Friday, July 22, 2011

Want a touring gig with a Artist or band? Here's how it works.

A quick chat with road warrior and pro musician Andy Sheridan.

How did you get into music?

My life has revolved around music from an early age. I started taking piano lessons classically at age 4. Both my parents are musicians. Guitar came in high school. I was just trying to be cool! Piano wasn't cool to me then, I hated it actually when I was younger but my parents made me stick it out. Boy am I glad they did!

Were you in bands growing up?

Yeah I was in a couple bands. At the time I had my own original music, I was playing at church and I was also playing in a couple other bands throughout high school. My dreams starting focusing around music when I was in these bands. I thought to myself, well, we are making a couple dollars here and there, why not try and make a career out of it? 

Did you attend school?

One year at Kentucky Christian university as a church music major, I thought it'd be a good way to incorporate music an get paid for it...turns out that's not the greatest attitude to have towards church music. Through that year I slowly began to realize that me being in the middle of nowhere Kentucky wasn't helping my musical dreams to become a reality. So I decided to transfer, although I know why I went to KCU, that's where I met my wife! Decide to transfer to Belmont University in Nashville. Music city had to have something to offer me. Even though I still wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my life, I started school as a commercial piano major. I took lessons from guys that really kicked my butt. The good part of this was it was reassurance that I was doing the right thing. After 2 and 1/2 years of classes I got the gig with Phil Vassar.  
So I "postponed" my education. :) 

“It's not really about who you know, it's about who knows you”. 

How did you start playing for Phil Vassar?

During my time at Belmont I worked as a front of house engineer for a dinner theater where my wife worked. I met the husband of a gal who was in one of the productions with my wife. He was the fiddle player for Phil at the time. He introduced me to Phil and the gang one evening and I ended up doing an internship with Phil that summer. Lots of sweat, long days and hot trailers later, I was offered the full time position as acoustic guitar player and tech. Hard work actually does pay off. 

What are a few tips for the person trying to get a gig playing for some one?

Meet anyone and everyone that plays. Whether it's in town, down on lower Broadway or on the road full time, make connections. You have to shamelessly self promote yourself. It's not really about who you know, it's about who knows you. 

How does a typical Nashville band tryout work?

The band leader of the band or artist you are auditioning for will contact you and let you know which songs they want to hear during the audition. And depending on what capacity you are trying to fill, guitar, keys, bgvs..., you have a short amount of time to learn the tunes. The key here is memorization. They don’t want you to be reading charts when you audition. It looks bad on your part. Then they will set a date for the audition, sometimes only a few days away, then you show up, LOOKING THE PART, can't emphasize this enough. Look professional when you show up. Play the songs, and then typically within a few days they will let you know their decision. 
It could also happen a bit differently though, if the artist is in a bind, someone quit/was fired unexpectedly, they might bring you out for a few shows and that will be your audition. Tryout under fire!

How do you stay healthy on the road?

Staying healthy is one of the hardest parts. But it's all about a routine. Get in the habit of waking up early for a run, or walk, or try and hit the local YMCA or gym. Also, partner up. Find someone who wants to stay healthy too. It's much easy when you have other people to motivate you and keep you accountable. 

Other tips? 
I have always said/heard that your musicianship is only about 50% of you keeping your gig. You have to have a golden work ethic and a good attitude. Otherwise someone who is in line for your gig will replace you in a heartbeat. And that's the other thing as well, NEVER forget that there are thousands of other people that do what you do and don't have a gig. So keep yourself around by staying on top of the music, playing good shows and being a good hang. Remember, this won't last forever, so enjoy every show, long bus ride, and seeing new places. Practicing doesn't hurt either...  ;-) 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Adventures Of Co-Writing

I was sixteen when I walked into my first pro studio. I was there to co-write with a producer who had been signed by Capital Records as an artist earlier in his career. It was a big deal! He came in sat down and after some brief chitchat he asked me what song ideas I had been working on. I showed him a couple and off he went taking my ideas into whatever direction he chose. Whenever I would speak up with an idea he would dismiss it because, after all, I was just a punk kid.  That was my first real co-writing experience. It was a bit rough to say the least. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to co-write with all kinds of people and it has honestly been one of the most musically rewarding things that I have ever experienced.

Two heads are better than one! 
When two talented people get together to write a song the results are, on average, far better than if it was just one writer.  You are constantly being pushed by each other to come up with that perfect line. You have twice as many ideas going. When you’re stuck they aren’t and when they are drawing a blank you have that perfect idea. Their not quite right idea will lead you to another not quite right idea, which will lead you to the perfect final idea.  It’s ideas going everywhere. Lennon and McCartney needed each other and if two of the best writers in history co-write then you should seriously consider it.

Are you crazy? That’s awesome!
One of the great reasons to co-write is it keeps you from throwing out good ideas. I may be feeling sheepish about my bridge melody idea and ready to throw it out and the other person says “are you crazy that part is awesome’!  There have been times that I’ve almost thrown out the main hook of a song just because I was feeling insecure.  Nashville Producer Lynn Nichols used to tell me all artists are insecure about their music because they are sharing parts of who they are. No one wants to be rejected for who they are.  In my experience, he’s exactly right!

