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How To Succeed In The Music Business. Part 1

So you wanna be a star?
Part 1

So, you’ve made the decision! You’ve finished recording your album and it’s the “best” - it deserves to be heard by the world and you’re deserving of the adulation afforded to the creation of such a masterpiece! Of course, you know in your own mind that it won’t be easy to become a star. After all, everyone says that the music business is difficult’. But hey, you’ve got what it takes, you’ve got talent, and this really is a great album - a...

music business,pop star,demo cds

So you wanna be a star?
Part 1

So, you’ve made the decision! You’ve finished recording your album and it’s the “best” - it deserves to be heard by the world and you’re deserving of the adulation afforded to the creation of such a masterpiece! Of course, you know in your own mind that it won’t be easy to become a star. After all, everyone says that the music business is difficult’. But hey, you’ve got what it takes, you’ve got talent, and this really is a great album - all your friends and family agree - so what can possibly stop you? What indeed...?

Few people outside of the Music Business have any idea just how difficult it is to survive, let alone succeed, in the ever-changing and unforgiving world of entertainment. Being a musician is much, much more than simply writing, recording and performing.

And few people have any idea of what is involved in the recording of a good sounding CD, of the time and effort involved to get that polished sound that every artist who ever produced a demo aspires to create.

Don’t be fooled by inane rubbish like Pop Idol or X-factor. Not only do these sort of programs give a totally false impression of the reality of the music industry, but they totally undermine the integrity of it! And just for the record, I don’t dispute the obvious talent of some of the participants, but the ends do not justify the means! It is indicative of just how low we have sunk as a society that we are happy to watch and laugh at ‘hopefuls’ who clearly have no talent at all, make embarrassing fools of themselves because they really think they do have the talent.

Then, when the competition proper really gets going, we can watch the music business do what it does best, that is, chew up and spit out varying degrees of talent live on our screens in the name of TV entertainment!

The programs are designed to maximize TV ratings and to manufacture a “Pop Star” who’ll be long forgotten in 10 years time. Of course, they’ll say that isn’t so, but then, they would, wouldn’t they!?

We live in an “Instant Fame” society. Celebs and their lifestyles are thrust in our faces 24/7 and far too many people, particularly but not exclusively the young, think fame can be achieved. They are fed the belief that it’s possible to give up the day job and become a star. In reality, it’s virtually impossible. For a greater insight into the realities of the Pop world, check out the Simon Cowel book “I don’t mean to be rude”.

Being a musician, an artist, is a vocation. It’s a way of life in which everything and everyone else, absolutely everything and everyone else, take second place. Musicians are selfish - they have to be by definition, and I know because I am one.

It’s about “The Journey” (much like life) - the journey of self discovery that starts when you realize that being a musician is what you want to do, continues and evolves as you make music and friends along the road, experiencing the highs and the lows and culminates in the realization that the journey doesn’t have an end because you’re always seeking to do something new, always forging new ideas - seeking to write ‘The perfect song’ or ‘The perfect album’. But a word of warning, if you’re fortunate enough to find success, the pressures and the demands will become greater, they’ll not get less!

You can’t do it on a “part time” basis and expect to succeed beyond a bit of fun at amateur level (not that there’s anything at all wrong with that). So, if you really want to ‘succeed’, the very thing that you have to accept is... that you probably wont’! And that isn’t as crazy as it sounds!

You see, the most important thing in music is simply that you love doing it. It’s a way of life that’s in your blood, in your soul, and it takes precedence over everything else. And as mentioned earlier, it’s about the journey.

Now, I can hear you saying things like; “That’s all right for you to say, you’re in the music business”.
Or maybe you’re thinking; “Well I have all these attributes, but how do I pay the bills and still make my way as a musician?”

Yes, I am fortunate enough to be involved in music, enjoying moderate success and recognition in a specific music genre. But what I have learned is, that success is relative.

My life and everything in my life revolves around music. But over the years, and particularly in the early days, my private life and finances paid a very heavy price.

Being involved in music is about being in it for the long haul, not the short term - you don’t even consider the short term. Ask most musicians and they’ll tell you the process is a painful one. When I hear young musicians say they’ve ‘given up everything to be in music’, my reply is, that they have no idea what “everything” is!

Being a musician requires many things, many attributes. Selfishness we’ve already mentioned. Stubbornness is a key factor to - you just have to keep going, then there’s dedication, passion and belief. An acceptance that there will be a lot of hard times. You must be prepared to give everything and more, and even then, even with all those things, if you’re not ‘in the right place at the right time’, success can still pass you by.

