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An A-to-Z Guide to Making Your Indie Band Not Suck in 2014

Indie dudes in indie bands: Can you just put everything down and stop for a second? Yeah, put down the banjo you don't know how to play. Take a knee. I've got some advice for ya.

by John Doran
Jan 9 2014, 6:40pm

Image by Cei Willis, corner graphic by Sam Taylor

Indie dudes in indie bands: Can you just put everything down and stop for a second? Literally everyone else making music: You are OK. Carry on with what you are doing. Jazz singers, old guys in shitty blues cover bands, art kids layering their voices into shimmering soundscapes using Melodyne, next-levelers coming up with drone metal/Philly disco hybrids, Satanic choirs, DJs who perform using wind-up gramophones… literally everyone except indie dudes in indie bands, just keep on keeping on. (Note: for the purposes of this article, girls can be dudes too.) This A-to-Z is of no use to you. You are already saved: go treat yourself to a Snickers.

Now, indie dudes, I've got something for you to read. Print it out and put it on your fridge Or just continue to stare out of the window, composing lyrics about your ex who won’t give you your skateboard back and coming up with chord changes that even that bald Mormon sex-case Will Oldham would have thrown away for being too insipid. The choice is yours.

A is for Anarchy: In all creative enterprises there is no authority greater than yourself. The second you start chasing fads you are dead in the water artistically. Plus, unless you’re extremely lucky, it won’t do you any commercial favors either. For example, if your unsigned band has a triangle in its name as a replacement for the letter A, why not instead form a new band that dresses in giant turd costumes and hats made out of plastic dog shit and rename yourself Fecal Fred and the Fucking Turd Hats? You will literally have more of a chance of getting signed and acquiring an audience than you will by chasing after 2009’s lamest and most insubstantial trend. Think for yourself—it doesn’t cost anything.

B is for Bullshit: Don’t believe in rock mythology. None of it is true. Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips penned such classics as "Should We Keep the Severed Head Awake??" and "Oh My Pregnant Head (Labia in the Sunlight)," but do you know how many times he took LSD ever? Four times. When I was in a band (who you will not have heard of), we used to take LSD at every practice. The more scientifically-minded among you will be able to find some correlation between these two facts.

C is for Cats: I see you, sitting at home at 4 AM firing up another joint and cutting out cat heads from JPEGs and photoshopping them onto pictures of your buddies’ bodies as part of your "art." Just pack it in already. This has nothing to do with your music. You are not Jai Paul. Your name is James and it’s time for you to go to bed.

D is for Doges: See C.

Photo by Nick Gazin

E is for Electric Wizard: You are not in Electric Wizard and you never will be with that haircut. Sort it out.

F is for Figures: Most truly great bands look like action figures of themselves. Slayer, Throbbing Gristle, Public Enemy, Mayhem… No one’s going to make an action figure of you while your look can be described as "Guy on the bus who isn't sure if he missed his stop."

G is for Grindstone: Get your nose out of the baggie and apply it to the grindstone. What’s that? You’re going out for a game of pool? No you aren’t—call a band practice. What’s that? You’re going to a farmers market on your skateboard to buy some eggs? No you aren’t—call a band practice. What’s that? You’re going to take some DMT and watch Gravity at the movie theater? Shit… that sounds awesome. Can I come? (John at the quietus dot com). But afterwards—get to fucking band practice.

H is for Heroin: Do you know how old Charlie Watts was before he got stuck into the horse? The dude was in his 40s. So until you’ve got several million in the bank and your lead singer is such a colossal asshole that murder or a crippling opiates addiction are the only coping strategies you have left—stay away from the fucking skag.

Pete Doherty, asleep in his Rag & Bone shop. Photo by Dan Wilkinson

I is for Irony: I know it’s tough facing up to the fact you’re never going to be in Underground Resistance, Sunn O))), LCD Soundsystem, Wu-Tang Clan, or Sun Ra’s Arkestra, but that doesn’t give you the right to be in a knowingly woeful garage band that sings songs about Garfield and smoking weed. What's the point in setting out to be a wilfully shitty slacker who doesn't care about anything? If it helps focus your mind, imagine your own funeral after a car crash. Pay particular attention to how hysterically grief-stricken your mother becomes during the priest’s eulogy, when he says, “Dave was the bass player in Rizla King, who were kinda like JEFF the Brotherhood but without the hooks. Also, almost all their lyrics involved jerking off.” Your mom doesn’t want you to be in Rizla King. I don’t want you to be in Rizla King. Sort it the fuck out.

J is for John Doran is a fucking idiot: You shouldn’t be listening to anyone—least of all me. See A.

K is for King Krule: Dude. People love you more than money right now. So why do you look like a kid sitting in the back of a Prius in a parking lot forlornly eating chips?

L is for Largactil: Except for prescribed antidepressants, exercise, and therapy, you need to immediately cease of all of the stuff you do to paper over the cracks in your psyche. Lying in a Codeine-assisted coma until it's late enough fror you to get drunk? Uh uh. Nine pints of cheap beer every night at your local bar? Forget it. Smoking so much ganja that you become convinced that Drake is a really important musician? Stop right now. From this point on, outside of what your doctor says, your music is the only therapy you need.

M is for MENA: New ground is still being broken in music all the time. It might not be happening in Brooklyn or London but it certainly is in Syria, Egypt, and Algeria… start casting your net further afield.

