Archive for June, 2007

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Questions and Answers about the music business (June 19, 2007)

June 19, 2007

Date: June 19, 2007 4:55:29 AM EDT
Subject: Questions and Answers about the music business – June 2007

For those of you that don’t know, every once in a while I send out an email with questions
artists have asked me about the music business – and then I provide my answers.

I hope this email can serve to educate, support and encourage artists of all kinds.

So, if you have a question, please email it to me – and feel free to pass along this email to your fellow musicians or friends.

Happy reading!

(And be sure to read all the way to the end – the last snippet is perhaps the best!)

Jennifer Yeko
True Talent Management
9663 Santa Monica Blvd. # 320
Beverly Hills, CA  90210
http://www.truetalentmgmt.com

Question:
Hi there Jennifer…I just read the email with Q’s and A’s…I believe I
have covered all of these bases other than singing out at bars/clubs and
becoming a “lounge lizard”…many famous folks today have NOT worked very
hard to get where they are…Britney Spears for example…I have heard more
judgments on this singer/famous act…and they weren’t positive ones…one
is that she’s not a great singer…only when recorded…that she does a lot
of her live shows by lip synching…both producers I have used have said the
same thing and very strongly…and that Dido…as nice as her music
IS…she’s a “style”, not so much a “singer”…so does voice matter that
much anymore as much as style and performance does?

What IS it the industry wants today?

Answer:
I’ll answer the last part of your question first.  The industry is in a very strange place today and I don’t blame you if you’re confused about what “they” want. But honestly, why do you care?
Don’t make music to impress the “music industry”.  Write GREAT songs and put on great live shows.  Impress the public and the industry truly will find you.

You say you’ve done everything except play out?  Is that right? Well, playing out is one of the most important things you can do.  It’s how artists sell CDs.  It’s how you connect with your fans.

If you aren’t into playing live, that’s fine, but know then you are going to be a studio musician/singer or songwriter for other artists.  Playing out is the key to becoming successful.  If you aren’t playing live shows on a regular basis your chances of “making it” are just about zero.  Labels today want to see you are drawing huge numbers in your home town and surrounding areas.  If you sit at home the best thing you can do is write songs for film and TV or compose. But if you truly want to become a successful working singer/band, you NEED TO PLAY LIVE.

Of course, music does not have to be your full-time job.  It is very sensible to work a day job and do music for fun, as a hobby.  Just keep in mind a lot of the advice I give here is for artists who do want to make a living from their music full-time.

Now back to your comments about Britney Spears and Dido.

I really hate that everyone picks on Britney.

Sure, she is incredibly famous, rich and successful. And obviously, she has gotten herself into a lot of trouble lately which I won’t go into here.  But for those of you that don’t know, I’d hardly call Britney a “slacker” or a girl without talent.

And yes, I’ll state for the record that I happen to like Britney.  She has some great songs and even if she doesn’t write them, she works with the best songwriters and producers in the business.  She’s been performing since she was a very young girl and was in the Mickey Mouse Club along with fellow superstars Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera.  There is a TV show I saw where it showed her rise to fame and how after the MMC was canceled, she went home, dejected, and very easily could have given up. But no, she moved with her mom to NY and went on auditions and struggled from the time she was very young to “make it”. So please, while you may not like her music, do not put her down as being without talent.  She can sing, but perhaps is not a perfect live singer and needs some tweaking in the studio. She may not always sing live but Britney is a performer, an entertainer, not a singer.  If you want a singer, go watch Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood or Christina Aguilera. Those girls are SINGERS.  Britney has worked very hard, unlike some other “stars” out there today who are famous for well, being famous and nothing else (umm, can we say Paris…).

As for Dido, I don’t know as much about her but some have said she may not have the best live singing voice.  I cannot speak from experience as I’ve never seen her live.  But who cares?  Are you comparing yourself to these artists?  That’s a slippery slope and one best not to go down.  Focus on yourself and YOUR music, not the famous artists who have already “made” it.

You’re right when you say those are “judgments” about Britney and Dido.  Sounds like petty jealous comments people make. Sure, it’s easy to pick on all the famous artists out there and say they suck or have “no talent”. But it seems to be artists do this because they are just jealous that those artists are succesful and they are not.

It is true that a lot of young stars today are signed by major labels, not for their voice, but for their appearance, or even because they are a celebrity from a TV show (Hilary Duff).  It is sad but true.  Major labels are oftentimes more concerned with an artist’s looks and appearance as they can have the voice corrected in the studio but they cannot make a 40 year old woman into an 18 year old pop tart.  Many famous music producers complain of this fact but their bread and butter is (was?) the major labels so they have to go with the work that is sent their way.

So, in short, unless you’re really young and really cute, like a Britney or Hilary, yes, you do need to have talent.  You do need to write good songs.

