Crowded Tables

I played in a ska band when I was younger, and I’ll always remember my one bandmate and how we had so much fun at shows.

Years go by, people get married, turn 21 and stop going to shows – it happens. People move on. A few years later, my friend’s name comes up; he becomes a mythical character. He was still playing music, we knew that. One summer he’s couch surfing in Philadelphia, or squatting in NYC. All sorts of stories.

And life went on. Marriage. Divorce. MySpace.

Holidays come and go. Where’d our friend go? Oh, he touring in some band now. Australia? Woah, that’s cool!

Life goes on. Facebook happens.

But my buddy? All these years later? My pal plays in Modest Mouse now.
This isn’t a “do what you love” piece, because that’s garbage. The universe ain’t like that. You can still put in all those hours, sleep on couches, and still die alone in a ditch.

This is a “do what you do even if it not promised that it’ll ever pay the bills” piece, and do it your way. You can copy everything my buddy did and still not “make it.“

Every Thursday I stare at this sort-of blank slate in an app called Evernote. I’ve been doing this every week since 2011 and now it pays a portion of my rent (though that’s relative, as I don’t live in a cool city).

I write metal trivia and put it up on Twitter – my favorite social media network. I did that by design, as I didn’t want to mess around on Facebook (which I deleted) or Instagram (ditto).

You don’t have to be updating the social media networks if you don’t want to. If your band hates updating Twitter then stop updating Twitter. Try Tumblr. Or keep an email list and send out an occasional update. Heck, send real letters.

Just do something that you can get behind and won’t feel like a chore.

Sure, if you want to play Clear Channel venue$, hire the manager and the publicist, and do the interviews explaining to the blogger how your songs come together for the 30th time.

But, as Seth Godin wrote about in Purple Cow way back in 2003, it’s best to be first to market with your idea. There are plenty of singer songwriters out there competing for the same gigs, same labels, same features in the same magazines.  That’s a busy “market.”

When Dillinger Escape Plan did the “play crazy technical metal and go nuts at shows,” thing back in the late 90s it was exciting. The legion of imitators that followed? Meh. It’s a crowded “market” these days.

I could have started another music blog in 2011, but I chose to publish metal trivia on Twitter, to engage with a rad audience, and now it’s a revenue stream for me, and has led to other paid gigs. 

My buddy Billy Mack ( booked tours on Megabus, using Facebook messages, and Excel Spreadsheets. He’d book a month’s worth of travel way in advance for $20 and recoup that in one house show.

The standard, safe, and expected route is a crowded table, where it’s hard to find a seat. Sometimes it’s best to find another table.

Seth Werkheiser is the quiz master of metal trivia at Skulltoaster. He’s also the founder of some music sites you may have heard of, including Noise Creep (2009) + Buzzgrinder (2001). He’s anti-Facebook, anti-clickbait, and anti-growth hacking. You should most definitely follow him on Twitter. Yes, right now.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.