Category: Music Industry

How to Get Started in the Music Business in 3 Simple Steps

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

In the music industry, there’s a saying that gets tossed around pretty often. Though there are different variations, the basic mantra is this:

“It’s called the music business for a reason.”

This is what the pros are saying when they toss that phrase around:

For recorded music to reach a listener, 98% of the time, some kind of business transaction was involved. For every beautiful song, for every masterful lyric, there was a person doing business behind the scenes making things happen.

Lets put it this way- if you want an electric guitar to be amplified, you have to plug it in. If you are only playing to a few people who are about 3 feet away from you, you might not need to use the amp. But if you want more people to hear what you’re doing, you have to plug that bad boy in and crank up the volume. Your music(the awesome creative stuff that comes out of your brain) is the guitar, and the business (the money, the marketing, the networking) is your amplifier.

Unfortunately, many independent musicians I meet are only plugging the guitar in halfway. Sure, they look like they’ve got everything right, but a guitar that’s only partially plugged in still isn’t going to make much noise.

So if you’re just getting started on the business side of “music business,” we’ve outlined the first three things you should do to plug in, power up the amp, and start your journey in the music industry.

Step 1- Be Professional

This may seem a little obvious, but the way you present yourself is important. You need to be professional in every different facet of your music career, but a good place to start is your web presence. This means creating a nice looking website with a custom domain, a simple electronic press kit (EPK), and making sure your social media profiles are up to date. To add an extra touch of professionalism, it’s also a good idea to choose a font or 2 and try to stick with those when you are making your website, EPK, and creating graphics for social profiles. Creating a website and EPK show industry professionals that you are willing to put some effort and energy into your music, and updated social media profiles will help your fans get to know you, and know where to find you and your music on the web.

You also want to invest a little time in the way you present yourself to people face to face. It might be a good idea to have a few business cards made up (after you’ve already decided on a website domain!) to give to other musicians and pros you might meet. You also need to decide if you’ll have merchandise to sell, and make sure your merch set-up is functional and visually pleasing. And as much as we hate it, go ahead and take a look at what you’re wearing. Whether you like it or not, many people’s first impression of you is going to come from what you’re wearing, especially when you’re onstage. So take an extra five minutes before your next gig and think about if what you’re wearing is a good visual interpretation of who you are, and what kind of music you play.

Step 2- Be Organized

If you want to be a part of the music business, you have to treat your music like a business! Most well run small businesses started with a plan that detailed a mission statement, legal  structure, and how daily business will be run. I’m not saying you have to have a complicated business plan. But there are two things you need to keep careful records of.

Money:

You need to know what you are spending money on, and what money is coming in. Not only will this make your taxes way easier at the end of year, (yes, you do have to pay taxes on the income you earn from music!) but it will let you know how your business is doing. If you make a profit for six months, and then the next three months you are losing money, you need to find out why, and detailed records will help you with this. You can use a spreadsheet (like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets) or a more complex accounting program like Quickbooks.

People:

It’s also vital that you keep track of your contacts. You need to know who you’ve talked to, when you talked to them, and what you talked about. This helps you define and expand your network. You can easily create a spread sheet, or a word processing document to keep track of these things. I recommend Google Docs, since you can access it from anywhere as long as you have a Gmail account. This is the place to keep the phone number of the graphic designer you met in line at the grocery store, and the email of the booking agent of that festival you want to play. A database like this will help you to know when to get in touch with people, send a follow up email, and if you need to send any extra materials to them (maybe a demo or a press kit).

Step 3- Be Proactive

Great music and great business ideas don’t mean much if you don’t put action behind them. To borrow from our earlier analogy, you need to turn the volume up on that amp! Just like practicing your instrument takes time, energy, and commitment, the business side of your music does too. Start out by devoting a few hours a week to your business. Spend some time marketing and creating content for fans, or work on getting your music placed in some licensing opportunities. Opportunities in the music industry come to musicians who are looking for opportunities. Don’t just sit around and hope you’ll get discovered. Go to some local shows in your area and meet other musicians. Play as many open mics as you can. Do some research on ways to grow your career (like reading the blogs on this website!).

Most importantly: perform, and do it well. Playing your music live is the best way to get new fans, cement relationships with current fans, and meet other musicians and industry professionals. Putting on a great live show also gives you legitimacy as a musician.  This means lots of practice time making sure your music is absolutely killer before you get in front of an audience. The relationships you form at shows, and the reputation you will gain by playing awesome shows, are major factors in propelling you to the next level of your music career.

Beginning the journey of turning your music from a hobby into a business can be intimidating,  but it doesn’t have to be. Putting these three steps into practice can help you put your best foot forward, and begin that journey in the right direction.
Have any tips to artists just starting out, or any advice on beginning a career in the music industry? Let us know in the comments!


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Making It In Music: How to Define Success

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Have you ever gone to the grocery store and bought a whole trunk full of food, and realized when you got home that you have nothing to actually eat? You bought good food, but you can’t make a complete meal out of any of it.

Being an independent musician can feel like that sometimes. There are lots of choices, lots of decisions to be made, but in the end, what makes up a successful career?

Some people want Ramen noodles for dinner. Some people want steak and potatoes. Others may want lasagna. People have different tastes, and musicians are going to have different ideas about what being a truly “successful” artist looks like.

You have to decide what defines success for you.

Who Are You?

To determine where you want to go with your music, you need to find out who you are. Take a step back from yourself for a moment. As an artist, it can be difficult to separate yourself from your music, but in order to make some decisions, we need to take a bird’s eye view and create an objective analysis. Ask yourself these three questions:

What is my genre?

I know, this is a terrible question. You hate pigeonholing yourself. I understand. But practically, you need to have some idea of the genre of music you play, and the sub-genre you fit into.

Some genre decisions are easy. You may know without a doubt that you are a country artist. But where exactly do you fit in country? Are you Texas country? Nashville pop? Bro-country? If you’re a rock artist, are you punk?  Neo-grunge? You play folk? Does it lean more bluegrass or folk/rock?

There are hundreds of choices. You don’t have to stuff yourself into a tiny box. But having a good, descriptive genre can help you communicate with listeners, distributors, labels, venues….the list goes on and on. When you know yourself well, you can help other people get to know you. And you can make wise decisions about where you are headed.

Who is Successful in my genre?

There’s a good chance you’re already listening to artists whose music is similar to yours. Do some research on someone who you would consider successful in your genre. This might be someone like Carrie Underwood, Sufjan Stevens, Kendrick Lamar, Joywave, or Sara Bareilles. Knowing who is doing well in your genre can give you a good starting place as you try to determine your idea of success.

It will also help you be realistic about your aspirations. If there is a large audience for your genre of music, your definition of success might be broader than someone who has a more niche market. Country, pop and hip-hop artists at the top of their game regularly play arenas. A artist who makes meditation music probably won’t be playing in an arena, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t successful.

Having your dreams of a music career firmly planted in the solid ground of what’s actually possible will help you avoid major disappointments, and will give your career a foundation to stand on.

What do I want?

So you know who you are, you know what is possible, now what do you want?

