Inspiration For The New Year
© by Jennifer Yeko, 2006.
All Rights Reserved. Printed with Permission
(This is a long one, folks - but well worth reading!)
When you hear the legendary manager (and artist) Peter Asher say "It's harder than EVER to break a band" it almost gives you a sense of relief, doesn't it? (Well, it does for me.)
Why? Because it's not easy out there. For anyone.
Take that from someone who started out as head of A&R for the Beatles' label, Apple Records.
Asher goes on to say "You can't rely on radio or a label right now. And as a manager, you have to have an act you can't live without.
Advice for artists? "It's hard right now. You just have to go out there and win over one fan at a time."
Andy Gould's famous line is "Never work harder than your act. They should want it more than anyone." He talks about how he sees young managers busting their butt for a client and the band just doesn't really care. It also surprised me to discover that someone like Rob Zombie calls his manager 7-8 times a day and despite his rather rough image, is incredibly professional - doesn't drink, take drugs, etc. He is an incredibly driven and serious businessman.
Anyhow, here are some gems of inspiration, and general advice, that I've come up with to kick off 2006.
1. Believe in yourself
Imogen Heap mortgaged her flat to promote her music. And it paid off.
So, sometimes you really do have to do it yourself, and REALLY believe in yourself, to make things happen.
She put her own money behind her. Do you believe in yourself enough to do that? If not, there probably is something wrong. After all, if you don't believe in yourself, how can you expect anyone else (a manager, a label, an agent) to put their time and money and resources into you if you don't do it for yourself?
Now, please don't run out there and mortgage your house after reading this. The sentiment is what's important.
After all, every label turned down the Beatles. Yes, the Beatles. Arguably the most important and influential band of all time. So, don't EVER feel sorry for yourself. If the Beatles were rejected, well, in my opinion, that just proves that people (especially labels) don't know what they're talking about.
2. Make great music
Pretty much self explanatory. Always push the boundaries of your creativity. Write and rewrite songs. Rewrite lyrics that are trite, and change words that will make your song better. Co-write with your band or other songwriters. Challenge yourself and make yourself better.
I see so many indie rock acts succeeding because they are doing something different; something fun and original. Break out of your mold if you've been writing the exact same type of song....i.e. the same ballad or rock tune. Experiment. Try something new. If the song sucks, you can always toss it. Try something unique and original. So many acts have become popular because they did something refreshing and "out of the box". If I had a nickel for every time a person asked me for something like the White Stripes....
3. Learn to live with rejection
I also read a great interview with a famous manager who said "If you can't take rejection, don't get into the music business. Don't even make music."
Wow, that's pretty harsh.
Or is it?
As an artist, you're going to get turned down time and time again. Maybe by a club booker. Maybe by a promoter. Maybe by a manager or agent or label or music supervisor.
The key is to not take it personally.
When Green Day was starting out, Billy Joe Armstrong talks about how hard it was for them to simply book one show. Just one show. And I'm betting you're quite past that point. Just remember. Everyone had to start somewhere and even superstar acts were once in your shoes.
I have to say, I'm amazed and inspired by how professional so many of you on my list are. I may say a song isn't right for a project, or the vocals are off key, and I'm rarely met with much resistance. To take constructive criticism well is not easy on the ego. So give yourself a pat on the back. It's not easy to get turned down time and time again and keep going. But if you believe in yourself, and believe in your music, it's all worthwhile. And one day, that "no" will turn into a "yes".
Of course, you should also remind yourself that if someone doesn't like your music, that doesn't mean you should take it personally. While your music may be a large part of who you are (or sometimes feel like ALL of who you are), you must learn to separate the rejection of your music, with the rejection of you as a person. They are two completely different things. I reject songs all the time. Not because I don't like them but because they just don't fit the needs of the particular project I'm working on.
But, what if you send out 100 CDs and don't get one single response? Or make a 100 phone calls and don't get any interest? Then, you have to ask yourself if you're doing something wrong. Maybe your songs need more work. Maybe you need to take vocal lessons. Maybe you need to try a different approach. Because if something isn't working, you need to try something else. But if you're getting positive feedback - from a manager, a label, a fan, anyone besides your friends and family, then you're probably on the right track and just need to keep at it!
