Wil Wagner – Three Songs, Two Pots, Better World
Wil Wagner of The Smith Street Band gathers his thoughts in the first of our new series of guest columns on D.I.Wireless. And to start things off, he expresses his concern about the state of small music venues and what he fears could be the cause of some of their problems.
Hello people of the Internet! Truth is I enjoy going to so called ‘gigos’ and watching what I believe to be known as ‘bands’. I read something put out by our mates at the Old Bar in Melbourne saying they were struggling as no one was coming through the pub anymore. I find this really confusing and upsetting.
Here we have a 150 person capacity pub that’s been an institution for a very long time. The perfect size and atmosphere for young bands on the rise to play packed shows through a good PA, smack bang in the middle of music town! And no one is coming through? But then, after discussing this with a few people involved at other venues, I found there was a general consensus that maybe there was a real lack of bands doing the small venue, build a fan base thing.
But surely that doesn’t mean there are no young up-and-coming bands? What have these people taken too if it isn’t just playing every time you can to get better at being a band?
Well, the Internet, it’s you! The Internet! I’m not going to do a piracy is ruining music thing because it’s not. It’s just ruining chances of making money through CD/record sales which means bands have to tour more! At least half the people coming to our shows downloaded the album illegally and a good percentage of those would have never heard of us if it wasn’t for that process. I don’t think that piracy should scare people off either, if anything it separates those in it for the money and those in it because life would be meaningless without it.
But in the days of online streaming and social media it seems a lot of bands are trying to generate ‘buzz’ and build a fan base online rather than in real life. So many bands have a Facebook page before they’ve ever played a gig, or even recorded something. What is there to LIKE about that? I’ve seen bands stop mid set to say, “Everyone get your phones out and put us on Instagram”, or “Don’t forget to click like on our Facebook page”. That is an immediate DISLIKE from me! YouTube has become the new open mic night, except people are clambering over each other to get views rather than to put their name on a list, play three songs, drink two pots and just feel better about the world.
So, who cares? Surely it’s a blessing to avoid the obligatory Tuesday night show for your mate who’s just starting out…and is terrible…and it’s cold…and you figured out how to get Netflix in Australia…and you just want to stay home and catch up on old episodes of M.A.S.H in bed. Well, yes. But the first five or ten times you do anything on a stage is terrible. They say it takes seven years to make a good stand-up comic and I reckon that’s true of musicians as well. The old 10,000 hours thing is true. There are no shortcuts to being a good guitarist or being a tight band. You have to play guitar every day and play every single show you can. There is no other way.
So, these bands that are trying to skip over the just starting out phase are just shooting themselves in the foot by building a fan base off the back of an incredibly well produced demo or haircut. Having 1000 likes on your Facebook page don’t mean shit if you’re playing to an empty room. And if any of these people are lucky enough to generate a bit of interest they will have the loudest voices crying, “Everyone is stealing our music!” This is despite the fact they used the exact same tool to make people give enough of a shit to want to hear their music in the first place! And then, when they realise the way forward is to play live, they won’t be ready. And there’s nothing worse than loving a band’s recordings and then being disappointed by their live show.
I’m stating the obvious by saying the only way to achieve anything, or at least anything real, in music is by playing fucking music! Why would you start a band if you didn’t want to play in that band all the time? It’s the best way not only to get started on your 10,000 hours, but to befriend other bands and start some kind of community which in turn spurs everyone on to write better music and be better live. Venues like the Old Bar with their inch-high stages and smoke stained walls are where so many great bands made their start and act as a perfect training ground for the next generation of musicians. We can’t let venues like this die!
Wil Wagner is frontman of The Smith Street Band. They are touring Australia in August and September!
w/ CHEAP GIRLS (USA) & JOYCE MANOR (USA)
Thu Aug 22 – Rosemount Hotel, Perth WA*
Fri Aug 23 – Prince of Wales, Bunbury WA*
Sat Aug 24 – Adelaide Unibar, Adelaide SA*
Sun Aug 25 – Karova Lounge, Ballarat VIC*
Wed Aug 28 – Brisbane Hotel, Hobart TAS*
Thu Aug 29 – The Zoo, Brisbane QLD
Fri Aug 30 – Great Northern Hotel, Newcastle NSW
Sat Aug 31 – Annandale Hotel, Sydney NSW
Wed Sep 04 – Transit Bar, Canberra ACT
Sat Sep 07 – Poison City Weekender – Corner Hotel, Melbourne VIC (SOLD OUT!)
*Joyce Manor not appearing