Exclusive Artist Diary with ... CHASING SATELLITES - February 4, 2008
“Personal emails had a much better response than mass-emailing the same thing to everybody.”According the Chasing Satellites' lead guitarist Aaron Bethune, waiting to be the right band at the right time is far from enough. And even though it is nowadays possible to achieve alot before, or even without a record contract, it takes for hard work on several fronts, which are detailed by Bethune.
Surviving bands afraid of success, sending 80 press kits a day and a badly-timed freak accident, Chasing Satellites' story so far is one all up-and-coming bands can relate to and learn from.
By Aaron Bethune (lead guitar).
Chasing Satellites started out in 2005 when Juno-nominated producer Rick Salt introduced me to Daniel Bryant. We had both recently come out of bands that had ended breaking up by what appeared to be fear of success.
Dan’s band, Shifted, had been as close to making it as it gets. Shifted had been together for four years when they were invited to battle it out with other bands in order to get a spot at Alberta, Canada’s Stage 13 touring festival.
They played the show and when they went off stage, fans were screaming their names, it felt as though it could only mean one thing – that they would be going to Stage 13. Well, they were wrong. The judges decided that the local small band should be the winners, and not the popular Shifted from out of town.
Rob Robertson, who was working with Universal at the time, approached Shifted after the results came back and said that he didn’t care what the judges said and that he would get them a spot at the festival.
Sure enough, a week later the band got a call saying that they were on the bill and that they were playing the main stage. Not only that, but at night, right after Evanescence! The band was excited and knew that the experience was going to be valuable for their career.
The day of the concert came and they met on site with a fanbase they didn’t even know they had. It turns out the band was getting massive airplay on all the big rock stations on Canada’s West Coast, especially Alberta.
The airplay had obviously done its magic as they had to have security guards hold back the screaming fans. The band was even asked if it was ‘Ok’ for some of the fans to get stuff autographed by them…was it ever! This was a dream come true.
The band got to play in front of more than 13,000 screaming fans, and sold almost 1,000 CDs that same day. Dan said he didn’t know if he would ever get the chance to repeat the experience, so, living the moment, he climbed the rafters while singing and dangled above the stage and crowd below. In a climactic scream near the end of the song, he let himself drop to the stage and jumped into the crowd.
Later, on the way back from the festival, he overheard some guys talking at a gas station about the show and how one of the singers had jumped off the rafters and into the crowd. Once they realised it was him it was time for some more autographs!
The band returned to their small hometown of Nanaimo as one of the most promising musical acts in the province of British Columbia.
They had already played numerous festivals before Stage 13, including Vancouver’s New Music West Festival where they had even been seen by Gene Simmons (who liked, apart from their music, their one-word band name…), as well as musician and producer Chad Kroeger (who Dan helped sell Nickleback’s first album to all the local record stores in Vancouver).
Shifted came to a bitter end when Dan was ‘shafted from Shifted’ as he likes to put it. He walked in on the band rehearsing with someone else, shortly after their CD release show in October 2004.
The band didn’t split on good terms and Dan felt discouraged to continue music professionally. They had come so close to a record deal and making it in the big leagues that the only explanation seemed to be that the others were afraid of success.
Although this seems obvious, one of the first things you need to do is believe in yourself and that you can make it. Not only this, but you have to truly want it. You would be surprised how many people realise that deep down inside, they’re not sure if that is what they really want.
A few months before I met Dan, I was contacted by some promoters in Europe regarding the possibility of touring with my band at the time. With iTunes and other online stores, we had been selling albums in Europe.
Germany was the country where most sales were generated. The news were awesome and I couldn’t wait to tell the other guys, but when I did tell them, I didn’t get the response I was hoping for.
It seemed that all of a sudden, things were about to go to the next level and people started asking themselves if they really wanted to be in a band. And I guess they decided they didn’t, because from one day to the next I went from playing in a band that had things on the up, to playing guitar by myself in my room again…
Feeling let down by our bands, neither Dan nor I really had the drive to start things up again. Fortunately, producer Rick Salt who was a mutual friend of ours, saw the situation and felt we could complement each other with our different musical backgrounds but common love of music.
Dan hailed from Vancouver’s west coast rock scene and I had been submerged most of my life in classic rock. Although I’m Canadian, I had lived in Europe between the ages of four and seventeen, and the model for rock in Europe had left its mark on me.
Dan was more of a Silverchair ‘90s rock guy and I was more the guy who wanted to play guitar and get to do some solos. Dan had been involved in music since he was twelve and I had played guitar since I was seven, and before that, the piano.
Surprisingly enough, when we started jamming together our two different styles seemed to do nothing but complement each other. It was like Silverchair meets Guns ‘N’ Roses…
After almost a year of jamming and writing tunes together, we started looking for band members. We really needed a drummer and bass player to make the band happen.
