Episode 8 My First Entrepreneurial Experience : How I started recording record in my garage and became a cassette hocking entrepreneur!
Being an entrepreneur is kind of scary because there is always some sort of risk involved. We know that risk and assessing risk is definitely a learned behavior. There is a group activity that we do in the design world called the “Marshmallow Challenge”. The idea is that you split a room into teams and you give them all the same supplies that consist of 20 sticks of dry spaghetti one yard of string. one yard of tape, and one marshmallow with a goal of creating the tallest standing spaghetti tower with a marshmellow top after 18 minutes. This is a really fun activity and we learn to much from it about prototyping, design, structure, teamwork and communication. I have done this with groups of kids and groups of professional adults. Across the board kids crush the adults over and over again.
This may not make complete sense as I am talking about about so let me tell you why. These groups of adults consisting of designers, engineers, and even architects have years and years of experience but it totally works against them. They spend the majority of time planning and assessing what will and won’t work and negotiating ideas with each other. They spend their time assessing risk and failure. The kids generally haven’t been exposed to as much risk and failure so they’re natural instinct is to just try it and if it tumbles they try again. They fail over and over again but in the end they will prove to be more successful that most teams of adults. I never realized how much recording my first ever band release was like the Marshmallow challenge until I got much older and of course started facilitating the Marshmallow challenge to large groups
So let’s jump into this. So my best friends Brandon and Eric and I decided to start our first band. I use that word in the loosest sense possible. It was our first real band with a name and actual songs. We talked little about this band toward the end of Episode 6.
The band we started was called Jive and we were pretty awful but I think at the time we probably thought we were awesome. We didn’t know anything about being in a band we were just some kids that ended up getting instruments together because we were friends.
This was 1991 and the Nirvana Nevermind record had just came out and Grunge was all the rage. Brandon had met this guy named Dan Hosie. He played guitar and sang in this band called Melancholy Buzz. They used to play these basement shows in Flint for their friends and whoever else would show up.
It was kind of weird, I went to a few of them and it was actually pretty cool.. This was my first real live and upclose band experience. These dudes would play and someone would start a little basement mosh push pit and eventually someone ended up going through the wall. They actually recorded a live cassette and released it. It was called live from the Buzzment. We talked about that tape for a long time. In our heads it was this huge release, people we actually knew recorded and released their own music it was so epic!
Anyway Dan and Brandon were talking one day and about he and I playing together and kind of starting a band. Our friend Chris was going to be our bass player but like Brandon mentioned in an earlier episode he bought a bass and never really learned to play it so we needed someone else. We decided to have Dan come over and play with us. He was a few years older than all us and he had all this band experience. I still remember him showing up at the garage with this 2X12 Crate combo guitar amp that he was going to play bass out of. Up until this time I had never played with a bass player. It was always just Brandon and I and our friend Eric that started playing with us. Dan plugged in that bass and it was like my whole life changed. It was so live sounding and it had low end and the best thing was he could actually play. Brandon and I were both very much in the early learning stage of playing our instruments so we were kind of stoked to be playing with someone so much more seasoned than us. This was my first rhythm section experience and it was awesome.
I don’t actually remember us having a discussion about him joining the band I just remember us playing and then when we were done it was more of a Ok when are we going to play next?
We just kind of went with it.
We started writing songs right away and we had no idea what we were doing. Someone would just have an idea and we would just start all playing it and then it would be called a song. We had pretty limited ability so our songs were pretty terrible but this is how you learn to get better.
So Jive eventually wrote a handful of songs and we decided that other people had to hear our band. We had to share these with the world so we prepared to record a cassette! Most people would maybe go to a studio to record but when you are 14 and broke you use that you have. Remember when I said before that when you are poor you learn to get creative. The local music store where we bought all of our guitar string and drum heads was called Bogners and the owner was friends with Dan and he let us borrow all this recording gear. It was like 5-6 mics and stands and cables and a 4 track tape recorder. We lugged all this gear over to my dads garage and set it up and started tracking.
It was crazy within a year I had gotten a set of drums, saw my first live basement show, started a band, got a bass player, wrote songs and now I was going to record a cassette that I would sell to the world!
The recording process was pretty cool I had no idea how it all worked I just played the drums and they recorded me playing. In almost every recording that you hear today the drums are the first thing to get layed down. Any rock, metal, punk whatever band it’s drums first and it totally sets the stage for the rest of the recording. Ignorance is bliss and there was absolutely no pressure on me I was just a kid playing the drums on some songs that my buddies and I wrote. We did drums, bass, guitars and then it was time to do vocals. We could barely afford our instruments so we never had a PA to sing out or at practice and we also didn’t have a singer. Dan and I had both had written some lyrics but we had never sang them out loud. I had never sang anything before and I wasn’t a singer and I was barely a drummer so of course this was going to be a trainwreck.
He and I sat down in front of each other both with microphones in our hands and just let the vocals fly. We laughed a lot trying to not only sign but sign these pretty ridiculous lyrics that we had written. The first song on the list was called “Your Mom Drives A Bus”. It was written about our other friend Eric who’s mom drove a bus for one of the school districts in Flint. This was a very new and awkward experience. We got through it and in the end we had our cassette. The release was called “Dog Boy” named after an article that we saw in the enquirer about a boy that was born with an actually face of a dog.