And thru all this, you keep smiling. You don’t question why you’re doing what you’re doing or the cost of it in broken relationships and heavy debt. You just keep going because music is such a big part of you!

The one remaining prerequisite for a musician is an understanding and supportive partner - without whom you’ve no chance at all. Reminds me of the old joke: What do you call a musician without a significant and supportive partner? Homeless!

So, finally, what’s the difference between a musician and someone who wants to be a musician? It’s simple. A musician is someone who gets on with it. They step outside of the box of conventional 9-5 and all that goes with it and live the life and all it entails. They probably won’t make it big, but they define their own success and whatever happens, they’ll never lose sight of why they’re doing what they’re doing.

And someone who wants to be a musician, a star? Well, they’re unable to do the above!

So, lets go back to the beginning - If you still want to be a musician, a recording artist, then I’ll give some hints and advice on demos in part 2.

 

How To Succeed In The Music Business. Part 2

So you still wanna be a star?
Part 2

Whatever genre of music you’re in, you need to define your definition of success. If your definition is ‘being a rich and famous superstar’, then, well ‘good luck’... but if your definition is ‘being a creative artist doing what you want to do in life by sharing your music with those who will listen’, then you should succeed. And if you’ve got the bottle to stick to your own sound and style, your own beliefs of how your music should so...

music business,pop star,demo cds,new music

So you still wanna be a star?
Part 2

Whatever genre of music you’re in, you need to define your definition of success. If your definition is ‘being a rich and famous superstar’, then, well ‘good luck’... but if your definition is ‘being a creative artist doing what you want to do in life by sharing your music with those who will listen’, then you should succeed. And if you’ve got the bottle to stick to your own sound and style, your own beliefs of how your music should sound, then you’ve even more chance of success in the long term.

But be warned - flying in the face of convention, of what is current, is always difficult. But trends fade and die - original talent and music does not!

If you’ve recorded an album yourself then get independent feedback, both musical and technical. Friends and family will always say your music is “great” (and hey, that’s fine, you need that support). But, the person who tells you everything you do is great may be good for your ego, but they’re of no practical use at all! The harsh reality is that you need good constructive criticism from independent sources who know what they’re talking about. Okay, easier said than done, but there are publications like “Sound on Sound”, for example, who provide demo reviews.

Another tip is seek out your local recording studio and pay for a studio engineers time (or better still the studio owner if you can), just to listen to your recording. Pick their brains and ask their advice on all aspects of your recording. I did this myself and it was invaluable. You’ve got to make sure you can relate to the studio engineer and that they can relate to what you’re doing. But at the end of the day, you’re paying them just to listen and to give you the benefit of their experience. Believe me, many studios will be glad to do this when they realize you’re serious about accepting constructive criticism and you’re willing to pay the going studio rate for it. But I reiterate, ensure you find someone who has experience and some empathy with the music you’re doing.

The reason that this is so important is because often, when starting out doing a first album you wont have the knowledge or equipment to make it sound anything more than a demo. Unfortunately, so many aspiring musicians get so close to their “creation” that they fail to hear that the music isn’t as good as they think it is, particularly on the technical side!

It’s always good to remember that there are probably tens of thousands of people around the world (maybe millions, who knows?!) doing the same thing you are. There’s no shortage of home studios turning out music and no shortage of organizations, particularly on the Internet, telling you how to “Make it Big”.

So, the trick is to stand out as being ‘different from the rest’ while achieving a standard that is ‘professional’. How do I define professional? Where someone has taken the time and effort to take the recording beyond a home demo. Okay, I know that may seem a little opaque, but the truth is that it’s difficult to define, you just “know”.

Music is very subjective - we all hear different things in it, indeed, we all need different things from music to make it acceptable to us, whether as a composer or a listener. There are great musicians who are technically amazing playing various instruments but record music that is devoid of soul or passion and restricted by self imposed musical constraints. Conversely there are musicians with little or no training who can blow your mind with fabulous and inventive music because they are not constrained by formal musical training. It’s also worth pointing out that being a competent musician doesn’t make for a competent composer of music! And even a competent composer can’t necessarily imbue the composition with that special ingredient that make people sit up and take notice.

It’s also true to say that a good musician/composer is not necessarily a good studio engineer! This is a fact that in my opinion, is often overlooked. Too many composers think that because they have access to an all singing, all dancing workstation and/or computer, they can turn out a great recording. More often than not, nothing is further from the truth. Composing is a talent, and engineering an album is another, very different talent. Mastering an album is yet another, very different talent. I’m not suggesting an individual cannot do all these things well. Of course they can, with years of experience, and even then, with input from other sources.

