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Tips for Girls Who Want to Rock by Tamra Spivey of Lucid Nation
Tips for Girls Who Want to Rock
by Tamra Spivey of Lucid Nation

This is addressed to female musicians because there are too damn few of us. But males will find useful information and a few kind words, too. All the following is of course my hot air and you may find your own experiences contradict mine. Never forget your life is yours alone to understand, enjoy the adventure.

1. Are you a musician?
I believe everyone is a musician. Your heart is a drum. Your heart beats a beat. The late great rock critic Lester Bangs said that rock and roll should be like playing marbles. Its no accident that Keep It Simple Stupid is an acronym for one of the world's most popular bands. Emerson Lake and Palmer was the disease; The Ramones were the cure. Of course in retrospect it's all in some way equally marvelous.

If you have an insatiable lust for musicians or a preoccupation with bands, ponder for a moment the idea that perhaps you are a musician. If you are a meticulous explorer of music history, hmm, that might be a hint. If as a little kid you used to stand on the step in the living room and perform rock and roll shows for your at first amused than annoyed family (I did), plus all the above, you might as well spare yourself the misery and get your first instrument.

Try different instruments. Take your time. If you don't like lessons find a musician to show you the chords to a simple song you want to play. Most people can learn to pound out punk on guitar or bass in about five minutes. Remember what the wise poet artist William Blake said: all beginnings are pathetic. Don't let anybody discourage you. Like almost anything else if you do it with a passion long enough you will get good at it.

2.Writing songs.
Even if you can't find musicians you can always write songs. Its natural for humans to make up songs. Every child does it. In Native American and many other cultures everyone was expected to make up songs for and about their lives. Songs were considered a spiritual necessity for living a good life.

Songs are easy. They are like simple architecture. You make a certain sound five or six times, then another, then a third. Surprise us with a fourth somewhere after the middle. It's not brain surgery. Listen to the songs you love and learn to play at least the simple changes of the chords. Even the most fantastically complex arrangement genius of a Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page ultimately comes down to a few simple changes.

3.Don't be a snob.
All music is worth checking out. Brian Jones traveled to Morocco to record the Joujouke trance musicians. Page went to India to pick up those scales he used in Kashmir. You have the Internet. You can hear the music of every place and time. Think country music sucks? Check out Hank Williams for songwriting, Keith Richards and Bob Dylan agree he's the best ever. If you let a fashion style, or a musical niche, dictate your listening habits for a lifetime you are missing out on the glorious variety of real life.

4.Finding musicians.
I believe there is a terrible shortage of female musicians. I live in Los Angeles. I have a band with a rare history and great resources. In the last three years I have found exactly two female musicians to work with. Of course my politics and DIY or Die stance scare off a few. But I hear it from my friends, too. Where are the female drummers? Where are the female guitar players?

In my experience there are three places female musicians seem to swarm into bands. First comes school, which includes college. Having a band in school can be a wonderful thing because you can swing that into parties to play and people that will come to the show and root for you because they feel loyalty being there in the beginning.

Female musicians also seem to swarm into bands in certain cities in an effort to "make it." However bands and ex-band members and their assorted cling ons become a sitcom that goes drinking and has parties, or goes to meetings to stay sober. It's tough to pry these girls from their circle of friends and there are usually enough bands in the circle to keep them moving around without surfacing much. These gals tend to be stuck in certain musical periods. I will not elaborate.

Finally you have what is perhaps the hotbed of female band births: the scene. The scene is an ever shifting thing half online in chats and groups and half at shows by key bands like Le Tigre or Sleater Kinney. Here you are most likely to find yourself a band, but you can't magically expect to find them. Ask the opening band to please make an announcement that you are looking for females to play with. Or ask them to tell all musicians looking for bands to raise their hands. Or get yourself a t shirt that says Girls Wanted for Band. Or maybe the club will let you put up a musicians wanted poster.

Maybe the very best way to get your band is to badger your friends into playing with you. Those are the kinds of bands that often have the most magic. Besides it's much more fun learning to play together. I've recorded with some famous and wonderful female musicians but I'd toss those memories aside if I had to choose between them and my memories of starting Lucid Nation with Ronnie and Debbie.

If you're okay playing with guys, in your search you can expect a certain amount of: I don't play with girls. Even once you reach the playing stage you might find an assumption of stupidity or an impatience that probably has more to do with what is in his pants than what you're playing on your guitar. Don't hesitate to avoid guys like that.

Find the nerdy poets, science geeks who will rig their guitars with weird contraptions, hopeless idealists, heartbroken cynics, the half fag who never talks or won't shut up, the gay music history scholar with killer fashion sense, the sensitive jock, there's lots of variations of males who are very comfortable playing with females, and take it from someone who knows, some are even better to play with than many females when it comes to patience and lack of drama.

