Everyone knows that the music business is changing. Money can no longer be made in the traditional routes. Music streaming is increasing while the sales of our actual product is expected to be given away for free. This is a difficult time to get into the music business for an artist, for as the landscape shifts, the new model is being created not by the people who actually own and create the product (artists who make the music) but by second hand parties who help get that music out and heard. Those people have business degrees and are making the decisions and artists have no education and we are left to fit ourselves into this shifting landscape without a real voice at the table. Yet we continue to create the content the entire machine runs on.
There can be a great relationship between the Artist and their label, in fact I had the support of my labels and I have only fond memories and much gratitude from our partnerships. But I also was able to structure deals that let me win as much as they did. And for my story there are countless others who have not had an experience like mine.
I am often asked my advice to young artists and it would be as follows.
Ask yourself a few questions:
1) Do you want to be famous more than you want to make a living doing what you love?
2) What do you stand for? Who are you as a human and an artist? This will be your 'brand' and knowing your core values and what makes you unique as a human and artist is what people will buy into beyond a song to create fan loyalty. It will also help you make money in other ways besides music. This isn't about your voice or technical talent - it's about who you are as a person that informs not only your music but defines who you are on a larger scale. This can then be monetized in authentic ways, other than record sales- since record sales don't really pay much any more.
3) Do you know how the business works and how the money gets divided? Do you know you must recoup all costs the label fronts for promoting you before you make money? Do you know labels will get a portion of your whole career (a 360 deal) and do you know what that percent is?
4) Do you have the leverage needed in following? Including your fan base and talent to negotiate an equitable deal for yourself with a label?
5) If not, are you willing to wait for a record deal or put one off? Are you willing to do what it takes to get that leverage so that you can then come into the traditional business with the ability to have a seat at the table and get your fair share of the pie? This requires good old fashion elbow grease. Get good at your craft, use social media, get a van and tour and do shows until you get a following. Get clear on who and what you are and stand for. This step can not be skipped.
6) To make your dreams come true, do you need a label to make a living doing what you love? Can you do it selling your own CD's and touring?
7) If a label is what you want and you want to center a career around radio hits, then you must know what you should expect from your labels and their 360 deals. How can they help you make money off of a platform based on your core values and brand that they helped you build? Can they deliver on not only helping you build a platform but then aggressively helping you monetize it with non traditional means? If they are not set up to do this, will they hire someone who specializes in licensing to help you build your brand and defray the cost of hiring this person?
About 10 years ago I was watching the Food network and I was struck with the fact that that was the future of where I needed to take my business. That's where the music business should go. Those chefs did TV shows for very little salary, and then they learned to make a real profit by leveraging their brand into other arenas like restaurants and selling life style goods that fit within their brand and core values. This is where I have been taking my business for a few reasons – one, there is no money in record sales any more unless you are a massive breakaway hit artist - and even then the numbers just are not what they used to be. Two, artists now share touring income with the labels. Luckily I don't do this - but frankly I don't enjoy touring now that I'm a mom and depending on being away from home to make a living. So I have slowly been looking at ways to make music still, but change my income stream away from depending on record sales and touring, finding authentic ways to take my core message out into the world beyond merely music. I have been working hard to find partners to help me find a new model that is still authentic to my passions and that also lets me be home more so my son can be in school.
I'm looking at TV and building a website based on my book that will hopefully help people who are seeking to create change in their lives. Along with a few additional fun things.
I’m lucky as I have always had an authentic relationship with my audience and that I was able to build my career at a time when the industry was healthy. How I went about my career even back then is how I still suggest artists do it today.
Bet on yourself. Make sure your talent and your ability to touch an audience is significant enough that you can gain some leverage in a negotiation. Make sure you know your goals - and know that your insurance policy is your willingness not to take short cuts. Short cuts cost money. If you want a long term win the only way to build a career is slowly and by finding and crafting your own relationship with your own audience. Stay affordable - keep your costs down and learn the business so you can be a good parent to your art and protect it and the asset you have which is your music, your artistry and what you stand for.
Develop yourself on the road and in clubs and this will not only help develop your craft and what you stand for but also start to create a following that in turn gives you leverage if you are able to get a record deal.
My last bit of advice is about Swag. I see so many young artists trying to manufacture swag. In turn I see fans trying to emulate this manufactured swag. Suddenly we have a whole generation of folks who are trying to use social media to portray who they wish they were - who they want people to think they are - or more correctly I would say they are trying to show the world who they are afraid they are not!
What I would like to say about swag is this: nothing is more magnetic than a human being who is unapologetically and undeniably authentic to who they are. No two are alike. You can't copy someone else's swag. Swag comes from spending enough time with yourself to know who the heck you are and to give a voice to it. It's those kids in school who had the nerve not to follow what was cool but had the courage to express who they were, even if it was different. It's not following to fit in - it's exploring yourself and giving yourself permission to be an unedited version of yourself. It can't be fake or borrowed. So if you are reading this - weather you are an average person, an aspiring artist, or an established one - I encourage you to let go of trying to look 'cool.’ That type of cool is boring and put on and not interesting. Instead ask yourself:
Who are you? What do you care about? Do you respect what you care about? Would you change anything? Do you have a sense of purpose? Are you doing things every day that live up to those values and can you find ways to live them every day? Do you let who you really are shine through?
We can all think of the artists who do this authentically and the ones who look like posers trying to emulate an idea of cool they had when they were kids.
Here is to all of us being ourselves - whoever we are and wherever we are - for as Joseph Campbell said - "The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are."