Saturday, 14 April 2012

HOW TO MAKE IT IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS


As Bob Lefsetz says, you have to put in your 'ten thousand hours'.

Take me:  I have been writing professionally forever.  Only now, after decades of slog, am I getting the breakthrough - but I still have to sweat blood for it. Writing is a hard and lonely graft, best-suited to those with the right creative muscles for it.  Do I have those muscles?  How would I know?

 Music is not dissimilar.

You want to be a musician, you are going to have to slog for it, and carry on slogging, and then slog more, because the market is saturated.  Nothing will happen by magic, and unless you can finance your music yourself, you need a job, and a B-Plan. What they refer to as 'the old-fashioned way' - getting a label deal - is as rare as hens' teeth these days. There's not the money. The internet, and the way we consume music nowadays, have changed things for all time.

I had dinner with some friends in a band recently who are busting a gut to get a recording deal.  What was clear from the conversation that night was that they look upon America as the answer to all their prayers. Los Angeles especially: which so many seem to regard as a fantasy land thick with trees dripping with dosh and opportunity. I lived out there for six years, having previously lived and worked in New York.  Gotham was a doddle compared to LA, I found out the hard way - where the pressing of orange juice is religion, where even the cop who stops you for speeding wants to give you a cassette (nowadays CD) of his new song, or drop you a copy of his screenplay.  Everyone in that town is at it. You go to celebrity events and the all-pervading smell is of anaesthetic. Not a dry eye in the house? Those suckers have had so much surgery, they have no tear ducts left with which to cry. It is harder to make it in Los Angeles than in any town on earth. It is not a happy place.  There is a lot of desperation, and much drug-taking and prostitution.  The former because it helps the anxious to defer reality. The latter because, for many of the thousands upon thousands who flock to LA to 'become stars', it's the only way they can make a living.  That's tragic, but everyone has to eat and have a place to sleep. Don't be fooled into thinking that LA is the answer.  We all felt that way when we were young. Just like being in the movies, but in real life? It so isn't.

The music industry is not what it was.  It has changed irrevocably. Get over it. There are so few careers for life.  The business does not turn out Barbra Streisand or The Beatles anymore.  There are more 'used-to-bes' than wannabes in the game today.  One Direction may be flavour of the month in the US right now - but it won't last.  Neither will GaGa - whose very name is derivative, and not her own.  There are exceptions to every rule, which is why Adele.

Please forget about the get-rich-quick angle. I've helped to look after and try to break three bands over the years. All of them were brilliant - I wasn't the only one who thought so.  The most recent band that I helped, Right Turn Left, I happened upon at Exeter University one weekend when I was visiting my undergraduate daughter. (Yes, she graduated - has a great degree, and a good job, but things are still a slog). RTL were high-profile on the circuit, and got close, but never actually landed a deal. In the end, they broke up when Bob Matthews, their fabulous bassist, and his girlfriend, Catherine Pockson, formed a break-out duo, Alpines. They got a deal with Polydor, and are unusual and highly-creative - have a look at them on youtube - but how long will it last? Another band I was close to, Official Secrets Act, featuring Laurence Diamond, the son of my great friend Jim (who had smash-hits with 'I Should Have Known Better', 'I Won't Let You down' with PhD, 'Hi-Ho Silver' and so on) did get a deal, did tour a lot, did release records and enjoyed a great following -but eventually it folded and they are off trying to make new bands now.  The fabulous Dunwells are on the verge now, with a US deal... and Steve Levine, one of my favourite producers of all time, is putting his heart and soul into Daytona Lights. These bands are doing all the right things.

 What you must be, more than anything else, is original. 

 I'll say it again.

 What you must be, more than anything else, is original. 

You need to come up with something that no one has done before.  When I think of all the artists I've adored over the years - and there are hundreds, thousands - it's the unique ones who stand out.  Alex Harvey, Kate Bush, Ian Dury, even.  The late operatic soprano Maria Callas's voice was technically inferior, many experts said. When Walter Legge (acclaimed classical record producer) defended her in the face of criticism of her vocal shortcomings, he made this unforgettable declaration: that she possessed that most essential ingredient for a great singer - an instantly recognisable voice.  When I think about it, he could have been speaking about Marc Bolan, whose voice sounded like no one else's (and who is the subject of my new biography, to be published by Hodder & Stoughton this September). Marc and Maria, who were poles apart in most other ways, had two things in common. Not only the fact that they died on the same day - 16th September, 1977 (she was 53, he was 29) - but a magical quality that set them apart from the also-rans. They were cursed by this, as well as blessed. 

If you are intent on making the making of music your living for a lifetime, stick with it by all means. Carry on doing what you are doing.  Work on making your voice and sound as unusual and as unique as it can be.  Keep sweating the small gigs.  Hone and hone your craft.  Hone it more.  Don't expect anything to fall into your lap.  Not in five years, not even in ten.  You may well still be doing what you are doing now in 20 years' time.  Still waiting for that lucky break, and feeling that you have wasted your life because of it.  I would hate that to happen, which is why get real.

Get proper jobs: to sustain you and give yourself a lifestyle, a bit of dignity.  People's goodwill is finite, you will find. The successful musicbiz folk of this world have not got where they are today by doing anything for nothing. A producer may gift you an afternoon or a day in his studio, but he is not going to invest heavily in you without backing.  That is how it works, these people do not take chances.  It is why they are rich, and we are not. 

 Andrew Lloyd-Webber sinks millions of his own money into a musical film project which by his standards fails. He loses a fortune. Tim  Rice writes a new musical - 'From Here To Eternity'.  He is wealthy beyond reason. He could easily invest in his own musical, fast-track it to the West End stage.  He won't do that. Why? Because, as he says, if it is good enough, the professionals will invest in it.

 Hold the thought.


2 comments:

  1. Just feedback, you do not have to take it :-)
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