Hey, don't feel bad — we all have habits we need to break. I bite my nails. My husband sometimes wears socks with sandals. But these things haven't affected our careers (at least not that we know of, although that socks-and-sandals business is pretty dicey). There are some bad habits that musicians are particularly prone to, though, that could very well curb a band's potential and growth. In other words, they need to go.
While it's never easy to admit you could be doing life a little better than you are, accepting that certain behaviors are problematic is the first step to fixing them. And fixing them? Well, that could be the first step toward putting your band on the map.
Check out the following issues bands often grapple with so you can be more mindful not to make them moving forward.
1. Not playing to your strengths
I love a good cover of "Simple Man" as much as the next person, but I'm also very aware that I don't have the vocal range of the late great Ronnie Van Zant (or Johnny Van Zant or Shinedown's Brent Smith, for that matter). I'm also not fronting a band trying to build its following, in which case I would want to downplay my weaknesses . Some songs just aren't a good fit for everyone. If your vocalist is struggling to hold onto long notes or your guitarist can't seem to master the riffs, don't include it in your set ... no matter how many times that one guy in the front row keeps yelling, "Play some Skynyrd!" The very best bands are the ones who know their strengths and highlight them.
2. Skipping out
Band practice may not be as exciting as standing on a stage pandering to a pumped up crowd, but skipping it is a bad idea. It'll essentially ensure you'll suffer some mortifying moment in your band's career that could very well have been prevented if you'd logged a bit more rehearsal time. A vocalist's voice is his or her instrument, and it must be trained. The other members of the band aren't off the hook, either — drums, guitar, and keyboard are all crafts that require practice if you expect those skills to stay sharp. Even worse than skipping out on practice, though? Bailing on a booked gig. Barring true emergency situations, you should never cancel a performance. It's a pain in the ass for the venue to find a replacement, and it could lead to bad word-of-mouth. You don't want to practice (and/or live, no judgment) in the basement forever, do you?
3. Trying to be something you're not (like, for instance, perfect)
I'm gonna let you in on a little secret: you're not perfect. You'll never be perfect. No amount of practice in the world will make you a perfect performer, because perfection is unattainable. It's like the horizon — an invisible line that recedes the closer you get to it. The most seasoned artists in the world with tell you the same, so stop wasting your time and energy trying to be a flawless version of yourself. Sure, keep striving to be the best version of you that you can be! But don't forget that it's human to err, and it's our self-perceived flaws that make us unique. In an industry as competitive as the music scene, you need something that makes you stand out. Your "flaws" can be your selling point if you simply learn to embrace them. Fans crave authenticity. Give them something authentic to remember you by.
4. Bailing on other bands
If you're booked to perform at a gig and two other bands are scheduled to come on after your set, try to stick around — especially if the bands are local. It's important to support your local music scene to cultivate interest and connections. It's also important not to seem like a bunch of dill-holes who think they are too good to stick around and listen to the quote-unquote competition. Granted, if you have a super early gig the next morning or have to hit the road early that night, by all means bow out. Do so gracefully, though, by telling the other bands booked that night to break a leg (and mean it only in the nicest sense of the expression).
5. Changing your band name
When it comes to a band's brand, it all starts with the name. Your band name is the first thing people see or hear about you. It's what is printed across the merch they buy when they become your biggest fans. It's the thing they scream when you come out on stage. In other words, a band's name is an integral part of their image. It's important, then, to pick a name and try to stick with it. Every time you change your band name, you risk losing the brand you've worked so hard to build. There are extenuating circumstances, of course, such as starting with name that lacks brandability or being forced by a larger band to change your name for infringement reasons. But if you've simply grown tired of your current name, think twice before making a change.
6. Expecting music writers to make the first move
Music writers and bloggers can be a band's best friend. You want them to take a vested interested in your story. You want them to promote your music. If a potential fan knows nothing about you and wants help deciding if your sound is worth pursuing, they turn to music writers to fill in the blanks for them. And, occasionally, you might hear from a music writer who came to one of your shows or whose curiosity was piqued by your buzz. But, as an entertainment writer, I can tell you there's not enough time in the day to pursue all of the pitches sent our way and still have time to reach out to every local band out there gigging. Don't expect coverage; work for it. If you were to email me and tell me I'd be missing a huge opportunity if I didn't interview a band as badass as yours, I'd email you back. Be respectful, but be persistent too. It could mean all the difference in the kind (and amount) of coverage you get.
7. Feeling bad about self-promotion
When asked about why they don't use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to promote their music, many bands will tell you they feel bad about barraging their friends, family, and fans with updates. In not doing so though, you're failing to capitalize on one of the easiest tools of self-promotion available that — bonus! — also happens to be free. The key is to find the right balance. If you under-post, you likely won't see much movement in your fan base or community involvement. If you over-post, you risk alienating your followers. Start by creating a few band-specific posts per day and work up or down from there. The people who dig what you're doing musically will want to hear what you have going on. Don't feel guilty! Get out there and get the good word out to the people.