There’s this voice in my head I call “Sassy-B”. Most of the time, what she says and thinks stays quietly in my noggin as it properly should (my husband gets to hear her annoying voice more than he’d like). Years of working with artists, listening to artists and watching them sabotage their dreams because of their own behaviors gets this Sassy-B pretty worked up. I’ve been documenting her thoughts. Here are her “Thirteen things artists pursuing a music career need to stop doing”. Straight out of Sassy-B’s mouth. I swear.
- Stop believing what everyone tells you. I'm talking about the good as well as the bad. Drunk people in bars will always tell you you're the best band they've ever heard. Producers who want your money will always tell you they can make you a star. Men who want to get you in bed will always figure out what you want to hear and then say just that...with sprinkles on top. On the flip side, haters are ALWAYS g'on hate. Some folks will tell you your songs are amazing, others will tell you they suck. Don't listen to anyone but your gut, your Supreme Being and your trusted team you have carefully assembled to surround you (see item #13)
- Stop chasing what other artists "are". Their sounds, their style, their brand, their songs. Find your own. Period. If you haven't already noticed, music goes through trends just like fashion and hairstyles. Pegged pants was all the rage in the 80's but shame on you if you wore them in the 90's (flares came back??). Not until the 2010's did pegged pants reappear, only now they are called "skinny jeans". Retro is cool but it has to be timed right. Adele, anyone? Even better is coming up with something NEW that NO ONE ELSE HAS DONE BEFORE. Imagine that? Combine the cacophony of musical influences in your soul to create something new. Did someone say Twenty One Pilots? Think outside of the box. Stop trying to be, sing, sound, act like someone else.
- Stop thinking of this as your "dream" and start thinking of it as your business. One of the most common things I hear from young artists hoping to "make it" in the music industry is some talk about "getting their music out there" and "hoping to get a record deal". Do the kids who want to be doctors "hope" to get through medical school? Do future scientists wait to be "discovered"? NO! So stop thinking of this as an "if it happens, it happens" scenario. MAKE it happen by thinking of yourself as an entrepreneur. Organize your business. Make a business plan. Make it happen. Does your plan require you to get a full time job in another field to support you while you are building your music business? Great! That’s not a “back up plan”. That is part of THE plan.
- Stop treating jobs/performances like they don't matter. Every time you are on stage, in a meeting, talking to a stranger in an elevator, posting on social media you are telling the world who you are "AS AN ARTIST". If you are performing at a lame-o free charity event that you were talked into doing by your mother and you give a half-assed performance, I guarantee you that someone in that audience will notice. And when they see your Kickstarter campaign or see your name as the opening act for a concert rolling through town, they will tell all their friends, "Oh, that girl/guy/band sucks. I saw them at the Po-Dunk city fair and they sucked bad."
- Don't expect to "be discovered" Did I already mention this? Gone are the days of singing in a coffee shop and the head of Sony A&R sees something in you and drops his business card. Even being discovered by a label or super hot pop star on YouTube is somewhat a thing of the past. There’s just so much noise out there. What you can do is make music, find fans that love your music and then worry about making great music that keeps them coming back for more.
- Don't record before you are ready If I had a nickle….I hate saying that but it is so true. Countless times I’ve been in a session with a singer who struggled with lyrics, timing, phrasing, pitch – the basics. Not to mention what usually happens when one records; nerves, unfamiliar environment, headphone mix isn’t right, grumpy engineer (never me!) or your dad glaring at you through the glass with that “Why do you suck so bad? Do you know how much this is costing me right now?” Or bands who book a studio for 3 days hoping to record an entire album worth of material (see #12) and quickly find that their rhythm section is loose, the guitarist doesn’t know his rhythm part (but you better believe he has that screamin’ solo down!) or whatever. The band is not prepared! And there are only 2 hours left in your 3 day block to record all the vocals in all 12 of your songs? And it’s 2 am? Grreeeeaaaaaaaaayyyyyyt. You may stumble through the song(s) but now you have a recording that is less than awesome. What good does that do you?
- Stop expecting other people to do the work for you. There is so much that you, the artist can do before you start looking for others to help (see #13 about building your team). It might simply be learning how to write better songs. Or studying the ins and outs of the music business so that you know how to create your plan, and then implement it. Artists who are “hoping” to be discovered will guaranteed be the ones who never even get close. I’m repeating myself.
