Picture your favorite five bands at the heyday of their popularity. Now, for the sake of argument, let’s put them all in a big bowl, cover the bowl, and have the giant robot from Queen’s News of the World album shake them all up. Could you have a friend who knows nothing about any of the bands in question put the bands back together, just based on what they look like?
For most bands, the answer would be “yes”. No one would take a member of GWAR and place them with the “leather-and-spikes”-clad Judas Priest. Not too many people would confuse a corpse-painted black metal guitarist for the lead guitar player in Iron Maiden.
And why not? Because each band has a different visual style that makes them easy to identify.
Are you still letting your lead guitarist wear his Blackhawks jersey for your shows at the High Noon? Stop it!
Your band needs a “look”. It could be as simple as everyone wearing the same black t-shirt and blue jeans on stage, or it could be as elaborate as the costuming in GWAR. What you choose doesn’t really matter as much as the fact that you’ve taken the time to sit down and decide how you will present yourself. People need to be able to look at your group, on stage or off, and be able to say, “Oh…they must be in a band.”
“But Fang”, you say, “it was supposed to be all about the music, man!”
Please. There’s a reason they call it playing a “show”. Because you’re showing something. When I go out to see a band live, I want to hear good music and see a good show. I don’t want to see a bunch of guys in jeans and mismatched t-shirts; I see that all the time. I want to see something “bigger”. Stage presence is key, but also is looking like a band. Elwood Blues, of the blues brothers, said it best: “We elicit this by using iconographic symbols, and psychological intimidation. The way we look together presents a uniform image of strength and organization. Don’t say anything. Look mean. No smiling.“
When all of your members have a uniform, or outfit, or “look”, you appear united. This makes the band seem stronger and makes it easier for people to recognize you as a group. You’re not wearing the same clothes that the people in the audience are wearing. You’re separated from them. You’re different. You’re interesting. You’re better. Faster. Stronger!
Here’s a very un-metal example: Lady Gaga. She sings the same recycled pop music that we hear everywhere. Yet she’s a huge superstar. What makes her different?
You may be able to send me examples of successful bands who dress just like the people in their audience. You may throw it in my face, and say, “See? Not ALL bands have to dress up to get famous!” That’s true. But think for a second – why do the band members look like audience? And why do the audience members look like the band? Why black shirts and dark blue jeans? Why not sweaters? Button-down shirts? Three-piece suits? Polo shirts? All of these things are socially acceptable to wear just about anywhere.
Why not? Because in this social circle (a metal show), that sort of attire is not acceptable. Wearing something different places you outside of the group. It works the same way for most genres. You wouldn’t think it’s normal to see a lot of black metal shirts at a Phish concert, would you? So, in a way, the band still has a “costume”…it’s just a costume that identifies them as part of the community they’re playing for. This is better than nothing, but it still doesn’t identify them as a band.
You can make it big without a “look”, but it’s going to be a HELL of a lot harder.
If you’re trying to attract the “random person on the street” market, what’s going to attract attention better – a band that looks like a band, or a bunch of guys standing together looking angry at their dads?
Don’t get me wrong, your music is still the most important thing about your band. Your first step is not sucking. Does your music suck? If yes, then don’t bother worrying about your image – no one will come to see your terrible band anyway. If your music doesn’t suck, then it’s time to start thinking about how you can make your stage show and appearance rock as hard as your music. There are a TON of bands out there nowadays. How will you differentiate yourself from all the other guys wearing jeans and t-shirts?
Focus on making good music and putting on a good show. After a few platinum records, no one will care what you wear on stage anymore. Until then, look like a band.
Editor’s Note: The above article is reproduced with permission from www.WeLoveMetal.com. They have have been slightly updated/augmented for a Madison audience.