In the song "That's Life", there's a great line that Frank Sinatra sings: "You're riding high in April, shot down in May." How amazingly true that is. How many times have we had the world spinning our way, Mr. Bluebird on our shoulder, and all of a sudden the load comes tumbling down? Too many times to count. Now think of losing a recording contract, a band member quitting, or on a smaller scale, losing a gig you really wanted to play. Is this the end of the world? Absolutely not. I have seen all of this (and more) happen many, many times, and in my opinion, these are merely minor setbacks. Looming potholes on the road of life.
So we're driving along (metaphorically speaking) and hit one of these potholes. After we get out and inspect the damage and yell at each other for a while, three big questions come to mind. 'Why didn't you warn me?', 'Is my axle broken?', and 'Whose car is this anyway?' I'll get out of metaphor-land for a minute. You can't predict when something difficult is going to pop up. You can be prepared for when it happens, but also, and more importantly, take steps to prevent a major fiasco in your musical career (or the rest of your life, for that matter).
Question 1- 'Why didn't you warn me?' Well, my friend, if a record label is getting ready to drop your band, chances are there are a bunch of warning signs. A very successful multi-platinum artist releases a new CD. The label doesn't stock it in the stores, let alone push a new single or even promote the tour. Hmm. I smell trouble. Let's talk personnel. A band member starts acting differently. He has started wearing ladies underwear (outside of his pants), and is riding a tricycle to band practice, ranting about his 'special friend'. OK, he's flown the coop, but what if one of your guys is constantly late to rehearsal, doesn't contribute musically, and complains more than the rest of the band? Then he's the drummer....(ba-dum-chh) Seriously, mood swings and lack of excitement within the band are big signs that you may be in search of a new lead ukulele player.
Question 2- 'Is my axle broken?' In the case of Guns-n-Roses, yes the Axl is broken, and should be left in the garage. In the case of your band, look at everything involved. OK, you lost a band member, or a big gig. It happens. Now, sleep on it a day or two and come back to the table. How bad is the situation? Is there another gig you can book on that day? Is it a day you can use to record or write a new song? Is it the day you finally clean out the Big Mac boxes from the van? Use the time to your advantage. We have had a ton of gigs cancel. We also have played about 1400 shows. Gigs are like buses-another will be along in about 15 minutes. A band member departing is a more serious issue, because you are all musical brothers. When a loved one (or even not-so-loved one) leaves the nest, it hurts. Let me tell you, if you are friends, you'll support each other, in every facet of life. Talk things out, and do the best thing for all parties involved. The best thing isn't always the most profitable route, or most popular decision, but keep in mind the goal of the band. You can't force square pegs into round holes.
Question 3-'Whose car is this anyway?' This sounds like a funny question at first, and if you are a car thief, then you'll find it extremely humorous, but it is a true query. Let me put the question another way. Who owns your band? You do. Who owns your life? You do. Are you going to let 'them' make you feel bad because they don't hear a hit song? Or because you don't fit the 'mold'? Or because some political BS decides your band wouldn't be good for the festival? To hell with them. All of them. You are in control of your life and what you want to achieve. Don't let somebody else tell you what you can't be. If they cancel a show on you, book another one down the street. If one label doesn't like you, I know there's one that will.
I was just up at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. I highly recommend it if you are up that way. There's a lot of great stuff to see, but some of my favorite items are early gig posters. The promoters put a bunch of no-name bands together, and had them playing in the middle of a cow field somewhere. On the older ones, you see cats like Jerry Lee Lewis with Fats Domino with Chuck Berry all playing at the same BBQ festival. Read the smaller type on later ones and see bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana going on first at a Washington State Fair. Another inspiring exhibit holds the rejection letters sent to U2 by major record labels. The key to it all is staying focused on the prize, whatever your prize may be.
If you haven't picked up on the underlying theme here, let me give you a hint. Whatever negative things occur, keep up the positive vibes and make it all work for you, rather than against you. Two more cliches-if it were easy, everybody would be doing it, and whenever life gives you lemons, cut them up and suck on them after tequila shots.
Speed bumps, potholes, traffic tickets, setbacks, letdowns, disappointments, call them whatever you want. Know this. They will happen. What you decide to do with them is your business. Hopefully you'll finish the song, and sing "....but I'm back on top in the month of June." See you down the road.