Too many times I’ve sat listening to a demo where the composer is convinced that the music and the recording is “great” when in fact it isn’t. The recording and use of sounds is cheesy and naff, but the composer can’t hear it because they haven’t “stepped outside the box”, as I would say. They haven’t stood back from the music and really listened to the recording and compared like for like against professional recordings of the genre.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, to be self critical of your own creations and sometimes to realize that your creation is actually far from perfect and that sometimes, the best place for the creation is in the bin and that you need to start again on another idea. But this is probably one of the most important lessons to be learned on the musical journey.

It also important to consider this one unpalatable fact. Your album may be great. It may have nice songs, be well recorded etc. etc. but it simply may not be good enough to be anything more than an inde album that sells a few hundred copies. That’s Life!

It’s a simple fact that record companies will listen to the first 20 seconds of a demo and then switch it off and consign the demo to the bin if it doesn’t make an instant impression.

That’s not just A/R men either. Some years ago, a major label had so many demos that its A/R department couldn’t handle them all so it gave piles of demos to everyone, even the cleaners to sift through. Everyone ended up doing the same thing - if the CD didn’t make an instant impression, then it was “on to the next”.

Sure, that may seem unfair, but if you’re the record label exec trawling thru thousands of demos, how would you do it? Again, I run a small inde label, so I know what it’s like.

I’m not suggesting you record your demo to send to a big label. I’m relating the story to hammer home the point that with so many people making music, all thinking theirs is “the best album ever”, that you have to be realistic - you probably have more chance of winning the UK lottery and the Euro lottery in the same week than getting a record deal!

But that shouldn’t stop you!! Your demo should be well recorded and recorded well enough that you could press it and sell it yourself. In this day and age, that’s probably the best way forward. Sure, still send copy to record labels, but also remember that record labels will be looking for a lot, lot more than just the music. They’ll be looking for experience, an image, a malleable artist and lots more besides for today’s music industry.

Your music should have an identity that stands out from the rest and it should have an emotional presence. Achieving this is very, very difficult and in truth, it cannot be taught or learned. I truly believe music either has that magic ingredient to make the listeners hair stand on end, to perk people interest, or it doesn’t. And that comes from the musician - not the production, the engineering, the mastering the record label or anywhere else - it is the defining essence of the artist.

So, what am I trying to tell you here? Well, to summarize, embark on the road of being a musician with passion and belief but accept that the chance of major success thru a record deal is virtually impossible. Understand that you must listen with open ears to what you do and learn to be critical of your music. Make constructive criticism your closest ally through people whose opinion you value and trust. And however hard you think it’s going to be to have any measure of success, realize that it will be even harder!

 

How To Succeed In The Music Business. Part 3

So you still wanna be a star?
Part 3

Whatever genre of music you’re in, you need to define your definition of success. If your definition is ‘being a rich and famous superstar’, then, well ‘good luck’... but if your definition is ‘being a creative artist doing what you want to do in life by sharing your music with those who will listen’, then you should succeed. And if you’ve got the bottle to stick to your own sound and style, your own beliefs of how your music should so...

music business,pop star,demo cds,new music

So you still wanna be a star?
Part 3

Whatever genre of music you’re in, you need to define your definition of success. If your definition is ‘being a rich and famous superstar’, then, well ‘good luck’... but if your definition is ‘being a creative artist doing what you want to do in life by sharing your music with those who will listen’, then you should succeed. And if you’ve got the bottle to stick to your own sound and style, your own beliefs of how your music should sound, then you’ve even more chance of success in the long term.

But be warned - flying in the face of convention, of what is current, is always difficult. But trends fade and die - original talent and music does not!

If you’ve recorded an album yourself then get independent feedback, both musical and technical. Friends and family will always say your music is “great” (and hey, that’s fine, you need that support). But, the person who tells you everything you do is great may be good for your ego, but they’re of no practical use at all! The harsh reality is that you need good constructive criticism from independent sources who know what they’re talking about. Okay, easier said than done, but there are publications like “Sound on Sound”, for example, who provide demo reviews.

Another tip is seek out your local recording studio and pay for a studio engineers time (or better still the studio owner if you can), just to listen to your recording. Pick their brains and ask their advice on all aspects of your recording. I did this myself and it was invaluable. You’ve got to make sure you can relate to the studio engineer and that they can relate to what you’re doing. But at the end of the day, you’re paying them just to listen and to give you the benefit of their experience. Believe me, many studios will be glad to do this when they realize you’re serious about accepting constructive criticism and you’re willing to pay the going studio rate for it. But I reiterate, ensure you find someone who has experience and some empathy with the music you’re doing.

