You Don't Have to be a Star to Survive in Music
(This is a reprint of an article I wrote for The Music Connection Magazine a few years back)
Artists have to persevere through a lot of obstacles on the way to stardom. What if you were to change your expectations? What if you were able to figure out ways to become successful without the trappings of becoming a rock star?
- Lowering Your Expectations. There are many ways to skin a cat and you don't HAVE to be a rock star to survive in the music business. There is plenty of room for writers, producers, engineers, session singers, A & R and other label positions. Your knowledge and work ethic can take you a long way if people in high places are aware of your intentions. In the old days, everyone wanted to be a star. These days the vehicles for stardom such as American Idol have stringent parameters such as age and looks. So let us concentrate on the songwriting aspect.
- You don't have to look great to be great as a songwriter. Okay, no one ever said that the music business isn't shallow and lacking sensitivity when it comes to the way people look and how old they are. This is why it is important to develop skills that will enable you to work in the business for a long time. Great writers can always write for others. There is no 17-to-29 limitation for a great songwriter. You write the song and let the 25-year-old rock star-to-be go out on the road and make it a hit. In other words, you can be the master of your own domain. You have the talent to write a song that connects and the young star-in-waiting has to go out on the road and make that song connect with an audience. Once the song makes it to record, you are a viable entity and the artist has to put their name and reputation on the line to make their career happen.
- Making People Aware of your Talent. It is never easy to make people see what you are capable of when there are so many trying to do the same things you are. How can you stand out? For starters, make sure the quality of your work is top rate. It's not always easy to judge yourself. Most writers like to play the "I can see my song fitting with Justin Timberlake's on the radio" game. It doesn't work that way. Your song HAS to be better and then maybe someone will check it out. You must set the bar higher than the current standard.
- Don't get stuck playing what if. Writers love to play games with themselves like "I can hear Justin Timberlake singing my song," or "This song would be perfect for Hillary Duff." I hate to play devil's advocate, BUT it is very rare you can get your song to these artists based solely on merit. You will run into so many roadblocks going through traditional routes like management, record labels, A & R guys. These people have tons of GREAT songs sitting unopened in boxes. There are services like TAXI out there perusing your material and once in awhile are able to land a song with one of the above-mentioned entities. The only problem is that they are pitching songs the same way other "professionals" are. In other words a company like TAXI may get 1000 songs to pitch to the same project and publishers, producers and top writers are pitching to the same people. So if one-out-of-1000 submissions makes it through the staff at TAXI and it gets to the right person for an album submission, it has to compete against the usual submissions from associates, etc. You are better off meeting the artist at a carwash and handing them a CD.
- What you can do. The best thing to do if you are a promising hit songwriter is to be prepared for your break. Instead of hustling mediocre material around, develop a great arsenal of songs so that when you are at that party and you meet the producer of a record you would like to submit a song for, you will have a huge weapon in your holster when you get the guy's business card. Develop the relationship and don't worry about immediate results. If you befriend an important music business associate, you may have something ready when the need arises. You will be in the loop. That is much more powerful than having someone say "nice song, but not right for this project."
- Don't Spin Your Wheels. Try not to bombard the town with your material. It actually pisses people off to see too many CDs by the same writer all the time. This is one of those occupations when being a pest will NOT help you. A lot of writers send so many songs out these companies will recognize the packaging or the name on so many submissions, they will likely stop listening and stick it in the box. This is why it is good to develop relationships and have people who are expecting your songs receive them and give them the proper attention. I've worked at music business companies and they "HATE" unsolicited stuff. I was the one who had to sift through the packages at Rhino Records in the early 80's. I doubt things have changed much since then when it comes to unsolicited material.
- Who WILL listen? You need to network. You need to get your face out there before these people ever hear a note. Make as many friends on this planet as you can. EVERYONE knows someone who you can eventually hook up with, but if you sit there in your room all alone, you won't make the contacts that will advance your career. Let me ask you one thing. Has your way worked in the past? If not, just try another method of making the music business a worthwhile occupation to pursue.