How can a band disappear correctly?

This week starts an exciting month for my band, Greenfoot.  On Friday we released "Highwater", the first of four brand new singles over four weeks. We’re releasing one song per week to add some hype to the new songs, but also to help us out in a different way.

In the fall of 2007 we went though a lineup change.  Getting a new member up-to-speed is always difficult, especially when you only have a 3 piece band.  We were back in the basement for seven months getting up-to speed on all current material (essentially re-writing many of our songs), working on some new material and getting the lineup comfortable enough to play out again.  In the summer of 2007 we were finally on a roll, playing over a dozen shows and getting our name out there.  That all came to a grinding halt during the lineup change and we basically disappeared off the face of the Earth.  When we finally re-emerged in the spring of 2008, we basically were starting fresh.  We didn’t do a good job of maintaining contacts with booking agents – especially when we didn’t have anything to offer them (ability to play show). With the live music biz being what it is, many of our contacts had changed as well.  It took a lot of work to try to get part of that momentum that we had before the lineup change.

Now Greenfoot is currently on a 5 week break from rehearsing or playing any shows due to our bass player traveling, as well as our lead singer welcoming their second child into the world.  While this break was much-needed, it also has come at a time where we again had strong momentum.  We were playing a steady stream of shows, writing new material and making good progress towards our goals.  Being off the radar for 6 weeks would be another significant blow for our progress.

This time we’re trying something different, using these new songs to our advantage. Over the spring and summer we recorded these four new songs, with the typically “as soon as we get them done” release date in mind.  When we realized we were going to be out over a month, we sat on these songs for a while, with the idea that we can at release something new and have some exciting developments at a time when we’re not playing shows or rehearsing.  These songs aren’t tied to a new album, so rather than releasing these all at once, we’re putting one out each week to get people back to our web site, as well as checking out the new and songs we have posted.  Hopefully we’re now able to “disappear” correctly, with fans not realizing that there’s no one behind the curtain.

We were fortunate enough to have these songs in our back pocket, but looking back at where we were a year ago I’m wondering what we could have done differently when we disappeared.  Is there a right way to disappear, especially when it’s something as unexpected as a lineup change?  Is there anything that bands on hiatus can do to keep contacts fresh, as well as maintain interest from booking agents?  I’d be anxious to for any ideas people may have.

House Drumsets [why they suck]

Last night Greenfoot played a show over at Herman’s Hideaway (for which I’ll offer some additional thoughts in a later post).  As part of the “New Talent Showcase”, one of the important stipulations were the two dreaded words drummers hate to hear “House Drumset”.

I cringed when I heard the news, and after playing the set last evening, my dread was justified.

I understand the reasons why venue owners and concert promoters want to use House Drumsets.  When you have multiple bands in one evening, you want to do everything to ensure bands get on and off the stage quickly.  Having a large piece of equipment remain stationary makes sense, especially when the drums have mics attached to them.  However, I can guaranteed that the person who made/promoted that decision is not a drummer.

When I’m asked what it’s like playing on a house drum set, I give the analogy of driving someone else’s car in a race: Yes, you’ll be able to drive the car and you know where the gas, brake & steering wheel are, but you don’t know the intricacies of this car. You don’t know how it accelerates, how it breaks, how it handles around curves.  The same things goes with drum sets.  It bothers me that people wouldn’t fathom telling guitar players to play on someone else’s guitar, yet have no problem telling drummers they have to play a drum set that gets pounded night in & night out.

This particular drum set appeared to have a 10″, 13″ & 16″ with Pinstripe heads torque’d pretty high.  What this means is that they were “ping-y” and “ring-“, a stark contrast from my darker ebony heads that produce a warmer tone that works with our music.  In addition, I had to grow used to 3 toms pretty quick, a departure from my 4 toms.  It doesn’t help that I flip the order of my two rack toms – the non-standard configuration probably a bad habit, but it’s what I’ve grown accustomed to.  In my bass drum I have a pillow, which produces a more muffled sound, while allowing a good bounce response.  The House Drumset had no such pillow, and it took an adjustment.

