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Play for pay and pay to play

by Archives March 31, 2009

You’ve seen movies about bands. The story is always the same. Some hotshot record mogul hits the town and decides to get himself a beer at a local pub on a Thursday. While ordering a pint, a random band heads onto the dimly lit stage and the janitor announces them as the “whatevers.” Mr. Mogul doesn’t think anything of it at first but, low and behold, they’re amazing! They have that ‘Je ne sais quoi’ star quality that can make his record company soar to the top. He approaches these guys, hands them his business card and tells them to drop by his studio. The lead singer, oh so debonair with his charming good looks and perfect teeth, agrees instantly; while his secret rival, the emaciated lead guitarist is unsure about the meeting.
They head to the record label’s studio, where they meet high up executives and producers. Then they perform a live set. Instant success, everyone loves them and the label wants to sign them right then and there! Ten minutes later, they’ve got a number one hit and half an hour into the film, they are onstage performing for a crowd of over a thousand people. No wonder everyone wants to be a rock star, according to the movies it’s the easiest job ever.
Some people may laugh, scoff, or choke a bit on their food after reading this, but I am sure many of us, myself included, don’t realize how hard the “rock-star” transformation really is. Also the movies always focus on the glitz and glamour of the fame, fortune and fans. The musical process, and album recording is usually featured in a one to three minute musical montage that shows the band singing in studio, sitting by a piano, on a bench, near a staircase, on the beach . the list goes on.
How touching. I mean disturbing! Imagine the reality check bands get when they experience the real world of the music industry.
Take it from local Punk band The Nailheads, music is a hard business. And you better love what you do, because you’re spending money, not making it. Drummer and backup vocalist of The Nailheads, Lucky summed up the Canadian music industry in a sentence: “You got to pay to play.”
Richie Nails, the band’s lead vocalist and bassist, said that the costs can sometimes be overwhelming.
Bands need to rent a jam space, and buy a van to transport their gear. Unsigned bands also have to pay upfront to record an album, and pay for things like T-shirts.
Even trying to get a record deal costs money. Bands have to put together press kits and send them to dozens of labels.
Lucky said getting it all set up cost them about $1,500.
All these costs can force bands to play a lot of shows. But there’s an upside, more shows means more exposure. And more exposure can lead to larger venues and bigger crowds. This can also lead to playing alongside better known bands.
Small bands tend support each other, and they aren’t overly competitive. For instance The Nailheads are playing April 1, with the UK Subs in Quebec City, thanks to another band, who recommended them.
Both Lucky and Richie said that most musicians are happy if they can pay their bills and rent; without having to support their musical career with a day job.
Next week will be the final part of this Can-Con series, so stay tuned for questions concerning government grants and North American tours. In the meantime, support local bands and stop watching bad made-for-TV movies.

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