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22 August, 2011

Rock Existence

Tips for beginner musicians from my own experience

The time has come to put down the microphone and write a “treatise” on the future of rock 'n' roll in Ukraine. The situation is critical – the general economic situation has created circumstances in which society is unable to pay for and consume the products of industries that are not of vital importance. Rock music – the true, rather than pop, variety – is, sadly, one of them. This misfortune is now common for all of Europe, but in Ukraine has been exacerbated by the low standard of living, ideology-driven perceptions that precede artistic ones and the generally lack of a tradition of attending live concerts. The question arises: Can a true rock 'n' roll band exist in our country at all? What do young rockers have to do avoid eventually turning into a band playing at corporate parties with their frontman as toastmaster?

Let me try to answer this question and at the same time offer a certain outline of the prospects for the style I infinitely love and have respected since the time of its legendary origin.

Despite all the circumstances that are gradually getting the upper hand over individual love for freedom today, the remaining true rockers defend their right to independent music. Like guerrillas, they retreat further into the concrete jungles and cellars under the pressure of an army of pop performers and their admirers. Meanwhile in the territory occupied by products of mass consumption, children are born and every generation produces those who, in spite of all odds, dare the risky choice of being themselves.

I speak to the new generation of young Ukrainian artists who will find little or no place at all for themselves in the strict system of oligarchic capitalism which has emerged as a result of recent reforms. The system has its own followers, but I personally like a different model based on the development of the middle class and, as a result, higher general level of culture and intelligence in society. But enough of that. To each his own. Let us return to the beginning.

Imagine you are one of those young men who, as they graduate from high school and study for exams, grow in an environment in which people traditionally read literature and listen to music that extends beyond the limits of Ukrainian radio. It can be Beethoven, Motorhead, Tool, Rage Against the Machine, Manu Chao, Leningrad and, in general, anything unlike the typical FM diet. The next stages in the development of this young man may be education, employment and career growth with traditional attendance at concerts given by his favorite bands which periodically go on nostalgic tours. But it may also happen that someone will dare write his own text and will find like-minded people and decide to conquer the world today with the first cheap guitar in hand and primary energy that will explode and tear the stagnant space apart with songs – a declaration of their rights and views. Their songs will bounce off the first walls protecting our living space. And then the young men will realize they are facing a long struggle for a place on the big stage and the opportunity to reach millions of like-minded people. This is actually what my treatise is about. It is based on my own experience and sincere desire to help young people who, despite the prevailing trends in the contemporary world, do not want to participate in the hierarchal society prepared for them by preceding generations.

In the beginning was the word. The popularity of any musical band does not necessarily depend on texts, but the songs and the voice of a singer are the first features that make a young band stand out, unless they play purely instrumental music. If songs were not your beginning, you need to learn to write them immediately. It will be more difficult later. Sometimes musicians create songs together, such as the popular Glimmer Twins – Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

The next thing is faith. Faith in success and your own strength has to be simply undeniable. No doubts! The true rock stage is something like a ring for ultimate fighting in which everyone is alien to you to begin with. That, of course, does not mean that everyone wishes you ill. On the contrary, they will be happy to listen to something new and interesting and will love the new hero. The thing is simply that there is an overabundance of old guys and everyone is a little tired of them.

Then there has to be uniqueness. Life and the struggle for success will have their opportunities to make you fit the general taste. This will come later, but now do not be afraid to be “different” and “hard to understand”! The more your music is unlike anything known, the better.

Next comes skill. Nearly all young bands and artists begin with jagged, “dirty” sound. The reason is that they may have had just a handful of rehearsals before the release of their first song, while sharp sound is acquired by constantly playing together – the more the better. However, barring some rare exceptions, they all have had to learn to play together like clockwork. It is up to you to decide where to play – in a garage, at a dacha or in a rehearsal room. The options are countless. You need to produce the first 10-12 songs and recorda demo album. These recordings are made in affordable amateur studios and stored directly in the computer. The demo needs to be shown and distributed as widely as possible. If the material has no mark of talent, that will become clear later. If, however, there is at least some creative spark, there will surely be specialists who will notice it. And then you need to agree to play everywhere and on any conditions, but try not to sign anything! All mistakes with signing contracts are made at this initial stage, which is something bands deeply regret later.