This is going to look different for every person. We all have different dreams, goals, locations, resources, skills, and talents. Maybe your idea of success is as grand as playing sold out stadiums. Maybe it’s creating music full time and sharing your music regionally. Maybe it’s playing once a week at an open mic or being signed to a record label. All of these ideas of success are good goals to work towards.

Take a second to jot down what success looks like for you. It doesn’t have to be a long description, maybe it’s just a few key words. But go ahead, put it in writing.

Then put it somewhere you’re going to look at it. You might tape it to your mirror, or put it on the dashboard of your car. Remind yourself daily of what you want your career to look like.

Success in the music industry (or any industry) takes hard work, dedication, and action. When you know the direction you want to go in, you can begin to take the steps to get there.

Success in Stages

No success is overnight. If you look at the careers of many top level artists, you will see years of hard work behind current successes. If success is achieved too easily, it will disappear just as fast as it’s gained. You have to put in blood, sweat, and tears to reach career goals.

But what if your goal is miles ahead of where you are now? It might seem like an impossible task to get to where you want to be. To get to any level of success, it’s a good idea to have smaller goals leading up to the big one. This allows you to track your progress, and can keep you from getting discouraged.

Want to play in huge arenas? Start with shows in a coffee shop, or play some open mic nights. Once you feel comfortable there, and people are responding well, start trying to get shows at venues with a bigger capacity. Do you want to be a hit producer? Start analyzing songs and find out what makes them great, and ask a friend if you can arrange a song or two for them.

Small steps and manageable goals add up to create success.

Don’t Be Afraid to Evaluate

You also need to be able to look objectively at your idea of success and your goals. You need to know when they aren’t going to work. This is extremely difficult, but knowing when to back out of something that’s not working is just as important as moving forward when something goes well.

Sometimes, life just doesn’t work the way you want it to. You need to be able to step back—even when that’s the last thing we want to do—and objectively look at what’s going on. You may need to reevaluate your overarching career goals. You might just need to alter the way you are trying to achieve those goals.

I’m not saying you should give up.

What I am saying is that we live in the real world, not fantasy music land. Things aren’t always going to go exactly the way you want them to. Sometimes we are limited by circumstances beyond our control. That doesn’t mean you throw in the towel, it just means that you look for an alternate route. Detours are hardly ever pleasant, but a road is a road, and can still take you to your destination.

Being a successful musician is going to look different for everyone. Knowing your own personal idea of success is the first step in achieving your music industry goals.




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5 Foolproof Ways to Make Music Industry Contacts

How To Network: Five Foolproof Ways To Make Music Industry Contacts

By Gregory Douglass - Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

written by: Gregory Douglass

Whether you’re an emerging artist or a seasoned professional, it can feel daunting for musicians at any level to make music industry contacts that are worthwhile. It’s hard enough to know where to begin, let alone make any worthwhile connections. Trust me, I know! So how does one tackle this crazy beast we call music industry networking? Here are 5 Foolproof Ways To Make Music Industry Contacts that will totally blow your mind.

1. Figure out who you truly want to connect with

If you’re like most musicians, you’re networking efforts currently consist of either nothing at all or constantly trying to conquer the world. Neither approach is effective, and both lead to the same dead-end results… so start focusing in on a select few. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Whom am I dying to work with?
  • Who do I think will really “get” me and my music?
  • Who’s already in my corner?

It doesn’t matter how “connected” a person already is or how “connected” you think they are. So long as every answer to these questions remains in alignment with your goals, dreams, and desires, you can’t go wrong. Sometimes, all it takes is one right connection that changes everything, and then the rest takes care of itself!

2. Reach out genuinely

In any initial correspondence, you want to make a good first impression. First impressions are everything. If you connect with people genuinely, you will never come across as being opportunistic, and that’s very important. After all, people prefer to work with others who they like and trust.

Conferences are great places to network, and after parties are where the real connections are made (a little liquid courage goes a long way)! But any action you take, and circumstance you find yourself in, is an opportunity waiting to foster if you’re open to it.

3. Offer to help

So many artists have only their best interests in mind when they are trying to make new connections. Now imagine how much further you can get by offering to help in ways that might be beneficial to each person you are trying to connect with instead of just begging them to help you? When you approach anyone with “tables turned” in mind, it’s much easier to understand how a person might be more open to correspondence than not. If you are able to contribute value to someone else, they will be far more likely to help you in return.

4. Follow up regularly

You’ve already planted the seed with your offer to help. Now stay on their radar—respectfully, but consistently! Give each connection time to foster. In fact, plan any connection you intentionally pursue as far in advance as you can without any expectation of immediate gratification. There is a time for everything, and even the most powerful connections can take their sweet time before they are ripe and ready to harvest.

5. Don’t burn bridges

I repeat: don’t ever burn bridges with anyone. You never know who really holds the power in ways that could catapult your career! Chances are, a grand opportunity will present itself from someone you least expect when you least expect it. If you let every connection foster through genuine and consistent correspondence with those you care about the most, you will be amazed at what will manifest in your career!

I hope that these tips at least offer a much-needed shift in perspective for the imminent success of your music career. And remember this: while big opportunities may be beyond your control, the lasting impression you leave is always within your means.

You’re a rock star. Never change.

Here’s to your creative genius!

For the video version of this blog, head on over to Gregory’s website, The Creative Advisor.




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Hard Work Alone Won't Prevent Costly Mistakes

Hard Work Alone Won’t Prevent Costly Mistakes

By Rocky Athas - Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

written by: legendary guitarist Rocky Athas

When I started my career as a guitarist, I was focused on being able to play guitar all day, every day, at every possible opportunity. I was young and excited to live the life of a musician (truth be told, I’m still excited about playing, writing, and recording music). I thought that if I worked hard, I’d make it, and everything would turn out okay. While I’m proud that I lived by that standard and worked my ass off, time has shown me that the theory is flawed. Yes, it’s incredibly important to build a solid foundation on hard work… but real success requires something more.

My years of hard work would have gone much further sooner if I had known a few things up front. When I was young, I knew little of how the business side of music really worked. I did not know what my rights were, and I trusted the people I worked with. Surely they had my best interest at heart…

My lack of awareness and naivety resulted in a number of headaches and heartaches. I’m not too proud to admit that I learned these lessons the hard way. I’m a bit wiser now.

What surprises me today is how much things have remained the same. Even though new tools and technologies are available to musicians, we still face many of the same challenges I faced years ago. Now, I want my fellow musicians to be able to turn their passion into a sustainable business (which happens to be my personal goal). I also know how big a difference real wisdom gained through experience could have made in my early career. So, I’ve decided to share some of my experience with you.

To all musicians—young and old, novices and pros, local legends and road-weary warriors, solo artists and band members, rock stars and country crooners and rappers and everyone in between: please, let my mess be a message to you.

Early Times were Good Times… Mostly

In the 80s, I was hired to play guitar with Black Oak Arkansas. For those unfamiliar with the group, BOA was one of the top 5 touring rock acts in the 70s. They earned three gold albums and sold close to five million records from 1972 to 1976. BOA’s frontman, Jim Dandy, was a huge influence on later acts (like Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth). Bands that are legendary today—like KISS, Bruce Springsteen, and Aerosmith—all opened for BOA. Given the band’s status, I was more than happy to be a member.

