THE TOP FIVE THINGS EVERY SINGER/SONGWRITER IS DOING THAT NEED TO BE FIXED

There are at least a hundred ways for every singer/songwriter to improve his or her chances of success, but these are the five I already know that need to be addressed without even seeing your show. They are inherent the performance of virtually all aspiring (and sadly many seasoned) singer/songwriters.

FIX #5: WHAT’S YOUR NAME?

How many times has someone told you about a great act they saw the night before but had no idea as to the artist’s name? Hang a banner in the back, put a logo on the front of your keyboard, have your name in pearl inlays on your fretboard, whatever. Make sure that there’s something on stage that somehow visually embeds your name into the mind’s eye of each audience member so that they will remember you, your music, and your name.

FIX #4: NO VISUAL VARIETY

If all of your songs are sung into a mic standing at center stage, the audience will be bored by song three. Move the mic stand to different places on the stage, sit on the front of the stage, go into the crowd, use a bar stool, sing something a cappella away from the mic and get the audience to sing along. Every song must be presented with a different visual; otherwise all of your songs are going to all “sound alike” to your audience.

FIX #3: TOO MANY DISTRACTIONS

The audience only needs to see your mouth, your eyes and your hands. THAT’S IT!  Other than your name on a banner, everything else on stage that may divert their attention away from those three visual means of communication is an unnecessary distraction. That means no flowered shirts or pants, no red boots, no wild hats or hairdos, no white guitars, no musical instrument logos, and above all, no skin.

FIX #2: TOO MANY MID-TEMPO SONGS

Mid-tempo songs are stock in trade for all budding singer/songwriters, but performed live to an unfamiliar audience, they’re boring, boring, boring. The first and best way to get to an audience to respond to you right away is by the FEEL of the first song of your set. An up-tempo song (preferably a shuffle) gets their heads nodding and their feet tapping. Always start and end your set with an up-tempo song.

AND THE #1 FIX EVERY SINGER/SONGWRITER NEEDS TO DO: STOP EATING THE MIC

Again, you have three ways to visually communicate your emotions to your audience – your hands, your eyes, and your mouth. If you eat the mic, no one can see your mouth. The Shure SM58 is the standard of the industry. I recommend the Shure Beat 58A – better midrange response. But the solution is not changing the mic. Meet with the FOH person before the show and ask them nicely to push the preamp gain setting up as high as it will go before feedback. Then you can back off the mic. (Side note: lose the shades as well.)

The 96 other ways to improve your show and your career are spelled out in greater detail in my newest book – The Singer/Songwriter Boot Camp Rule Book: 101 Ways to Improve Your Chances of Successavailable at Amazon/Kindle and in digital and book form at http://amzn.to/2o4osB8.

WHY NOTHING COMPARES TO PRINCE

There’s always been a notion that if we could emulate the lives of those we admire, then our lives would have the same outcomes as theirs – talented, successful, rich, famous, happy, whatever. That, of course, explains all the “Seven Secrets of…..” books and the popularity of biographies as treasure maps to our desired fortunes. Although the lives of successful music artists fall into that same category and there are certainly crafts and skills to be mastered, there are two areas that cannot be duplicated, which are, unfortunately, the two most important things required for success – artistry and luck. Which is why nothing compares to Prince. His was the perfect storm of skills, artistry and luck.

His talents were unparalleled in the world of popular music and so heralded so much recently that there’s really no reason for me to list them here again. Know that each of the skills he mastered required the now-proverbial 10,000 hours of learning, practice, and self-discipline – each of them. All the talent in the world still requires that amount of woodshedding, trial and error and back to the drawing board perseverance. Who among us has that drive? Who’s out there now picking up the torch? 

Even putting in that kind of life-long work doesn’t necessarily produce a successful career in the arts. You have to have the inborn talent to take those well-honed crafts and elevate them into art. Prince had that talent. I don’t and probably neither do you.

