Look at the majority of artists you hear on radio, MTV or VH-1. Ever find yourself asking, “How on earth did they get a record deal?” or “Why are they so successful?” – many of us aspiring musicians do. Maybe I’m a bit bitter, but every time I see some by-the-numbers band making it big with nothing original to say, I get frustrated. Why are they successful and I’m not? It’s a fair question that many musicians ask.
The answer is something many aspiring musicians don’t want to hear – talent is far from everything. Online music resource sites are full of A/R guys’ stories about how a killer demo is what matters most, about how they toss the demo if it doesn’t grab them in the first thirty seconds. If that’s the case, how do so many hacks get record deals? It is true that there are virtuous A/R people who are all about the music, but obviously, judging by the current music mainstream, they are a dying breed. It seems when one good band gets big, every other label – and sometimes their own – come out with ten clones of that band and drive the sound into the dirt. It’s like lemmings jumping off of cliffs.
The way to have a successful career as a recording/performing artist – from what I’ve observed, I’m still quite firmly in the ‘aspiring’ catagory – is to have talent, yes, but no one will ever hear all that talent unless you find a way to get noticed. Basically, talent keeps fans coming back for more, but publicity gets the fans in the first place.
There are tons of publicity and management services out there, but really we don’t need them. What they offer are services any artist can do for free if they have the time and desire to do it themselves, and really – who do you want handling your image? You, our a person you hardly know?
The trick to getting noticed, to gathering a fan base to build from is going to be one of two things – you’re either going to play out a lot and tour as much as possible (Ani D.), or you’re going to find other ways to promote and spread your music. Being in a band with a singer who, for medical reasons, can’t leave her own house and hasn’t for 3 years has put me into the latter camp. Here’s what I’ve learned.
People want a story.
The music can be anywhere from incredible to cringe-inducing, but if there is an interesting or unique story behind it and those who make it, people will notice. Our original band had to record and compose on some pretty bad equipment, and compared to our gear and sound, now, it makes me want to disavow any knowledge of its existence, but our old website still gets fan-mail, still gets requests for CD’s. We of course turn them on to our new stuff, focussing on that direction, but the question still remains – why are people willing to give the time of day to music that was obviously composed and recorded on amateur equipment? Because we’re interesting, we have a story. Being a disabled and house-bound music duo gets attention. Sounds mercenary, I know. “So you’ll sell bad recordings on your disability alone?” No. They wouldn’t ask about buying music if they didn’t think it was good, despite the equipment’s flaws. If I wanted handouts for being a gimp, I’d make a ‘help feed my cats’ page asking for donations, and I’d feel like a bum doing it. But if being disabled gets heads to turn and people to take a moment they otherwise wouldn’t have to listen to my music, I’ll take it. The music will decide whether I succeed or not, whether they actually buy the CD.
The moral of the story is, there are literally thousands of bands out there fighting for a relatively small piece of the pie. Resting on the quality of your music alone won’t get you a bigger slice. It may not get you a slice at all. What makes you interesting? What makes you different and unique? Whatever it is, it’s your biggest asset and you should use it for all it’s worth. Stevie Wonder got noticed for being blind. He’s worth millions because he’s talented. Do you think he loses sleep knowing he got noticed because he’s blind? Nope. Artists with talent will float, artists who don’t will sink. That’s why so many bands you hear on radio or TV end up – deservedly – being one hit wonders. They were interesting enough to get a shot, but the talent wasn’t there.
Beauty, location, unique sound, life story, overcoming adversity, a strange day job… anything about you that stands out will help. Brittany Spears got where she is being pretty and dancing well. Bob Dylan got there by being intelligent and writing challenging lyrics, ugly as he may be. They continue to sell because someone – a lot of someones – think they’re good, whether you or I agree or not.
Talent will determine how far you can go once you get noticed, but first you have to /get noticed/. What do you have that makes you interesting?