By, Wendy Day
I’m overhearing a conversation with a frustrated artist. It’s not that I’m eavesdropping, it’s that I can’t miss it. It’s occurring in my living room. An up and coming artist is asking for advice and he’s desperate to “get on,” and he’s doing what he thinks will get him a deal. But what he’s doing isn’t working, he just hasn’t accepted it yet.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this exact conversation with rappers. I’m thankful that this time it’s not me trying to convince a rapper that he doesn’t know what he’s doing and that it won’t lead to success. In fact, I wrote a book to stop artists from asking me what to do to get on (How To Get A Record Deal is digitally available here: http://t.co/SBVHoV1Z and here: http://t.co/8K7AnwkI ).
In reality though, I rarely have this argument anymore–there are too many artists today who know what to do that I find my time is better spent helping those who understand than trying to change the mind of a stubborn artist. I’ve moved on from trying to save all artists. Now I help the ones that can be helped. And now I’m listening to an artist being told there is ‘no Santa Claus’ by my boyfriend. The young artist is frustrated because he believes what he’s doing should lead to success. It most likely won’t. That’s what people who know more than him are telling him.
He doesn’t want to hear it because what he’s doing feels good to him. He’s getting a little fame around the way. He’s got a couple of groupie chicks and other local rappers who aren’t progressing have finally accepted him. I’m guessing his crew isn’t telling him he’s not moving forward (I call these yes-men rappers’ entourages ‘The Atta Boy Squad’ because they tell the rapper what he, or she, wants to hear lest they get removed from the free weed, free groupies, and leftover accolades directed at the artist). And because of this, he’s confusing having a little fame with success. My boyfriend is trying to explain to him how to get to the money, but the local artist just is not hearing him.
So for those of you who have a goal, and you’ve been moving forward a year or 18 months but making no real progress, you may need to change (or make) your plan. As an analogy, I remember once driving to Jacksonville from Atlanta. I had no map with me but I knew it was southeast. So I hopped on 85 South and started driving. But I was wrong–I needed to be on 75 South to get to my destination efficiently. Eventually I caught the mistake, but it took me over an hour out of my way. An hour isn’t a problem, but had it been 2 or more years of my life, it would have been a problem. This is what I see many artists doing–going down the wrong route and losing too much time. I should have pulled up a map on my iPhone sooner instead of assuming I knew generally where I was going. Have a plan! Thirty seconds of research would have saved me over an hour. How many years of your career would a little music industry research save you?
While there is certainly more than one way to achieve success as an artist in the music business, there are many ways that do not work. They don’t lead anywhere, but artists don’t know this. There are consequences to every decision you make. So choose direction wisely and based on reality, not assumption, of what will work. You can try lots of different stuff and hope to get lucky, or you can learn, research, and get input from successful people in the music industry. If you don’t know any, meet some! One way is by attending panel discussions and networking events at conferences, or through social networking. Perhaps tweeting P. Diddy, Jay Z, or Birdman isn’t the best idea, but how about reaching out to someone who works for them? What about a manager you heard speak on a panel at SXSW last year? What about an A&R person you read about on a Blog? What about a new artist in Chicago that’s beginning to bubble in the Midwest if you aren’t his or her direct competition? Hit up the artist; hit up someone on his team and ask questions. The key is to ask many SUCCESSFUL people for advice and decide what is true, best, and makes sense for you. Then make a plan and stick to it. Set goals and time frames for each goal. And have a budget–if you have no budget, the first item on your Plan should be to raise money or find an investor. You can not build a career as an artist today without money.
Stuff That Doesn’t Necessarily Lead To Success (in no particular order)
1. Randomly Sending Your Music To Industry People (Especially If They Have No Power To Sign You)
Sending out demos to record labels has never worked. And yet, artists still seek out lists of record labels to do so. Labels sign artists who have some recognition (called a buzz). Just randomly mailing, linking, emailing, tweeting, etc doesn’t lead to anything other than showing you have no clue how the music industry works. Instead: put your time into building a buzz in your regional area while researching to see who’s who at record labels so you’ll be knowledgable when they call you. But unless you meet an A&R AND BUILD A RELATIONSHIP, AND they ask for music, sending music out is a waste of everyone’s time and energy. If you’re blindly sending your music to industry people like me who can’t sign you, you’re an idiot.