And even putting that innate talent aside, there’s the inevitable requirement to be in the right place at the right time with the right thing. Here’s where luck favored Prince. His heritage was black music from Louisiana but he grew up in white bread Minneapolis. That meant he had parental music influence from an early age but wasn’t hampered by local customs of what music he should or shouldn’t be doing. That way, much as the Beatles in Liverpool, he opened out of town so that when his time came, he was ready.

His artistry was influenced by the immediately previous two decades of black music crossover and he blatantly stole from the best of them (a la the Beatles again) – Little Richard, Elvis, Jackie Wilson, James Brown, Smokey Robinson, Sly Stone and, of course, Jimi Hendrix. The time was ripe for someone to combine all of those performance elements with the music of Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder. And that’s where he set himself apart from all of those who preceded him and apparently all of those who followed – live performance.

And speaking of luck and live performance, I was fortunate enough to have been a part of the Warner Bros. Records Artist Relations staff in the early ‘80s, which provided me with the assignment to go out on tour with Prince, mainly to work with whatever other talent he had found, developed and brought out on tour with him, i.e., The Time, Vanity Six, Apollonia 6, Sheila E.  That afforded me the opportunity to witness any number of Prince shows and see first hand on a nightly basis how he had amalgamated all of the now-standard performance tropes into one concert – essentially a history lesson in showmanship, drawing on what had preceded him in the previous two or three decades.

His shows were non-stop music – no between-song tunings or swigs of water from plastic bottles – non-stop music. Just as an example, you can Google the late 1982/early 1983 Controversy tour and find video of the opening numbers. During the course of the first song, “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?”, he went from an a cappella gospel intro, into a funky pop/rock band groove, to an Allman Brothers twin guitar break with Dez Dickerson, to a James Brown thing with the mic stand, to a Hendrix-inspired solo guitar break, to a hair band pose with Dez and bassist Mark Brown, to a stage right stunt playing guitar with his left hand on the fretboard and his right hand banging out a riff on a synthesizer, back to center stage for a heavy metal band bombastic ending, which included a directed vamp to the final chord, à la James Brown on the TAMI show. All in the 12-minute version of the first song! And it went on from there – stopping along the way to visit every possible 20th century musical style – all done seamlessly and with professional panache.

And that’s why nothing compares to Prince.  It’s hard enough to imagine that such an artist actually existed and in our lifetime, let alone thinking someone might be able to duplicate his artistry. Although the luck of being in the right place at the right time with the right thing certainly played a part, this guy had it all. He taught himself how to do it all. He had the drive and the talent to do it all. When his big break came, he was ready. Like no one before him and, from what I can tell, no one since.

Epilogue: Everybody I know has a Prince story – most are either strange or befuddling, but here’s one with an amusing ending. My wife and I attended the “1999” tour show at the Universal Amphitheater in LA later in 1983. We had some great seats in the Warners allotment, about 15-20 rows back, center section, left aisle. Actually we were seats 3 and 4, no one was in seats 1 and 2. Then about two or three songs into the show, two big guys came stumbling down the aisle stairs in the dark looking for what ultimately would be our row. The first guy in apparently couldn’t see a thing and the other guy had to help him into his seat  – it was Stevie Wonder. His security guy asked him if he wanted anything, Stevie said no, and the other guy left, leaving Stevie sitting next to my wife.

We naturally thought that this was pretty cool as did everyone around us and we went back to enjoying the show. Prince kicked into I think “Let’s Go Crazy” or some big rave up song and Stevie turned to my wife and shouted, “What’s he doing?” My wife shouted back, “What’s who doing?” and Stevie replied, “Prince! What’s he doing?” So my wife proceeded to describe to Stevie, to the best of her ability, what was happening on stage.  He thanked her and said, “I love your accent!” Next song, same thing. Every song after, same thing. By the end of the show, she was practically in tears from the ludicrousness of the whole situation.

