Friday, 7 October 2011

Music artistes’ Guide to Career Success

The "Creative" You
and the "Business" You
Music artistes’ Guide to Career Success

I have been watching, studying, researching and analyzing why some people 'make it' and others don't for a long time, and I have given up trying to discover some magic formula that every musician can follow on the road to so-called 'success'.
I have been asking myself some questions about this phenomenon:
Is there a difference between the attitude of successful, well known acts and the attitude of upcoming acts? Why do some musicians make it big, while other equally talented people songwriters and musicians never get their music heard by the masses? What specific skills and/or inherent talents do the successful artists embody that so many 'upcomees' do not?
Is it charisma? That special something that many artists seem to exude the minute they walk into a room? I think that is part of it, but many successful acts have as much charisma as a pitcher of milk, and yet do quite well for themselves.
How about a lot of money? That seems to be the one thing behind so many successful names these days. There are always major labels owned by huge multinational conglomerates behind so many superstars. They can buy their way into the hearts and minds of the public, right?
Money can only push something out to the public for their acceptance or rejection…that's all it can do. Nobody reaches into the public's wallet and forces them to spend their hard earned money on anything unless the public sees some real value in it.
Think about it. Today there is a lot of (what some observers) call 'shallow and immature' lyrics and disposable hip-pop music, and yet, no one who bought that music would subscribe to that criticism. No indeed, the people who buy the latest sounds on the pop charts buy that music because it gives them some kind of pleasure. It means something to them.
I think we should look at what sells and what is successful from this standpoint; music fulfills the needs, wants, and desires of any group of fans because they identify with it. .Basically, they like a song because they can hum it in the shower.
The one thing that all successful acts have in common when they cross over to mass appeal is great songs! This is true as well for the more edgy artists who eek out a living from smaller fan-bases… they still write compelling songs that touch the hearts and minds of their fans.
I think that is one reason why some musicians succeed and others don't.
Whether or not you personally 'like' current popular songs has nothing to do with it. Enough 'somebodies' coughed up about        N150 each to prove your tastes may not be in-tune with what the general public likes.
But there must be something else that separates successful artists from those who don't connect with the public. What other thing is it that successful artists and bands have that separates them from struggling artists?
My answer is business savvy. Yup…that's it. Somebody somewhere in every successful acts history had enough business minded people behind them to make them the stars that they are or were.
NOW…listen up! It isn't as simple as you think. In the past having some business savvy may have been the domain of a weasel-like manager, or record label executive. It may have been the unscrupulous business practices of shady lawyers and booking agents, as well as greedy club owners, or money hungry publishers. My point is that no matter what the behavior of a particular music business gatekeeper may have been…they got a certain part of the job done…they broke on through to the other side of the competition, and got their act's song into the ears of the thousands of music fans. And to do that, I can assure you they had a plan.
There are no short cuts to success, and there just isn't enough room at the top for everyone who makes music to make a living from their music. But there is a balance that can be obtained in one's life. With the tools, possibilities and opportunities available in this era, no musician who writes great songs should have that much problem realizing modest successes with their music.
In reality, there are no serious secrets to getting there! There is the conscious involvement, and commitment to your songwriting and musicianship, and to the business of music.
Remember that the world of commercial music is a world of Naira and Dollars, whether you like it or not. But that does not mean that Art and Commerce cannot walk hand in hand…they must do that.
Most 'artists' in the truest sense of the word are narrowly focused people who never take no for an answer. No matter what challenge comes their way, they have no recourse but to turn to their creative side and get lost in their music as a way of staying alive. Then, along comes a businessman or woman who either is or is not ethical, but knows the music business inside out. They hear the magic in a client's music, and they do what it takes to get that music into the marketplace.
More and more however, those businessmen and women are the artists themselves.
We live in a capitalist, consumer-driven society. The successful musicians of tomorrow will be those people who either attract dedicated, knowledgeable businessmen and women to do the marketing and promotion for them, or they take that responsibility on themselves and realize that no artist has to sell hundreds of thousands of copies of their music to make some money with their music.
However, you do have to be able to write and perform great songs, and then produce them with the 'sound' of your particular genre carefully understood and honored, AND you have to take the time to educate yourself by attending a few music business conferences or seminars.
But you also need to do some 'grunt-work'. Call live performance bookers (over and over), read good and bad reviews, put on a great show when you're exhausted or sick, and tirelessly promote your music. This is where the 'entertainer' steps in and handles things.
The 'entertainer' is someone who knows that the show must go on. They know that no matter what obstacle is put in front of them, they will persevere. Looking at the work habits of most big stars, I think they all have an 'entertainer' inside them. That's what allows them to succeed in all areas of the business. That is what keeps them going during the fifth press interview of the day, and all the other crap that has nothing to do with music and everything to do with the business of music marketing.
When an upcoming artist finally 'makes it', the pressure to keep producing sellable music is huge. So the 'artist' has to be healthy and ready to create on demand. You may be asked to hit the road for nine straight months, then make a world class album immediately following the exhausting tour.
What it all boils down to is that stars have to be on top of their game, both artistically and business-wise. It is essential to create a balance between music and business early on. First, make sure your psyche is in the right place. You know, screw your head on right! Be honest with yourself regarding what things you are and aren't willing to do to be successful with your music.
Then, make a plan. Map out how you will improve your skills in both business and art. Put it on paper. Try living the 50% business - 50% music lifestyle.
Make sure you honor your business commitments and always act professionally. Make sure you keep your artist side healthy and creative. Take days off, take walks in nature, take time to noodle around that new idea for a song that just popped into your head. Those types of habits will keep the artist inside you in good shape and feed the creative juices inside you too.
Being a famous musician is not a 'normal' life. To survive and thrive requires a special set of skills. The good news is those skills can be learned and developed. Every little bit you learn now will benefit your career plan down the road.
Put your hands together. The one hand is the creative side of you, and the other hand is the business side of you.
Now clap your hands!