5. Where do we rehearse?
The real question is how loud should you rehearse? If you rehearse unplugged with pillows or mutes on the drums on a Saturday afternoon you can probably do it at home. There's a reason garage band is a term of honor. Everyone should rehearse in a garage at some time in their lives. Sometimes you can get lucky like Lucid Nation did. A great all female hardcore band named Girl Jesus let us use their gear and rehearsal space. Later we rehearsed in an art gallery at night.

Loud is fun. It feels good to pound drums hard. There are some great hard pounding female drummers like Melissa York and Dee Plakas. And guitars and basses don't really behave the same way at low volume. Jimi Hendrix couldn't have played like Jimi at a reasonable volume. But if you get really good playing quietly, meaning you know your songs well, you've refined and developed them into something cool, when you turn up loud it's going to sound great. Most bands go the other way and discover when they unplug how clearly they suck.

Protect your ears. I wish I could sit you between Jody Bleyle and Ronnie so you could hear them chat about how their ears buzz. They were rocking out with their eardrums out and a never ending buzzing is the price they paid. Both of them wear the wound proudly and with surprising calm but are now careful to protect their ears. Don't you like listening to all the lovely details of this instant? Why deface them with a sound scar that could be caused in one instant by one amp turned up too loud amplifying the bomb-like crash of a loose plug? If you were working with radiation would you go handle uranium without protection so you could feel tough? We all like the pleasure of music in our naked ears, so rehearse quietly at least at first. And always wear plugs when you play loud.

Earplugs? The foam ones are okay. You can spend extra and get a fancy one or one sculpted just for you, I hear they are worth it. But I'm a barbarian singer, the foam plugs are fine by me and I like the day glo colors.

6.Making it?
What is making it? The definition is changing all the time. It used to mean having a record company sign you and spend a mint promoting you until you were all over MTV and playing in stadiums. In case you haven't noticed, they're not making stadium bands anymore. The only really successful recent tours have been The Eagles, Paul McCartney, and Bruce Springsteen. Kiss and Aerosmith can't even sell out the Los Angeles Forum now.

Clubs are seeing dwindling numbers, too. Back in the day the club was like your computer. The bands were the software. You'd go to the club and get your mind bent by music, intoxicants, sex, all the outlandish adventures gathered there in reaction against the great sameness outside. We have the Internet now.

It remains true that only bands with record companies pushing them to the right magazines and websites, who tour and make videos, create the kind of money making widespread respect most musicians crave. I think that will change because touring on the Internet makes so much more sense in these days of oil wars, terrorism, and killer flu scares. What will you find at the club now? Mostly predictable bands. Illegal drugs with harsh penalties and expensive alcohol. Potentially lethal sex. Going to see a band now is more like going to see a movie. And the most important kind of club, the all ages venue, is almost extinct, so your average fourteen year old music fan may have to wait years to see her favorite band.

I was lucky to have Danny himself tell me about the fame machine. Danny was behind everybody from Led Zeppelin to Nirvana, a legend for his fair dealing and surprisingly Bohemian ways. When he went indie with Artemis Records it looked like Lucid Nation would finally sacrifice our DIY credo and sign. Danny was cool enough to spell out what I'd be getting into.

To sell millions of records," he said but I'm paraphrasing "you have to spend three years in the machine. Spend most of your time on the big touring busses. Get up early for interviews where you must be careful to give the same answer to the questions that will be asked you over and over again so no magazine editor gets miffed. Then the radio interviews. Then the public appearance with signing.

The shows will require constant repetition of a core of songs. Setlists and lighting cue points are best so you should make key moves and stand in certain places on stage nightly. All the money spent on tours, ads and all other promotions is money the record company gets paid back before you get any money." Iggy Pop's line about being buried deep in mass production was about the sameness of his groupies but it works just as well for the selling of rock and roll by corporations. There's a good reason Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain quickly grew to hate it.

Note that nowhere did Danny say I couldn't say what I want to say, outrage whomever I want, dress as horribly as I like. That's what always made Danny such a great record exec, he understands rock and roll, and he's an ACLU guy. Danny isn't in the music business anymore. That's right the guy who was practically a teenager when he was a head honcho at Swansong, Led Zeppelin's own label, a guy who was President of legendary record labels like Atlantic and Mercury, doesn't work in the music business anymore. What does that tell you about the music business?

So before you pack up your gear and friends and add yourself to the unimaginable glut of bands that have turned L.A. and NYC into disreputable swamps of mediocrity like in its final days, consider carefully what you are struggling so hard to achieve. Ponder if there may not be better ways of achieving what you really want.

7. I'm an analog nut, but analog stuff is tricky, breaks down easy, then you have to transfer to digital. But no matter what anybody says they still can't make digital sound as good as 2" 24 track. I had it explained to me once by Hank Waring the guy who mastered all of Bob Marleys records. Hank mastered everybody from Steppenwolfs Born to be Wild to classic punk band The Germs including my band Lucid Nations first CD, The Stillness of Over.

