Article - Aug 21, 2003
“It’s not enough to simply give someone a demo tape and then expect a record deal.”Bobby Borg is a professional musician and the author of The Musician’s Handbook: A Practical Guide To Understanding The Music Business. In this two-part article he gives career advice to artists and musicians. Part 1 deals with creating your own opportunities, building career awareness, and the issue of age in the commercial marketplace.
CREATE YOUR OWN DESTINY BY BEING PROACTIVE ABOUT YOUR CAREER
In his book, Wild Thing, Ian Copeland, founder of Frontier Booking International (FBI) and talent agent to The Police, Sting and No Doubt, says, "Doors were usually closed to newcomers in the industry. We decided to stop beating on them and create new ones."
It’s not enough to simply give someone a business card or demo tape and then sit back and expect to gain employment or procure a record or publishing deal. No one is going to hand you success on a silver platter. You need to gain more control of your career and create your own destiny. Whether you're an individual musician, a songwriter, a solo artist or a member of a band, attract the attention of those who can help you by helping yourself first.
If you're a musician who wants to be known as a great player rather than simply as a member of a band and you want to perform with successful artists and play on lots of recordings, then get out there and be heard! Don't wait for the phone to ring. Try starting your own band first. You'll have the opportunity to showcase your individual style and to let people know what you do best and most comfortably. Attend local jam sessions to find other musicians whose personalities and abilities you admire and then perform together everywhere you can.
Eventually, more successful musicians and bands will begin to notice you, and may even ask you to play on their records or tours. Get to know the producers and managers of these acts. Your reputation and opportunities can build from there. For instance, when Guns N’ Roses were looking for a replacement drummer, their guitarist Slash happened to attend a concert at which drummer Matt Sorum was performing. Slash liked Sorum's heavy/solid style, and without auditioning thousands of candidates, Slash offered Sorum the gig. Sorum worked hard at putting himself in situations where he could shine. As a result, he got a great job. At the time, Guns N’ Roses were one of the greatest rock bands in the world.
If you’re a songwriter (and not an artist or performer) who wants to get a publishing deal and get your music placed with successful artists and in television commercials and films, you can start off by contacting some of the more popular bands in your area to see if they’d be interested in performing one of your songs or co-writing one with you. If the group ends up getting a record deal, bingo, you’re in business! Some writers even go as far as developing their own artists, writing songs for them to perform, and then producing them and helping them to get signed to a recording contract. It’s a long-term approach, but you have to start somewhere.
You can also try contacting film departments at local colleges to make your music available for student films. The film may go on to win an award, or that student may even go on to become a successful director one day and you'll be one of the first people he or she calls. Try contacting some of your local radio stations to see if they’re interested in using your material for their advertising spots. Start with the smaller radio stations and work your way up from there.
Try contacting a few of the many music libraries (organizations who help place songs in video games, corporate video presentations, on-hold telephone music, elevator music, etc., such as Master Source) and see if they'd be interested in using your material. Another viable option to further your career might be to try services such as Taxi, which generally serve as screeners to industry professionals who are looking for material.
Also, keep your eyes open for songwriters' workshops and competitions organized by performing rights societies such as ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. These events can be a good way to gain exposure, earn a few bucks and improve your songwriting skills. Check also out other organizations such as the Songwriter’s Guild of America, the Association of Independent Music Publishers and the Society of Composers & Lyricists. When it comes to taking charge of your career, the possibilities are endless. For over 8,000 more places where you can promote your music, try the Indie Bible, now in its fourth edition.
Solo Artists and Bands
If you’re a solo artist or part of a band that wants to get a record deal, cut your own record first! Digital technology has greatly reduced studio costs and has made home-recording equipment more practical to own. CD manufacturing has also become more affordable. You can sell your CDs at live performances and on the Internet (the Internet provides a number of marketing opportunities through online stores and MP3 sites). Create a buzz! Build a following. You'll be surprised at how many people in the industry you'll attract once you set the wheels in motion. Everybody likes a winner and everyone will want to become part of your success by associating with you.
Singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco was actually able to bypass record companies altogether by starting her own label out of her parents' garage. She was only twenty years old when she started Righteous Babe Records. At the time of this writing, sales of her albums are known to reach up to 30,000 copies per month. This brings the old saying to mind, "Have you ever noticed how fast firewood burns when you cut and then chop it yourself?" Though DiFranco is a rare example, it shows what you can accomplish when you take the initiative.
