How to Make it in the Music Industry II
As a reminder from the first in this series, there is no cryptic message that only a select few are able to decipher in order to make it. Take a look at where you are at, an honest look. Then take a look at where you want to be. There is no one step to that goal. However, there are many logical steps along that path. Presently most metal bands say they want to be like Lamb of God. Not just because they like their music, but because of the success they have achieved, the following they have; they are the king of the mountain these days. Well, it didn’t just happen. LoG has been around since 1994, with the current members intact since 1998. Lamb of God does sell a lot of CD’s…now. They weren’t ranking in the Billboard 200 or making money from CD sales all this time though. That took a lot of will, drive and determination to push themselves for that length of time to get where they are today. Do you have that will? If you are in a band, do the other members of the band have that same will; that same drive and persistence?
Contributors to this chapter in the series of articles include:
So you have been playing shows and have a little bit of a following, a 3 song demo, your family and friends thing your songs are great and pump you up with compliments of how rad you are. You are on your way, it seems. Although you don’t have a lot of money and are only playing local shows, you can still get to the next level and the next and so on. Mikey Doling conveys that step one for any band or artist is to have ammunition. That ammunition is good music and to get that music distributed through any and all available outlets which means that you will have to essentially give music away, especially at first.
Yet if this is a business; most businesses don’t give away product for free. The business and how artists make money in the music industry has shifted. With a digital age and how music is received and heard, you can’t rely on record sales. Through itunes, Rhapsody, Amazon, etc. there is still that opportunity but it isn’t going to make you rich like back in the day. To sell CD’s is more difficult and everyone knows why. Not hard to discern that a song or songs can just be downloaded; usually illegally, for free, from buying a CD. What is the difference right? There is a huge difference as most recording artists know. Aside from the money loss to the artist, the quality of sound on a downloaded MP3 file versus the quality of a .wav file on a professionally produced CD is like comparing apples to oranges. As Wes Colony says, “John Q. Public doesn’t have that knowledge of the difference in quality.” And since the primary demographic of music consumers is the younger audience, it is even less likely they know or even care about the difference, as they have only known the download/digital world; unlike someone older, such as myself, that can recall 8-Tracks and vinyl then cassettes and just the progression of mediums. Since the world of music is what it is today, then the flow of money has to be focused elsewhere.
Colony states that the generation of money for newer artists for the time spent during the climb to the next levels is really through their shows, touring and merchandise. With the ability to reach more people via the internet and build a fan base nationally, even globally, therein lies opportunity to build your metaphoric stairway to heaven.
Since you have the promotional opportunites that acts of the past didn’t have and one of the main points that industry insiders have already conveyed, is that you have to build a relationship with your fans; then logically you have to tour. Touring for the greatest percentage of bands is not a luxury coach bus, with beds and lounges. Touring, for most bands is not all glitz and glamour. It is you and your band mates, stuffed in a van, showerless at times, for weeks on end, playing show after show; but if these are your business partners as well, and you share a common goal, then get out there and meet these fans that you have made. If you are in Southern California and there are a bunch of kids throughout Texas leaving you comments about how they wish they could see you live; you have to bring it to them, give them a chance to meet you, see you perform. Your fans are, and always will be, the backbone of anything you do in music. Without them, you are not going anywhere, regardless of how awesome you think your songs are. If you don’t have fans that share that thought, and have your back…you can jam in your garage with all that awesome music.
The thought of touring seems intimidating to some, exciting to others. If you can scrape up the money to pay for your gas the rest is even easier. There are networks of people; fans, industry associates, members of bands, all across the country that will give you a place to crash, to shower, and even eat at times. As you are making your trek to each show, you have to rely on merch sales for food money or sometimes even gas money to make it to your next show.
The value of getting out and doing shows outside of your local area is immeasurable. You are not only building that relationship with your fans, you are making new fans. You are also distributing your music. As for your band, it will give you all insight on the real chemistry you have and if you all have the same desire to really make it to where you want to go.
