How To Succeed In The Music Business. Part 2
Author: David Wright
So you still wanna be a star? Part 2
Whatever genre of music you're in, you need to define your
definition of success. If your definition is 'being a rich and
famous superstar', then, well 'good luck'... but if your
definition is 'being a creative artist doing what you want to do
in life by sharing your music with those who will listen', then
you should succeed. And if you've got the bottle to stick to
your own sound and style, your own beliefs of how your music
should sound, then you've even more chance of success in the
But be warned - flying in the face of convention, of what is
current, is always difficult. But trends fade and die - original
talent and music does not!
If you've recorded an album yourself then get independent
feedback, both musical and technical. Friends and family will
always say your music is "great" (and hey, that's fine, you need
that support). But, the person who tells you everything you do
is great may be good for your ego, but they're of no practical
use at all! The harsh reality is that you need good constructive
criticism from independent sources who know what they're talking
about. Okay, easier said than done, but there are publications
like "Sound on Sound", for example, who provide demo reviews.
Another tip is seek out your local recording studio and pay for
a studio engineers time (or better still the studio owner if you
can), just to listen to your recording. Pick their brains and
ask their advice on all aspects of your recording. I did this
myself and it was invaluable. You've got to make sure you can
relate to the studio engineer and that they can relate to what
you're doing. But at the end of the day, you're paying them just
to listen and to give you the benefit of their experience.
Believe me, many studios will be glad to do this when they
realize you're serious about accepting constructive criticism
and you're willing to pay the going studio rate for it. But I
reiterate, ensure you find someone who has experience and some
empathy with the music you're doing.
The reason that this is so important is because often, when
starting out doing a first album you wont have the knowledge or
equipment to make it sound anything more than a demo.
Unfortunately, so many aspiring musicians get so close to their
"creation" that they fail to hear that the music isn't as good
as they think it is, particularly on the technical side!
It's always good to remember that there are probably tens of
thousands of people around the world (maybe millions, who
knows?!) doing the same thing you are. There's no shortage of
home studios turning out music and no shortage of organizations,
particularly on the Internet, telling you how to "Make it Big".
So, the trick is to stand out as being 'different from the rest'
while achieving a standard that is 'professional'. How do I
define professional? Where someone has taken the time and effort
to take the recording beyond a home demo. Okay, I know that may
seem a little opaque, but the truth is that it's difficult to
define, you just "know".
Music is very subjective - we all hear different things in it,
indeed, we all need different things from music to make it
acceptable to us, whether as a composer or a listener. There are
great musicians who are technically amazing playing various
instruments but record music that is devoid of soul or passion
and restricted by self imposed musical constraints. Conversely
there are musicians with little or no training who can blow your
mind with fabulous and inventive music because they are not
constrained by formal musical training. It's also worth pointing
out that being a competent musician doesn't make for a competent
composer of music! And even a competent composer can't
necessarily imbue the composition with that special ingredient
that make people sit up and take notice.
It's also true to say that a good musician/composer is not
necessarily a good studio engineer! This is a fact that in my
opinion, is often overlooked. Too many composers think that
because they have access to an all singing, all dancing
workstation and/or computer, they can turn out a great
recording. More often than not, nothing is further from the
truth. Composing is a talent, and engineering an album is
another, very different talent. Mastering an album is yet
another, very different talent. I'm not suggesting an individual
cannot do all these things well. Of course they can, with years
of experience, and even then, with input from other sources.
Too many times I've sat listening to a demo where the composer
is convinced that the music and the recording is "great" when in
fact it isn't. The recording and use of sounds is cheesy and
naff, but the composer can't hear it because they haven't
"stepped outside the box", as I would say. They haven't stood
back from the music and really listened to the recording and
compared like for like against professional recordings of the
It's a hard lesson to learn, to be self critical of your own
creations and sometimes to realize that your creation is
actually far from perfect and that sometimes, the best place for
the creation is in the bin and that you need to start again on
another idea. But this is probably one of the most important
lessons to be learned on the musical journey.
It also important to consider this one unpalatable fact. Your
album may be great. It may have nice songs, be well recorded
etc. etc. but it simply may not be good enough to be anything
more than an inde album that sells a few hundred copies. That's
It's a simple fact that record companies will listen to the
first 20 seconds of a demo and then switch it off and consign
the demo to the bin if it doesn't make an instant impression.
That's not just A/R men either. Some years ago, a major label
had so many demos that its A/R department couldn't handle them
all so it gave piles of demos to everyone, even the cleaners to
sift through. Everyone ended up doing the same thing - if the CD
didn't make an instant impression, then it was "on to the next".
Sure, that may seem unfair, but if you're the record label exec
trawling thru thousands of demos, how would you do it? Again, I
run a small inde label, so I know what it's like.
I'm not suggesting you record your demo to send to a big label.
I'm relating the story to hammer home the point that with so
many people making music, all thinking theirs is "the best album
ever", that you have to be realistic - you probably have more
chance of winning the UK lottery and the Euro lottery in the
same week than getting a record deal!
But that shouldn't stop you!! Your demo should be well recorded
and recorded well enough that you could press it and sell it
yourself. In this day and age, that's probably the best way
forward. Sure, still send copy to record labels, but also
remember that record labels will be looking for a lot, lot more
than just the music. They'll be looking for experience, an
image, a malleable artist and lots more besides for today's
Your music should have an identity that stands out from the rest
and it should have an emotional presence. Achieving this is
very, very difficult and in truth, it cannot be taught or
learned. I truly believe music either has that magic ingredient
to make the listeners hair stand on end, to perk people
interest, or it doesn't. And that comes from the musician - not
the production, the engineering, the mastering the record label
or anywhere else - it is the defining essence of the artist.
So, what am I trying to tell you here? Well, to summarize,
embark on the road of being a musician with passion and belief
but accept that the chance of major success thru a record deal
is virtually impossible. Understand that you must listen with
open ears to what you do and learn to be critical of your music.
Make constructive criticism your closest ally through people
whose opinion you value and trust. And however hard you think
it's going to be to have any measure of success, realize that it
will be even harder!
About the author:
David Wright is a solo keyboard player and recording artist,
composer and producer who founded the electronic music label AD
Music in 1989. Also founder member of the electronic band Code
Indigo and has released 24 solo and band albums over an 18 year
period, with performing and production credits on many more.