How To Become An LA Internet Musician
By Mike Roe
Published July 22, 2019
People go after all sorts of careers in Los Angeles, from server to celebrity, so we’re taking a look at how people got those L.A. gigs — while remembering that no two journeys are the same.
In this installment, we talk with Laser Malena-Webber from folk-pop nerd comedy group the Doubleclicks. They made a name for themselves on YouTube, with their biggest video scoring more than a million views. Laser talked with us about Laser’s journey to the L.A. music scene. [Note: Laser uses gender-neutral pronouns.]
But first, here's a taste of the Doubleclicks’ sound:
STEP 1: STUDY MUSIC
Laser didn’t really want to be a musician, though they came from a musical family. Laser started playing violin at 3, but quit at 13 — kind of. (They tried.)
"I rebelled away from doing music by only doing symphonic band, and marching band, and orchestra, and choir — but I would only play drums, which to me was a huge ’screw you,’" Laser said.
Oh, Laser also did bell choir at church, along with other musical endeavors — but still didn’t consider themself a musician. Psssst, they were totally a musician the whole time.
STEP 2: WORK AT IT CONSTANTLY
The Doubleclicks started as a band with Laser’s sister Aubrey at the end of college.
"It was not on purpose, it was just a thing that sounded like fun," Laser said.
As fans started to discover the Doubleclicks, it came to be a larger thing than Laser and Aubrey thought it would be.
Swept up in their newfound popularity, the sisters realized they needed a lot of songs for their shows - so they started writing a song every week and putting it out on YouTube.
STEP 3: START A MAILING LIST
They also started a mailing list early, which Laser said was their biggest piece of advice for musical acts starting out.
The pair would follow up whenever someone became a fan and asked "why don’t you play in this city," asking where they should play and often where the nearest game store was - then arrange to play there.
"Keep track of them, and value them. Value your audience," Laser said. "They’re such a big part of what you do, so respect their time."
The sisters found a following and established themselves as an act while incorporating a wide variety of influences into their Doubleclicks-ness.
"Every band thinks that they transcend genre," Laser said. "I usually say we are folk-pop music, with a cello and a guitar. We’re two siblings. We sing about cats, and feelings, and nerd stuff, and a little bit of social justice as well. But that’s I think what folk music has always been, is real life and politics. And then it’s sometimes for kids and sometimes for nerds, but not always."
STEP 4: GET ADVICE/HELP/MENTORSHIP
They credit a big part of their success to early help and advice from other musicians in the "nerdsphere" of nerdy music.
One of their first big gigs came thanks to another comedic musical duo, Paul and Storm. That band was coming to town and doing a show called Nerds and Music, so the Doubleclicks asked if they could play.
"I was just like, ’Hi, you don’t know me. We are nerds with music,’" Laser said.
The two sent Paul and Storm a video, and "they were like, ’yeah, this never works, but you guys are good, so we’d love for you guys to play.’ It’s still to this day the best show we’ve ever played," Laser said.
That gig put them on a track to be part of the nerd music community, while also helping them to start finding their own community.
They learned from others to make their own definition of success. Instead of a certain amount of money, one of their first big benchmarks was seeing someone that they didn’t know wearing a Doubleclicks shirt.
"Because there was a while when I not only knew all of our fans’ names, I knew their home addresses, because I would individually label each of their things," Laser said.
STEP 5: GET PAID
Straddling the worlds of comedy and music, they’ve had to grapple with cultural norms — musicians always expect to be paid, comedians often don’t.
But they managed to get their first paid gig in a humble but super on-brand location. The nerd band got hired to do background music for a craft fair.
They’ve had to learn over time that doing a project for cheap or free, just to get exposure, doesn’t always work out. Remember — get paid.
STEP 6: MAKE IT YOUR FULL-TIME CAREER
Eventually, Laser had to decide whether this would be the thing they pursued.
"We realized it was a career when I ran out of vacation days at my job as a reporter, and I couldn’t do both at the same time - so I realized we either have to stop doing the Doubleclicks, and touring, and growing this, or we have to go all in," Laser said.
Laser went all in starting in 2012, deciding that they’d figure it out along the way.
"I want to amuse, and I want to do a show where people laugh, and people will think it’s really great, and relate to as many things as possible - and I want it to be popular, and I want it to be nerdy, and great. And then on the other hand, I just want it to be real," Laser said.
STEP 7: MOVE TO L.A
If you’re already here, congratulations! You can skip this step. If you’re not, L.A.’s a great place to be to keep pursuing your craft.
Laser had long wanted to move to L.A. to pursue more comedy and other career opportunities and had promised to do so before turning 30 — and the clock was ticking down.
