Give It All You’ve Got.
There’s no magic formula to being successful in the music business. What works for one artist won’t work for another artist. You can belong to the next big fad and ride that success or you can claw your way to the top the hard way. Either way you can’t expect to maintain success unless you give it all you’ve got.
When I stop to think about the music I like and the artists that I dig deep into the catalog of, the number one thing that attracts me, that enamors me, to them is their passion.
I have thousands of artists in my collection by virtue of compilation albums and singles. If I like a song, I buy it. It really is that cut and dry. I like it all from timeless classics to silly and cheesy songs. There is a time and place for everything and my tastes are wide and varied. I had a music teacher ask me once what music I liked. I replied that I listen to all kinds of music. She pointed out that really I didn’t, since there were music styles that I’ve never even heard, so how could I like “all” of it. It’s something that has stuck with me as I continue on my music adventures in life. In a pure black and white world, she was right; I haven’t heard a lot of the music that’s out there. In my little corner of the world at the time, I had listened to everything that I knew of.
I’ve always had diverse tastes in music, from day one. Digital outlets have made it much easier to listen to all kinds of music and then buy what you love or like and skip over what doesn’t please your ears. I grew up in a different world, an analog world. If you wanted a song, you could sometimes buy a single. In most cases, though, you had to buy the whole album. You couldn’t always listen before you bought it, so you had to take your chances with new artists that you had only heard one song from.
Back then, music was still a business, but albums weren’t three radio singles and a bunch of filler. Albums were package deals and every effort was put in to make each album a package of good songs. Most artists gave their everything at the time to make those albums something special. You have to remember that there was no MySpace, no ReverbNation, no SoundCloud and no CD Baby. You had the radio, live concerts, albums and a few select television appearances to sell your music. That’s it. The channels of distribution were limited. Radio singles were limited to a maximum of about three and a half minutes or so.
Most of the songs recorded up until the 1970s were no more than that three and a half minute in length. Some were less. On albums, you could have songs that were longer, if you didn’t mind that they probably wouldn’t get played on the radio. The album became the second best way for an artist to sell themselves. The first was the live show. Before YouTube, careers could be made on live shows and how an artist did in front of a crowd.
Modern technology has made it easier for more artists to get noticed, so I have no ill will against the technology. Believe me when I say I love how it has brought more and more music into my life and made my collection grow by leaps and bounds. However, artists can get famous on a YouTube video before they ever perform live. I am of the school of music fans that live for live music. If you can’t perform live, I have a hard time singing your praises. That modern technology has made it so you can sing perfectly when in the studio, but not so good when you sing live in person without the aid of all that technology.
Digital is great, but analog was better. Again, if it weren’t for digital distribution I’d be real limited in what I can listen to and the new music I can find. Digital recording and manipulation is a whole other beast, I am not always a fan of everything it produces. Specifically if it makes amazing singers out of mediocre singers and takes the heart and soul out of the music.
Albums were more important that singles – the entire project was the product. Singles were what were played on radio and what got people to buy your records. So they were important. But in the days of vinyl, you had to have a full record of quality songs to keep your fans. You couldn’t have two songs and fill out the record with fluff material. Not many people would continue buying your records. No artist wants to be a one-hit wonder. No matter what you think, you don’t get rich off of one song. For me, the album always had cuts that were better than the radio singles. The singles are what caught my ear, but the album is what would win me over to the artist and want to hear more from them.
Digital distribution has made the single easier to get. No more looking for 45s or cassette singles at the record store. People can hear a song on the radio and go to their phone and listen to it again or buy it right on the spot. They may never buy or listen to another song by that artist again. There’s no attachment to the artists that make the music. There is a large portion of music fans who never buy full albums if they don’t have to. Honestly, that has as much to do with economics as it has to do with anything else. Being able to listen to every song, or a sample there of, before you buy is something that couldn’t be offered before the digital revolution.
These days if you have the time and the determination, you can listen to every new song coming out and buy what you like and skip what you don’t. Artists are migrating towards the finish it and get it up and available to hear or buy as they go. Record labels have a lot to do with that. It’s easy to blame the business side for the hurry up and make music aspect of why albums these days have more and more filler. The people in charge of the bottom line at record labels want to make as much money as possible. When something is selling, they hurry up and release artists before they are really ready to be released. They don’t want to miss the trend.