When I joined BOA, the group had an attorney that also acted as their manager. They had also signed a record deal with a label and had received a sizeable front, to be used for recording an album. Not one penny of that front money was disbursed to the musicians; it all went to studios, engineers, lawyers, and other professionals that the label hired.

As happy as I was to be in the band and to be recording, I was thrilled when they asked to use five of my songs for one of their albums. Songwriting was not part of my compensation agreement with the band, so I was entitled to receive royalties for my songwriting. I was very excited about this new opportunity.

Getting Paid is Not So Easy

Of course, getting paid for the songs would’ve been nice. That’s right. Even though five of my songs were recorded, I didn’t get any money. Not for writing the songs, not when they were played, not when they were recorded, and not when the albums were sold. No royalties whatsoever.

Now, to the band and the record label’s credit, it wasn’t their fault that I wasn’t paid. As unbelievable as it may sound now, BOA had trusted everything to the manager/attorney that had been hired to handle the band’s business, and we focused on making and recording music. After all, it made perfect sense to think that a manager who was also an entertainment attorney would do a great job representing us as the musicians of BOA. The rub came because the manager was also our attorney, which created a conflict of interest. A good attorney is focused on the best outcome for the people they represent. When that same attorney represents himself as the manager of the band as well as the personal interests of the musicians in the band, it creates a problem.

At the time, none of us understood the conflict of interest that had been created by allowing our manager to also represent us as our attorney. After all, we were famous because of our music, not our business degrees.

Lesson learned: never allow your manager to also be your attorney.

One of the business aspects handled by this manager/attorney was the distribution of income from mechanical and royalties payments; these came from the record label and were to be distributed to the songwriters. And… well, he handled it, wholly and completely. If we asked about payments owed to us we were told “all the money was used to offset expenses”, that nothing was left for us. However, we were never told what or how much those expenses were, and we were never given statements to review and reconcile. In retrospect, I now realize that if our manager had not also been our attorney, we could have gotten to the bottom of this problem.

My patience began to wear thin. I was all about creating music and performing, but I found it difficult to focus on the music I loved. Was I getting screwed by the very people I trusted? All I needed was a little cooperation and clarity, but after a number of failed attempts to resolve the problem, I became even more frustrated. It appeared that our manager/attorney was not able to provide the information that I needed to see. Details showing how the money was spent and what royalties were paid were not available to me.

Very frustrated, I decided to leave the band.

It Just Gets Better

Sadly, the story doesn’t end there. A few years later, I was out shopping with my wife, killing time while she did her thing. I was perusing the many CDs offered in this huge retail chain store when I saw a brand new release—a greatest hits album for BOA. Curious, I turned it over and looked at the track list and credits. Sure enough, two of the songs that I had written were on this new album… and I had NO idea! Again, my songs had been used without compensation, and this time they didn’t even bother to tell me about the release!

As you can imagine, this discovery really ticked me off. Instead of walking away like I had before, I hired my own lawyer to find out where my royalty payments were and who was holding them up.

It turns out that the record label had paid my royalties all along… straight to the BOA manager/attorney, just as I had suspected. These were the royalties that were supposed to be disbursed to the songwriters. That was, after all, how our contract had been written. So my new lawyer went after the band’s old manager/lawyer, trying to get my royalties back for me. Sounds easy enough… except the old lawyer had died a year or two earlier, and everything was tied up in probate.

After spending a good chunk of money to find and recover my royalties, my new lawyer told me this: it would likely cost more money in legal fees to sort through the probate mess than I was actually owed. Of course, we had no way of knowing how much I was owed unless we pursued the matter further. So, did I spend more money to recover an unknown amount… or did I let it go?

I let it go.

This means that the only people making money on those five songs were the manager/lawyer (and whoever inherits any fortune he might have left behind)… not the band and not the songwriters (including myself).

Lessons Learned

There are several morals to this sad and embarrassing story.

First and foremost:  Be careful who you trust, and only trust what you can verify, and never use your attorney as anything but your attorney.

Second: You’re never too big to be swindled, misled, or mismanaged.

Third: Take responsibility. I am ultimately responsible for the situation I was in. I signed a contract I couldn’t verify and I was forced to trust those I was working with—this led to lost opportunities and an unknown amount of lost income.

To this day, I do not know how much money I lost to the pocket of that lawyer, and I’ll probably never know. It was an expensive mistake, but it hasn’t been a complete loss. I’ve learned that my music career is really MY business, and that no one but myself is responsible for it.

In light of that, I’ve worked hard to educate myself on aspects of the business that I have ignored in the past. Going forward, I won’t make the same mistakes. And I never sign anything that I don’t fully understand. You cannot expect others to do the difficult stuff for you if I you are unwilling to do it for yourself.

My hope in writing this article is that you don’t have to learn these painful lessons firsthand. So, listen up. Be smarter than I was. Don’t blindly let someone else handle things—royalties, sales, anything—for you. Pay as much attention to the business side of your career as you do to making and playing music. Don’t let your hard work—your writing, playing, and recording—be for nothing. Hard work is very important, but being involved and caring about the mundane details of your own career in crucial.

Want to know more about me? Check out my new album or biography or find me at a show near you. I’d love to meet you!




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Making It Without a Record Label

Making It Without a Record Label

By Rocky Athas - Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

written by: legendary guitarist Rocky Athas

I’ve been playing my guitar professionally for over thirty years. In that time, I’ve played or toured with a number of notable artists and bands, including: Al Green, Van Morrison, Foreigner, Peter Frampton, The Kinks, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Buddy Miles, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Mick Taylor of The Rolling Stones, Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, Kansas, Black Oak Arkansas, Joe Bonamassa, Three Dog Night, Cheaptrick, The Cars, Joe Walsh, .38 Special, Bo Diddley, Steppenwolf, Steve Miller, Gregg Allman, John Mayall, and B.B. King.

Needless to say, I’ve got some incredible stories; I’ve also gained a good bit of insight. I’d like to share a little of that here, especially since I hear about talented musicians struggling to “make it” in the new world of music we live in today.

Making It—The Long and Bumpy Road

When I first started my music career, I spent all of my time developing my craft, developing my technique, and writing songs. I also played every gig imaginable—thanks to a club owner who “wanted to try something new” and my well-intentioned manager, this included a week-long surprise stint competing with exotic dancers for the audience’s attention. Like I said, every gig imaginable.

DefiningSuccess_Inset1

There were definitely bumps in the road, and there were days when the struggle to convert my passion into a financially viable career seemed impossible to overcome. Despite the bumps, I persevered. Giving up wasn’t an option for me. Music was my passion, and I knew I’d never be happy with another career. All I wanted was to be able to pay my bills by doing what I loved: playing my guitar.

In the dark days, hope and passion kept me afloat, and perseverance moved me along. Fortunately, my hard work and perseverance began to pay off. I was playing my guitar and paying my bills; as a bonus, I was having fun doing it! I loved the music, loved the people I played with, and loved performing. Looking back, life was good. At this point, I should have felt like a success, but I didn’t. In my mind, something was still lacking.

