Free advice

Craigslist post:

Girl group looking for management (Anywhere)

We are a new girl group currently looking for an investor to invest in our success. There hasn’t been a great girl group for the past seven years and music is not changing for the better. We are trying to make a new revolution of music and prove that girls groups can stay together for a long time. We are very hard working, dedicated to our craft, and a united sister hood. We are looking for a manager and a investor.We live in Houston Texas but we are willing to travel.We know its going to take time and hard work and dedication, but we need someone to believe in us enough as much as we do to help us become a great success and accomplish our dreams. Now this girl group is just starting off from scratch but we do have a song.

We’re asking for someone to guide us and help us anyway they can. Thank you for your time.

My response:
I saw your Craigslist ad. I’m assuming you are looking for success in popular music. You asked for guidance, here goes:

1. Avoid combining the roles of manager and investor. These are two very different roles with different interests and motivations.

2. If you need money, consider soliciting for donors and patrons instead of investors.

3. Ask yourself what you need money for at this stage of your journey. My guess is that you don’t, and that worse, it’s a distraction.

4. I find your chutzpah and naivete (“revolution in music” “believe in us” “dreams” “[one!] song”) charming and almost definitively adolescent-relatable. Be advised, however, that spending money on a band and managing it for success are about hard realities, decisions and trade-offs. So even if your search for a manager is premature, good on you for looking for someone to focus on that garbage so you can focus on your art and performances.

The theoretical elements of the formula seem fairly simple. The implementation is the hard part.

1. Write catchy, compelling songs that are lyrically specific and relevant to the artist, and universal enough for the listener to project himself into the narrative.

2. Be (or become) extraordinarily compelling in one or more ways. Be good-looking, multi-talented, cool, shred, shock – something that honors your listener’s choice to pay attention to you.

3. Your music and live show should be relatable to adolescents in some way.

4. At your live performances, your efforts should be Herculean, and your output should be Olympic.

5. Take your great songs, put together a live show that predictably moves audiences, capture one of those performances on video, and then we can get started.

Life Sex & Death

This is the official music video for Life Sex & Death’s School is For Fools.  Their album The Silent Majority was released around the peak of the hair-metal era in the early 90’s.

There’s a gold mine of information here, but I’ll focus just on the band’s look.

We have short-haired Stanley out front, hamming up his homeless front man gimmick with a perfectly dirty thrift-store suit that would look at home on Cosmo Kramer if you gave it a dry clean. In back, we have three long-hairs doing a standard hair-fling, jump-around routine.

The feeling for me is one of extreme disconnect between the front man and the band. It feels like we’re looking at either (a) three metal guys who got sick of looking for a good match and finally let Stanley in the band to move forward, or (b) a band-leader front man who picked up three metal guys off the street as a backing band. Ultimately there is no Band As A Gang vibe. I think what the band members are wearing plays a big role in creating (or at least not reducing) this disconnect. I remember when the album was released, a few of the songs really resonated with me, but I never took to the band itself. I think I just couldn’t relate to any of the band members as avatars for the projection of my own ego.

LSD could be the basis for a case study in gimmickry, namely Stanley’s homeless drifter shtick. The broad questions, perhaps addressed in the future, would be (a) was the gimmick a good one, and (b) was it properly executed. Lots of great ideas perfectly executed fall flat in the marketplace. Was LSD’s gimmick a great idea executed well, or was it doomed from the start for improper conception and/or execution? Did it ultimately give the band more attention than they otherwise would have gotten, or did it ultimately box them in and hurt their career? As I said, here’s a little seam of gold waiting to be mined.


  • Band As  A Gang
  • Band Needs A Uniform
  • The fine line between manifested personality and gimmick
  • Superfluous, exaggerated physicality

Steve Perry acceptance speech

I want to look at this video (Journey’s Steve Perry at Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2017) as an example of great front man in action on stage, in the context of an awards banquet rather than in concert. I want to point out some behaviors for commanding an audience’s attention that work regardless of the context.

Throughout the whole video, notice how it feels like Steve is completely in the moment, comfortable in his own skin, with this audience, right now. This is not a person you expect to be pulling out their cell phone to see if anything more interesting is happening. The only people in the audience I see with phones out are the ones who are trying to capture what everyone in the room senses is magical moment in time.

