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How To Make It In The Music Business (Not!)
Where to start? How can I give you up from this terrible profession? Many ignorant people think that any kind of placement in the Top Ten is a guarantee of easy money, easy sex and hard drugs. Let me say from the outset: most groups are weak, smelly, saturated, and too broken to successfully engage in sex convention.
And these are successful.
Pop music is not a career, it’s an obsession, an excuse for not getting a proper, paying job. For me it started in high school. From then on I committed a series of sins against the great goddess Fortuna, which condemned me to be a ‘never’. Here are the things I should have done. Read and learn.
1. Start young.
Pick up an instrument in your early teens at the latest, or don’t bother. By the time you’re old enough to order a pint in a bar or club, you should be fit enough to take a gig there and not be embarrassed. Assuming you have the talent, that is. If you leave it too late, you won’t be able to make a living from your muse.
2. You have talent.
A lot of people can switch to pop, it’s simple music. However, if your friends and early audiences think your music is ‘okay’, if you have to make excuses for your performances every gig, then HIND HINT! Give it up, go back to college, you self-deluding fool! Better yet, learn a craft that people really _love_ and_ that you can make good money at.
Hear that still small voice in the night. She knows.
3. Pop music is not art.
In some ways it is the antithesis of Art. Artists strive to authentically represent their subjectivity. Pop musicians just want to be released and get paid. It is vulgar and populist. It’s what gets people flocking to the dance floor and what gets them roaring on a drunken Friday night.
So don’t disappear on your behind, Mr. Marylin-Manson-Morrisey-Wannabe. We will not send search parties.
4. Save your money.
One of the worst ways to spend money in this game is on other people’s studios. Most studios in Britain are staffed with unqualified chancellors who say, for example, that of course they can sync your two workstations to their 24-track tape machine so you can some vocal overdubs and a mix all in one 10 hour session at £30 an hour plus VAT.
By the fifth hour you are sweating and trying to figure out why the vocals are late. At ten o’clock you have a sick feeling, a lighter wallet and an unmixed song that will be redundant in a few months because your music has gotten ‘better’ or changed direction. Hell, I feel nauseous even thinking about it. It happened to me. More than once. Be careful, smart boy.
Deposit your money to buy your recording device. Only buy ‘name’ equipment, as they should retain their used value. You can sell it if you want to upgrade, or buy something reasonable, like a roof over your head. London’s Loot magazine advertises for free for buyers and sellers of almost anything. eBay is good for smaller items that can be mailed.
Second hand is very good value if near new. Electronics, like cars, depreciate as soon as they leave the store. This can be to your advantage. However, DO NOT buy second-hand from anyone who looks shabby or lives in a dirty, messy apartment. “Why not, fascist?!” sez you Because their attention to their appearance and surroundings will be reflected in their care of their equipment.
The best type of person to buy for is a middle-class English male who lives in a nice, clean house in the suburbs and doesn’t take his equipment out on the street. Trust me on this one.
Put your money into setting up your own bedroom studio if you’re a dance musician. Find a squat, garage or spare room in an industrial estate and fix it up if you’re in a group. Anything to avoid spilling precious candy.
5. Save Energy.
If all the energy wasted on useless self-promotion by young pop musicians was harnessed to political causes (for example), the eco-warriors wouldn’t have to live in trees and the conservatives would be out after their first term. If you must persist in the illusion that you too will one day be Number One in America (or very close), then do the following:
a) Play only in groups where members regularly come to rehearsals. Complaining and calling after these messages (“my girlfriends say I’m ignoring themIwantpayinggigsIthinkweshoulddomorecoversetc…”) is a drag. Either rest or leave the gang.
b) Try regularly. Practice makes perfect, indolence leads to forgotten lyrics, weird notes and terrible gigs. Make sure that no matter how good you are at trial, you will lose at least 20% of your skills when you play live. And any temperamental gear will break down on the night, in front of all your mates and the A&R leeches you ‘specially’ invited.
c) Write songs at home. Try them quietly with other members if possible. Send each member (including the drummer) a CD recording and a sheet of open lyrics. Let them practice on their own so you don’t waste time and enthusiasm when you’re all together in your pay-by-the-hour studio (or see 3. above).
d) Dismiss incompetent members. You can only keep them if you don’t intend to play publicly, record, get radio airplay or a record deal. Resist blackmail. If the bass player has a van and he’s your best friend, but he can’t play in time, give him the boot. You’ll thank me for it later. You can rent a van and make new friends.
