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Music Marketing

Posted By Rick Goetz on July 6th, 2013

A blog for musicians and music industry people. It is a free educational resource and it is also the way I advertise my music consulting services. I am an entertainment professional with deep roots in the music industry. Throughout my music career I have been a major label A&R representative, a music supervisor, an artist manager, a reality show producer, a bass player and the head of a digital record label.

 

You Are Viewing music as a career

Jake from Semisonic, on Trusting Your Intuition

Posted By Rick Goetz on August 1st, 2013

This is a re-post of a conversation I had with former Semisonic drummer Jacob Slichter and is one of the very first interviews I conducted for this website. 

 

I was fortunate enough to meet with Jacob Slichter, the drummer from Semisonic and the Author of So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star: How I Machine-Gunned a Roomful of Record Executives and Other True Tales from a Drummer’s Life.  Jake is actually the first person I interviewed that I didn’t know whatsoever before interviewing, but I found his book so accurate and intriguing that I tracked him down.

 

Jake-music-business

Jake talked to me about his experiences playing drums and songwriting for a successful touring and recording band, why he was inspired to write his book and how the music industry has changed in the past 20 years.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Jake, First of all thanks for your time.  I guess let’s start at the beginning or close to the beginning.  What was it like at the time getting the attention of label guys in 1993-94 for Semisonic?  What did you do correctly to get their attention?

 

JS:

 

We (Dan and John) already knew them through Trip Shakespeare. Trip Shakespeare had been signed to A&M Records years earlier, so they had gone around and met A&R people from various labels, and so by the time Semisonic came along they knew a bunch of people who had all traded labels and were on the carousel of A&R people. So, number one, they already knew them.

 

Number two, we made really good-sounding tapes. I think also our biggest advantage was also our biggest disadvantage, which was that we were swimming against the tide at the time stylistically. Really at that time the landscape was dominated by Nirvana and then everything that was in that end of the spectrum – dark, angry, huge, amazing music that we were never going to be able to make. We weren’t interested in making it; it just wasn’t who we were, even though we were huge Nirvana fans.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Talk to me about that. Did you feel like there was ever a temptation to say, “Hey, maybe we should knock that off”?

 

JS:

 

We just never could’ve pulled it off. Never in a million years. It would just have been stupid to try. I think a lot of bands did try, and some of them did a fairly good job. There were a few bands that took the Nirvana direction and did great with it. We were never going to be that, and early on we realized that. I think when we were dealing with A&R people, ours were some of the few tapes that were bright pop music when all the A&R guys were looking for the next Nirvana. So our tapes stood out, and I think that helped us get attention. I think they were good tapes, and that was probably the main thing. Dan is just a really great songwriter, and I think we had pretty concise arrangements, and it sounded like radio-friendly music, so I think that also helped. I think the fact that we sounded as poppy as we did really made us unappealing to a number of labels, like Interscope. We had an A&R person there who really liked our tapes, but she knew it was really swimming against the tide of where the label was at. So she very wisely said, “Hey, this won’t be the place for you. If I sign you, you’ll just be buried.”  So we ended up really with two labels that were most interested in us – MCA and Elektra.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

I guess that was a tough ride through that first album cycle. That must’ve been really difficult on your interpersonal relationships. I know a lot of bands break up over that first record, because they’re pushing you at breakneck speeds, etc.

 

JS:

 

I don’t know that they were pushing us at a breakneck speed, but we were going around the country. It wasn’t a strain on band relations anymore than any kind of touring is. Just being on the road with people is stressful. You don’t have a lot of personal space, so that’s why it’s such a strain. The band felt pretty tight, personally I think after that first album. I was frustrated, but I think Dan and John were kind of used to this because they’d been through it with Trip Shakespeare. I was kind of on a learning curve about how disappointment works in the music business. I probably took it the hardest. Actually everyone probably took it hard in their own weird way. I took it hardest in the sense that I probably was the most believing that the first record was going to break through. I always thought FNT would’ve done it. That was always my thought, but we’ll never find out.

 

Dan had written a bunch of songs, and I think it’s natural to feel disappointed when it’s the music you write. And John had been on the road for years with Trip Shakespeare, so I know he felt disappointment after that. And we all really felt proud of the record.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

You toured with a lot of bands, played with a lot of bands. You were on tour for about ten years.

 

JS:

 

On and off, sometimes 200 plus days out of the year.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Of the people you met, was there a defining or unifying quality of the ones who made it vs. the ones who didn’t?

 

JS:

 

It’s hard to say. Not necessarily. There weren’t many bands that we toured with that I didn’t think were pretty damn talented on one level or another.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Talent is an X factor but were there personal habits of successful artists?

 

JS:

 

There were all different shapes and flavors in terms of personalities, etc. But there has to be a ruthlessness of commitment. You can be a very nice person on the outside and still have that. I think they all had that. It’s more than drive. It’s a belief on some level in your own intuition. That’s the hard thing about the music business. You can only really make good things if you are trusting your own intuition. But in the end it’s not your own intuition that matters, it’s someone else’s. So I think people get kind of hung up trying to tap into the intuition of the masses. It generally never produces great music. I think a lot of people think that massively popular music is made with the public in mind. I don’t think so. It’s made by people that have intuitions that are very much like what the public’s intuition is at the moment. But I don’t think you can do it by trying to guess where everyone else is at. I think you really have to commit to a belief. And if you’re lucky, the stars align and you make it. So that’s what I would say they have in common – a ruthless belief in their own intuitions. Some of them I was kind of amazed at how wrong they obviously were, and there might be some cases where eight months later that band was rocketing to the top of the charts or having some form of success come along.

 

Our first record sold 30-some thousand records, but in the universe of rock records it was pretty successful. It got written up in all kinds of places. So I think our whole experience was one that was a privileged existence in the world of rock.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

You got to take the ride while there was still a mechanism.

 

JS:

 

They were putting money into it back then.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

What’s your philosophy on social networking?

 

JS:

 

I don’t understand it. I’m a Facebook member. I don’t use Twitter, and I don’t understand why anyone would be interested in what I Twitter, and I am not really interested in what other people Twitter. I was interested in the Iranian uprising, reading the Twitters when you couldn’t get news coverage. But, “Hey everybody, I’m going to Colorado to go skiing” or “Hi everybody I just had stuffed grape leaves for lunch” … I think they’ll figure it out, and they probably already have. Twitter and Facebook, since I know about them can’t possibly be the cutting edge of where this stuff is. They’re always catching up. I don’t think it’s possible to say, “What would’ve happened with Semisonic if we had been around when Twitter was around?” We would’ve been a different band.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

I was curious if you had used them extensively, but if you haven’t …

 

JS:

 

I think the thing I would have to say there is, you have to have a really clear idea of who you are, and then you have to have a really clear idea of who you think wants to hear or read what you’re up to. The social networking just gets plugged into that knowledge. Even faking requires a bit of self knowledge and knowledge of who you’re faking out and what they want to be faked out about.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Were you writing this book the whole time, or was this something you did completely in retrospect?

 

JS:

 

I wasn’t thinking as I was writing the road diaries, some of which got incorporated into the book, “This could be a book.” All I was thinking was, “Well, if I can’t write as many songs as Dan, maybe I’ll write some road diaries and get my writing up in that way.” And then once we decided to press the pause button, I said, “OK, I have to write a book.  That will be my next thing.”

 

Musician Coaching:

 

What was the experience of re-purposing a musician’s skills to a different commodity?

 

JS:

 

What did I learn by being a musician that I applied to getting a book deal? It’s all the same stuff.  To get a non-fiction book deal you have to submit a book proposal. And a book proposal is very much like a demo – “Here are the things I’m going to be talking about, here’s a sample chapter, here’s my outline, here’s who I think I’m talking to,” etc.  It’s very similar to music because whether writing a book proposal or submitting a demo, they serve different purposes to different people.  For a band or an author, a book proposal or a demo is like a map – “Here’s where I’m going, here’s what I’m going to do.” If I feel like I’m getting lost, I’ll come back and consult this and think about what my original intent was and just try to stay on track with that idea.  For a publisher or a record company, these things serve a very commercial purpose – “How are we going to market this thing?” These are things most bands aren’t really thinking about.  I almost think you shouldn’t think about them. You should try to focus on making the clearest thing that is truest to your vision.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

More often than not now when I read about an artist I’m reading about their marketing and not their music.

 

JS:

 

I think that’s the era we live in. Some people are really good at it, so if they are good at it, why shouldn’t they? But I think you do run the risk of getting off target.  That’s one reason I don’t really talk about what I’m writing. I don’t want to get into thinking about who’s going to read it and what their reactions are going to be.  I just have to sort of go away in my head and write it. It’s either going to be accepted or not, but I have to cross the finish line in my own mind along the path that I set out on, not someone else’s.  I know a lot of bands that say, “Here’s our marketing strategy.” If you’re marketing strategy is more interesting than your music, you’re really in pretty big trouble. And maybe you shouldn’t be a musician. Maybe your real gift is to be an A&R person.  There’s a kind of magic to that – how to put together musicians with people that are going to like the music. And figure out in the flow of the world, how is all this going to work? That’s an important decision. I get e-mails from a few bands that send out these really dazzling e-mails and have all these bells and whistles around their promotion, but the bottom line is, the music is just not that great. If I want really great bells and whistles about something, there are all kinds of fun Web sites where I can waste time. If I want music, I’m not so interested in how well a band markets itself. I’m only interested in the music. I think everybody else is pretty much the same.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Would you say as Semisonic was winding down, the landscape had become competitive?

 

JS:

 

No. We started out in the grunge era, and then there was a softening of the radio that happened right before “Closing Time” was released where there were things like “Bittersweet Symphony” by the Verve and “Brick” by Ben Folds 5. “Closing Time” sailed through that open moment. And then it got as soft as N’Sync and Backstreet Boys and then it took a hard turn back towards Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and Korn – really loud impressive music. And our last record came out in that era, and it was not an alternative rock record. Our record company thought it was, and we were unclear ourselves. Regardless, I just don’t think it was the right time for that record. I really think that’s what it was about. I think we were lucky with “Closing Time” and our other two records had a lot of great songs on them, but just weren’t lined up with where people’s heads were.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

What changes have you noticed in the way the industry functions or in the way we consume media?

 

JS:

 

One change I see is that people conceive of coming up with one great song as the arc of their band’s life. I think that’s a little more possible with YouTube. You make a cool YouTube thing, and you may not ever see another great YouTube from that same band, but that’s fine. People go on and make another one. I think that may be one thing we’re heading towards; instead of having an enduring band identity you break off and do other things.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Some combination of the singles model vs. what movie studios do with other combinations of producers, directors and actors.

 

JS:

 

One great thing about the music business now is that it’s so much cheaper to record that you don’t really need the studio. Most people don’t. They are at home, have their computers and are making recordings that 15 years ago would’ve cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. There’s probably a lot more music you can get to right away, but that makes your job harder as to how you’re going to weed through it. I think they’ll figure it out eventually. I don’t know how, but maybe someone with really cool tastes will gain followers and point out what’s good. I think one thing about the Internet is that it seems to me that there’s more impermanence. Things are more fleeting.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

So people will only get 15 seconds of fame rather than 15 minutes?

