I think too much. I’m sitting here trying to explain the intricacies of the music business and I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of what I know and learned about the industry came through experience, trials, and error. I had some great ideas mapped out and a draft that waited a week to be published only to find out that there may be another way into the industry without completely compromising art and manipulating the idea of entrainment commerce.
Jeremy gave me some points to consider for the first draft of this piece, and he found that I made a big mistake in comparing Rebecca Black and Arcade Fire (some would agree that this was a massive faux pas, others would not). For the most part I agree. A light went off in my head and I realized that maybe I didn’t even have to talk about Rebecca Black. I was trying to define success, and yes; 40 million hits on YouTube is great, but winning a Grammy for album of the Year is the real goal for most of us. Why should we compare and define ourselves against anomalies? We don’t want to be “one hit wonders” or trends, we want to have a career in music. We want to be professional musicians, and in my mind, that’s why we sign to major labels. It’s not about the money; it’s about resources and having a superior work ethic that separates indie bands from signed bands.
I’ve been courted by major labels since the beginning of my career. I’ve also been deemed a work-a-holic and a great business mind since I was 17 years old. I not only learned how to become an artist and performer, but I learned how to manage bands and set up tours. I read Spin Magazine and Billboard religiously. I’ve interned with major concert promotion firms, and booked with some of the best rock clubs in the country. And why is my little resume important? Well, it’s important because there are artists in the world who are not desperate for a deal. There are artists who can sit back and wait for the labels to come to them.
This privilege is called “shopping for labels”. This situation means you have options and influence in the music industry. Kings of Leon found themselves in a major label WAR in the beginning or their professional careers. Everyone was bidding for their hand and they finally signed with RCA. I have been one to turn down deals myself.
HOW TO GET TO THIS POINT:
The truth is that there is no easy way to become a professional musician. It’s even less likely to achieve 40 million hits on youtube.
I’m going to blunt and this is going to hurt, but here are the REAL tips you need to obtain musical and commercial success:
• Check your ART EGO at the door!
An “art ego” is different than Freud’s definition of the general human ego. An “art ego” is an idealism where one believes obtaining commercial success or selling music is a way of “selling out”. The art ego is a true limitation to the reality of musical professionalism. Being a musician is a career path and a job. If you don’t look at your music life as a job or a career, there’s no use in even dreaming about reaching the entire world with your art.
• Have confidence and pride in your music and yourself
I remember a couple of months ago, I was in a terrible mood and had to go on stage after a big fight with the venue owner of the club we were playing. (I booked the show and headlined it at the same time). My band and I played a particularly heinous show, and I asked my friend if she understood our music despite my attitude. She told me she liked the set, but I was on stage looking pissed to the point where I was checking my cell phone while free-styling an Italian aria in front of everyone. Ok. It was all well and good that I was singing in another language, but she told me “when you were on stage checking your phone, I felt like you didn’t care about what you were doing…so I didn’t really care”.
Don’t check out if things go wrong with anything in your music career. Have pride in your work. The bad boy/bad girl image can cause you to lose everything. Humility is something that comes with being loud and attractive (physically and artistically) in the business. You must find a balance.
• Care about your audience
Experimental indie rock hipsters, this one is for you: If you can’t make an audience dance or if you cannot engage them with thoughtful lyrics, don’t waste your time.
If you refuse to write memorable music, no one will remember you. No one cares that you can play the mandolin and the kazoo at the same time. People want to dance, or they want to be able to sing along to your music! Settle down and think about the people who have to experience your wishy-washy, 7 minute experimental ode to Tom Waits. I mean, seriously.
If you don’t want to play 8 shows a month in your own city, and eventually go onto playing shows across the country 180 days out of the year. Don’t waste your time. Real Talk.
• Look the part
If you refuse to shave or if you’re a lady and you think you can get by wearing hoodies and smelly Chuck Taylor’s at prestigious music venues, you’re going to attract negative attention. I hear music lovers and industry professionals complain about the way musicians look all the time. It’s unprofessional and people take that into account.
• Studio time
Either build your own studio or find a studio and engineer you trust. No one wants to hear your lofi record that was recorded on an iPhone. Get over it. Spend some money, shop studios, find a good producer or engineer and work on releasing a professional sounding album. Please don’t release your Bob Dylan covers that were recorded at a house party four years ago.
• Research and ask questions
There is endless information about how to promote your work. There are veteran musicians and industry people writing articles and talking about how they become successful. Read interviews, follow the billboard charts, and email the experts. Learn your craft.
• BE PATIENT (This may take some time)
And finally, give yourself time. Lots of it. Nothing happens overnight. Keep working. Push past the nay-sayers. Travel, play shows, make mistakes, listen to your friends, supporters, and your fellow musicians.
Now I’m going to stop here and allow you to take everything in. Over time, I’m going to pick apart each one of these tactics and delve into making your music career a lifestyle. Ultimately, your instinct and preferences are your own. We’re all adults. We have free will and we create art, which is a very malleable and objective subject and experience. Nonetheless, there is structure and strategy to everything that becomes valid and sustainable.