At the time, the musicians I considered successful were those who had been signed to labels. They were releasing records and touring on a label’s dime, not their own. Talented musicians and bands were offered recording contracts. If you weren’t with a label, it was because you weren’t good enough.

Needless to say, that’s how I defined success. That’s how every musician I knew defined success. That’s what I needed to feel like I had “made it”.

After years of hard work, a day came where a label whispered in my ear the sweet nothings musicians dream of hearing: “We’ll put out your brilliant albums.” “You’ll be in stores everywhere.” “We’ll send you on tour!” The promises kept coming, and I was sold. I quickly signed their paperwork. I finally felt like I’d made it!

Almost Paradise

For a while, things were great. The label footed the bill for just about everything up front. They handled all the scheduling, ordering, distribution, and marketing. I was playing great gigs, releasing new albums, and going on tours. Again, I loved the music, loved the people I played with, and loved performing. I felt like a success.

But… life with a label wasn’t quite what I dreamed.

Over the course of my career, I’ve been in various bands as well as on my own, and I’ve worked with a few different labels. To be fair, each of them had their strengths and their shortcomings. The fact that I had to deal with the shortcomings surprised me, even though I knew other musicians who were in the same boat.

While with a label, I was so far removed from manufacturing, distribution, and marketing decisions that I barely knew what decisions were being made, let alone had any input on those decisions. I’ve had labels tell me what music I could release and when I could release it. I had to work the way they wanted me to work or not at all. And, to top it all off, I almost lost all of my rights to the music I had created.

I’ve been with labels that had absolute control over my bookings, which sounds nice until they stop booking shows and don’t respond to phone calls. Scheduling shows or releasing music on my own would have caused a breach of contract and even more of a mess. If getting the label to respond about releases or bookings was hard, getting accurate sales records from them was even harder… which made verifying or fighting their claims that I owed them money nearly impossible.

As worrisome as these issues were, I dismissed the nagging thoughts and kept playing. I told myself that, since I was signed with a label, I’d made it. I’d be okay. After all, I wasn’t the only one going through it; my fellow musicians were in the same boat. That’s just how it was; there wasn’t another way… Right?

Redefining Success

One day while on tour, I met a musician whose spectacular guitar playing blew me away. Thoroughly impressed by his talent, I asked him which label he was with. His response was not what I expected.

He wasn’t with a label, and he did not want to be signed.

It turned that he had rejected every label offer that came his way since starting his solo career. He wanted to be independent. His philosophy was simple: you don’t need a record label to have people to enjoy your music.

DefiningSuccess_Inset3

This was different than anything I’d heard musicians say before. I’d always associated talented, successful musicians with labels. Yet, this guy, with all the talent in the world, was happy to be independent, and he was doing well. Really, really well. The guy had millions of fans across the world (currently millions on one social network alone). He spent his time writing the music he wanted, recording and releasing it when and where he wanted, and touring the world to play it for his fans. He was personally involved in all aspects of his career, from writing the music to selling his merchandise directly on his website. Yes, he had help, but he was involved and in charge.

All of his involvement and work paid off. Without a label controlling what he did, he was free to take his career any direction he wanted, and he had the knowledge and network to make it happen. And, without a label to take its cut of his profits, he actually made a good living doing what he loved; there was no scraping by or making ends meet. In short, he’d really made it.

And how was I doing after signing with my label? Not so well.

So, shortly after meeting a musician who was thriving out on his own, I decided to walk away from my label.

Ch-Ch-Changes

Walking away from my label has been a bit of a struggle. I’ve had to step up and do things myself that, for years, were done for me, often without me even considering what was going on. When I start to feel overwhelmed by all there is to do, I remind myself of my talented friend’s example—he had achieved success without a label, and so could I.

Since leaving my label, I’ve started recording new music. This means finding the studio and producer, scheduling the time, making travel arrangements, and footing the bill myself. I’ve built up a nice network of contacts over the years, and I enjoy getting to choose exactly who will be involved on my projects.

In terms of booking shows, I’ve been blessed with some incredible opportunities, and my show schedule is pretty full… but not so full that I have no time to write and record. That full schedule has led to some wonderful publicity and interviews, which is great as long as you do something with it; so, I’ve had to learn a bit about PR. I’ve also had to find and hire photographers, graphic designers, and videographers to create product packaging, promotional materials, and music videos.

I’ve had to find manufacturers, order my merchandise, and figure out where to sell it. Very few retail stores still sell music on site, and even then they tend to promote only the biggest names and the hottest new acts. Many online retailers either won’t take you without a label or distributor (who happily takes a large cut), or expect to get a large cut of the proceeds themselves, or both. After years of only getting a tiny cut of the profits from my work, those options weren’t very appealing. So I focused on selling music in person at shows, and that’s gone very well so far.

Speaking of “online”, the internet wasn’t even an option when I first started playing music. There weren’t websites, online retailers, social networks, or streaming services. It’s an entirely new way of thinking for this seasoned musician… but it’s something I’ve had to tackle.

I had to create, manage, and update a website; fortunately, this also gave me the option of selling my music on my own website (in addition to live shows) and retaining all of the profits. No longer was I giving up large chunks of the income that my music produced. Another big plus for me is making a real connection with my fans; when they purchase my music online, I actually know who they are. When I have sold music in the past, I was often not told who purchased it; the retailer kept that information from me. It is very difficult to create a lasting relationship with a fan if you do not know who they are or how to contact them!

I have also created various social media profiles to connect with my fans, and I regularly update them with new content (often linking back to my site for the full post or video). And I’m working to convert those fans from likes and followers on social networks to full fledged relationships with complete contact information on my own site. I can think of many artists that struggle to communicate effectively with fans on social media sites; their posts are just another blurb scrolling past the fan’s homepage, often going unnoticed. Since these fans represent my best opportunity to sell new releases and attend my shows, I am very interested in connecting with them.

DefiningSuccess_Inset4

I’ve definitely had some help along the way—friends and family, kind fans that want me to succeed, and hired pros who can do what I can’t—but I haven’t sat back and let others do for me, without me. I’ve been in the trenches right along with them, watching and learning and then doing it for myself as much as possible. It’s been overwhelming at times, but I persevered, just like I did when I first started playing.

The good news? It’s starting to pay off. I’m writing and recording the music I want, playing with phenomenal musicians, and performing to wonderful crowds of fans. I’m connecting with those fans online and at shows. I’m selling my merchandise. I’m able to pay my bills by doing what I love: playing my guitar.

I’m starting to feel like a success.

Why Am I Telling You This?

I know how I defined success years ago. Having traveled that path and now traveling the one I’m on, I humbly admit that I was wrong. I wish I knew then what I know now, but I can’t change my past.

I can, however, help others avoid the mistakes I made.

Every day I hear talented musicians pining for a record deal—from up-and-coming young artists to old pros who have been burned by labels before. I see their hunger for that definition of success; I hear it in conversations with them, in their posts online, even on those reality TV shows. Yes, record labels can do a lot, and you might be able to sign better contracts than I did. You might be savvier than I was.

But, you might not need a record label, and you might be better off without one.

