Unfortunately, a lot of us have been there at some point in our careers. The artist you’re working for is a great hang, pays well, and takes care of everyone, but… They’re awful. Although you’re grateful to have work and genuinely care about the well-being of the artist, someone needs to get through to them. This is How To Tell An Artist They Suck.
This topic requires finesse. If done properly, they’ll respect you forever. If done poorly, you should probably start looking for a new gig cuz you’re about to get Quit-Fired. As always here at Backstage Culture, we’re going to break this down into a few categories.
- Does it absolutely need to be said?
- What good can come from it?
- What bad can come from it?
- How to do it professionally
So… let’s do it…
Does It Absolutely Need To Be Said?
If I was to write this article about “5 Ways To Tell An Artist They Suck” it would start with “#1 – You Don’t”. You can’t forget who the boss is. Whether the label or management has hired you, nothing is possible without the artist. They are fragile, vulnerable, and supposed to feel like they can come to the crew for anything, at any time.
But if they’re asking difficult questions like “How did I sound tonight?” or more direct, “That felt rough tonight, what do you think?”. If you both know damn well they were awful, you might have to break it to them.
You need to assess whether or not they’re able to hear it. Unless it’s going to sink in, there’s no point. You’re not telling them they suck because you’re a dickhead, you’re telling them to accomplish something. You’re showing them that you’re paying attention and showing them that your expert opinion can help them.
What Good Can Come From It?
They can hear your point, absorb it, listen, learn, adjust, and ultimately, get better. That needs to be the entire motivation behind the conversation. Once again for everyone in the back; “THE ONLY REASON YOU TELL AN ARTIST THEY SUCK IS TO HELP THEM GET BETTER”. Period.
What Bad Can Come From It?
Well… For starters, it’s super insulting. Put yourself in their shoes. What if someone told you that they think you’re shitty at your job. You’re only there for 1 sole purpose, and someone has the audacity to tell you that you’re bad it?
So… You could get fired. It’s simple. Be prepared for the worst case scenario before having this conversation.
If you’ve thought about it, weighed the pros and cons, and still need to do it, then here’s how to do it professionally.
How To Do It Professionally
Like I mentioned in “How to know when to quit a gig“, nothing makes me happier than telling someone who’s pissing me off to go fuck themselves. That being said, you worked hard for your reputation. You know how fast word spreads. It would be a shame if your name got smeared by an artist that you don’t even value.
The key here is to keep this to yourself as long as possible. Then, speak to management about it. Soften the blow. Tell them the shows have been rough. Dissect it. Tell them what about it isn’t working. Chances are they already know and will advise on ways to get through to this particular artist or (even better) they can tell you ways that they tried before and it didn’t work.
Do It At The Right Time
Once it boils down to this awful conversation, make sure it’s done at the right time. Whatever you do, don’t blurt it out during a disagreement. That’s a guaranteed way to get yourself a plane ticket home the following morning. I’m gonna suggest that this happens on the bus after the show, or out at a bar over a drink. Pull the artist aside for a one-on-one and simply ask… “How do you feel about the tour so far?” or “I like to check in on artists after a bunch of dates, how are you feeling up on stage?”. HOPEFULLY, they already know they’re stinking up the place. If you have an artist who’s overly confident and thinks they’re god-like, then you might have to get a little more direct.
If they mention they feel uncomfortable up there, tell them that you notice. And you only notice because you see them every night. Get to the bottom of it with them. Reassure them along the way with compliments. “You were singing great until song 7 or 8. But you duffed that one note and it looked like you were in your head for the rest of the set”. It’s possible that they aren’t garbage after all and some 3rd party issue is rattling them. This brings us to the next point, find out what’s making them bad.
Find Out What’s Making Them Bad
If you see them do a stripped-down acoustic show and they nail it, the solution to your problem is effort and time. I worked with a singer that for some reason had a ton of hi-hat in his IEM’s. He thought it helped with his timing, but it was throwing off his pitch. Once he got rid of that (and put some track vocal in his IEMs for reference), he was great.
If they’re inexperienced, that’s likely the answer. Not just that they aren’t good enough yet, but maybe they don’t know how to ask for the correct instruments in their monitors. Maybe they’re physically out of shape, running around too much, and haven’t learned to channel their energy yet. You’re there to help and support the artist. The only way to move forward is together.
Make Up The Difference
You’ve heard the term “smoke and mirrors”, right? Hide the fact that they’re awful from the audience at all costs. I know I’m gonna take heat for this, but backing tracks are a beautiful thing. If you disagree, then go bang some rocks together to make a fire with the other fucking cavemen. Everybody uses tracks. You need them to compete.
If you’re all still sticking to your guns and don’t want sonic help to compete with everyone else, then drown the place in production. The crowd is much more lenient on an artist if they’re distracted. You’re not gonna notice a singer missing a big note if there’s a blast of pyro or cryo at the same time. Audio techs… Don’t hang your artist out to dry. If they always miss the same notes, turn up the guitar or something. Find a way to bury them.
If All Else Fails, Bite Your Tongue
If you’re not getting through to the artist, you have to stop pushing. Ask yourself how much the gig matters to you. Are you able to continue without integrity? If not, follow the steps on “How to Know When To Quit A Gig“.
To a lot of people, a gig is a gig. It’s a chance to broaden your horizons and regardless of the artist, you’re at least out on the road. Every chance you get to run into locals at each venue and stay up to date on touring trends, while still getting paid, you’re life can’t be all that bad.
To wrap this all up, this touchy topic requires the utmost amount of finesse. Against your better judgment, if you have to tell an artist they suck, then you need to evaluate your intentions, find the right time, and deliver softly. Much like any other aspect of touring, the nail that sticks out gets hammered. But… We didn’t get into this business cuz we wanted to play by the rules.
If you’re on the road with an artist that sucks and you need to bounce a couple of ideas off of someone first, feel free to email me. email@example.com