The old way you knew a band was good was they played live and killed onstage and drew a huge crowd and there was a buzz in the city about their live shows.
Nowadays it seems like this is less so. There are still up-and-coming bands that are great live, but it seems that the majority of new bands record more, play live less, and get better in videos online.
But that doesn’t help their live shows.
At some point, you’ve got to go out and be amazing onstage, and learn what it takes to do that, whether you are a band that is mellow or comes out doing backflips and breathing fire.
In addition to being great live, it seems like bands have always needed these essentials to make it:
You need to be great live
You need to have amazing songs
You need to have a unique or cool image
You need to have a desire to be successful
All of those things will get you a local following and create a buzz, but there is one final, massive determining factor in whether or not you will stay in that pizza job or if you will be selling out 3,000 seat venues in the next 5 years:
That ‘extra something special.’
That’s what it was called for as long as I can remember. No one could explain it to me, they would just say its something that makes you stand out and be different from all the rest. In a good way.
In fact, I remember when I was a little a kid, my dad had a hippie musician friend who had a band. He was totally into it. Really good guy, and really dedicated. I remember their band name, The Call Ball Band. I remember the logo. This was 1978! I remember they made demos in a real studio (something that was VERY expensive back then) His only problem was that to me, he just wasn’t as special as all the albums my parents had in their collection. That was his competition. James Taylor, The Doobie Brothers, Carole King, Elton John, Traffic, The Allman Brothers. And as a kid, that was who I was judging him against because that’s all I had every heard. So to me, this guy was not even close to them. He felt like a gas station attendant compared to those bands.
But I remember feeling bad as a kid because he was the most dedicated guy EVER and I just knew he wasn’t going to make it. Not on that level anyway. Perhaps he would keep on playing and could up make it as a professional session guy. Or maybe he would be a ‘club’ guy, which is someone who could play small clubs forever, never getting rich, but playing music forever nonetheless. Maybe he could find a way to be a side guitarist on a big tour and then taste the big time that way… But in terms of HIM being on the same playing field as Greg Allman, James Taylor, or Michael McDonald…
Not a chance.
Those are world class talents that come around once in a long time. And they have that extra special something. When they walk into a room, it lights up. Maybe their shine does have a lot to do with their songs being so good. That could be true. But the reality is that they have it. Maybe without his songs, Michael McDonald could be mistaken for a night manager at Burger King.
But he wrote them. So maybe part of that extra special something is the deep rooted desire he had to make it and his unending work ethic for his craft until he found like minded musicians to help him record his hit songs. Perhaps.
But it would be hard to say that Call Ball, the hippie friend my Dad had in the 70s, DIDNT MAKE IT in some way. He can hold his head up high and look back on a life of pursing his dreams with dignity.
Look, its easy to open a YouTube account and put your music online. Get a video camera. BAM. You put it online and get some hits. But its easy to hide that way. You need the real reactions where people ARE ACTUALLY SITTING IN FRONT OF YOU.
It would be like a comic putting jokes online. Maybe they would work. But a comic needs to feel that interaction, that immediate crowd approval or disapproval. They keep hitting the stage, honing their craft, working it to learn it, get it down, and become great.
Same for musicians.
So get onstage and sweat. Anything will work: club, coffee shop, American Idol audition, bar, abandoned warehouse, street corner, wherever. Just play some music to real people.
It will always be the greatest way to find out if you’ve got that extra special something.