Today is the best time in the history for making music as an independent artist. There are so many tools available that simply didn’t exist before. Moreover, it’s truly fun to be an independent musician, evolving without any strings to tie you down and hold you back. Yes, there’s a lot of work involved. But for me, the hard work is so much more enjoyable knowing who and what I am working for!

Want to know more about me? Check out my new album or biography or find me at a show near you. I’d love to meet you!




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What To Do AFTER You’ve Finished Writing a Song

What To Do AFTER You’ve Finished Writing a Song

By Cliff Goldmacher - Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Written by: Cliff Goldmacher

Whether you’ve spent ten minutes or five months working on a song, there’s a sense of satisfaction and relief that washes over you when you know, without a doubt, that it’s done.

But… now what? Time to kick back and relax? Or, maybe you’re headed out to celebrate with friends. Not so fast! If you think your work is over when you’ve finished writing the song, you’re sorely mistaken.

Finishing a song is a victory, but it’s not the final step in the process if you want your music to generate income for you. Here are six steps that you can take after finishing a song to help you transform your songwriting into a profitable business and position yourself for opportunities that may arise.

Finalize Your Lyric Sheet

Once your song is done, it’s a great idea to create an accurate, final lyric sheet.

You should write out every word of the song exactly in the order it’s sung. Yes, this means avoiding shortcuts; no writing “repeat chorus.” Writing everything out reduces the chance of error, omission, or confusion and makes it easier for demo vocalists to accurately read the lyrics as they sing the song.

How you format the lyric sheet can also make a difference for the vocalists. I’d recommend indenting your choruses to make them easily distinguishable from your verses and bridge. I’d also ensure that your lyric all fit on one page; you might have to single-space the lyric, combine shorter lines, or decrease the font size to do this (but not too small). If you still can’t fit your entire lyric on one page, you might seriously consider additional editing.

Lastly, you’ll want to include all the pertinent information about your new song:

  • The date of creation (D.O.C.)
  • The name of the writer (or writers, if you co-wrote the song)
  • The publishing information
  • The performing rights organization (PRO) you belong to

Including this information on a lyric sheet means the information is at hand when you submit it to a record label or music supervisor. If you need an example, my lyric sheets look like this:

©3.1.12 Cliff Goldmacher, Famous In France Music (BMI)

Create A Definitive Rough Recording

Now that your song is done, you’re going to need a recording that captures its melody, lyric, and chord changes. As I’ve mentioned before, there is no Grammy for best rough recording; a simple guitar or piano and vocal recorded directly into your smartphone or laptop is perfectly acceptable.

This recording is useful for a couple of reasons. First, it will prevent you from forgetting how your song goes. This may sound silly to those of you who’ve only written a few songs; but, as you begin to write more often and start to build your catalog, you’d be amazed at how quickly these little buggers can erase themselves from your memory. Second, if you choose to take your song to the next level, this recording will serve as reference for the demo vocalists and session musicians.

Schedule A Demo

Speaking of bringing your song to the next level: it’s time to decide if this song is currently worth a further investment of your time and financial resources. If we’re honest with ourselves as songwriters, we have to admit that not every song we write is worthy of a demo. However, if you believe that this particular song is genuinely ready, it’s time to record a demo.

Since you’ll be presenting this to the music industry at large, the quality of your recording will reflect your talent and your dedication to your craft. This is not the time to hope that music business professionals will be able to “hear through” your rough recording. So, unless you’re prepared to spend the necessary time and effort learning to sing, play, and record your own songs at the highest level, I’d recommend using a professional recording studio, a trained demo singer, and at least one session musician. Yes, that means investing more money in your song, but—in this case—it’s probably best to leave the recording to the pros. You can spend your time writing more music.

Whether you work with a studio or go the DIY route, I would be sure to obtain two high-resolution versions of your song: one with vocals, and one without. Instrumental versions of your songs are great to have, and this is the best time to get one!

Catalog Your Mixes

Ideally, the recording studio will have provided you with high-resolution files of your song. It’s important that you know how to embed necessary metadata (the song title, copyright details, contact info, and so on) and how to convert the high-resolution files (like .wav files) to lower-resolution files (like mp3s, which are easier to email). Both of these steps should be doable in iTunes or similar programs; instructions for your specific program can be found online. While these may seem like daunting tasks, they are important skills to learn. Think of them as preparing your product for shipment and including your return address.

You’ll also need to store the files where they’re both safe and easily accessible. This way, when an opportunity presents itself, you’ll know exactly where to find them. I can’t think of anything more depressing than an artist, label, or publisher asking for a copy of your song, and you not being able to find it.

Create A Backup

Now that you’ve got your songs and all the accompanying information properly labeled and stored, it’s time to set up a reliable backup system. Learn how to back up your computer to a separate drive or cloud storage system. Remember, it’s not “if” your hard drive—with all your rough recordings, lyric sheets, and finished demos—fails, but “when”. My motto is: if it doesn’t exist in two places, it doesn’t exist.

Under no circumstances should you go without some kind of backup. That’s simply a recipe for a catastrophic event.

DON’T brush this off as an unnecessary step or a waste of your time, and don’t put it off until you have x number of songs finished. Make it a part of the process for each and every song. You made a significant investment to write and record those demos, and your songs themselves are irreplaceable; why wouldn’t you want to protect them?

Pitch Your Song

I know this sounds obvious, but once you have a finished demo of your song, you can’t expect if to make money if it just sits on your computer. You have to get your music in front of people!

While I was a tiny bit guilty of this early in my career, it still amazes me how many songwriters make little to no effort to get their songs out there. They make a variety of excuses, too. “But I create music… I’m not a salesman!” To these musicians, selling music might as well be selling dirt. It lacks all the charm and creativity that they associate with being a musician. It might not be exciting, but it is essential if you want to make a career as a songwriter.

Other songwriters, who are willing to promote their music, tell me, “I don’t know where to start.” I’ll admit that it can be a bit daunting figuring out who is looking for what you’ve got, so I’ll give you a few places to look. Start with reputable pitch sheets, such as Song Quarters and Row Fax, which can provide you with the information you need… for a fee. You could also turn to organizations like Taxi that will do the pitching for you… again, for a fee. If neither of those options appeals to you, your best bet is to get out there and meet the decision-makers yourself. Travel to New York City, Nashville, or Los Angeles; attend music conferences and workshops. There are opportunities to network if you’re willing to look for them. (When networking, be sure to avoid these common mistakes!)

As I said at the beginning of the article, completing a song is a victory. It’s a remarkable accomplishment! Don’t ever forget that, and don’t think I’m saying otherwise. I’m simply saying that, if you want a career as a songwriter, it’s not the last step… but the above six steps will help you get there.




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5 Dangerous Networking Mistakes… and How to Avoid Them

By Cliff Goldmacher - Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Written by: Cliff Goldmacher

How do you—a new songwriter or musician, with talent and drive oozing out your pores but no open doors in sight—meet the decision makers, the movers and shakers, the powers that be? How do you get your work and your talent in front of the people who can make you successful?

That is, arguably, the greatest mystery of the music business.

What’s the second-greatest mystery? Why so many songwriters, once in contact with those elusive industry influencers, throw common sense out the window and behave in ways that can only hurt their reputation and their chances of succeeding in the industry.

