1. DON’T CHOOSE A SHITTY NAME
Once you’ve chosen a name, it’s difficult to change it. And the trick with names is that bands, like people, become their names.
For ex: The second man to be a space tourist and pay his way into space was Mark Shuttleworth. Famous director who was a virgin until he got married? Alfred Hitchcock. So think hard when you choose your name because it’s what you’re about to become. (Hint: There’s a beaver on the back of Canadian nickels.)
2. HAVE MORE THAN ONE SONGWRITER
Lots of bands get by through several albums with one songwriter, but the ones that give us originality and unshakeable albums time and time again are the ones with several fields to reap from. Think Sonic Youth, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles. With multiple songwriters, there’s a spirit of competition and a for the good of the band attitude that will make it easier to cut the dross from your set.
It doesn’t always work, sometimes you get an unevenness that ruins albums (think Beatles, Fugazi, The Police) if the band doesn’t back someone up right, or their style is too weird. But when everyone gets more or less equal weight and punches at more or less the same weight, you might be heading towards N.W.A. territory.
3. WRITE SONGS TOGETHER
An alternative approach to having several people bringing in songs is to make each song a collaborative effort.
It’s a little known fact that bass player Geezer Butler wrote most of Black Sabbath’s lyrics. Toni Iommi would provide riffs, enriched by Geezer’s bass playing, Ozzy would get the lyrics from Geezer and write those incredible melodies. And Bill would sit cross legged leaning over a pile of cocaine for hours to figure out how to make it bounce like hydraulics. Bill Ward’s drumming style, which sounds like break beats slowed down before cough syrup was a music drug, is one of the indispensable parts of Sabbath, even with John Bonham or Keith Moon they would have flopped.
Make use of the specialties of every bandmate to forge your sound.
4. PLAY YOUR WHOLE ALBUM FROM START TO FINISH AT CONCERTS
Once you’re a few albums in there’s still work you can do to keep from becoming washed up. It’s become a sign of prestige to play one of your albums all the way through at a show, to let the audience know how awesome and seminal they think it is.
Pink Floyd played The Wall all the way through at shows for two years when it came out in ’81. In 1994 Phish started playing other band’s albums in their entirety every Halloween as a musical costume (I was there).
Curators of the All Tomorrow’s Parties events started taking advantage of godly curatorial powers, making bands play whole albums, including the throwaway tunes they wrote on the studio floor and recorded in one take and never wrote down the synth preset for and never played live. Don’t let this happen to you; be prepared.
An album should be a coherent piece of work that gets respected as a collection. If a really talented band can recreate that inspiration and bring it to fans on stage, that is a terrific achievement that will give people reasons to come back to your gigs year after year.
5. DON’T BREAK UP
Let’s face it, the bands that last are the ones that don’t break up. Members do come and members do go; hang on to your core if this happens.
Some might argue that bands get attention when they break up, and then reunion tours are possible, playing to bigger audiences than even before. This is a sort of we-have-to-break-up-to-save-the-relationship argument that, made by rockers, sounds suspiciously like the Wyld Stallyns’ “We need a video to get Van Halen, but we need Van Halen to get a video” bit.
If you’re good and work hard you’ll appreciate the audience you have, the audience that isn’t there just because you used to be popular.