I have been asked many times about how to make a band successful, and how we were able to climb the ladder with Ten Souljers to where we are today, performing at major corporate events, product launches, fund - raising galas, big weddings etc. This is hopefully as earnest an article as you will find about what is required to take a band from it’s inception and infancy to one that is recognised and sought after, both domestically and internationally.
When I turn the question back on the deliverer, and ask them to prioritise what they would estimate to be the most important elements, almost inevitably they quote TALENT as being the most crucial. Because - how can you make it to the top of the circuit without having the best talent available - right? Wrong!! Simply not the case! Of course, talent is important, but when it comes to prioritising I would always rank compatibility higher, and also the attitude and work ethic of the player. My good friend, confidante and prodigy bass playing buffoon, Mr Matthew Adam Reid once said something that made perfect sense. Simple but true. The best players aren’t necessarily the best person for the job. To add some much needed balance, not much of anything he’s said ever since has made any sense at all!
When I formed the band over ten years ago I advertised in the Georgia Strait for nine musicians. I made the mistake of prioritising talent and asked that applicants believed themselves to be the best player/singer in town! The tedium of countless auditions was almost impossible to tolerate!! Some of the alleged singers were excruciatingly appalling. I remember thinking to myself during one singer audition, that I’d rather witness a goose farting in the fog than listen to this! It was the worst of X-Factor re-visited!
After many weeks and months of pulling hair out I settled on a line up that I thought would stand a chance of being very successful. We had a great horn section, a solid rhythm section and 3 amazing girl singers. The problem, invisible at the time of audition, was compatibility and in some cases, attitude and work ethic. The core of the band advocated that we performed covers of Blues Brothers and Commitments only. After all I was a foreigner and what did I know the city and it’s music!! I was adamant that we should be as diverse as possible, but ears were deaf. Irreconcilable differences meant that I had to fire one of the players. Thereafter ensued a “mutiny”. A flagrantly outrageous abandonment of my project!! And after only one gig, the drummer and guitarist left the band, with no tears spilled on my part, and with them went our great bass player, and stand up dude. Even the girls jumped ship, believing they were better placed in the “other camp”. That left me with a trumpet player, a sax player, a trombone player with a sleep addiction, and half a tin of beans!! I almost gave it up. Had it not been for a life-changing telephone call from our sax player urging me to keep going, I would have. Talk about sliding doors! What is a great example of how one small thing can change the course of the rest of your life! A life that hangs by a fickle thread. Thanks Anton!!
I guess the above experience validates why I can speak with a modicum of intelligence about the ingredients for success. I am emphatic - compatibility and attitude out-weigh talent. Furthermore, when you select someone with the aptitude and ambition, he or she will always be driven to greater heights by playing alongside excellent and passionate performers. Talent grows and flourishes when players are positively influenced and motivated by their mates. This is what we have at Ten Souljers - in consummate abundance!!
There has to also be an element of luck involved. Bringing people together who previously didn’t know each other is a crap shoot. Initially you just don’t know how someone will integrate, or how many irritating idiosyncrasies might be forthcoming. As a leader, it is essential to keep the morale high. If someone turns out to be an absolute pelican, even when their ability is profound, you have to be strong and make the decision to give him/her the chop in favour of maintaining the harmony of the band. I am stoutly resolute when it comes to personnel. There HAS to be a blend. One bad apple and it’s curtains.
Moving on, one of our mottos over the years has been the four “P’s”. Punctuality, Professionalism, Passion and Performance. Without a single one of the above components, you will not be trusted by event planners, agents and clients alike. Musicians always underestimate the concept of punctuality!! I’ve had some profound and obscure excuses over the years! “Sorry Marty, my car hit a bison”. Or “I was playing chess with my Grandma and I didn’t realize the time”. I like this one: “you never told me to be on time”. My personal favourite: “my wife wanted to conceive and I had to be there when it happened”.
Rarely do they understand the impact of their tardiness. However, the client is watching and keeping note. As a leader it required constant repetition and cajoling to instill upon our players the importance of being on time. Now we are a finely tuned machine, and gone are the days when I have to worry about late arrivals.
The next component is hugely important. The ability to handle rejection. We are in the mix for a show right now, and having been promised that we were front-runners, I am now getting the feeling that they have opted for another band. I am fiercely ambitious, and losing any show leaves me with a hollow sensation, and an intense feeling of injustice! But over the years I have learned how to cope with the pain of rejection and how to harness that feeling to make me even more determined to secure the next gig. You will suffer rejection year upon year, show upon show, no matter how talented you think you are, or how much better than your competition you think you are. You are competing with established bands and brands. Ones that are ever-entrusted by their pocket dwellers. Irritating and frustrating though it is, you have to carve out your own path, build your own brand, serve your tediously long apprenticeship and if you don’t have the sack to do so, you might as well stick to the day job mate.
I wrote that last paragraph two days and and we got the gig. How’s that for karma!
Financial clout. I was very lucky. I sold a house in London England. A two bedroom dolls house, just big enough for me and my rabbit, for 5 billion pounds! The exchange rate was amazing when I moved to Canada and I was able to stay afloat while building the band. You HAVE to invest in promotional material, advertising, costumes, web development etc. I spent tens of thousands but if you don’t have it, herein lies the problem. Unless you can persuade your band mates to donate their fee towards your future success, and good luck withe that one! The only other solution is to build slowly but surely.
Finally. Performance. Once again, you have to have luck on our side. Some musicians are simply “too cool for school” and they are way to self-conscious to strut some stuff. They’d rather tuck their head into a chart and lay some defty grooves while mindfully stagnant. That of course is their pre-rogative, but I would much rather be surrounded by guys who are willing to forego the propensity to be boring and straight, and are willing to display a bit of personality, and want to have fun with their trade. It’s inspiring to the others and rubs off on the audience, and as we all know, what goes around comes around.
Please feel free to contribute to this blog. It would be splendid to extract some banter from you!!
Posted on Thu, January 12, 2017
by Marty Robson