Whether you are an aspiring rock star or not, this list will help you achieve success in your field. It will also show you how some timeless ideas are still vital in your new-fangled social networking environments.
I Was A Teenage Rock Star … kind of …
As a younger dude – sans cell-phone and computer oblivious – during the “upside-down 60s” (AKA the 90s) I had the weird experience of being the lead singer in the biggest indie band in my home city.
Admittedly, it wasn’t a big city – Adelaide, population 1.1 million – but conquering that molehill was an intense trip nevertheless. (After that it all went pear-shaped, but that’s another story.)
Step 1: Don’t Just Dream – Obsess
When I was a pre-teen bookworm, I wanted to be a writer, but at 12 years old I heard the squeal of a heavy-metal lead guitar solo and my focus shifted instantly to becoming a fully-fledged, card-carrying “Rock Star”. It was obviously way sexier. (Pfft! Writer. What the hell was I thinking?)
From that moment on, while my musical tastes matured, my chosen career path remained fixed. It was Rock Star or bust. School was useless to me, so I just stared out the window and obsessed about becoming a Rock Star. Church was useless to me, so I refused to go anymore and lay in bed listening to this month’s flavour and obsessing about becoming a Rock Star.
I remember standing at the bus stop after school and visualizing, in minute detail, the way it would look, sound, smell, feel, and taste. Never mind that I was a spotty teenage dork, I could handle that for now, safe in the knowledge that I was going to be a Rock Star.
My mother barged in one day and told me to turn my “horrible noise” down and do my homework. I patiently explained that I didn’t need good grades, because I was going to be a Rock Star. She flipped out at me.
“You can’t even play the guitar!” she screeched, pointing at the tennis racquet I had slung over my shoulder with a panty-hose strap. “And those stockings cost money you know!”
I smiled. Silly lady, couldn’t she see? None of this mattered because I was going to be … you get the picture.
Step 2: If You Do Things, Things Get Done
Finally free of school and now armed with a rudimentary knowledge of how to play my shiny new guitar, bought with part-time supermarket job savings, I got straight down to the work of forming a band.
I would stick up a notice around campus, in record shops, musical instrument shops (no internet then remember) and gather together some motley-crew of half-arsed slackers into a “group”. Some were freaks that had called me in reply to my “musicians wanted” ads, some were people I half-knew who had learned recorder at school and were too weak-willed to refuse my hardcore harassments. I would get them all to meet me at a recording studio I had booked (no home-recording software then remember).
I had a bunch of songs written, so I would just belt them out and get everyone to join in. The results varied from total crap to slightly palatable crap but I would force it through and walk out with a new demo. Then the “band” would promptly break up.
Undeterred, I would use the new tape to go get a gig somewhere – anywhere – under the pretense of a working band. Then I would use the impending gig as a ploy to get a new band together. We’d do the gig, the band would break up, and after a day of frustrated sulking, I would go book a new recording session and repeat the process.
I did this non-stop for one year. I was 18 and utterly naive (we grew up slower back then, due in no small part to the absence of the internet) but I was determined and bulletproof.
Some pothead I had roped in to play drums once asked me what my secret was (he mistakenly thought I was the real-deal). Without premeditation I said “If you do things, things get done”. I’ve always remembered that (I think I surprised myself and pleased the hibernating personal development writer inside).
It wasn’t just poetic though, it was true, and one of the things that got done was …
Step 3: Shoot Enough Hoops and Eventually You’ll Score a Basket
One day, aged 19, I got home from sticking up notices to form yet another new band and got straight on the phone (no cell-phones back then remember). I wanted to call and enquire about a guy called Matt’s “singer wanted” notice. We compared notes, realized we spoke the same language and arranged to trial me as singer in his garage band.
I went back to my room and saw a note left by my mother saying that somebody called Matt had called about my “band wanted” ad. I took one look at the phone number and realized it was the same guy. I called him back and we both agreed it was a sign.
The audition went well. I had found my partners in crime. Finally I was in a band making great music with people who had exactly the same worldview as me.
Step 4: Networking Means Helping Other People
Trouble was we had no gigs. And we were dorks from the suburbs; we didn’t know anyone who could get us gigs. We had no choice but to go forth and meet some people who could help us. We had to put on our networking hats and get busy – in the real world (no social web back then remember).
