Vaughan Rising Blog: Alternative Rock Band Demonstrates Entrepreneurial Insight During COVID Lockdown
Stuck on Planet Earth is an alternative rock band made up of Al Capo (bass/vocals), Adam Bianchi (guitars/vocals) and Andrew Testa (drums). If you’re a rock fan, this proudly Vaughan-based trio is infiltrating your radio waves, Spotify playlists, and Instagram feed with a string of catchy singles from their debut album, Beautiful Nowhere.
And they’re doing it in COVID lockdown. Beautiful Nowhere was released in June, when Ontario was still in Stage 2 with tight restrictions on social gatherings and a ban on traditional concerts. As a result, the band was cut off from their major source of revenue: touring.
Vaughan artists of all varieties got creative in finding new ways to engage their audience and pay the bills. Stuck on Planet Earth joined the wave and made the most of a difficult situation.
Turns out, this band has been bold and entrepreneurial since 2007, when they were just a bunch of recent high school grads rehearsing out of an auto body shop in Concord. Here are some lessons they’ve learned along the way that are relevant for any entrepreneur.
Seven entrepreneurial lessons from Stuck on Planet Earth
Every new business needs to find a way to make themselves stand out. They need to offer a unique product or service that no one else is doing in quite the same way.
“The first thing that we thought of when we started the band was to do something different. We didn’t want to be a band that just went and played in venues the typical way that we would have done all through high school,” Al shares. “We said, okay, how are we going to build up our audience from ground zero right now?”
They came up with an idea they called the Backpack Tour. The band would show up at high schools across southern Ontario after school, unannounced, with their instruments and a video camera.
“We’d literally play for kids as they left for the day,” explains Al. “ So, we kind of got a following and then once the Backpack Tour had run its course, we started to record and play electrically and start playing around venues and all of a sudden we had kids showing up to our shows which was great.”
The best partnerships create something greater than the sum of their parts. This is especially true of artistic collaborations. Whom a business chooses to work with is a large part of what defines their brand. It demonstrates the values they share with their customers.
Over the next decade, Stuck on Planet Earth steadily built their audience and reputation as their singles received national and international radio play. They toured North America, sometimes alongside major rock acts like Weezer, Motorhead and Scott Weiland.
Then in 2018, the band started working on their first full-fledged album, Beautiful Nowhere. Al says they didn’t have to go far to find a producer.
“We started working with Steve Molella, who’s also a Woodbridge native, and plays in the band Finger Eleven. He’s a few years older than us, but we grew up with him in the music scene. We toured with his old band The Balconies and he would continuously call us and say, ‘Hey man, you guys have got to come record.’ But we were always on tour.
“For about 3 or 4 years, we were really doing North America, going back and forth. Then, a window of opportunity opened up to get in the studio with him and good things started happening – some people got a hold of our demos. Anthem Entertainment, based in Toronto, took a lot of interest in the recordings that we did with Steve and we signed a deal with them.”
For a business owner to focus on their passion and what they do best, they need to delegate the other tasks to a competent support team.
Anthem Entertainment has been an important part of the band’s support team. Al says, “The label comes in when it comes to marketing the record and giving us certain resources and putting forward money to get us in the studio and give us some advances to live for a bit. The label really forced us to focus on being the musician and not having to put on so many other hats.”
The Anthem deal gave Al, Adam and Andrew the resources and finances to focus a little less on the business hustle and a lot more on the music.
Adam adds, “They allowed us to focus on the art, focus on being creative, focus on our social media. Even though we still have a hand in it, they take care of all the paperwork that is very time consuming.”
Taking risks is an innate part of being an entrepreneur. Often, these businesses are the only source of revenue for their families. It takes a lot of courage and faith to put your product or service out there and then step back and wait to see what happens.
The Beautiful Nowhere album was coming along and by the end of 2019 they finally had a release date: June 26, 2020. Little did Stuck on Planet Earth know what 2020 had in store. They could have delayed the release, but it’s not the path they chose.
