You aren’t going to like hearing this. Most people don’t want to hear the truth; they just want to have their own beliefs confirmed by others. This industry will cost you money to market and promote yourself, whether you want to stay independent or sign to a record label–this industry is NOT free, and you will NOT “get discovered” solely because of your talent, NOT because of who you know, and NOT via a co-sign from someone who matters in the industry. Ok, now that we have that depressing fact out of the way, that you’re even still here reading this tells me you are serious about succeeding. Developing yourself as an artist is something you need to accomplish in order to succeed in this industry.
We have always lacked artist development in the music industry. Except for Motown, and the stories are legendary about the artists being taught how to do interviews, how to perform, etiquette lessons along with singing and dance classes. Legendary. So were the deals, legendary. In a bad way. Motown as a company and Berry Gordy got rich. No, not rich, wealthy–the step beyond rich, while many of the artists are broke or have died broke. But putting the financial realities aside, the artists were trained in how to be artists. The best was brought out in them at all times.
In the music business, financial fuckery still abounds but teaching artists, and developing their skills and talent is a lost art. I’ve seen major labels media train artists so they can do competent interviews with magazines, video shows, and websites. I’m from the school of thought that everyone should be media trained before stepping out to do any interviews. Since we don’t naturally think in sound bites, and since we aren’t used to having a camera or microphone shoved in our faces, a bit of practice and lessons in media training are hugely helpful to all. We need to learn what few points we want to stress and then offer them in catchy, intelligent sound bites that are easy to remember, and easy for the audience to understand.
Talent doesn’t develop in a vacuum. If we devote hours to a repetitive task, we naturally become better at it. Some say it takes 10,000 hours to master something, like a skill. But what happens to artists when there’s no one to learn from or practice with, and they hit that glass ceiling? As a singer, rapper, or producer, you need to learn from others and you need the interaction with those who are better skilled than you. That is the best way to learn.
In today’s music industry, because the value of music has declined, and therefore the sales have declined, it’s no longer cost effective or feasible to train artists. The artists are expected to grow exponentially in time. Additionally, the cost of production has bottomed out (I can safely say ‘bottomed out’ when I see whole tracks and beats for songs selling online for $75). No longer are artists going into the studio to record with a producer who might be experienced enough with making songs to say “nah, that doesn’t sound good, retry it like this…” Therefore artists have no input on their direction or skillset anymore.
The recording process used to be artist development. Putting artists in the studio with other people (an A&R person, collaborators, experienced producers, musicians, singers, back up singers, etc) was artist development. Putting the artist on the road on a promotional tour was artist development; they learned how to interact with fans, how to carry themselves around industry insiders, and how to work the crowd when performing. These were (and are) important artist growth steps. And it was easier to learn as you were building a career, than trying to learn once you had a hot radio single climbing the charts.
Performing is an art. Where to stand, how to hold the mic, offering a true show instead of pacing back and forth on the stage, how to amp up a crowd, what to say to them in between songs, how to handle an unruly crowd or a crowd that boos you. Learning the skill set necessary to handle live shows is of paramount importance, yet so few artists are trained in this–most are thrown on stage and learn by trial and error.
Artist development used to include hygiene and nutrition. How to cope on tour when you have little time to prepare yourself or to eat healthy. An artist is far more effective when their diets are nutritionally balanced instead of a steady diet of fast food, caffeine, and sugar for quick bursts of energy. And no star wants to appear without hair and makeup done, cleanly shaved (if that’s their look), and eyebrow, nose hair, and ear hair neatly trimmed. Nail polish cracking off is also a bad look, but happens easily on the road or during hectic schedules.
In addition to artist development, we should financially train our artists; and I’ve never heard of any label doing this, not ever! Artists need to have a basic understanding of their cycle of income, investing, quarterly tax payments, and how to budget. Successful artists make money fast and in large quantities but it’s not consistent and the lean times outweigh the plentiful times. No artist is prepared for when the money comes, and therefore so few are able to hold onto a large percentage of it. Giving anyone money who has never had money is a recipe for disaster if they are not educated about money and wealth. This is why we hear so many horror stories about entertainers going broke or going to prison for not paying their taxes. Heck, even people who win the lottery for millions seem to go broke. The learning process must be in place so this doesn’t happen.
And lastly, a large part of artist development is personal development. It is learning how to handle fame, how to handle those around you who change towards you, and how to not become dependent upon the fame–after all, fame is the most seductive drug of all. Artists need to learn how the music industry works, what’s expected of them so there are no surprises, and to enact an exit strategy so that they don’t feel like failures after their popularity has run it’s course. After all, what’s worse than a 20-something person at the top of their game whose star fades in their early 30s leaving them feeling like a failure. “What comes next” or “what comes afterwards” needs to constantly be addressed in the goals and plans of every artist.
If the label isn’t going to develop you as an artist and a person, then you will need to do it yourself. If you are an independent artist, you already know you will need to find your own artist development plan. You can either ask former artists for help or you can seek out professionals in the music industry who do this for a living. Regardless, make sure you budget this cost into your necessary expenses. Nothing is worse than needing something, being desperate to have it, but not being able to afford it. But then again, most artists are used to that. Maybe that’s why so many fail?