Band Aid

You want to be famous -- or at least get your group out of the garage. Here's where to start.

March 08, 2007|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,Sun Reporter

YOU GOT THE BAND TOgether. You found a practice space. You've even started writing your own songs and performing for friends and family.

Now comes the hard part.

Cutting your first demo CD, scoring local club gigs and going on tour is the natural progression for local bands. But each of these steps is tough enough to break up a band before it can really get rolling. Calling or e-mailing the right people can seriously increase your chances of success. Here is a guide to getting ahead, with advice from club and studio owners and renowned and up-and-coming local bands.

If you've got the talent and the drive, this is your road map.

Recording a demo

You mail copies to venues, hand them out (or sell them) at shows and upload them to MySpace. While you can pass out fliers and tell people how good your music is, your demo is physical proof. It's one of the first priorities for all serious bands.

Cheaper, better technology has made cutting demos in your basement much easier in recent years. With a couple of thousand dollars worth of equipment, you can get sound quality that rivals some local studios.

Baltimore-based rock 'n' roll band J-Roddy Walston and the Business recorded its debut album Hail Mega Boys in guitarist Billy Gordon's basement.

"You can make a pretty good-sounding record on your own at this point," said frontman Walston. "It's totally affordable to buy equipment. If you have a good ear and read up or help somebody else out that knows what they're doing, you get the basics down."

But there is still a definite advantage to having an experienced engineer behind the mixing board.

"Would you do surgery on yourself or would you go to the doctor?" said Frank Marchand, who owns and operates recording studio Waterford Digital Inc. in Millersville.

"That's where it stands," he said. "For all intents and purposes, recording and engineering ... is really a vocational skill, like mechanics or a chef in a restaurant."

The average four-piece rock band can record, mix and master a three-song demo in a studio for anywhere from a couple hundred bucks to $5,000, depending on the studio, Marchand said.

Don't let recording studios awe you with top-of-the-line recording equipment and then charge you a heavy bill. The engineer is a crucial and sometimes overlooked aspect of the studio, Marchand said.

"I still see artists who get wowed by the big room and the big console," Marchand said. "It's the guy behind the desk or the guy who hooks up the microphones and listens who is the sole difference-maker in the whole process."

Once you have a demo, you're ready to start trolling for club gigs.

Booking your first gig

For most bands, nothing quite compares to the rush of playing in front of people. While house parties and open-mike nights are good starting grounds, the real goal is a club gig. But getting to that point takes a mix of determination, professionalism and talent.

The best two ways to break into the local club scene are to play local-music spotlight shows and to network with other acts in your genre.

Most live music clubs in the city have a booking ladder for local acts. Open-mike nights and locals-only shows are usually the first step, with the goal being a Friday or Saturday night headlining slot. Play well, bring friends and act professional at these venues, and you could wind up scoring regular gigs there.

"Every club has a booking system -- a philosophy," said Brian Shupe, co-owner of the 8x10 in Federal Hill. "You just need to follow it."

Start by sending your information to the club's booking agent. Press kits, which were the best way to get the word out 10 years ago, are now preferred at only a handful of venues.

Press kits should consist of 1) a one-sheet -- a single piece of paper listing where you've played locally, how many people you can draw and your contact information; 2) a photograph; and 3) a demo CD with a few tracks.

The Internet is quickly replacing traditional press kits. Shupe, who receives 40 to 50 press kits a month, said he listens to only a quarter of the demos bands mail him.

Instead, the majority of local club owners and booking agents want a brief e-mail with your contact information, band name and Web or MySpace site.

MySpace is quickly becoming the industry standard for up-and-coming groups. Through it, club reps can listen to four songs and see how many friends a band has -- sometimes a sign of how many people they could bring to a show, said Lonnie Fisher, who owns the club Sonar.

"The last thing I want bands to do is send me a press kit with paperwork and pictures and all that," Fisher said. "There's no reason to waste the paper."

Though some clubs and events let you play for free, larger clubs like the 8x10 and the Recher Theatre in Towson make you buy a certain number of advance tickets. In turn, you can sell them to your friends and make a little money.

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