Friday, November 21, 2008

Signs That You and Your Band Blow, Part 1

Does your music suck? If you’re a serious musician, you’ve probably asked yourself this question at least once in your life. That is, unless you’re an arrogant tool like the dudes in Oasis or something. (They don’t have to ask that question because they know the Beatles and the Kinks don’t suck.) With that in mind, I’ve taken it upon myself to draw up a handy-dandy cheat sheet for determining whether you are flirting with musical suck-osity. See that? I’ve got your backs, folks.

I would like to stress, however, that these signs are not across-the-board or conclusive. It is possible to possess one or more of these qualities and STILL be in a good band. So please don’t send me angry missives trying to prove that you - or famous band X – are utterly awesome and really do rule the cosmos despite an unhealthy predilection for zebra striped codpieces and WhiteSnake covers (or whatever).

Consider this a general guideline! If you find yourself nodding your head and chuckling, “That’s sooooo me” to more than two things on the list, you may want to take a moment to gaze pensively in the mirror, look deep within your soul, and honestly ask yourself, “Do I suck big ass?” If the answer is a resounding, “Yeah, you kinda do, a-hole,” then it may be time to seriously rethink your career path.

So, without further ado, here are some of the more glaring signs of suckiness to watch out for, if you can see anything at all looking through those silly fake emo glasses you’ve been wearing.

1) When people ask what type of music your band plays, you answer (more or less), “We play good old-fashioned, no-holds-barred, back-to-basics rock and roll.” For some odd reason, “no-holds-barred, back-to-basics rock and roll” always seems to sound like crappy Kiss outtakes.

2) Someone in your band smells like an odd mix of SlimJims and patchouli and has actually “followed” another band around the country for more than four shows on one tour. Extra points if he had a parent dying in the hospital at the same time.

3) You appear on the cover of Rolling Stone with your lead singer lunging at the camera while making a screaming face. The headline proclaims, “Real Rock Is Back…Honest! We Mean It This Time!” As usual, no one is convinced.

4) The words “astronomy,’ “dilettante,” or “extrapolate” are featured prominently in the chorus of your first single. Extra points if you try to rhyme the word “dilettante” with “boysenberry croissant.”

5) More than one out of every 100 of your songs in your repertoire is in a time signature other than (straightforward rock rhythm) 4/4. Corollary: If you have less than 5,000 songs total and more than even one of them is in the tricky 7/4 time signature (and you don't have the word "Combo" or "Trio" in your band name) you’re teetering dangerously close to wearing an invisible sign that says, “I need to be taken out back and beaten with a rusty pipe.”

6) Your band photo consists of four portly dudes decked out in black clothes and scowling at nothing in particular. At least one band member’s arms are firmly crossed because he’s pissed off about something (either the impending fiery Apocalypse or he’s gotta pull a double shift at KFC). Extra points if your band features a “hot chick” (hot relative to the rest of the band, that is) looming in the foreground and decked out in an all-leather bodice she bought on sale at Hot Topic. Extra, extra points if any of these words appear within the first 5.6 seconds of every song you play: dark, black onyx, swords, bloodletting, tormented, or Elizabeth Bathory. In fact, it’s probably a safe bet that I just named the first 6 songs on your debut CD.

7) Your band name is cloying, twee, or trying WAY too hard to be clever. If your name is anything like “Planes Have Left the Aquarium,” “The 16th Century Basket Weaver Convention,” or “Does Mirabelle Adore Meringue?” you’re way overdue to rethink your strategy. If you read this and immediately started wondering if those are fake band names you might be able to use, it’s time to hang up the instruments forever.

8) Your album was made after 1999 and it boasts (ironically or otherwise) the 50’s/60’s “retro look.” That is, all the songs are listed on the cover along with the words “in glorious hi-fidelity stereo.” Likewise, the band members are all wearing tacky bowling shirts and piled in a phone booth with hula hoops around their necks (or something). This was really cute and clever for awhile there in the 90’s, but isn’t it sort of overdone at this point?

9) During rehearsal, you’ve actually reprimanded your guitarist for sounding “too much like the Clash, and not enough like Nickelback.” Earn extra points if no one busts out in convulsive fits of laughter after these words are uttered.

10) You’re a female pop star who seems hell-bent on telling your ex how you don’t need him, and you’re gonna key his car, or blow up his house, or engineer a bio-virus to kill every last descendant of his loins, and oh-boy-oh boy-he-BETTER-be-sorry-he-messed-with-you! Like anything else, the “spurned female anthem” was kinda novel at one time, but now it’s way played out. My reaction whenever I hear these songs is “Me thinks thou doest protest too much!” After all, nothing sounds more needy than someone who has to loudly announce she doesn’t need her ex, right? If you were really over it, wouldn’t you spend your time singing about something else, like floor tiles? Trust me, that guy you’re so mad at isn’t ruing the day he met you. More likely he’s taking some perverse delight in the fact he messed you up so bad you’ve gotta sing a “revenge” song on the radio while he practices getting it on with his new girlfriend in time to the chorus.

11) You still think flipping the bird to photographers makes you “edgy” and “rebellious,” something it clearly hasn’t been since, oh, November 1979. You’re not Johnny Cash or a member of the Sex Pistols; move on. (Avril Lavigne, are you taking notes?)

12) People say you sing “real country” and epitomize what “country is all about,” and yet somehow your latest single sounds like an over-blown Diane Warren/Chicago power ballad from 20 years ago, albeit sung with a Southern accent and featuring an extremely obnoxious lap steel guitar.