Steve’s facial expression during the initial applause is a mix of smiles and earnest gratitude. Then some perfunctory but seemingly heartfelt crowd work (“Hello rock and roll hall of fame…pause…you sure look good to me tonight!”).

And then BAM, the man in charge TAKES CHARGE and immediately starts telling his story. It’s a complete narrative about an emotional experience that is personal to him but also universal enough (and told in such a way) that most people could likely project themselves into the narrative.

The narrative: Explicit conflict (Steve was trying to get signed, which was hard to do in those days). Plot points (he’d go see Journey perform, he’d was blown away, a fate-like process got them together). Resolution (Steve reached his career goal and they wrote great music together). Secondary implied conflict (Arnel replaced Steve, potentially volatile situation, how does everybody feel about that?). Plot points (Arnel sings his heart out every night). Resolution (Steve tacitly approves and Steve explicitly says he loves Arnel).

Steve looks over at Neal for a personal aside about writing their first song together, “remember that?”

Steve is a powerful man who doesn’t owe anybody anything, which makes his constant compliments extraordinarily powerful and believable as something well beyond flattery. What a pleasure to hear every single compliment: the band was great, Neal Schon was great, Herbie Herbert believed in Steve, “are you fucking shitting me?” after saying the name of each band member and their unbelievable musical ability, graciously recognizing and complimenting his replacement Arnel.

Slip of the tongue at 1: 02, “bar to none” but nobody cares. We love this story and we want more! Heartfelt trumps perfectly delivered.

Now back to some crowd work to summarize and bring the energy level back up: “Speaking of fans….speaking of fans!” with a raised voice pitch and level.

And finally he further embraces the reality of the shared moment by acknowledging out loud that he hasn’t been active with the band, but (crowd work) “you’ve never not been in my heart, and I love each and every one of you.”

Master behaviors:

  • Judicious use of crowd work that feels completely earnest
  • Complete immersion in the shared moment
  • Unshakable self-confidence without the crutch of arrogance
  • Heartfelt delivery of planned remarks that feel extemporaneous


Blink-182, Big Day Out 2000

Here’s a video of Blink-182 in concert at Big Day Out 2000. I’d like to point out a couple of things.

First, I don’t think snark and cynicism generally pair well with the project of live popular rock. The adolescent audience is surrounded by that shit everyday. They go to a live rock show to escape all that by being in close proximity to men who do and say what they hell they want, when the hell they want. The boring masses of workaday adults generally use snark and cynicism to shield their true emotions and aspirations from endless assault dished out by the rest of the masses of boring adults who have given up. At a rock show, we’d like to escape all that nonsense, even if true escape may just be a fantasy.

So my general rule would be to avoid snark and cynicism like the plague. That said, however, you can see here how confidence and authenticity can make Blink’s snarky, (falsely) self-deprecating jokes and banter work great for them.

So if self-deprecating is your shtick, by all means run with it, but unless it some how captures the authentic essence of your best self in a compelling way, that shit will just bomb mercilessly when the 10 people in your dive bar audience silently agree with you and think, “Yeah, this guy in front of us is pathetic. Barkeep, turn on the TV so we can see Channing Tatum or Ryan Reynolds prance around in a movie.”

I think that there is a self-limiting nature to how far snark and cynicism can take a rock band. When I think of snark and cynicism, two bands that come to mind are Blink-182 and Steel Panther. These bands are hugely successful, but they always seem to take second billing to earnest bands. At the very top level of success, at the major festivals you’ll have Blink-182 and Steel Panther playing during the daylight, and earnest bands like Muse and Aerosmith headlining. Even Blink’s pop-punk contemporaries Sum 41 seem to end up with better billing. Both are fun bands with a few major hits and clever, humorous song lyrics. The only major difference I can discern is that Blink is snarky and Sum is earnest.

The upshot is that if snark is the only thing you can do well, run with it as far as you can, but if you are able to do earnest, stick with that, as you’ll have a much longer runway in front of you.

So we have a rule (avoid snark) with a pretty major exception (Blink, Steel Panther, et al do snark to the adoration of millions), so stay tuned for some refinements of the theory. Consider this food for thought on the topic of sarcasm on the stage.

