Vital Indie Artist Lessons I’ve Learned the Hard Way

© 2015 Vinny Ribas
There is no replacement for experience. But in sharing these true experiences, I am hoping that I can help you avoid making costly mistakes!

  • I once messed the date up on a booking which left a very popular club without a band on a Saturday night.

THE LESSON: Always double-check your dates 2 weeks in advance.

  • I once had my booking agent mess up the dates on a booking for my duo, again leaving a club without a band (this time on a Sunday night).

THE LESSON: Double check your dates with your agent, and ask them to double check. Then call the club incognito (so your agent doesn’t look incompetent) and verify the date. 

  • I once had a song that I wrote sung by a contestant on a nationally televised singing competition, but I never received any royalties.

THE LESSON: Be sure you are affiliated with a performing rights organization, and/or Sound Exchange if you’re getting any kind of major airplay. 

  • After working for 6 months on various cruise ships in the Caribbean, I came home to an empty calendar (even though my agent knew we were coming home).

THE LESSON: Always think ahead and insure that your team is doing their job.

 While I was working for 3 months on another cruise in Europe, an American Express card that I had applied for came in the mail and was stolen. When I came home I had a bill for $5,000 waiting for me.

THE LESSON: Always have your mail stopped or forwarded to someone you trust when you’re away. 

  • I once played a gig where the agent put us up in a vacant, should-have-been-condemned boarding house across the street from a deserted nuclear plant 20 miles from the gig.

THE LESSON: Research your accommodations before you arrive.

  • While working on a cruise ship I met a great husband and wife dance team, and we became close friends. After the cruise was over, they called me from across the country and told me they had added singing to their act to make it more commercial. I told them that I could book an act like that in the upscale resorts of the Poconos (PA) and Catskills (NY). They moved across country, and when they arrived I found out that they planned on moving in with me (to my total surprise), had no money and couldn’t sing a lick. And without the singing, I couldn’t use the act.

THE LESSON: Do your homework before you put your name, your reputation, or especially a friendship on the line.

  • I once played in a hard core country band that got booked by an agent into a heavy metal biker bar.

THE LESSON: Do your homework before going to a place you’ve never played before in order to insure that you’ll be a great fit.

  • I once played in a country band called “Freddie D And The Drifters”. We played a lot of oldies as well, so one club asked us if we would do an oldies night. We booked the gig, and the club owner advertised it as ‘Oldies Night with The Drifters’! ‘The Drifters’ are a very popular superstar band of the 50’s (‘Save The Last Dance For Me’, ‘On Broadway’ etc.), so the place was packed with people expecting to see the original ‘Drifters’ band!

THE LESSON: Be sure that venues know how to promote you properly!

  • My duo was once booked as a last minute replacement in a very high-end Italian resort in the Catskills. It wasn’t until we got there that we found out that we were supposed to be the back-up band for an Italian opera star! There were only 2 of us, and I did not read music!

THE LESSON: Once again – Do your homework! Know what you’re getting into!

  • I once showed up for a gig where I knew we would be sharing the stage with other bands. The other bands thought we were bringing the drums, and our agent told us that they were. We ended up with no drum set.

THE LESSON: Check things out for yourself when the details are extremely important.

  • My booking agency was once asked to provide 5 bands for a large festival. The festival manager told us that they would be supplying the sound and stage. We found out when we arrived that the field we were playing in was larger than 3 football fields. That was fine, but the sound system they provided was a Kustom 4 channel, 100-watt pa head and 2 speaker columns with 4 8” speakers in each.

THE LESSON: Always provide a rider with your sound and lighting requirements if someone else is providing them.

  • I once finished a gig in Allentown PA at 1 AM, then had to pack up and start playing in Orlando FL at 4 PM the following day – a 20 hr. drive (it was when the speed limit was 55).

THE LESSON: Plan your tours so that you’re not risking your life pulling all-nighters on the road. 

  • I was in a rock band that won a state battle of the bands. Right after we won, the rest of the band went out to the van to party. I didn’t drink or get high, so I stayed in the venue. The local press came for pictures, and I was the only one around, so my picture, not the band’s, was in the papers. The band fired me for it.

THE LESSONS: 1) Be good at what you do and treat your music like your business. You’ll get the kind of press and/or notoriety that you deserve, and; 2) Be sure to surround yourself with other professionals who take your career as seriously as you do!

  • I was asked by a pick-up jazz band to play keyboards and bass (I also played bass pedals) for them on New Year’s Eve. I knew no one in the band. I told them up front that I didn’t want to do the gig because I was not a jazz player by any stretch of the imagination, and didn’t know how to play any of the songs on their song list (my main instrument was drums). But they insisted that I cover the gig. They scheduled one rehearsal 3 days before the gig. At that rehearsal, they realized that I wasn’t lying. We didn’t get past 4 songs when they realized that it wasn’t going to work. They went on a mad scramble to find someone who could cover the gig (they found someone). Then they went and told everyone in town that I was an incompetent keyboard player!

THE LESSONS: 1) Take the word of people you don’t know if they say they can’t do what you need done. Find someone who can. 2) Don’t put yourself in a position where you’re jeopardizing your reputation. If you can’t do something with confidence, practice until you can or don’t do it at all.

 My partner and I recorded an album with some cover tunes and some original songs. We recorded the music first, and then we laid down the vocals. There were a lot of chord changes in one song, and I am not that good of a session player, so it took a lot of expensive time in the studio to get the tracks right. Then we discovered that we recorded the song way too fast to sing!

THE LESSONS: 1) always put down a scratch vocal to make sure you have the right tempo and key, as well as to wrap the music around; 2) hire experienced session players whenever possible (it would have been cheaper).

The truth is that there is no replacement for hands-on experience, and you will undoubtedly make your own mistakes as you move your career forward. Just learn from them and then pass on your wisdom. But to avoid making critical and maybe even career-threatening mistakes, arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible, and read about, network with and learn from people who have more wisdom and experience than you do. You’ll be glad you did!