In yet another example, both Guns N’ Roses and Motley Crue were selling out Los Angeles clubs before Geffen Records A&R man Tom Zutaut "discovered" and then signed the bands. There were literally queues around the block to see the bands' performances. As Zutaut says, "You don't need ears to be a talent scout; you need eyes."
AGE IN THE COMMERCIAL MARKETPLACE
If there weren’t enough obstacles to overcome in the commercial recording industry, age is yet another. Record companies rely heavily on youth, vitality and sex appeal to sell albums. But don't let record companies dictate what you can or cannot do, or how old you have to be to do it!
Age can be a sensitive subject for most musicians, but there is in fact a real prejudice in the commercial music industry that views music exclusively as a youth-oriented business. A musician’s life expectancy in the pop, rock, R & B and rap genres parallels that of an athlete’s life span in the sports world. As you approach 35, your chances of succeeding decrease significantly. This is somewhat of a paradox, since musicians' skills tend to improve with age and experience but, as I said before, record companies rely heavily on youth, vitality and sex appeal to sell albums.
Additionally, record labels prefer to sign younger acts, who can bring them a return on their initial investment for several years to come, if they are successful. Record companies are a business just like any other and they view their business from the bottom line first and foremost, like it or not!
So does all this mean that if you are an unsigned artist nearing your mid-thirties you should throw in the towel and abandon your life's dreams if you still haven’t found major label success in the "MTV generation"? If this is truly your aspiration, of course not! It’s the professional artists who care for their health and image who look, act and feel better in their later life than in their teens. And of course, there’s always the rare exception to the rule, where a more adult artist breaks down all the barriers and is signed strictly on the basis of his musical talent and songwriting abilities—bravo!
But even if you're one of the lucky artists who gets a big break in the business, it's only rare, creative and business-minded artists who can continue to appeal to younger audiences (both musically and physically) as they are approaching their 50th or even 60th birthdays. Do I agree with this type of thinking? NO! But this is what history has shown us repeatedly.
So what’s the whole point of this discussion? Though age in the entertainment business is not something you think about when you’re in your teens or twenties, age and image in the commercial marketplace is a very real issue for musicians in their later years—but it doesn’t have to be! If your career seems to be at a standstill and you’ve been banging your head against the same stone wall trying to get a major label deal (or trying to make a comeback in your career), perhaps it’s advisable to take a few moments to reevaluate your goals.
For instance, considering your career status, your age and your image, perhaps a more prudent approach would be to focus on a genre of music with a more sophisticated demographic audience, to seek a recording deal with a smaller, less commercial independent record label or to simply resort to a DIY (do it yourself) approach, a situation in which you can make all of your own business decisions and record companies don't dictate what you can or cannot do, or how old you have to be to do it!
Taking this one step further, some musicians may even find a greater purpose in more "behind the scenes" work, composing for other artists, for example, or writing for film and television or even for video games—there’s big money here! Stewart Copeland of The Police made this transition, and there are many more examples. It’s not about abandoning your original dreams or succumbing to this prejudice, it’s about looking at age and image in the commercial music business realistically, and learning how to continually reinvent and brand yourself over time to find new audiences and new opportunities in the music industry.
As Charles Darwin once said, "It’s not the strongest of species that tend to survive, it’s those most adaptable to change."
BUILD CAREER AWARENESS BY EXPANDING YOUR INTERNET PRESENCE
Most of you are already up to speed on the vast opportunities the Internet provides, but in case you’ve missed out on something, let’s take a quick look at some of the ways you can be more proactive about your career by promoting yourself on the World Wide Web. Below is a brief discussion that covers online stores, digital downloads, Internet radio, live webcasting, chat rooms, web rings, newsgroups, mailing lists, webzines and personal websites.
Digital recording and home studio equipment have made it far easier for artists to record their musical compositions. The cost of CD duplication and packaging is also more affordable. But if the thought of selling 1,000 or more CDs seems like a daunting undertaking, then you should know that there are a number of "online stores" that can provide you with some help.
Highly traveled websites such as Amazon, MP3.com and CD Baby will advertise your CD on their sites and process orders. You'll receive a percentage of sales and, in some cases, you’ll even receive detailed tracking information about the fans who have purchased your music. You can also sell your music on your own website, but keep in mind that you will not only have to design an interesting website that people want to frequent, you'll also have to set up a system that accepts credit card payments, or otherwise deal with the lengthy process of accepting personal checks in the mail.
In terms of taking your music online, websites such as MP3.com allow you to upload MP3 music files, as well as biographical information and photographs. People surfing the Web can both listen to your music and download files for a small fee for which you’ll be compensated! This is a great way to get both your name and music out on the World Wide Web, make new fans, and essentially get immediate feedback from the "net community".
