By: Rick Baker, J.D.
May 17, 2018
To answer that question, it helps to step into the sometimes ugly and brutal truth about people who buy and sell the services of a musical act: Talent & Booking Agencies.
When you look at huge agencies (UTA, William Morris, etc.) that book the biggest acts and biggest venues in the business, clubs and everything in between, they are looking for certain things in any act they would be able to book.
Now, it may be painful to look into the minds of these folks but they have a job to do; book musical acts, so it helps to see it from their point of view. What live show can they sell and who’s buying?
Venues and Buyers don’t usually want to deal directly with the talent so, they have relationships with the big agencies that supply the act to the right buyer at the right price. To do this, the agencies categorize musical acts, first by genre or musical style, then by popularity or fan base.
The advantage of the major label signing is you immediately get signed with a big agency (if you’re not already) but then it still comes down to you, the Artist. The bigger your reputation (name) and your ability to DRAW, the bigger the bottom line to them.
THE BIG QUESTION
So, where does your original musical act fit into in the music marketplace and why do some artists make it and most do not?
While different people will give different answers, I want you to forget about the business aspects of music for a few minutes and think about your music and the music you love that influenced who you are as a musical artist.
When you think about the groups and acts that you really love listening to over and over, ask yourself, why is that?
Well, I think it’s a combination of things but I think the most important thing starts with what music consists of…
At the top of the list are good songs. Regardless of the genre or style, in my experience I think that a good song is a good song. Songwriting is really what separates musical acts because it’s how you communicate to and entertain your audience. Some have it, most don’t.
I will be the first person to admit that songwriting is not an easy thing to do well. It’s interesting how some of the best songs are not very complicated musically but the magic happens nonetheless, usually because of the lyrics, melody, vocal performance or something that makes the vibe and sound happen.
But we learn of a great group through a song we hear and then if we dig deeper and find that we enjoy other songs, the vibe, the look, the live show, that’s how a musical artist finds their audience and success.
I think sometimes musical artists forget that what they present live on stage is really who they are as a musical act. I know it sounds a little “show business-ey” but it’s the truth because that’s where the rubber meets the road. There’s nowhere to hide when you are out on that stage. You are who you are and your act is what it is. So you need to occasionally stop, back up, zoom out, and envision what you want to present to you audience and ask if you are truly doing that. Seriously.
Too many acts think they are so talented that all they have to do is get up and do what they do and the fans will come. And sometimes, that’s all it takes. But most times, acts and groups don’t take a hard look at their own show, the song order, tempo and pacing of the show, the emotional journey song choice takes an audience on and where you want them to go.
Recordings are the lifeblood of the music business. Whether they are sold as CDs or a Download or Stream, your recordings represent what you’ve got to offer the world through your music.
Too many acts think they are good producers, and many are skilled and have their vision, but most could benefit from experimenting with different recording producers. Any good song can be recorded or performed in any style so having someone in the booth besides an engineer and your spouse can make all the difference.
The problem is most artists can’t surrender any creative control, which is good in most situations; however, any great recording artist will tell you that when they first worked with a good producer, their music came to life in it’s best version because they trusted their producer to bring it out of them and directed the arrangement and recording process. This allows artists to focus on their performance at the highest level.
These days, it has become easier than ever to promote your musical act and if you are not taking advantage of how to use social media, email marketing, video and your website to it’s fullest extent, then you are going to find it hard to break through. I may teach a course on this because so often, I see musical artists who are not using the tools at their disposal, or are using them the wrong way.
Yes, it takes time, planning and resources to get the attention of potential and current fans, but this new digital interaction provides so many opportunities to connect. And after all, isn’t connecting with your audience what leads to your ultimate success or failure as an original musical artist?
There are many levels of promotion and you have to have a content plan and publication schedule to keep your fans entertained and make them feel special for being in your musical world. There are unlimited ways to attract attention and grow your audience but to break through, what you are offering has to be special, unique and most of all entertaining!
So, if your show is tight, your songs are great, your popularity is growing, your draw (power) will increase. This should be the business focus of any musical act. So here’s a suggestion and exercise if you want to try it:
Take your top three songs (that other people dig) and ask if they could be better. Better produced, better performance. If they could, try alternate versions of the recordings and take a leap of faith with someone who knows how to produce…oh, and keep writing.
Watching yourself perform can either be a joyful experience or a painful one. It’s strange but many performers find it hard to view their own performance…but you have to. Take a look at your show from the audience’s perspective and make changes you know need to be made. Do you bring it and rock the house or is it bullshit? That’s the question I always ask myself and in any act I see.
The right messages and content promoted on all the channels of social media available can get potential fans interested and keep current fans entertained and make them feel they are part of your inner circle. Be a little mysterious and don’t just throw everything you’ve got out there all at once. Sometimes less is more.
This is why a combination of photos, video, behind the scenes access and other things you can use to engage with your audience.
Remember, you are not the entire purpose of their lives…your job is to take them away from that and enrich their life with your music so, just be that as well as you can. Mix it up. Funny posts, cool posts, live event posts, video clips, etc. Have fun with it!
SOUNDS EASY RIGHT?
If it were, everyone who plays original music or sings would be rich and famous…right? But they’re not.
My point of this and other articles, books and courses I have written is to get you thinking about some of the things people in the business part of the music business think about and what they look at. It’s not about pleasing these folks, it’s about knowing where they are coming from, how they look at it and whether you can be irresistible to them for mutually rewarding relationships (i.e., $ MONEY $).
Comment, share and feel free to reach out and let's talk music business.
Rick Baker, B.S., J.D., former Music Attorney is a Music Business Consultant, Producer & Professional Guitarist and lives in Winter Park, Florida.