We only had 5 songs to record so those were the gems that landed on the tape. The tape had 2 sides. Some local bands would just leave the other side blank but we all thought that was dumb so we decided that we would just put the same songs on the other side but we would record them backwards. The 4 track recorded had a play in reverse option so we just took the songs and recorded them to a each tape in reverse. This was super funny to us but other people didn’t seem to like it so much. We actually had a few people that told us that they took their car into Dukes which was the local car stereo place in Flint because they thought something was wrong with their tape player in their car. They had an automatic flip tape deck in their car and when the tape would flip it would start playing all the songs backwards. It was freaking people out and when we heard about it we all died laughing.
We dubbed and sold a whopping 80 tapes. These tapes were white stickered tapes that were left over melancholy buzz tapes that Dan had from the Live at the Buzzment recordings. The jackets were a color photocopied collage type graphic of the Dog Boy story from the Enquirer. We even put our own Parental Advisory sticker on it. It may sound somewhat legit as I am explaining but let me clarify that it absolutely was not in anyway legit.
It’s funny thinking back we had this tapes and we didn’t really play many shows so we didn’t really have anywhere to sell them other than at school. We were all hocking tapes out of our backpacks to our friends at school. We all went to different schools. If you know Flint area schools we had Grand Blanc, Clio, Carmen and Southwestern all covered. I think after people buying it an taping it for other people it eventually made its way around to a few hundred people.
We were official entrepreneurs releasing a product that we created and we were going to sell them to the world!
Eventually as all things do when you are 14 Jive faded out and we all started doing other things. I ended up joining Dans other band Melancholy buzz and we did a similar thing. We wrote some songs and recorded a tape, sold them around school, we played bunch of shows at the different venues around Flint including my first live on the air radio show. This was station WFBE in basement of the now closed Central High School in Flint. Playing live on the air was actually pretty sweet.
Brandon and Eric and I never stopped playing together even though we weren’t in a band together we all still hung out and played music and skateboarded and went to shows together. Eventually when the melancholy buzz wore off we decided start kind of new thing that was pretty much Jive but without Dan we actually ended up with a different Dan who was the singer of this new band that we called SPIT. It was cool starting something new with the people that you grew up with. We had all had a few years of playing under our belts and when we got together it was like an entirely new band. It was like going forward in time where everyone knew how to play their instrument and knew how to converse about musical ideas it was pretty cool.
Around that time I spent countless hours every day in my garage playing my drums. Music and drumming definitely didn’t come easy to me. There are people in this world that can pick up and instrument and be great at it immediately. That was 100% not me. I had to work at it. I practiced everyday for years. It would be -20º out in my garage and I would be out there with a small heater just banging away. Same thing in the summer it would be 100 degrees out in the and probably 125º in the garage and I would be in there just sweating away playing the drums. Sometimes I would have people in there with me playing music but a lot of the times it was just me by myself. Thinking about this really brings up a good point about training for something or working towards a goal. That road is often a pretty lonely road. It’s strange because the only one that can do the work is you but everyone else will see and notice the results. It’s sometimes sad but also gratifying at times. I didn’t feel like I was getting any better at drumming and it was so gradual that I didn’t even notice until someone said something like “man you been practicing”. It was actually really awesome..
Spit was a fun band and maybe the most fun I’d ever had playing music. There is something about that time that was so pure and being so unaware of anything else going on around you and just being in the moment and playing together. We were not afraid to fail we just keep the train moving at all times. We played what we liked and we were completely up apologetic about it. Spit was like us starting all over again and the really the beginning of us understanding the music business in some form or another.
I will say that Spit was probably the jumping off point for me when I started to really understand what it meant to add value to something. Drumming and understanding songs and songwriting was a new skill that I found out later was very in demand eventually would lead down the path of fee for service and having the ability to live off of my craft.
But let’s talk about what did I really learn from all this:
This is where I started to understanding networking and showing up and then doing more. This is the start of me going down this path of being a professional drummer and touring the world. It kind of all stems back to me being asked to Join Melancholy Buzz. If I didn’t work had, practice and show up that probably would never have happened. So basically I owe a thank you to Dan Hosie for that opportunity.
I think 95% of the jobs and gigs that I have gotten in the world are based on who I know.
It’s all about who you know. Some of the best guitar players you have never heard of are guys that spend all their time with their heads down honing their craft and never come up for air. Greatest guitar player in the world that you have never heard of and will probably never meet. If you want to get out there and succeed you have to do it all. It’s kind of like creating a product. If you make a thing that’s great! Now you have to make more of them and package them and figure out how to sell them. Sometimes showing up is not enough you have to do more.
For me the lesson of the day is that ignorance is bliss. The best times that I have ever had playing music was in my garage where I wasn’t worried about writing specific types of songs, or how many records I would sell or how big or small the tour was going to be.
It was pure, simple and fun and it was the absolute best!