"I wanted to move here just because this is where TV is made, and where comedy happens, and where improv happens, and I really like the speed of this city a lot more than Portland," Laser said.
They finally made the move in August 2017, finding that life here is different than they expected, but still amazing.
"There are just so many gosh darn people here that you meet who are doing so many different things," Laser said.
Laser also appreciates being around people working on TV and big YouTube projects.
Aubrey didn’t make the move, but the band’s still together.
There’s lots of traveling in between, according to Laser, along with meeting up in other cities when they do gigs. When they do get together, they’ll do online shows and record music.
Laser and Aubrey also still talk on the phone an hour a day.
"It’s kind of actually nicer for me, because I don’t have to drive to her house - I can just stay in my house," Laser said.
There’s lots of online collaboration, including a podcast they do together, "You Should Write A Song About That!" Laser writes the words and records a demo, then Aubrey produces the song in her studio and Dropboxes it back.
STEP 8: KEEP DOING IT, EVEN WHEN IT’S HARD
There are plenty of challenges for a group that’s not a household name.
"Like with anybody who’s self-employed, it kind of stinks that you’re completely in charge of whether you are successful or not. Which is why we’re in therapy," Laser quipped.
Live shows continue to be Laser’s favorite part of the job - but there’s a lot of space in between those shows.
"Sometimes it’s lonely. Between tours, there’s a lot of just spending time alone," Laser said. "And the Internet can suck, which is what our new album is about pretty much."
They recently took a year off from the Doubleclicks for the first time and tried holding down day jobs. It didn’t stick, but doing things like working retail (and dealing with people paying with wet money) helped inspire their new album, The Book Was Better.
"The album is our meditations on the concept of getting away from Twitter and going to be a person," Laser said.
They had to deal with YouTube no longer being as much of a place for up-and-coming artists. They released videos in their early days and found support there, but now they face more competition from bigger names, according to Laser.
The music industry has also completely changed since the Doubleclicks got their start. When they were getting going, piracy was the big concern - now, it’s streaming making it so people don’t need to buy albums anymore.
"For us, I think it’s maybe not as bad as for other people who depended on radio play and album sales, because we’ve always depended on our fans directly to support us," Laser said.
An example is a Kickstarter they did to finance their new album - it was funded based on people’s goodwill, even though the average music fan doesn’t really need to pay for albums anymore, Laser said.
"They’re just going to listen to it on Spotify anyway," Laser said, "but if they didn’t support it on Kickstarter, we wouldn’t be able to make it."
STEP 9: STAY ORGANIZED
Along with that mailing list that they’ve kept going since the start, there’s a larger aspect that Laser said was key: organization.
"Compared to a lot of musicians, I spend so much time on email, and Google Docs, and Google Forms, and Excel spreadsheets, and I worship them — and I spend so many weeks just doing logistics, and I think that, coupled with the fact that Aubrey is a music producer, has really allowed our band to be successful," Laser said.
People should find what they can do themselves, for free — maximizing that is the secret to being an Internet musician, according to Laser.
STEP 10: HELP OTHERS
Laser said that collaborating is also a big part of what they do. There’s the collaboration within their group, and moving to L.A. has also meant being able to work with a wider array of talented directors and cinematographers.
They recently hired more than a dozen non-binary and trans animators to make a music video. It’s paired with a song about finding your gender identity — Laser said the video is the thing they’re proudest of so far in their career.
Laser’s also ventured out into consulting, helping independent artists to do their own Kickstarters and get their albums funded.
Laser’s been moved by how coming out has helped fans.
"As soon as I came out, immediately two fans reached out to me and were like, ’I’m in the closet, I want to talk to somebody about this, I’m so happy to have you to relate to,’" Laser said.
It’s meant that Laser can do shows without being misgendered, while also inspiring others.
"When we tour and we play for women, and queer folks, and kids, and they know our songs, and they sing along, and they say that the music that we’ve written has helped put into words something that they feel — I feel like I’m so lucky to be able to do that," Laser said.
STEP 11: TRY NEW THINGS
Complacency can be an enemy for creativity, so Laser’s always trying something new.
"I think the Doubleclicks is always going to be a big part of my life, and it’s obviously the most successful thing that I’ve done," Laser said. "And Aubrey and I can’t really break up the band, because we’re siblings, so that will just sort of be us forever. But I’ve been writing scripts, I’ve been directing videos, and I am loving that."
The other best advice the Doubleclicks ever got, according to Laser: You can’t be anybody else.
"So many people try to follow one person’s career path, and that will never work. You’ve got to find your own thing," Laser said.
So, good luck taking what you can from all these steps and figuring out what works for you — you’ll figure it out, we promise.
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