Ska-punk legends Jaya the Cat once sang “don’t wanna make this life seem glamorous ‘cos it’s not, working shit jobs just to play rock.” Now you may think that is the kind of nihilistic sentiment you would expect from this crusty outfit, but do they have a point? What exactly has your favourite DIY band done to get to where they are? Why are so many rockers burnt out? Cast your eyes upon my highly subjective and somewhat exaggerated account on DIY music and get the low-down!
The reality of the DIY scene is that there is rarely much money in it for the band. Chances are, unless you tour 24/7 and are regularly selling out decent sized venues, you are going to need a day job. You can’t work weekends or evenings, that is when you have gigs, and your boss needs to be cool with you taking time off to drive round the Midlands to promote your new album. So you will probably end up washing dishes at a corporate catering event that is based around cruelty to horses and investment banking, and offers little in the way of job satisfaction or pay. Now bear in mind, being in a band is already a full time job; practising, writing, making merch, choosing artwork, booking gigs, arranging transport, promotion etc, etc… So you are working two jobs, one is shit and the other is basically unpaid.
If you do not have a van (which are expensive), you better get used to driving hundreds of miles crammed in a small car with three guitars, an amp, drum-breakables, an accordion and the bass player on your lap. Somebody skipped some sandwiches for the journey up but they’ve gone off; luckily you were too cramped to actually get any bacteria-rife morsels to your mouth, but aforementioned bass player ate some before you left and is now crippled with chronic flatulence… The windows long since smogged up, and the outside world becomes a fading memory.
It is a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon; the parks are bursting with picnickers, the cafés and bars are buzzing, middle-aged people are washing their cars and children are cycling their bikes through the lazy warmth, ice creams clutched in sticky little hands.
So what the hell are you doing cramped in a tiny windowless room on an industrial estate near where a recent high profile murder was committed, with five profusely sweating accomplices, playing the same 15 seconds of a song over and over and debating whether the drum part should be played on the snare or the floor tom?! You are at band practise of course! Thinking about spending your precious time off work relaxing and spending time with your loved ones? Well too bad, there is a big gig coming up and these songs will not write themselves.
Most bands need lots of kit, beyond just the instruments. You’ll be bringing cases, spare strings, ear-plugs, mics, amps, pre-amps, pedals, the plug for the pedal, reeds, tuners, batteries for tuners, merchandise, guitar straps, set-lists, D.I.s spare drum sticks, drum breakables, gaffa-tape to stop the drums careening forward into the audience via the lead singers kneecaps… Well, you get the idea. If you’ve forgotten anything, you better hope you can beg/borrow/hastily fabricate using materials found in the back room of the bar otherwise all of those hours of practising the new guitar solo will be for nothing because you broke the last B string!
I have already touched upon money in previous sections but you have got to realise that paying for rehearsal space, all the gear you need and transport are constantly chipping away at your bank balance (or if you are really DIY, the hole in your mattress). Big investments will be needed for tour costs, bulk ordering merchandise and the like. Recording can cost a lot, depending on the studio/equipment/production values you decide on. Then there is mixing, mastering, physical CD production, promotion and distribution. The great thing about our scene is other band and distros and independent labels will all help out but your pocket is still going to feel the hurt!
Your fellow band members are like your family, you love them but sometimes there will be blood… Minor disagreements. Thing is, you are all going to have different opinions and decisions are going to have to be made about the project you are so passionate about. You are emotionally invested and possibly financially invested and although you will laugh about it later, nothing can get you back the hours of precious life you spent furiously debating which font should be used on your 5 track EP for the thanks section that you ultimately scrapped altogether to save printing costs.
It is said: to avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing. The truth is, although our scene is a supportive community, you should still be prepared for some abuse. You are putting yourself out there and there are some who will see that as an invitation to critique and not always in the most constructive of ways. Playing a gig to a hostile crowd can be quite fun in a strange way, you can really let rip and go for it, but after the gig you always have that awkward packing up bit after when all the adrenalin has wilted under withering stares of your irritate audience.
Reasons why you should do it anyway
So it makes jobs harder? Well no-one likes their job really! At least you have something interesting going on. Travel can be gruelling, but think of all the strange places you can go and cover in band stickers! Rehearsals can be long, but it’s just delayed gratification because when you totally nail that new song and someone mentions afterwards how good the drum fill on the floor tom was, you are going to feel great! Money? You’d just waste it on other shit anyway – what other venture could be so pure and true? Fights? Well what is this life without a bit of drama, keeping you on your toes, it’s good for your heart (probably, I don’t know, I am not a doctor)! Haters? Gonna hate, it’s all good, just drown them out with the sound of your raucous melodies!
The thing is though, despite all the incredible hardships you have nobly suffered through, being in a band is still the best thing you’ll ever do. The fun, the friends, the fabulous music you have made, the brilliant bands you have seen, the transferable skills you have learnt, the self-confidence you have gained, the places you have travelled and the stories you can keep telling – long after everyone has stopped listening…
Okay, so it’s not glamorous, who cares Jaya the Cat?! It’s so worth it! So do not delay, grab the nearest available object that vibrates at an aurally pleasing frequency, pen some lyrics about how you hate your job and make it happen!