By Steve Schiltz
My name is Steve and I have been the singer/guitar player in the band Longwave for about 10 years. We have put out two records on RCA, and a couple of other indie records. I have also been a touring/studio guitar player for Albert Hammond Jr, Teddy Thompson, little joy, scout, and a bunch of others. Recently I made a record entirely on my laptop, and called the “band” Hurricane Bells. One of those songs just got put into the new “Twilight” movie, and soundtrack.
There are things that I think are important to remember about playing music, one being that is supposed to be fun. even when you are working very hard, recording, or when touring feels like a grind, it is important to try to keep a good attitude and remember how lucky you are to play music, for money or not. And being nice to everyone always comes back to you. Just as being a pain in the ass does, too.
But there are other specific things I have learned, that I think are worth mentioning. Such as…
Buy good gear. And do research. I buy old stuff not only because I love it, and it sounds great, but because when I sell it I usually make money. If you buy a new Fender Strat from Guitar Center, as soon as you walk out of the store you’ve lost money. In contrast, if you buy something used, it is usually cheaper, and if it is a vintage instrument or amp, you should expect to at least break even when you sell it. And old stuff is cool, anyhow.
Insure your gear. This is important. I have never had my stuff ripped off, thank god. But I have many friends who have. I use heritage insurance, they are underwritten by travelers, and they have always been great for me. They even cover devaluation, so if your guitar gets knocked over by the dumbass soundguy in Portland and the headstock breaks off, they will pay for it to be fixed, and reimburse you for the difference now in value.
Beware of weird contracts. I have noticed that people change when contracts are involved. it seems like I have lots of friends in new bands now who get approached by managers, lawyers, whoever, about working together and right away there is some contract on the table. I have been very lucky in that Longwave and now Hurricane Bells work with great people, and the only contracts i have are with my label (s) and publisher, chrysalis. The rest – manager, booking agent, publicist, and lawyer – are handshake situations. I have never and won’t ever screw them over when there is a commission to pay, and we work together because we want to. if you want to stop working with someone, believe me, it is a great feeling to just walk away.
Keep an eye on your money. Longwave had a very very bad year where we had to stop working with our accountant. The firm was paying our bills, and doing our taxes, and we kind of just …. let them. And then it turned out that they WEREN’T paying our bills and WEREN’T paying our taxes. Although we were able to instantly fire these people and walk away, there was a lot of damage done to my personal credit. at every level, we have learned that is best to keep things as small as possible. every show, keep a record of what you made, or had to pay, and at the end of the year make sure you have a full conversation with your accountant about your taxes. It may seem stupidly simple, but this is your life, and musicians don’t have a reputation for doing stupid shit with their money for no reason.
Learn as much as you can about recording your own music. This goes back to keeping things small. Longwave recorded our last record in our practice space, and paid to have Peter Katis mix it. I made the Hurricane Bells record on this laptop I am typing on. You don’t have to know about every mic, compressor, or whatever. But if you don’t learn a little about pro tools, or logic, etc, you are really leaving a lot up to potential strangers when you go into the studio. Not to mention that you will be wasting money paying for time when you could have recorded the vocals or percussion at home.
Finally, try to own as much of your music as possible. Part of the new band/contract thing I have seen involves bands giving up stuff they probably shouldn’t. If you can record your own music, you can make a record. Then, some label wants you to give them that record so they can own it??? No. if you need a label, do a licensing deal and the record comes back to you. i know firsthand how powerful owning your stuff can be, since i made the HB song in the “Twilight” movie and I own it. I will get the royalty on that song for every record sold. That is a very lucky break, but my decision about the ownership was made before it happened.
One more thing, there is a Steve Albini article that I read years ago, when it was circulating through the new internet. Here it is: Steve Albini is an independent and corporate rock record producer most widely known for having produced Nirvana’s “In Utero”. http://www.negativland.com/albini.html
After all this, it is good to remember that playing music is supposed to be fun! And made with people you enjoy and value. When uncomfortable stuff or bad situations come up, it sure is good to have people you love around you and a strong feeling for the good fortune that you can play music. Good luck…