Back to Blink’s banter: I qualify their self-deprecation as “false” because to any observer’s subconscious lizard brain, these men are obviously among the top alphas anywhere, skillfully and successfully commanding the attention and love of thousands of emotional adolescents. So maybe part of the reason the snark works is that we all know that the self deprecation is really just evidence of a top alpha man being munificent, pretending to be just like the rest of us for our entertainment only.

Second, notice how the guys are wearing what amounts to a uniform. Each has long baggy cargo shorts, canvas sneakers and visible tube socks. Sure, there are different colors and t-shirt logos, but in essence they are all wearing the same thing. This visually communicates to the audience that this band is a united gang, and deep down in our lizard brains, we all love a gang. I think the subconscious psychology is a mixture of two basic emotions, greed and fear. Greed: “I would have more great things in my life if I were a part of that gang!” and fear: “It would be dangerous to piss off humans working together like that gang!”

Finally, as Mark and Tom trade witty scatological insults with each other, both of them are implementing improv’s “yes, and…”thinking and pickup artists’ “agree and amplify” strategy to great effect. The thrust of both concepts is to accept the logic and implications of whatever your verbal sparring partner says, no matter how ridiculous, and take it to the next logical step, in as dramatic and humorous direction as you can.

Generalizations of rules effective behaviors:

  • Excessive, superfluous physical movement showing off power and stamina
  • Let shine the authentic essence of your best self in a compelling way
  • Snark and cynicism are probably not a good idea.
  • Very simple humor is probably a good idea.
  • Band members should wear a uniform that doesn’t consciously register as such
  • Band as a gang
  • “Yes, and…” and “agree and amplify” as banter strategies

“Stone in Love” 2016

From 2:54-3:03 in this video (“Stone in Love” Journey@PPL Center Allentown, PA 4/16/16) of Journey’s song intro, let’s contrast the clap-along-with-me “windmill clap” of keyboardist Travis Thibodaux and singer Arnel Pineda.

On the backline, Travis steps into the light and begins clapping over his head. Makes sense, right? Doesn’t that hopeful, majestic set of chord changes make you want to clap along, too?

Then something curious happens: Instead of staying in (or going into) a full-body “clap along with me” arena windmill clap, he buckles down, holding his right hand in one place and moving his left hand 1/2 of the distance he could be moving it. He also folds his lips in together and looks down at the ground.

It feels like Travis was moved by the music and wanted to express that, but moderated his output when the audience didn’t join right in, or when he somehow felt conflicted about letting it all out hang out, perhaps toning down his physical movements to better match those of his fossilized band mates.

It’s part of my core philosophy that a performance artist must go for broke if he wants maximize his performance and its connection with his audience. By “go for broke” I mean act in a manner completely consistent with your emotions and/or performance plan, at the risk of embarrassment or inducing cringe. I submit this as example of how poorly it comes across if you fail to do so.

Travis seems to be acting in an outcome-dependent manner, meaning he’s letting the environment shape his behavior. Instead, as an artist and a man he should stand up proudly and do his thing, independent of the outcome. Another core philosophy: Outcome independent behavior is almost universally more attractive than outcome dependent behavior.

And then, as if an expert has been waiting in the wings, frontman Arnel comes into frame and shows us how to do the windmill clap correctly. Full arm extension, with each arm movement getting larger. You can imagine that a properly executed windmill clap will feel like jumping jacks, with your hands feeling like weights pulling away from you from the centrifugal force.

Arnel couples his claps with a friendly, inviting facial expression that combines raised eyebrows, wide eyes and mouth opened in a kind of surprise. We’ll have to come up with an elegant term for this expression, because we see it often on the rock and roll stage.

Travis appears to be an accomplished musician and performer, and I’m not trying to disrespect him. It’s just that the contrast between his version of the windmill clap and Arnel’s wonderfully underscores the right way to do the windmill clap.

Principles of best practices:

  • Exaggerated physical movements
  • Performer earnestness, happiness, and physical activity
  • Phoning it in is probably worse than not doing it at all

Let’s leave open the following question: Is it better to give full physical expression to your joy on stage, or to throttle it back to match the lower level of output of your anemic band mates?