Find someone that is talented and fits you.
The only way to find the write co-writing partner is to just start writing with other talented people. You will know when its right.  If the person you are co-writing with isn’t talented well then none if this will matter. Your going to run into people who are talented, but for whatever reason the fit isn’t right. A lot of times people can be a bit selfish with their ideas.  Don’t be one of those people! Its only keeping you from writing a better song! 

Don’t let a bad experience stop you.
I’m glad that as a sixteen year old I didn’t let one bad experience stop me from pursuing co-writing with others. I would have missed out on so much. Not only can you write some fantastic songs but you create long lasting relationships that matter. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

What Am I Waiting For?

Its a question that I've asked myself my whole life.
I nervously mumbled it before I signed up to play pee wee soccer. I asked it (in my tough guy voice) when my friends started talking about forming a rock band in the eighth grade. And today I'm still asking the same question.  What am I waiting for?  As a musician you live in a hurry up and wait world. You hurry up to travel to a gig and then you wait three hours to hit the stage. You hurry up and make contact with a booking agent and then you wait 3 months for them to get back to you. If your lucky you hurry up and record and then you wait for your label to release it six months later. Plain and simple, it sucks! One of the main reasons why artists don't have success is that they wait on others to do what only they can do.

Completely relying on others is a huge mistake!
Your manager or producer probably doesn't wake up thinking about how to make you successful in the morning. They wake up thinking about how to make themselves successful and that may or may not include you. No matter what level you get to, you have to be the one driving your career. I understand that you can't do everything and you shouldn't do everything yourself, but you should be the one in the drivers seat.

Here is what every artist should be doing!
Recently, Phil Vassar got on the phones and called radio station music directors all over the nation and he personally talked to them about his new upcoming single. How awesome is that? Every country radio music director gets the thrill of a lifetime by having Phil Vassar call and ask for them personally and chat for a few minutes. Phil gets a lot more plays on his new single and a lot more support from those core stations. Sounds like somewhere along the way Phil learned that if it was going to happen then he was going to have to do it. You may not be able to call radio stations, but you can call venues and you can make sure that your fans know that they are your priority. (Ever thought of sending out thank you cards to fans?)

Drive your career.
Always be brainstorming on how you can market yourself better. Are you communicating your vision to your team? (booking agents, managers, label, etc.) What if your not getting their best because there isn't any vision? If you don't set the vision, who will?
No vision equals no success! So, what exactly are you and I waiting for?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Preparing For The Studio

So you’ve finally saved up the money to record your masterpiece. You’ve found the perfect producer that “gets you” and you’ve set the date to start recording. Life is good! Now what?  You know there is more to it. But what is it that you should be doing from now until your project starts? Do the people who make amazing albums just get lucky? No they don’t.  Being prepared means everything. Football player and Super Bowl champion Ronde Barber has this to say, 

"There is no such thing as luck. Bounces go either way.  Every day you have to take advantage of those situations. You call it luck and I call it being prepared”.

Here is a quick list of things that you need to be doing.

Make sure that your band is rehearsing like crazy
It’s simple.  The more time you spend on your songs the more you will know your parts and the tighter they will be.  As a producer, if I have a band that knows their parts and can play their instruments I can move on to helping them make the song better instead of being bogged down by sorting through a jumbled mess.

Pre-production is key
Keeping in touch with your producer and making sure that all agree on the album game plan will be huge in helping you make the most of your time. Elements like song structure, tempo, song key and song selection can and should be worked out before hand.  Every album and every situation is different, but this should be kept as a general rule.

Keep writing songs
Just because you’ve set a recording date doesn’t mean you should stop writing. Matter of fact, it means just the opposite! Great albums have great songs, so try to beat out what you already have.

Attention guitar players
Change your strings a week before you come to the studio.  New strings stretch and can cause some serious tuning issues, plus the tone isn’t the greatest right out of the package. If you forget and its last minute yank on the strings (Within reason.  Don’t break anything) to stretch them out.  Wipe your hands up and down the strings (get some of the oil off your hands on it) and leave it out of the case overnight.This will help speed up the pace of wearing in your strings.  Drummers should also change their drum heads well before its time to record.

Do you have an “oh no bag”?
This is the bag that saves your life.  The contents should include a tuner, extra stings, cables, picks of all sizes, tools, and amp tubes. Drummers should have an extra snare, sticks, heads, etc.

Squeaks and squawks
There have been many a session delayed by a squeaky kick pedal or a rattle in the back of a guitar amp. Go through your gear and if you find something let the producer know ahead of time. That way if a new amp or pedal needs to be found there is time to beg, steal or borrow another one.

Girlfriends and friends are not invited
Be a professional. If your not serious about what you’re doing then nobody else will be either. Keep the hang outs outside of the studio. If people want to drop in with lunch and chat for a second then fine, but anything more than that is counter productive.