 

JS:

 

I never bought the 15 minutes thing. Many people have been famous way longer than 15 minutes.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

What do you make of the fact that there hasn’t been anyone that has risen to icon status in the last decade or so?

 

JS:

 

Give it time. I do think someone’s going to come along and think of the perfect way to think of the perfect way to exploit all the things the internet has to offer. It’s complicated, it’s tricky and it’s always changing. There are so many things you can do with it. That just makes it harder.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

What do you make of the pay-as-you-will Radiohead premium model?

 

JS:

 

An important thing to consider in the case of Radiohead – I think it’s awesome they did it – is the way they got to it was in part by being a major label band. What I’d like to see is, who will be the first band that will rise up from the Internet with no label backing?

 

Please check out Jacob’s book “So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star: How I Machine-Gunned a Roomful of Record Executives and Other True Tales from a Drummer’s Life”

How to Promote Music in a Niche Market

Posted By Rick Goetz on July 17th, 2013

Musician and writer Matt Fanale is the founder of the industrial band Caustic and creator of the Failing Better blog, dedicated to offering advice to musicians about how to survive as a musician in the modern music industry. He got his start in the music industry working as a Goth/industrial promoter and DJ while majoring in film at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. After finding success within the industrial scene and creating the Reverence Music Festival, he decided to launch his own project, Caustic in 2002. Using the contacts he made booking bands across the country as members of his “rotating band of freaks,” he started regularly playing shows and releasing music and was eventually picked up by Metropolis Records. Matt has performed worldwide with popular industrial bands like Atari Teenage Riot, Combichrist, KMFDM, Grendel, God Module, Faderhead and many more. He started the Failing better blog as a way to share his on-going experiences in the music industry with other artists to help them learn to better navigate it and find success doing what they love.

 

MattFanale     

 

Matt talked to me about his experiences creating a name for himself and building a global fan base in the niche industrial music scene. He also talked about the importance of tenacity in the current music business and shared some advice about how artists can create a flexible marketing plan.

      

Musician Coaching:

 

Thanks for taking the time to talk, Matt. How did you get started with music?

 

MF:

 

I didn’t start out playing music. I started out as a DJ and then moved up to promoting shows here in Madison, WI. It’s a college town, so it’s a relatively small scene for everything. But I was fortunate that I jumped into the Goth/industrial scene here at a time when everyone else had burned out. By the time I was booking shows, everyone else here that had been promoting shows either for the University of Wisconsin, Madison or privately had become really jaded and cynical. I had a lot of enthusiasm, because I thought it was really awesome that a) I was able to even do it and b) I was able to do it well enough that I was breaking even/not losing anything on a show. The bands and the crowds were both having a great time. And when you’re doing smaller shows, breaking even means you were a success.

 

Then I moved up to promoting my own festival, which I did for about seven years. It was a pretty small event with a couple hundred people called The Reverence Festival, and we’d have our friends come out and have a great time. I built up a pretty nice reputation for that as well.

 

When I finally got around to making music, I had a ton of contacts through booking and knowing people who played music.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

It’s interesting that you didn’t start out as a musician.

 

MF:

 

Yeah. I didn’t start out as a musician at all. I was a visual artist and ended up at University of Wisconsin as a film major. And then I started writing a lot, but I never officially did it until I started blogging, which is obviously a lot different from other types of writing. But I’ve explored a lot of different creative avenues.

 

I was a DJ and also was booking shows, then got into a lot of different software. And we had a really vibrant music scene here at the time with some artists who were also doing really well outside the local area. It was inspiring to see that you could be from this place and accomplish a lot of you had tenacity. That’s something I’ve always tried to blog about and talk about:  You really have to stick with it and never give up if you want to succeed. No matter what your definition of success is in the music industry, the key to it is to never give up and always keep pushing to find different ways to make music.

 

When I started playing music, it was really raw and basic. I was performing little noise fests. Music was in quotes a lot. I started building up and was really able to start getting my footing, because I figured out how to talk to people; I used my sense of humor and also could write clearly. And I actually also have 20 years as an improv performer. I knew I was funny, knew how to promote myself in a humble way and how to keep switching up how I talked about myself, so it kept people interested and from feeling like they were being bombarded with the same BS all the time.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

There’s that “show” in show business that people forget about a lot today.  

 

MF:

 

Exactly. I always knew I had to keep people engaged. I was able to get people on board to support me by being someone they wanted to support. I made things fun for people. And I really found my niche because I was able to get people to relate to things I was saying in my blog – even if I was saying something harsh sometimes. I have said things like, “You are not a f*&king revolution.” But I have always pointed back to myself:  “And I’m not either.” I’ve never want to put someone on the defensive. I just want to point out the truth and tell people to get over themselves, get off their asses and work.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

And it sounds like Caustic is working as a project.

 

MF:

 

It’s doing well. I started the project in 2002 and started putting music out in 2004-2005. I’ve been writing about an album per year since then, partially because I really enjoy making music and partially because I figured out a budget that allows me to put out music and never lose money. I eventually got signed to Metropolis Records, which is the biggest label for this type of music. They operate out of Philadelphia and have a lot of major industrial acts. They just signed Skinny Puppy and put out their latest album. It’s kind of cool to be on a label with bands that got me into what I’m doing now.

 

I’ve also had some contact with Martin Atkins and looked at some of his Tour Smart book. He comes up to Madison a lot to teach, and I did a podcast for a while that he sat in on. The stuff he’s doing is at a level above where I am. He’s talking about getting on tour buses, and I’m talking about going in vans. I think what we’re talking about is complementary. At the heart of it, we’re both saying you have to get up and work.

 

I think the big moment for me was when I found my voice. And that’s what I tell other people:  Be tenacious, find your voice and stick with it. And don’t compromise. And you might get to a point where people are going to ask more of you and try to get you to compromise your sound. In this day and age, musically, there’s not really a reason to do that anymore. A lot of music today is being made for niche audiences, unless you’re talking about really mainstream music.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Well, and it’s not like Monsanto is seeking an industrial jingle.

 

MF:

 

Right. No one is really looking for that. And no one has cared about the genre in a long time. People will start often throw around the term “industrial,” but it’s usually in a different context:  “The Smashing Pumpkins are using industrial elements;” “Marilyn Manson is incorporating an industrial sound.” It’s almost like they’re hearkening back to a lost era. Our genre hasn’t moved forward musically in at least 15-20 years.

 

Because the industrial genre has been stuck in a rut, I see no reason why people should be copycatting. But it happens in ever genre:  punk; metal; etc. It’s easier for a person to be like someone else, because that person knows that’s what works, and therefore making something that is the same is easier than making something that is interesting or different.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

You managed to find a niche that you were interested in and become successful within that niche. How did you put together shows and build beyond your hometown?

 

MF:

 

My improv background served me well, because I was able to make it work by basically taking gigs all over the place, getting paid as much as I could for them and flying to them by myself. Because I had lots of music contacts, I had musicians to play with in many different cities. I had a Caustic West Coast band, a Caustic East Coast band and a band in places like Texas. So, some of the meat of the song was in backing tracks, and then I’d have musicians fill in the gaps and play what they wanted. Basically, the backing tracks would be the control, and the live musicians would be the variables. Part of what drew me to improv is that I actually love that kind of chaos. And I work best when I know it’s going to happen.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

At this point you are playing in venues across the U.S. and around the world. How did you actually line up and book the gigs for Caustic to begin with so you could expand to new markets?

 

MF:

 

It happened largely because of the Internet. It was about knowing bands in other cities because I had booked them, but also about networking. The power of networking cannot be underestimated. That’s pretty much how you found me, too. Somebody you knew said something about what I was doing, and you got in touch.

 

When I was first starting with Caustic, I was on Myspace, which was big at the time. And I was in contact with all these bands I’d booked from other states and from each coast, so I would get in touch with them and say something like, “Hey, I’m heading to New Jersey to visit my family and would love to play a gig in the New York City area while I’m there.” And I’d have friends say I could play at someone’s basement party or in a club for a specialty night. I would do it for very little money, because, first of all, I was going to be in the area already and secondly, I took whatever I could, because I just wanted the exposure.

 

I was flying to different places. But I was also playing places I could drive to, like Chicago. And people would hear about my shows, because, for this genre, a lot of the bands were trying to be really polished, and I was putting on shows that were a little more punk than industrial. So, it was a little bit of a different experience. Some people actually think of me as more of a punk-electronic artist than EDM or industrial. I was able to build a reputation by having crazy shows. I created a party atmosphere, which a lot of other industrial bands weren’t doing. And it just became fun to have Caustic come play, because even if you didn’t know the project or like my music, you would enjoy the show. It was always fun to watch.

 

A lot of building my reach as an artist was about honing my live show based off of techniques I had used in improv over the years. I was never uncomfortable onstage or looking stupid. I went into every show just excited to see what might happen, and more often than not, it would turn out great. If it wasn’t great, it was at least memorable. Every show had a moment that surprised me.

 

In a lot of ways, I set Caustic up to fail. I went into it saying, “Something is going to malfunction, get unplugged, go out. Something will happen onstage that will ruin everything.” One of the key concepts of improv is the idea of “Yes, and”:  No matter what happens, you move forward. I took that idea of “yes, and” and used it to spin everything that went wrong into something positive for the band. I would keep moving forward, whether something would go wrong with booking the shows or releasing music. And with my first CD, I had a censorship issue that cropped up, and we couldn’t find a pressing plant for it. So, we spun it into talking about the experience of censorship, which got us a lot of press and gave the album more exposure when it finally came out two months late.   

 

Musician Coaching:

 

The “yes, and” flexibility really is the key to everything. When people ask me for a definitive, set-in-stone long-range marketing plan, I can’t really offer that. I can hand them a roadmap, but I really have no idea which roads will be flooded, out or riddled with potholes.

 

MF:

 

My goal is to spin every negative into a positive. For example, if a tour falls through, how can you use the contacts you got through that experience to spin it into something else? I got kicked off a tour after 24 hours, and it became this huge controversy. And in the end, I got more exposure and more support as a result of getting kicked off that tour than what I would’ve gained through participating in the whole thing. That “yes, and” is really about knowing how to be smart and not freak out.

 

The “yes, and” is also about not being unprofessional. I see a lot of people whining online about the things that happen to them. They don’t understand that this is a business. Even if you’re working in a very small sector of the music business like I am, you have to make sure that you don’t burn bridges. If you’re going to burn a bridge, you better be sure it won’t come back to bite you later.

 

I think I’ve always been of the mindset that I can make anything bad good. I see other bands in the scene that don’t have a sense of humor or the attitude I have. And I feel bad for them, because I think not being able to step outside that box is really limiting what they are able to do. When I first set up Caustic, I set it up in a way where I would always step outside the box, expect to fail and never have to apologize for messing up.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

That’s wise. It sounds like you have the creative side of things down. What did you do from a marketing and business perspective to get traction?