The question “Where do we play?” is so far no dilemma for young bands. People have always needed bread and circuses and will continue to need them. But while there is no money to pay for performances in crisis conditions; this is also a problem for older bands that have become accustomed to learning a living with their music. A young band faces a very hard period of Monday performances in small clubs which will charge nothing more than a routine entrance fee. But the band must have as many such appearances as possible.

The time will come when you will be able to set your own conditions and then you will soon need a manager. And this is when team members’ tolerance and loyalty to one another become increasingly important. There will be no shortage of mistakes and artistic problems. Some will, after all, leave the band, because they will not be up to the task technically. However, you need to preserve the core, even though not every group has managed to do it.

By the end of the first year, the band will have made a name for itself among the local club-going public. Its songs are shared on the Internet. In summer, it plays at festivals, leaving a more memorable impression than the headliners. An interesting life stimulates artistic production and new songs quickly appear. It is time to write and release the first professional album. This step should be taken very seriously. No one knows how many chances for success life will bring, so none should be wasted.

It is best to work on an album with a producer. No artist takes a detached view of his own works. So it is crucial to choose the right producer. Producers now behave as prostitutes, often offering their services without any regard for the band’s ideas but with their eyes set primarily on their own benefit. They have grown like mushrooms after rain in the recording industry and now outnumber the bands that can pay for themselves.

The next important choice is the studio. You need to remember that “cheap” nearly always means “worse.” You can delegate this to your producer, but considering the above, it is better to take care of it yourself. Of course, it is desirable to have a balance of costs and incomes, just like in any other financial enterprise. Incomes include not only royalty from album sales but also fees for concerts related to a released album. However, you need to understand that this is your first album. Profits will start flowing when the second or the third one comes out, so you need to give your all to the recording and promotion of the first album.

Before you embark on this entire journey, you need to sign cooperation agreements with everyone involved in the production process: all performers, the producer, the studio, the recording engineer and invited artists. Otherwise it will cost you more to pay everyone later. Thus, the band has to make sure it has a good lawyer even at this early stage.

Now you have a complete manual. Read and do it. And then, after you have done everything by the book and achieved the promised results, go past me and onto a festival stage after Haidamaky have already filled their glasses with cold Podillia beer and let it rip. And then I will take you by hand to German producer Mark Elsner who gave Zdob şi Zdub the song “So Lucky.” Like any travelling conjurer, he has several lucky cards up his sleeve. And then you will think: Life is good! And you will pay for my next beer. That is, if you don’t immediately overwhelm me with your genius and I become your lifelong fan in good times and bad. This is perhaps the one moment for whose sake a young man should take a guitar in his hands. This is the essence of entire rock ’n’ roll. Forget about a career. You want a career? Go into real estate.

KROBAK

The name of this band is the pseudonym of musician Ihor Sydorenko who is involved in several projects at the same time. Krobak embraces post-rock aesthetics, while Stones Jesus performs stoner rock with a heavier sound.

IMMAGO

This trip-hop project founded by the ex-members of Lviv-based Dalai Lama combines meditative vocals, guitar sound and electronic textures – nothing extra.

ZELENI SESTRY

A women’s band which manages to combine electronic sound with folk instruments. These representatives of the rich Ternopil music stage give concerts that, in addition to music, include video and elements of performance.

HAPOCHKA

Named after its vocalist Kateryna Hapochka, this band plays in a style that defines categorization in terms of established musical concepts but is clearly recognizable in experience. Its members come from different parts of Ukraine.


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