Finding them took a while, partly because it’s always important to establish a good relationship with your band members. I think it is better to have a decent player who’s a great person to work with and get along with, than someone who is a virtuoso but a real asshole.
In the end, Carl Schleppe, a friend of Dan’s and a regular at our jam sessions, was the obvious choice. Dan and Carl had been friends for over ten years, and we already knew that Carl’s voice sounded great with Dan’s. The question was, could he play bass?
Carl had been a guitarist and front-man in many bands, most notably grunge act Self Control. The question now was could he play bass and take a secondary role only singing backups. It didn’t take long to find out that he could, and very well so.
Coming from yet another musical background, the third drummer we tried out, Zack Friend, was the man for the job. His willingness to listen and his ability to play made the choice obvious.
At the time, Zack was enrolled in college studying jazz performance, which is where I first met him. It was apparent that rock ‘n’ roll was closest to his heart, considering the fact he came from a background of playing in punk rock bands.
So now we were a band, we were ready to rock! The great thing is that we have always been able to bring stuff to the table from our different backgrounds and create what I think is a sound of unity.
I would say that it really is a combination of all of our past experiences in music - alternative rock, classic rock, punk rock, ‘80s, ‘90s, and even the jazz - all of which gives us our sound.
One very important thing is that we have not tried to play songs that fit the current fashion but rather play the music that comes naturally to us and hope that people are able to enjoy it as much as we do.
The first thing we wanted to do was get some stuff recorded. Dan and I already had some songs we thought were ready to go, and now with the whole band together we had a whole new set as well.
With the current situation, as it stands in the music business, and record sales at an all-time low, we didn’t feel that trying to get signed was our number one goal.
We felt it was much more important to have a product that we could promote ourselves than to wait around for someone else to take interest in the band and get us recorded. With this in mind, we started on pre-production with Rick Salt.
Two days before we were set to go in the studio, Zack became the victim of a freak accident. While going over the tunes we were getting ready to record, he decided to give his hands a rest, and so switched to lighter sticks.
Before we even hit the first chorus, the tip of Zack’s drumstick had broken on the snare and shot straight into his eye! The next thing you know he was down on the ground, with blood dripping from his eye.
We tried convincing Zack that it didn’t look that bad and that we were sure it would just be a little scratch. We were wrong. He had shattered his pupil, destroyed his lens, and had a 5mm cut into his cornea.
After getting seven stitches, having his lens removed, and in need of a cornea transplant, Zack was in no condition to record. While he was in hospital we had to decide what to do. We had set ourselves deadlines, and already spoken to old contacts that were waiting to hear our new material.
This really threw a wrench into things. We all felt terrible for Zack and thought that we were wrong to even be struggling over the decision to record or not. It should be a no-brainer. We would just wait until Zack got better, even though we had no idea how long it could take.
It was Zack who told us that we should stick to the plan. He said that he would not be able to do it, but that we had to take the opportunity we had been given to record. This meant finding a drummer willing and capable of doing the job on such short notice.
Our first choice was Pat Stewart, (who played with Bryan Adams, The Odds, and many more) who had been Zack’s drum teacher. Unfortunately, he was away on tour. Eventually and just by luck, Aaron Klausen, a friend of the band who had recently returned from recording at Metallica’s studio in LA, was free, and was excited to do the session.
So with one rehearsal and mixed feelings about doing it without Zack, we recorded our first batch of songs. We kept all the tracks we recorded with Aaron drumming to use on the album, as the energy was amazing.
We had originally thought of re-recording those particular tunes with Zack, but the energy was so great due to the situation, that we felt it would be hard to replicate it and that perhaps it was meant to be. Besides, it also keeps the songs a little varied, seeing as there are two drummers on the record.
With a few songs recorded, and feeling like this would be the last shot at being in a band, we started getting hold of our old contacts. I started mailing our tunes out to radio stations, promoters in North America and Europe, newspapers, magazines, clubs, fellow musicians, and so on.
Every little bit of feedback helped. We wanted to make sure that when we went to finish the album, we knew if we were doing the right thing, or if it was just a waste of time.
With no record label paying for the studio time, and us all coming up with the money from our paychecks and student loans, (not to mention the massive amounts of time Rick Salt was putting in from the goodness of his heart) we really wanted to make sure that people were digging our stuff.
We started getting a great response - clubs were emailing us to play shows, radio stations such as the Fox in Vancouver were playing our tunes; we were even getting radio play in LA. Of course this didn’t literally happen overnight - we were emailing up to 80 EPKs/DPKs (electronic press kits and digital press kits) a day with personalised letters.
Personalising the e-mails had a much better response than mass-emailing the same thing to everybody. It also meant that we could establish friendships with some of these people, and it usually led to us getting pointed in the direction of new contacts and so on.
One of the best things you can do is to follow-up with people, and network like crazy. You’d be surprised how many people you meet everyday could boost your career in some way, shape or form. Obviously having some songs on a CD wasn’t enough, we needed photos, videos, a bio, write-ups to send to people.