13) Your record label re-releases your first CD before your second one has even hit the shops. Nothing screams “Let’s milk this cash cow one last time before the public wises up and realizes that he sucks big time” like the cynical reissue that materializes before most people have even gotten past track 5 on the original CD. Of course, the only bonus material on your “deluxe” package is a crappy demo-that-should-have-remained-a-demo and a lame video that everyone has already watched a billion times on youtube.

14) Your “indie” sound is so anemic and whispery that even Starbucks has to pass on it as being “too soft.”

15) You think Nirvana “saved” rock and roll.

16) You and your band spend roughly 2 hours fixing your hair and about 2 seconds tuning your instruments. (Thanks to our friend Nick over at for this one.)

17) You’re appearing at venues that hold a maximum of 12 people – as long as everyone is anorexic and holding their breath – and you’re still smacking the hands of people in the front row like you’re Radiohead playing their final encore at MSG. You and your “fans” (aka friends who got roped into coming) are all gonna be standing at the bar 5 minutes after the show anyway; if you really want to touch their hands I’m sure you can do it then.

18) You think that making anything “lo-fi” automatically gives it a DIY charm that can overcome your same-two-chords-every-time songs, ironically monotonous singing voice, and painfully “clever” lyrics that compare love to shopping in a thrift store, or some such bullsh*t.

19) You write overwrought, melodramatic lyrics about spiritual longing and man’s isolation in the universe. Extra points if you mention dolphins. (Oops.)

20) You’ve put out 5 albums and they all sound exactly the same (and your name is not The Ramones or AC/DC). However, on your most recent album, you added a 5 second string intro to one track, a backwards guitar solo on another, and 10 seconds of yodeling to the final song. Other than that, it’s musically identical to everything else in your oeuvre. As a result of your superficial additions, the major critics have hailed you as “expanding your sound,” “growing by leaps and bounds,” and “exhibiting a startling new maturity.” In reality, the Beatles grew more between writing lines 1 and 2 of “Love Me Do” than you’ve grown in the past 25 years.

Mind you, these traits are not exhaustive… so don’t breathe a sigh of relief just because you don’t recognize yourself on the list! There’s still a chance you’re dangling directly above the gaping maw of musical mediocrity and it’s hungrily waiting to slurp you down, pseudo-goth eyeliner and all. However, after reading over this list you will hopefully begin to glean a general sense of what constitutes full-blown awfulness (basically, anything I don’t like, it would seem) and strategically avoid those pitfalls in the future.

Or don’t. Hell, you’ll probably be more successful if you DO posses all these traits. Look where it got hacks like Chris Daughtry and Green Day. I guess you need to ask yourself, what’s more important: making billions of dollars and having millions of adoring fans, or winning the approval of some curmudgeonly online a-hole with a blog no one reads?

I think the choice is clear.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Phrased Out, Part 6: PERverted Language

Time for yet another installment in our never-ending examination of words/expressions that need to be banned from the English language, at least for a couple of millennia or so. Today we'll be looking at the word "per” (or the phrase “as per”).

I’m sure you all know this one. This is the one corporate toadies whip out every time they want you to do some petty job for them (usually something THEY should be doing), but they’re deathly afraid you’ll realize how pointless the request really is. So, instead of just ASKING you to do them a favor, they’ll try pulling rank and invoking the name of some higher-up in the vain hope you’re as scared of Joe or Jane Muckety-Muck as they are.

For example: “Per Mr. ScaryBossMan, stop working on that multi-million dollar project for our highest paying client and start scanning in pictures of me playing softball at the company picnic. Did I mention it’s per Mr. ScaryBossMan?”

Trust me, 99 out of 100 times the alleged superior isn’t even AWARE he’s being namechecked in a futile attempt to make it sound like the company’s imminent collapse or booming success is singularly dependent on whether or not you color-code the pointy cup receipts from 1978.

Basically, the boot-licker who exploits the word “per” knows his/her request sounds weak or trivial to begin with, so he/she feels the need to prop it up a little – you know, give it that extra “oomph.” A little memo Viagra, as it were. If the request really carried any weight, it would speak for itself and not need any help. For example, you’ve never seen a memo that said, “In the event of an all-consuming fire rapidly tearing through floor after floor of the office, all employees should get the hell out of the building as fast as their little feet can carry them…as per the CEO.”

Hence, to include the word “per” in a memo is pretty much the same as (a) implying the recipients are too freakin’ stupid to discern what merits their immediate attention, or (b) trying to force co-workers into wasting their time on really dumb, unimportant stuff by hiding behind the guise of sweeping, mandatory, executive edict. Either way, it's pretty lame. As per me.

In my view, a person either has authority over someone or he doesn’t. If he does, he shouldn’t need to bandy about words like “per.” If he DOESN’T have the authority, then he should just ask nicely for whatever he needs. He shouldn’t try to sound all bad-ass by throwing around the names of people who don’t know he exists and would be pretty pissed if they knew what he was up to.

In the rare (VERY rare) instance that an underling DOES need to disseminate orders from Mount Olympus – the urgency of which cannot be immediately apprehended – I think the best course of action is to simply say, “Mr. VaguelyTerrifying asked that we handle this project next. Would you be able to do that for me?” Sure, it’s not as impersonally obnoxious as slapping a “per” in there, and yes, it saps the requester of precious seconds that could be used kissing backside or texting annoying abbreviations, but it is more - dare I say it? - POLITE.

Sadly, "polite" is a word that seems to have been banned a long time ago.