Most rock bands are not all that attractive. They may have stylists and “cool” clothes but believe me, no one is buying a Green Day or Maroon 5 album because the lead singer is hot.  Ok, maybe some young girls are but the point is, the music is what matters.  Besides, who wants to be an 18 year old pop tart who can’t write their own songs?  No thank you.  Be proud that you have talent and can write a song over looking good in a pair of low rise jeans!

*****

Question:

Hi,

Hope your day is great.
I just have two questions.

First, I am an independent artist and I have set up public relations (PR) in the U.S and I have a major distribution deal as well as radio airplay all over the U.S, with one of my songs charting on the U.S CHR/Top 40 charts.

So basically we have lined all our ducks up in a row and have gotten some success but my question is why can’t we seem to break into the large markets…is it always about money?

Also, I have found that the hardest thing to find in this industry has been getting a management company on board, simply because no one seems to be able to recommend someone and they don’t really advertise them selves. How would I find a GOOD manager and how would I grab the attention of a William Morris company?

Thank you so kindly,

-Joelle

Answer:

Hmm, well, first of all, congratulations on all your success.  However, I find some of your claims a bit exaggerated, in that if you had a song in the top 40 Billboard chart you’d have been signed ages ago.  It’s always better to be honest about your claims as anyone worth a grain of salt in this business will know when you are lying and when you are telling the truth about your “achievements”.  Tell people you’ve sold 10,000 CDs? Great.  Prove it!  Any label will be able to look that information up in Soundscan and if your CD sales aren’t registered with Soundscan, they might as well not exist.

Ok, it is true that to attain a certain level of success you do need money behind you.  A major label can buy you onto a big tour with “tour support” money.  They can hire radio promoters to really push you to big radio stations.  They can open up a lot of doors that you may not be able to open by yourself with your limited pocketbook.

But let’s see, then you talk about finding a manager.  You’re right.  Managers do not advertise.  We don’t need to.  Artists find us.  And, most “big” managers that you think of manage superstar acts.  They only manage acts that you hear on the radio or see on TV.  They rarely take on baby or new artists because why should they? Why take on an unproven act making no money when you can manage an act pulling in millions a year?

And William Morris is a talent AGENCY, not a management company. They do not manage music acts but represent them as agents for booking acts into venues like major arenas.  In general, if you can’t sell out Madison Square Garden or the Staples Center, you are most likely not going to be represented by a huge talent agency like William Morris.  Because you aren’t bringing in enough money to pay their Beverly Hills rent.

As for finding a manager, believe me, when you are ready, managers will come to you.  When you start drawing a crowd at even a small venue, or getting written up in the press, or on the radio, a manager will find you.  Make yourself successful and managers will come to you.  Til then, you probably aren’t ready.
*****
Question:

Hello Jennifer,

I am the co-leader of a duo that performs the music of the oral tradition of southern Italy. By “oral tradition” I mean songs and instrumentals passed from generation to generation that we learned while growing up back home. We operate in the LA area and we perform these pieces on both native Italian and Mediterranean instruments. As a matter of fact and much to the delight of our audiences, we go onstage with no less than 25 musical instruments. We present ourselves as a traditional, acoustic, folk act but we can well fall in the category of World Music. Let me point out that we do not play “pizza, Mafia e amore” and all the repertoire that most Americans think of being “Italian.” Our enthusiastic audiences like to think of us as close to authentic as we can be and we feel fulfilled when we watch them go home elated and satisfied after our concerts.

On the other hand, we have not been able to move up the ladder, so to speak. As you may imagine, we are an “awkward” or at least unique group when it comes to marketing and reaching more audiences, let alone getting into a recording contract. On the other hand, I know of many awkward groups that have met far more work than we have. Could it be that one of our “downfalls” is that we sing in our beautiful but not comprehensible dialects? Honestly, I do not think that singing in a different language affects negatively folk or world music types of audiences, but a larger mass of people may have a problem with that. It is crucial for us to keep the language, on the other hand. American music is nearly all about pop rock and various splinters of that. For instance, the musical products we see on Sonicbids (on which roster we currently appear), seem discouragingly uniform and oriented in one way. Nothing has worked so far with Sonicbids, to the point that I am considering getting out of it. We do not have money to spend and they require $5 today or $10 tomorrow just to send your EPK around to people that may be interested.

It hurts tremendously to realize that so many people love what we do but yet we cannot branch out and find consistent work. We are, I believe, in a dire need to be actively and effectively represented. Whom should we contact to be “evaluated,” if I may use this term?  Is anything else out there besides rock-pop? Is there a niche for our “uniqueness,” whatever that means? We’ll appreciate any comment you may have about this.

Thank you.
Roberto

Answer:

I don’t know much about this type of music but you didn’t mention at what type of venues you are performing?  I will say, I admire staying true to your music and not changing just to sell more CDs or get more gigs.  That is artistic integrity and should be admired.