“Stone in Love” 1981

At the beginning of this video, Steve Perry introduces Journey’s live performance of “Stone in Love” in Houston in 1981. Watch the first 60 seconds. Doesn’t that feel great? Let’s analyze some of the behaviors we see that we can use as inspiration in our attempts at creating similar emotional effects of our own.

Let’s start by setting aside two variables: Steve Perry’s spectacular voice, and the great song. All other things being equal, the better your singer and the better your song, the better your performance. Ah, but then all other things are never equal, are they? And anyway, this analysis is about the song intro, so the quality of the singing and the song are essentially irrelevant.

First, Neal Schon plays a series of chords on the guitar that evoke the coming song, and if you know the song from the album, you probably can guess what’s coming. The chords he plays dance around the root note of the song, creating the tension of an unresolved chord progression. The slow pitch rise after the tremolo dive creates similar tension. Neal ends on a chord that begs to be resolved into the root note of the forthcoming song.

Steve runs over from the other side of the stage, showing the extra energy of youth.  He stands close to Neal, showing that his band is a gang united. He seems happy, earnest, and totally in the moment with the audience and his band mate.

And then the masterwork: Steve tells a 15-second story, and it’s a complete narrative gem. We have a narrator (Steve) giving us a first-person, eye-witness account of a protagonist (Steve), conflict (Neal versus Neal being down in the dumps), plot tension (Neal was down in the dumps, now he’s not, why could that be?), a happy ending (Neal found love), and the final payoff, the reason for the happy ending, Neal is stoned in love, the title of the song!

Like the song to follow, the story is obviously rehearsed, but like a well-rehearsed song, it doesn’t feel stilted or false when delivered so well. Steve seems so excited to tell this story to his audience, I just want to hear it, whether or not it’s true, or rehearsed, or whatever! As an audience member, I’m ready to suspend any and all disbelief for someone who is so excited and earnest.

Steve also deploys some storyteller performance devices. He starts by saying “listen, now listen” and using a pointed finger/come-hither hand motion to let the listener know a story is coming and to pique the listener’s interest. To say “listen, now listen” rather than just “listen” certainly seems to add urgency to the story.

Steve points to Neal when he introduces Neal as the story’s protagonist. He turns his attention from one side of the crowd to the other at a key point of the plot (“what’s your secret?”), which punctuates this important moment in the story. Then he bends forward, outstretches his hand flat and lowers his voice, all of which make us feel like he’s about to make us part of the select group that knows Neal’s secret to happiness. Then Steve lets us in on the secret! (“I found me a lady”).

Then we get the icing on the cake, Steve’s explanation for this happy ending (“I am stoned in love!”) delivered by Steve with a shout within kissing distance of his fellow gang member. Heterosexual men don’t get this close unless they are part of a close-knit group, the kind of gang that will protect you if you’re a woman, and the kind of gang you want to join if you’re a man, because you know adventure and status will definitely be included if you get to join. Austin Powers might say “women want them, and men want to be them.”

Neal then plays the opening chords of the song, throwing his arm up in the air between each chord, increasing his perceived height, and peacocking his youth and confidence with superfluous movements that say important things like “look at me!” and “see all the excess energy I have!” and perhaps most importantly “I am used to being the center of attention, and the attendant pressures are not a problem for me. Haters suck it!”

The broad lesson is that effective live song introductions can be broken down into effective behaviors, and live song introductions can benefit from expert craft in the same way that songs can. The things you say and the narratives and feelings expressed when you speak to an audience between or during songs are key elements in the sacred experience you are trying to create for your audience and your band mates. If this matters to you, you should craft them as seriously as you would the lyrics of your songs or the music itself. You’re breaking the fourth wall of the performance, but it’s still a performance. You may be ad-libbing the specific words, but you almost certainly are not ad-libbing the objectives and structure of that part of the show.

The principles in play in this example are

  • chord and pitch changes that create tension, which will be released by the start of the song
  • performer earnestness, happiness, and physical activity
  • band members who physically express joy in being around each other
  • band as a gang
  • crafted song introductions with complete narratives including characters, conflict, plot and resolution.

Ape or adapt these principles to your own performance!