Music Biz Tips 2-24-17: User Friendly

There is a fine line between being a friend and being used. Learn to tell the difference, in this business it can be the most difficult thing to do.

You’ve heard me say it a million times, this is a relationship business. You have to have them to succeed, however, building those real relationships is very difficult in a world where everyone is chasing the same thing. I don’t think that people necessarily mean to, but the fact is that the competition level in this business often turns real relationships and friendships into people just using each other to get what they want and get ahead, often leaving the friendship in the wake of their success.

I have always tried to operate with the understanding that a rising tide raises all ships and mutually achieved success is still success, but I’m in the minority. This is a “Me” business, not a “We” business. You will save yourself a lot of time and heartache on your journey if you can grasp the concept of the music business ladder. Everyone is climbing the ladder. There are people on rungs above you and below you and even some on the same rung you are presently on. The traffic on this ladder really only goes one way, up! Nobody wants to move down the ladder. If you are on your way up, building relationships, trying to make your mark, don’t be surprised when you go to reach for the next rung that it’s been sawed off by a “Friend”.

I’m not saying don’t try to make friends and build relationships, I’m saying be very cautious and don’t allow yourself to be used. Friendship by definition should be mutual, both parties acting for the betterment and well being of the other. It’s ok to expect your friends to act like friends. If its a business relationship and you are using each other for what each person brings to the table, then let that be known up front and that there are no real feelings attached to the relationship. It’s ok to be like a puzzle. A puzzle doesn’t have feelings and it doesn’t get attached. A puzzle is simply different pieces that come together and fit to complete an objective, a complete thought or picture. You will run across others in your journey that have pieces of the puzzle that you don’t and vise versa. That is the basis for collaboration and relationship, but not always friendship. You’ll see the difference when you run out of pieces. How do others treat you then, is your presence as valuable as when you brought something to the table?

Always remember, this is not “Music”, which is all inclusive and team oriented by nature, this is the “Music BUSINESS”. Business is cut throat and more about individual achievement progress.

You can say that I’m just being pessimistic, but I’m not. I’m being honest and truthful about this business and how it works. Your time, talent and passion are valuable commodities, you should invest them wisely. There is nothing that will kill your passion more quickly than when you invest in something or someone and get absolutely nothing return. The plain fact in life is that there are givers and there are takers and to be honest, you have to do a bit of both to succeed in music, but if you give as much or more than you take you can stay even with the system. Takers can spot a giver from a mile away, so be cautiously aware of the environment you’re plunging head and heart first into.

I encourage you to be a part of changing the mold. When you find yourself on the ladder moving your way up, instead of sawing off the rungs below you to keep others from catching up, reach down and offer a hand. You’ve heard the saying, “It’s Lonely At The Top”, that why. People have burned so many bridges and used so many people to get where they are, that when they get there they have nobody to share it with or enjoy it alongside. Be true to who you are, find others with pieces of the puzzle that you don’t have and be willing to share the pieces you have that others don’t, but do so with a cautious optimism and understanding of the difference between true friendship and loyalty and being used.

-Steve

*If you have a topic that you would like me to discuss or something you want to know more about, just let me know! Visit the Contact page, send me a message or find me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram @thestevefreeman! For more Music Biz Tips be sure to Subscribe and get them delivered to your email.

Music Biz Tips 2-17-17: Boxes

We all find comfort in boxes. They are a safe place to store things and we can label them to know exactly what’s inside. When talking about moving from one house to another, that’s a great thing, it takes the guesswork out of unpacking, but is it a great idea for your career in music as an artist or songwriter to put yourself in one?

I always encourage the artists I produce and do artist development for to NOT put themselves in a box and label yourself. Why say “I’m a country singer” or “I’m pop artist”? Isn’t music today too subjective for boxes and labels, I certainly think so. One mans pop or country may not be the next mans pop or country.

I am a firm believer in letting the audience and your fan base put you in the box THEY feel most comfortable with. I don’t think it’s the artists’ job to dictate to the fan what or who they are. Your fans do not care about genre, they care about music they like and research has shown that there are really only 2 formats these days, music people like and music people don’t. To prove this, try turning on your radio, as painful as it may be and spend 30 minutes changing stations. I bet you will find mostly the same songs across all stations. The pop stations are playing country and the country stations are playing pop. If you stopped the random person on the street and asked to see their iTunes library, you’ll find that people aren’t loyal to a format, they are loyal to songs they like. You’ll find playlists with Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Chance The Rapper, Bon Jovi, Daya, The Chain Smokers, Tim McGraw, Beyonce, Thomas Rhett, Lady GaGa, Metallica and just about every other combination you can come up with.

When we refer to something being “outside the box”, it means that although outside its confines, there is still a box to refer to. Why not get rid of the box altogether and start your relationship with your fans with absolutely no preconceived notions. Even saying, “Look at me, I’m outside that box”, still points to the box. It seems every time something new hits in music people rush to classify its success as being “Outside the box” and there is never a shortage of statements from A&R reps saying that they are looking for something different, despite the fact that after saying that, the artist always comes out with a new album that most of the time is exactly like their previous albums and could in no way be classified as different or they sign a new act that is obviously a replacement or replication of something that has been successful in the past, there’s nothing new, different or outside the box about them.

