By Mike Wahmann
I recently had a conversation with a friend about what a band is. The Merriam-Webster definition of a musical band is “a group of persons, animals, or things especially: a group of musicians organized for ensemble playing” Is that all a band is? And if so, what are all the other things that go into a “band” classified as? Is that something more than a band? And a group of persons? So there’s no limit to how many, right? Like two people can be “a band” and release music together and be considered a band…But what about a single person declaring it a band. I supposed releasing music online it’s just a “recording artist” but once you perform live with other people…THEN and only THEN it’s a band…Right? Maybe it’s different things for different people and this dictionary definition isn’t the be all, end all. Let’s dig a little deeper, shall we?
So we’re going to specifically hone in on an original “rock” band because that’s what my conversation was about and it’s what I have personal experience in. Traditionally you look on a stage at a show and see 3 to 6 musicians up on stage with instruments and/or singing and that is a “band.” But what goes into that? First off, there’s writing. There’s nothing to perform if there is no song written. Then, there’s learning the song. Even for the primary songwriter because they may have written it but have they played it with other people yet? And of course there’s rehearsal. Life is not a musical, it doesn’t just happen. There’s practice and stumbling and things sounding awful at first until they don’t and you feel confident in performing it out in the real world. There’s booking! A band can’t just show up and play somewhere. There are a lot of logistics involved. And this is just the tip of the iceberg!
Recording, advertising for the show, releasing material, videos, content, social media presence…Those are all things a “band” needs to worry about. Or maybe they don’t? I mean, by the very textbook definition it’s just being in a “group of persons” put together for ensemble playing. Can’t that just be good enough? Well, no. Without any of those things, your band doesn’t get booked for that show. They don’t get to play shows and be “a band.” When the work is split between that ensemble it should be easy to maintain, right? Well, the fact of the matter is…When it comes to the business side of things, that’s when that definition absolutely changes for me and many of my friends.
“Being” in a band right now, especially on the other side of COVID lockdowns, the business side is more important than ever before. While showing up and playing an instrument is VERY important, someone’s contributions to the cause, contributions to the music are far more important…Right? I mean, just here in our local area of Long Island, NY…You can’t throw a rock in any direction and NOT hit a guitar player. And when live music wasn’t a thing for us, who was actually needed in the process? I think contributors belong to the band. The people looking to forward the direction of the whole regardless of if a live show is in the cards. The ones who belong to the process. Things are very different now. A band can be a band without being a bunch of people banging out power-chords in a room.
I think that's often misunderstood with my projects. I hear people consider Something Heavy “a project” because only AJ Vekas and myself are listed as “members.” Well, who’s to say a single contributor can’t be a “band” if they bring people in to play that material? I think that’s something that’s often overlooked. Prime examples… Nine Inch Nails! Trent Reznor IS NIN. Beartooth! Caleb Shomo writes all the songs, sometimes with contributors and records all of the instruments. The first Foo Fighters record was ALL Dave Grohl… I mean, that doesn’t make them NOT a band. Right? I’ve started to approach my “bands” this way as well. Why? Well, I don’t need someone who’s going to show up and play. Which brings me to my next point:
THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN “PLAYING” IN A BAND AND “BEING” IN A BAND!
This is something I’ve told to many friends over the years. Many friends dealing with the people who want to show up and play their instrument then feel as if that’s enough of a contribution to the band. To me personally, it’s not. Why? Because I can do that. And I know plenty of people that can do that. I don’t necessarily need you there to just do that. And if you’re not able to help in other aspects of the business of “being” in a band, I don’t need you there to give an opinion on what the right move is. I mean, when you’re trying to succeed as a band then a band is a business. What does your place of work do to a person who doesn’t contribute? Doesn’t produce? They cut them loose.
Man, that sounds pretty cold…That sounds pretty mean…But you know what? When you’re in bands for the better part of your life, you experience things. And I know various people with varying degrees of success but based on my personal experience…I can tell you this. I’ve messed up enough in my past to know what I want for my future. I want to preface this by saying that I have ABSOLUTELY been in bands with major contributors…Some of them a bigger contributor than myself…But right now, being in a band of two, I know that I receive money in my bank every month. Is it enough to live off of? Not even close…Is it enough for a bottle of Jameson every month? Sure is! And that’s just not something I’ve experienced before in bands with 5-6 people.
So what changed? Conflicting opinions of what “being in a band” is no longer there. People who think contributing is their mere presence in the room. Less egos. Let’s face it, there are good workers and shit workers out there. By and large, shit workers overpopulate the workforce. Well, that’s no different in music. Only a few people understand what work goes into a profession like this. Few people are willing to get down to brass tacks and able to get RIGHT to work. And unfortunately most of those people are saddled with deadweight. People who don’t understand the sacrifice and selflessness that goes into a band. Most people want to get with a group of people and immediately “get their shit in” and book a show to stroke their ego. And that’s not going to spell success. Not even a little bit.
I “tried” pursuing music as my career for a long, long time and the whole time hadn't been as “successful” as when I had a group or even just one single person who got “it.” On the surface that certainly seems pompous, especially throwing the word “success” around. So let me clear that up real quick. Success is relative and different for everyone. I find my time spent on music right now to be more productive and therefore more satisfying. That alone is “success” for me. Anything else like regular streaming plays, social media hits and people showing up to see the band perform is truly just extra gravy to me. My success may not be what other people consider their success. That seems a bit off the beaten path, but I do think it’s important to mention because perspective is important.
Perspective is what this is all about, isn’t it? Is a band consisting of two people really a “band?” Well, if they’re contributing, they’re presenting themselves and treating themselves as a band…Sure! Why wouldn’t they be considered a band? Sometimes there are one or two members because they don’t want to deal with the additional opinions from someone who’s looking to inflate their ego by telling people they're in a band and getting their shit in at a show. Go “play” with a band. I’ve got enough of my own baggage, I don’t need that type of person’s baggage as well! That’s not “being in a band.”
I hope some of what I said opens some minds. I hope it helps someone else in a rut or in a lul in their band journey. I know that some will argue what I’ve said here. There are a lot of ways to skin a cat, I suppose. I’m aware that’s not everyone’s approach, but it’s certainly mine. And that way has paid dividends certainly with creating an income stream with music but more so my mental health. And you just cannot put a price on that.