Regular readers know that I obviously spend a lot of time reading books for entrepreneurs and focused on success. One of the big things that these books focus on is the focus on turning your disadvantages into advantages. This is one of the hardest things that you can do as a band since it often feels like all that you have are disadvantages and finding a way to develop them sustainably and grow in a meaningful way is tricky. It can feel like every play in a disadvantage has already been used, be it bands with zero budget pulling off cool DIY music videos, groups who don’t draw anyone creating content that mocks that or what have you. Of course this is the part of the creativity needed for the music industry. The bands that get big are the ones who looked at what made them weird and hard to like and then doubled the fuck down. This can be anything from a band name Wicked Lester realizing they hadn’t pushed the boundaries of glam rock enough until they became KISS or Greta Van Fleet realizing Led Zeppelin is already a band so why not just give people more Led Zeppelin?
We are all taught, almost from childhood that some of the most important discoveries of all time were happy accidents. Why can’t this philosophy apply to your career in the music industry? Why can’t you turn the things that are holding you back and then grow from there? Look at a band like Yob – they were in many ways too far ahead of their time. They however were able to use the fact that they are miles ahead of their peers to impress a band who only bring out some of the most important innovators in the game – Tool. This obviously took years of hard work – they had a great agent backing them and a sound that is truly bordering on perfect – but it’s just one example of a band looking at how their disadvantages could hit a specific market niche. Many bands seem to think ‘oh well we are too rock for the pop kids and too pop for the rock kids’ or whatever – they don’t try to figure out how they can better cater to one of those niches by making slight adjustments to their sound.
Look at a band with arguably the weirdest career in modern music – The Melvins. They toiled away in pretty much complete obscurity for about a decade before Kurt Cobain started singing their praises in interviews and insisting to the label that they get all the cool opening slots. Then – they went out opening for KISS, Rush and yes Tool. Pretty much nobody liked them because they were far too weird for most of the fans of those bands. But the thing is – they didn’t give a shit. They just kept going. They used the fact that they were only getting asked to play clubs after all these massive tours to create something that carers very specifically to their fans. They have created what borders on a cult around the band. The fact that they opened for all these great bands and got nothing out of it turned into a part of the mythos. The bands frontman Buzz Osborne once told me he tries to do things in the opposite way of everyone else. For them this means endless touring and deciding that if the mainstream hated them they could just be punks – warts and all.
We can emulate the Melvins in many ways. If your rock band isn’t getting embraced by the mainstream, fuck ‘em – just go and dominate the underground. It will probably leave you with a more long lasting career anyway! This is an industry with a ton of gatekeepers out there, so why not hustle and work out ways to make those gatekeepers come crawling to you? This is a very hard thing to do – I’m not going to lie. Hell – I don’t even know if I know where to start on this. But that being said – I do know that a lot of the disruption we are seeing in every industry comes as a result of folks who were cast aside and then worked their asses off to make sure that they could get their way. Along the way there are definitely a lot of husks, a lot of stupid people, a lot of wasted time, but that’s just a part of the hustle. Quite frankly the odds are you are going to find that this lifestyle isn’t for you. Hell I don’t know if it’s for me. That’s okay.
The key for turning disadvantages into advantages is figuring out how your disadvantage can instead be a differentiating factor. This isn’t always obvious especially in a crowded market of bands. In many cases that in and of itself is the disadvantage – that you sound like everyone else and don’t have the time or money to hire a producer to help you grow. Well figure out how to turn that on its head. For some bands that can mean using their inability to play a lot of shows to make the shows they do play special and epic things like Venom did. For other bands who find their sound is too common they can just unleash a mass of content – why not have a death metal band who did it like they did back in the day with dozens of demos? In the era of soundcloud rappers this almost seems like it would be a logical choice!
Be aware that the only thing that can stop you from achieving these goals is lack of motivation and hard work. Again – that’s okay if you can’t commit to that. In fact it’s probably wisest to have priorities outside of a band who can frequently represent an unobtainable dream. Not only that but it also seems to me that the bands who do give it their all end up either successful or a laughingstock. I totally get wanting to hedge your bets. For me at least the struggle is that some of us can’t give it up. We know that we are going to grind it out no matter what. This is the fun, the adventure and if you don’t love it then there are tons of folks trying to take your place.