“When this pandemic hit, I don’t think we wanted to change our plans anymore. Especially because people are inside now and I feel like people are listening to music now more than ever, as an escape, so we didn’t want to push it back any further. The only thing that it really affected was our touring, because that’s where you really push your album, but you’ve just got to find different ways to put yourself out there,” says Adam.
Instead of dwelling on all the negatives and things they can’t do, such as go on tour or even shake hands with fans, Stuck on Planet Earth chose to focus on how to stay active and relevant during this time.
Al notes, “Right away we pivoted, and we found a way to do live streams. We called it Stuck Inside and we started featuring Vaughan artists and artists from [Toronto]. We would have a talk show and play music and we saw the relationship growing.”
Al, Adam and Andrew also made it a point to post on social media. Instead of posting once every week or two, as they had pre-pandemic, they started posting 4 or 5 times per week.
They implemented a strategy of, “Let’s post. Let’s talk to people. Let’s connect.” And it worked. Since March they’ve had 5,000 new followers on Instagram.
“We’ve never seen that kind of thing before as a band, even when we were playing shows. Because there’s so much more time now to actually talk to everybody that reaches out to us. And that’s what we’re doing this for. So, it’s been a huge blessing because we’ve been able to really connect with people and we never really got to do that before,” shares Al.
He continues, “So, we say this in the strangest way possible, but honestly the pandemic hasn’t been bad for us at all. Obviously, we want to be playing shows, obviously we want to be touring and all of our plans got cancelled, and it’s been an interesting time but at the same time it’s been very exciting and refreshing because it’s taught us a lot of new skills.”
Nothing comes easily when you run your own business. Income level is often unpredictable, and the long hours can be daunting. Entrepreneurs must be committed to their passion in order to stay determined through the tough times and work hard to create their own success.
“It’s been pretty tough for sure. Live touring is where we make a lot of our money. But we’ve been able to partner up with live streams over the past few months that have all been paying us. And there’s also other funds, like the Unison Fund, which pays artists and gives us money to survive during this time, so it’s not a complete loss, but it’s definitely tougher.” Al says.
Stuck on Planet Earth has been picked up on several playlists, such as Apple and Spotify. The band attributes their success to their ability to stick with the business over the long term.
“I do think persistence works. I think that over the course of our careers, we’ve known so many people in the music industry that have started out as promoters at shows that have [gone on] to work at Apple Music and Spotify that have grown with the band, so yeah we have friends that like the music and are in positions where they can help us out. But a lot of it has been organic and that’s been awesome to see that kind of support,” Al notes. “We couldn’t ask for anything better, but it hasn’t been something that’s happened overnight – that’s for sure.”
Staying focused on the music in Vaughan
With no end in sight to physical distancing restrictions, Stuck on Planet Earth is making the most of livestreams, their Stuck Inside show, and paid virtual gigs sponsored by corporations looking to support the music community. Most recently, they had the opportunity to perform live at a drive-in concert alongside Big Wreck. There are more live streams and special things in the works for the next few months.
Even as Stuck on Planet Earth reaches new heights, the band remains firmly rooted in Vaughan. Al fondly recalls their experience recording Beautiful Nowhere, “We always had to go downtown to record in these nice big studios because that was the thing. And then the moment we got signed and we actually got a bunch of money to go make a record and we could actually go to a big studio, we decided to go back home to Vaughan in Steve Molella’s basement. His mother would be making lasagna upstairs and we’d have these big Italian lunches and dinners. God bless his parents for being absolutely gems of people. We’d go eat at [local] bakeries. The whole album was conceived and made in Vaughan.”
Stuck on Planet Earth is another example of how the City of Vaughan is still rising. During this pandemic, Vaughan’s Arts and Culture sector is deploying the creativity they’re known for in new entrepreneurial ways.
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The City of Vaughan does not, whether directly or indirectly, endorse, sponsor or sanction the opinions expressed in this article, nor any services or products that may be offered by the contributor/s in their normal course of business. The City of Vaughan does not intend by this article to recommend the contributor/s nor to promote them as subject matter experts over any other business persons employed or engaged in similar lines of business.