In my years as a professional songwriter and producer, I’ve been on both sides of that equation. I’d like to use that experience to help you avoid some of those common mistakes.

Mistake #1: Losing Your Patience/Cool

If you plan to be in the music business for longer than this week, here’s my advice: take a deep breath, and learn to be patient. Patience, more than anything else, is essential for a long and healthy career as a songwriter.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that you might wait years before the networking seeds you plant bear any fruit. Instead of obsessing over each delayed or rejected submission and melodramatically anguishing over the state of your career, funnel that energy into honing your craft, and trust that your talent will prove itself and find a home in time. You’ll save yourself some heartache and better prepare yourself for success.

It’s also vital that you not be impatient. Becoming impatient with someone—whether a publisher who isn’t returning your call or a record label exec who misplaced your submission, again—can only end badly for you. No matter how many justifications you have for losing your cool, doing so brands you as unprofessional… not just to the particular person you had contact with, but with everyone in their network. Yes, that’s right: music industry people compare notes. The last thing you want is for your name—and your explosion of impatience—to be the topic of conversation at lunch or happy hour.

Again, my recommendation is to take a deep breath, and learn to be patient. Odds are, no one is purposely avoiding you and your songs. Instead, they’re likely flooded by submissions for a number of projects and will get to yours in time.

(Bonus tip: the best way I know to not become impatient is to have as many irons in the fire as you can at any given moment. This means you’re never waiting for “that one thing” to come through.)

Mistake #2: Submitting Too Many Songs

You’ve just had a really nice interaction with a publisher, and he expressed interest in hearing some of your songs. You drive home in a daze, with your head up in the clouds; when you get home, you open up your laptop to send him a couple songs. Wait a minute, you think. Why send him just one or two songs? I should send him everything! That way, I have better odds of him finding something he likes, and hitting a home run, and… YES! Send them ALL!

While I understand the temptation to send this individual every song you’ve ever written, including a few that aren’t finished yet, restraint should be your default setting. Let me say it another way: it is NOT a good idea to send more than requested, even if you’re confident that all of your songs are great songs.

Why is that, you ask? Let me tell you.

Imagine the desk in that publisher’s office… maybe a nice, big, wooden one, with a picture of his family in one corner and his computer monitor in another. Wait, you said wooden… you’re picturing a clean desk, one where you can see the top? Wrong. Try again. Add stacks of CDs, covering every last inch of the desk, spilling over onto the bookcase behind and the floor next to it. That’s a little better. Now, that computer you imagined? It has his email accounts on it, each of which has an inbox filled with submissions. Dozens or hundreds of emails with song files attached or links to websites, emails waiting to be read and music waiting to be listened to.

The publisher arrives at work in the morning, and looks at his stacks of CDs and his overflowing, ever-replenishing inboxes. He picks up two CDs; one has two songs on it, and one CD has nineteen songs. Which one do you think he plays first? If you guessed the CD with two songs, you guessed correctly. He can listen to the submission quickly (because there is less to listen to), decide whether or not he likes the music, and move on to the next submission. Pick, listen, decide, repeat. Believe me: if a publisher likes what he hears, he’ll ask you for more. But, if you overwhelm him from the start, you might never get listened to at all.

It’s always better to start small and build up rather than the other way around.

Your best bet is two or three songs on a CD (or in separate emails, if you’re certain he accepts submissions by email). Unless they are requested, there’s no need to include lyric sheets, your biography, or photos. If he likes what he hears, he’ll ask you for more.

Mistake #3: Telling Someone You Have a Hit/You Are A Great Songwriter

The hallmark of a novice is informing the industry person you’re talking to that you’re a great songwriter and you’ve written a hit song… or, it would be a hit if only it got a chance. You’ll do more harm than good by coming on so strong, even or maybe especially if what you’re saying is true.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t believe in your work or be confident about what you’re doing. Instead, it means that you should approach someone, who you want to listen to your music, with humility and an understanding that your music isn’t the only music in their world. I’m a big believer in the “talk softly and carry a big stick” approach when meeting with anyone in the industry. Let your work do the talking.

So, what do you say? Two great options are, “I think I’ve got a song that’s appropriate for your artist,” or, “If you’re looking for songs, I’d like permission to send you a song or two.” These statements suggest that you’re a songwriter, that you have done your research (you know who their clients are), and that you respect their work and their boundaries (by asking for permission and not flooding them with submissions). Similar statements will go a long way towards establishing your professional bona fides.

Mistake #4: Forgetting to Use Common Courtesy

What am I talking about here? Don’t just talk about yourself. Don’t interrupt. Put others’ needs first. Basic common courtesies that we were (or should have been) taught as children… but that often fly out the window, even at music conferences.

The temptation to launch into a ten-minute bio seems to be too great to resist in many cases… but it’s seldom the right time for unsolicited personal information. Given that networking relationships—the healthy ones, that is—take time to develop, your best bet would be to get to know a little bit about the person you’re talking to. In time, they will want to know a little about you as well.

If you find yourself with a private moment to chat with a publisher, A&R rep, or music supervisor, start by asking them a few questions about themselves. You might learn something important, and you’ll probably stand out as one of the few people they met who didn’t shamelessly plug themselves.

Mistake #5: Not Following Up, or Following Up Too Much

You’ve got the beginnings of a nice relationship with a publisher, and he asked you to send him some music. You happily complied and sent a couple of songs—either by mail or email, whichever he preferred. And then you waited, patiently… so patiently that you didn’t follow up. You might as well have not sent anything at all.

Without a brief, to-the-point follow-up email or even-briefer voicemail, your music is likely to get lost at the bottom of a pile of submissions in that publisher’s office. (Remember those piles on the desk? Your music is buried in one of them.)

It’s perfectly acceptable, if not the norm, to follow up on your submission a couple of times. Doing so lets you confirm that it has been received and listened to, and it can act as a gentle reminder to the publisher that requested it in the first place (since he genuinely does have a lot on his plate).

With that said, you need to be judicious in the timing of your follow-up inquiries. There’s a fine line between professionally following up on your submission and becoming a nuisance. Following up too often, such as every day for two weeks, will be more damaging to your reputation and career than not following up at all.

The key is a quick, polite inquiry every couple of weeks and not getting discouraged if it takes several attempts. (Remember Mistake #1!)

It’s also worth noting that, sometimes, you don’t get a response, ever. If you’ve done your job by submitting properly and following up after reasonable time frames, it’s okay to write off a submission. There are plenty of other opportunities out there, and there’s no point in getting discouraged by one that doesn’t come through.

Hopefully, by listing common issues and recommending viable alternatives, this article helps you successfully network in the music industry. By understanding some of the elements of the business side, you can greatly increase your chances of getting your music out there.

And, if you’ve made these mistakes before, don’t despair. Having personally made almost every one of these mistakes early in my career, I can safely say that there is hope and a chance at recovery, even if you’ve slipped up a time or two (or three).




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Talent Isn’t Enough To Make It In The Music Business

By Cliff Goldmacher - Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Written by: Cliff Goldmacher

I’d like to begin this article by saying that I’m not a cynic. On the contrary, I’m a big believer that if your dream is to have success with your music, then, in time, you will find that success.

