How to Succeed (or Fail) as a Musician, From Reed Bruemmer of Poison Rites

Reed Bruemmer, second from the left, plays in Poison Rites and has advice for what musicians should and shouldn't do.
Reed Bruemmer, second from the left, plays in Poison Rites and has advice for what musicians should and shouldn't do. Mike Howard
Reed Bruemmer was in the band DDC (Death Destruction Chaos) as a teen before going on to the thrash band Speed Wolf; the latter toured internationally with Napalm Death, among others. Now Bruemmer is in Poison Rites, which is releasing its self-titled debut LP at the Larimer Lounge on Thursday, March 9. Although the band has only been playing live since December 2015, its members' collective experience extends back to Denver's ’90s punk scene and has deep ties to the city's current noise-rock movement.

Guitarist/vocalist Nick Santa Maria cut his teeth playing garage rock in bands like the Nicotine Fits, Conjugal Visits and Dirty Few. Soon-to-be-departing bass player and singer Mike Howard outraged and thrilled people as a member of Scott Baio Army and continues to do so in Zebroids. New bassist Gabriel Albelo can also be seen playing sophisticated psychedelic rock in Silver Face. Drummer Darren Kulback was once in the noise-rock group Hot White and has since brought his unique drumming style to experimental rock bands CP-208 and Quits.

Bruemmer, who has made music central to his life since he was a teenager, has peddled albums in a record store, toured, and worked in bars and clubs catering to a wide spectrum of music. All of this has given him keen insight into some do's and don'ts of music that he shared with us with his inimitable candor.

Here's what he had to say:

Do:  Set your bar low as a musician. Ninety percent of y'all aren't going to make money or provide for yourself and your family playing music. Let's face it: You're going to play in a shitty band and most likely have to work a shitty job to keep that afloat.

This requires a lot hard work, sacrifice and tons of difficult times. The only thing that'll keep you going through the hard times is hope. Not hope that one day you'll be a millionaire and ahead of the next wave of white-washed mediocre bullshit that rakes in the dough. Rather, the hope that you'll one day be remembered as someone who contributed to the music, or a specific subgenre that you are dying to be a part of, a blip on the timeline of rock and roll.  For people like me, that can be the highest reward in exchange for years of being miserable.

Don't: Don't be a musician and not be a fan. Repeat: Be a fucking fan! It's kind of like the old adage of “You've got to give respect to get respect.” If you don't buy records, then why should anyone buy yours? If you don't go to record stores, then why should they carry your record? If you don't go to shows, then why should anyone go to yours? If you don't book bands, let them sleep on your floor/shit in your sink and chug ’til the sun comes up, then why should anyone do that for you?

I see too many artists pumping their egos through the Internet, expecting immediate praise and recognition without really any reputation or track record to stand by, begging for attention. Y'all should be embarrassed, because you know I am for ya.

Do: Treat your craft — playing music — as a job, not in the sense of making your passion something you hate to do out of necessity for your living wage, but take it seriously, for God's sake.

If you skip out on days of work at your real job, you get fucking fired. If you show up late and high on meth, you get fired. If you're the obnoxious idiot that comes in working on the line every day, whining about your spouse, being a pain in everyone's ass, then no one will wanna work with you. If you don't stay committed, spend the money, practice at home, study, worship, obsess over your love for it, then ultimately you'll lose it. And even worse, you'll lose the respect from your community.

Think of it this way: You hate your fucking job, right?  But you still show up on time for that and take it seriously, right? So why not put in twice as much of that commitment, respect, promptness, etc., for something that you're truly passionate about? If you treat it like it's some loosely thrown-together hobby that you do at your convenience on the weekends, then believe me, it'll sound that way.

Don't: Don't draw lines in the sand.  I was fortunate enough to grow up back and forth between Denver and Austin, Texas, for most of my life, always comparing the different music scenes. The closer you get to California geographically, there seems to be more and more clique-iness within underground music. It never made sense to me whatsoever. In Austin, most folks just love music, across the board. They'll watch a band of whatever genre and simply see if it's entertaining or not.

In Denver, I notice shitty little tribes forming around loyalty to bars, neighborhoods, groups of bands/friends, Instagrams, exclusive dietary restrictions and other ridiculously stupid hangups. These hangups translate to these childish divisions in opinion over who to support or hang or associate with, etc.

Honestly, would you rather be the person that twenty years from now says, "I just surrounded myself with the same ten people, went only to my friends' shows and attended the same club every night?" I sure as hell don't.

If you're really obsessed with music, chances are you've dug deeper than pop.  Pop skims the surface of the majority of what's really going on. You've gotta keep your ear to the ground if you wanna be an aficionado. And if you identify that way, then it's really you against the rest of the 'normal' world, in my humble opinion. So what's the fucking point in splitting hairs between yourself and an already shrinking community because of your own stupid insecurities? Embrace it all, or at least try. Except jam bands. Fuck jam bands.

Poison Rites will play with Dramad and Shiii Whaaa , Thursday, March 9, at 8 p.m. at Larimer Lounge. For more information, call 303-291-1007. Tickets are $8 to $10.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.