N is for Naked: As an experiment, you and the rest of your band should spend an entire night naked in a room which is empty apart from beanbags, a pack of cards, a riding crop with a feather taped to the end, and a bag of ketamine. You will learn a lot about one another.

O is for The Occult: Take a record that sounds like it was recorded by Katy Perry. Transcribe the notes onto a spell sheet written in the ancient Nordic runes of Elder Futhark and only play the songs at special rituals held on sacred days in the Pagan lunar calendar that culminate in blood sacrifice and speaking in tongues. Unfortunately for your record, it still sounds like it was recorded by Katy Perry.

P is for Post-Punk: The most important thing when it comes to heavily-mined scenes from the past is to take inspiration from the spirit, not the sound. If you’re in a band in 2014 that sounds exactly like Gang of Four, PiL, or Joy Division, then you have spectacularly failed to grasp what was special about the post-punk movement.

Q is for Queen: If you at least aim to be in a band as awesome as Queen and put a lot of effort into it over a two-year period, then I guarantee that you will, at the very least, be loads better than King Krule.

R is for Romance: I love you. I really do. That’s why I want your band to be good and succeed. A world with more great bands than I have time to listen to is my idea of paradise.

S is for Shock: You are suffering from intense need of deprogramming. You have spent your entire life suffering from the misapprehension that Pet Sounds is “important.” Fuck that shit. The notorious CIA-funded proponent of mind control and psychic driving, Dr Ewen Cameron, would probably have recommended several hundred courses of electroshock therapy followed by weeks of solitary confinement and sensory deprivation, paired with a steady diet of LSD, barbiturates, tranquilizers, PCP, and amphetamines. A more realistic course of therapy would consist of you sitting in your bedroom in the dark, occasionally huffing some poppers, and thinking to yourself, "God Only Knows" is kinda boring, isn't it?

Photo by Andrew St Clair

T is for TL;DR: For all the many faults that they may have, artistically successful musicians don’t sit around the internet leaving snide comments—they don’t have time to. Boil down 90 percent of all troll posts and they all have the same message: Stop creating. Stop making music. Stop writing. Why did you even bother? Why isn’t this person dead? TL;DR—which boils down to, "You have been creative, and this offends my prematurely ingrained sense of failure and apathy"—should be antithetical to how you think, no matter how much it flies in the face of prevailing trends. What I’m saying is, be militantly optimistic, have unshakable faith in your own vision, and be radically creative at every opportunity. It will probably help to get off the internet altogether. You won’t miss anything. It sucks. It’s full of stupid cat pictures, ashen-faced and bewildered soldiers getting beheaded by the Taliban, painful-looking sex, and that Doge thing. If it was up to me I’d switch the entire thing off and go and feed the ducks down at the park.

U is for Ugandan Discussions: Be more sexy—it’s not going to kill you. And if it literally does kill you, well, at least it's something for future generations to talk about.

V is for Volca: Check these little beauties out. An analogue drum machine (kind of like a pocket TR-808) called Volca Beats, an analogue polyphonic synth (kind of like an even more pocket-sized Micro Korg) called Volca Keys, and an analogue bassline composer (kind of like a pocket-sized TB-303) called Volca Bass. They’re plug and play, you can record with them, you can sequence them, as soon as you link them with a headphone cable they sync up, and they only cost $150 apiece. Right now you’re saying, "But I’m in an indie band—why do I need this punchy, affordable, portable gear for making acid, crunk, techno, and footwork?" To which I say, "Yes. Exactly."

I don't really know what's going on in this band photo but I want no part of it.

W is for What Is Your Major Malfunction? So your band is a democracy where everyone gets an equal say? OK, good luck with that, Chumbawamba. You don’t necessarily need to be ruled by a control freak who dictates every aspect of the group, but you do need a drill instructor figure who will ensure that regular practice happens, people turn up on time for gigs, and no one "accidentally" drinks a bottle of poppers half an hour before a big show.

X is for The X in Xmas Is a Substitute Crucifix for Christ: If you are in a guitar band with any ambitions towards originality whatsoever then you are in that smallest and most melancholy of groups: people who should not, under any circumstances, listen to the Fall.

Y is for Y-Chromosome: Why aren’t there any girls in your group? Serious question.

Z is for Zacharia: One day—it will be relatively soon, in the grand scheme of things—the last broadcast of electronically recorded music will happen. These final radio messages from Earth will be the inside edge of a circular ripple of radio waves created during the 20th and 21st centuries that will travel outward into the cosmos for all eternity, as if caused by a tiny pebble dropped into a perfectly still pond. And, eventually, long after the seas have boiled dry, the mountains have crumbled to dust, and the last human being has died, this thin, elegant wave will contain the only remnants of what we were. In it will be all of our films, radio and television programs, and other electronic communications. All of our art, history, news, and entertainment—in all of its stupidity, glory, inconsequence, and brilliance—will head outward across the void to the end of time itself. And riding this wave, out past the Shoulder of Orion, through the Tannhauser Gate, way out into the Hubble Deep Field, will be the tiny pulse of information that your band transmitted. Millions of years after the initial transmission, a life form will pick up this fragment of information, and this will represent humanity’s first contact with an alien civilization. And this alien being will think to itself, What the fuck is this shit that sounds like Death Cab for Cutie on a bad day? Come on, indie dudes—the entire cosmos is listening. Step up your game!

Click here to read the rest of the articles in The VICE Guide to Making 2014 Better Than 2013.

indie rock
John Doran
guitar bands
how to not be in a shit band