I like these kinds of people. Their music, by design, is more original, since they're not chasing a trend. And their attitudes and personalities are purer and more pleasant, since they're not itching to bend or break at the behest of the many players who pull the strings of the music biz.
However, I'm well aware that many a band out there just wants to "make it" -- a fact driven home last Wednesday when I took part in Live 105's search for a local opening act for its "Not So Silent Night" megaconcert starring the White Stripes and Death Cab for Cutie. From 9 to midnight five groups competed in that dreadful fire walk that is a battle of the bands, playing to a sold-out crowd at Café Du Nord comprised of industry wonks, moms and dads, and the members of other groups who'd driven from who-knows-where to try to slip their demos to a DJ or a judge. As one such judge, it was my job to rate each contender on a scale of 1 to 10 in eight categories of Live 105's choosing.
What follows is my gift to the competitors and to those who will one day walk in their Chuck Taylors: a list of those very categories and my take on how to master them. If you follow my advice as if it were the word of God (or, say, Jimmy Iovine), I guarantee you all the money and blow jobs you could ever want, even though I know that if you do make it you'll forget all about me, the lowly writer, who never gets blow jobs ever and who gets paid in squirrels.
No. 1: Stage Presence. Recently I've taken to spraying beer on band members during their set, and would you believe that some of them don't like it? That's a no-no. You should be so focused onstage that someone could hit you with a flamethrower and you wouldn't notice. Focus, by the way, is not achieved by wearing makeup, which so many of you are now doing. Only actors wear makeup, people skilled in the art of faking it. There is but one other thing allowed on your face besides that grimace -- blood.
No. 2: Songwriting. If your songs sound like anything on the radio station you're trying to get played on, then you're already too late. Record labels know the skinny; they've booked their starting lineup of Franz Ferdinand knockoffs through 2007, when fans will start getting sick of cheeky dance-rock '80s crap. My suggestion is to start rehashing grunge. Just buy yourself the Singles soundtrack and borrow liberally. That shit's gonna be huge in three years, flannels and all.
No. 3: Musicianship. Okey-doke. Remember in the '80s when there were guitarists who rocked so hard they surprised themselves? They'd be shredding their axes and sporting this bemused look that said, "Oh, what have we here? Is that a solo I'm playing or is space collapsing in on itself?" If you're not making that face, hit the books. If you're thinking you don't need to shred because you write songs like Weezer's, it's time to set your sights on that assistant manager job at Best Buy. You won't be able to get days off to tour, but trust me, you won't need them.
No. 4: Crowd Reaction. Crowds respond to emotion, and it's always better to be hated than ignored. If your audience isn't on your side by the end of the second song (flashed boobs and fistfights are good indicators), it's time to switch gears: Get angry. Punch your guitarist and spit water on the front row. If there's a bald security guard around, rub his head and make that "eh-eee, eh-eee" squeaky sound. Do not, under any circumstance, go gently into that good night.
No. 5: Would you write them a positive review? Obviously these seven other criteria determine the answer to this question, but never underestimate the power of bribery.
No. 6: Originality/Creativity. Every single band thinks its music is original, that its sound can't be put in a box or categorized or whatever. If you feel the need to tell people this or write it on your Web site (as I've seen some of you do), I guarantee you're ripping off your three favorite bands and you're too stupid to know it. Scrap your tunes, take some mescaline, and go on a vision quest. But be sure to come back before you turn into a hippie, because hippies make some of the most unimaginative music in the world. You know how I know? Because they love to say they don't!
No. 7: Do they fit in with the lineup of the White Stripes, Death Cab for Cutie, Hot Hot Heat, Coheed and Cambria, and Autolux? Oh, you mean, like, do they suck? Ha ha. Just kidding. Seriously, though, you'll notice that Radiohead isn't included here. Does this mean that if your band sounds like Radiohead -- if it apes the U.K. group's gritty atmospherics and moody crooning -- it will be selected? No. Because there's only one Radiohead, so all of you stop trying to sound like Radiohead, for chrissakes. Also, since I know many of you are already having band meetings about it: Do not rip off the Arcade Fire. Coldplay is fair game.
No. 8: Commercial Viability. As Hollywood has known for years, your best bet for commercial viability is a healthy mix of blood and boobs. Ozzy had it right when he sunk his chompers into a bat, but this is a new millennium; adjusting for shock-value inflation, eat dolphins. And as for the ta-tas, you've already got that mousy girl bass player, so instead of buying that new tour van, splurge on a set of double D's for her.