by Chris Singleton
One way to make your band sound different is to sample some cats
Pardon the pun, but making your band stand out these days is a tough gig. You end up trying to differentiate your act not only from a zillion other bands on the internet, but every band and artist in (an ever-lengthening) rock history who 'got there first' as far as your type of music is concerned. However, there are a few tricks that you can employ to distinguish your band from the competition, and, as we are generous souls here at Prescription PR, I thought I’d share some of these with you.
“Impossible!”, “It’s all been done” and “But I want to sound like the Clash circa early 1981 just after they released Sandinista!” are all fairly understandable reactions to an instruction to make your band sound different. To a large degree, it has all been done (and to be fair, many tastemakers do insist upon you sounding like the Clash before taking you remotely seriously).
And yet…it hasn’t all been done. That’s because most bands – The Clash included – don’t live in your house. Eh? Well, in your house you will find a plethora of kitchen utensils that you can hit, record and insert into a drum loop; you can sample the cat and turn her into a funky synth that you can then play on a keyboard; or how about turning your bathroom into a real-life echo chamber? Very few – if any musicians – will have access to your cutlery, cat or bathroom, so the sounds you make using all of these will be completely your own.
Moving outside your house and walking down the road, you will discover that in your local flea market there are host of little Casio keyboards that nobody would in their right mind think of using on a song – except you; there’s also a guy selling a cheap Italian organ from the 80s with some sounds that you haven’t encountered, perhaps for good reason, on any records before.
The point I’m making is not to rely on the standard plugins in Pro Tools or instruments that everybody else uses to make your music – look outside your sequencer or even studio for inspiration and design your own sounds. It’s harder than relying on Pro Tools plugins and presets – but it’s a lot more fun, satisfying and it helps you to sound unique.
Particularly if you are in the ‘it’s all about the music man’ camp (and being a fashion disaster myself, I sympathise very much with that point of view) it’s easy to disregard or overlook the importance of image. That’s why there are so many rather dull pictures of grumpy bands in jeans standing against a wall in existence. The other mistake bands tend to make when it comes to image is to try to look exactly like their heroes, to the point where the act looks completely unoriginal, or worse, like a tribute band. In the UK the a recent Government-commissioned report has highlighted a serious problem with the number of indie bands that STILL look like Oasis circa 1997.
The answer? A bit of time and thought put into styling your band; use of interesting backdrops for your photoshoots; and hiring a professional photographer with ideas that extend beyond the “let’s all stand up against the wall and look cross lads” approach to photo-taking (and maybe a few lights to boot!).
Unless you are going to make your own clothes (dress the band in bin liners anyone?), you will find it difficult to come up with a totally unique look, but by taking style, shoot locations and choice of photographer seriously, you are making a good start in distinguishing your act from a lot of drab-looking indie bands.
Position yourself differently
A lot of bands assume that releasing a record simply involves issuing a press release that tells journalists that the new album is out soon and that it sounds, well, a bit like Oasis only with a synth sound that was generated by sampling a cat. Actually, you may find it more productive in some respects to forget about the music for a moment and dwell a bit more on the people making it. Does the drummer in your band have a secret criminal past involving cabbages? Has the lead singer had a relationship with a goat? Does the guitarist emit special pheromones during solos that make his performance sound more pleasing to ladies’ ears? All extreme examples (although I’d bet my bottom dollar that they’ve all been mentioned on press releases before) but what I’m getting at is that by looking at your band members' personal lives, you will often find ‘creative angles’ which can be used to generate high-profile human interest stories in the press.
There is a danger here though: sometimes human interest stories can overshadow the music to the point where either rock critics don’t take you seriously (suspecting that your angle is being used as a substitute for a record deal or talent or both) or where the human interest story completely overshadows the music, to the point where punters focus on the story, view the music as secondary, and ultimately neglect to buy the album. It’s a question of getting the balance between the music and the angle right.
So there you have it: sample some cutlery, wear a bin liner, and have a relationship with a goat: a recipe for instant success. And with that I’m off to investigate my secret past with a cabbage.
Chris Singleton is Head of Digital Communications at Prescription PR. He thoroughly denies the whole cabbage thing.