When you do find something that is truly outside the box, it’s usually from the independent artists who are willing to and have the ability to not label themselves and be truly creative in the process of making music. They don’t have the label fighting against them trying their hardest to take the artists work and stuff it in a box they think they can sell. Most of the artists you hear on the radio now, that are having success that you would classify as different, were independent artists that struggled to not label themselves, let their fans define them and ultimately play the biggest role in their success. The labels then see the hard work and successes of those artists’, they swoop down, sign the artist and capitalize on it. Labels don’t invest in different up front, they can’t afford to. They like nice, safe investments that are guaranteed a return based on previous results. But, you have to be just different enough to stand out! It’s a balancing act for sure. I do know this though, if you start out labeling yourself, you are more likely to hear “We already have enough of that”.

So whether you goal is to get signed by a major label or be a successful independent artist, be moldable. Let the label or your fans decide where to put you. They are ultimately in charge. We’ve all heard the saying, “You can’t fit a square peg in a round hole”, so my advice to you is don’t tell people you are a square peg or a round peg. Let them put the puzzle together on their own and decide where the pieces go. There is something magical and special about fitting in anywhere. Be the Swiss Army Knife of artists’, be capable and proficient in several styles and don’t put yourself in a box you might never make it out of! Make sure that no matter what people are looking for, they can always find you!

I get why we do this, because it makes us feel safe, secure and makes us feel apart of something specific and larger than ourselves. You feel like you are joining a fraternity or sorority, but please always remember, if you are looking for safe and secure, you are in the wrong business. The music business is neither. Country artists want to be pop stars because the pop audience is bigger which means more exposure, more record sales and larger tours. Pop artists want to be in country because the fan base is historically loyal, small in comparison, but loyal and there is a much better chance of being a big fish in the small country music pond.

In closing, I advise you to not pick a lane, be the highway. Don’t pick a horse, bet on every horse in the race and don’t put yourself in a box, place yourself on the shelf for others to see and decide for themselves where to put you!

-Steve

*If you have a topic that you would like me to discuss or something you want to know more about, just let me know! Visit the Contact page, send me a message or find me on Twitter and Instagram @thestevefreeman! For more Music Biz Tips be sure to Subscribe and get them delivered to your email.

Music Biz Tips 2-10-17: Sizzle or Steak?

Talent without the tiring and continued pursuit of excellence in your craft as a performer, vocalist and musician is like having a really fast car with an empty tank. It may look impressive, but once you scratch the surface and get right down to it, it just looks good and won’t beat anyone in a race.

Is developing a fanbase important, yes. Is establishing a solid social media presence important, yes. Is building your brand important, yes. Are any of these things more important than being a seasoned, practiced craftsman, NO! If you think so, even if you find some level of success, you’ll be a fad, not an artist.

So many young people are coming into the music business with such a skewed view of importance and misplaced priorities. They want to be popular, they want to be famous, they want all the attention, they want it to happen right now and most of the time are more concerned with the number Instagram followers they have than the number of songs they can play in front a live audience before they lose interest. Having a large following is certainly a part of building your career, but what are you building on, whats your foundation. Unless that foundation is being a great performer, songwriter and artist that takes the time to understand the the craft is what matters and it isn’t great because someone hits the “Like” button on social media, then you are building on sand.

Sitting in a room rehearsing for hours on end every single day, playing guitar or piano till your hands ache, singing until you lose your voice, creating a set list and putting together a show, picking songs, being willing to write 100 bad songs till you get to a good one, playing to a hundred empty rooms just for the experience and doing it all behind the scenes and with nobody watching or cheering you on is not the fun, exciting, glitz and glamour, in the spotlight part of this business, but until you’ve done those things, until you’ve tried and failed miserably you are nowhere near ready for what this business has in store for you. If you aren’t as good as your competitors, you’ll lose. Sure some people get lucky, but lucky doesn’t last. You have to allow yourself the time to develop your talent and hone your craft. Just because you can sing, doesn’t make you a singer. Just because you can play an instrument doesn’t make you a performer and just because you can do both doesn’t make you a viable artist. It’s how well you do both consistently that matters.

There is no excuse for not being the best you can be right now. Everyone grows, everyone learns and gets better with time, but if you can’t seriously look at yourself and say that you are the absolute best you can be right now, then you aren’t ready. Get yourself to that point and then worry about “Making it”.

This business is not all photoshoots, music videos, interviews, recording studios and red carpets. Most of the work is done behind the scenes and without glory. It’s long on struggle and short on success. Those things are the fun part of this business, but doing them doesn’t make you a great artist or worthy of anyones attention. Before you get in the habit of asking “What’s Next”, make sure you are ready for it. Make sure that when when people scratch your surface they find something real, authentic, polished, battle tested, seasoned and worthy of their patronage and hard earned attention. You owe it to them to be the best version of yourself.

Remember, developing as an artist is not about picking out your strong points and highlighting them, it’s about identifying your weaknesses and making them stronger so that the steak tastes better than the sizzle smells!

-Steve

 

*If you have a topic that you would like me to discuss or something you want to know more about, just let me know! Visit the Contact page, send me a message or find me on Twitter and Instagram @thestevefreeman! For more Music Biz Tips be sure to Subscribe and get them delivered to your email.