I have already written my “top ten reasons to play in a rock band” article in which I described all the benefits of playing in a band, however I feel I must now flip the coin and describe how being a musician in a working rock band can also suck. I myself have played in plenty of rock bands over the last 20 years — none of them having had any “real” success, at least not financially — and I am currently taking a break from the whole rock band thing and enjoying my freedom for the time being. Yes, playing in an actual gigging rock band can be a whole lot of fun and games, but here are my top ten reasons why being in a rock band can also SUCK… and no, I am not bitter, I swear. Jaded, yes… bitter, no. Well, maybe a little bit. But enough of my yakkin’… here are the reasons why it SUCKS to be a musician in a rock band…
1) Loading gear sucks: Here’s the situation… you’re in a rock band and everyone in the group has professional gear (very good) which sounds great but is a hassle to move around (this sucks). Each time you perform a live show you must move all your heavy gear out of the practice studio into the van (or car, or Metro bus, what have you), load it out of the van into the club, load it onto the stage when it’s time to perform, load it off the stage when done performing, then load the gear back into the van at the end of the night, and finally load all the gear back into the studio so you can practice again. Whew! That’s a lot of loading gear! Did I mention how much I hate to load gear? I especially feel sorry for drummers who have the most gear to move. Singers, on the other hand, don’t have to move anything (unless they want to be a nice guy and help out the drummer) and I personally plan on being just a singer in my next band so that I won’t have to do a lick of work. Tip: get yourself a good back support and a pair of fingerless leather gloves for moving gear.
2) Practice studios are expensive: Most rock bands are loud and will need to rent a rehearsal studio room to practice in. You can try practicing in your basement to save money but experience tells me that your neighbors will eventually call the police on you and force you to rent a room. Neighbors suck! Practice studios these days are not cheap… the average price for a practice studio room is $300 and up a month, and the $300 rooms are tiny. Your best bet is to share a room with one or two other bands and make a schedule of who practices each night of the week.
3) Professional gear is expensive: If you want your rock band to sound great you should all own and play professional gear. This is a given. The downside is that professional musical instruments and amplifiers are expensive costing thousands of dollars. A lot of musicians I know (myself included) own tons of great gear and nothing else… and we eat Top Ramen. The upside of owning expensive professional gear is that eventually over time this gear will become “vintage” and you can sell it for more than you paid. Or you can always settle for cheap, inexpensive gear, but then your band will probably suck.
4) The money sucks: I’m talking here about the 99% of all rock bands who do NOT make it big and that perform mostly at dive bars and seedy night clubs. Yes, this is the majority of all working rock bands. Usually, at a rock show, there will be a cover charge at the door and the total collected door money is split between the bands at the end of the night. The more people that show up the more you will be paid. Many clubs take a portion out of the door money to pay the sound man and the sound man ALWAYS gets paid first — that means if the door money is $150 and the sound man gets paid $150 a night the bands will get nothing. I would say that an average night’s gig (for most of my bands, anyway) is $50-100, which of course is for the whole band, not for each band member. There have been many nights when my bands were paid nothing or less than twenty dollars, and that sucks. There were also a handful of times when we were paid hundreds of dollars, but that was rare. If your band becomes super popular you can get a guarantee (which means you get paid the guarantee no matter how much door money is collected) but I gotta say that it also sucks when one band has a guarantee and takes home all the money while the other bands on the bill (with no guarantees) get nothing. Sucks!
5) Hearing loss sucks: Most rock bands are LOUD, and if your band is not loud then you are not a proper rock band. You can always turn down a guitar amp but last time I checked there were no volume controls on drums and drums are super loud when played correctly. The guitar players, of course, must turn up their amps to be heard, and the bass player also turns up, then the singer turns up the PA so he can be heard… you get the picture… it gets loud, baby, it gets LOUD! Most rock musicians I know (including myself) have some degree of hearing loss from years of playing in rock bands and many also have tinnitus, which is a permanent ringing in the ears. Hearing loss and tinnitus suck big time. Tip: if you play in a rock band make sure you always wear ear plugs, at practice and even at shows.
