How to launch the ultimate tribute band
Our brilliant bass alumnus Freddie Draper tells us how he launched the ace tribute band, So Toto, in honour of one of his favourite groups...
So Toto is the ultimate Toto tribute act set up by a brace of ICMP alumni including Freddie Draper, Doug Weekes and Connor Flys.
Led by Freddie, who now leads bass classes as part of our teaching faculty, the group has struck a chord with Toto fans, bowled over not only by their accomplished musicianship but obvious passion for the band.
From 'Hold the Line' to 'Africa', Toto are arguably one of rock's most underrated acts. So we caught up with Freddie to find out more about this new project and his essential advice for anyone wanting to launch a tribute band project...
Could you explain where the idea for your tribute act came from?
There were three clear-cut reasons. The first was my absurd obsession with the music of Toto and also their musical contributions: to summarise briefly, they were a band formed of session players who recorded with the likes of just about anyone from 1978-1992 (Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Steely Dan, Pink Floyd Michael MacDonald, Bruce Springsteen … around 5,000 albums).
I often use their music as examples in classes for my bass and arranging at ICMP because the tunes are so fantastically well arranged. People realise they know more tunes than they think.
Secondly, I used to front my own band years ago - moving to London to make a living from bass playing meant I very quickly ended up taking way more bass gigs. While my passion for singing never dwindled (I would always hide at the back and sing BVs), it’s been sitting on the back burner for a while. I got fed up of wishing I was back singing again and throwing myself around on stage.
Finally, I’ve toured with loads of tribute bands and seeing the reaction of audience members, the calibre of venues and opportunities that are available in this market is genuinely mind blowing.
Sorting the dream lineup took a short while, but was worth persevering with. I called my good friends Doug Weekes (Bass BMus) and Connor Flys (Guitar BMus), as well as metal session guru Mike Malyan (keyboards) and one of my favourite drummers ever to play with, Cameron Spence.
How has the project been received so far?
As far as a jam with a couple of friends nine months ago, this has already turned into something we never expected. There has never been a sense of dictatorship and everyone has been pulling their weight evenly in such a tremendous way.
Our first show was at UK Tech Metal Fest. On first glance, arguably an extremely inappropriate fit (the primary music genres at that festival are progressive metal/djent). However, most of us in the band are well-connected in this scene and we were blessed with the afterparty slot. We ended up with a 9/10 review!
How do you work out your set lists for your gigs?
I picked up a trick or two from playing in a Springsteen Tribute for years - PLAY THE HITS. It sounds obvious, but all too-often fan favourites can be oh-so tempting…"
This however, is also not to be overlooked. If the band you are paying tribute to has an extensive back catalogue, you have to get variety in there too. I remember once an extremely heavily-inebriated audience member tried to start a fist fight with me after a Springsteen show because we didn’t play anything off 'Lucky Town' … we did during the second set but he was too drunk to notice! Oh well, can’t please them all.
Pace is also the trick. It’s tempting to race through all the fast and exciting ones, but it’s essential to allow time to compensate for shade too. The hits are all there - so really our biggest challenge regarding set is pacing and also knowing when to either split longer sets into two x 45 minutes or to blast through.
What songs are your favourite to perform?
'Pamela' has always been one of my favourite songs. It's as groovy as hell and a track the average audience member don’t always realise they know until the chorus. Obviously, 'Africa', 'Rosanna' and 'Hold the Line' are strong contenders too.
How does this feed into your work as a professional musician? How does it sit alongside your other projects?
For me personally it’s proving to be manageable at the moment. Having been in plenty of bands before, I’ve realised that whenever you start a new chapter you have to do a bit of a clear-out of projects that are not going anywhere and reassess what will bring you happiness and money. My advice is to be honest from the word “go” with everyone you work with … not to say that you’re going to bugger off and join a better band, but always make sure you have the option of deputising anything you take.
What are your essential tips for any musicians/ICMP students looking to set up a tribute band?
Research your market heavily. You can either go down the road of a super-popular band (Queen, ABBA, Beatles etc.) or if go to something a bit more off-the-wall. Expect there to be less direct competition, but a greater challenge with bookings. The majority of our target audience is in Europe – so that’s what we’re aiming for predominantly.
Make sure you’re also truly authentic. Learn the parts properly, transcribe them all note for note. If you are not good at transcribing things, I promise you will be afterwards!
What are the biggest challenges with launching a tribute band? How do you stand out as a new tribute act?
DON’T CUT CORNERS. If your product is good, then I believe the world will recognise that. After one gig we were already booked for some European shows!
Attention to detail is something we really pride ourselves on and this often has to be done remotely.
It can be a nightmare to get everyone together, as we all work as professional musicians. But this has really paid off when coming to arrangements and production when we can get together."
Our keys player is a A-game producer and we are all OCD as hell when it comes to sounds, timbres and voicings.
What's next for your band? Where are you playing and where?
We have some shows in the Netherlands confirmed for November (the final posters aren’t out yet, so I can’t tell you when or where). But we’re actually going back into hitting rehearsals hard, working on new arrangements and pre-production rehearsals.
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