 

MF:

 

On the marketing side, I used a lot of social media. In the beginning, I mostly used Myspace and LiveJournal. I bought one of those people adders for Myspace and targeted very similar artists that I thought had fans that would appreciate my music rather than doing what many people did and just willy-nilly adding anyone. I was also focused about which fans I talked to personally. And I had a voice that was very specific and could write well. No one else in my specific genre was hitting things with the same sense of humor or style. I also tried not to say the same thing twice to keep everything original and fresh. Coming up with content that would grab people’s attention became a fun challenge for me. I think I have always been able to write about Caustic in a way that would always keep people interested, even if they didn’t like my music. I had some people say, “At first I wasn’t really into what you did, but I was really into what you said.”  

 

My attitude about the project was always that I didn’t care what people thought; I just wanted to have a good time. I think self-seriousness is a big problem with a lot of bands in this genre. There are clichés in every genre, and when they start to overflow, everyone starts to copy them, because that’s what has worked for bands before them. But they don’t realize that being different and having a different angle is the way you’re going to stand out to people that will be fans of your music. You can have things in common with other artists, but it’s the angle you take and your ability to insert your own individuality into it that will make you shine.

 

I took that very personal angle with marketing and was very open about myself as a person. For instance, I have a drinking problem (I have quit drinking), and one of the biggest things I did was admit it publicly. It blew people away, and they couldn’t believe I did it. First of all, I wanted to be honest and wanted it out there so people wouldn’t keep offering me drinks all the time. But I think what artists don’t realize is that putting yourself out there as a human being can get you more support than anything else you do. I think this is something many of my favorite comedians do, like Louis C.K. and Doug Stanhope, who was on one of my early CDs. Marketing for me has always been about finding that twist that makes me different.

 

An interesting exercise I did was to look at some of the artists I am not into and how they are writing about and presenting themselves and get critical about why I wasn’t into them. And it helped me a lot to see what I was doing wrong and how I wanted to talk to people.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

What would you say are the key marketing drivers for Caustic?

 

MF:

 

For me, they have all been related to social media. Facebook and Twitter have become huge for me. I invested a little bit into targeted Facebook ads. And blog entries have big as well. I post them, then a lot of people share them, which leads to people checking out my band. I have people that come for the blog entries, then discover my music and really like it. Of course, my personality is very tied to the music, but it is also tied to each of the blogs I keep, which helps me a lot. I have a two-month-old baby at home, so I’m not going to get to do a lot of shows in the near future. If it weren’t for social media, I wouldn’t be able to keep things going with Caustic.

 

In the past, I’ve played a lot of shows and gone on some tours, but I’m not one of those people able to be on the road a lot because I work multiple jobs. To further answer your earlier question about how I expanded to other markets:  Thanks to social media, I was able to pick and choose where I would fly and get opportunities overseas for festivals where I could hit a lot of people at once that would help broaden my fan base. And a lot of the people at those shows had read the things I’d written. It’s the synergy of being able to write about things, perform and write music that people can get into that has helped me build a career as an artist. Of course, what works for me is not going to work for everybody. I think all artists can have success in the music industry; they just have to know what they’re getting into, know it’s not going to happen overnight – because a music career is all incremental – and know that to be in this business, they’re going to always have to work their asses off and really enjoy making music.

 

To learn more about Matt Fanale, visit the Failing Better blog and follow Caustic on Twitter.                

Success in the Music Industry

Posted By Rick Goetz on June 26th, 2013

The following is Part 2 of an interview that a client and friend Ivan David Amaya conducted in order to support research for his dissertation on the topic of entrepreneurial careers in the music industry. Ivan is a musician and recently got his MBA at Ealing, Hammersmith & West London College, University of Wales.

 

 

In this part of the interview, we talked about different marketing tools and strategies that are valuable to musicians. We also talked about what “success” means in the music industry and how artists can strengthen their revenue streams.  

 

IA:

 

In your opinion, what marketing tools are the most useful to musicians?

 

RG:

 

Having a professional website and a presence on social media sites are key. In my opinion, the three essential social media sites are Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, but there are other platforms that work for certain artists. Instagram and Tumblr are definitely worth exploring. I think having a video of any kind is an invaluable marketing tool. And people have to think of their marketing efforts as long-term strategies.

 

Probably the most important strategy is building a mailing list. As an artist, you can live or die by your mailing list. Fan-funding campaigns are big right now, and when fan-funding platforms determine how much money they think people can raise, the first thing they look at is the size of their mailing list. Having a social media presence and engaging with fans via Facebook, Twitter, etc. is important, but the mailing list is gold, because email marketing has been proven to have a better conversion rate than social media.

 

A lot of people these days are just targeting fans, constantly thinking, “direct to fan, direct to fan,” but they forget that they should also be building relationships with other musicians. As an artist, it really helps to create or join a community- this allows you to market to the fan bases of other artists en masse and allows them to do the same thing with your crowd.

 

People also forget how easily they can get caught up in social media. I think it’s really important to be out in the world and to really shake people’s hands. I see a lot of bands playing onstage expecting people to know who they are just because their name was in the paper. They don’t even say who they are on stage (or have a banner or signage of any kind). I recommend that everyone grab a Google Voice number and have people text their email addresses to that number for some kind of free giveaway. This allows a band to market to people’s email but also you can send texts to mobile phones.  This can be really powerful too.

 

Going back to the topic of pursuing other musicians, I think people really believe there is this one music business person that can really help them. But the developing acts I know have really strong relationships with other artists, and those relationships are what get them the better slots on tour and collaboration opportunities. Even very successful artists continue to build relationships with new and younger artists by starting record labels, etc. It’s smart to realize that if you’re not reaching down to a younger generation of musicians you might become outdated very quickly. There is an older musician named Butch Walker, who was at one point struggling to remain relevant. Then he started producing all of these younger acts, and then these younger acts, in exchange, started bringing him out, putting him in their community and in front of their crowds. You can also extend how relevant you are based on your relationship with other artists, because if your friends become successful, you get a share in that to a certain point. Building relationships in person is really huge.

 

You read a million articles that talk about the importance of getting a new Facebook friend. That’s important, but I think people often get too caught up in online activities and forget they need to go out and meet people. I’ve discovered that people I contact are really taken aback when I call them unless I already have an on-going relationship with them, whereas, if I have already established some sort of a relationship with them, they are happy to hear from me when I reach out to have a more significant conversation. 

 

On a similar note, many people believe that blasting an impersonal message into the world is going to get them a response. People don’t respond to obviously cut-and-paste emails. Sometimes you have to reach out to people you don’t know in order to be successful. But when you do that with a form letter, those people will not care. There are all these tastemakers and other people in a position to help you out:  the booker of a local club, etc. And they’re getting a lot of emails saying, “Hey, this is my band. We want to play” with no more reasoning other than “We’re great. We’re going to make it big.” Everyone thinks they’re really great, so this statement means nothing.

 

When you approach somebody cold, the important things to mention are why you are approaching them, what you want and why that should be of value to them. I think a lot of people run head first into saying, “I want you. You should manage us”. People email other people basically proposing marriage on the first date or even before:  “Hi. You’re pretty. Marry me.” As an artist, you need to relax, provide information and try to get to know someone:  “Hey, this is who I am. I am approaching you for this reason. I think you should care because X, Y, Z.” And that “X, Y, Z” can be the number of records you’ve sold or an ancillary business you’ve done really well in. There should be facts that are relevant above and beyond “I play the same twelve notes as everybody else, and I think I’m great.” A big part of marketing is being personable whether in person or not.

 

IA:

 

So, creating a community is key.

 

RG:

 

I think so. I am not saying it doesn’t happen without communities, but I think artists with communities have a much better shot at a long-term career.

 

I am also a fan of creating what I call “jointly-branded experiences” or “jointly-branded products.” This could mean touring with a series of bands or even playing shows with the same kind of bands and making sure the fan base is intermixed, because when you’re selling a show you’re not only selling what you’re playing; you’re also selling other members of your audience to each other; you’re selling a good time. For example, I don’t think anybody goes to see Phish anymore just so see Phish; they go to see the other people that go to see Phish. They think, “That cute girl from Colorado is going to be there.” People are looking for a good time, and music is just a part of that. If you can encourage a community, you know you’re not just selling your band, you’re also selling a great night.

 

The jointly-branded experience doesn’t just have to be with another artist. I put together a show with an artist I work with, and there was a guy at the show painting, live. He hung his artwork on the walls and did a gallery show. Every show has to be an event. And the most important part about events is the sense of community. And if you’re co-writing or collaborating with other people in any form, you are incentivising them to promote your work, because they have skin in the game. It’s about teamwork vs. a solo effort.

 

If you went out as a solo artist today completely on your own, it would be much harder because you wouldn’t have peers – other obsessive people who were invested in making what you’re doing great. A lot of people forget that it is not just a band that gets to see the world; it’s band/artist and their friends, their friends’ friends and the people they can collaborate with, work with and hang out with. You’re not just selling your music at a certain point. The really successful artists wind up selling culture. Lady Gaga has culture, although I don’t claim to identify with it. Jack Johnson has culture, if you’re a surfer. I am a surfer, and in every little surf town where I go, there is Jack Johnson playing. The guy scored videos for surf films. There is something about his music that resonated in that community and continues to do so. Another part of marketing is identifying some cultures that you are genuinely affiliated with. You can’t just say, “Hey, I think skaters are cool. Let’s go and play at skate parks.” That tends to fail, because fans can just sense when something is forced marketing vs. authentic.

 

Are you still playing hard rock/metal music?

 

IA:

 

Yes. And I remember you talking to me about this concept. My music has kind of a cinematic edge to it, and you told me I should get more in touch with indie film makers and try to connect with that aesthetic. It has been working so far.

 

RG:

 

It’s a gross generalization, but if I work with a metal band, I think, “All right, do they have lot of tattoos? Do they like to drink hard liquor? Do they like to ride motorcycles?” And if you are a metal band and can say, “Yes” to these questions, you pursue people who are in those communities and make sure there’s a reason that they show up to hear your music.

 

I had someone come to me and say, “Well, you know, I’m Christian. All my fans are Christian, but I don’t want to be a Christian artist.” My advice is to take what you have and then expand. Don’t run away from being liked. People are showing up to your shows, so you need to embrace that. Ultimately, who your fans are is not always up to you. The minute you decided to be in business, your job became to get people what they want. You need to get people showing up to hear your music what they need. If you want to expand it, that’s great, but you can’t alienate people who are already there.

 

A classic example of this concept is someone coming to me and saying, “Well, everybody loves this song live, but I don’t want to record it, because I don’t really like playing it.” You know what? If you’re trying to do this for a living, your vote goes out the window. There are a million stories of people hating their biggest hits. Artists have to remember that playing music is very self-indulgent, but if they decided to do it for a living, it is no longer just about them.

