Making Records

Are you doing it to get rich, or because you have an innate desire to express yourself?

Hello, let me introduce you to 2007, wherein the powers-that-be tell us the music business has been wrecked by piracy but those with their ear to the ground know it’s much more complicated. The biggest problem facing artists isn’t piracy, but apathy. How do you get people to pay attention in a fast-paced world with so many entertainment options?

And, if you get SOME to pay attention, how easy will it be to get MORE people to pay attention?

Used to be there were amateurs and pros. Hobbyists and careerists. If you were a pro, your goal was to get a major label to sign you. You didn’t worry so much about how your music sounded as to whether the filter, the label, would invest in you. It was THEIR job to figure out how to get people interested. And, with few acts with the ability to get into the marketplace, they could give your project tender loving care, nurture it, develop it, if not to ubiquity, then at least journeyman status.

But then records started flying out of stores. And the major label’s job changed. It wasn’t about being a filter anymore, but a conduit from the customer’s bank account to theirs. What could they put in the value proposition that would get people to open their wallets and throw off enough cash to build cable systems? If you didn’t make mainstream music, suddenly, they didn’t want you.

But independent labels couldn’t get paid. The indie world was a complete backwater. Until about fifteen years ago, when the major label disaffected started growing indies. And by time indies truly got traction, the Net had taken hold, with P2P, and EVERYTHING was available ALL THE TIME!

With this newfound opportunity for exposition, amateurs flooded the gates. They wanted their chance. You no longer had to be a pro. You could make a record on your computer and sell it on CDBaby. Display your wares on MySpace. Suddenly, the pros were hard to find. And what was a pro anyway? Someone good? Someone unique? Someone who could move a lot of product?

MTV punted. It got out of the music game.

Radio admitted that it was in it for the commercials, that what came between them was filler, that if dead air generated the most listeners, they’d program that. They shirked their responsibility to the public, and asked whether they EVER had a responsibility to the public.

So where does that leave YOU?

Chances are, you don’t make music that the major label wants to pay for. Or, even if you do, you’re wary of the company’s input. And, it’s not so easy for the label to run the gauntlet anymore. There are fewer outlets of exposure, and they’re ever tighter. Sure, there are NEW ways to expose music, BUT IS ANYBODY PAYING ATTENTION?

Satellite radio play… How many subscribers and how many listeners? Each one might be happy as a clam, with this programmed choice, but if you want to make a living playing music getting a lot of spins on satellite won’t buy you a Bentley, probably not even a Kia.

Get to number one on MySpace and you can’t make a living, not playing music, just ask Tila Tequila. And she only got to number one because of SEX!

And if you’re selling your album on CDBaby your fans will buy it, but how many fans do you actually have? And, unfortunately, P2P isn’t benefiting you, because you don’t have enough fans to populate your product on the network. P2P isn’t hurting you at all, it could only HELP you, if only you could get someone to pay attention.

You’d argue for lower TicketMaster fees if only you could play a building WITH a TicketMaster contract. Instead, you’re lucky if you don’t have to guarantee the CLUB attendance by a certain number of YOUR fans. You’re doing it yourself, and you’re LOSING money, and you’re frustrated.

Don’t complain, give up.

That’s one of the dirty little secrets of this business. Talent is only fifty percent. Desire and perseverance make up the rest of your success. But NONE of the foregoing are a guarantee.

So, you’re up shit ocean with a paddle so small you’re overwhelmed.

Welcome to the club. You’d better be doing it for a love of the music, because chances are that’s ALL you’ll have, your music and your enjoyment in playing it.

Maybe you’ll gain some traction, you’ll become a pro. But the odds are against you. You need that desire and perseverance and LUCK! And it’s harder to get lucky every day. Even if the radio station DID play your record, what would it MEAN, is anybody LISTENING?

We’ll get some clarity in the future. The gulf between amateur and pro will reemerge. But chances are, only a thin sliver of pros will be like the stars of yore. There will be Kanye, and then the guy who can fill theatres.

That’s the game you’re getting into.

So don’t lay out a plan for world domination. If you’re lucky, you can dominate your DOMICILE! Maybe if a friend goes to college in another state you can make headway there. But there are too many people and too few slots and no pot at the end of a rainbow.

Cry all you want, but this is fact. You’d better be doing it for the love of the music. And this is the key that may grant you success. Those old paradigms, how you look, how you’re marketed…the majors only have a few slots per year, and most of THEM don’t make it. The old game is dead. The new game is daunting.

This is a read-only blog. E-mail comments directly to Bob.