- Stop expecting to navigate the music business without learning the music business. Do you know what a publishing deal is? Do you understand copyright law? Do you know what sync licenses are? All the information is out there (don’t believe everything you read on the internet for obvious reasons). Find reputable people and sources. There are a bunch of great books available that are all about the music business. Make sure it is recent (the music business is drastically different now than it was 10 years ago or even 5 years ago) and has a great number of positive reviews.
- Don't be a Diva This is directed towards singers. Singers, do you know that you have a bad reputation for being the prince/princess of the group? Don’t show up at a show 15 minutes before stage time when your band and production crew has been there for at least 2 hours setting up and sound checking. Don’t bring your boyfriend/girlfriend/friends to band practice. Don’t come to practice without warming up. Don’t come to practice and not know your music. Don’t leave practice without helping tear down the PA system or helping your drummer haul his kit to his car. Don’t leave after the gig and let your band take equipment down while you go grab a burger. You are a team. Even if you are the band leader, the artist that the band supports or whatever, without them you are just a singer singing in your bedroom. You need them and they deserve your utmost care and respect. Beyond that, know your music. Know how many bars (what does bar even mean?? Figure it out!) are in the bridge, or what does that drum fill sound like, or what is the guitar tone supposed to sound like. Know this about your music so that you can be in charge of your music and your sound and then respectfully direct your band. Don’t just shyly wander around the rehearsal space wondering what they are all talking about or wondering if they sound good. If you don’t know music, then learn it. Learn the lingo. I’m not talking about taking a music theory class at the community college either. That might be overload. But see if you can sit down with your musicians and listen as they rehearse. Take notes. If you hear anything that goes over your head, write it down and then ask one of them to help you understand. Make the effort and I guarantee you, your musicians will love and respect you for that.
- Stop being paranoid if people want to help you Yes, you need to be cautious. Actually, very cautious. The more you know the more confident you can be as you meet people in the industry and the less paranoid you’ll have to be. Assume everyone is wondering how they can capitalize on your talent. There’s nothing wrong with that! That’s what makes the spokes of the music business turn. If managers didn’t make money off of you, do you think they’d be at your shows till 1 am instead of with their families? If a record label didn’t make money off of you, do you think they’d invest money in marketing your products? So, it’s fine! Let people make money who do what they promise to do and that you need in order to move your business forward. What you absolutely have to do is KNOW this business so that you can detect people who are indeed looking to take advantage or rip you off. Because they are out there. In droves.
- Stop thinking you'll find good musicians who will want to play for free just because they "believe in you". Horse Poo. If you want the best musicians (and you do), you need to make it worth their while and pay them what they are worth. Run your business like a business not a bar band who plays for fun. Of course, if you find a great musician who declares their undying devotion to you and wants to play for free until you start making money, great! Get something in writing. Agree to a timeline so that no resentments build up. For example, they may be willing to play for free until you are making $1,000 per gig. Then they may want you to start cutting them in. Just agree to something, put it in writing and then be transparent with them. Nothing is better than having loyal, talented musicians.
- Stop making albums Follow the lead of the top artists of today. They are releasing singles. Sometimes those singles are also released on full length albums months down the road. But the mindset of “we need to record a full length album. We need $50,000. Aaaaa!” will only stall you. Take it a song at a time. Build your brand. Build your audience a song at a time. But the key is you must follow up your single with another single and then another and then another…consistency. If you don’t, people who liked you will forget about you. Be consistent and give them new material regularly.
- Build a trusted team of people around you. I know this is not a “stop” suggestion but a “do” suggestion. You need: co-writers, musicians, booking agent, manager, producer(s), studios, music attorney and mentors. Be patient with this! Finding these people takes time and work. And, you will need these team members at various stages of your career path, not all at the beginning. A good manager will have no interest in you until you are already booking your own gigs and creating your own momentum. Certainly, a record label won’t be interested in you until you already have a fan base with product. So, in the early stages, find co-writers, mentors, producers. Once you find a co-writer you write well with, a producer that “gets you”, a manager you trust, keep them close! Nurture those relationships! Never drop them because someone else came along and promised you roads paved in gold to stardom. Be loyal and honest and you will never want for loyal and honest partners in your business.
In a nutshell: Don't be dumb. Quit being naïve. Stop being jaded. Start being smart.