Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My Advice to Indie Rock Wannabe's

I realize that I am no expert in indie rock or even playing in a band. But as I have demonstrated through this blog and others, I have been around the indie rock block as a fan and blogger. Many issues of Magnet have been digested and hours spent on Pitchfork in addition to countless amounts of money spent at shows and in reckid stores. I have put in my time as an indie rock junkie and now it's my turn to impart some wisdom on all those longing for a career making the music I love.

So, here are the top ten things every indie rocker should do in order to have a long career making and playing music in this oversaturated scene.

10. Never really become a band. Bonus points go to bands where the members all live in separate states. The ambiguity of a band's status earns the label of "proj
ect" and creates this aura of experimentation that seems to defy all that is rock 'n roll. This can also be accomplished by solo artists who go by names that conjure images of a band even though all the music is really written and performed by one person. Of course, not becoming a band means you may not play shows or record music. That might put a dent into your plans of indie rock stardom.

Examples: Pavement, Bright Eyes, The Silver Jews

9. Sell your songs to car companies. It used to be that bands all wanted to get their songs onto soundtracks for films, but that strategy has been played. Bands now know all they have to do is land an ad for Saturn or Volkswagen and they're good as gold. So what if a band's Ford Econoline van doesn't run after that last tour. I hear Toyota wants to use their song on an upcoming Prius ad.

Examples: Wilco, The Polyphonic Spree, The Walkmen

8. OK, so I lied. It's still a good thing to get that one song that's really good but no one has
ever heard onto the next film by the Weinstein Company. Of course, I'm not talking about super hero flicks or action/adventure mega-monster summer blockbusters. Oh no. I'm talking little indie hits about the angst of being white, middle-class and in your mid-twenties. Similar routes to success can also be found on WB or HBO series with a similar aesthetic to indie films.

Examples: The Shins, The Moldy Peaches, Band of Horses

7. Record at least one lo-fi record in a van down by the river (or at least a bedroom). People love the back-story to a record. When they hear a dude loses his girlfriend, his dog, and his trailer and somehow doesn't write a country album, they go ape-shit and call it an instant classic. The fewer tracks on the tape recorder, the better.

Examples: Bon Iver, Eric Bachman, Sebadoh/Folk Implosion

6. Starting a two-piece band with your wife, ex-wife, or sister/wife usually stirs up a lot of interest in a band. First of all, two-piece bands are somehow still hot. Secondly, listeners believe that all your songs are about your spouse/ex/sister. Third, the audience at shows just pictures the two of you having sex over and over. It's like virtual, marital porn.

Examples: Mates of State, Quasi, The White Stripes

5. Move to Canada. The Canadian government provides grant money for artists and musicians who have turned this special brand of socialism into some pretty good albums. Collectives and super groups seem to be the most popular acts, but some musicians have found that they can have like eight bands touring and recording at one time. There's a reason the Canadian dollar has surpassed our own dollar; it's the indie rock trade deficit.

Examples: Broken Social Scene, The New Pornographers, Wolf Parade

4. Support Barack Obama. Rock bands have always been known to be political. Now, every band in Pitchfork is backing Obama in this year's election. There are regular concerts at Obama rallies. Nothing says "first African-American President" like music for and by rich, white kids.

Examples: Arcade Fire, Superchunk, The Decemberists

3. Write one classic album that could be moderately successful at first but then rises to cult status 10-20 years later. A career is about longevity. You need an album that might sell moderately, when it comes out, but continues to sell about the same 20 years down the road. Suddenly, Paste, Pitchfork, or, even better, Rolling Stone decide that your record is a hidden gem. Then, you really cash in. The indie cult status of this album will allow your group to reunite and play the entire album in sequence for All Tomorrow's Parties or the Pitchfork Fest or both. You top it off with a digitally re-mastered version of the original with some bonus tracks (aka the crap you never thought would sell) and mark up the price $5-10.

Examples: Slint, Chavez, Sonic Youth (although, they never had to reunite)

2. One or more of your band's members should have a mental breakdown, preferably the drummer. Or, at the very least, they should have a crippling drug addiction. Mental illness adds an edge to your music that people will find so intriguing that they may forget that the music itself is only mediocre at best. The reason you want the drummer to have the breakdown is so that your primary songwriter doesn't go down. This could send your band to Wikipedia with no current updates for ten years. Of course, mental illness and drug addiction are no laughing matters, so disregard this suggestion.

Examples: Neutral Milk Hotel, The Libertines, Daniel Johnston

1. Either play incredibly mind-blowing live shows or become an absolute train wreck on stage. Whatever you do, make it memorable. People will turn out in droves if they believe you may shred like your life depends on it...or if they've heard that you'll fall over dunk three songs into the set. The only trouble with this strategy is that if you start out as one kind of live act, you will need to switch over to the other kind to avoid your audience becoming bored with your shtick.

Examples: Cat Power, Guided by Voices, Ryan Adams

Of course, the best way to have a successful career in indie rock is to write and perform great music. This will get you on just the right indie (possibly an artist-friendly major) label. The key, however, is still in the music. That's coming from a guy who spends way too much time and money on indie rock in coping with his Misery.


KR said...

I just heard of The Silver Jews, and I really like the music.

Zach said...

The new Silver Jews single blows. Google the lyrics of "The Wild Kindness" and then sprint to the nearest record store to buy American Water.

Post more advice. (I think that's a request; like you're a band and I'm that guy)

comoprozac said...

I'll do an encore sometime, but no one seemed to be interested in this post.