We started getting ourselves out there on the web, using Myspace and Facebook. We did our best to get a buzz started online and let the people we were approaching in the industry know that we existed.
Appearing on the web is super important. Nowadays if you can’t Google somebody, especially a band, then they’re probably a nobody. With the Internet and global communication, we have everything at our fingertips to promote ourselves and to get things happening without ever having to depend on anyone else.
I mean, a place like Hitquarters.com is providing us with manager names, producers, A&R’s, and even telling us if they accept unsolicited material. The problem is that a lot of musicians can be told what to do, and know what to do and how to do it, but they never seem to actually get around to doing it!
There are so many great bands without a single demo, professional photograph, or even a bio, that are literally leaving it to being in the right place at the right time. What are the chances of that happening?
If you can’t seem to get in gear with the business side of things, then it only makes sense to find someone who is committed, dedicated, and a real fan of the band to do it for you.
I know that for me it has meant that my life, over the last year and a half, had consisted of spending literally five hours a day, if not more, just sending emails, and trying to get us out there.
The real motivation to keep at it came when after the first few weeks of having a fan mail page that people could sign-up for, we received 600 requests, not including hits for the page.
With all our efforts recording, spending time and money, emailing, playing to drunks, and traveling huge distances to meet with people that we felt could help us, we started getting some recognition both in the real world and the cyber-world.
We even went to the extent of being promoters ourselves and putting on shows for major record label recording artists just so that we could be the opening act! Whatever it took to make things happen, we tried it, in fact we still do!
We have made contacts at dinner parties, and met plenty of friends of friends, and every time we have been given a new contact or someone has said ‘we should talk, give me a call’ we have made sure to follow up.
Thanks to one of these friends of a friend, we were offered the chance to play in Stockholm where an A&R at Universal is interested in checking us out. We are hoping that things will work out so that we can take the offer up this summer.
Presently, we are looking at releasing ‘Dinosaurs In Stanley Park’, our new album, in March. We have dates lined up in Europe for the summer and a possible tour of central and eastern United States at the beginning of the new year.
We are also looking at heavier touring in Canada in order to promote the album. In addition, we are working on different grants that are available to Canadian musicians, and hope that with all of this combined we can give our career a bit more of a push into the public eye.
If along the way we get to sign with a label willing to put the time, money, and energy into promoting us then so be it, but for now we’re happy with the way things are.
Although we have done, and still do a lot of the stuff ourselves, we do have a European manager working with promoters on our behalf to get things started and happening over there. We also work with a booking agent and publicist over here in North America.
Record label or no record label, you still need to be able to really push your own product (once you have one) or at least have someone help, and now that you can sell your albums online, you can certainly be the one to start the ball rolling.
Getting signed was never the first thing on our agenda and I think that in this day and age, especially when you hear Madonna is changing contracts from a record label to signing with a promotion and touring company, I don’t think that getting signed should be anyone’s priority.
Don’t get me wrong - having the distribution and promotion of a dedicated record label is an important thing, but playing music, enjoying making music with other musicians, and putting on a good show so that others can enjoy it too, should be most important.
A very primary thing to us has been having a good place to jam and rehearse. We have been lucky as we have been able to find a place that is big enough to move around like we would on stage. It’s also big enough to have over 50 people come to a rehearsal at one time.
We regularly jam four times for three hours every week, unless we’re on the road. Keeping continuity in our practice stops us from getting sloppy.
Having the option of people hanging out at rehearsals has really given us an idea of what people’s reactions are to our music before we have presented it to the general public.
It has also let us rehearse in an almost live setting, which unless you have the extra time to attend your local club’s live jam on a regular basis, is a really great thing and keeps your game up. Not only this but we have been able to rehearse at the same volume we play live when we have felt like it.
We usually do this with new songs once we have worked on the parts at a lower volume. We find that practicing at a lower volume is much more efficient, but playing at higher volumes certainly creates a certain energy.
We have already had the chance to work alongside some of the industry’s top heavyweights, and have been told that we are on the right path to become contenders ourselves - something which keeps our motivation levels high.
The real thrill comes from seeing our own hometown behind us and excited to be a part of our musical journey. We have had a lot of support from our friends, including other local bands we support as well - don’t expect to be supported if you don’t do the same for others.
Getting support from local and provincial radio stations has certainly been a good starting point to say the least.
We have recently started working with a music supervisor in LA and hope to be seeing the results in the next couple of months. But even with all the good things coming our way, we know that there is a lot of hard work ahead of us.
An important thing is that we love what we do and we love being surrounded by a group of people that believe in us. Having band members that are all on the same page musically and sharing such a strong friendship makes the journey all the more worth looking forward to.
I don’t think that there is any fear of success this time. Life is exciting. We hope that in the year ahead of us we’ll have a lot more people chasing satellites!
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