If you’re reading this, you’re probably like me: playing in a couple of bands, trying to get your music out there while attempting to save the most amount of money. Because, c’mon, your art is priceless–but damn, does it cost a lot to make it sound good. In addition to that, you might not really know what you’re doing.
Having only been seriously pursuing music in New York for about one year, the most I can say I’m an expert at is gaining followers on Instagram (hint: it involves dumping hashtags on every post). But social media followers alone do not make a successful local band.
There’s no LEGO instruction guide to building a kickass band. There’s no recipe to get booked on the best shows, no list of steps to follow to record your demos, a single, an EP, or even–gasp–a full-length album. If there were, it would be a lot harder to break into the already dense scene. Every indie-pop group sprouting up would be making it as fast as pop-punk bands fell from the sky in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
No worries, though. Three films spanning two continents and 50 years of music will show you how to stand apart from the crowd. “That Thing You Do!” (1996) will teach you how to be avoid being a one-hit wonder; “The Rocker” (2008) demonstrates that having a gimmick could lead to a record deal; and “Sing Street” (2016) will push you to follow your dreams, and maybe even steal a boat to sail to London.
First of all, the fictional bands from “That Thing You Do!” and “The Rocker” agree: Lose your first drummer. I know, I know, she was your buddy from high school that showed you how to do a keg-stand. But first drummers never work out. It’s just an unwritten law of the universe. It’s rare to find a first drummer that sticks (pun intended).
In “That Thing You Do!”, The Wonders (née The Oneders) lose their first drummer because he can’t hop over a parking meter; in “The Rocker” the drummer of the film’s band A.D.D. is kicked out by his own mother.
And, guess what, life imitates art! Hell, even The Beatles dropped their first drummer, Pete Best, for the dude who would sing “Octopus’s Garden.” Once you accept The Law of First Drummers, you can move onto more important matters for your group.
“What’s more important than having a full line-up?” you ask. “Someone’s gotta keep time!”
The answer is: songs. You could be a guitar virtuoso, but only Yngwie Malmsteen fans will appreciate your classical shred without the depth of a well-written tune. Your songs are so very hella important that I need to employ outdated West Coast slang for you to realize their weight in a successful band.
The Wonders, aptly renamed from The Oneders after gaining industry attention from their one hit “That Thing You Do!” (also the title of the movie), are unable to convert their initial success into longevity. Yes, that song is as catchy as the clap, but that’s all they amount to during their time in the spotlight. Sure, there are a few other good tracks throughout the film, but nothing comes close to surpassing that infectious ditty.
The eponymous band in “Sing Street,” made up of a ragtag group of teenage boys in Ireland, parses through a then-contemporary record collection to write what amounts to an impressive collection of hit songs–and not just for a bunch of kids in secondary school. They could’ve stopped at being a Duran Duran soundalike, but they pushed further to rip from The Cure, too. Sing Street knows a band is only as good as the songs it writes, and those schoolboys know how to use inspiration when it strikes.
“Okay, I get it: we need good songs,” you say. “But once we have them, how do we get them out there?”
Glad you asked. “That Thing You Do!” and “Sing Street,” set in the sixties and eighties, respectively, dictate that getting good management quickly will lead to a record deal and maybe even friendship and true love. That, however, was then. “The Rocker” which takes place in 2008, notes that being viral on the internet could be the key to a record deal and a deliciously disgusting manager.
In “The Rocker” A.D.D. achieves internet notoriety accidentally, when their drummer unassumingly broadcasts himself practicing drums naked, and the video gains over one million views. Now, I’m not saying to film your drummer practicing in the nude (seriously, even for comedy, no one wants to see Rainn Wilson’s ass), but a gimmick like “The Naked Drummer” can be beneficial to getting your music out there. Heck, if a Turkish chef sprinkling salt can become a meme in 2017, I’m sure you can think of something.
“Wow, what rad advice,” you admit. “Where do we go from there?”
Well, friend, this is where these films depart into the starry-eyed fantasy world of Hollywood. The Wonders, A.D.D., and Sing Street are all finished bands by their respective film’s end. Now, now, this does not mean your band will erupt and extinguish in the span of 140 minutes. (If that happens, that’d be one hell of a set, though.) We must remember that these are movies and they can spell out the steps to success only so much. There are plots to resolve, character arcs to complete.
Nevertheless, the closing scene in “Sing Street” offers a message draped in romance, encapsulated in boat ride to England: Chase your dreams with those you love. Yes, it’s cheesy, but that does not mean it’s wrong. If you strongly believe in what you’re doing and you’re surrounded with like-minded souls supporting if not sharing your passion, by all means keep pushing to achieve whatever you set your mind to. The worst that can happen is that you fail.
But you wouldn’t let a little failure stop you, right?