 

IA:

 

Is success quantifiable? What does “success” look like?

 

RG:

 

First of all, success is different for everyone.

 

Second of all, it’s never quite what it looks like on the outside. There are people very much in the public eye that are broke. I hear stories all the time about well-known hip-hop artists who are wearing $100,000 Rolexes. But if you get a little closer to the story you see that they had to sell their artists’ share of their publishing, because they were flat broke from living that lifestyle. I think people have to remember that appearances are almost never what they seem.

 

Success, to me, is making a living doing what you love, providing for you and your family and making sure that if you’re going to have a lengthy career like this, you have something stored away as insurance. If you want to be famous or rich, there are a lot of ways to do that. If you want to be rich, go be a banker. If you want to be famous, go get on a reality show and eat insects … or whatever people are doing now. If you want to play music, you have to accept that the average musician isn’t making more than about $40,000 per year. You can certainly do better than that. You can take all the ancillary skills you learn along the way (as we discussed earlier) and then translate those skills into additional skills. For example, if you discover that you’re good at production, you might wind up producing other people to fund your music career. And through that, you might find out that you are really good at mixing. You may also discover that you’re really good at booking your own band and pick up a few other bands to book and make some money that way. I ended up in a record company because I was trying to figure out how to get my band signed. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend diving head-first into the executive thing. Just because I decided that it was easier and safer than just being an artist doesn’t mean it is necessarily a good choice if you want to be in the business for life.

 

Success is a difficult concept to define. A lot of people say, “I’m really successful because I have 100,000 Twitter followers.” There’s a certain amount of wagging the dog and a certain amount of saying, “We’re going to inflate the public appearance of our success to gain success” going on. I’m not saying that these metrics don’t have some merit, because they do. But I think people can get too caught up in appearances, to the point where they will buy Twitter followers, fans and make sure they look really successful to anybody who sees them. And mere appearances are not “success.” Your happiness, your health and your ability to provide/make a living for you and for your family on a long-term basis is success.

 

IA:

 

You talk about musicians turning to live shows and merchandise. What other sources of income should artists pursue?

 

RG:

 

It comes back to the ancillary skills. If you’re a good guitar player, you should not treat your band like a monogamous romantic relationship; you should go be a session player. The other income streams basically involve making sure you are always playing music. The people I know who have become successful musicians were the people who were always playing. They always found a way and were not held back by other people because it was difficult. They were the people who say, “You know what? I want to gig all the time. I want to play all the time. I want to record all the time.”

 

You can also pursue licensing – although I think licensing is very difficult. But it is worth pursuing those types of relationships. I also think there are music-for-hire opportunities that people should consider. But I think making a living playing music has become about setting up multiple revenue streams and certainly, also about song writing.  Every song you write is a virus, and the more you have out there – of quality – the better chance you have on having something that will sustain you. We are all looking for the “money button” and to not be in the service industry. We’re looking for having something that generates on-going income, and your best shot at finding this as a musician is the composition. Someone out there has to write the next “Happy Birthday.” Writing, publishing and diversifying are all critical.

 

You can learn more about the interviewer, Ivan David Amaya and his music by visiting the Opensight official website. Be sure to also check out Part 1 of this interview.

How to Be a Solo Artist

Posted By Rick Goetz on March 20th, 2013

Chris Wallace is a singer, songwriter and producer as well as the former front man for the pop rock band The White Tie Affair. A major music fan and a serious athlete growing up in Hebron, IN, Chris picked up guitar as a teenager after he broke his collarbone playing soccer and was looking for a way to channel his energy. He played in local bar bands and eventually put together his own band Quad Four, simultaneously embracing his skills as a lead vocalist. He decided to post a track he wrote, “Allow Me To Introduce Myself … Mr. Right” on MySpace, which exploded overnight and led him to get signed to Epic Records and to form the band The White Tie Affair. In 2012, he recorded his debut album as a solo artist, Push Rewind. The first single, “Remember When (Push Rewind),” which continues to thrive on Top 40 radio, was named one of iTunes “Best Songs of 2012.” The entire album also earned iTunes’ “Best Breakthrough Pop Album of 2012” honor. Chris has toured extensively throughout the world, with both with his band The White Tie Affair and as a solo artist, sharing the stage with mega artists like Lady Gaga, Cyndi Lauper, the B-52’s, Andy Grammer and Olly Murs. He has appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Access Hollywood and E! News and has been featured in Billboard magazine, US Weekly and Entertainment Weekly.

 

 ChrisWallace2

 

I got to talk to Chris about his on-going journey as a hard-working singer and songwriter as well as about the important lessons he learned when he was just starting out in the music business. He also shared some words of wisdom with emerging artists about how they can find a solid support team to help them accomplish their goals and advance their music careers.               

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk, Chris. How did you first get started in music?

 

Chris Wallace:

 

I always loved music, but I didn’t realize how obsessed I was with it until I was about 14. I was always really into sports. Because I have always been a dreamer, I always wanted to take everything to the next level, so I thought for a while I would be a pro athlete. I always knew I didn’t want a normal 9-5, even when I was really young. I looked at my parents, aunts and uncles and didn’t think their life looked like fun. It was always in me to do something beyond that.

 

Eventually, I decided that playing sports wasn’t my thing. But I always loved music and had always listened to it. After I broke my collarbone playing soccer, I begged my parents for a guitar and just dove completely into music, almost blindly. I didn’t get lessons. I would just sit in my room and emulate the artists I was listening to at the time. I started a band, and we didn’t have a singer, which segued into me deciding to sing and play guitar. And as we went along, I realized my singing was getting better and better.

 

After a while, this local band asked me to sing for them. They were a pretty established band that played shows and actually made money, and I decided I would give it a shot. As soon as I accepted that, the experience really exposed what I was supposed to be as a live performer. I was in that band for a couple years, and I really enjoyed it, but they played mostly covers, and I felt there was something missing. So, I started writing my own songs.

 

I started realizing that it was the songs which were key, not the live performance. I discovered that it wasn’t about how well you could play guitar, it was about how great the songs were; the songs were what people went home with after seeing you perform. I fell in love with songwriting, which changed everything.

 

A couple years later, I had a record deal with my band and was on tour and recording. But locally, I couldn’t find people who were as dedicated as I was. We would rehearse four times per week, and I would still ask people in the band if they could give more. I always felt like I was pushing my band mates too hard, and I actually thought there was something wrong with me. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t want it as much as I did. I just wanted whatever “it” was more than anyone else.

 

I grew up in Northwest Indiana. And when you grow up in a small town – especially when you meet people from out of town and are trying to be someone who is larger than life – you tend to gravitate towards a city that is larger than you. At the time, I would say the bands I was in were from Chicago, because it gave people an easier frame of reference. When I started White Tie Affair and put together all the social media, I put Chicago as our location, because I think that’s where I wanted to be at the time.

 

I think that tendency is just part of being a dreamer, too. For example, when you look at someone’s online profile, it will often say they are from a certain place they really want to be, rather than where they actually are. They put it out there in the world, and sometimes it comes true. I did the same thing. I knew I wanted something, but I didn’t know how I was going to get it. I just tried everything I could.

 

I had played in a bunch of local bands and had a song idea for a song called “Mr. Right.” And a friend of mine heard it and said, “I think this is a really new sound – something different that hasn’t been heard before.” I went home and recorded a demo of it and put it on the Internet and started a band called The White Tie Affair. At first, I didn’t put up any photos. My friend made up a fake picture of three silhouettes, even though the band was originally just me. Everyone else was throwing up pictures and showing the world what they looked like, but I didn’t. And I just put up one song on my webpage. Overnight, it exploded on its own.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

That just proves that you don’t always know when you have something people want.

 

Chris Wallace:

 

Yes. I never realized it before. I had been chasing shows and trying to find every A&R person I could, from every label I wanted to get signed to. And I put out one thing that the labels considered good or great, and they came to my doorstep. My life really did change overnight. Four labels were suddenly all trying to sign me at once.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

And you went to Epic, and then you and the label put the band together?

 

Chris Wallace:

 

I was in another band at the time and didn’t want them to know I was starting a side project. I had showed them the song that ended up being the first song from The White Tie Affair. And everyone in the band said it wasn’t any good, and they didn’t think it was a sound they wanted to have, even though I really liked it. That was why I originally didn’t put up any pictures. And, of course, the song then did the work on its own. A couple weeks after the song did so well, the other band members came around. That was the first time in my life I had ever had anything like that happen with anything I was doing. And luckily enough, it lasted.

 

The White Tie Affair did ultimately consist of some of the members from the band I was already in that I brought over with me. But since the photo I had put up was of three silhouettes, when I went to meet with labels initially, I just brought two friends along. I wanted it to be a solo project at first, but then I quickly realized I wanted some other people to form a band. It was almost a split-second decision that I made when I was on the phone with each of the labels and they asked me how many people were in the band.

 

It wasn’t actually a decision I planned on hanging onto, but the labels agreed with me that it should be a band and convinced me it was the way to go.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

And how long was The White Tie Affair’s run?

 

Chris Wallace:

 

The album came out through Epic in April of 2008 and then went to radio six months later. The song “Candle (Sick and Tired)” peaked at radio at 22 on the chart in April of 2009. It was another song I wrote that no one liked initially.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

But eventually, someone did.

 

Chris Wallace:

 

Eventually. Sometimes in these early stages of being an artist, you’re kind of vulnerable. And you trust your peers to tell you if it’s good enough, even when you know and feel it is good. Still, you might write something you think is great and other people don’t agree. And of course, when you’re on a label, you have to please everybody; all people involved need to think a song is good. When I wrote “Candle” and sent it to the label and my manager, and they didn’t even reply back to me about it. A few days later, I followed up and asked if they had heard the song. They told me it was alright, but that I should keep writing.  

 

Musician Coaching:

 

And I think being an artist is all about that journey. A lot of musicians reading this are likely still in the early phases where they are just looking to get heard and are also trying to find the right people to surround themselves with. They need to find people who will be supportive of what they are trying to do and help them accomplish their goals. How did you figure out how to get management and build a great team?

 

Chris Wallace:

 

Today I have a great team. When I started – not to speak ill of anyone – but it just wasn’t the right team for me at all. When everything in your life changes all at once, you gravitate towards people you think you can trust. You don’t know necessarily that they are the right people, because you have no basis for comparison. You don’t know if you have the right lawyer or if you have signed the right deal. You try to find someone you trust and that someone else has trusted before and hope for the best. I ended up finding the right team through making mistakes. I knew they were the right team, because I had gone through some less-than-ideal experiences.

 

I was definitely looking for people who were as dedicated as I was and who wanted it as much as I wanted it. The people who work with me now definitely want it as much as I do, if not more.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

You definitely have a good bunch of people around you now.

 

So, “Candle” became a Top 30 single. What happened from there? When did the band unwind?

