"Come on, baby, don't go! The band's gonna make it. I swear!"

Phrases like this have been spoken for as long as garage bands have scuffled for superstardom. But what does "making it" mean? Commercial success? A major-label contract? Hearing your song on the radio? Winning a battle of the bands at the local bar?

As with any career, there are multiple paths to choose, each with risks and rewards. We talked to four acts -- two relative newcomers, one semiestablished singer/songwriter and one veteran of the record-label wars. For each, "making it" means more than just the ability to make it rain financially.

Maria Isa

Maria Isa
Photo by Carlos Gonzalez

Born Maria IsaBelle Perez, she's been performing since age 5 and studied at El Arco Iris ("The Rainbow"), an arts center in St. Paul started by her mother and aunt. At 21, she's both a budding MC/singer and the program director for El Arco Iris.

Albums: "M.I. Split Personalities" (2007). Also appears on 2008 albums by Muja Messiah, Heiruspecs and local reggaeton compilation "Lightning & Thunder, Vol. 1."

Goal as a musician: "To spread a message through whatever genre of music I may flow or sing to, and to continue with a positive message. I want to represent the Latino community and people of color and the community of Minnesota and Puerto Ricaños in general."

Getting started: "At 16, I started knocking on Felipe's door, who's one of my brother's closest friends and is like an older brother to me. He is known best from Los Nativos on Rhymesayers Entertainment. I was like, 'Yo, man, I'm tryin' to record some my stuff.' I said I wanna learn more, so when I do have the opportunity to pick what I want to do for the rest of my life, I wanna be educated on it. ... No matter what you do, there's always some sort of education that's behind it."

When she'll have made it: "[When I'm] not just touching the Twin Cities, but reaching out to people all over the world. People like to say "You go to New York, you make it big." It's an honor to be able to go to New York and perform in Puerto Rico and Florida and all over the country. That, and being able to financially support it, especially in this economy. Everything that we've been doing has been done independently. ... In music you have to run a campaign, just like politics."

What's next: She's finishing an EP, "Image," with a release party scheduled June 5 at First Avenue and a tour that will take her to New York, Chicago, Florida and Puerto Rico.

Gigs: Listening party for "Image" at Envy next Thursday; April 24 at First Avenue's "Voltage" event.


Sing It Loud

Sing It Loud
Photo by Tony Nelson

The power-pop band got signed by punk label Epitaph after only a few shows. Josh Cain of Minneapolis-based labelmates Motion City Soundtrack produced their 2008 debut disc and they've been touring ever since, including a slot on the Warped Tour this summer.

Album: "Come Around"

Defining success: "Being able to not have to work or go to school -- to be able to support ourselves by doing music," says guitarist/vocalist Pat Brown, who at 22 is the oldest of the group.

Motivation: "We're not out trying to change the world. We like to write and play music that we wish other bands would write and play."

Eye-opening experience: "On our last tour with Cobra Starship, the third show was in Hampton Beach, N.H., and the capacity was like 2,300 kids. I just remember the stage blacking out and our intro coming on and we walked on the stage and the crowd's just screaming at the top of their lungs -- over 2,000 people going nuts for us, it was the most unreal feeling."

When they'll have made it: "We [already] get to do what we love, but everyone wants to get to the next level. And when you get to that level, you wanna get to the next level. There's not that many bands that can actually say 'Hey, we've made it.'"

What's next: A mini-tour of England next month with Cobra Starship, then the Warped Tour all summer.

Gigs: April 18 at Augsburg College. May 9 at Triple Rock. Aug. 2 with Warped at Canterbury Park.


Haley Bonar

Haley Bonar
Photo by Tony Nelson

Critics have compared this 25-year-old indie singer/songwriter from Rapid City, S.D., to Cat Power and Feist. The do-it-yourselfer still drives to shows in a beat-up minivan and lugs her own gear.

Albums: "The Size of Planets" (2003); "Lure the Fox" (2006); "Big Star" (2008).

Defining success: "I feel like a successful musician because it makes me happy and I enjoy traveling and being poor and making records and hanging out with a bunch of crazy music people all the time. I could never do anything else."

Motivation: "I love making records and I like being in the studio and creating a picture of a time period in my life in words and melody. A month ago I listened to "Lure the Fox." I hadn't listened to it in a really long time and I was like 'I love this!' Why would you want anything more than that?"

Waiting for the right deal: "I almost signed with a major label a long time ago, and I'm really thankful that I didn't because it wasn't the right time and I needed to find my own path. The money is great, having an advance [check] is great because right now my advance is a credit card -- and many of them, and lots of debt. If [an offer] came along and it was the right situation -- where they weren't going to tell me that what I just made was shit and it's not sellable -- that's cool. But I'm not really of that caliber, like 'pop star.' I think that would suck the creative energy out."

Her ambition: "I want to look back five years from now and say the same thing that I'm saying right now: 'My writing is getting better, I like it, I'm playing with people that are awesome.'"

What's next: She continues to tour sporadically in support of "Big Star" and has about half her next album written.

Gigs: Saturday, opening for Andrew Bird at the State Theatre, then a short tour with Mason Jennings.


Adam Levy

Adam Levy
Photo by David Joles

Longtime frontman of the Honeydogs, the 44-year-old songwriter also "lets off steam" with cover band Hookers & Blow and recently recorded a kids' CD under the name Bunny Clogs.

Albums: The Honeydogs have released 10 studio discs since 1995, including two for the Mercury label before going indie again. Last month they released an EP, "Sunshine Committee."

Motivation: "What keeps me going forward is asking, 'What's the next thing? What's the next record? How's that going to be different from what we've already done?' I feel like every time we go to start recording, I'll bring in a batch of songs and whether we communicate it or not, it's like everyone is thinking 'What are we going to do different this time?' That still drives me. There isn't a choice for me. I'm not going to put my guitar down and move onto the next thing."

Has he made it? "No. I feel like I still haven't written my best song yet. I don't think this band has done everything we've wanted to do. But I do feel blessed in a way because there are very few bands that stick together as long as we have and have figured out a way to maintain some level of creativity and make records and create art that has meant something to us. Even when the chips were down and when we weren't making enough money, we still figured out a way to do it and nobody's ready to bag it."

Words of wisdom: "You don't learn from success, you only learn from failure. The band has always been willing to take risks of all different kinds, whether they're musical or career risks. You don't go 'Oh, we blew that, now we're done.' It's like, 'Well, that didn't work out how we anticipated. Now what?' You keep sort of morphing and changing as a result of the things that don't work so well."

What's next: He's considering a tour that would involve Honeydogs concerts at night and Bunny Clogs shows during the day.

Gigs: The 'Dogs and Clogs will perform an in-store set at 7:45 p.m. Thursday at the Electric Fetus, 2000 4th Av. S., Mpls.