What You’ve Got To Know

1. Try to be great. In a world of overwhelming incompetence, where everybody’s vying for attention, we seek and glom on to great, and tell everybody we know about it. Unfortunately, because of the plethora of information great does not ascend to the top of the totem pole instantly anymore, but it’s the first step in the ladder to success. Forget the penumbra, the social media, the marketing, they’re subservient to the underlying product/endeavor. Everything great sells itself. Sure, ultimately a push helps. But it’s amazing how you can gain traction with great and great only. Great is hard to achieve. You know it when you get there. Your whole body tingles, you smile, you’re self-satisfied, you don’t even care if anybody else sees/hears what you’ve created, but you know when they do they’re going to have a reaction. Don’t play it safe, play for a reaction.

2. Beware of self-hype. Others with stronger personalities and better contacts and more money will spread the world how great they are. You’ll read it in newspapers, online, and it will make you feel inadequate. Don’t fall for the bait. Tireless self-promoter is a gig, but it’s got nothing to do with art. Furthermore, in today’s era, just because you get the word out that does not mean you gain traction. Also, “Hamilton” tells us you don’t know what’s going on unless you’re in the room. Castles are built in the air, don’t fall for the story, it’s rarely true. People don’t want to talk about the hard work, the payoffs, the manipulation, the lies and deceit. They want to make it look like everything fell into their lap and they’re the luckiest person in the world. Don’t buy it. Be skeptical, search for the real story. If you predicate your success on the footsteps/careers of others you will hit potholes, because you don’t really know what they went through.

3. Play the long game. Now, more than ever, it’s about being in it forever, not momentarily. Streaming pays over time and we’ve already forgotten every winner of the “Voice.” News is a 24/7 enterprise with very little sticking. Tragically, the Planned Parenthood shooting was trumped by the massacre in San Bernardino. If you think you’re going to win by dominating the news cycle, know that only those with the deepest pockets selling the blandest mainstream pop can win that game, and they rarely do.

4. Lead with your product, frontloading is passe. The advance buildup works for one time events like boxing matches. Art has a very long arc. If you squander your budget at the outset your product will probably die. Marketing is now about reaction, about finding a small fire and turning it into a conflagration.

5. Only the dumbest of the dumb believe the press releases. Do you want to appeal to this audience? Substance sells. It’s just that substance takes a little bit longer to explain. If you’re going to talk to a reporter, if you’re going to post online, try to say something real, try to be genuine, this is what people react to.

6. Data rules. Now, more than ever, it’s about the numbers. And the numbers don’t lie. The Sorkin Steve Jobs movie tanked. As did Carly Rae Jepsen’s album. Smoke and mirrors are passe. The younger generation knows this more than the oldsters. You can see the number of streams on Spotify and soon you’ll have even more data indicating the success or lack thereof of your project. If your numbers are low, either be happy or change. Don’t be sour grapes. No one’s got time for that anymore, life is too hard. The tools of creation are at your fingertips, don’t be afraid to remix your art, to pivot. Sometimes you change one little thing and the whole picture changes. Ignore/stop listening to those who keep doing the same thing and bitch they’re not getting the attention they deserve.

7. Just because you were famous and made a living in the old pre-internet era that does not mean you’re entitled to make a living in the new. That was an artificially controlled world, of scarcity. If you got through the barrier, people knew who you were. Now you have to earn your stripes. It may turn out with so much available, people are just not that interested in what you’re doing. As for those lamenting the loss of the old model, you’re now living in the most egalitarian era for art ever. It used to be nearly impossible to get a record deal. Now you can be your own record company. But don’t expect just because you did it that people other than your mother and significant other will care. The bar has been raised, people have no time for mediocre, no time for good either. Sure, you need chops. But if those were enough the business would be ruled by Berklee graduates. No, what you need is inspiration. Which can come in an instant, any time, taking a shower, doing the dishes, taking a walk. The fuller your life, the greater your inspiration. Don’t be a slave to the screen.

8. Courage is underrated. The best put their lives on the line. They reveal their innermost thoughts so the rest of us can relate, so we don’t feel so alone. Are you willing to go naked, are you willing to bare your soul? Don’t confuse this with Instagram/Facebook. There’s no context there, there’s no art. We want to see humanity in a song.

9. You won’t know what your one big break was until after it happened. A career is a long winding road upon which you must keep up hope, because you’re going to be confronted with endless disappointments. If you think one missed opportunity killed your career, you’re a chump.

10. You can work with the usual suspects, but we’re most interested in that which is new and different, that’s what turns our heads. Grunge eviscerated hair bands and if you think the popster paradigm is going to rule forever, you have no sense of history. No one is forever, change comes quickly and violently. That does not mean your left field project will break through, just that some left field project will break through.

11. If you’re only in it for the money you’re in the wrong profession. Art is about power. Touching someone’s emotions, touching someone’s soul, is richer and more valuable than any physical product ever. The key is to get people on your side with your truth and move mountains. We’ve equated successful artists with their bank accounts. We’ve got to equate artists with their minds. Today’s artists play to the media, they take camera crews to their meetings with sick children, everything is promotion. Wrong. The best promotion is your identity encapsulated in your art. In their heyday Steely Dan didn’t go on the road. Jefferson Airplane challenged the establishment at their peak, just listen to “Volunteers.” John Lennon became an icon for stating that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, the truth. What kind of crazy world do we live in where Donald Trump owns the media by saying what no one else will, his personal truth, and every so-called “artist” is afraid of going on the record for fear of alienating a potential customer. Quick, name the clergymen who got their flocks to burn Beatle records after John Lennon’s comment. You can’t. Insignificant players will gain the spotlight for a moment, but do not let them distract you from your mission. You will have moments of insecurity and doubt, you will be ready to give up. But don’t do so because some bozo with a keyboard who lives in his mom’s basement is jealous of your success and wants to keep you down.

12. We’re always ready. For the new, the great, the exceptional. If you touch our souls we’ll give you enough money to survive, and if you’re asking for more than that, you’re not an artist. Don’t focus on cash but audience. If you’re not trying to reach as many people as possible, you don’t believe in your art. Sure, 1,000 true fans will keep you alive, but you’ll have no social impact. Your goal is to put a dent in the universe. Start building your rocket.

One Response to What You’ve Got To Know


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  1. Pingback by Boasting | MT-Headed Blog | 2015/12/29 at 21:29:07

    […] upon this general theme by two unrelated folks: jazz pianist George Colligan and music writer Bob Lefsetz. The former’s list of PR ideas made me laugh, and the latter hit the nail on the head, […]

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  1. Pingback by Boasting | MT-Headed Blog | 2015/12/29 at 21:29:07

    […] upon this general theme by two unrelated folks: jazz pianist George Colligan and music writer Bob Lefsetz. The former’s list of PR ideas made me laugh, and the latter hit the nail on the head, […]

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