain look, you should conform to it if they require it. If they have a certain sound, you should conform to that as well, maintaining any level of creativity and input that they allow. You should always show up on time, always stick to appointments, and take the band as seriously as you would any other job, if not more so. If they can’t rely on you to show up for rehearsal when everyone else does, how do they know you won’t fail to show up for a gig? Even showing up late to a studio is just as bad as showing up late to a venue, but it’s still more common than showing up late to dinner. Basically, if you can’t go above and beyond during this trial period, how can anyone expect you to give 100% once you’re comfortable? You’ll get yourself replaced by someone who fits better.

I know that I sound bitter, and it’s because I really am, at least toward unprofessional people. I’m tired of musicians who expect others to take them seriously when those of us recruiting them can’t. If you can’t show up on time, can’t learn the songs, can’t stick to the program, and can’t keep your mouth shut while people are working, what are you doing? Why are you wasting everyone’s time? If you didn’t want to be in a metal or punk or whatever band, why are you? If you don’t want to get up, get dressed, get your gear together, and get your ass to practice to learn the songs that people expect you to run through at home and not screw up on stage, then why do you even say you’ll try? Why bother? Stop now and just plan out the rest of your life differently. Stop trying to be something you’re not. If you can’t actually devote yourself to music, don’t call yourself a musician. If you can’t be a productive and useful part of the band, don’t join bands anymore. If you have nothing of any value to contribute to the project, drop out of the project completely. Maybe you can’t learn a three chord progression, but you can learn to say, “Would you like fries with that?”

– Deric “Nails” Boneski

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