Wednesday, May 15, 2013

American Idol vs Paying Your Dues.

In this day and age of the internet, and instant gratification, we all expect the best of everything immediately. We want the best TV shows. We want the best music. We want the best sports team. We want the best blah blah blah.

But, what's being lost is the long and tedious road to becoming the best.

When I was a teenager, in 1990, I played guitar in a band. (I've been in a bunch of bands, but right now, we are talking about my first band.) A Christian band called 'Epidemic.' Strange name for a Christian band, but it worked for us. We were going to spread the Word of God like an epidemic. We all started out, only knowing a few chords, and we practiced in a garage 3 to 5 days a week. And, we were horrible. We played our first show, and we thought we were rock stars, but looking back, My GOD we sucked. There was a video tape of that show. I pray to God that it suffered the fate of so many other VHS tapes, and is sitting in a landfill, along with dirty diapers, beer cans, dead bodies, and 'New Kids on the Block' CDs.

But, we kept going. And little by little, we got better...and better. Our second, third, and fourth shows, we still sucked. But, by the tenth one, we were halfway decent...meaning that a good musician could sit through our set and see potential, rather than wanting to stab himself in both ears with a screwdriver.

In 1991, Epidemic played a 500 seat theater, and sold it out. It was a show that we put on ourselves. We rented out the venue, and promoted it. After we paid the venue, sound guy, etc, we broke even. And, we were pumped about doing that!

Epidemic lasted 2 years. After that show, we decided to go into clubs, and the band died about 6 months later, and was gone. Each member joined or formed other bands and the rest is history.

Now, fast forward to 2013. We are going to go back to my history soon, I promise.

With TV shows like American Idol, The Voice, etc, all of the buildup and appreciation is gone. Now, you have a kid who can sing like a gifted angel, but he/she wants to go on American Idol, and bypass the learning process. And, 9 times out of 10, we never hear from these kids again once some idiot on a panel of judges tells them to stuff it. 

Now, we are going back to my past. I was 19 or 20, and I was starting a band. We wanted to be a 5 piece with myself and another guitarist, along with a singer, bassist and drummer. We couldn't find a singer, so because of the fact that I had sang backup vocals in Epidemic, and in the band that I was in after that, I felt I had a pretty decent voice. The new band agreed, and we decided that I would sing. I struggled, and learned the words. It was hard to sing and play guitar at the same time, but I practice. 

The band got booked for our first show, and I was nervous. But, I wasn't worried, and neither were the other band members.

We should have been.

Because of the fact that I had been a guitar player/ backup singer for every single show I had played up to that point, I took the stage, thinking that I would be fine singing lead vocals. The first song had a dual guitar part which I nailed. But, when it came time for me to sing, I did nothing. I was playing the guitar part, and expecting to hear the lead vocals. But I didn't hear them! I actually remember thinking "SHIT! I've gotta sing!" I missed the first two lines of the song before coming in, and it went downhill from there. Worst show that I've ever done in my life. And to top it off, my mom and stepfather were at that show. My dad was there too, videotaping it. I KNOW that video tape is in a landfill. I put it there myself. But what made it worse was that my stepfather is an accomplished musician and singer. He told me "I could tell you were having a bad night." Which translated meant "YOU SUCKED!!!!" 

The band didn't suck. I sucked.

We are going to fast forward to 2013 again. What if American Idol or any of the other singing reality shows had existed back then? If I had been singing in front of Simon, and he told me that I sucked, what would I have done (in today's mindset?)

I would have sulked off and never done anything again, which is what most of these American Idol rejects do.


After the failure of my first attempt at being a lead singer, I was determined to get it right. That band broke up right after that show, but I started going to karaoke bars. At home, I started building my vocal range, and working with singing and playing guitar at the same time. I won several karaoke contests, singing high stuff like Queen, Styx, and Meatloaf. 

The next band I would be in of any relevance was several years later. I had not only learned how to be a singer, I had also learned how to sing heavy metal with a high voice, yet with an aggressiveness. While other singers of the period were screaming like they had a hammer shoved down their throats, I was singing. I started a band with a pair of guitarists from a recently disbanded local legend. I was the lead singer ONLY. This band quickly gained a following, but deep down, I wasn't happy just being the lead singer. I wanted to play guitar as well.

This band played several shows, but we had a problem with one of the guitarists. He didn't show up to practices and missed the learning of a new song. He assured us that he knew the song after one practice, right before a show the next night. 

He didn't. And what happened when we played the show was our own 'Spinal Tap' moment. During the song, he lost his place, and got lost in the song. He took off his guitar, threw it down, and walked off stage. We finished the show as a 4 piece, and we stayed a 4 piece, but I was finally what I wanted to be...A singer/guitarist. 

This lineup lasted about a year, but gathered one hell of a following. Sadly, internal problems caused its breakup.

I moved to Tennessee, where I put together a clone of the previous band. I also continued to work on my voice. The musicians were as good, except for the drummer, and we quickly gained a following. But, it also didn't last very long because I was insisting on it being a clone band. My bad, I admit. But, during that time, I recorded some original songs both with the band and on my own. This was around 2002, and my voice had never been better up to that point. But, I left Tennessee a year after that.

Fast forward: 2003

I was in a karaoke bar in South Carolina where I had moved to. I sang some 80's metal power ballads. The karaoke host was a local guitar hero. I knew who he was. After hearing me sing, he asked me to audition for his 80's metal tribute band. I did, and was chosen to be the singer. Once again, I was singing with no guitar. No problem. Our first show together was opening for Jani Lane of Warrant and Kevin DuBrow of Quiet Riot. I ruled that crowd. One of the songs we did was 'I Believe in a Thing Called Love' by The Darkness. That song had just came out at the time, and I nailed it. Little did I know at the time that Jani Lane was in the club, and heard me sing. I got to meet him after their set. He actually told me that it had been years since he heard a local guy scream like that. He also told me that he didn't have the balls to do 'I Believe in a Thing Called Love' and gave me major props.

I did one more show with that band, and quit. I wasn't  into doing covers, apparently.

Fast forward again to 2013. 

I settled down, and never played again (to date) and I've lost alot of my vocal range. But, I miss it. I have been going to karaoke bars again to try to get the range back. I want to be in a band again, but I won't do it until I can get back to singing strongly. Its a long process, but I have patience.

Do you think for one minute that any of these people on these singing shows would have the perseverance and drive to carry out what I did? Many other musicians have done the same. Being in music isn't about instant gratification. Its about hard and reward-less work until you deserve the reward.

These kids on these singing reality shows not only don't deserve the reward, they jumped past the process to earning the reward.

The reward is not the record deal. The reward is seeing your hard work pay off. These kids on the singing shows get to sing songs written by record company executives. They will never know how orgasmic it is to see and hear a crowd singing an original song that they wrote, after rising through the trenches and the ranks, fighting for and earning recognition.

Am I old school? Maybe, but I would much rather impose MY will and my music on people than for some corporate record executive to tell me to go away on national television. 

The day the music died was the day that people could audition to be the next American Idol. 

Growing as a musician is the only way to save music as it was when it was good, and not just a meat grinder of mindless corporate junk that all sounds the same. 


  1. Styx (yeah!), Queen (oh yeah, I'm feeling it bro), and Meatloaf (wait, what now?)

  2. Meatloaf is one of my favorite singers..and he's the ONLY classic rock act in my MP3 player.