4. The time for indies and self releases is now
Spin magazine recently listed their top 40 albums of the year. Half of the albums were released on indie labels and two were completely self-released - without any label whatsoever!
And, of the remaining 20 "major label acts," at least half of them were through imprints or divisions of major labels. I saw very few major label artists and bands on that list.
The music business may have never been in such a crisis before but then again, there has never been a more amazing time for artists to make their own careers, on their own terms, without relying on a major label who will rarely have their best interest at heart.
5. Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better
I recently had a good conversation with a manager friend of mine. We were both talking about how frustrated we've become with the inability of major labels to recognize (let alone sign) great talent. It used to be that major labels weren't developing the talent they signed. Now they just aren't signing much period. And we've both licensed a million songs and gotten our bands amazing airplay on major radio stations around the country. Yet it still hasn't been enough to "break" a band. So, what do we do? Give up?
I say, try harder.
CD sales are down. The touring business is going through problems as well (a lack of future "stadium" acts and rising ticket prices). And everyone knows that commercial radio sucks.
But, on the bright side, there are great resources out there. iTunes. Satellite radio. Public radio stations and in Los Angeles, stations like Indie 103. Then there are podcasts. And blogs. MySpace and the Internet. Take advantage of all the great inventions that are out there. People will always love and support music.
The music business is going through some tough times right now. But yet iPods are selling at record numbers. People are still thirsty for great music.
The future of making money from CD sales? That I don't know. CD sales are declining so rapidly that everyone seems to be looking to get out of the music business these days. Jumping ship as the Titanic sinks.
Will it all go digital? Will the CD go the way of the 8 track or cassette or LP? Probably. But no one knows what's going to happen.
Will there one day be T-Mobile or Starbucks or "Banana Republic" Records? Maybe. Or will the future label share in an artist's merchandise, touring, publishing and digital music sales? (Or will everyone give up making music to stay home and play videogames? Just kidding.)
Whatever the future may bring, just know that things will eventually get better. And great music will always find an audience, fans and support. It just may take a radical new approach. And you may have to work harder than you ever have before to get out there and get exposure for your music. No one said this is an "easy" business.
6. Don't give up
I can't drive this point home enough. Sure, if you rather work a 9-5 job then do that. I hope you have a job you love. But for me, this is the only thing I'm good at and the only thing in life that I enjoy. I have no choice but to be successful. I refuse to give up. It's just part of my personality - that never ending drive. And some people have it and some don't.
And if you do have a day job, that's great. There is a lot to be said for stability and being able to pay your rent or mortgage each month. Music is not an easy industry to make money in. In fact, it's probably one of the most difficult, right behind acting and writing screenplays I'd say. If you want an "easy" life, it would be far easier (in my opinion) to go to medical school or become a lawyer. Because after a certain number of years of education, you have a specific skill and can get a job.
In music, there is no direct correlation between education (or even work) and results. It's art, and sometimes the music connects with people, sometimes it doesn't. And when it does, it's still never easy.
Just know that music doesn't have to be your full-time gig. You can still pursue it as a hobby, play shows because you love to, not because you need the money to survive. And with the pressure off, sometimes that makes the music even better! No one says you have to strive to be on MTV.
For others, doing music part-time isn't an option. If you really want to make it in the business and have your band break through, you can't do it half ass. You just can't.
Watch VH1's "Behind the Music". I guarantee you, there is not one single artist or band out there who said, "I don't care if I make it or not" and went on to become a multi-platinum act.
Madonna is a perfect example. She'll be the first to admit that she isn't the best singer, she isn't the best dancer, she isn't the best anything really. She became successful because she had an incredible amount of drive and determination. And yes, some talent factors in there but the drive, the willingness to go the distance, no matter what obstacles are put before you, that is what makes someone a winner. "Winners never quit and quitters never win." Trite but true. And the harder you work, the more "luck" you create for yourself.
So if you're the type of person who'll venture to a new city with just spare change in your pocket, well, maybe you picked the right business after all.
7. Have an image
In PR there is the expression, "There is no such thing as bad press."
Along those lines, I would argue that it's better to have some image, even if it's a bad image, than no image at all.