6) Touring sucks: This does not apply to bands that have made it big. For successful bands touring is awesome — traveling around the country in huge, comfortable tour buses with your own driver to drive the thing and roadies to do all the grunt work. All these musicians have to do is sleep, play the shows, score with groupies, party down, rinse and repeat… and they get paid. On the other hand, for the 99% of rock bands who are not big time touring means cramping 3-5 sweaty dudes and all the bands’ gear into a small van, then hoping to holy heck that the van does not break down on the trip. Let me tell you… band vans break down all the time. This also means taking time off of your day jobs for the tours (and many musicians get fired for taking too much time off work), paying for motel rooms, food, and gas, only to play at dive bars and seedy night clubs around the country that pay you next to nothing. Plus the fact that if you tour for extended periods of time (more than a week) most of your gigs will have to be on week nights meaning that those gigs will probably have small crowds and small pay. In a nutshell, touring is a big hassle — not a party like you may have thought — and you will spend much more money on the tour than you get in return and you may even lose your day job in the process. Sucks!
7) It sucks to play for an empty room: If your rock band plays shows regularly, from time to time you will find yourself playing a show to an empty room. This especially happens if you play too often (more than once a month) in your own town or if you play a lot of week night gigs. Yes, you will be all stoked for the cool show that you spent weeks rehearsing for and promoting, only to end up playing for a small crowd because it’s a week night, or because the weather sucks, or because there are ten other cool shows going on that night, or maybe because people are just tired of your band, or maybe even for all those reasons. This can also happen if you go on a tour and play shows in cities where no one knows who you are. Yes, it is very discouraging to spend all your time, money and energy on your rock band only to play to an empty room. Sucks!
8) STDs suck: Let’s face it, one of the big reasons us musicians like to perform in working rock bands is because it’s a good way to meet the chicks. And yes, there are “groupies” even for bands that haven’t made it big. If you partake in this aspect of the lifestyle and are not careful (and let’s face it, how many rock musicians are really responsible?) you will probably end up with sexually transmitted diseases from time to time. And that sucks! (Tip: at least try to be responsible.)
9) You may become a drug addict: I hate to say this, but drugs are prevalent in the rock music scene: marijuana, cocaine, heroin… you name it, they will be all around you. You could very well be a straight arrow when joining your first rock band and over time start to “partake” in the drugs and may even become a bonafide drug addict. This happens a lot in the music scene. Many musicians-turned drug-addicts end up selling their gear for drug money and it sucks trying to be a rock musician when all your gear is in the hock shop. If you insist on being a musician in a rock band do yourself a big favor: stay away from the drugs. Plus, do yourself another favor: don’t let any drug addicts in your band.
10) You will probably die naked and alone in a flop house: This may be an exaggeration, but it is indeed how many rock musicians end up. If you are a musician in a working band and you are trying to become successful, you will probably spend a good majority of your money, energy and free time on the band: rehearsing, writing songs, recording, booking gigs, networking, trying to get airplay, and promoting, promoting, promoting. While all your non-musician friends are getting good jobs, buying houses, saving money, getting married and raising families (which may also suck, actually), the rock musician is busy with his “career” and tends to neglect all other aspects of life. This may be fine when you are still young (in your twenties) when your chances of real success are best, but if you are still doing this in your thirties or fourties — or even fifties and up — you may well indeed end up naked and alone in a flop house at the end of the day. I personally know scores of aging rock musicians who work at crappy jobs, have no money in the bank or anything of value (except their gear) but they continue playing in bands at dive bars and seedy night clubs, still “living the dream.” I thank the sweet Lord I actually got myself a college education (later in life) and got myself a good job that I love. And, no… I will not be quitting that job anytime soon so that I can tour the country for two months in a van with four sweaty dudes. ‘Nuff said!
There you have it… my top ten reasons why being a musician in a rock band sucks. Now, if that didn’t “scare you straight” and you still wanna be a rock’n’roller in a cool band… go for it! You have my blessing.