2. Fame Without Income Isn’t Success
There’s a fine line between doing things for free to build awareness and a buzz (shows, events, etc), and doing things because you want to be famous. For example, appearing on a reality show and looking buffoonish to get noticed is fame based, not career based. Getting your video on World Star Hip Hop, BET, and MTV and expecting great results is short-sighted. Even if people do see it, how will they know who you are or what you expect them to do? Don’t confuse your own internet habits with where fans go to discover music. You see a famous rapper on World Star so you think you should be there, too (by the way, “user submitted” means you paid for it–how does that look?). What you don’t see are his radio promotions, video promotions, publicity, promo tour, etc that’s all hitting at once. You see one piece of it and assume that’s what you need too. Or maybe you are so impressed with World Star that you want your friends to see you on there so you appear to be doing it big. Instead: if you do things for free to build awareness or for fame based reasons, at least collect email addresses for your data base or sell merchandise and music on the side, etc. Try to monetize everything you do while building your fanbase without seeming like you’re all about the money. Again, there’s a fine line, so tread carefully. If you appear on a reality show, at least promote something that will turn into a business for you–Kim Kardashian is a great example of this, whether you respect her or not. If you seek video exposure make it part of a full marketing and promotions campaign–not amongst videos of bum fights, the latest Joe Buddens dis, and failed sex tapes unless you are fighting a bum, you are Joe Buddens, or you have a failed sex tape.
3. Other Rappers Thinking You Are Talented Doesn’t Lead To Success
Being your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper could be gratifying for your ego, but what’s better for your career is marketing and promotion. Having great skills is wonderful, provided the world knows about it instead of a handful of people in your neighborhood. Instead: market and promote one of your hottest songs. Focus on it for at least 3-4 months. Expand beyond your city into your region. Then promote another. And another. Now you have movement forward and folks are beginning to know your name. Keep it up consistently, have great music that many people can relate to, make sure its properly mixed and mastered, and work harder than everyone else!
4. You Know One Or Two Industry People, Although They Are Far Removed From The Decision Makers At Labels
This is a who you know business, so connections and relationships matter. But knowing or meeting someone outside of the inner circle can’t do much to help you. Especially if they are asking for money to help you or are trying to sign you. Instead: meet everyone you can and learn what they do in context of how the entire industry works. Create a plan based on understanding of how to achieve your goal and then work the plan. Which leads me to:
5. Changing Direction Every Time You Get A New Opinion Of What You Should Do
We all know artists who keep changing direction, jump from crew to crew, and try new things, new people, new connections every few weeks. Aside from being annoying, it doesn’t give any one effort a chance to work. Most importantly, you look like you don’t know what you are doing. Just stop it! I run as far as I can from these time-wasters because they will ALWAYS have someone in their ear giving useless advice that they’ll follow for a short period of time. Instead: make a plan, work your plan, and outwork everyone else. If your plan isn’t working after awhile, THEN you make an adjustment, but not every few weeks or days. Stick to a good plan! You’ll know if the plan is good because you did your research to find out what works.
6. Recording At The Most Popular Fancy Studio
If you are saving up your dimes and pennies just so you can record at the most popular, biggest, or prettiest studio, you’re an idiot. A better use of your money would be to put the hard-earned money into marketing and promotions of a song you recorded at a decent but affordable studio. Unless you have a good sized budget, you can’t waste money. Don’t be fooled into thinking a 64-track board and $75/hr engineer will make your 4 track song any better. Plenty of hit records were made under less than optimal conditions and then mixed and mastered well. Fancy, gorgeous studios are for artists with good-sized budgets. If you aren’t there yet, don’t sweat it. Success brings that. Additionally, bear in mind that many of the bigger, fancier studios cut excellent deals with famous artists and producers to get them to record there. For every famous act in their studio, it brings a slew of smaller copycat artists, which is where they make their money. Instead: find a good local studio with a clean sound that’s affordable. Find the artists in your city who are earning a living with their music and find out where THEY record. Then, as your budget and fame grow, YOU can be the successful act cutting the great deal to record in comfort, beauty, or bliss of the popular recording studio.
7. Opening For A Famous Rapper When He/She Comes Through Town -or- Getting Mentions In A Few Magazines Or Blogs Here And There -or- Being Played On The Radio Once Or Twice
While none of these things seem similar to a newer artist, to the industry they are all very similar: they are all pieces of the promotional pie. Therefore, you need ALL of them in a concentrated fashion at the same time to promote a single, not just one here or there, piecemeal. (In fact, get out of the damn way–you are only taking the spot that an artist could have taken who has his plan together.) Instead: put a proper plan together that works the streets, clubs, Internet, media, video, shows, and radio, all at the same time, all with a unified message, and all together. That’s how singles are worked properly; and careers are built from multiple singles worked effectively and consistently.
Chew on these for awhile….I’m working on Part 2 now….
And the truth is, if you knew better because you studied how the industry works, you’d never try to work an artist with no budget….
Learn how the damn industry works.