Every successful artist or band has an image. Some are contrived, some are their own. But they all exist.
Compare photos of U2 to Green Day to Coldplay to Weezer to Carrie Underwood to Metallica to Jewel to Shania Twain to 50 Cent to My Chemical Romance.
Anyone can get up there and play a show in jeans and t-shirt. But that's really the equivalent of eating meatloaf every night for dinner. It's boring! And who wants that? After all, if you went to see your favorite artist perform and they were wearing exactly what you were wearing, wouldn't that be boring?
As a performer, your goal is to connect with your audience. And tap into something special.
Watch old concert footage of Bowie and wow - what amazing costumes and hair he had! Not to mention his stage persona.
Tap into something special. That's why Christian groups have such a huge, devoted following. They've tapped into that one thing they have in common with their fans - God and religion.
It's why artists like Morrissey, The Cure and Depeche Mode had so many fans in the 80s - and still have a following today. They had songs, and an image, that kids could relate to. Feeling isolated or lonely. Being the outcast. And who hasn't felt that way at one time or another? There are entire cultures that revolve around music like this and today's examples are bands like My Chemical Romance. The goth image works.
And sure, you remember high school when you could almost figure out which kid in which clique liked which band. In my high school, for example, the smokers out back who wore all black, leather and chains liked punk rock like the Clash and Sex Pistols. Surprise surprise. And the stoners liked the Grateful Dead and Phish. And the "popular" kids liked U2. (Well, everyone liked U2...)
Whatever it may be, know that record companies hire stylists and TEAMS of fashion experts to remake and market their artists (hair, make-up, clothes). Labels are EXPERTS at marketing their artists. In making the general public believe that stars are born and not made. My God, I've worked at labels and heard the head of RADIO PROMOTION (?) lamenting over the artist's shoes. Yes, the radio promotion guy caring about the artist's SHOES! So, if major labels are overthinking a band's image, you probably aren't thinking about it enough.
And if you're not into style and fashion (I certainly am not), find someone who is. Your wife, sister, next door neighbor or best friend. Have them take you shopping.
Image, in my opinion, should just be an exaggerated version of yourself. There is a reason why most artists wear "stage clothes" and are extremely confident on stage; then off stage, can be humble and shy.
Have you ever found the perfect jacket or shirt that makes you feel great? So great that you walk around all day with your head held high, saying to yourself "I feel good?" Of course you do. Well, find that item, wear it on stage and project confidence and an image that your fans can relate to.
Everyone has their signature item. Look at Bono and his sunglasses. Or the number of artists that use hats as part of their image - Elton John, Fall Out Boy, Gavin DeGraw, to name just a few. Don't even get me started on make-up and outfits used by artists like Marilyn Manson and Kiss.
Eyeliner? Just about every punk rock band. Look at the Killers and their image.
Suits? Look at the Beatles, The Click Five, The Killers, etc.
I remember having a conversation with someone who worked with John Mayer when he was starting out. And I said, "but John Mayer doesn't have an image. He just wears jeans and looks like your average J Crew / college guy." The reply was "those are $200 jeans and that image is VERY carefully put together and thought out." So, if even John flipping Mayer has an IMAGE that is "put together" or contrived (look at him), then my God, so should you!
8. Make your live show AMAZING
Here are some tips for great live shows. Watch others bands. Go to concerts. Huge acts and smaller, indie bands. Take notes. What worked? What didn't? When did the audience lose interest? How could those bands have done a better job?
When you are starting out, you don't have the benefit of just playing through a set list of hit song after hit song after hit song. You don't have the amazing lights, pyrotechnics, bells and whistles that accompany an arena show - the way U2 or Green Day does. So, you better make sure your show is AMAZING.
Engage the crowd. Talk to them. Let your personality and charisma shine through. Be fun, lively, honest. Tell them an embarrassing or funny story.
Think of it this way. TV is a passive medium. It can be entertaining if the show is AMAZING. But video games are interactive. Do you want your live show to be like a TV sitcom? Sorta entertaining but lacking any real originality or interactivity? Or do you want your live show to be like your favorite video game? Where you interact with the other side?