6. Accept every gig offered.
There’s no such thing as bad publicity, even if you ruin someone’s wedding, heck, at least they have a family that will remember you for the rest of their lives. Do enough really terrible gigs and you might be on to something (see: The Stooges).
7. Study the Top Ten.
If you admire and emulate acts in the lower echelons of the Top 30, you’ll never even get that far. Selling 10,000 singles in a week via chart-topping stores was enough to guarantee you a spot in the UK Top Thirty when I was interested in it. If you copy acts at the lowest levels, how many people will buy into your version of their fairly unpopular music? Avoid making music to please idealistic journalists or your ‘cool’ friends. They don’t buy records anyway.
Otherwise, you should…
8. Write Music from the Heart.
Live your Dream. Choose genres and styles that you feel comfortable with. A great spinning weird banger will get you more fans than a second rate copy of a greatest hit. And you will enjoy it more.
9. Try every avenue of publicity.
Distribute flyers. Returning calls. Telephone newspapers. Put up posters. Comrades with strong arms. Otherwise, you will have an audience with a man and his dog. You’ll DIE, horribly, and you’ll still have to put your gear back home. You don’t have to be ashamed. A packed concert in a small venue creates a ‘buzz’ where one in a larger venue, with the same number of people, will not.
Someone once told me there were 100,000 bands in London alone, which I think is an understatement. And that excludes bedroom boffins. How will you set yourself apart from the crowd? (Do you think if I had a great sex idea I would put it in this article?). Dress up, go crazy. Who cares? Just do it.
Public appearances of any kind are an excellent part of market research. Do your best route first. After 30 seconds you will understand if you have the right formula or not. If it doesn’t work, throw it away!
Play only your best songs. Keep your gigs short. Dramatic finish, then exit the building. Leave your audience with a positive memory. Be mysterious. RESIST the urge to play two hours of mediocre material and then head offstage for a pint with the players in the pub.
10. Talent contests.
Try them, unless they charge an entry fee. Think of them as a way to get a beautifully organized concert with a diverse audience. You won’t win, or the prize will suck, or your studio time will bomb (see above) or your single will disappear without a trace, but what the hell as long as YOU DON’T PAY FOR IT.
11. Release a small number of CDs (if necessary).
I did not do it. £2,000 in the early 90s (which included recording) for 250 copies of an LP (rubbish!) which I was very good at promoting and didn’t really believe in anyway. He threw it all away. If you’re good enough, other people will pay.
The same goes for promotional videos. You don’t have enough money to make them look smart. Spend the money (through music lessons and better equipment) to make your music good enough for others to invest. for her. Dance music is strictly ‘product oriented’ and relies much less on a good singer to carry the whole song. It can be sold more easily.
However, don’t let the thirst to hold your record in your hands cause you to drain your pathetic finances unnecessarily.
12. Management is a good idea.
If he is not a fool, a fool or a cheater and has some energy and contacts, accept him. It’s a lot of work writing, rehearsing, holding down a job/going to college AND promoting yourself. Just remember, a manager is for life, kids. He _will_ get his bit. Better to have a totally insane brute with a veneer of manners and respect. To frighten and charm them at the same time. Do NOT think you can do it all. People in the industry are businessmen and do not want to do business with precious, pseudo-rebellious, uneducated ‘artists’.
13. Be brutal with your material.
If your songs don’t sound like anything in the top five, or you’re not getting ecstatic audience response/media reviews/huge followers, STOP what you’re doing immediately.
Either it sounds like a current hit (within the last year for rawk, six months for dance music) or your audience wants to be like you and have your own kids. Anything else is a waste of your youth. That’s POP, as in POPULAR music, remember? If you have both of the above, hey boy, I want you to sign this piece of paper here, no no, don’t bother reading it…
14. And that’s where I’ll leave it ….
… because like I said at the beginning, I’m a total failure in this loop. Any advice I may give you about record contracts and the like will not be based on personal experience. You will find that there are many who will not let this stop you from bending your ear anyway.
To continue, read “The Prince” by Macchiavelli or “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu and that white paper “How to be Number One” or something like that by the 90’s group, KLF. It sets you up well for any career, don’t mind this crap. Congratulations, anyway, bad fool.
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