The policy allowed us to bring in our snare drum, pedals & cymbals. At this point, the only thing that was left of the drum set was the bass drum and three toms – which makes me wonder how much time was really saved. 

What owners/promoters don’t understand is that if you give them a staging area to set up their gear off-stage, a good drummer can get their drum on stage and ready to go in roughly the same time it takes a guitar player to set up their amp, pedals, and tune their guitars.

When I was in high school, I played on a foreign drum set each and every day – but school drum sets are different than House Drumsets.  With school drum sets you typically get a period of time to be acclimated to the kit before you play it at anything meaningful.  With the House Kit the sound check is the first chance you get to sit behind the kit.  To borrow a line from A.I., “We’re talking about practice, not the game”.  I’m all about rehearsing on another drum set to help save time – but when you’re essentially putting on an audition it’s pretty lofty to expect drummers to be in their elements in a kit they just started playing.

Like I said, I understand House Drum set may make sense to some, but it doesn’t make sense to drummers.

What do artists owe fans?

 <br /><span style="font-size: 9px"><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Photo courtesy of mykecave on Flickr</a></span></p>  <p>In my <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">last post about the Mile High Music Festival</a>, I briefly covered John Mayer's performance.&#160; Mayer is an amazing guitar player, and the energy displayed at the show poured into the crowd to greatly an awesome, lively show.&#160; At the same time, I think fans who bought John Mayer tickets didn't get to see what they paid for.</p>  <p>When John Mayer came on the mainstream scene at the turn of the century, his sound was a more melodic, pop-based sound - not N'Sync pop, but pop in the sense that the songs were straightforward and catchy.&#160; With hits like "No Such Thing", "Your Body Is a Wonderland", "Why Georgia" and "Daughters", Mayer established that sound. Then he decided to change it, moving from the pop-based going back to a more blues-based. It seemed to happen when the John Mayer Trio got together (Steve Jordan's an amazing drummer by the way), when the transformation began.&#160; It spilled out of the Trio and into his next solo album, <em>Continuum</em>.&#160; When you compare the John Mayer you hear today from his 2001's <em>Room for Squares</em>, it's a pretty drastic change.</p>  <p>I'm not saying that artists can't change their sound - it happens all the time. There's also a difference between an artist experimenting (U2's &quot;Pop&quot; and DMB's &quot;Everyday&quot;) and returning back to your original sound, or truly evolving your music into a different genre.&#160; Mayer may be experimenting, but I would predict that his sound has evolved and changed and won't be going back any time soon.&#160; </p>  <p>When some artists change their sounds, they either start a new project or join up with a band.&#160; However, when your sound changes pretty drastically and you're maintaining the same stage identity, what do you owe those fans that came to hear the music that made you popular?</p>  <p>At Sunday's show, Mayer didn't play &quot;Your Body Is A Wonderland&quot;, or &quot;Daughters&quot; and his other (arguably) biggest hits, &quot;No Such Thing&quot; and &quot;Why Georgia&quot; were condensed into a medley.&#160; It would be one thing if this was a band like the Rolling Stones that have 70 hits - but if I'm not mistaken - Mayer's only had 3 studio albums out. In addition, he played 3 cover songs on Sunday as well.&#160; It's cool to see big acts play a cover, but when you're playing more than one at the sacrifice of one of your biggest singles, then you probably have a priority problem.</p>  <p>I'm not saying Mayer shouldn't keep on playing jammy-blues, but if he doesn't want to play those early hits then he should go out with a different stage name. At least when you show up to hear the John Mayer Trio, you know it's not going to be John Mayer (just like when you go see Gwen Stefani, it's much different than No Doubt).&#160; </p>  <p>I feel when an artist is still relatively early in his career (compared to bands like the Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi or U2), then you do have an obligation to play the major singles, regardless of how different they sound.&#160; If you're not happy with the old song's sound, change something in that song to better fit your new style - but you owe it to play the music that gravitated fans towards you, especially if you're using that same musical persona to bring those fans in.</p>  <p>I'd be anxious to hear what other fans &amp; musicians think.