So yesterday I went to the ASCAP New York Sessions music conference (which I knew about and could go to because I became a member of ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) many months ago. Here are some helpful things I learned:
1. From the keynote interview with Rob Thomas (of Matchbox 20 and solo work):
-No matter what level you’re at in this business, you better be working your ass off if you want to get anywhere or stay anywhere. Rob talked about how he gets up at 8:30am every day (bet you didn’t think a self-proclaimed pot-smoker musician did that!) to take care of business emails etc, then writes for hours every day if he’s not on the road or otherwise engaged. This man has sold tens of millions of records. Financially he’s set for life. If he never did another thing, he’d still have the respect of almost everyone in the music community for his huge success and great songs. And yet he works for hours every day just like the struggling 17-year-old nobody, trying to write great songs. Because that process never ends.
-Getting a record deal is NOT the end of your hard work. It’s the beginning. Sure, it’s hard work to get enough people to come to shows that record company people start paying attention, but it’s way harder to make and promote a record that will sell millions of copies once that record company has invested a million dollars in you and is breathing down your neck for a great record that you don’t know if you know how to make.
-More often than not, being successful in music means touring your ass off. Thomas mentioned that for 3 and a half years after the first Matchbox 20 record came out, he was on the road. And you thought the 2-year Guns N Roses tour you heard about on Behind The Music sounded long.
2. From the Making a Great Demo panel:
-Make sure you have a great room to record and mix and master in, because if the room doesn’t sound great, your recordings will really suffer. There is a company called Auralex which will do a free consultation of your recording room and help you figure out how to maximize its potential.
-Success is about the song, the song and the song. If you don’t have a great song, nothing else you do is going to make it successful. If you have a great song and you put it out there, it will find success in one way or another. Case in point: the music publisher on the panel mentioned that he signed a songwriter with bad recordings and no record deal because his songs were amazing. The song is the most important thing. Make great songs. Period.
-Just like with everything else in the arts, those amazing songs must be submitted through a manager, agent or lawyer to get heard. Unsolicited stuff is not going to get listened to.
-One musician on the panel mentioned that before his record deal he survived off of licensing music. He started out with this by going to music supervisor conferences and meeting supervisors to whom he could submit his music. Smart guy!
-The A&R guy from Hollywood Records on the panel mentioned that he has kept in touch with acts who had potential but weren’t ready for a deal when he first heard them, so keep working on that craft and getting better, and you might get lucky even if you don’t start out being a genius who’s ready to be signed. He also mentioned that once he signs an act, he expects them to be writing constantly.
3. From the marketing panel:
-It’s more important to have a coherent plan for what you want to achieve than to be on a million websites and social networks.
-Clear Channel has a program called “New” which helps local acts get heard on major radio stations. Go to a Clear Channel radio station’s web page and search for the New program.
-It’s essential to gather the email addresses of people who are interested in your music so you can keep in touch with fans
-The best way to get written about in blogs is to perform and otherwise “do something worth blogging about.”
-LOGO TV channel has a contest where you can get your music video on the air
-On myspace, your page views are much more important than your friend count to record labels etc, because a high page view-to-fan-number ratio means you have avid fans who keep coming back. It’s true–I visit FrankMusik’s myspace a lot, because he kicks ass and I can’t get enough of him and I will support him for the rest of my life because he’s a freaking genius. But I am only one friend.
-bandcamp.com is an awesome site that is very helpful for musicians
From the songwriters and producers panel:
-You make your own opportunities. No one’s going to hand you anything (what have I been saying all this time!?!?)
-How to handle the eternal problem of people telling you you have to sleep with them in order for them to help you in the music business: Never give them any reason to believe you’re there for anything but to work, and if they hit on you, just let them know you’re there to work and nothing else, and they’ll hit on someone else and work with you. Or if they don’t, someone will.
-Jingle writing can be a good thing from which to transition into producing music for artists.
-One producer told a story of going to see a young band he loved that only had 8 people in the audience, 7 of whom walked out of the show. That band was Gym Class Heroes, they of the huge radio hits. No Doubt had shows like that too, early on. If you believe in what you’re doing, keep going no matter what. Do more shows. Find your audience. It takes a while, but they’ll find you and then you’ll have your big awesome shows.