Posted: Sep 9, 2019
Category: The Lefsetz Letter
**Guest post by Bob Lefsetz of The Lefsetz Letter.
"Don't wait for help, do it yourself. Just like you can record and distribute yourself, you can promote too.
If you're waiting for a manager to start, don't. A manager becomes interested when they see money. And at the beginning you're not generating any. Establish a track record and managers will be interested.
Major labels only become interested when you prove yourself too, albeit at much higher numbers. Seven digit Spotify streams particularly. If you ain't got 'em, they aren't interested. Major labels no longer develop something, they make bigger what already exists, at a price.
A major will write you a check, but it could be the last one you ever see from them. Chances are if they're interested, you're already making bank in streaming. If you're not hip-hop or pop, tread lightly, it's doubtful there's anything they can do for you except increase debt.
Decide who you want to be. A hobbyist, a touring musician or a superstar. This affects your path. A hobbyist does it alone and does not bitch, they're happy to have a semi-career at all. A touring musician...it's all about friends/relationships. It's your local crew that will break you. Better to start at home than move to Los Angeles. And don't move to New York, it's over, real estate is just too expensive, and ever since Lucian Grainge decided to base himself out of L.A., the City of Angels has become the epicenter of the worldwide music business.
Big deals are no big deal. A TV appearance, radio play on your local station, all that used to mean you were somebody, now it just illustrates you're on the road. It's easier to play than ever before, but harder to make it. If you're lucky you'll have a series of breaks and one day you'll wake up and realize you don't need a day job and have a career.
Festivals, festivals, festivals. That's where you gain traction outside your burg. But not the gigantic festivals, the Lollas or Coachellas, but the smaller ones, more specialized. The attendees are usually more attentive and if you're good, word can spread.
Are you a recording artist or a touring artist? The fame is in the former, the money is in the latter. If you know how to play, it goes a long way.
Agent before label. Manager somewhere in-between. Bands break on the road. Hip-hop and pop break on the internet. To work on the road successfully you need an agent. It's a Catch-22, you can't get an agent to book you until you've proven you can book yourself and make money, just like you can't get a job unless you've got experience. Figure it out, no one said it was easy.
Everyone can rap, not everyone is good and not everyone can be known. You play online, making virtual relationships, and augur for success. But even if you've got an online hit, that does not necessarily mean you can sell tickets. And everybody but the labels are interested first and foremost in tickets (and merch!)
Everyone will lie to you. No one wants to break a relationship. You can only trust yourself, sorry, but that's the way it is.
Decide whether you're a player or a seller. If you love Instagram and know how to promote, become an influencer or a PR person or a manager. Sure, new acts need to promote themselves on social media, but they do call it the MUSIC business. People are inundated with clever messages online, but you will only gain traction if your music resonates and is spread, and the only way you can do this is to create great music.
Go where people are not. The barrier to entry may be low, especially in hip-hop, but you're competing with zillions of people. Better to find a genre and excel in it with a twist. You can always twist metal, country and rock, never mind smaller genres than that, like folk and klezmer and jazz. This is how Florida Georgia Line made it, by integrating hip-hop in their music. Never forget, music is as much cerebral as skill. In other words, if it were only about skill the chart would be dominated by Berklee graduates, and it's not. Think. And if you can't, align yourself with someone who can. Conception is the key to art. That's how the Ramones broke, that's how most new sounds break.
If you're a singer who does not write... Good luck, no one has ever broken from "The Voice," and they're on television and can sing well!
Writing is a way in. Write a great song and not only can you play it, others can record it. Never underestimate the power of a great song. And publishers are always looking for them. It's easier and more lucrative to enter the music business via publishing than recording. And once you've proven yourself as a hit writer, you can do the recording thing. This is how Chris Stapleton broke. Sure, continue to play, but once you've written hit songs, you get recording opportunities.
Demos must be professional, near-records.
Don't make an album if no one is gonna listen to it. Just put songs up for free on YouTube, etc. and see the reaction and adjust.
Don't pay big money for a nobody or has-been producer to make your recordings. You don't have enough money to get it to sound right and they're just doing it for the money.
If you're not a star, realize it. If you weren't notorious in high school, for either fitting in or not, for the way you dressed or rejected fashion, the big time music business won't be interested. Sure, you can earn a living touring, but don't expect the infrastructure to be excited about you. Stars are born, not made. Hits are made, but the raw material comes first. Can you say David Bowie? Can you say Kanye West?
You should be discouraged, you should not be encouraged, music is oftentimes a lonely life with little remuneration. While others are working their way up at the company food chain, getting married, buying a house, having kids, you're still living in your parents' basement driving an old beater. If you're not cut out for this life, don't start. And if you are, you must be committed. Of course you'll have moments of doubt, you'll want to give up. Oftentimes the darkest hour is just before the dawn, i.e. acceptance and riches. But very few people see the dawn. Know this. How many elite players are there in tennis? Way more people want to play music for a living and there aren't that many more spots. The work is hard and the odds are low and the spoils go to those who pay their dues and stay dedicated."
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Enjoy more of Bob's writings on Lefsetz.com.