By Cari Cole
As a musician today, you really are pure potential. There is nothing standing in your way. Not connections, not money, not time. And as an artist, you are THE most important thing that makes this industry tick. Without you, there IS no music.
So no matter what anyone tells you or how they treat you, YOU are the most important thing in the music business. You are the SOURCE. What it all revolves around. The music business is nothing without music. The music business is nothing without artists. The music business wouldn’t exist without = YOU.
That’s secret number 1.
But the industry will never tell you that. Matter of fact, they’ll kinda ignore you, tell you the opposite – that you need them more than they need you. You’ll get little to no acknowledgment, regardless of your best efforts. To be an independent musician is to experience a lot of closed doors. Yeah – that.
But there are some secrets to getting those doors to open because, in fact, they are looking for you – but there are certain requirements that without, you’ll be passed on, literally in seconds.
Last Spring I was in the office of a Sr VP of a label showing some of our artists. It was interesting to watch what perked his ears. We have a policy of showing the music w/o showing the brand — just have them listen. I think it makes them focus more – and purely respond. The first 3 artists we presented got major accolades from him. He was interested in working with the first two. But the 3rd one, he didn’t like — too generic — said he hears that all the time. And the 4th one he waved his hand no within 15 seconds of hearing one track. Why? Because it wasn’t on a high enough level, soundwise, hook-wise, lyric-wise — and they can hear it right away. I’ll write a whole ‘nother blog on that coming up this month ‘cause it’s an important subject.
HOWEVER, and this is what I want to focus on here — the point is not to make sure you have a “hooky” track to please them because it isn’t the “hook” it’s the whole nine yards. The point is to please yourself. To make the music you want to hear and not copy what is trendy. To raise the bar on our own artistry with no holds barred. To be so good they can’t ignore you.
And that’s what John Mayer did, and Alicia Keys, and Amy Winehouse and Beyonce and Green Day, and all artists who are serious.
So whether you’re looking for a better booking agent, a manager you’ve had your eye on, or a label that speaks your language, you’ve got to have the goods. Period. That’s your REAL job.
Here are my 3 Secrets to Make Your Fans Obsessed with Your Music.
1. You Are What the Industry is Looking For.
You ARE what the industry is looking for. You MUST know that – first and foremost. But you’ve got to work your ass off, work your craft, harder than you ever have — so when their eyes fall on you — you’ve earned it.
Action: Commit to your craft. 6 days a week. Vocalize, shed your scales, work your instruments, become a great musician. 2-3-4-5-6 hours a day. Do it. Your favorite musicians did. No one gets away with not doing it so you might as well get going – right now.
2. Stand Out Don’t Fit In.
Now, listen up — the industry is not going to tell you this one. They are going to tell you that you have to write a “hit” and then proceed to tell you what that is. A 3:15 min song with a tempo over 120 and memorable melody that people can sing along to and tap their feet to, that makes you want to hear it over and over again. They won’t tell you to stand out – they’ll tell you to fit in. But what they really want, is artists who stand out. It’s just that the way you stand out, is exceptional work, not like a sore thumb.
It’s true, the industry often sends artists down the wrong path. And artists often end up second-guessing themselves so badly, they lose what was good or unique about them in the first place. It’s tricky.
The only way to write hits “industry style” with any real style – like Sia, Bruno Mars, Sara Bareilles, Katy Perry, Bon Iver, James Bay, Adele, Ryan Tedder, Jesse J, Dan Wilson, Trenton, Julia Michaels, Justin Tranter, or Sam Smith — is by first cutting your teeth on 1000+ songs, learning the rules so you can break them effectively, and by becoming a bonafide, pro songwriter. Because only then — once you know the innards of great structure, have put in boatloads of hours to get that pro experience, can you write without “forcing” it.
Sam Smith explained it best in his 2015 Grammy-winning speech after sweeping the night with 4 Grammy awards. He went through this very thing. Had the team, the money, the label – everything an artist wishes for—and he still couldn’t make it —- until he did one thing. Fired everybody and made the music that was in his soul. Sam Smith didn’t find his genius until he stopped trying to make music for the industry and started making the music that he wanted to hear – the music only he could make. A record about being lonely, gay, and single in London. His heart was kind of – well – breaking. And he wrote about it. He didn’t cave to writing “hits”, he went inside and wrote his truth. This took a lot of courage and a big risk, because he didn’t know for sure if he was doing the right thing. He just got so fed up and was so sick and tired of making music that he hated, that he couldn’t do anything else. The result of that decision earned him 4 Grammys, Billboard success, and songs that went instantly viral on the airwaves. All because he had the courage to follow his inner voice and make the music he had to make.
The single biggest challenge for most artist-writers and songwriters is to write music that has roots and at the same time is relevant to music today. But it’s done every day, by superstars. You can do this.
Action: Write your ass off. Write a song a week for a year. Co-write as much as you can. You’ll get good too if you keep at it. We’ve got a Songwriting Program coming up where you can flex your songwriting muscles… Do it.
3. Get Yourself In the Business, Instead of On the Outside Looking In.
The biggest downfall of the indie revolution has been the message that you can do it all yourself. It’s a lie. Not true. Yeah, for the first time in the history of recorded music you can put your own music out, but that doesn’t mean anyone will hear it, or that you will find enough success to do it full time. And it’s costly to put out your music, so the investment can be a big setback. Then what do you do?
The key, and this is a big one, is to find your industry peeps – the ones you dig. Because most artists like to hang with creatives, musicians, songwriters, other artists, producers, music creators — not business people. They even kind of have an aversion to straight business people. Kinda like oranges and apples. I think the best bet is to find industry peeps who aren’t cynical but are experienced, and that are, or were, musicians first. You’ll build better relationships. Cause you need industry peeps to help you get there. Takes one to know one.
Action: Who’s one industry peep you can reach out to connect to? Do it. Now.