The Business of Music

10 Essential Tips for Making
a Living with Your Music

If you really want to succeed in the music industry you must have plans towards a sustainable livelihood from the first day get into the artistic world.  Making music and making a living from your music are not the same thing. When it comes to getting your music into the marketplace, you have entered the domain of Music Business Economics. From my observations over the years, the following  list of professional habits are shared by most successful musicians who truly have what it takes to succeed in this totally unpredictable business of music.
1. Find ways to get ordinary people who love music, to love your music.

We live in a time when everybody and their sister can and does make their own music. That doesn’t mean however that your music has what it takes for record labels to invest their money and time developing, promoting, and marketing that music. Try your music out on music fans like you solicit opinions from record label Reps. These talent scouts of the music business are always following tips they hear from their street connections. But remember, your music must truly stand out in some significant, original, dynamic, and creative way. A huge percentage of the independently produced CDs out there contain regurgitated ideas that were ripped off from some other more gifted musicians. Prove to the industry that ordinary music fans in your city love your music. You can find this out by giving away samples of your music on the street, or outside a music venue where an artist similar to your music style is playing. (Be sure to have your contact information on the CD or whatever your music is on.)  Also, put songs on your website, your MySpace page, or any of the newer social networking sites. The fact is that if people love something they let other people know about it. So, you can find out quickly if your music has what it takes by bringing your music to the people.
2. Play live often and don’t worry (at  first) about getting paid for every gig.
You can always tell the difference between a musician who is in it for the money, and a musician who is in it for the music. The dedicated musician can’t but play music every chance they get. Money-focused musicians whine about the fact that they can’t get club gigs that pay anything. If you really think that you can make your living solely as a musician in the first three to four years of your career, you are headed for a breakdown and disappointment. Think about it...almost every legendary, gifted musician who has made a mark on our culture has been a musician who struggled long and hard at their craft, and...never gave up. Eat determination for breakfast! Go out there and play on the streets if you have to, play at schools, fairs, festivals, do benefits to help other people and organizations. Offer your services to non- profits, charities, church groups, and any other companies or organizations you can think of. Hang out at clubs, look for jamming possibilities, or start your own jam sessions. Look around your city or town, and you will see many places and venues where musicians can play. As you establish yourself and more and more people show up at your shows, the paid gigs will increase. Remember... play live, and then after you play live, play live again, that’s what musicians are supposed to do.
3. Know your instrument inside-out.

 Prior to late 70’s, more often than not, the music that is our heritage was made by musicians who, from the time they took up their instrument, worshipped at the feet of some master singer, jazz player, folk legend, songwriter, or whatever. The habit of these inspired musicians was an appetite for perfection. A need to be not just ‘good enough’, but GREAT. Why settle for less. Whatever developing stage you are at, go beyond it, re-commit yourself to your instrument or voice. Take lessons, or better yet, sit yourself down at your CD player and choose a favorite guitar player’s record, and listen closely to what they are playing. then re-play it, and re-play it again. Challenge yourself to go beyond your limitations. Who knows, maybe you will fall into some new territory, wherein you will find yourself, your ‘sound’, and increase your chance to stand out from all the mediocrity that is your competition. Believe it or not, record labels love to hear innovative, accessible new sounds. Actually in their heart of hearts, that is what they are really hoping to hear on every new demo they get, and from every new act they go see at a live venue. You the business of music, when we hear something new, original, and accessible to people, we can then invest in you with more security, believing that if we put our ‘label brand’ on you, with our talents of promotion and marketing coming to the front, then we ‘have something’, and your music becomes our music, and we work together to broaden you audience appeal. It’s more like a partnership ...something about ‘Art and Commerce’...they can work together you know?!
4. Protect your investment...register your songs for proper copyright protection.

I never cease to be amazed how few artists are willing to spend a few bucks to register their songs with the Copyright office.  By the way, these folks are often the same folks who complain about not getting paid to perform their unknown music. All I know is that when an inventor comes up with some new product that they think will appeal to a certain type of customer, the first thing they do is file for a patent on their invention. The same reaction to protecting songs should be there for any serious songwriter. If you really intend to work hard and develop your career as a musician who writes your own songs, don’t wait too long to take care of this simple, but essential task. If you really believe in your unique and original music then take the time to learn the basics of copyright protection.
5. Design and write your promotional materials so they stand out.

