To Join a Band or Go Solo – Critical Choices In The Next Step of Your Career In Rock Music

Congratulations. You made the decision to make music as an artist in the fledgling, daunting yet exhilarating local rock and metal scene. In part 2 of this series, we talk about your grand entry into the genre.

Making a good first impression

Straight Line Connection performing at last year’s Heavy and the Beast awards, which is arguably one of the best live performances in recent memory

People always remember a good first impression and you only get one chance to make sure it’s a damn good one. So how you approach the scene matters not only for your fans who get introduced to you for the very first time but for you and your confidence.

Your first steps are critical to give you that important confidence boost that will lead you into crafting vibrant content. A bad first impression could not only ruin your confidence, but that of your fans who might not be kind enough to give you a second chance. The content you put out must be first-rate.

Bands and larger musical groups can be a stepping stone into a successful solo career later on

Part of this precarious first impression is determined by your act. Do you wish to go solo or as part of a larger musical act or as a member of a band? This is such an important part of joining the scene as a performer.

In entertainment, how you are known at the beginning could go a long way in propelling or killing off your career in the future. Beyoncé had Destiny’s Child. We knew from the very beginning that she was the most talented of the three incredible performers, but her confidence wasn’t where it needed to be. However, it is this seemingly insignificant act of performing within the group that gave her the skills she needed to become the independent single act we now know as Beyoncé.

Then again, bands can also be successful acts on their own.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of issues that come with a larger group of people working together, especially with personality clashes and chemistry issues. Enter Metallica. If you haven’t watched the documentary on their internal disputes, please take some time to do so.From the 80s to date, they continued to exceed all the expectations and probabilities of how long a band can last.

Even when they seemed to be capitulating into abject failure with their 2008 release of Death Magnetic, they turned it around with everything after that.

There will be concerns with each band set up especially one that stands the test of time. It’s how the band overcomes these problems that ultimately determines their success and longevity.

During the course of time, you will organically and inorganically lose band members, but that’s part of the business and the show must go on. It’s not all doom and gloom for courtesans of the larger acts.

On the positive side, working within a group is wonderful when you complement each other’s strengths.

Metallica playing a live version of “Enter Sandman”

Metallica’s live performances are some of the best I have ever seen. In my opinion, this is because as a unit, the four of them complement each other just right. They have also learned the delicate art of respecting one another within the functional group. You form unbreakable relationships with your band members over time, which can translate into amazing musical experiences. These different personalities often lead to unbelievable perspectives in songwriting, live performances, recording techniques – the list goes on.

Now if you are more of a maverick who prefers to work alone, you may find a completely unique set of challenges depending on whether you start off as an individual act or break off from a larger group into a solo act.

It can be argued that when you work alone from the beginning, you can iron out the kinks sooner. You are able to figure out what works. But then again if you are coming from a successful band into a solo career, you are carrying the momentum with you. Fans will want to see what you’re doing next. Plus, you have your music figured out from years of playing as a band so individually, you have broken off to do exactly that which you know ought to work.

As a solo artist, your creativity is limited to what you are able to conceive. So two things happen: one, when you hit a creative block and your songs start to feel repetitive in style and sound, you have a hard time getting out of such funks. This is the point where many artists look for ghost writers, switch producers or hire coaches to come up with things that sound different. Two, when you are criticized, this really hits hard because you know the criticism is directly aimed at your creation. You need a tough skin to brave out these times.

Being a solo musician allows you to execute your plans as you would want them. You produce the music that you want to release to your fans. You are in charge of your schedule and everything regarding yourself as a musical act. You alone control the course of your career as a musician without deferring to anyone else.

Choosing a sub-genre

Once you are decided on a musical act comes the music you want to make. This is also very essential because it determines your audience. Audiences translate to money. In the last series, we discussed how easy it is for certain genres of music to sell vis-à-vis others. Mainstream rock music will sell a great deal more than dystopian death metal. So what kind of artist you are and your trajectory in the scene has much to do with your choice of musical content.

In the Kenyan rock scene, you find a lot of metal bands getting lower ratings on their socials in comparison to more mellow acts. If you read the room, you will see that socio-cultural inclinations have metal music appearing as a more pitiless, sadistic and evil type of music hence as Africans we are preconditioned to hate it.

20 More Days are an alternative rock band. Their more accessible sound has earned them tonnes of radio play and more access to a wider fanbase

However, we grew up on mainstream pop music, especially if you’re like me growing up in the 90s when all the rock we had was so limited on the airwaves. That’s why mainstream rock music gets an ear even when a metal band has more delicious melodic technique or sweet sounding licks. It’s also the reason we need civic education on metal music being non-malevolent but that’s a whole other discussion. This isn’t to mean you can release trashy soft rock and get away with it. Fans are just as unforgiving if your music is just plain bad.

Quality over quantity

The penultimate thing to note is please avoid having bad sounding songs. You learn very quickly that its strategic to have good quality songs being produced by a competent producer who is knowledgeable in the genre of music you want to release from the beginning of your career. Locally, it took a while for local rock and metal musicians to get production right. In fact, a lot of artists are self-taught producers and do it really well.

With the advent of social media, your content will be on the web for everyone to enjoy so make it memorable. You might just be an overnight sensation one-hit-wonder. Ultimately, the best way to have your productions get out there without using too much effort is having a robust online presence.

Creating a better online presence from the beginning of your career is a sure fire way of having loyal fans interact with you throughout the course of your career

Even the poorest of musicians with a good social media presence will have a constant buzz around their content. So imagine being good at what you do with good socials. In an era when the entire world is interconnected as we are, it’s very easy to get fans all around the world, especially in the indie scene where fans are persistently scouring the internet for new good music.

All this being said, surround yourself with quality understanding people. People who want the best for you always. You can be mega-talented but having the wrong people around you will ruin you.

So weigh your options. Make a very apt decision of how you want to perform as a musician entering the music world. Kenyan rock and metal fans are a beautiful, supportive bunch just waiting to embrace you.

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