Music fans get bombarded with all these new artists until they all start to look and sound alike. Then the next big thing comes along and the later comers to the last big thing are blamed for that thing’s downfall. Artists take the heat for mediocre releases when it fact most of those artists have lost control of their own music to the record labels. The business overrules the creativity and the quality. The amount of new artists overwhelms the music listeners. It’s too much. Some move on and other retreat back into what they already have until they hear something new or new to them that fulfills their musical thirst.
When you have an artist putting out albums year after year and sometimes multiple albums or EPs in a single year, some music fans are put in the predicament of not being able to keep up. Economics become a factor at that point. When you consider the price of albums, concert tickets and merchandise, it gets expensive fast. Although today’s music fans have more music available to them than ever before, money is not unlimited. Technology had an answer for that, too.
File sharing became a big deal when the digital revolution took hold of the music world. However, without the file sharing problem, we may not be as far advanced in digital distribution as we are. An album cannot always be released in every corner of the world for every artist. Bootlegging has been around as long as recorded music has existed I’m sure. While record labels started promoting the flavor of the month, file sharing allowed classic albums and artists, new artists and obscure music to be shared among the masses. This gave life to older artists and allowed new artists to become discovered.
It also created the digital single. The digital single gave the ability for an artist to record one song and become famous before they had enough material for a full album. I have lived long enough to see that one song can be deceiving to the general music listener. That one song could be well produced and well performed, but it doesn’t mean that the artist can deliver a whole album of those songs.
Let’s go back to the topic of this blog, give it all you’ve got. If you have one great song and a bunch of okay songs, releasing that one great song is a good way to see how people respond to you. At the same time, music isn’t a career for everyone. No matter how much you love it, without a loyal audience and the ability to win a crowd over with a live show, it’s a lot of work to be able to make a living at it. You have to give everything of yourself to just break in, let alone maintain it. So that one song may be great, but if you can’t fill a whole album how far are you going to go in this business?
Anyone can record a song or video and post it online for the world to hear. They do it because they love it or for fun. If you want to make a career of music, you have to be willing to give every ounce of yourself to what your want to achieve. You heart, your soul and your whole being have to be in for the long haul. Music is not a get rich quick scheme. Most musicians are far from being rich. When you look at numbers for every superstar there could be thousands of artists and musicians wondering how they are going to make their rent or car payment. New artists can struggle for years before they get discovered. If it’s their passion, it’s worth that struggle and the product is usually much better than those who are in it just for the celebrity.
Not all superstars are half-heartedly into their career. I try not to generalize anyone; there are millions of artists in this world and everyone has had a different path to their current level of popularity. A true overnight sensation is a very rare breed. Most work for years and years before they get their break. Those artists are really the catalyst for this particular blog entry (and probably a few more in the future). You have to want to make it to succeed at any level. It’s so much more than just a good looking artist who can sing or dance or play an instrument proficiently. You can go through all of the motions, but if your heart isn’t in it for the long run, it won’t have any soul. It’ll be a paycheck and that’s it. If that’s what an artist wants out of music, go work at a record store.
Making a living at performing music for a living isn’t about the paycheck. It’s about the natural high in performing and sharing a piece of your soul with others. Audiophiles can tell when you are going through the motions. I can tell when an artist is going through the motions to get a paycheck. Yes I am being hard on artists in general, but as someone who is passionate about music I expect that when I pay for something I feel as if I got what I paid for. That statement isn’t to lessen performance art to dollars and cents. I have to be realistic. As an adult I have bills and responsibilities that must come before my love of music. Not by choice, have you, but by necessity. Buying a concert ticket is all good and fine when the bills are paid. If the bills aren’t paid, that concert ticket can’t be purchased. So as much as I would like to go to every concert I can, I have to be selective.
My tastes lead me to artists that have proven to me that they give their all in everything they do. The albums, the concerts and the whole kit and caboodle – has to make it worth my while to do more than just listen. The genesis for this post and the ones that will follow is that I have fallen in love with so many artists that have worked their tails off and seem to be overlooked in this overly commercialized music industry we have today. They are deserving of all the attention and accolades they get, but they are still teetering on the brink of superstardom. They deserve superstardom, but it’s almost as if the general populous of music fans will never get to hear them. Radio isn’t friendly to artists that are cross-genre specimens unless there is a big payday in it for them.
