I have been watching, studying, 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'.
Today, more than ever, there are countless advisors like myself who offer tips to developing acts and 'struggling musicians', and all too often we try to inflict some step-by-step process on musicians that will help them become tomorrow's superstar.
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 'wannabees' 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 pop music, and yet, no one who bought that music would cop 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 the 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 $10 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 savvy 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 available on the Internet, and the technology of downloadable music now an every day reality, no musician who writes great songs should have that much problem realizing modest successes with their music.
Be careful of the "10 Steps To Musical Success" and the " What every A&R Rep Is Looking For" articles and books. I myself have written some articles with similar such titles, only because they are my means of getting the attention of an ever growing group of music star 'wannabees'. Once I get their attention, I try to give them proven tactics and strategy tips that are time-tested ways that record labels and industry professionals work.
In reality, there are no 10 steps to anything! 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 dollars and cents, whether you like it or not. But that does not mean that Art and Commerce cannot walk hand in hand...they must do that.
I teach a history of popular music course, and it never ceases to amaze me how often history repeats itself when it comes to the question of artistic achievement and music business savvy.
Most 'artists' in the truest sense of the world 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 read trusted consultants and advisor's articles and books and also find time to stay on top of this ever changing business by attending a few music business conferences or seminars.
But you also need to do some 'grunt-work'. Call club 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 grueling 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.
Throughout his fprty year career in the music business, FourFront Media & Music's Christopher Knab has shared his experience at many industry conventions and conferences, including the New Music Seminar and the Northwest Area Music Business Conference.
Knab was owner of a San Francisco music store, co-owner of the 415 Records label, and station manager at KCMU Radio in Seattle.
He currently provides a unique consultation and education service for independent musicians and record labels. His new book is entitled "Music Is Your Business".
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