Music Biz Tips 5-10-17: Who’s Feeding On Your Dreams?

Aspiring artists and songwriters listen up. YOU CAN’T TEACH TALENT! Either you have it or you don’t.

 

I have been increasingly frustrated at the number of “Professionals” I have seen on Social Media lately offering their “Song Camps” and “Critique Sessions”. For the low low cost of up to several thousands of dollars, you get to go hang out with them for a few days, play your songs and they will critique them and tell you where you are going wrong and set you on the right path. It all sounds great, in theory, but here’s my take.

 

I don’t believe that you can teach someone to have a talent. You either have the talent or you don’t. Songwriting is a craft that is never perfected. Songs and their greatness or marketplace worthiness are subject to each individual person hearing them. There is no rule, subject matter, right way or wrong way to write a song.

 

In my opinion, these are money grabs by people who, most of the time, aren’t even relevant in the music business anymore. Sure, they may have worked at a label or publishing company when a particular artist or writer broke thru, but they were in no way single handedly responsible for that artists’ success and they certainly didn’t write the songs themselves. They are simply trying to cash in on the association and are preying on young artists and songwriters dreams to be successful in a very difficult business, for nothing more than pure profit and personal gain.

 

I never had someone teach me how to write a song. Even after much success, I still continue to learn from others by getting in the trenches every single day and actually doing the job. Every single song that I have ever written that was commercially successful, I was told more than once by a publisher that it wasn’t a hit or had a label pass on it cause it wasn’t a hit. So do they really know what they are talking about? Not really.

 

Want to be a better writer? Listen to records, learn structure, learn melodies, learn to play and instrument or two, learn alternate tunings and do the research yourself and save your money. You are not going to “Get Discovered” at one of these retreats, mainly because that’s not what they are there for. They are there to cash your check or run your credit card to sell you the dream, PERIOD. If you want to learn how to be a better writer, listen to music you love, read books, write more, it’s all there for you already.

 

If you listen to the radio for 30 minutes, you’ll understand that there is no one structure or right or wrong when it comes to songwriting and ultimately someone at the label said, “This is the single” and I think we can all agree that there is no shortage of stupid, shitty songs on the radio that are not great songs. All of which are written by so-called “Hit” songwriters. So do these peoples opinion of your song really matter, they don’t know good or great when it slaps them in the face. They only know what that can sell.

 

So, to all of you young artists and songwriters, please do not waste your money having people who are no longer relevant in the business critique your songs. Money is a very important factor in developing yourself and there are things that you will have to be paid for, save that money for the studio developing your craft or a trip to Nashville or LA to write and really learn how to hone your craft from people who are actively engaged in writing the type of songs that you want to write. Just because someone worked at a publishing company that Katy Perry was signed to, doesn’t mean they were responsible for Katy Perry becoming who she has become. That would be like taking golf lessons from the valet just because he works at the country club. I know you all want to get better and break thru, but please be smart with your time and your resources and honestly, be smart with your passion. We are each only given a finite amount. Don’t waste any of yours on people who can’t really help you and NEVER EVER waste your resources on getting someone’s opinion of your art, it’s too subjective and open to personal preference and different interpretations. Surround yourself with people who are passionate for what you are currently doing and also realize, you may just not be a great songwriter and there’s no amount of money to fix that.

 

Remember this. Nothing the writer does makes a song a hit. A hit is born because of the success of a song at radio and/or on the sales chart and those are only achieved by the record label spending millions of dollars marketing the song, paying consultants to put it on playlists at large and major market radio stations so that it achieves a high chart position and utilizes social platforms and there huge reach to get a song heard by millions of people, of only about 3% actually purchase it. So paying someone to tell you how to write a hit is pointless, because making it a hit is ultimately out of their control.

 

I will say, there are organizations, services and companies that exist for aspiring artists and songwriters that actually offer resources for you to get better at your craft. They are both affordable and informative and in the case of NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International), they fight for the rights and fair treatment of the creators. Songtown is another example, yes, you pay to be a member and have access to the content and that’s a fair trade, but the mentors and those teaching are actual successful songwriters still having success and are engaged daily with the business. They can actually give you resources, tips and tricks that will help you on your journey in the music business. I am not a part of Songtown in any way, shape or form, so I have no dog in this hunt or reason for steering you in that direction other than wanting to give you an example of a resource that is out there that is worth your time and financial investment. They are relevant and have a wealth of ongoing and growing content for you to be apart of and learn from. This is a relationship business, so the basis of services like these is to grow your base, have a forum to learn and start to build relationships in the business. It’s more about music business education than it is teaching you how to be a great songwriter.

 

Do your homework. Don’t just read a tagline where someone worked with Sheryl Crow or Gavin Degraw and be deceived into thinking that person can automatically help you achieve that level of success or have any legitimate claim to be able to tell you anything about the quality of your songs.

 

Bottom line, BE SMART. Most of the people who attend these clinics or retreats often say they had an amazing time, but that’s not because of what they learned from the people they paid to be there, it’s because they spent 3-5 days surrounded by other people just like them who share their passion for music and songwriting. Passion is infectious and the music business is a drug. Make sure you don’t get hooked on the wrong one.

 

-Steve

 

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

Music Biz Tips 2-24-17: User Friendly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Steve

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

Music Biz Tips 2-17-17: Boxes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Steve

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