Sometimes what we all need to do is nothing! Give yourself some time to recharge before you hit the studio. Fresh ears and a clear head are priceless.
I know musicians and football players don’t usually mix but I think Ronde is right on with this one. It is all about being prepared!

Monday, June 13, 2011

The next blog is up to you!

I'm throwing it out to you. What would you like the next blog topic to be? What music business question has got you scratching your head?
Leave a comment on the blog or simply send me a message through facebook

Thank you for checking out Swiss Cheese And Toilet Paper!

~Blake Easter

Thursday, June 2, 2011

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

So, there you are sitting in front of the TV watching old reruns of The Young And The Restless, (80’s version. Oh yeah!) not because you want to, but because you don’t have anything to do today. You read in blogs and articles all the time about staying active in your career, moving forward and doing the little things that add up to big things in the future. In the music business you are always operating six months out. It takes six months (or close to it) to book a solid tour and have your marketing prepared. When your working on a new album, very rarely do you write, line up a producer and finish the recording in less than six months. Even ASCAP pays out every four months. (So if you have your hit guess what.  You’re going to be waiting for that check!) 

The fact is what you do today directly effects your success in just a few months!

Here are some quick ideas.

  • Write a song– If you don’t have good songs you don’t have anything! Co-writing is a huge music career help. It helps create and facilitate relationships and after all each song is a lottery ticket and you never know you might just score big.
  • Practice your instrument– Private accomplishments turn into public victories
  • Get on the phone– Call up those clubs, identify a specific location (50 mile radius) and call every venue that you can. Even if they say no as long as you were friendly and informative about your band the odds of a possible future gig at that location just went up.
  • Work on your merch– Do your designs need work? Do you need to research a photographer? Do you need to reorder/restock? How about brainstorming new merch items?
  • Go through your phone and email– Who do you know that is a possible musical contact?  How about just sending them a hello text or email? A lot of times when people hear from you they think “Oh yeah I forgot about so and so. I could use them for my upcoming event.”
  • Ask your contact for other contacts– Be careful as you need to know the person your asking pretty well before you can ask them for other names. Club owners know other owners. Pastors know other Pastors etc. This is an awesome way to book more shows.
  • Buy some thank you cards– Send out Thank you cards to people who have recently booked you or even fans that keep coming out to your shows. You do this and you will create fans for life!
  • Update your Facebook, Twitter etc– Make sure the bio, pictures and tour schedule are all updated.
  • Do you Blog?-Write about your experiences. Even if no one reads it, just by writing down your thoughts you will help yourself think through your situation.  Personally I find writing brings a ton of ideas. 
  • Go hang out where musicians hang out– If you hang out and make friends its amazing what opportunities you can get by just being friendly with people.

Friday, May 13, 2011

I’m Bringing Christmas In May!

Every year I walk into the mall on a nice fall day and at some point it happens.  I start noticing the red and green decorations and find myself humming “Chestnuts Roasting” (Yes, I know the real title is “Christmas Song”.  I choose to not use it as I think that’s a cop out title!) Last year, they literally had Christmas music and decorations up the first week of October! Before Halloween?!?!  Seriously guys! What’s up with that!?!?!
Here’s The Good News
The good news is that Christmas can be a really good time for independent artists to expand their fan base and exposure.  Every year right after Thanksgiving radio stations start switching over to their Christmas formats and that means there is a ton of potential for unknown artists to not only get exposure, but to get some serious consideration for future quality radio play! Bottom line…score with a Christmas song on radio and they will ask you what else you have for the rest of the year.
Christian Radio, Mainstream, Pop, Rock….eh, it’s all the same at Christmas
All radio formats will at some point play Christmas music even if its just the final two weeks of December or after a certain time of day. They still may stylistically separate a more rock sounding Christmas song for the rock station or a pop sound for the pop station, but almost every Christmas song has one thing in common.  It’s OK to be spiritual during Christmas. (Side note – Christian artists this is huge for you!)

Christmas in May
Here is a quick list of elements that you need to be successful during Christmas.
1. The right song
Do not pick “O Holy Night” (I love this song too!) Everyone and their mother will choose this and you will lose to a bigger artist. After all a radio station can’t play five versions of the same song in a row, can they?

2. The song has to be up to pro production standards
There are lots of producers, including myself, who you could contact. Its amazing how useful Facebook is! Be sure to be polite after all they are just people. (I used my mom voice while typing that one.)

3.  You will need a quality Radio Promoter
Think of radio promoters as booking agents for the radio waves.  You pay them to promote one song and they use their connections at stations to get radio play. Understand you may hire the best radio promoter in the world, but there are simply no guarantees. That’s the simple truth. Here is an awesome company to check out if your looking for radio promotion!

4. You had better get a move on
Radio promotions last on average 4 months, which means that when you hit July or August your already pushing your luck. Now is the time to start working on your new Christmas hit!

I still want my candy!

Christmas in October still really gives me the creeps and I’m not quite ready to trade my Halloween candy for mistletoe and tinsel. But as a professional musician and independent artist, it is great to have a longer Christmas season to make the most of it.  And more time for my music is always a pretty awesome present!