I’m the bassist in a relatively new eclectic alternative rock band from Ottawa called The Haig. After some early success, we decided it was time to take a crack at the road.
We decided to start with a short one-week tour of southern Ontario. With bigger cities, more people and more venues, we figured it’d be pretty easy to plan. Just email some venues and bands, and ta-da. Turns out it’s not so simple.
Here are some lessons we learned as a nobody band rolling into the unknown.
JUST ANNOUNCED: Catch The Haig at Ottawa Bluesfest July 14!
Lesson #1: The easiest way to stand out is to be reliable.
It turns out a healthy majority of people in the music industry are sketchy and unreliable. Whether it’s musicians, promoters, bar owners, booking agents… whomever. The norm is to simply not reply to you. Maybe one in every five emails I’d get a reply, but it was usually a negative one . You actually learn to appreciate negative replies, at least providing some closure on the lead. One colourful promoter seemed to feel that “lol, yeah bro” was a satisfactory response to several specific questions. The wild part was how many non-replies and no’s I got from bands.
I realized that a great way to stand out was to be responsive, reliable, up front and honest. Many people simply aren’t used to that.
I know I’m grateful to anybody I’ve met who is like this, and I assume others are too.
Not surprisingly, the show booked through the lol, yeah bro guy ended up falling through. We were in Toronto on a Saturday with no show. I figured that bands dropped out of shows all the time due to the above-mentioned sketchiness and I’d just find one that did. So I got on the phone with every venue I could think of in Toronto and found a show at the Velvet Underground in need of a band. So we headed there and killed it.
The point I’m trying to make is that if you just keep searching, sending emails, calling and following up, something will come of it.
Each show has its own vibe, crowd, lighting, level of drunkenness, challenges, etc. We played in rooms ranging from a nice little coffee shop to an old stone house to a real rock venue. But if you really believe in what you’re doing, believe your music is good and give it everything you’ve got, people will notice. Somebody there is going to love your set, and who knows, that person might turn out to be somebody who ends up helping you out. They’ll at least bring a couple friends to your next show.
It’s not about how many people you’re playing for, it’s WHO you’re playing for. This pretty well always includes other bands, sound guys, bar employees, promoters and band managers. These are the kind of people you want to impress early on. So give them a good show. We ended up with several invitations back, offers for more shows and great connections. Plus it’s a whole lot more fun to put on a good show that you’re proud of.
Lesson #3: It’s not the equipment playing the songs, it’s you.
Don’t let a little technical difficulty get under your skin. Every one of us had equipment and technical difficulties on this tour, even the drummer (who broke the bottom skin on his snare… somehow). In the end, it’s not the equipment playing the songs, it’s you.
Being the band on tour, several bands we played with opted to use our equipment to save themselves some backaches and speed up turnover time. We’re easygoing and don’t mind sharing. By our third show, we realized most other bands would use our bass rig, guitar cabinet and drums. It was at this show that the opening band seemed to have trouble with their guitar amp, then packed up their gear and left after maybe a 10 minute set. When it was our turn to play, our guitar player plugged in and found the first band had blown both speakers in his cabinet and took off. We borrowed an amp from another band and we played our set.
The next night, my bass amp decided to die. At least it was during our set this time. Another band to the rescue.
By the next day, with a few emails, we lined up guitar cabinets and bass amps for the rest of our tour if we couldn’t get ours fixed. Luckily, our guitarist is handy and Kijiji is universal. In a small town west of London, we found some speakers for sale and swapped them out in a Tim Horton’s parking lot. It ended up being an upgrade to the cabinet and one more story to tell. In fact, it’s the story that you just read.
Anyway, an electronics shop managed to get my bass amp up and running in a couple hours. Sure, we were out a few bucks, but in terms of gear, we were now running at 110%.
In the end, the time spent on the road really brought the band closer together. The biggest lesson learned? When your band survives their first tour, you’re stronger for the next. We’ll see you soon!
About The Haig
The Haig is: Dean Morris on guitars and vocals, Richard Michels on bass, Treawna Harvey on keys and vocals and Chris Davidson on drums. Their unique sound and songwriting style strikes a chord in everyone they come across. Check out their first EP, Template for Disaster to see what the buzz is all about.