Advice, Music

Being in a Band is a Labor of Love: Lessons from Sleep Crimes

Sleep Crimes at Zuzu

A bit over a year ago I reconnected with an acquaintance from college who plays drums and decided to start a band with a few other friends. I felt like it was a now or never sort of thing for me to do at the time. Despite being a self-proclaimed music nerd, I’ve been playing guitar for over a decade and never found the right mix of people to write and play music with regularly up until that point. For me, it was very difficult to find the right balance of A. “can I effectively write and play music with these people?” and B.  “do I like being around them?”  Luckily with Sleep Crimes the answers are yes and yes – otherwise I doubt we’d make it to this point.

Now maybe you’re sitting there asking: Well why didn’t you just record and perform on your own, Sam? I personally never went down the the solo singer-songwriter path because I wanted to be part of something bigger, not be forced to take up the entire spotlight. I also had trouble finishing anything I started when it came to writing music – either I would never know how to end things or figure out how to fit the music over lyrics (and vice versa).  I always had fragments of songs that I could never fully piece together into a finished product. So I would just play for myself – improvise alone, for years, waiting to find the right group.   I wasn’t going to be in a band for the sake of being in the band…the right pieces needed to fall into place for it to happen.

Since Sleep Crimes formed, I’ve learned a lot about myself and how I work with other people.  I feel like I’ve become a much stronger musician and performer in the past year. I’ve even gotten over my pre-show jitters and feel pretty comfortable being on stage now – even when cables break in the middle of a song. Those things get easier with experience.

But despite what we’ve accomplished so far, it still feels like we could always be doing more. I’d say the most important lesson I’ve learned from this whole endeavor is that  being in a band is a major commitment of time, energy, and money even if you’ve convinced yourself that you’re only in it for fun. Time comes at a premium. Between us working full time and other life happenings – the time we can spend together to work on band-related stuff never feels like enough. Even locking in a recording session for a day or two with 4 people’s different schedules feels almost impossible sometimes.

Then there’s money involved: practice space rent, instruments and gear, gas to get to the show, recording, web hosting, merch costs, etc. While technology has certainly made a lot of things cheaper and easier for musicians, there are still several unavoidable costs associated with making and promoting your music. When we do make some money off a gig, we never make back what we spend – and most musicians never do. Energy? Showing up at work ready to earn your paycheck the night after not getting home until 3am from loading gear isn’t for the weak. And of course there’s the creative energy it takes to keep coming up with new material, practicing it, and figuring out ways to get people to come to the shows and hear it.

So while I do feel like I missed out somewhat on not having bands while in high school or college, I’m glad I held out for the right people. I think the thing a lot of people don’t realize about bands – no matter how big or small they are – is that keeping one going is a complete labor of love. And I would never consider doing it in the first place if I didn’t love the people I was in one with.