At first we just called every single gig in town. This was a disheartening experience for three green-gilled gringos with stars in their eyes. The snarling, world-weary reception we encountered at every turn baffled us. Couldn’t they tell we had the X factor? It was blindingly obvious to us…
Surviving on nothing but the worst kinds of front-bar dive gigs and unemployment benefits (easy money back then) we knew we had to try something different. I started helping out at the local public radio station, doing menial stuff for the DJs. Matt helped the more established bands load out. Peter offered to stick up posters for other bands and we all went to everybody else’s gigs and clapped our little hearts out after every song (even if we secretly didn’t like the other band much).
Pretty soon we started getting offered tips: “Call this bloke, he’ll sort you out with support gigs”, “Don’t bother with him; she’s the one to ask about airplay”.
We started getting better gigs. They trickled in at first, but soon we were on the big line-ups, rocking out in front of thousands, and getting media exposure too.
Step 5: Deliberately Be Great At What You Do
Going to see all of these different local bands was a real eye opener for us at the time.
You see we had survived our teenage years on a diet of the greatest rock n’ roll ever, and that was exactly what we set out to emulate, but it soon became clear that most local bands, despite noble intentions, didn’t really have what it takes.
Some of these bands were very hard working, easy-going and helpful people. But their music sucked – and worse – they seemed oblivious to the fact. The guitars were muddy, the singer inaudible. You could watch an entire gig and leave without catching a single hook, and they often looked like a pack of, well, geeks, (which, before one of the greatest cultural 180ºs in history, was not yet cool).
Meanwhile other bands had a great deal of talent, and good looks to boot. Sometimes you could even hear the singer and you might find yourself humming the chorus to their best song as you stumbled home.
Trouble was, these bands were often either snobbish and unfriendly or too lazy too promote their gigs properly beyond their trendy clique.
The three of us would sit around our pints until the wee hours and analyze what the other bands were doing wrong – and then we set out to quite deliberately learn from their mistakes. We practiced our fingers to the bone, and made a pact that every song we wrote had to be as catchy as we could make it, with each instrument ringing clear and contributing something worthwhile to the sound. We decided it was important for the vocals to be audible; what was the point of a man making silent fish faces for no apparent reason?
We made a genuine effort to be helpful and friendly to everybody, and we also made it our obsession to promote the bejesus out of every gig we did.
Step 6: Don’t Sleep With the Fans
The support gigs were great, because it meant there was a ready made crowd there to try impress, but our own gigs were still under-populated – just our longest suffering mates and a sibling or two. After two weeks of relentless promotions, it could be quite depressing.
But eventually, after a year of hard slog, we started to notice the odd tiny cluster of people that we didn’t know hovering up the back of our gigs, actually paying close attention to our music. We would walk up to them after and were pleased to discover that they were there to see us specifically and had willingly paid good money to get in. It was an amazing feeling.
Quite naturally, and without any ulterior motive, we would often end up becoming friends with these people. We were all young and beer was cheap so if you had happened to come to our gig and were the only group of people there besides the band and Pete’s Uncle Fred, chances are you’d end up partying the night away with us.
It was a marvellous accidental customer retention strategy because without fail, those that we had hung out with would be back next week, and usually with a couple more friends in tow.
As our mini-juggernaut rolled on, we were spending more and more time promoting our gigs, and one of the most successful strategies for doing so was sticking up posters – and I mean lots of posters (no Myspace back then remember).
But we didn’t just stick them all over the suburbs; that would have spread us too thin. We focused on the CBD (where all the action was) and the universities (where most of our existing and potential fanbase studied). As we did this, we would bump into person after person that we had become acquainted with through the band scene and we would take the time (we had plenty of that) to chat and hand them an invite to the next gig. It was a wonderful thing.
So we were very accessible to our fans (or, in your case, clients, readers, subscribers, what-have-you) BUT …
… we never slept with our fans.
I swear it’s true.
Why not? Because that meant we never soured our relationships with our client base.
But hey, that’s probably not a big danger for most of you out there in the physically isolated zone that is the social web!
Finally, in case you feel like I’ve been blowing my own trumpet a little too enthusiastically, please visit Rebel Zen now and read about how we stupidly messed up our good thing – Zen and the Art of NOT becoming a Rock Star.
Seamus Anthony is a writer, musician and entrepreneur. He is the author of “Psychedelic Meditation: How to Get an Awesome Cosmic High Without Drugs” and one half of the action at Rebel Zen. Image is courtesy of ValetheKid.