Hootie and the Blowfish this college band graduated to the big time.
"You know I'm a dreamer, but my heart's of gold. I had to run away high, so I wouldn't come home low."
Motley Crüe, "Home Sweet Home"
Iowa State U. senior Chad Calek is a dreamer. He's also a Motley Crüe fan. So when his college band was asked to open for the Feel-Good Doctors of '80s hair metal last fall, it was a dream come true one of many since Calek joined 35" Mudder two years ago.
35" Mudder, a hardcore/hip-hop outfit, has sold more than 3,000 copies of its independently released sophomore CD, Stained. The group is also one of thousands of college bands across the country with a dream that echoes three words: Make it big.
By Corey Moss, Iowa State U.
GOING THE DISTANCE
"My only dream is to make enough money to not have to have another job," says Christian Cummings, a senior at San Diego State U. and drummer for the band d.frost, a trio that blends hip-hop, roots and blues.
Playing in a college band has traditionally meant free beer at frat parties and enough cash to buy guitar strings and drum heads. But things changed in the early '90s when Hootie and the Blowfish and the Dave Matthews Band made beaucoup bucks on college campuses for the record industry.
And now it's getting even easier for college bands to make a name for themselves. That's thanks to new technology which has made recording a CD as simple as microwaving popcorn and the Internet which has put national promotion at a band's fingertips.
35" Mudder stole the classic Iowa advice "if you build it, they will come" from the ballpark and took it to the moshpit. As soon as the group started selling out central Iowa clubs, radio stations and record labels took notice. Since then, the band has opened for several national acts, they've had songs added to a Des Moines rock station and they're just waiting for a killer record deal to come along.
But bands aren't always holding their breath waiting for a record deal. Just ask senior Dorian Ham, a rapper for the Ohio State U.-based B.A.S.S. Nation. "Even if we don't get a contract, it doesn't matter, because we're still doing what we want to do," Ham says.
THE COLLEGE FACTOR
"To me, it seems a lot easier for a college band to get a following and a record deal than it is for just some band in some city," Calek says. "Your target audience is so centralized. If you can get your school behind you, that's a huge advantage."
But being a college band also has some drawbacks, like band members graduating at different times. "You never know who's going to be here next semester," Ham says. "So you have to be able to adapt quickly to new musicians."
Four of the five members of Mudder have had to take semesters off from school to devote more time to the group. "College becomes a real issue," Calek says. "I would assume most college bands are managing themselves, and that really cuts into your day."
d.frost spends up to four hours a day rehearsing, working on promo mailers and devising a business strategy. "Playing in a band is a huge time commitment," says d.frost's Cummings. "You have to take it seriously because there's so much competition out there."
But even if a band doesn't go all the way, there's always the frat parties with their promise of beer for nothing and chicks for free. Because hey, you're with the band.
TIPS ON HOW TO GET GIGS , MAKE MONEY AND FIND FANS
Take advantage of fellow students: broadcast dept. = video; student journalist = band bio; photo major = publicity shots; art major = logo; theater dept.= audio, lighting and staging for shows.
Don't ignore basement shows. You can win the most devoted fans this way.
Play out of town. No time for a full tour? Take a weekend and play in another town. If you can host a show for an out-of-town band, chances are they'll do the same for you in their town.
Befriend the college, local and community radio stations.
Cozy up to all the local media.
Schmooze your college entertainment dept. That way, when a national act plays at your school, you'll have a shot at opening for them.
Snag an audition at the annual NACA convention. They do college bookings nationwide.
Get in good with the presidents of the Greek system for guaranteed gigs.
Record your material to a DAT, then have CDs burned locally or on campus.
Sell CDs at all shows.
Sell CDs on the Net through the Ultimate Band List (www.ubl.com).
Start an e-mail list of all your fans and e-mail them whenever you have a show.
Promote shows by passing out leaflets at high schools, colleges, coffeehouses and such.
Sources: Sharpe Entertainment Services, Secretly Canadian
Hootie and the Blowfish U. of South Carolina
Dave Matthews Band U. of Virginia
The Pixies U. of Massachusetts
Dinosaur Jr./Sebadoh U. of Massachusetts
Collective Soul Berklee School of Music
R.E.M. U. of Georgia
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