Write a song. Write 10 more. Find three guys (or girls--sorry) to play them with you. Play your first show on a Wednesday night, part of a three-bands-for-three-bucks bill. Do this a dozen times until you finally hook onto a decent show. Do this a dozen more times before someone takes a chance and lets you headline. Do this a dozen more times before you get the top slot on a weekend, where the real money is. Scrape up enough money to record a few songs. Scrounge up some more to put it out. Hit the road in a beat-up van and play for beat-down audiences who are there to see the other band, not yours. Live on Taco Bell and cigarettes. Do this for a year. Then another. If you're lucky, maybe then someone from the mailroom at a major will come to your show and bring your album back to his boss. If you're even luckier--like, lottery lucky--he'll listen to it and like it, and there you are.
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Or, if you're Nate Ruess and Sam Means, the Phoenix-area duo that calls itself the Format, the story goes something like this: Write a song. Get it on the radio. Sign to Elektra Records. Screw the rest of that noise. Of course, it helps that the song, aptly titled "The First Single," is the right thing for right now, an acoustic-fueled post-graduation anthem for the program directors to slot between Dashboard Confessional and Jimmy Eat World. Makes sense, then, that Jimmy Eat World's Jim Adkins has issued the group's debut EP, titled simply EP, on Western Tread Recordings, the label he started with longtime Phoenix promoter Charlie Levy. (The Format's Elektra bow hits later this year.) The rest of EP is solid--especially "Even Better Yet"; with it's Strummer strums, it could have been titled "Phoenix Calling." But it's got nothing on "The First Single," which has a hell-yeah chorus that makes a smile start in your heart--"So let's cause a scene/Clap our hands and stomp our feet or something/Yeah something"--and a hook that hits like a JDAM. Maybe they should have released it later, because it should be, and still could be, the summer sing-along that Jimmy Eat World's "The Middle" was last year. And to every band that recognizes itself in the first paragraph, consider this twisting the knife: Ruess and Means are only 20 and 22.