However, I am a realist.  There are rarely shortcuts in our line of work, and being a gifted songwriter or performer simply isn’t enough, in my experience, to guarantee success. It takes a combination of factors—including patience, perseverance, and, most importantly, an undeniable work ethic—to rise above the masses of musicians hoping to get their songs out in the world.

Here are four reasons that talent isn’t enough to make it:

1. There are lots of talented people

If I’ve learned anything after living in Nashville and New York City over the past almost twenty years, it’s that, at a certain point, talent is the least common denominator. In the big music cities, the pool of gifted songwriters and performers is deeper and wider than we can possibly imagine. This is a good thing; it gives us ample opportunities to learn from each other and improve. But the flip side of this is that talent is only a starting point; it’s all of the other things you do that will separate you from the pack.

2. Talent is Something that you’re given, but it’s up to you to develop it

There’s a reason talent is also referred to as a “gift.” The spark that makes us creative and intuitively wired is something that we don’t choose; we just get it. But just because you’ve got a gift doesn’t mean that you don’t need to develop it or spend time understanding it. That part is actually work, but what happens when you do this work is that you will develop the ability to turn something that was unpredictable into something you can do consistently in order to make a living.

3. You’re running a business

Being a talented songwriter or performer without taking the time to understand the music business is the equivalent of a company that makes a great product that no one will ever hear about because they have no marketing department. In other words, writing the songs is just the tip of the iceberg. You need to remember that, like any business, you’ve got to learn the landscape, know who the major players, are and set specific goals along the way in order to get to the next level. I’m not saying this is easy, but I am saying it’s essential.

4. work ethic is everything

The dangerous myth about the music business is that it’s an exciting, creative world where people make beautiful music, go to parties, and wake up one day to their song playing on the radio. The gritty, unglamorous truth is that just like any business. There are mundane, yet necessary, things you have to do day in and day out in order to get your music out in the world.

There is some glamor and excitement in the music world, but there’s a lot of uninspired work that needs to happen as well. Make sure you’re prepared to do that stuff, too. Having a solid work ethic and a willingness to get up every day and work towards your goal will eventually get you there. It’s not always clear along the way how these little things help, but believe me when I tell you that they do add up and, in the end, make all the difference.

Talent is a wonderful thing and should never be taken for granted. I’m here to remind you to enjoy your gift for the amazing thing that it is. However, I’m also suggesting that this talent is only one part of a bigger set of conditions that need to be met in order for you to successfully get your songs out in the world and make a living doing it.





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The Differences Between Songwriting in New York City vs Nashville

The Differences Between Songwriting in NYC & Nashville

By Cliff Goldmacher - Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Written by: Cliff Goldmacher

As a transplanted songwriter from Nashville to New York City, I’ve had the chance to observe, up close, the approaches to songwriting and the songwriting communities in both cities. While there are of course many similarities, there are also quite a few differences. By the way, I feel I should mention that the following observations are really more my impressions than hard facts.

Differences Within The Similarities

In this article, I’ll start with a similarity between New York and Nashville as it’s readily apparent and then explain how, within that similarity, one city differs from the other. One of the first similarities is that both cities have huge songwriting populations. The depth and breadth of talent in both places encompass many more genres than the obvious country music for Nashville and pop and rock music for New York. There are great pop writers in the suburbs of Nashville and extremely accomplished country songwriters living in Greenwich Village.

Finding The Songwriters

One difference between the two songwriting communities is how easy they are to locate. Because Nashville’s artistic community is predominantly made up of singers, songwriters, and musicians, it’s much easier to find the music/songwriting community there. New York, on the other hand, has a wonderful songwriter population, but it’s mixed in with the countless other artists and creative types that live there and is thus less obvious. In other words, it takes a little more effort to find the songwriters in New York, but believe me, they’re there.

Before moving from Nashville to New York, I’d taken several writing trips a year up to New York and, by a process or trial and error, I found a core group of NYC songwriters that became my go-to people on every trip. This way, when I eventually moved to New York, I felt like I was instantly part of the community, even though I had to discover it little by little. I highly recommend this approach for anyone considering a move to New York as it eases the transition and makes the entire process much less overwhelming.

Co-Writing

Although both New York and Nashville have large numbers of songwriters, co-writing is much more a part of the day to day routine in Nashville. It’s not unusual for a Nashville writer to have five co-writing appointments in a week, where they meet with a different co-writer every day in a publishing company office on Music Row. This happens for several reasons. First of all, as a hired staff songwriter for a Nashville publishing company, you are given a yearly quota of songs that you need to fulfill. The more songs you write, the more quickly you’ll fulfill your quota. Publishers make a real effort to connect songwriters they think will work well together and go as far as to set up co-writing appointments for their writers. As a result, it’s fairly common in Nashville to be set up on a “blind date” co-write. Secondly, even though you’re only credited with half a song for a co-write, it’s easier to motivate yourself to write if you’ve got someone to collaborate with. The act of scheduling appointments and being expected to show up significantly eases the stress of having to create on a schedule.

This approach seems odd to a lot of New York writers, who either are artists themselves and used to writing with their own bands or are songwriters used to working with artists whose schedules are much less predictable.

Lyrics

Staying with the generality that you’re writing country in Nashville and pop or rock in New York, I’ve noticed that the rules of lyric-writing between these genres and cities differ significantly. In Nashville, the story is king. This means that the lyric has to make perfect sense, the images are concrete, and the story has a logical flow from beginning to end. There’s not a lot of room for poetic, impressionistic lyrics that don’t have the arc of a story. New York, on the other hand, while it certainly has its share of great songwriter/storytellers, has a broader tolerance in its pop and rock genres for words that “feel” and “sound” good together.

Please don’t misunderstand. It takes just as much skill to write a great pop lyric where the words convey the emotion of the song and carry the nuances of the melody as it does to write a great story in a country song—but it’s a different skill set. I’ve found that switching from one approach to the other can be creatively liberating and quite a bit of fun. Also, it’s interesting to see how one city’s lyrical approach can bleed into the other’s. In this way, you can end up with country lyrics where the words in the story sound good next to each other or pop lyrics with the arc of a story to them.

Labels

Speaking of artists, another similarity in the two cities is that they are both home to major record labels and their signed artists. This alone attracts a huge number of songwriters to both cities. The difference here is that country music artists are still largely dependent upon outside songs for their projects. In New York, bands tend to write their own material, and it is less common for these artists to go looking for outside songs. Occasionally songwriters will be paired with these bands/artists in New York, allowing the writers to end up with cuts on these acts. Of course, all of these distinctions are lessening as more country artists write or co-write their albums as well.

You Can’t Lose

At the end of the day, both communities are great places to work and create. Ironically, after living in Nashville, working as a staff songwriter, and writing for the country market for twelve years, my first cut was with a New York writer and was recorded by an Irish tenor on Universal Records named Ronan Tynan. In my opinion, it was the blend of our New York and Nashville songwriting sensibilities that came together to create that song. What I mean by this is that, somewhere between the soaring melody more suited to pop and the lyric that had more of a country attention to detail, we came up with a classical crossover song. So, if you’re a Nashville writer thinking about working in New York (or vice versa), I’d highly recommend it. Sometimes it’s the differences that create the best art.