I will say, however, that most acts that break big do perform in English so that may be a problem (unless you’re singing in Spanish these days like Shakira).  However, look at more eclectic acts like the Polyphonic Spree and Arcade Fire. These are not traditional mainstream acts but there are plenty of touring musicians that make a living on the road.  But yes, they do sing in English.  If people can’t understand what you’re singing about, it’s going to be very difficult for people to connect with you.  But never say never.  Not having heard your music, I cannot make any judgments about it.

Target your fan base.  If you sing in Italian, you need to go where people will understand you.  Maybe you can perform at Italian restaurants or at Italian weddings.  Find your band’s niche.

I used to work for the Young Dubliners’ manager and while they would rarely sell more than 20,000 CDs, they would play 200-300 dates a year and made their living entirely off of touring income, merchandise and a very small sponsorship from an alcohol company.  And they played fairs and festivals and anywhere people liked to drink and have a good time and listen to Irish type rock music.  And most of you probably have never heard of them but they perform most every night of the year somewhere and make a living in the music business.

No one needs to “evaluate” you.  You need to get out there and tour and find who your fans are. And if you never get a major recording contract, who cares?  Maybe this can be a great way to express yourself.  Not everyone needs to be on MTV or VH1 and on the radio.

If you’re touching even one person with your music, you are doing your job. Congratulations!
*****
Some advice on the music business from someone who’s worked in the biz for 20 years:

If I may add one very important thing – SALES. The labels are in the business of SELLING RECORDS. (CD’s Downloads – whatever you want to call it). They have one product and one product only and it needs to sell. Obviously, publishing, Film & TV licensing, Special Markets and Catalog releases/reissues are a huge part of their income, BUT – if the record didn’t sell well to begin with, 5, 10, 15, 20 years down the road it doesn’t really help those areas either. I saw a lot of “stinkers” sitting in the vault virtually useless to other aspects of the label’s business because no one knew who it was and didn’t want to use it in their film, tv show, or Special Markets release ( i.e. Time-Life music and their releases that you see commercials for in the middle of the night license those tracks from the various labels and generate millions of dollars a year)
So – most artists you see today that are not corporate inventions or the result of American Idol and it’s copycats have proven themselves as SELLERS.

They have their own “label”, they have a CD, it’s barcode is registered with BDS/Soundscan, and they have product available on the internet at places like CD Baby, Itunes, etc. (Something CD Baby can do for you in a very inexpensive process. It takes a while to get it all up online, but once it is THEN is the time to promote the heck out of it). You can report live venue sales to Soundscan through many channels. Learn how to SELL music. There are many books out there that will give good advice for retail and online marketing. REALIZE that RADIO’s only purpose for you is to help generate sales. Not be an ego fix or to tell some record label person that you got airplay. The airplay has to have a RESULT, and the result MUST be sales. Otherwise, you look like someone that got on the radio and didn’t inspire a single person to buy your music.

Everything that you know – radio, marketing, publicity, advertising is in place and was created as a SELLING TOOL. Doing any of these things without a release available widely to the public is a waste of time and money. You can sell 5,000 records just IN YOUR STATE. Do that and believe me, the labels will take notice and be calling you instead of the other way around!
*****

I started my mission to become a rock and roll star back in 1962. At that point, all of my buddies were dreaming of the same thing, so it was okay. Nearly a decade later we were out of school and I’d been touring since I was a little kid. My friends were doing gigs all over the club circuit and having fun, but it began to fade fast for them after a year or so. I never batted an eye and kept rocking. Here are several possible reasons for them calling it quits, bearing in mind that it could be none or all of the reasons on the list. These are the common ones. Watch me make a great point with this.

1. Their parents were getting at them with the ‘when are you going to get a real job’ thing.
2. Their girlfriend is pressuring them because she wants to get married and settle down.
3. Their girlfriend fell in love with them because they were a rock star guy, but now wants him to quit the band so there’s no chance of some other girl flirting with them.
4. They wanted a nice car.
5. They wanted a nice house.
6. They wanted security. After all, they’re ‘not getting any younger and it’s a young man’s game.’
7. They ‘grew up and faced reality.’

The list goes on and on. The point is this: if you have that unstoppable desire in you, NOTHING will EVER be able to make it go away. NOTHING. No girl, parent, lack of money,  lack of food, or the lack of a roof over your head with push it aside. EVER. Nothing I say, or any manager, agent, or anyone else says will even make a dent. Because if it does, you didn’t have the desire in the first place and you’re much better off doing like your parents and your girlfriend say.

