Are You Big-Time Material? Having Talent Doesn’t Mean Music Industry Success
Musicians who become household names have to be, like, talented, right? Surely being a fortified hit-making machine can’t hurt; but, badass as you may be, it doesn’t reserve your platinum parking spot in superstardom anytime soon.
No doubt, good music is, and hopefully always will be, an integral ingredient of the commercial creative process. Yet, in this brave new world, it is not necessarily an indicator of success in the record industry. Perhaps that’s because “records” don’t really exist anymore; furthermore, the ones still being schlepped cost upwards of $30 and are spun solely by hipster DJs. Nowadays, newfangled recording/distribution trends — derived for aiding a sonically deluged internet — seem to have strong-armed the business into playing by a fresh set of millennial rules. What’s more, the age-old expression of “making it”, has proven more trite and outmoded than ever.
LABELS DON’T WANT TO BUILD YOU . . . THEY WANT YOU PREBUILT
The pearly gates of the music biz aren’t opening for just anyone who comes knocking. Irrespective of melodious genius, good looks and sheer showmanship as helpful factors, there are presently no titular guarantees handed down from the industry overlords above. Incidentally, major labels would prefer both musical talent and business acumen, side by side, as opposed to being simply virtuosic. You should be a player, a producer, and a promoter all in one comprehensive, multifaceted package.
Needless to say, don’t be duped by the semblance of being “signed,” either. It’s no longer the moon shot of coolness it once was in radio land. In the modern internet market, most artists actually flop and get dropped; many don’t even record or get shelved, and a good number who actually have a product to sell, don’t receive the proper backing from their company. Bottom line, believe it or not, labels need you more than you need them — they just want you to have your lunchbox packed and be ready for the first day of school.
YOU’VE GOT THE PUBLICITY IN YOU
Networking has never been easier thanks to the hi-tech envelopment of planet Earth, and here are some crucial steps you can take to ensure popularity vis-à-vis your music.
Utilize streaming services like YouTube, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and Spotify. Each of these has emerged as their own dais du jour for the leisure listening of earbud heads spanning the globe. Modest to mighty, these platforms are, in part, revolutionary mediums that have overthrown the reign of mass retail distribution.
Tell your story with social media. Everyone wants to hear an impactful tale of triumph, and the power of social networks allow you to share your journey; e.g., how you overcame the odds to make your mark in music. In particular, Instagram has its “Stories” feature — allowing users to post photos and videos in a sequential feed. This can be invaluable for artists to bring their fans into their culture and lifestyle.
Start a bodacious music blog, and not merely for vanity’s sake. In order to be tapped into your own sound, you should be ensconced with every part of music. Try writing about topical trends in the blogosphere — it can only breed good things, for instance, connections to other likeminded artists, relationships with corporate execs, and, of course, a vaster fan base. Check out “Pigeons and Planes”; this site encompasses musical discovery from little-winged fledglings starting out in the business, way up to the jumbo jet carriers of music’s famous elite in the sky.
DON’T BE IN IT FOR THE DOLLAR SIGN$
If there’s one precept to great art, it’s that you have to be “starving.” No, you should really eat more. But if you’re running the race to win the riches, you best lay those delusions of grandeur to rest. In the scheme of things, if you’re really that amazing, and market yourself effectively, you will get paid for your craft. Will that yield pay the bills? Ask any successful pop/rock/rap/country star out there; they’ll all tell you the same thing: They had to do music, because they couldn’t do anything else. You have to inhale and exhale notes and rhythm like your life depends on it — only then, will you reap the spoils of victory.
While we’re on the subject, consider your audience, because they are your livelihood. Even though you write good tunes, you have to fathom how others will react to each epic opus. A well-written song may be your baby, but it’s most likely just another jam to the status quo — possibly it’s an audible backdrop on their daily drive to work, or a roof-raiser on a house party playlist, or maybe, a desperate-to-get-laid traditional. Not to diminish your hard work or fragile hubris, just try to bear in mind that not everyone’s going to dig your soul sacrifice, but . . . you won’t let that stop you . . . because you’re a professional.
SO, WHAT IS SUCCESS . . . ?
It’s not rocket science or quantum physics — it’s music. The key is to comprehend the dichotomy of artistry and business and how to bifurcate the two. Remember that the stranglehold of record label control is dead; the talent has the vice grip now — and musicians finally possess the autonomy to be at the helm of their own ship. But, although this DIY eventuality is liberating, it’s also a great labor of love. Aspirants of creative recognition are expected to hustle to the umpteenth degree to attain iconic stature — and that’s a precedent which will never change in music.
The late, great Allan Toussaint once asked in his 1971 song, ‘What is Success?’ “Is it doing your thing, or do you join the rest?” The scope of it boils down to what you want out of songwriting, whether it’s recording contracts and money, or communal coffee shop exposure, the formula for accomplishment is, in fact, “doing your thing,” and doing it well. It ought to be said, that fame and fortune aren’t applicable to mavericks; monetization should never be the endgame of art. Be impactful with your music for you, and the fans that dig you. Let your prowess be your guide.