Developing musical ideas into musical enterprises isn’t easy. As soon as someone in the business expresses interest in an artist, the artist puts in a mental note to order the Ferrari. Make mine red, please. Hell, I’ll have another one in yellow.
I’m not kidding. I was an artist once.
Artists often tell us that they don’t know enough about the business, but they do know how to make music. I often only half agree with the latter, but the former is clear and that’s why artists need sensible business advice.
This is sensible advice: in the music business, there is no business without music.
Music that shows promise ought to be worked on, so that its potential becomes something actual.
It’s astonishing that so many promising artists I speak with ignore this, opting instead to go on TuneCore and then blame the public when they continue to prefer their favourite bands over something that’s not quite ready yet.
Technology gave artists the option to release every home demo they ever recorded. It also took away the opportunity to face rejection, which is painful and, also, helps the process of artistic development.
A suggested solution is to write more, write with others and to allow the process more time.
The Beatles didn’t write the legendary stuff until their mid 20s, having written a fair amount of songs by then.
A strong musical idea is a good starting point.
I’ve sat through endless discussions where someone tries to explain a good idea for a song into existence. It never works. A song has to be written, arranged and played, and the nuts and bolts have to work in a very real, technical and practical way. What doesn’t work cannot be debated into greatness with words.
Inspiration is magical. Writing, arranging and producing are practical endeavours that rely on technical skills and, often, knowledge of musical theory.
A suggested solution is to find and team up with people with that knowledge.
When the best band on a local bill goes head to head with the best bands on bills in other locations, someone will not get through to the next round. In music, this process is repeated until only Ed Sheeran is left standing.
A suggested solution is a year or three of shit low level gigs. It’s not glamorous, but when everyone knows someone who saw Ed Sheeran at a small gig before he made it – one of the hundreds he did – you just have to accept that either you put in the hours and take the life risk it involves, or you guarantee a permanent residency as the best local band.
Many new artists feel that a manager’s main job is to deliver exposure, like big showcases or support slots. Yet, exposure doesn’t improve anyone. Premature exposure just makes more people aware of what isn’t there yet. In the beginning of a project, a far more plausible job for a manager is to help an artist improve artistically.
When you’ve got something amazing to expose, it’s worth remembering that campaigns aren’t events. They’re processes. Good reactions to a record allow a campaign to grow. When all the best local bands who get played on BBC Introducing go head to head for inclusion on the national show, some won’t make it. In the end, only Drake will dominate the Radio 1 playlist. Or Coldplay.
An old manager friend – a seasoned campaigner – has a great way of working. He’ll call to talk about a new band he is developing. “I’ve worked with them for six months and I’ve got rid of the drummer. Now we’re ready to start writing songs”.
Friendships can get in the way of careers. Some people just aren’t good enough. If someone can’t play by the time they’ve hit their 20s… someone in the business, if a band has been lucky enough to get their attention, is going to suggest making changes.
Modern social media lead culture, fixated on celebrity and talent shows, feeds the feeling that unless everything happens all at once and BIGLY it’s not good enough. The ease and comfort of the DIY counter culture is seductive for reasons too obvious to state: no one says no or demands better. Some people like it like that.
The truth is that it won’t be easy or comfortable and it won’t happen fast.
Art needs time to develop. Popular music is like finger painting is to Picasso. Hardly high brow. But it’s still art.
Those engaged in creating ought to chill and write a great song. The rest will come as sure as the sun will rise.