Reviewed: Breaking the Band

Digital Reporter Dominique Czudiak uncovers the myth of band dynamics…

These days it is easier to form a band than ever before and the trend continues to grow with new bands emerging nearly every day. Sadly, many of them vanish from the scene quicker than they can say ‘nationwide tour’. As I have never tasted the bitter-sweet fruit myself, I was intrigued what drove many bands to their untimely end. Eagerly, I attended Breaking The Band at Cornerhouse. Organised as part of a series of music industry panels As Easy As One Two Three?  – it was a promising event from the very beginning.

Hosted by established music journalist, Simon Price, the panel was made up of two former band members – Christina Millare of An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump and Chris Stanley of Manchester’s own Fear Of Music, Ben Blackburn the creator of the hugely successful blog Crack In The Road, and Liam Walsh – a TV and radio plugger with numerous ‘behind the scenes’ stories under his belt.

As the evening unveiled, we heard two quite different stories. Fear Of Music were a young, hopeful Manchester based band who very quickly got a deal with major label Sony BMG. They released several EPs and played a gig with Manic Street Preachers, but all this success was not enough for them to survive. Liam Walsh believes that poor management  in case of a young band like FOM might be very destructive. Chris recommended getting as much experience as possible before signing up with a big label, ‘especially as a new band, getting a better negotiating power’. The experience should be like creating a CV and can include gigs, setting up a website, putting music on various online platforms, making a record- even digital and creating merchandising.

An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump was formed by two sisters with video-artist ambitions and a city lawyer – a combination that turned out to be as exotic and creative as it was destructive. The making of their music was widely based on good, old DIY concept. They were coming up with tunes in a jam-improv manner, often would swap instruments to bring in variety and make the process more organic and wanted their signature sound to be as live as possible. Unlike members of FOM, An Experiment… were in their mid-twenties. ‘We weren’t easily swayed or influenced’ says Christina, ‘we wanted to know exactly what they (the labels) wanted to do with us’. They were lucky coming across people who liked them and believed they could go far. Their recording with Steve Albini was possible thanks to a man who simply liked them and had enough money to sponsor their trip to Chicago.

But ‘there was no strategy’ as Liam points out. In case of both bands ‘it comes down to not having anybody really steering the ship’ he says. It is important to have a manager that will attend the meetings and listen carefully to the label and see how it is planning to direct the band and spend the money.

Whether you are a new, young band or an established and successful musician you need your music to get out to the public – and apart from gigs, there is no better way to do it then through media. Ben wanted to discuss his musical taste with friends and from the simple, genuine idea grew a respected, underground music/art blog, Crack In The Road. These days, labels big and small have Ben’s website bookmarked and use it as a point of reference. Ben humbly admits he may have played a part in helping a band gain success. ‘One of our first blogs was about a band Various Cruelties and I saw them on Jools Holland the other night’. It gives Ben a satisfaction that his job was done well; that he helped send a band on their way – but initially bands have to deserve to get on Ben’s or any other self-respecting blog. A quality that Ben is looking out for is passion for making music. ‘The track comes first, but when you research them (bands), you have to see somebody who is really committed’- says Ben.

So there you have it – As Easy As One…get lots of experience, before jumping on major label’s bandwagon; Two…have a strategy and seek out opportunities to achieve your goal; Three…be motivated and passionate about your music.