Good luck!




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Is A Record Label In Your Future? What You Need To Know Before Signing

Is a Record Label in Your Future? What You Need To Know Before Signing

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

An artist friend of mine likes to say, “If you choose to self promote your music, it’s probably because you aren’t good enough to get signed by a label.” This same artist has been signed by several labels over an extended music career… but he has nothing good to say about record labels. After two decades as a professional musician he has very little money to show for his career in music, doesn’t own the rights to a large portion of his own music (so, no royalties are coming in), and he still has to tour to make ends meet. He blames record labels and their practices for his situation. Such is the dilemma that musicians face.

Record Labels Poor Reputation – It’s Not All Deserved

Let’s face it. Record labels seem to have a bad reputation, and much of it is deserved. But you should not be too quick to lump them all into the same category. A large number of indie labels have emerged over the last several years and they have filled a real need for the indie artist. These smaller labels have successfully guided countless artists through the maze of the music business with great rewards.

On the other hand, countless artists have sounded off about their failed relationship with a record label, and, for the most part, these labels do not defend themselves. Why? Because they are behaving exactly as the artist describes; they really are doing all of the things that artists complain about. So, what is there to talk about? How can a record label defend themselves if all the negative comments are true?

Record labels tend to do exactly what their contract allows them to do. The rub comes because an artist doesn’t really understand the relationship before signing on the dotted line. The artist is agreeing to a contract that allows the record label to do what they do—and possibly own everything an artist creates—without really knowing what it all means. Specifically, the artist needs to know how the relationship will work, how much money the label is putting up, how that money will be spent, who is financially responsible for what, who approves marketing and production expenses, and which party owns the rights to what is produced.

Most of the time, record labels are not the devil. They’re simply businesses that are designed to make as much profit as possible. Artists, on the other hand, are usually the furthest thing from a profit-driven business. They are creative souls, not accountants. An artist who is also a great business person is a rarity… just like my doctor friends who are great physicians but, for the most part, terrible business people.

Why Sign with a Record Label?

So, why in the world would an artist sign with a record label? That’s easy: the artist wants the business experience the label has to help launch or grow their career. Artists need partners with vast experience, impressive connections, and lots of money to promote their music. A good label will help with everything from song selection to recording, booking, marketing, and distribution of their signed artist. When I say help, I really mean that the label may have complete control over these things.

After all, an artist is asking for help from the label, and no label is going to invest time and money into an artist without securing some control. The label wants to get paid back and make money. Big money, if possible. Most performers signed by a label do not pay off; they just lose money. Someone has to pay for the flops, and the only way to do that is get the highest possible rate of return on the performers that do succeed.

It may not seem fair, but a successful artist has to pay for other artists’ failures.

Think of it this way: Suppose you receive a mail order catalog. You didn’t request the catalog, but there it is, in your mail box. The company that sent out the catalog knows that 98 of 100 of those catalogs will be thrown in the trash—no purchase will be made. The two people out of 100 that do make a purchase have to pay for all of those catalogs that were thrown in the trash. It is called marketing expense. When the company prices its products, it adds enough profit to cover the expense of creating and mailing those catalogs that go in the trash. Otherwise the company would lose money and fail. Record labels are no different.

A good record label is selective about who they sign; the ratio of successful signings to failed signings is crucial to their success as a label. A label should know which artists it can help and which do not fit.

A smart artist is also selective about who they sign with. Why would an artist sign with a label that has a bad track record of signing successful artists? Make sure the label has prior success promoting artists who have a similar style to your own. Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions, and don’t accept general statements. After you become convinced that the label is a good fit, do your homework and read the contract carefully. Have a professional look at it on your behalf. Make sure you know what you are signing up for.

Some artists really need a label to help them make crucial decisions about their career, not to mention the money to ensure a successful launch. Without that help, a talented artist may end up failing and giving up on a career in music. Most of the decisions the label makes will be focused on creating a long-term money-making success of the artist. Yes, a label is in it for the money, but there is nothing wrong with that. Let’s just make sure that the artist understands what that means.

My Friend Lionel

Lionel had a band back in the 70s, and they were a regional success. Great music with lots of exposure in good venues and a loyal fan base that was growing weekly. A local radio station approached Lionel and asked if he would like to hear his music played on the air; of course, Lionel was excited at the prospect and jumped at the chance to meet with the radio station executives. An agreement was reached quickly, and Lionel was on the air that same day.

Success!

It was not until years later, when Lionel went to record his hit song and self release a CD, that he discovered that he no longer owned the rights to his own music. The radio station owned his music. Finding this hard to believe, Lionel contacted the station to follow up. He was told that the station did in fact own the rights. The people he originally spoke to no longer worked for the station, but when he authorized the station to play his music on the air, Lionel had signed a document that gave away his rights. He hadn’t read the entire document. He didn’t realize he was giving up his rights. He thought it just granted the station the rights to play the music over the air. After all, that’s what the station execs he’d met with had told him.

Four Things You Must Do

1. Find a Good Fit. Check out the record label and make sure they can demonstrate past success with artists similar to you. Ask for documentation.

2. Get details. Labels have engaged in signing bands countless times, so I can promise you that record labels are much better at the signing process than artists are. Have the label outline a detailed plan for your launch and continued growth. Get them to explain why they think this partnership will work. What are they bringing to the table? What are you bringing? You should also understand how much control you will be giving up.

Ask who has control over expenditures, where are the funds for expenditures coming from, who owns the rights to the songs and recordings, how are marketing decisions made, and how much input you have on the decisions that are made. When does the contract expire and who has an option to renew? What rights does the label have after the contract expires? Most of all, require transparency and detailed reporting on all financial expenditures.

Do not be afraid to take your time, and don’t allow anyone to rush you. Don’t become infatuated with the idea of getting signed and quickly agree to whatever is offered.

3. Negotiate. Interview with at least two labels and compare what they have to say. If you’ve asked the right questions, you’ll be able to tell a good deal from a bad one. You’ll also be able to pick out bad terms and negotiate for better ones. A small indie label may be a better fit than a traditional industry giant, quite often smaller is more flexible with the terms of the contract and quicker to move on your project.

4. Get advice from an industry professional. Hire an entertainment attorney who has experience with labels and contracts. It would also be a good idea to talk directly to other artists that this label has signed in the past and get their feedback. Who better to tell you how the label has performed?

Remember Lionel. He signed a contract with the radio station much like artists sign today with record labels. If he had slowed down and taken the contract to an entertainment attorney to get an explanation of what he was signing, he would not have agreed to the deal. He trusted his gut and that was a big mistake. One additional day of negotiation and a little advice would have made all the difference for Lionel.

My friend no longer thinks that self promoted artists are going it alone only because they are not good enough to get signed by a label. For the first time in his career, he is doing his own promotions without the help of a label. Times have changed. A label is no longer necessary to succeed as a performer, but there are many pitfalls. Self promotion has it’s advantages, and it’s easier to accomplish today than it has ever been in the past, but don’t assume that going it alone is easy. On the other hand, record labels can create tremendous value… just make sure you know what you are agreeing to.




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