When an artist’s music crosses genres it can be hard to give them the exposure they need to leap that huge hurdle from the next big thing to superstar. These artists make a living, but are far from making a comfortable living. They live on the road promoting their passion, their craft, and hope that it becomes easier somewhere down the road. They are away from home, their families and friends more days than they can count. They live their passion and can’t turn their back on their music and go back to that day job. They want to be the best at what they do.
They don’t get there by practicing when time allows or playing a gig when they can. They live the music. They play or practice every day. They jeopardize relationships with family and friends to perform music. They give all of themselves to their music. There are more of those kinds of artists in the world then there are the partying celebrity artists who have entourages six miles long. When you latch onto an artist that is on the rise, I think you become invested in their success as milestone after milestone is reached. You grow with them and they become ingrained in your life. You see the passion and you have as much as they do for their music. You’ll defend them and their music against their critics. When an artist gives their all, the fan base returns the favor.
A lot of music out there is missing that heart and soul. Artists who give their all recognize those fans that have grown with them. They know who to thank for their success. Working hard is the biggest part of the puzzle, but the fans are the next biggest piece. The celebrity is such a minimal part of being an artist. You don’t need it to make music, but you wouldn’t have it if you didn’t make music. You can’t be successful without the fans. Great artists of all levels know that. The fad audience, the trend followers and so forth are great for any fan base, but they may not stick around when that next big thing comes along. You have to make them life-long fans.
The only way, in my eyes, to do that is to prove to them that the music matters more than the celebrity. Artists have to win fans and keep them for the long haul. When artists are around for thirty or forty years, it’s because their core fan base remained loyal and enjoyed the music they created. They saw the passion for performing and recording music that no matter how cheeky or how serious spoke to them in a way that stuck with them for a lifetime.
I grew up listening to a variety of music, from career musicians to one-hit wonders that never performed again. Actors and actresses that could sing, and singers and musicians that could act, my collection has all kinds of artists. Not all of them are awarding winning or commercially successful artists. Knowing that some of them have platinum records or are in this or that hall of fame is not as important to me as the music they put out for me to hear. They don’t have to sing perfectly or play with virtuoso skills; they just have to give it all they’ve got. They have to love what they do.
I don’t expect every singer to sing as well as Jose Carreras or Luciano Pavarotti. I do expect them to sing every song as if they mean it. If it’s a silly song, be funny about it. If it’s serious be genuinely serious about it. If it’s a love song, be passionate. Even if you didn’t write it, sing as though you did. Put yourself in character and make me believe that you love what you do and that you’re the best at it.
That being said, don’t sing what you weren’t meant to sing. Know your limits and work within them before tackling what you’re not ready to. Musicians and vocalists are always learning and expanding their repertoires as they evolve over their lifetime. Some people just aren’t meant to sing certain songs. If you work to your best strengths, you’ll go farther than if you try to be someone else. Just be yourself.
It is difficult to be yourself when there will be suits and ties that want the next big thing and will mold a new artist into what they think they should be. You can lose your identity that way. You can give your all and it won’t be fulfilling because you are forced to be someone else. When you make it and then gradually revert back to being who you were before they changed you, you will lose a lot of fans who only know you for what you became successful with. The heart and soul has been taken out of music where the business takes the performer out of the art. My rant about being yourself becomes very difficult to live by if you won’t get anywhere by letting someone else transform you into what they think you should be…and you let them.
I could say that if you allow someone to change who you are to be famous than you really didn’t want to be a career musician, you wanted fame and fortune. You gave up yourself to be famous and on the top of the heap. However, I can’t argue that sometimes you have to give it to even get noticed. I’ve seen this business of music evolve so much that I get it. I understand why people go on television talent shows in order to make it. They are passionate about music, but they don’t fit the cookie cutter mold of what the suits and ties think will sell. They do give everything they got, but they are still rough around the edges and that exposure on television can help make them better. They allow themselves to be coached and ‘owned’ by the music professionals on the staff of the show. It’s not as bad as it sounds though. The difficulty comes in when the next crop of contestants come along and you, a finalist, are no longer given any exposure and become a ‘where are they now’ storyline.