 

Chris Wallace:

 

We had some success, which was good. But then the label got a new president in the middle of our radio run. I think it was kind of doomed after that. I didn’t realize it was happening at the time, but the band just slowly fell apart. And because I was in a band and not a solo artist, I couldn’t just pick up and keep going no matter what hit me. When money stopped coming, the other people in the band started to get less interested.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

In my opinion, how a band handles being dropped from a label is one of the biggest indicators of whether or not its members are “lifers” or not. It’s easy to be a musician when you’re on a label and have tour support. But the bands that stick it out when there is no label anymore and put real energy into going a new direction are the ones that last for a long time.

 

Chris Wallace:

 

Yeah. And my brain went immediately to finding a new direction. I thought there was no chance it could be over until I said it was over. I think the other band members were ready for a different phase in their lives. I think that showed that my gut instinct on them at the beginning was correct. But I chose to bring them with me anyway because I just really wanted someone to go along with me for the ride.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

As a solo artist, you released the single “Push Rewind,” which is on a new record that is out now. And you’re selling 15,000 singles per week. I think for most people, it must be difficult to understand what your life is actually like, because they’re not following you every step of the way, aside from reading some interviews and other press about the work you’re doing now. Can you describe your day-to-day?

 

Chris Wallace:

 

There isn’t a lot of consistency. I’d say four days per week at least I’m flying somewhere. And they are all early flights, so it’s usually a 4 a.m. wake-up call in whatever time zone I am in. If I’m not flying, I’m driving to get somewhere. I have been doing a lot of morning radio shows and singing at different events. I recently sang the National Anthem at the Denver Nuggets/Lakers game, which was really cool. I’m getting to meet a lot of the radio programmers and the people who listen and win contests. And I perform for them in radio station lounges. My day usually ends with a dinner meeting with someone. And hopefully I make it to sleep by midnight to get up early again.

 

Lately, it’s been a lot of that, which is incredibly taxing on your body. But once you get on stage or to the place you’re going to perform, you’re just so flattered that people want to play your song and talk about your music.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

You’re obviously someone who is really excited to get the opportunity to do what you do. But how do you handle being on a flight four days per week and staying healthy and not feeling overwhelmed?

 

Chris Wallace:

 

I’ve always been healthy and in shape, and I feel like I’ve been preparing for this my whole life. I knew it was going to take this much to be where I am. No matter what I have done in my life – whether going to school or working a regular job – I have always felt like I could do more. I think a lot of people don’t realize how much they could actually do if they really wanted to and put their mind to it. You just keep setting the bar higher. As long as you stay healthy and positive, you can’t be brought down.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

There are a lot of people out there just trying to get a band going who would love the benefit of your experience. From a business and marketing perspective, what are some of the biggest mistakes you feel you made when you were just starting out? Are there lessons you wished you’d learned earlier in life?

 

Chris Wallace:

 

I believe that a lot of things that happened to me were probably just fated to happen. I had no control over them. For example, I couldn’t really avoid losing the support of a label because that label got a new president. I guess I could’ve signed with a different label, but I went with that label initially because the people there really believed in me. The guy who signed me put a lot of work into me. The support was just taken away half-way through the process.

 

I think the biggest mistake I made early on was trusting a friend to get me a lawyer who ended up getting me a bad deal. I eventually found a lawyer who helped me correct that mistake, but at first it was a really shady deal. I think there are always those people out there who you think you trust, but are actually trying to pull the wool over your eyes and take advantage of you, because they know you are new to the business.

 

One of the first phone calls I got from a label was from an A&R guy. We didn’t have a manager at the time, and he segued into being our manager. In retrospect, he walked into the perfect situation, because he already had a band that was signed and had a buzz. And because I felt I could trust him, he started managing my old band. I realized later that he had never managed a band before and really didn’t end up adding a lot to the table; he just walked into something that was already set up. And when you’re building a team, you really want to bring on people who can add something that no one else is adding.

 

However, all these mistakes really planted the seeds for the future.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

And I imagine through that process, you learn that you have to be more discerning and need to get to know more people within the music industry. What was your process for vetting your current team and finding solid partners?

 

Chris Wallace:

 

I had a lot of meetings set up in August 2011. After The White Tie Affair broke up, I actually took a lot of time off. I had been working like I am working now for quite a few years. And I got something back from it, but I really didn’t feel like I had really achieved anything. I met with some managers and other people here and there, because I knew my entire team was really not working. But I just didn’t feel a spark with any of the people I met.

 

I was living in San Diego at the time and was driving up to L.A. to do some surfing. I got a call from my business manager at the time, and he asked if I was interested in a manager. He said he had a guy who was interested in talking to me. The fact that he sought me out really appealed to me. He had talked to a friend of mine who I had been co-writing songs with and had heard my name. And he looked me up and really liked the songs from The White Tie Affair. Once we met, we immediately clicked. I knew he believed in me and saw what people are starting to see now with my solo project. He saw I had something special in me in just an hour of hanging out together. I had meetings with giant managers and other people set up, but I wanted to go with the guy who understood me and was just as crazy as I am. Because, I realize it’s pretty insane to think you can essentially take over the world.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Well, and I congratulate you on being part of the one-percent of people who get as far as you have. Of course, I guess as an artist, you are always looking to how you can be even better. I firmly believe that Chris Martin of Coldplay might scratch his head and wonder how he can become Bono. I’m not sure who Bono aspires to be. But you’re definitely in the upper echelons.

 

Chris Wallace:

 

Thank you. It’s really been an interesting road. When I start to talk about the past, I realize it really has been a while. It’s been six years since I put out that very first song that got all the attention.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

A lot can change in six years or even in a week, which you have experienced.

 

You are surrounded by kids who are fans, many of who want to do what you have done and have their own careers. Do you have any parting words of advice for them?

 

Chris Wallace:

 

I’ve always worked hard at what I’ve done. And I know nothing comes immediately or easily. I think if you want something – no matter what it is – you have to just keep working at it. Time will weed out the people who don’t want it enough and make way for the people who do. 

 

 

To learn more about Chris Wallace and his music, check out the official Chris Wallace website. You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.  

 

 

International Music Competitions

Posted By Rick Goetz on January 30th, 2013

Candace Avery is the co-Founder of Unsigned Only, a music competition designed for talented solo artists, bands and singers worldwide not signed to a major label or record company. She got her start in music as a drummer in New Orleans. After studying percussion at the Berklee College of Music, she realized she had a passion for the business side of the industry and began to successfully work with bands around Boston as an independent publicist. After establishing the Boston Music Awards, she was inspired to create a variety of festivals for musicians in the New England area, including Fall Fest and NEMO. In 2002, she started the International Songwriting Competition to allow artists to get their songs heard in an international arena. Now based in Nashville, Candace launched Unsigned Only alongside Jim Morgan in 2011. The competition offers outstanding, talented and unsigned performers the opportunity to be mentored by experienced music executives and artists. This year’s Unsigned Only competition features judges such as Iggy Pop, Chrissie Hynde, Carly Simon, Of Monsters and Men and Cyndi Lauper.   

 

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Candace recently talked to me about her experience working with emerging musicians and artists through festivals and competitions and what qualities an artist needs to get noticed by judges. She also shared some advice for musicians that want to succeed in today’s music climate.   

 

Musician Coaching:

 

How did you get into the music industry?

 

CA:

 

I started out as a drummer living in New Orleans. Then I moved to Boston to go to Berklee College of Music and study percussion. I was there for two years, but got tired of the struggle and was trying to figure out what I wanted to do and whether or not I wanted to stay in music. At the time, my husband was signed to Epic Records with his band, and I had been doing publicity for them. Once they got signed, everyone in Boston started to want to hire me to do publicity for them.

 

I did publicity for about a year, then had an idea to do an awards show in Boston. So, I created the Boston Music Awards. It was a red carpet event for artists out of the New England area. I also created an outdoor music festival called Fall Fest, which took place on the Boston Common. I basically just started throwing annual events and eventually sold Fall Fest to Mick’s Radio in Boston and continued doing the Boston Music Awards. On the tenth anniversary of those awards, I created NEMO, which was a music festival and conference. We showcased artists from all over the world. It was basically a mini SXSW for the New England area.

 

In 2002, I started the International Songwriting Competition, which allows artists to get their songs heard in an international arena. In 2003, I ended up moving to Nashville to focus on the Songwriting Competition, which is currently going into its twelfth year.

 

Last year, I created a music competition called Unsigned Only. It’s an international music competition designed for solo artists, bands and singers. The focus is on artists that are not signed to a major label or any of its affiliates. The goal is to find that outstanding artist that is the whole package. We want an artist that is great vocally, has great songs and wonderful charisma.   

 

Musician Coaching:

 

From the various things you’ve described about your past, you’ve been someone who has been a gatekeeper and who has judged the talents of a wide range of artists, whether at the Boston Music Awards, at NEMO, Unsigned Only or through the International Songwriting competition. As someone that has had your unique perspective, can you speak about the contest submission process? What makes a decent submission, above and beyond talent?

 

CA:

 

It’s interesting, because I would say that most people now really do understand what they need to be submitting. In today’s musical climate, it’s so easy to do a good recording, whether through something like GarageBand or in the studio. We get so much music that’s not professionally produced or recorded. And it is still heaps better than it would have been 10-15 years ago. When it comes to Unsigned Only, people who submit seem to be getting the idea that we’re looking for a really great artist.

 

With the Songwriting Competition, a lot of people enter because they have written what they deem to be really good songs. They may not be the best performers in the world, but because the focus isn’t on performance, it’s okay to not have a great recording. With all these things, the factor that distinguishes what goes through and what doesn’t is really the talent.    

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Do you ever judge people based on their websites, Facebook presence, etc.?

 

CA:

 

No. We don’t even look at that. After naming last year’s Unsigned Only winner – the contest’s first-ever winner – I had a lot of conversations with some of our mentors. Bands and artists used to be judged by how many people came to see them live, how many records they sold. Now it’s segued into how many YouTube views they have and how many “like”s they have on Facebook. It wasn’t even something we considered in our first year. So it has brought up an interesting question:  How do you bridge the gap between finding someone who is really talented and trying to get them signed? Someone who is super talented may not have 20 likes on their Facebook page.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

And I think that view makes you guys really unique. In this climate, everyone is looking to bet on someone who has already started the race. The majors in particular are looking for someone who has done all his/her own legwork already. They want to acquire a “corporation” rather than to develop something.

 

CA:

 

Right. They want an already-conceived brand. There’s no doubt about it. It really hit me full in the face after last year’s competition when I spoke with all the mentors. They said they loved the girl who won, but that she needed to build up her Facebook views. And I thought it seemed ridiculous. She’s talented, beautiful and writes great songs that are totally in the pocket. Why wouldn’t someone take a shot on her? They just want something that is a slam dunk. And if someone has half a million views on YouTube, there’s already a built-in audience to sell records to.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

I did research-oriented A&R work. And what I discovered is that there is no better predictor of future ticket sales than current sales, whether that is tickets, merch, etc. The biggest indicator of a successful business in the future is, “What is the business doing currently?” And I think that’s created a lot of disposable acts.