You’ll be happy to know that A&R scouts at record labels also keep their eyes glued to the Internet for new talent. MP3.com also provides a number of special services such as the "payback for playback" program where you can earn money every time someone visits your home page and listens to your music. There’s also a music "licensing program" where your music is made available to producers and directors who might be interested in using it in television commercials and movies.
If that weren't enough, MP3.com also has an "on demand" CD manufacturing program, where they manufacture CDs as people request them and send them out at a reasonable price, and of course you'll be compensated for every CD sold. Some of MP3.com’s services are free, while others are subject to a small monthly fee. Other websites that are worth checking out are Ampcast and Vitaminic.
Another interesting way to get your music exposed on the Internet is to get it played on net radio stations. Net radio stations are just that: radio stations that broadcast on the Internet. With nothing more than your computer, a modem and speakers, you can tune into radio shows around the world. Sites such as BWBK, Launch, Virtual Radio and KNAC are just a few of the many net radio stations in existence. By sending out your music to net radio stations like these, you may find that you get some exposure.
However, to take even a more proactive approach, you can actually create your own net radio station and broadcast your own music. That's right! It’s not entirely difficult to do, and in fact, SHOUTcast is one site that may help to make it possible. From what I'm told, SHOUTcast allows you, me and our moms (i.e. anyone) to broadcast our MP3 collections. Be sure to check this site out.
Live webcasting is a great way to take your live concerts to those people who live in other parts of the country or the world. Webcasts are essentially live performances that are broadcast on the Web. In fact, more and more clubs are becoming what are known as "wired" clubs. The House of Blues broadcasts concerts online at its own site. The Knitting Factory, located in New York and L.A., is also wired. Check out HotConcerts for an overview of online concerts.
Chat Rooms, Web Rings, Newsgroups, Mailing Lists and Webzines
Getting on the Web and just hanging out with the online music community is another good way to spread the word about your music. At sites such as iMusic.com, you can find over 1.5 million fans of all shapes and sizes and begin spreading the word 24/7 via message boards and chat rooms. The Internet also allows you to join and/or create what are known as web rings. Web rings are groups of websites all linked together by people who share similar interests. For instance, there's a U2 web ring. A huge directory of existing web rings can be found at WebRing.
Newsgroups are also a great way to make new contacts and increase your fan base. Newsgroups are places on the web where you can post messages and converse with other readers about specific topics. A list of all types of newsgroups can be found at Deja.
Another great way to connect with particular interest groups is to become part of e-mail discussion groups, known as mailing lists. Mailing lists are similar to newsgroups but more private. Messages on niche topics are sent directly to your computer from other people who have chosen to subscribe. You can find a variety of existing mailing lists by connecting to Liszt.
Finally, there are a number of online magazines, known as fanzines or webzines, in which you can get your music reviewed, post pictures and list your concert events. Needless to say, the Internet provides endless opportunities to spread the word about your music. The key to becoming part of the net community is to get involved a little bit at a time. You'll be surprised at how fast you get the hang of it.
Even if you make your presence known on a variety of other websites, creating your own website is still a good idea—it’s your place to shine! Your personal website becomes your headquarters, in which you can provide links to other places on the Web where your information and music can be found. You can get listed in search engines and directories such as Google, Excite, Lycos and Alta Vista to help people find you.
But once someone logs on to your site, the key is to a give them a reason to want to keep coming back. Keep your web design simple and easy to navigate. Keep your site fresh and up to date, so that visitors can always expect something new. Create your own newsletter. Provide message boards where people can post messages for other fans visiting your sites. Give fans an opportunity to converse with other fans in chat rooms. Provide your e-mail address, so that fans can contact you personally and so that you can respond to as many people as possible.
You can also include MP3 files of your music for people to download and give people an opportunity to purchase your CD. You can include streaming video clips of concert footage, live interviews, or even your own homemade music video. Try posting pictures and posters that fans can download. You can provide concert and tour information. You can also create opportunities for people to join and form "street teams" to help you promote your music in their hometown.
The opportunities are limitless. Surf the web and check out your favorite bands' websites. You are sure to find some really impressive sites: Radiohead and Dream Theater’s sites are good places to start.
Bobby Borg is the author of The Musician’s Handbook: A Practical Guide To Understanding The Music Business, which is available by Billboard Books at Amazon.com or in a store near you.
For more information: bobbyborg.com
Mail to: Bobby Borg
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