by MATT BACON >
So one of the big things that I see a lot of bands I work with have to deal with is sampling error.
People don’t seem to get this and they don’t understand that this confusion is a fundamental part of the human condition. See – when you hear about a band like KISS or hell even Justin Bieber you buy into this mythology of “Anyone can do it “ but this is patently not the case.. Like – sure you hear about these things but look at it this way. When Taylor Swift tells you “Follow your dreams “ that’s the equivalent of a lottery winner saying “Play the lottery it worked for me”. This is sampling error. Most people don’t want to admit it exists, because it doesn’t really work with our shitty primate brains. So we need to figure out how to move past that and help to evolve our respective brands so maybe we can become the Taylor Swifts of the next generation in some form or another. Just please, PLEASE don’t think that’s a likelihood.
So where does this sampling error emerge from?
Well – like I said a lot of it comes from the weird mythology that comes from rock bands. Like – I feel like if nothing else bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath who came from the underground sort of inaderntly created tis illusion that bands now thinkthe y can come from the underground with miniml work and become legends. What they forget is that by the time he was 19 Jimmy Page was one of the worlds premiere session guitarists. If you go to something with an even more direct connection, a band like Nirvana for example, you still see layers of illusion. Like sure, Kurt was definitely homeless for a while, but he also managed to be in the right place at the right time. Again – I think Nirvana is one of the most important bands of all time, but their position in popular culture is, in many ways, due to luck. I know that’s a shitty thing to deal with, but it’s the truth.
As bizarre as it might seem that someone like Kurt Cobain could become huge you also have to remember where he came from and all of the fundamental understandings of the underground music scene that he had. He paid attention to his musical forefathers and constantly gave them the credit he thought they deserved. A lot of bands don’t do this – or at least they don’t do it in any substantial way, which really adds to the frustration that I think a lot of people have. They don’t seem to understand that like – sure Kurt was just a bum, but he was also one of the most connected dudes in the Pacific Northwest in terms of bands he knew and that led to a lot of opportunities that a quasi-homeless musician never would have had. So the sampling error trickles down again. Sure you might say “Oh well a lot of huge bands started playing basements” but all of those bands, even those trickling into the modern day also made sure to push past the common limitations.
Look at a modern day Nirvana, for example Modern Baseball.
Sure they are great songwriters and they have a strong understanding of what pop punk fans want to hear, but more than anything they were able to break through by specifically targeting key people in their Philadelphia student scene. In a world where most people are just pretenders who don’t understand aesthetic or marketing Modern Baseball did little else than try and make sure that some of their key friends would pay attention. They did this by being nice guys, writing damn good songs and cultivating a DIY sensibility. These are dudes who I’ve seen play to crowds of 20-30 friends, even after playing small arenas. They didn’t forget where they came from and in fact they used that in order to build their fanbase literally one or two people at a time. Instead of getting caught up in the common limitations of this music they were able to have a grander vision that only served to help them.
The key though is that Modern Baseball, and Nirvana, and whoever the fuck else you want to mention didn’t really think this was possible.
They didn’t buy into sampling error and they didn’t really think that there was a market for this. Instead they just sort of looked at the realities of their scene and managed to evolve that into something a little more grandiose. They didn’t think that they were going to match their heroes. A lto of people think that they are going to become rock stars, but I think that a lot of the most important bands of the last 25 years thought exactly the opposite. The reason that they thus became rock stars was because that they didn’t let themselves become complacent. So many of these young bands think success will just come and are boring and staid, you need to move past that and figure out what YOU are going to concretely do in order to bring your brand to the next level and find that next step.
Let’s be real – I’m drunk, but I’m also right.
At least a few members of your band are probably looking at some relatively obscure example of a band who was in your situation years ago and lucked into success. But the thing is they didn’t luck into success. They worked their asses off and tried to identify what made them special and then were able to cultivate that into something greater. Yes it’s a long term process and one that I think most people don’t want to really have to deal with, but that’s the fucking point. If everyone had the patience for this bullshit then they would all work together to refine something better and become bigger. But they don’t. Which means that if you’re down then you can find some real success.