 

CA:

 

And which would you rather sign? Would you rather sign an artist who is a Bob-Dylan-grade genius, or someone who is a pop artist with 500 million views who may not be nearly as talented? It’s a tough question to answer.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

On the one hand, I’d love to be affiliated with the next Bob Dylan. But on the other hand, I’d love to be collecting on performance fees for Gangnam Style and keeping my family fed. I hear you, and I do miss true artistry and try to do what I can to help people pursuing it.

 

CA:

 

It’s totally understandable, especially in today’s economic climate within the music industry. It’s even harder now than ever before for an artist to get signed.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

So, how does an artist go about submitting to Unsigned Only?

 

CA:

 

It’s really easy. They can submit online or through the mail. All they have to do is send in a recording and an entry form. All the information is on our website. Our deadline for this year is March 14. We have 10 categories. When someone enters, they select a category for their song. They can also submit multiple songs. We have a first and second place winner in each category and one grand prize winner.

 

What makes Unsigned Only really different from any other competition is that the grand prize winner actually gets mentored by a group of record company executives. That means they can meet with them in person, through Skype or on the phone. Last year’s winner ended up doing a showcase for Monte Lipman in Los Angeles at Universal. Direct mentoring is something that most up-and-coming artists won’t realistically have the chance to do. If you go to our website, on our home page, there’s a list of this year’s mentors. That’s really what distinguishes this competition.    

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Do you think there is a lot of value for these up-and-coming artists in being mentored by people at companies who are looking to acquire artists that have already built up their brands? In other words, do you think the head of A&R at Universal would know something about how to hustle another 20-50 people to an artist’s next gig?

 

CA:

 

Probably not the really-high-up executives, but I think the A&R reps on the street probably understand that concept. But the truth is they’re all still looking for artists to sign. They’re going to sign X amount of artists every year. Even if an artist doesn’t get signed out of Unsigned Only, the experience they get being mentored by these executives could potentially help their career in the future and help form their career. Lara Johnston, last year’s grand prize winner has told us over and over again how invaluable her experience has been. And no, she hasn’t been signed yet by any of these mentors. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future. She’s still going through the process.

 

And even if she doesn’t get signed, just getting advice from people at this level who have been doing this for years and years is invaluable. They are the people who are influential in the business.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

No question. They are clearly people who have been involved in the business for a long time. There’s definitely a value to getting the perspectives of people inside record companies. But I find that so much of what we end up reading and understanding about is macro-level problems that artists in the public eye have, rather than the hustle and getting more people to shows. I find it interesting that the “record deal” is still the be-all, end-all for a lot of people.

 

CA:

 

Well, I think that is because it accomplishes what they can’t accomplish for themselves. Like I said earlier, I think there’s still this allure to the record deal; people want to get signed and want to become big and be successful in the music industry. It’s very difficult to do that without a label’s assistance. The good news is there are artists out there who can forge a path for themselves and make a living because of the Internet. But there are very few artists that can make it to a very high level without the assistance of a label. Still, I think most people still have that dream, and there are still people signing people. But it’s pretty few and far between. It’s also crazy how many talented artists there are out there. There are people who deserve to get signed but just don’t.    

 

Musician Coaching:

 

And is there any advice you would give to artists trying to succeed in the current climate?

 

CA:

 

You need to follow your passion, write great songs and keep at it. Another big piece of advice that I would have even given 20 years ago is, “Know the business.” Of course, I think it depends on why you’re playing music. If you’re doing it just for your own satisfaction, then just love what you’re doing. If you’re doing it to become a successful artist selling records, then figure out what it is you need to do to accomplish that while still maintaining your musical integrity.

 

As a musician, you have to love what you do, because it’s such a hard road. If you really love music and can’t conceive of doing anything else, then that is exactly what you should be doing.    

 

Musician Coaching:

 

I totally agree with that. I have told musicians that say they just want to be famous that they are probably better off eating bugs on Fear Factor.

 

CA:

 

Yes. That’s one of the reasons I stopped being a drummer. I loved being a drummer and playing drums, but I was tired of struggling. I realized that I was better suited to do something else. I could conceive of being on the business side of the music industry. But I know of many musicians that just cannot imagine doing anything else but playing music. So, they have to be musicians. It’s a tough life, and you just really have to have such a passion for it.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

When I look back on my time in A&R, I realize that the defining factor for which artists were successful was their belief that they could walk through walls. That’s why I think the business often favors youth, because it is easier to maintain that belief when you have not experienced a long string of failures.

 

CA:

 

That’s an interesting perspective, and I think you’re right. You have to be able to persevere and ride that roller coaster. And when you’re young, riding the roller coaster is much easier.

 

 

To learn more about Candace Avery and the Unsigned Only competition, visit the Unsigned Only website. The deadline for this year’s contest is March 14, 2013.

What is a Music Business Manager?

Posted By Rick Goetz on January 23rd, 2013

Jonas Goldstein is a certified public accountant (CPA) and a business manager with over 20 years of experience in the music industry. A lifelong music fan, he got his start in the music business when he was a student at Syracuse University and was controller of the schools entertainment organization. When he graduated, he accepted a position with the entertainment-focused accounting firm Prager and Fenton as an assistant, eventually working his way up to tour accountant, then band and artist business manager. After 13 years with the company, he branched out on his own and launched JLG Business Management. During his career as a business manager, he has handled tours for bands and artists in all different genres, including The Bee Gees, Clint Black, Ben Folds, KISS and ACDC in North America, Japan, Australia and all over the world.

 

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I had the opportunity to talk to Jonas about his experience in the music industry and the many important roles of a business manager. He also shared some tips on how bands just starting out can handle the fine points of their own business management prior to having the budget to hire a professional.     

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Thanks so much for taking some time to talk to me, Jonas. How did you get into the music business?

 

JG:

 

I’m a CPA and a business manager in the music industry, and I have over 20 years of experience. I got the music bug when I was in college at Syracuse University. I was in charge of the finances for the entertainment organization there.

 

When I graduated, I was pretty much looking for firms that specialized in entertainment. This company Prager and Fenton originally hired me, and I ended up being there for 13 years. I started out with them as an assistant, then worked my way up as a tour accountant and then a business manager with them. While I was there, I did five tours for ACDC and worked with KISS, Clint Black and The Bee Gees. As a business manager, I worked with Ben Folds and Kid Rock for a while. I managed people in rock, jazz and all different genres.

 

I’m very diverse in my musical taste, and I enjoy it when my clientele is all across the board. It makes everything more fun.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

I remember meeting you probably 15 or 16 years ago. And you were introduced to me as a business manager, but I really didn’t know the difference between a regular manager and a business manager. I would imagine that’s a pretty common mistake. What exactly us the role of a business manager?

 

JG:

 

The business manager is an accountant and then some. I’m a CPA. There are a lot of business managers out there who are not licensed, but I really feel that a business manager should be. I started out with ACDC. In addition to filing tax returns and all the other basic things an accountant might do for a band, they also set up things related to tours. We evaluate the tours, make up budgets for them, set up insurance programs, cut deals with buses, trucks and sound and light companies. We also often do projections on touring budgets for record companies.  

 

Musician Coaching:

 

And these are all the nuts and bolts elements that are so important, without which the whole machine would break down. Yet a lot of bands wouldn’t even think about all this.

 

JG:

 

Yes. It’s a very all-encompassing job. It’s not just being an accountant; we’re the liaison for almost everything. We also have to manage costs between management and the business management, because the business manager actually works for the band exclusively. And, of course, the different tasks for which I am responsible can also vary significantly band to band.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

And, you told me that you usually work for percentages or a monthly retainer, meaning you’re not likely to work with artists just starting out that have a very small budget, because they’re not bringing in a lot of income yet. What is your criteria for working with a band?

 

JG:

 

From my perspective, a lot of it is about passion. There are some bands I just love personally and want to see them succeed, even if they are baby bands. Sometimes they’ll experience restructuring or will be in political turmoil, and they will find themselves structuring. I need to feel passionate and really gung ho about all the bands I work with, so I’ll have the energy and will be able to fight for them as long as I can. I don’t cut deals with record companies personally, but I will often look at the contracts and give advice as they grow.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Obviously, your ideal client is someone you are passionate about. But what advice would you give these types of bands about how to make sure their books are in order and everything is in place from a business perspective before they are able to hire someone like you?

 

JG:

 

The start of it is to set up an LLC or a Sub S Corporation, depending on the situation of the band. Say the band lives in Atlanta. Then, we can set up the LLC in Georgia. If everyone lives there, all the income can flow through that point, and taxes can be filed in the same state. If you have a band that is scattered all over the place with someone in Nashville or Austin and another person in Seattle, they might want to look at other options. But the first thing they need to look at is where they are all located.

 

However, with bands that are located overseas, there’s another option for setting up an LLC or a Sub S Corporation:  Delaware. Younger bands outside the U.S. can set up a U.S. entity as a Delaware Corporation. In general, however, as a business manager I always examine which type of company would best suit the band right from the get-go.  

 

Musician Coaching:

 

And why is Delaware such a go-to state for LLCs, etc.?

 

JG:

 

With Delaware, there are no personal taxes. What you do is pay a monthly fee rather than setting up a very complicated tax system. It comes out to about $250 per year as opposed to dealing with another state, where it could cost you much more.

 

And I’ve had some disagreements about this next point. But if you’re a multi-state band, you have a band that tours all over. Some states are more aggressive than others about getting your taxes. When you tour around, a lot of the places you play have very strict regulations. So, you need to closely follow budgets and file them to reduce your taxes. For example, in Wisconsin, they’re going to take six percent out of your wage. In Massachusetts, they take $450-$600. In California, they take seven percent. In Minnesota, they take two percent. Of course, the list of tax laws goes on and on.

 

I’ve definitely had discussions with other business managers who don’t believe you necessarily have to file in every state. For example, states like New York and New Jersey don’t take any money out for taxes on tours at all. Connecticut does. But you can file a budget to these people, and your rates will come down. I usually take the stance that as an artist or band, you should file whenever you appear in a certain state, just for your own protection.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Based on what you know about accounting, what kind of bookkeeping practices do you suggest bands just starting out follow to ensure they stay organized?

 

JG:

 

For example, I advise young bands to avoid filing an LLC in New York, because that state has very strict policies. It costs $2,000 – $2,500 up front to set up the LLC, and and then you have to advertise your LLC formation in a law journal for six weeks.

 

For New York-based young bands, what I usually do is file a Sub S election, which is a lot cheaper. When you’re running your own band and just starting out, $2,000 is a lot of money.

 

In terms of bookkeeping, I like to keep things really simple. You get a bank account, and then you manage everything on QuickBooks. It’s effective, user friendly and gives you a lot of tools like balance and budget sheets and ways to manage your daily transactions – which are all things you should be doing. You also need to bank reconcile every month to make sure your cash is where it should be.

