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The Emerging Artist
Do You Need the Music Industry?
By Sheryl Olguin, Edited by Leon Olguin

© 2001, Leon & Sheryl Olguin. All Rights Reserved. Used By Permission

Let me say right from the start that this is not a music industry-bashing article. On the contrary, this article is intended to help you think through for yourself whether or not you really need a record deal to have a great music career.

First of all, how do you "make it" in the industry? Here are some comments I've heard directly from record company executives. One exec said that if you were out performing enough that you could sell 10,000 of your self-produced CD's, that would grab his attention enough to sign you. [That begs the question??¦if you're selling 10K CD's each year plus revenues from your shows and t-shirt/product sales, and you own the entire profit margin, do you need to get signed?]

Another record exec described the process like this??¦"I'm a weasel," he said, "If I hear you're drawing a big crowd I might go and see your show??¦then if I like your show and it looks like the crowd does too, I might tell another weasel??¦and he'll come to your show, and bring another weasel??¦ and those weasels will tell their weasel friends. Eventually you'll have a bunch of weasels at your show, and if enough of us weasels agree we should sign you, we will." While the thought of record company executives as weasels personified might be humorous, it took a lot of guts for the guy to stand up in front of a bunch of aspiring artists and poke fun of himself in that way. He was hardly a "weasel."

The most remarkable comment I recall came from a panel of record company execs talking about what they look for in an artist they'd be interested in signing. There were the comments I expected, like "great voice," "incredible songs," "willingness to work hard" and "great live performance." Then came a comment from an exec that completely caught me off guard and changed my thinking forever. "I'm looking for people who are so passionate about their message and their music, that if the music industry were to fold tomorrow, they'd still be out there doing their music."

So what if the music industry was to fold tomorrow? That one thought got me to explore a whole realm of possibilities. Here are my "top 5 do-it-without-the-music-industry" career building strategies:

1. Develop your own identifiable style. No music industry? No problem! That means no artificial categories to shove your music into.

2. Get out and play everywhere you can for anyone who'll listen. Set up your own tours. You no longer have to worry about being in the "right place" (L.A., Nashville, Austin, New York, Seattle??¦wherever the "right place" du jour is??¦)

3. Tell the world. Utilize every available means to tell people about your music, including word of mouth, e-mail lists, web sites,, Internet radio (, cross promotions with nonprofit organizations you care about, etc.

4. Develop a loyal fan base that will want every CD you ever produce. Sign them up at each performance. Stay in touch with them regularly through those e-mail lists, your web site, and mailings.

5. Record and sell your own music. Set your own budget; hire the best producer, arranger, studio, and musicians you can afford to be a part of your team (so you get the best quality product.) You won't have to worry about a record company loaning you your money (advances on future royalties) and telling you how to spend it to get the job done. Best of all, you'll own everything (rights as well as profits.)

So do you need the music industry? Whether or not you believe you do, just remember what the one exec said: be so passionate about what you do that if the music industry folded tomorrow, it wouldn't make one bit of difference to you??¦you'd still be out there doing it!

How would you go about pursuing your music career if there were no music industry? Send in your ideas to

A short bio:
Leon and Sheryl Olguin are the owners of S.O.L.O. Productions, a music production and digital media company, founded in 1990.

Sheryl Olguin: Sheryl is a performing songwriter with three independent releases and several published and recorded tunes to her credit. She has an extensive background in digital media. She led strategic Internet initiatives at Harris Corp, and later was responsible for the interactive digital TV demonstrations on the Harris/PBS DTV Express nationwide tour to promote digital television.

Leon Olguin: Leon is an arranger, producer, and recording engineer with two independent instrumental releases and numerous published and recorded compositions to his credit. He's a classically trained pianist with a BA in music theory and composition. He's had extensive experience as a studio musician, live performer, and music minister/director. His song "White as Snow" reached the status of classic worship song faster than any other song in the history of contemporary Christian music.

You can learn more about S.O.L.O. Productions, and about our studio, by visiting us at

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