By, Wendy Day (www.HelpfulAngel.com)
Artist Development is the growth an artist sustains during their career. It is exactly what this article’s title says: developing as an artist. Growth as an artist. Becoming more professional as an artist and business person. Putting in the 10,000 hours of work it takes to get proficient at something. Mastering one’s craft. Artists must develop themselves in today’s music industry.
In the beginning of a career, most artists don’t have access to platinum producers. They’ve barely left the town where they live to see what other music and styles people listen to, and they rarely have the skill or savvy yet (or budget) to make hit records. Artists do the best with what they have and that exact struggle is what helps them grow into developed artists ready for success, world tours, and a higher pay grade.
As newer artists excel on their career path, they get to work with more experienced producers, tour with established artists, and accept or reject career opportunities based on what’s best for them. The difference between working in a home studio with a beat jacked from SoundClick is a far different, and less professional, experience than recording at a nationally renowned recording studio with a household name platinum producer (hit maker) orchestrating a success. The home studio is a necessity–an experience based on Forrest Gumping your way to a good song, compared to being directed by a superstar producer who has made hit after hit and can bring the best out of you telling you “try this” or “do this that way” until you’ve created, not stumbled into, a hit record.
Most new artists don’t even have the developed vocal chords to be able to perform night after night on stage without losing their voice or harming their throats. Yet artists wish for tours, shows, and performances not knowing they can’t fulfill what they are wishing for, even if the wish was granted. Very little thought goes into the show and its choreography when the artist is new and struggling just to not get boo’d off the stage. And the breath control to perform for an hour straight is non-existent. As the artist develops, increasing thought goes into creating an appealing stage show.
What artists see and rap about on their first album (or first few mixed tapes) is often different from what they rap about a few years into their careers (sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse). This is because they are growing, developing, and influenced by new environments, different experiences, and a severe learning curve that exists between what they expect the music business to be and what the music business really is.
Many artists can not handle the politics, the inconsistencies, and the thievery that exists in this business–truth is, I’ve never heard of an artist leaving the music business because they no longer cared about the music. Yet everyday I see artists, producers, and industry workers leave this business because it was not at all what they expected or wanted for themselves. If new artists spent more time learning how the industry works, they wouldn’t be disappointed nor would they hit the bumps in the road caused by pitfalls. They’d understand what’s fair and acceptable and avoid most of the negative experiences.
Most new artists make albums delivering what they think is expected of them: they have 2 club songs, 2 radio songs, 2 street songs, 2 lyrical songs, 2 songs for the ladies, etc. that’s NOT how to record an album. Artists should make the best songs they can to show who they are. When Jeezy first came out, or Jay Z, or Biggie, or 2Chainz, we all got an immediate sense of who they are, where they’ve been, and what they stand for. To this day, I can hear a new beat for the first time and say “oh, that sounds like a Jeezy beat,” or “wow, that’s a Biggie beat!” Even though those artists don’t have just one style, their style and image is undeniable. That’s what every artist needs to build to be a superstar.
Additionally, you aren’t Jay Z yet. You don’t know what will work and what won’t work in the studio. It’s best to record as many songs as you can and choose the best ones for release. Not all of your songs will be good. Not even most will be good. To make a sports comparison: in baseball, a batting average of 300 is recognized to be of the best, most talented players. Batting 300 means they hit 3 out of 10 pitches. Therefore, 7 pitches are not hit. More are wasted pitches than not. Same thing in basketball. The best 3-point shooter of all time in the NBA (Ray Allen) hits 40% of his shots. That means 60% of his shots miss the basket–more of his shots miss going into the basket than actually go in. Creating music is no different. Better to record 50-75 songs and pick the best 10 to 15… This is especially true if you don’t have access to platinum producers and songwriters who manufacture hit records like today’s superstars do.
The best way to develop yourself as an artist is to record with as many different people as possible, both new AND experienced artists and producers. If you have access to other artists with actual music industry experience (new or past experience), sit down with them. Ask them as many questions as they will let you.
Another great artist development tool is doing mock interviews on film and watching them. See how your fans see you. Are you looking away from the camera a lot? Do you have a catch phrase that you repeat constantly (“Know what I’m sayin’?”)? Do you rock in your chair, bounce your knee, or shift around in your chair?
Get out on the streets and promote your music as much as you can. Put your ego aside and ask people what they DON’T like about your music. Only a handful of folks will be honest with you. Those are the people who matter.
No artist needs to be everywhere, on every song, with everyone. There must be some integrity. If you do songs with other artists, think about how fans will perceive that. Does their image match yours? Are they seen as a has-been that could taint your reputation? Sometimes artists get excited when they start meeting other artists and they don’t stop to think how they will be perceived rapping on a song with Vanilla Ice, for example. Fans might think it’s crazy, but the artist is excited because that’s the most famous rapper he knows so far. The rapper gets excited about a song that has fans and the industry clowning him. I’m being funny with my example, but unless that rapper is your friend and you have loyalty involved, consider how your fanbase will react. Also, avoid saturation. No one needs to hear any artist on 75 songs in one year. It doesn’t show range of talent, it shows desperation to make a quick buck doing features.
Another aspect of artist development is to gain comfort around your peers, especially the currently hot ones. I’ve seen so many new artists perform at a radio station SuperJam for example, and play themselves being a groupie over 2Chainz, TI, Drake, etc. They, and you, are there to work, not to sign autographs for other rappers and take a thousand photos with new rappers who can’t separate their fan inclinations from work mode. Don’t be a groupie–it’s ugly for everyone. If you want a photo with your favorite rapper, ask him or her if they’d mind taking a picture with you for your website. Don’t ask to smoke a blunt with them, don’t ask them to get on the perfect song you have waiting for them, and don’t insult them with your memories of where you where when you first heard their hottest song. Leave that action for the fans and groupies. This is your job, and other artists are your co-workers. Paying respect and deference is nice, dick riding is not.
The most important aspect of development is the artist’s business mind. This industry is 90% business and 10% talent. It’s important to know what to expect, how to out work your competition, how to do interviews, how to react to fans (especially when you are in a bad mood), how to avoid conflict, and to recognize who’s who. Pitbull is a wonderful example of how to work radio properly. He remembers the program directors by name and knows a little bit about each one. He calls them directly and interacts with them personally, even making follow up thank you calls for playing his records. On the flip side, most other artists do not. They do what is needed for their careers but don’t go the extra mile with radio folks. The difference is that radio folks like most artists, but they love Pitbull.
The last aspect of artist development is learning to outwork everyone else. T.I. is one of the hardest working rappers I’ve seen. I’ve seen him work backstage at shows, in the studio–his sessions and sessions of other artists that he’s visiting, and on the road. He out works everyone around him. He also knows his job and does it. He stays in his lane. He doesn’t second guess his team or his staff and he doesn’t do any jobs other than his own. For this reason, he’s a pleasure to work with, work for, and be around. He understands his role and fills it 110%.
Artist Development is key to the growth and success of any artist who wants a career in the music business. It happens naturally over time, but we can save artists a lot of trouble and frustration if we help them grow early and shape them continually for success. It benefits everyone and most importantly, it benefits the music.
Wendy Day is a music business veteran of 21 years. She’s helped build many of the superstars at the top of the urban and pop charts today! The artists whose careers she’s affected have sold over a billion CDs and downloads. She’s written a book about How To Get A Record Deal, but more importantly has successfully consulted many artists and labels on how to stay independent by making money with their music. Wendy remains one of the top consultants in the music industry today!