 

There’s another package that other business managers use that is very intricate and shall remain nameless. They say the statements look better, but I think it’s too much work and aggravation without training. You can do pretty much anything you need to do as a young band on QuickBooks.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Given that most bands and startups are operating at a loss, is there advice you could give about tax write offs to minimize the impact?

 

JG:

 

If there’s a loss from your tour, you record a loss, and you don’t pay taxes. For example, let’s say you had a $2,000 loss on your tour that you did in 2011. In 2012, you might have a profit of $5,000. You can take your $2,000 loss and carry it forward, and you’ll end up with $3,000 and won’t have to pay money out the year after either.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Let’s say you have a day job. Can your career as an aspiring musician be a way to pay less taxes overall?

 

JG:

 

Recording the day job is just a quick W-2. Just be aware of what’s going on and make sure you’re using your business sense. In my experience, in most bands, there’s typically one guy who is a lot savvier when it comes to the business end of things and taxes. That’s the guy you want to put in charge of recording and managing finances. But, musicians beware:  the IRS requires you to take a competency test to handle all this on your own if you’re not a CPA or an attorney.

 

But, some general advice:  In the beginning, you want to save as much money as you can. And you want to consult with a business manager as a lawyer. Then, start to build your support team as you start to make more money and see what you can do. But as a musician, you don’t want to get into a situation where you suddenly realize you owe $2,000 in taxes and everything is a disaster.

 

I’m sure that you agree with me on this next point, Rick. The way to get your band signed and to flourish is to get out there, tour extensively, get a mailing list and then write a record. If you sell 50,000 or 60,000 units, the labels will find you. It’s like when I was working with both moe and Umprhey’s McGee. They were bands that didn’t sell a lot of records, but they toured and played all over. Both had started while they were in college and just expanded.

 

Of course, every band is different. A commercial success like Katy Perry or someone of that level is going to present a completely different business situation. You don’t really need to tour out, but you have to have somebody to stand by you and help market yourself.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

I’m actually really surprised that labels aren’t literally opening up bands’ financial books and deciding whether to sign them or not based on the amount of income coming in and how solvent their company is. It’s definitely a changing eco system in terms of how people are getting acquired by labels, management and publishers.

 

JG:

 

Out of curiosity, in the work you do with marketing, in the last five years, have you seen a greater understanding by the labels of how technology has changed the music landscape?

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Some get it more than others. It’s a different game. And this really goes back to what I was just saying about being surprised that more people at the top aren’t looking at bands’ financial records. In the past, people often complained about the lack of artist development at labels. And it seems like that same challenge still exists today, possibly to an even greater degree. Labels seem to still be looking at the number of albums a band is selling and whether or not the band has a manager, then project the risk they are willing to take, then sign the band. I can’t think of the last time I heard of someone just getting picked based purely on the music alone.

 

I think labels definitely have a lot more analytics for artists at their disposal now and are starting to actually analyze them. They don’t necessarily move quickly, but that’s typically because they are working within the machine of a much larger company. 

 

JG:

 

And I’ve noticed that what they’re trying to do now – and I think all types of management want to get away from this – is do a 360 deal. They want to take a greater percentage of an artist’s record contract, touring, publishing, merchandising, etc.; they want everything.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

And I’ve heard of them going back and trying to put 360 deals in place on existing contracts too.

 

I know labels are taking initiatives to transition, but I’m unsure as to how effective their efforts have been thus far. And I think ultimately in this technological climate, management is in many cases becoming a lot more powerful and beneficial to artists than labels.

 

JG:

 

My feeling is that what you should do as an artist if you want to attach yourself to a label is pretty simple:  go out there and build a fan base. If it takes you two years, fine. They’ll find you if you start selling a lot of units of your music and sell out at bigger venues either regionally or across the company. It’s a lot of work, commitment and focus, but if bands keep showing they can build a lucrative business for themselves, they can hopefully stop labels from trying to push some of these deals that will ultimately be detrimental to the artist.

 

To learn more about Jonas Goldstein and the work he does within the music industry, you can visit JLG Business Management on Linkedin. You can also reach out to him directly at jgoldstein311(at)gmail.com.

Everything You Need to Forget about the Music Industry

Posted By Rick Goetz on December 12th, 2012

On my 20-year journey in the music business, I have learned a lot of interesting things. One huge realization I had about the current music industry came to me as I was building this website (and continued as I started to get contacted by musicians that were visiting it).  I couldn’t figure out why many people were glossing over all of the foundational work that is usually required to find great help. Why would people be so divorced from all the work that they have to do on their own, all the time they needed to devote to developing their sound and playing shows? Why would they not accept the real character-building shows, the “don’t forget to tip your bartenders and wai…oh you are the bartenders and waitresses” shows? And why would musicians think that an executive was likely to jump in and partner with them when what they had, at least on paper, was a hobby and not a real business?

 

For some, a light bulb turns on when they come to a realization. I experienced something a bit more substantial.

 

 

 

I was watching something on the Science channel about the planets, and an astronomer was talking about an asteroid hitting the earth. He said, “There has been more money spent on movies about asteroids hitting the earth than money spent on preventing asteroids from hitting the earth.”

 

Since then I have never looked at media – the field I’ve been in my whole life – in the same way.

 

Some of the effects the media has on us are well documented, but studies usually focus on questions like “Does violence in media have an impact on violent behavior in real life?” or “Does the media portrayal of rail-thin models and celebrities impact our feelings about our own body image and confidence?” The latter in particular is interesting and more applicable, because almost all studies on the subject point to the reality that people feel bad about themselves when comparing themselves to media ideals and have unrealistic expectations about what a “normal” person should look like. Essentially, people believe that they are supposed to resemble what they see in mass media.

 

When I thought about this concept, I wondered, could there also be a message in mass media about musicians and their success and does that affect us? It kept occurring to me that the media was minimizing the work that goes in to most musicians’ stories. I decided it was time to do some research myself.

 

To me, the definitive chronicle of a musician’s story is VH1’s Behind the Music. I decided since that was such a well known representation of how musicians became successful that it was a good idea to look at what was kind of info was being presented there.

 

I purchased several stop-watches and began to time out the percentages of the show that were devoted to different parts of an artist’s story (removing the commercials, etc). I watched a dozen episodes. It wasn’t hard to get the timing down because Behind the Music falls into a very familiar pattern:

 

1) Family background. The format is always, “Mom says her musician/superstar was different from other kids or recounts how hard it was growing up in the ‘hood, or how someone in the family was abused, and how these circumstances influenced their drive to be an artist, etc.”

 

2)    Professional Struggle. This segment of the show highlights artists’ first taste of the business, the “struggle,” how they lived on $50 / week, how their choice to do something so unreasonable for a living upset family and friends alike. This phase covers making demos and meeting other musicians and executives. I even counted getting signed as getting part of the struggle, even though the momentum of the show clearly indicates that the record deal is a clear sign that success is around the corner.

 

3)    Success. There is always a moment in Behind the Music where the album comes out, and the artist becomes a huge celebrity by creating a genre changing piece of work or a huge commercial success. And the documentary never looks back after that point.  The term “big break” is also used a great deal. Sure, there are some issues, like drug habits, divorces, stress and inner turmoil, but the coverage from this point on is always the artist as a total success, even if there were hills and valleys in their popularity.

 

 

Would hearing partial truths affect our expectations and perception of what is fact? Simply put:  Yes. Markus Appel and Tobias Richter’s study “Persuasive Effects of Fictional Narratives increase over time” even demonstrated that people believe many of the ancillary details presented in pure fiction, totally devoid of any fact.

 

For example, when you are watching the show Friends, you don’t believe that Rachel is a real person. You are aware that it’s Jennifer Aniston playing a role on TV, and that her character is named Rachel. But you might come to believe that peripheral information is true. For example, you might believe a waitress in Manhattan can afford a two-bedroom apartment near Central Park. Knowing that, if you are constantly reminded of the overnight success of musicians and never told about the work involved in their process, isn’t there a message here as well?

 

So, what does reality look like? My favorite example of someone who built their own business in music is the story of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, the band’s label Daptone Records and the founder of the band and the label, a guy named Gabe Roth.

 

 

Until her 40s, Sharon Jones was a guard at a correctional facility. And I played with Gabe in a band for a few years at NYU. Many years later, he agreed to be interviewed on this site. The words, “So, how does it feel to be this overnight success” started to come out of my mouth, but I caught myself midway through, and we laughed about it. Gabe hadn’t done anything different for 15 years; he just got better at what he did and surrounded himself with better people. And it was a breakthrough moment for me when I realized just how long he had been at it. He had worked at the same thing with a narrow focus for 15 years non-stop and was finally at a point where he was making a good living doing what he loved. Persistence and consistency had won out.

 

Why aren’t we exposed to stories like this? Simply put, because they aren’t popular news stories. “Man Works for 15 Years and Gets Great Business” is not as compelling as “Justin Bieber puts Video on Internet, Becomes Multi-Millionaire.”

 

A psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania named Angela Duckworth determined that “stick-to-it-ness” is called “grit,” which she defines as “the perseverance and passion for a long-term goal.” And she discovered that this grit is more important than intelligence or talent as a predictor of outstanding achievement. Individuals high in grit are able to maintain their determination and motivation over long periods of time, despite experiences with failure and adversity.

 

In his interview with me, “The Self Made Musician,” Gabe (a person I believe has real grit) said something that really stuck with me:  “Instead of looking inward and local and trying to create something small that they can build from and concentrating on their craft, [musicians] are shooting for stars. It’s like playing the lottery. It’s fun, and if you win it’s amazing, but it’s not a business plan. You don’t say, ‘Okay, we want to start a business and want $500,000. The first thing we’re going to do is buy $4,000 worth of scratcher tickets.’”

 

A good business plan for your music is, first and foremost, specific. People always talk about the “next level,” and it drives me absolutely insane. I don’t begrudge people for wanting to advance their careers, but my frustration is when I hear the term “next level,” I know that 95% of the time the person saying it hasn’t clearly defined what they need let alone what they want. It sounds like they’re looking for a Nintendo cheat code.

 

Vague goals tend not to manifest. If you want to achieve your goals as a musician, you need to get really specific and write out a business plan. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to write a business plan or if you believe that it’s only for raising money or that it requires fancy number-crunching graphs. Truthfully, a business plan can start off as simply just visualizing where you want your music to take you in the next six months. Most people never do it. And 90% of the people reading this will probably not do it.

 

Do you really know what you want and what you need? Try this:  Write down a six-month or one-year goal and then work backwards to the present moment. Be mindful that you will need longer-term goals as well, but they need not be as detailed.

 

Don’t do this because I say so. Do this because several studies, including a study conducted by Palo Alto Software in 2010 that was verified by the University of Oregon Department of Economics states that you are twice as likely to succeed if you finish a business plan.

