I was in a band called The Lippies. I say "was" because we just broke up. Again. Hahahahaha! When we formed, we never had any intention of truly being anything more than a local or regional band. Then we caught the attention of Toby from Red Scare Industries and things changed. After it was announced that we had been signed to Red Scare, I had a lot of people message me on social media asking me how their band could get signed. They assumed that I had unlocked some secret code that only people in the know knew about. This couldn't be farther from the truth. I thought I would share with you how I came to be in a band that was signed to a quality independent record label.
I started playing guitar in terrible bands when I was 16. I kept doing that for many, many years. I would trade shows with bands. So many bands. I would get to know these other bands as my friends. Every time I would play with them, I would meet more of their friends and we became a tightknit network of people. Over the past 10-15 years, the bands I was in got better. The shows got better. I was even able to make friends with more notable bands. I also started touring with my friends in Mustard Plug as their merch guy. I learned a lot about "the business" from those cats. I also met a lot of awesome people through them. One of those people was Tim from The Lillingtons. He dropped off some records on one of our tour stops. Later, I would end up hosting another of Tim's bands in Grand Rapids. He opted to sleep in his van to protect it instead of staying in my house in this quiet little neighborhood I lived in at the time. I always get a laugh out of that! We kept in touch.
Around this time, I watched a fantastic animated movie called Surf's Up. It was about a surfing penguin and his quest to become the best surfing penguin out there. Jeff Bridges played his idol/mentor. This movie taught me to stop trying to force things to happen and just go where the waves take me. This is important. A year or so later, I found myself playing bass in a band called The Lippies. Four people who should have never been in a band together ended up writing a cool little six song EP. We played a bunch of local and regional shows, having the most fun ever. We posted it all over social media, and Tim happened to check it out. He contacted me and expressed how much he and his future wife loved our music and he invited us to play their bachelor/bachelorette party in Las Vegas that spring. Road trip? Hell yeah! That show included The Lillingtons, Squirtgun, Dan Vapid, and it was just before Punk Rock Bowling that year. Toby from Red Scare was there of course and made us an offer that night. That's it. That's how we got signed. It was just a series of random, chance encounters. We didn't shop the record around. It was just pure dumb luck that we ran into Toby and even dumber luck that he was actually paying attention to this shitty little band from, as he stated, the backwoods of Michigan. Grand Rapids is actually a good size city, so fuck you Toby hahahaha!
Tonia, Toby, Taylor, David, Kole
Working with Red Scare was a great experience. But to be completely honest, I had actually asked Toby what he was doing for us that I couldn't actually do myself. "Not much really," he replied. I had already been doing this band thing for 20 years. I had already built up some solid connections and knew how to book tours, press a record, promote it, and so on. He just got us some better exposure in a lot less time. He also knew how to get the bigger gigs I always kinda wanted. But he was correct. In this day and age, you don't really need a record label. It helps cut through some of the noise out there, but if your band is something people really like, you'll most likely be heard. The internet is crazy like that.
When The Lippies reunited a couple of years ago, we actually toyed with the idea of putting out our next record 100% by ourselves. We probably could have done it and been moderately successful doing that, but we chose to stay with Toby, and that was because we trusted him to navigate us through some of the bullshit that bands have to go through. My other band, The Bloody Lips, have a 7" we are going to be releasing soon and we're actually working with a guy that grew up in punk but no longer really has any ties to the scene. He wants to fund a record for us and put it out because it's his way of giving back to the music that shaped him. We respect that a lot. We could easily put it out ourselves, but this actually sticks with our DIY mentality and our whole attitude. If it sounds like fun, we're in.
To wrap up my ramblings, don't worry about getting signed. Just enjoy the time playing music with your friends. Keep making better music. Keep putting out your music yourself. If it is meant to be, then it will happen.