You did give it your all, you had to. You had to show that this is what you really wanted to do. The exposure you received gave you the ability to play shows and record an album or two. You got your feet wet. What these shows don’t prepare you for is what all artists experience in their career – the low years. The years that you prove that this wasn’t a spur of the moment decision to become a singer or a guitar player, you continue on fighting to stay relevant in an ever-changing industry. Those down years will separate the determined, passionate artist from the fame seekers pretty quick. If music is your life, you will find a way to keep it all going through those down years, you’ll find a way to continue to provide for yourself or your family when the bills come due. If you stick it out, you will find your place in the music business for years to come and may even see a resurgence in your career.
I am not an expert on making it in music, but I have learned that you have to work hard to make a successful run of it. You have to give everything you’ve got. You have to want it more than the fame and fortune that may go with it. I love music, I love going to concerts, I love watching concerts and performances on television. I used to watch every awards show there was. I still watch some, but I find myself cringing at the performances that now dominate those awards shows. Not all of them are horrible and not all of them are spectacular. There are just enough that are downright awful, though, that I find myself disenfranchised with the whole experience. I used to enjoy awards shows. I can’t anymore. It’s about the spectacle or the same ten artists that were on the last awards show. I just don’t get it anymore.
I’ve worked in the music business for about fifteen years. I’ve been listening to and buying music my whole life. I know what I like. I played the violin for ten years throughout school. I know that if I had practiced more I would have been better than I was. I enjoyed it. I wish I had kept up learning the guitar and the piano. I can read traditional sheet music, something which a lot of modern musicians can’t do. I can’t read tablature in any way shape or form, however. I have helped promote artists and tours from both sides of the business – as an employee and as a fan. Things have evolved so much over the years. The artists who’ve worked there asses off over the years are still around – working, performing and making new music.
Those are the artists that I admire the most. They work hard and do it because they love it. They don’t know what else they would be doing if it weren’t for music. It’s all they ever wanted. It’s also the most important thing I’ve learned from them. Give it all you’ve got. You have to enjoy what you do inside and out. You will not last if you are only going through the motions. Despite what some naysayers may think, it isn’t all about the money. True these artists have to pay their bills like everyone else. But they play music because it is the only thing they love to do. If you think every artist with an album, an award or a platinum record will live high on the hog for eternity, I ask you to read up on the business of music and see how little some of them get from some record deals.
Not every artist has a fifty room mansion with eclectic treasures throughout the house. Not every artist has a fancy sports car. In fact, some don’t even want that. But that doesn’t mean they don’t love what they do. It doesn’t mean they are just going through the motions if they have all that either. You can, if you take the time to look, can see who is and isn’t going through the motions and riding a wave that has long since flattened out. You can tell when an artist keeps going after they shouldn’t. You can tell when the next Internet sensation isn’t going to go anywhere anytime soon. You can’t say they aren’t giving their all, but you can say they aren’t good enough to make a career of it.
Much like every rant I make, I end up showing that both sides of the coin have value. I am just saying, though, that I think artists sometimes forget the hard work required to keep their success and a lot of fans don’t realize how much work it is to be a famous or relatively famous musician.
I guess the moral of this post is that you have to really love what you do and good things will come. It may take years, but someday those artists deserving of accolades will get them. The ones who want to play music will still play music whether it’s around the corner or around the world. Sometimes it takes a while to reach the right audience amidst a sea of artists being marketed by conglomerates who are ruled by the bottom line.
Live up to the hype you create or your fans create. Not everyone will like what you do or how you do it. When you build that fan base, don’t take advantage of them and they will remain life-long fans. Once you get the attention of the mainstream, don’t let it change you. Continue to give your heart and soul for your passion.
More to come on this topic as I’ve ventured way off the eleven pages I wrote out on paper about this topic – if you’ve never read one of my blog posts, this is kind of normal. I’m good at going off on tangents. I’m long-winded too. Sometimes when I write, I get reminded of things that are related, but may not matter to the topic at hand. I write them down in the course of making my notes and therefore my posts and my writings tend to wander all over the place. I probably never go into enough depth as I write it all out, but I will post them anyway and go back later and do it up right. I get so behind in documenting my thoughts they turn into short stories or chapters from a book. I’ll type up exactly what I wrote for another entry – although I’m sure it’s just as A.D.D. as this one is.
If you’ve read all this nonsense that I hope at least flows even if it goes off topic, thank you. I’ll try it again here soon.