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How To Make It In The Music Business (Not!)
Where to start? How can I dissuade you from this terrible profession? Many ignorant people think that any top ten ranking is a guarantee of easy money, easy sex, and hard drugs. Let me say this right up front: most bands are skinny, smelly, malnourished, and too broke to be successful at a sex convention.
And they are successful.
Pop music is not a career, it’s an obsession, an excuse not to get a decent paying job. For me, it started in high school. Since then, I have committed several sins against the great goddess Fortuna, which have doomed me to non-existence “never was”. Here are the things I should have done. Read on and gain wisdom.
1. Start young.
Pick up the pill by your early teens or don’t bother. By the time you’re old enough to order a pint at a bar or club, you should be skilled enough to perform there and not embarrass yourself. Assuming you have the talent, that is. If you leave it too late, you won’t be skilled enough to make a living from your muse.
2. Be Talented.
A lot of people can handle pop, it’s simple music. But if your friends and early audiences think your music is “just fine”, if you have to make excuses for your performances at every gig, GIVE A GUIDE! Give up, go back to college, you self-deluding fool! Better yet, learn a job that people really _want_, _and_ you can make a lot of money at.
Listen to that still small voice in the night. It knows.
3. Pop music is not art.
In a sense it is the antithesis of Art. Artists try to represent their subjectivity authentically. Pop musicians just want themselves and get paid. It is vulgar and populist. It gets people flocking to the dance floor and roaring along on a drunken Friday night.
So don’t get off your back, Mr. Marylin-Manson-Morrisey-Wannabe. We do not send out search groups.
4. Save your money.
One of the worst ways to spend money in this game is other people’s studios. Most UK studios are staffed by underqualified candidates who, for example, say they can definitely sync your two workstations to their 24-track tape machine so you can do vocal overdubs and mix in a 10-hour session. £30 an hour plus VAT.
At five o’clock you’re sweating and trying to figure out why the vocals are late. At ten o’clock you’ll have a sick feeling, a lighter wallet and an undermixed track that will be redundant in a few months because your music has changed for the better or changed direction. Hell, even thinking about it makes me nauseous. It happened to me. More than once. Take heed, wise man.
Put your money towards buying your storage devices. Only buy branded gear as it should retain its used value. You can sell it if you want to level up or buy something sensible like a roof over your head. Loot, a London-based magazine, advertises for free for buyers and sellers of almost anything. eBay is good for smaller items that can be mailed.
A used hand is a very good value if it is almost new. Electronics, like cars, are depreciated as soon as they leave the store. It might work for you. However, DO NOT buy used from someone who looks shabby or lives in a dirty and untidy apartment. “Why not, fascist?!” i know you Because their attention to their appearance and surroundings is reflected in the care of their equipment.
The best person to buy from is a nice, middle-class, middle-aged English guy who lives in a nice, clean house in the suburbs and doesn’t take his gear on the road. Trust me on this one.
If you are a dance musician, invest your money in creating a studio in your bedroom. Find a squat, a garage, or a room in an industrial area and fill it while you’re in a band. Something to avoid shelling out the precious lollipop.
5. Save energy.
If all the energy wasted on pointless self-promotion by young pop musicians was wasted on political causes (for example), the eco-warriors wouldn’t have to live in trees and the Tories would be out after their first term. If you need to maintain the delusion that you, too, will one day be number one (or very close) in America, here’s what to do.
a) Only play in bands whose members rehearse regularly. Whining and calling out their twists (“mygirlfriendsaysI’mgnoringherIwantpayinggigsIthinkweshoulddomorecoversetc…”) is embarrassing. Either fire them or leave the band.
b) practice regularly. Practice makes perfect, laxity leads to forgotten lyrics, broken notes and terrible concerts. Make sure that no matter how good you are in practice, you lose at least 20% of your skill when playing live. And any temperamental gear will fall apart at night in front of all your friends and the A&R leech you specially invited along.
c) Write songs at home. If possible, practice them there quietly with other members. Send each member (drummer included) a CD and lyrics sheet. Let them practice on their own so you don’t waste time and enthusiasm when you’re all together in your hourly studio (or see #3 above).
d) dismiss incompetent members. You can only keep them if you have no intention of playing them publicly, recording them, playing them on the radio, or getting a record deal. Resist blackmail. If the bass player has a van and is your best friend but can’t play on 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, hell, at least there’s one family that’ll remember you for the rest of their lives. Do enough really terrible gigs and you might be on to something (see: The Stooges).