When you’re IN, you’re IN for keeps. This business runs a very close second to politics as the toughest, most cutthroat, money driven, power hungry, lying, theiving, uncaring, heartless endeavor you can legally enter into. No one on the face of this planet will EVER look me in the eye and tell me any different. They don’t call the street I live on ‘The Boulevard Of Broken Dreams’ for nothing. 30 some odd people didn’t jump to their deaths off the Hollywood sign because show biz is such a lovely business to be in. Think about the fact that all of those who did jump could have went back home to the midwest and got a regular job. What do you think it was that kept them from doing just that?

You have to be a driven, rock solid, highly trained warrior to survive. You have to be crazy to get into this business on almost any level. Look at Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King and Little Richard. All of those cats are around 80 fucking years old! Nearly three decades older than me. But they’re still rocking the house. And in my opinion, with a hell of a lot more real fire than anyone half their age. That’s because that fire burns in them like an eternal flame. It keeps them alive. It’s all they really ever lived for.

My personal motto is NEVER stop rocking. To stop is to die. John Lennon once said in his odd way ‘As breathing is my life, to stop I dare not dare.’ What he meant by that is that if it’s in you, you have no choice. And always bear in mind that it isn’t just about winning. It’s about how many defeats you can suffer and keep coming as though nothing touched you.

Oh, and by the way, if any of what I wrote seems ridiculous and way over the top, you don’t have any business messing with this industry. The folks that run it are far more out of their minds than I could ever hope to be. There are a lot of Phil Spectors and Kim Fowleys out there.

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Advice for Artists – Tips from CD Baby founder Derek Sivers

June 14, 2007

Date: June 14, 2007 6:08:22 AM EDT
Subject: Advice for Artists – Tips from CD Baby founder Derek Sivers

So my good friend Derek Sivers who founded CD Baby http://www.cdbaby.com gives the most amazing advice to artists.

I wanted to share some “tips” he shared with CD members that should help you with your career.  (I’ve thrown in some of my own advice here as well):

  • The best one was “don’t wait to be inspired, you have to meet inspiration half way”.  Sit down, force yourself to be inspired.  To write songs.  Every day.  The more often you write, the better you become.
  • When you come home from your day job (assuming you have one), don’t just plop down in front of the TV.  Get to work.  Right away.  Whether you’re emailing a club to book a show or writing a new song (or rewriting an old one), just go straight to work. If you come home and let yourself get comfy on the sofa, you will likely stay there the rest of the night.
  • Don’t be a mosquito.  Don’t constantly bother people trying to get what you can from them and then move on. Be a good human being.  Be sincere (hopefully this won’t require much effort).  Think about what you can do to help the other person instead of what they can do to help you.  You’ll get much further in life. i.e. if you’re talking to a club booker, ask them how you can work together to market the show and ensure the best crowd possible.
  • If you’re trying to get somewhere, start at the end and work backward. i.e. if you’re looking for a booking agent, call the club you want to play and ask them which agents they work with.  Have specific goals.  Don’t say “I need a manager” or “I need a booking agent” – which one?  I also pointed out, if you’re looking for either of these 2 people, you need to have something to offer them i.e. you need to be making money if you want a good manager or how will they get paid?  If you want a booking agent, you need to be drawing several hundred in your market and likely in other markets as well.  Don’t put the cart before the horse.  Nothing in life is free and nothing comes without hard work.  You can’t expect people to take you on until you have a viable business running.  Just saying “My music is cool, help me for free” isn’t even close to being enough.
  • Be persistent and follow-up with people – but DON’T BE ANNOYING.  Derek told this great story of how an editor/reviewer at a major music magazine used to put all the CDs they received in a big cardboard box, the size of a refrigerator.  When an artist called to follow up, they would look for the package and move it to a smaller box. Then wait.  If the artist called again, they’d move it from the smaller box to someone’s desk.  If the artist called a THIRD time, then and only then would someone actually listen to it.  With all the thousands (now millions?) of people trying to “make it” it’s not worth their time to review a CD if the artist doesn’t call at least 3 times to follow up.  However, don’t be annoying.  Some people may not like getting follow-up calls once, much less 3 times, so if you sense you are annoying someone with repetitve emails or calls, stop.  You don’t want to be so persistent that you annoy the person and prevent them from wanting to help you.
  • Spend more time on your songwriting craft.  Sure, it may seem cool to say you have however many thousand myspace friends, but if they aren’t buying your music at the end of the day, it’s just a waste of time (if you’re trying to make a career out of making music).  Focus on creating great music.  People will talk and the word will then spread.  Don’t spend time just adding myspace friends for the sake of having friends.
  • Eat the frog first.  Derek told a story that if you had to do several things, like mail a package, cook dinner, put gas in the car and eat a frog, eat the frog first.  i.e. get the unpleasant thing out of the way first like calling that club to book a show or rewriting the verse yet again until it’s perfect.  Once you get the bad stuff out of the way, you’ll be free to focus on the more fun stuff and the things we don’t want to do are often the most important.

http://www.truetalentmgmt.com