 

I can’t write down a plan that will work for every artist, but I can offer a few guidelines if you are devoted to music for life (and not just looking at it as a fun hobby):

 

  1. Build a solid business foundation. Figure out how money is made in this industry and how publishing works. Register with ASCAP, BMI or SESAC and SoundExchange. Make sure you have a business entity established and trademark your name.
  2. Get your marketing materials in order. You’re going to need at least a 4-song recording (and one that requires no apologies), a well-written bio, a logo, a professional photo and a video of you performing live (for an actual crowd). You’ll also need vanity URLs on social networks, a website and to make sure all your digital real estate is interconnected.
  3. Set yourself up for the long haul. You need to engage in long-term planning if you want to work as a musician. Most “normal” businesses are not in the black for three, to five years, so why should a music business be any different? If you are truly in this for life, you should be investing in your business in a way that ensures you are set up to play and record music and get it to people at a moment’s notice over an extended period of time. This could mean building a home studio and getting a P.A. and a van. The point is, you’re going to have to plan multiple releases over a number of years and be prepared to play countless gigs. And you’re going to need to know how to accomplish this as cheaply and easily as possible. Don’t blow all your money on your first release, expecting it will propel you instantly to financial stability. Plan on truly playing and recording music on an on-going basis.
  4. Build a community and diversify. The music, the money and “the hang” (who you seek out as collaborators and the other musicians with whom you surround yourself on a regular basis) determines which gigs you should take, even if they divert you from your original work – sideman work, apprenticeships, etc. Remember, even Hendrix was a sideman.
  5. Think about B2C and B2B. It is also important to consider that everyone is talking about direct-to-fan in the digital age – an obvious, unfiltered Business to Consumer strategy (B2C). As they are building their communities, I’m of the opinion that many fledgling artists should also pursue Business to Business (B2B) relationships with like-minded artists. If you convince one band with a 50-person mailing list in another town that you are worth a damn, you can get your music in front of those people and start to break a new market if you’re willing to do the same promotion for them on a gig trade.

 

In summary, the confusion and frustration you may be feeling about your music career is just part of the process. It just so happens it’s not part of the process that people really talk about. The media is feeding you a steady stream of crap about who, what and where you should be in your career. Try to tune that out along with the hundreds of burnt-out naysayers you will meet along your journey who tried, failed and now want to talk you out of trying, too. Amputate the people in your life with this cancerous attitude, consume less celebrity media, or at least remember to take it with a grain of salt.

 

And remember grit and what I hear more than anything else about marketing strategies:  “I tried that, and it didn’t work.” No musician succeeds without trying and failing. Try again.

Become a Better Singer

Posted By Rick Goetz on November 20th, 2012

CeCe Sammy is a renowned singer, vocal coach and the co-Founder of the artist management company CCA Entertainment. She got her start in the music business as a pianist and went on to study at the London College of Music, where she received both vocal and piano training. When she was 17, she toured as a backing vocalist with Diana Ross, eventually becoming a member of the United Colours of Sound with vocal coach partner John Modi and celebrity vocal coaches Joshua Alamu, David and Carrie Grant. After learning from a variety of expert mentors, she transitioned naturally into her role as a vocal coach. She has worked with major acts from the United Kingdom, including Charlotte Church, S Club, Will Young and Leona Lewis. She has also recorded several theme tunes for ITV, Channel 4 and Sky Sports in the UK and has appeared on television shows such as Pop Idol as a vocal coach and judge. In 2010, she relocated to Los Angeles and founded CCA Entertainment with legendary artist manager Frank DiLeo.

 

 

I spoke with CeCe recently about her career as a singer, vocal coach and music entrepreneur and what she has learned from her many experiences in the industry. She also shared some tips for singers that want to protect and improve their voices and find professional success.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat, CeCe. How did you get into the music business, and what drove you to become a manager and vocal coach?

 

CS:

 

I trained as a classical pianist. Funnily enough, I loved and adored Liberace because of his wonderful showmanship. I also sang a lot. When I was 17, I was asked to be a backing vocalist for Dina Ross, which was an absolutely amazing experience. It was what really pushed me into the industry. Then I was trained how to be a vocal coach and moved into that thanks to great mentors.    

 

I ended up working with a lot of big artists, record labels and music companies:  Will Young; Simon Fuller; Simon Cowell; Pop Idol (as a vocal coach) and a bunch of other television shows as a judge and vocal coach. Vocal coaching is really important. And as a coach, I teach both vocal techniques and performance techniques. Most vocal coaches choose one of those things. But I bring together technique and actual performance.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

How did you manage to transition from working with Diana Ross into being a vocal coach?

 

CS:

 

I moved very naturally from singing to vocal coaching. The people who got me into the job with Diana Ross were vocal coaches and just started teaching me all the aspects involved with being a vocal coach. I really studied and learned, then went into being a coach myself. And a lot of the people who came to see me wanted to work with me constantly, which was very exciting.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

I know that you’re also an excellent self-promoter. What do you think you did right as a musician and as a music business person that brought you all these exciting opportunities in television and working with great artists?

 

CS:

 

First of all, I listened to everyone, instead of just always pushing my own opinions. I listened to what other people had to say constantly. I would also record myself when I would sing and even when I would teach, then look back at what I recorded to see how I was really coming across to people.

 

Basically, I studied diligently, learned everything I could about my craft and then finally, had the confidence to dream and achieve.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

A lot of people are out there who can’t necessarily afford a vocal coach. Can you give some simple tips and best practices that people should be following in order to maintain their voice?

 

CS:

 

There are a lot of basic things most people already know to do, like practice regularly, or breathe properly. For example, when you speak, as I am now, you’re using absolutely everything. You’re naturally breathing in, naturally exhaling and the air is naturally flowing out. When you’re singing, it should be the same thing. It’s not a case of, “I’m about to sing, so I’m going to change how I naturally breathe.”

 

I think something else really critical and not necessarily obvious is that you need to audition yourself for every genre. You might want to sing rock music, but maybe rock does not fit with your voice. You should try every style you can and not get too pigeonholed. Put your eggs in different baskets, as you never know where you’re going to end up. Look at me – I went from Liberace, to Diana Ross, to Pop Idol/X Factor! As part of this, you should be asking people around you for feedback. You could ask your parents, the neighbors or people at your church or at school. Just try everything and be bold enough to ask people for their opinions.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

As someone who has worked on American Idol-type shows overseas, what did you find, performance wise, that separated those that made it through to the end from those you let go early in the competition?

 

CS:

 

In my opinion, being good is just really just about artists not trying hard to do what has not been tried before. For instance, singers need to listen to the lyrics to a song and convey what those lyrics mean to them personally through their performance, so the audience can feel that. I always tell people it’s about studying, learning and dreaming. You need to take a look at what others have done before, learn from that and then find your way.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

And can you give an example of a singer who has done that very well?

 

CS:

 

One example I can give is Leona Lewis. I have worked with her and knew her before she became famous. She got in touch with me and did not have a lot of money. She and her dad approached me, because they knew me from TV. They were asking questions about what she should do and what she should focus on. I gave her very honest feedback, and she studied, learned and kept dreaming,  “I want to be a singer.” She then auditioned to get onto X-Factor and got on the show and won. And she became known throughout the world.

 

How did that happen? I believe it was because she moved her career forward in small steps, trying one thing, then the next, then the next. However, for everyone out there, it really is about practicing constantly. 90 percent of it is studying, and 10 percent of it is putting it out there. But everything is hard work. And it’s putting in the hard work that is important.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

And can you share anything about the best methods for maintaining and preserving your voice?  

 

CS:

 

Singing is like being an athlete. An athlete has people who are constantly working with them – in football, tennis, etc. Singing is the same. Having a vocal teacher is very important. And of course, I can only talk about it from the perspective of how I work with my clients, but you constantly have to look at the technique and the performance. Because, when you get up to perform and add the singing on top of the performance, sometimes everything can go out the window.

 

For example, there are different singing techniques you have to use whether you’re going into the studio or going out on tour, or whether you’re singing in front of 20 people or 20,000 people. There is troubleshooting involved with navigating all of these different things.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

And what are some of the most common technical mistakes you run into when you work with people?

 

CS:

 

There are a few common mistakes I see.

 

  1. People will be singing a song and they’ve never actually stopped to listen to what the lyrics are really saying.
  2. Some people forget they need to not only sing, but also conserve breath. You need to take a breath at the right point, so you’re not pushing your voice.
  3. People will sing so loudly – and you can’t sing too quietly either, of course – that they can’t take the dynamics any higher.

You really must have control over dynamics and proper breathing. But you also have to be able to express real feeling and an understanding of the lyrics, because you need to really tell a story through your singing.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

I’ve studied a little bit with New York City-based vocal coaches, like Melissa Cross and Don Lawrence. Both of them described the sound coming from above your mouth, or from the mask of your face. Do you advise a direction people should sing towards?

 

CS:

 

In your face, you have different places you want the sound to bounce off of, so singing towards a specific direction is definitely important. But there are also other subtle elements. For instance, you want to feel like your feet are planted firmly on the ground, whether you’re sitting or standing. And you want the music to be moving inside everything, and your singing to be as natural as if you are speaking. Singing well is about tying many different ideas together.      

 

As a vocal coach, I know that just playing a piano for someone and having them stand there and sing “la la la” is not teaching them to sing. That’s the old-fashioned way. I’m also not into teaching people to sing karaoke or to imitate someone’s voice. It’s about identifying a sound for you.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

What is the biggest obstacle people come up against when they come to you and their pitch is slightly off. Is this about practice, or are there techniques they can use?

 

CS:

 

A lot of that is about really listening and practicing to get a feel for where the music needs to sit in your voice. But again, you have to record what you’re doing when you’re practicing and then go back and listen to find out where something went wrong if you want to understand where the pitch is off.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

And are there any other tips you’d like to share with singers?

 

CS:

 

Well, here are 5 tips I think are probably the most important of all for singers:

 

  1. Audition Your Singing Teacher. Just because someone can sing, doesn’t mean they know how to teach you how to sing. Find out whether what they have to offer is what you need – for example, if you want to do musical theatre, you need someone who truly understands what that type of voice needs.
  2. Do Your Research. Great singers are always inspired by other great singers. Find out who the singers you like favored and then who they liked and so on. For example, Christina Aguilera loved Aretha Franklin. Aretha Franklin loved gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. You gain so much as a singer by listening.
  3. Treat Your Voice Well. Warming up is so crucial. Your vocal cords are like muscles that need to be treated with care. A runner would never just get out onto the field and start running.
  4. Learn Good Technique. The technique I teach and emphasize is all about encouraging you to sing in the same place that you speak, so it’s not forcing you to do something that’s unnatural for your voice.
  5. Do everything in moderation. It’s not that you can’t ever have a glass of wine, but drink alcohol in moderation. With smoking, again, I think you have to know your own voice. For some singers, it’s a definite no-no; others can have a cigarette here and there, and their voice is fine. One thing to do a lot of, however, is drink water!

 

To learn more about CeCe and the work she does with artists, please visit the CCA Entertainment website.