The whole is only as great as the sum of its parts. Most bands that are formed, especially at a young age, are by friends that have a common interest in music. They start jamming together and bring in others with the same dream. There comes a point where you have to treat your music and where you are going as a business if you are striving to get to the next level. Business can put a strain on friendships. If your band mates are friends or even if they aren’t; and are people that you would build a business with; you are off to a good start. Doling, who believes with passion in the art of music, had some thoughts to share when asked about the business vs. friendship issue as well as the topic of friendship vs. musicianship. Doling avers, “I believe chemistry is everything. And at times I will take chemistry over skill if it makes the art better.” He goes on to describe that there is a fine line. If the skill is lacking and the chemistry is replaceable, then that member(s) should be replaced. That was at the core of what I asked him. If everyone in the band is friends, sometimes there are band decisions that need to be made…they are business decisions. It may affect the friendship, but business is business. Mikey used an example of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, whom he is a fan of and in no way intends to disparage, but points to the singer. “Anthony Kiedis is not the greatest singer, but he writes some cool hooks that people connect with and the chemistry in that band is unmatched.” RHCP has been together for almost 30 years. There are MANY examples of the same, using any component of the band.
While it is an unreal expectation that all bands will be able to or have the personality to hit the high note in every aspect; good music, tireless promotion, putting on a good live show with stage presence, building relationships with fans, selling merchandise and so on. It is important that whatever you lack in one area is made up for in others. Swallow your pride in some areas, ask for help. Never underestimate the value of networking. The guy you meet at a show and maybe not even your show, that you think is just some random guy hanging out may introduce you to a friend of his and that friend may end up being the most valuable contact you make. He may be with a label. He may be a promoter, a producer, a booker, a graphic design artist, a sound engineer. But yes, he may be some random guy; either way, he is a potential benefit. Could be another fan. Could be someone that is going to help you in your rise to the top. But you don’t know unless you are out there. For those that read my HMM March Cover Story about The Changing, it is laden with how they made some key relationships and connections through introductions and networking.
Wes Colony, who is president of a label, told me quite openly that “If a band wants to generate interest from a label, these days they have to maybe get on a show with a band that is already with a label or that they know is already generating label interest.” Seems like a daunting task, but really it isn’t. Since I am in Southern California, I will use that “scene” as an example and undoubtedly it is universal. Although wide spread, and everyone may not know everyone else in the music scene, everybody can be connected a la Six Degrees of Separation. All those bands and all with the same goal, it is a competition, but a friendly one…use it to your advantage.
Billie Stevens and I had a long conversation about “perceived value.” When you are performing at a show and you tell the audience, “Check us out at myspace.com/kickassband” what are they going to see? Better yet, when you go to the manager of a club or venue that you want to play at, do you walk in and say, “What do we have to do to play here?” or are you going to present to him, “How bad do you want us to come in here and make the walls bleed at this place?” In order to achieve the latter, there has to be a perceived value. Sure, send him to your Myspace or other website or better yet, hand him a press kit. On your site, there needs to be the presentation that “Wow, this band has it going on,” which is more than just the 3 song demo on your media player. It is the appearance, whether through photos, fan testimonial, video and the layout, that your band is what the clubs patrons want and need. I pointed Stevens to a friend’s band Myspace page, as soon as it opened, he didn’t hesitate,“I would pay these guys to play at a venue.” And that was without hearing the music. Due to the way it was assembled, the quotes and testimonials from magazines or other websites, the videos, the pictures of them playing in front of an audience…there is the appearance that this band was going to bring heads in the door. Of course, as Blasko had previously told me, that perceived value does need to be backed up with demonstrated value as well. You believe you are a rock star and convince others you are, well get out there and show them you are. There is a difference between band practice and playing a show. Give the fans what they paid for…a show. Doesn’t mean you have to do cartwheels and blow things up, but have stage presence. As much as music is an art, a show is performance art. You can have good music on a CD. You play your show and it is four guys standing up there just playing the music that can be heard on the CD. Per Colony, labels are watching the crowd as much, if not more than, they are watching the band; how the crowd is reacting to your performance. The label has already heard your music so they know if is of interest to them, but they want to see how you are received by their consumers…the audience.
The pieces of the puzzle may not be any revelation to you so far and that is the point to what any industry insider I talk to relates. This isn’t a series that is necessarily going to give you secret information. Rather, as a reminder of taking a hard look at where you are going and the work it takes. In some instances, people just fall under a lucky star and the steps are few. Those occurrences are far fewer than the vast majority of artists who have to work endlessly for long periods of time to even make a ripple, much less a splash.
TO BE CONTINUED…