If you're always behind your guitar, put it down for one song (or a few) and just sing to the audience. Move around the stage. Better yet, run around the stage. Jump. Jump into the crowd.
If you're in a rock band (especially a guitarist), you better be jumping up and down, and running around the stage, bouncing off walls. You should come off stage at the end of every show dripping with sweat. If not, you're doing something wrong and you're probably not entertaining your audience.
And if you're a singer/songwriter, you better be the most funny, engaging and entertaining storyteller out there. Don't just play song after song. Open up. Let your great personality shine through. Let your audience get to know you. Then you'll really connect -- and sell some CDs too!
I know, you want to squeeze in as many of your songs into your short set time as possible. But believe me, you'd be better off playing one less song and using that time between every song to talk to the crowd and engage them.
A friend recently took me to see Jewel. Now, she's not my favorite performer (although I appreciate her voice and talent) but I went to the show despite the fact that I'm not a Jewel "fan". Why? She is the most entertaining performer. She'll launch into a 20 minute story about how she was in Mexico with the feds and they were on a drug bust when she wrote "You Were Meant For Me" and it's just fascinating. Chalk that up to years and years and years of touring with just her and a guitar. She was incredibly entertaining and engaging. I almost forgot she had to sing some songs between her stories!
As a performer, whether you're the singer, drummer, bass player or lead guitarist, I don't care, your # 1 job is to entertain the crowd. Remember, people pay money to come to a concert (yours or anyone else's) to be ENTERTAINED, not just hear you sing your songs. When you reach stadiums, you can just stand there in front of the pretty lights and play your guitar or keyboards and not move around too much (and most huge stars don't just stand there, now do they?) But you aren't there yet. If you're on stage, you are a form of entertainment, like it or not. And people can spend their money SO many different ways now - on iPods, movies, eating out, video games, at amusement parks, going to other concerts, museums, watching TV (ok, that's free but I think you get the point....) If you want people to pay and come see you live (and keep coming back), you better give them a reason to!
I know of one popular artist who has his whole routine and banter down. If the show isn't going well, he'll launch into that funny story about his dog. Every time. Same exact story. Told the same exact way. And guess what? It works. Every time. Comedians use the same jokes and routine for YEARS. Why? Because they work. There is a reason why actors practice in front of a mirror. And a reason why sometimes you need to rehearse and find out what stories work and what stories bomb. And use the ones that work.
Videotape every live show you do. Watch every one. It may be uncomfortable at first, but it's the only way you're going to get any better. Be objective. Pretend you're in the audience at this show. Would you be bored? Or blown away?
Every "major label" artist I've ever seen in concert, especially close up, seems to have the ability to look out into the audience and make me feel like they are looking directly at me. (Ok, so maybe not if I'm in the nose-bleed seats at the Staples Center but I digress.) I'm not sure what the trick to that is but don't be afraid to look directly into the crowd. If you're shy, a performer once told me a trick - look at the top of people's heads in the crowd - it will look like you're looking at them when you're not! Looking right at your fans at smaller shows might be intimidating at first, but try it. They won't bite. Don't stare at people. But don't be afraid to look directly into people's eyes. Music is more than just the words and music. It's about emotion and connecting with people. If you can do that, you're golden.
Want to be a great live performer? Watch Queen's Freddie Mercury. Mercury's command of the stage and confidence is amazing. In fact, watch any of your favorite artists perform in concert or on DVD. You should be able to turn off the sound and still be entertained. Can you say that about your live show? If not, you have work to do.
I once asked the engineer at a showcasing venue here in LA what she noticed about bands that came in and got record deals vs. those that didn't. She replied "confidence". If they were cocky, if they believed in themselves, so did the label. And they were signed. If the act was not confident, the label had doubts and didn't sign them.
Now, this doesn't mean you have to develop a huge ego tomorrow to get signed or become more successful. "Fake it til you make it." Just project confidence, even if you have to act a bit at first.
I, for one, have never been fond of getting up in front of large crowds. But, I once had a job that forced me to do that. And after a few times, I got better and better at it. And sure, I may still get nervous in front of crowds. But the more times you do it, the easier it becomes and the better you'll get.