7. Explore the top ten.
If you admire and imitate the actions of the lower reaches of the Top 30, you will never even get that far. When I got interested in it, selling 10,000 singles a week through chart return stores was enough to guarantee you a place in the UK Top Thirty. If you copy the works of the lower reaches, how many people will buy your version of their rather unpopular music? Avoid making music to please idealistic journalists or your “cool” friends. You don’t buy records anyway.
On the contrary, you should …
8. Write music from the heart.
Live your dream. Choose genres and styles that suit you. Great swirling eccentric noise will get you more fans than a second-rate copy of the top ten. And you’ll enjoy it more.
9. Try all disclosure options.
Hand out flyers. Call back. Telephone newspapers. Put up posters. Friends with a strong hand. Otherwise, the audience will be one man and his dog. You die, horribly, and you still have to haul your gear home. You must not be ashamed. A packed performance in a small venue creates a ‘buzz’ that a larger venue with the same amount of people doesn’t.
Someone once told me that there are 100,000 bands in London alone, which I think is an understatement. And that doesn’t include the bedroom. How do you stand out from the crowd? (Do you think if I had a great sexy idea I would put it in this article?). Dress up, go crazy. Who cares? Just do it.
Public speaking of any kind is a great part of market research. Make your best track first. Thirty seconds after that, you’ll know if you got the formula right or not. If it doesn’t work, WIN IT!
Play only your best songs. Keep your pitches short. Dramatic finish, then leave the building. Leave your audience with a positive memory. Be mysterious. RESIST the urge to play two hours of mediocre material and then step off the stage to hang out with the panthers at the bar.
10. Talent competitions.
Try them, except when they charge an entrance fee. Think of them as a way to set yourself up nicely with different audiences. Yeah, you don’t win, or the prize is crap, or your studio time bombs (see above), or your single disappears without a trace, but WHAT THE HELL IF YOU DON’T PAY FOR IT.
11. Release a small number of CDs (if you have to).
I didn’t do it. £2000 in the early 90’s (which included recording) for 250 LP copies (vanity!) which I was too stupid to promote and didn’t believe in anyway. Tried it all away. If you’re good enough, other people will show up.
The same goes for promo videos. You don’t have enough money to make them look smart. Spend money (through music lessons and better equipment) to make your music good enough for others to invest in it. Dance musicians should only publish their music if they are absolutely sure they can pass it on to specialty stores or fans without making excuses. for that. Dance music is strictly “product oriented” and relies much less on a good singer to carry the whole story. It can be sold more easily.
Still, don’t let the thirst to hold onto your record unnecessarily drain your pitiful finances.
12. Leadership is a good idea.
If he’s not a moron, a scumbag or a crook and has energy and contacts, take him on. It’s too much work to write, practice, hold down a job/go to college AND promote myself. Remember, the driver is for life, kids. He _gets_ his share. It’s best to be a completely insane brute with manners and respect. Frighten them and charm them at the same time. Don’t think you can do it all. People in the industry are business people and they don’t want to do business with precious, pseudo-rebellious, undereducated “artists”.
13. Be brutal with your material.
If your songs don’t sound like a top five or you don’t get ecstatic audience reactions/media reviews/massive followings, STOP what you’re doing now.
Does it sound like the current hit (rawk in the last year, six months for dance music) or does your audience want to be like you and have your 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 kid, I want you to sign this paper here, no no, don’t bother reading this…
14. And there I will leave it ….
… because like I said at the beginning, I’m a complete failure at this lark. Any advice I give you about record deals etc. is not based on personal experience. You’ll find that there are many who won’t let it stop you from bending your ear anyway.
Read Macchiavelli’s “The Prince” or Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” and that white paper “How to be Number One” or some of those 90’s group KLF to continue. Set you up nicely for any career, don’t forget this rubbish. Good luck anyway, you pathetic fool.
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