Up to the new millennium, it seemed that record companies were the gate-keepers to any music that got out into the public domain.
However, their A&R people didn’t always get things right and sometimes acted in a similar way to X Factor judges by competing with each other more than making independent decisions on the next best thing. But A&R people were out seeing live acts instead of judging a televised karaoke contest.
Of course getting a record deal would improve the status of any new act, but they didn’t always get development, would pay back for recordings and promotion out of their advances and bad A&R decisions could leave them shelved and on an endless treadmill until the end of their careers.
The Internet and computers have opened doors to any musical act who wants to get their music out there.
It seems that the academic process we all go through teaches us about pandering to acceptance instead of building our own inner self-belief, and comparing ourselves with others.
Taking into account the cost of living, rehearsing, buying equipment, travelling to gigs, creating merchandise, recording, printing CDs etc., I believe the following list can be done on a minimal budget with a creative problem solving attitude to barriers and by getting good at working with others.
Therefore, here is the process I believe can take a new music artist from square one to getting their music out there so the music loving public can react to it:
- Creating a live show with stage presence.
- Looking at factors that helped your favourite artists become popular and seeing which of these you could copy.
- Ask other musicians questions to find out what they’ve done to become successful instead of believing commonly held myths.
- Playing live and getting a reaction to your own material as and when you create it.
- Creating your own sound that audiences respond to.
- Build up a following on line and at venues, to let a growing audience know about your live performances.
- Composing a musical arrangement for each song played live.
- Identifying strong songs for a demo.
- Recording your live performances.
- Finding people to take photos and videos of you.
- Putting decent recordings/videos up on YouTube, Soundcloud, bandcamp and other places so they are discoverable by people who would enjoy your music.
- Creating a blog to promote yourselves and a website.
- Finding producers who work with similar types of artists to hear your material.
If you’ve done these things, by now you probably have a live presence, a sound, are discoverable online, your material and other songs arranged, recorded and videoed, a database of followers and a support network of people to work with you and help you go to the next stage.
If you feel you are playing endless open mic nights as a solo artist and don’t feel you are getting any further, that is no reason to despair or give up.
Look at artists such as Sixto Rodriguez or Joe Bonamassa to see how putting your music first, not having unrealistic expectations and enjoying yourself will eventually lead you to the kind of success only enjoyed by a few: that of musical freedom without the constraints of other people telling you what to do.
However, you may want to ask yourself some questions, to see if you are open to opportunities and giving yourself the best chance of getting to where you want to be:
- Have you taken in the feedback to your material. (N.B. feedback can be taken or left, but is best not rejected or ignored as this discourages people from responding to you).
- Have you got the line-up you want to perform your songs?
- Do you have stage presence?
- Do you arrange your songs?
- Do you have style or sound that you are confident about?
- Do you get yourself out there and meet people to work with and ask them if they are interested in working with you?
Joe Bonamassa in action:
However much information and opinion flies around about what is success, how quickly people should make it, words such as ‘unsigned’ and other so-called markers of talent or potential are best ignored, in place of:
- Enjoying what you do.
- Considering but not being dictated by the responses from other people.
- Having a grounded gauge of your career at every stage.
- Being totally self-reliant to create your opportunities.
- Finding creative solutions to get past any obstacles you hit.
- Never being a victim about the lack of anything you think you need.
- Never blaming other people.
- Keep speaking to people to ask them questions or if they want to work with you.
- Never expect anything for free but take it graciously when it is offered.
- When other people work with you, find out what they want to achieve and look to help them as much as they help you.
The last point above is about self-interest. It’s good to always find out what other people want. Can you offer them anything? Can you help them achieve their goals by working with them? Expecting people to help you because you need it is not going to entice people to want to work with you.
There are always musicians who need songwriters, vice versa, producers, venues, promoters and managers who need acts and there are always audiences who want music.