Ton get great deals in the entertainment industry you must learn to make your promo materials as compelling, and informative as possible. Take the time to record any accomplishments, positive reviews, training and awards, past sales, and live appearance highlights; and organize them into professional written bios etc. Having done that, time also needs to be taken to research who to send the materials to, and to ask each potential recipient what type of information they would like to have sent to them. No ‘generic’ kits should ever be sent out to any gatekeepers in the music business.
6. Know the labels and music publishers you hope to be signed to.

If you were applying for a job with a certain company, wouldn’t you take some time to ask questions about their stability as a business, their reputation in the industry, and the executives background and experience? The same is true when shopping for a record deal. Some musicians get so excited when a certain label approaches them with a recording contract, or a publishing company offers to sign them. Being approached for a deal is a compliment and recognition by a label or publisher that a musician’s music is attractive to them. But, to rush ahead without taking the time to learn a few things about them is foolish indeed. How have they done with your particular genre of music? What specific ‘points’ are they offering you? Who runs the label or publishing company? What is their reputation in the music business? How do you like them as people? These and other questions can be crucial in making an unemotional decision about an arrangement that could make or break your career.
7. Have your own ‘Entertainment Lawyer’ to represent you.

The business of getting signed to any deal in the music business has always had, has now, and will always have, the involvement of entertainment lawyers. No jokes will be inserted here, because any relationship between a musician, a record label, a publisher, a merchandiser etc. will come down to two attorneys hashing out the contract for the musician and the respective companies. The musician’s legal representative and the music company’s lawyer meet, talk over the phone, and fax their offers and counter-offers amongst themselves. This fact serves to remind you that choosing a reputable, ethical, well respected entertainment lawyer is an absolute necessity for any serious musician who wishes to fight the good fight in the legal arena.
8. Choose a well-connected and respected personal manager.

Self-management is always a valid option in the developing stages of establishing your career as a musician. Much can be learned by taking on the jobs of securing gigs, getting some publicity, planning tours, dealing with personal issues that arise within the band, and networking with A&R Reps and various other label and publishing personnel. However, there comes a time, usually when the daily tasks of doing the business of being a band takes up too much time, and it is at this time that the services of a good manager can be very useful. I have always felt that if any musician or band has worked hard to establish their career, and achieved a modicum of success, they will have a better chance to ‘attract’ the services of a professional, well-connected and respected manager.
Managers who do this job for a living can only take on clients that generate income. Making money as a personal manager is no easy task, and many upcoming artists forget that if any moneys are to be generated from their music, it can takes years for the flow of that income to be reliably there. So, as a band develops self-management, or gets help from upcoming managers, can help pave the road for professional management.
Over the years I have heard several horror stories about ‘managers’ that approach upcoming acts and say that for X amount of Naira, they can do such and such for the artist. No... this is not the way result-oriented personal managers work. Well-connected and respected personal managers get paid a negotiated fee for their services (get it in writing) for any and all business transactions they are responsible for (15%-20%) over a particular contract period. Please Note...No musicians should ever pay a fee to a so-called ‘manager’ who will not do any work UNLESS they are paid up front.
One of the most important jobs of a manager is to secure recording and publishing contracts for their clients; this is why it is so essential to choose well connected and well respected managers. The music business is a ‘relationship’ business. Who know who, and who can get to know who, and who did what successfully for who is what this management game is all about. Choose carefully those people who will be representing you in any business dealings.
9. Don’t take advice from anyone unless you know that they know what they are talking about.

To be quite candid, the best rules in the music business comes from the experience of building your own career; learning from your own interactions with the gatekeepers at labels, the media, management, and booking companies as to what is right or wrong for you. For every Do or Don’t there is an exception to a so-called ‘rule’. As I reflect on the advice I sought out and listened to over the years, the most valid tips came from people who walked the walk, and talked the talk. If you feel that the source you have contacted knows what they are talking about, and has had first hand experience doing what you want to learn about, that is the only feedback that might stand up over time. Choose carefully.
10. Musician...Educate Thyself! If you want a record deal, learn what a record deal is, and learn something about the business of music.

Naïve or mis-informed musicians are a menace to themselves. Enough already! Over the decades there have been countless stories of musicians who were ripped off by their record labels and music publishing companies. Why? Exploitation was the name of the game way back then, and regretfully it hasn't gone away.  Keeping musicians in the dark can still be standard business practice for many reckless persons who are in this business. However, you can't be a naive artist these days, so any musician who signs a record contract (and learns later what he or she signed) have only themselves to blame. )
Today, seminars and workshops are available on a yearly Vis-à-vis the music and entertainment industry. Consultants, entertainment lawyers, and Business Organizations are all around and so it is only myth, superstition, stubbornness, and immaturity that stand in the way of any musician making a commitment to educating themselves about the business that exists to exploit their music.
I cannot stress how important I feel this issue is. Educating yourself is THE most important suggestion I can make to help you have a chance at success.
If you won't learn about the business side of this industry, do you really expect the professionals you encounter to sit down and teach you? Get Real!
Please...spend some time and money educating yourself about the music business. A few hours now, can protect your future forever!

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