The reason that this is so important is because often, when starting out doing a first album you wont have the knowledge or equipment to make it sound anything more than a demo. Unfortunately, so many aspiring musicians get so close to their “creation” that they fail to hear that the music isn’t as good as they think it is, particularly on the technical side!

It’s always good to remember that there are probably tens of thousands of people around the world (maybe millions, who knows?!) doing the same thing you are. There’s no shortage of home studios turning out music and no shortage of organizations, particularly on the Internet, telling you how to “Make it Big”.

So, the trick is to stand out as being ‘different from the rest’ while achieving a standard that is ‘professional’. How do I define professional? Where someone has taken the time and effort to take the recording beyond a home demo. Okay, I know that may seem a little opaque, but the truth is that it’s difficult to define, you just “know”.

Music is very subjective - we all hear different things in it, indeed, we all need different things from music to make it acceptable to us, whether as a composer or a listener. There are great musicians who are technically amazing playing various instruments but record music that is devoid of soul or passion and restricted by self imposed musical constraints. Conversely there are musicians with little or no training who can blow your mind with fabulous and inventive music because they are not constrained by formal musical training. It’s also worth pointing out that being a competent musician doesn’t make for a competent composer of music! And even a competent composer can’t necessarily imbue the composition with that special ingredient that make people sit up and take notice.

It’s also true to say that a good musician/composer is not necessarily a good studio engineer! This is a fact that in my opinion, is often overlooked. Too many composers think that because they have access to an all singing, all dancing workstation and/or computer, they can turn out a great recording. More often than not, nothing is further from the truth. Composing is a talent, and engineering an album is another, very different talent. Mastering an album is yet another, very different talent. I’m not suggesting an individual cannot do all these things well. Of course they can, with years of experience, and even then, with input from other sources.

Too many times I’ve sat listening to a demo where the composer is convinced that the music and the recording is “great” when in fact it isn’t. The recording and use of sounds is cheesy and naff, but the composer can’t hear it because they haven’t “stepped outside the box”, as I would say. They haven’t stood back from the music and really listened to the recording and compared like for like against professional recordings of the genre.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, to be self critical of your own creations and sometimes to realize that your creation is actually far from perfect and that sometimes, the best place for the creation is in the bin and that you need to start again on another idea. But this is probably one of the most important lessons to be learned on the musical journey.

It also important to consider this one unpalatable fact. Your album may be great. It may have nice songs, be well recorded etc. etc. but it simply may not be good enough to be anything more than an inde album that sells a few hundred copies. That’s Life!

It’s a simple fact that record companies will listen to the first 20 seconds of a demo and then switch it off and consign the demo to the bin if it doesn’t make an instant impression.

That’s not just A/R men either. Some years ago, a major label had so many demos that its A/R department couldn’t handle them all so it gave piles of demos to everyone, even the cleaners to sift through. Everyone ended up doing the same thing - if the CD didn’t make an instant impression, then it was “on to the next”.

Sure, that may seem unfair, but if you’re the record label exec trawling thru thousands of demos, how would you do it? Again, I run a small inde label, so I know what it’s like.

I’m not suggesting you record your demo to send to a big label. I’m relating the story to hammer home the point that with so many people making music, all thinking theirs is “the best album ever”, that you have to be realistic - you probably have more chance of winning the UK lottery and the Euro lottery in the same week than getting a record deal!

But that shouldn’t stop you!! Your demo should be well recorded and recorded well enough that you could press it and sell it yourself. In this day and age, that’s probably the best way forward. Sure, still send copy to record labels, but also remember that record labels will be looking for a lot, lot more than just the music. They’ll be looking for experience, an image, a malleable artist and lots more besides for today’s music industry.

Your music should have an identity that stands out from the rest and it should have an emotional presence. Achieving this is very, very difficult and in truth, it cannot be taught or learned. I truly believe music either has that magic ingredient to make the listeners hair stand on end, to perk people interest, or it doesn’t. And that comes from the musician - not the production, the engineering, the mastering the record label or anywhere else - it is the defining essence of the artist.

So, what am I trying to tell you here? Well, to summarize, embark on the road of being a musician with passion and belief but accept that the chance of major success thru a record deal is virtually impossible. Understand that you must listen with open ears to what you do and learn to be critical of your music. Make constructive criticism your closest ally through people whose opinion you value and trust. And however hard you think it’s going to be to have any measure of success, realize that it will be even harder!




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