Another successful record producer once told me the great performers he knew had the ability to separate their stage persona from their real self. Hence, the stage clothes. The minute you step on that stage, you might need to become a different person. The way an actor steps into a role when they are on a movie set.
After all, you wouldn't go audition for the part of John Lennon in your street clothes, would you? You'd dress the part! Then "pretending" or acting the part of Lennon would be a hell of a lot easier, wouldn't it?
9. Have fun...but remember that it's the MUSIC BUSINESS and hard work
Nothing makes for a better show or better music than a relaxed atmosphere. And while I may say "work work work" harder than you ever have before, it's also important to have fun. On stage. In the studio. When you're writing songs.
After all, that's why you got into the business, right? To play shows, to be creative. Maybe even to have groupies and have a good time!
So, take it all seriously. It is the music BUSINESS after all.
But if it ever stops being fun, you should stop immediately. Life is too short to do something you don't enjoy.
Just remember, to succeed, it's going to take A LOT of hard work. More work than you ever put into high school, college or any job you've ever had. Why? Because everyone wants to make their living making music. It's the best job in the world. And you have to work harder than everyone else out there doing this and hard enough to get better than everyone else. And become the shrewdest business person as well as the most talented songwriter and most engaging performer. It may not always be easy...but it beats working at the Gap, doesn't it?
10. Be nice to everyone / karma
This is a very small community. It amazes me that the same A&R executives I was calling and inviting out to shows a few years ago are now asking me to pitch their bands or client's music or are now looking for a job.
It reminds me of a story I read in the Los Angeles Times. This man found a mouse in his house and promptly decided to "teach it a lesson" and threw it into a pile of burning leaves. Animal rights activists notwithstanding, the mouse (now on fire), promptly ran back into the house and burned it down. A sad story but if that isn't the most perfect example of karma and "what goes around, comes around" I don't know what is.
I always return every phone call and try to respond to every email I'm sent. Because, you never know. My first intern is now working at a successful indie label. One day he may be running Universal Music Group and may hire ME to work for HIM. And that happens all the time. In the music business, and life in general.
So, ALWAYS be professional, always be nice, never screw anyone over. Never burn bridges. Believe me, it will come back to haunt you tenfold if you do.
An artist once did a number on me. I ran into one of his bandmates years later and asked him "Hey, what's Kevin up to?" His reply was "er, nothing". He had given up on music and was doing something else entirely. Maybe if he'd been a little nicer....
11. Know that there is no "short cut" or formula for being successful
If there was, everyone would be a millionaire and on MTV.
Believe me, I've read hundreds of music magazines and books, and have talked with some of the greatest managers and biggest music attorneys out there. No one KNOWS how to make someone a star. Even the major labels. Because it's different every time. And labels are wrong about 95% of the time as most of their acts do not become the next U2 or the Beatles. So, if you're ever frustrated, know that you're not alone. Don't become jaded! Channel that frustration into energy and make yourself get out there and work harder.
Jennifer Yeko brings over a decade of experience to True Talent Management. Her background in entertainment and music includes work for Variety Magazine, Maverick Records, EMI Music, Sony Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Radio City Music Hall Productions, as well as several music web sites and personal management firms.
Jennifer has placed her clients' material in over 35 film and television projects, including hit television shows such as "Sex and the City," "The OC," "Laguna Beach," "Ghost Whisperer," "Reunion," "Wildfire," "Boston Public," "North Shore," Comedy Central, "One Tree Hill," "Summerland," "Dawson's Creek," "Party of Five," "Roswell" and MTV/The Real World.
Jennifer has promoted a wide range of artists and music genres, everything from Top 40 and pop to modern rock and classical. She has produced and managed major events, such as "ShowBiz Expo" for which she secured over 200 speakers, including former Vice President Al Gore. She has recently been featured in Billboard magazine, The Hollywood Reporter, Music Connection and RowFax.
Jennifer brings her love of music, experience and enthusiasm to her role as Founder of True Talent Management, a company she created to promote talented musicians and bands who might otherwise be overlooked by the major label system.
Jennifer received her Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing from Fairfield University in Connecticut. She is a member of The Recording Academy, the National Association of Recording Industry Professionals (NARIP), and has served as a Director At Large for American Women in Radio & Television.
She can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.