Hank believed the world is more violent because of digital music. He explained how an analog recording of music is an unbroken flow like music itself. But digital music is chopped into identical equal sized pieces and even if you cant hear the clickety clack of the railroad track your brain gets annoyed by it. He thinks rap music was perfect for digital but it was terrible for rock because rock just doesnt sound right without its real underlying flow. Having said all that, it requires a certain kind of nutcase to take on the hassle of analog recording. I do think all musicians should try it at least once, but I dont think its a great place to start out.

If you are recording just for your own reference use a simple cassette recorder. For bands consider a good stereo cassette component. Some of the better old ones like Tascams can be bought dirt cheap on Ebay and they sound great with just two decent mics, one plugged into each in channel.

Also dont underestimate how great one really good stereo mic can sound in the center of the room where your band is playing. You dont have to mic up every little thing to get a good sound.

Best of all cassettes are lofi analog. The step up to quarter inch or half inch reel to reel, while producing impressive gains in sound quality, will also cost you an arm and a leg if you can even find a steady supply of tape. Soon your room will become a frightening mass of unsteady towers of tape boxes. Dont even ask about splicing with a razor blade.

For my own set up at home I have a 24 track analog mixing board from the UK for a warm sound going into a digital hard drive. It's not great but it's good enough. Our track Fubar was recorded that way. You can hear it sounds fairly good with some mixing help from Mike Barile and some mastering by Jack Endino.

But for convenience you just can't beat digital. Once you have the required hardware and software you can record hundreds of hours for free or for the price of CDs or zip drives or however you back up. You can take your whole studio with you anywhere you can take your laptop. Plus the ease of manipulation of sound is like a dream come true compared to the unforgiving black and white photography of laying down an analog track.

Apples are still a little better than PCs for music making but there a lot of great programs for PCs. Start out at or

8.Your music for download?
It's a pretty simple equation. CDs are practically prehistoric. Vinyl is nice for the fetishist. I think it still sounds best of all. Lucid Nation has almost one hundred songs for sale on iTunes and Rhapsody and other pay for play services. But the only people who can buy our music there are people with credit cards or with very generous and trusting parents. Since lots of kids under eighteen like our music, what choice am I giving them? Come back in four years?

How much good does your music do in a silent horde in your closet? Even if only one person a week downloads one of your songs for free that's fifty people who cared enough to keep one. If you are really good, and creative, who knows, you may get thousands of downloads a day. At that point you have all kinds of options and people will appear to advise you how to make the most of them. Don't trust anyone. They may even mean well. But trust only yourself. Before you put your name on any dotted line be sure you know exactly and in detail what you are getting into.

As for copyright Ive always had a cavalier attitude and for years I never got copyrights on my songs because I thought copyrighting was stupid if you didn't have the money to fight back. Famous bands stole ideas from me but so what if I had copyrighted them? You think I could afford sue say Geffen Records?

Now that we're big enough to be attracting interest from soundtrack supervisors everything got copy written not because I think it will stop people from stealing my ideas, but because I want the right to say no to use I disagree with. Although how much good will that do me? Ronald Reagan used Born in the USA for his presidential campaign even after Bruce Springsteen revealed he was against Reagan and never gave him permission to use the song.

Some of my smartest musician friends these days are planning to make their livings doing what they consider more valuable work for our threatened species. They give their music away for free and wouldn't have it any other way. They say this will purify an art form impossibly infested with parasites. Even though I still try to imagine ways to actually reach a lot of people and make money at this while preserving my principles, I can't argue with the wisdom.

9. Touring the Internet
There's plenty of info about regular old touring online. It can be so amazing. For me it's like sped up time. You see beautiful things. A mist covered Oregon meadow at dawn while Jim Morrison on the radio sings about not being forgiven for wasting it. A mountain lion lopes across a highway in Montana. You meet fans. Make new friends. Have scary adventures like peeing at night outside a deserted gas station in the middle of nowhere Utah while a tin sign bangs loose overhead in the dust wind.

But before you risk life, limb and bank account to play in front of twenty kids, ten of whom are hostile, in another dump with a piss soaked bathroom, consider that for less money your band could purchase itself a practically professional Sony DV Cam and an Apple laptop with Final Cut Pro HD to edit whatever you shoot.

You can use your Apple to record your band if you add some software and interfacing. You can make your own films, music videos, DVDs. You can webcam rehearsal. With Ableton Live 5 you can even use your Apple as your live instrument. It's a brave new world for musicians and with the expansion of broadband and ever quicker services on the way it is the future.

So consider the possibilities. For people stuck in the old ways of doing things the music business is now even more a killing floor than it was before. But for wild idea spouting pioneers who fiercely defend their independence this is the opening of a frontier vaster than any musicians have faced. The day is ours to seize. Let's learn from the past, not re-enact it. digg NewsVine YahooMyWeb Furl Fark Spurl TailRank Ma.gnolia blogmarks co.mments Reddit


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