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Success Tips?


Every now and then I run across tips on how to be successful in the music business. Latest ones were on the USA Songwriting Contest Website, and were from one of the guys who runs SongU, which teaches classes in songwriting. The question I always have is how well (or if) I measure up. (Them, too.) Here’s the tips:

Good songs. Other experts insist on this, too; you’d think it’d go without saying, but the quality of so much commercial music is so poor people may wonder whether it matters any more. One should not only pursue perfection for its own sake, one needs to remember that those commercial folks are already famous, and if I want to be heard over them my stuff has to be better. Lots better. I don’t take classes in songwriting but I do hang out with other writers, in person and online.

Feedback. Part of the “good songs†mantra above, in my opinion. I don’t operate in a vacuum—I don’t want to be the person deciding whether my stuff is good. I have on occasion used professional critiquers, like the authors suggest, but I prefer peer review by other writers whose judgment I trust. (They’re free, too.) I also insist on testing each song out on a live audience (and have a few audiences that are willing to be my guinea pigs).

Co-write. Other experts say you have to do this, too—but I’m not sure how co-writing makes you be successful. Nashville is a hotbed of co-writing—but you don’t get to “write with†somebody famous unless you’re already famous yourself. I co-write to prove I can do it, to get exposure to different styles, and also because I’ve discovered it’s an outlet: I don’t need to write serious songs, because other people do, and I can get the seriousness out of my system by helping them.

Good demos. I agree (surprise!). You don’t have to have full-band instrumentation on demos, though I often do, just to show people without imagination what’s possible. Quality is the important consideration; a lot of the outfits that license music that aren’t record companies aren’t going to re-record your stuff. What I offer them has to be “radio-ready.†(Anything sent to a song contest has to be “radio-ready,†too, or it won’t get considered.) About a quarter of my songs have been professionally recorded. I still need to do the rest.

Be digital. But everyone is these days, aren’t they? I’d rather say “be fast†instead: one advantage independents have over the dinosaurs in the Music Industry is we can get product to market quickly. A corollary is you have to know what you’re doing, and get it right the first time. Do I? I keep working at it.

Look beyond the obvious when you’re pitching. There is, in other words, little point in pursuing cuts from the big record companies; they are not interested in any outsiders and may never be. There are other outlets for music; two I wasn’t aware of are the companies that sell background music for graduation and wedding videos. The folks who do movie and TV “placements†don’t use the big record companies, either (and I know one publisher who does this stuff). And one can bypass the record companies by selling CDs through CDBaby and a bunch of others. Yes, I knew some of that.

Expose yourself. Those who aren’t affiliated with the Big Boys have to do it on their own with fewer resources. Be everywhere; try everything. I’d add Madonna’s advice: Perform. The way you get your material in front of the public when you don’t have what Joni Mitchell called “the Star-Maker Machinery†is to perform it, and perform it yourself unless and until you get other people performing it for you. About the only item on the list I’m not doing is the Website, and I do really need to do that. A caveat, though: a Website alone does nothing for exposure. I still have to bring people in.

So… Good songs. (Duh.) Good demos. Know what you’re doing and be right the first time. Look beyond the obvious. Expose yourself (and perform). Keep n mind, though, that I’ve been doing that stuff for a while and success in the music business still looks awfully far away. Do I need to add “Be patient†to the list?



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