Starting Out – An Overview

Welcome to my blog. I decided to set it up to help those starting out and hopefully those a bit further along in their music career too. I know there are already many books and websites but this industry moves so fast that books go out of date.and, it never hurts to get a new perspective. Even after over 30 years in the industry I hear new things all the time. I hope you’ll find it useful and informative.

So you want to be a singer, songwriter, musician, producer or some other music biz type person? Do you want to do it for fun, or make a living out of it? Either way over the coming months and years I hope to give you some tools to help you along the way.

Why do you want it? Are you a sensitive creative type who just wants to share your music with the world? Is it for the money and the girls; the drugs and wild parties? Is it to get out of doing a “proper job”?

Sensitive and creative – This is not an easy career option. As a teenager I fell into this category. Full of emotions I needed to get out there and make the world understand. But this industry is a machine which will eat you up and strip you bare. Look what it did for Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse. Do you really want to be hounded around Wallmart by paparazzi? It may sound like fun. But think about it. Every day; whether you want it or not; whether you’re happy or heartbroken; whether you look great or have a bad hair day.

And if they can’t get a real story, they’ll make one up (Freddy Star ate my hamster??? Really????). Or maybe they’ll get one from a “friend”. Who can you really trust? Even if they’re a friend now, will they stay faithful when a newspaper waves £10,000 under their nose? Or when they believe that you’re rich and miserly while you’re actually deep in debt to the record company (see below). And how many false friends will you gain? How many are just there for your reflected fame and money? How many will fade with your career?

If you play it right, it can be a great career with genuine fans who love your music and will follow you long after any fading glory. But be aware of the pitfalls. Don’t get swept away by the shiny baubles and snake oil salesman.

Drugs/money/girls/parties – If you want the drugs, there are easier ways I’m sure. Many musicians got into the drugs purely to keep going with the exhausting workload demanded by record companies promoting albums. Uppers to keep you going after days of 7AM radio interviews, a day of press interviews, and a gig and after party finishing at 4AM, in city after city. And then downers to get you to sleep after the jet lag, uppers and adrenalin.

Many girls (sorry to my female readers but for many male readers this is important) are attracted to fame. Most will fade away with the fame. It’s not love. If you’re happy with that, so be it.

As for money, the vast majority of bands (other than covers bands) lost far more money than they made. Equipment, transport, phone calls, etc. all cost money and many gigs don’t pay much or anything at all. If you get to a certain level you can make some money but certainly not enough for a rock and roll lifestyle. Even bands with record contracts, rarely make money.

In the “good old days” record companies fully expected 90% of their signings to lose money but it was worth it for the ones which made it. Most artists were dropped by the record company, still in debt (unrecoupable, which means they didn’t have to pay it back, but still a loss of money to the record company – I’ll go into more details in a later post).

Nowadays, record companies sign less artists, and they’re highly unlikely to sign you until you’ve done all the groundwork they used to do, which means now it’s your debt, not theirs. If you’re career doesn’t take off, you’re still left with that debt. Even if it does, although record companies tend to spend less that they used to, record sales make a lot less than they used to; so unless your career is sustained over 2 or 3 albums you may still end up losing money.

I don’t know the actual stats, but I think I can safely say that less than 0.01% of all wannabes actually make enough money to be considered successful by the masses.

It is however possible to have a career without involving the big boys which, may not make you rich, but might pay the bills And leave you a little extra for treats.

Avoiding the “proper job” – Many of us would love to quit the 9-5 (I did – yaaaay!). But it’s not all leather pants and groupies. It’s actually a really tough career until you reach the level of Madonna or the Rolling Stones at which point you are a legend and it becomes self sustaining. Of course there are rewards but nothing worthwhile comes easily.

If you are doing it all yourself, you will be putting in a lot of hours. See the list below for some of the things you will need to consider and work on. Unless you are already loaded (in which case, why are you doing a 9-5 anyway?) you won’t be paying other people to do this; it’ll be down to you.

If you’re signed to a record company it doesn’t get any easier. Sure they’ll do a lot of donkey work but they’ll still expect you in the studio 10 plus hours a day when recording. And once that’s finished you’ll be doing 7AM breakfast radio interviews, press interviews, photo shoots, video shoots, rehearsing, sound checking, TV appearances – breakfast TV and late night shows as well as day time TV. And you won’t just be doing this in one place. You’ll be flying/driving from city to city, hotel to hotel. You may not see home or family for months on end (even years). And if you think travelling the world sounds glamorous, don’t imagine you’ll have time to see any of it. The record company will have your days planned and timetabled as above. And once the tour finishes, it’s time to record the next album. The machine needs feeding. This is one reason why so many artists turn to drugs, just to keep them going.

Don’t get me wrong. Music can be a rewarding career in many ways. But very few ever reach the heights of One Direction (pass the bucket) or U2. So it’s better to go in with eyes open and realistic ambitions rather than expecting something you can never achieve. Certainly aim high. But do it with a hint of realism. And don’t forget to enjoy what you achieve along the way. Don’t sit crying because you didn’t get to number one this week, because you only sold a thousand records/CDs/downloads. Not many people can say they sold a thousand records. Learn to celebrate small achievements and enjoy the journey.

If you have specific questions you would like answered please feel free to get in touch. I’ll try to answer where possible. But for now, things I plan to cover (in no particular order) include:

  • Song writing skills – getting ideas, better chord progressions, better lyrics, better melodies
  • Arranging – what to do with all the instruments you have to make your songs interesting and have impact on the listener
  • The studio – how to record what you play and get the best out of the experience
  • Producers – what they do, how they get paid
  • Copyright – how to protect your ideas from others
  • Publishing / licensing – how to make money out of your songs – D.I.Y. versus the big (or not so big) boys, different avenues to pursue
  • Radio and plugging – how to get the public to hear your songs
  • Playing live and touring – how to get gigs, how to get paid for them, how to make them work for you
  • Online marketing – how to make Facebook and Twitter (and others) work for you
  • Record companies, A & R – how they work, what they can do for you
  • Contracts – how they work, what to look out for, what to ask for
  • DIY releases – how to do it, making money and making people take notice
  • Sponsorship – getting money from brands
  • Street teams – getting the word out
  • Film and TV music – big bucks can be made here, and it can be very long term, repeat income
  • International – why just promote your music locally when there is a big, wide world out there?
  • Club promotion – if your music is danceable, clubs might be the answer
  • Press packs – how to make them
  • Online services – which ones are worth it and how many should you use?
  • Building a following who are actually involved and invested – getting a thousand Facebook likes is easy, but how many actually interact with you?
  • Making the pitch – getting the people you need to listen to and respond to you
  • Guerrilla marketing – how to market without paying the big boys
  • Managers – what they do, whether you need one, how to find a good one

 

OK. That’s quite a list. It’ll take a while to get through it all so be patient. In the meantime, keep making music and see you next time.

 

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