When Prince left the stage for the false exit, Stevie’s guy reappeared. “C’mon, Stevie,” he said. “Let’s get out of here before everyone else.” And Stevie shouted back for everyone to hear, “I’m not going anywhere until I hear ‘Little Red Corvette!'”  Sure enough, Prince came back on and played “LRC”. Stevie got up for the first time and danced like a wild man, singing along with every word until the final chord of the song. Then he said to his handler, “OK, we can go now.” He thanked my wife for her help and disappeared up the aisle into the passageway out.

Footnote: I happened to be at the House of Blues Foundation’s Music Forward show at the Wiltern in LA the night everyone heard about Prince’s passing. Local KABC Ch. 7 news was there and asked me for a few words in reflection. Here’s the link to an otherwise really nice piece:

R.I.P. Prince

TEN MUSIC BIZ PREDICTIONS, HOPES & DREAMS FOR 2017

Here’s to all of these things coming true in 2017 so that there might be a happy and fruitful 2018!

1. Return of Real Songs

Millennials will come out of their collective fog and realize that what passes for pop music these days – well-produced, pleasant, beat-driven, formula, lyrically repetitive, singsongy, non-melodic music – are not really songs. Real songs – narrative stories with beginnings, middles and ends (as well as the clever bridges) – will stage a comeback, and real songwriters and performers will breathe a collective sigh of relief.

2. Mic Technique Revolution

A superstar singer will set an example on proper microphone technique for the rest of the pop and rock entertainment world by taking the mic out of and away from his or her mouth, allowing us to not only finally see the singers’ facial expressions but to also prevent them from popping their p’s. This epiphany will not spill over into the rap world.

3. Live Performance is Everything

Concert promoters, club bookers and agents will refuse to sign or book any act that isn’t any good at entertaining an audience in a live performance situation. The result? Only artists who have developed an entertaining live show will be allowed to perform. That will bring ticket-buying audiences back into venues and no more pay for play. It will also require artists to learn how to entertain instead of just singing and playing at the same time.

4. Who’s your agent?

As live performance revenue becomes the gold standard for music artists, booking agencies will become the most influential aspect of artists’ careers, surpassing record companies and managers in that respect. Again, an artist’s live show will be the centerpiece of their careers.

5. Local Radio Plays Local Music

Terrestrial local radio stations will regain control over the music they play from their national conglomerate home offices. Music fans will have some sway in what gets played on local radio though real-time mobile apps linked directly to the local radio station studios. The rising tide of listenership will raise all advertising rates boats. Win/win.

6. Performance Royalties from Radio

Congress will expand current performance payments made by radio stations to writers and composers to include master rights holders and, hence, the performers (as it is in the rest of the world except mainly North Korea, Iran and China – great company we keep, huh?). When this long-overdue slight is righted, American master rights holders and performers can then additionally start collecting those performance royalties that are currently being collected (but not paid out) to US-based artists from 75 other nations around the world. All in all, it will mean millions of dollars in windfall to the American music creative community from both here and abroad.

7. Better Streaming Rates

The Constitutional right to a regulated and fair compensation for writers, composers and performers will be enforced on digital streaming companies and extended to all future but currently unknown methods of an audience enjoying an artist’s creative endeavors.

8. Music As Merch

CDs and downloads will be officially relegated to the merch table, websites and indie stores, as artists and record companies finally concede that streaming is the preferable (and more profitable) way of buying music for instant and daily consumption.

9. Record Companies Evolve

Record companies (still the best source of funding, marketing and promotion of an artist’s music career ambitions) will rightfully continue with their 360 deals, but will divert attention away from music sales and focus more on the revenue that can be generated (and commissioned) from live performances, publishing and merchandising (which now includes CDs and downloads). The strength of an artist’s live show will weigh in larger than before in evaluating label signings.

10. New Artists Breakthough on Indie Labels

Indie labels will continue to be the grass roots discovery and nurturing ground for new and developing artists. Many will offer all the services of a major by utilizing third-party independent marketing and promotion companies such as The Artist Cooperative.

We can all dream, can’t we?

QUICK LIVE PERFORMANCE QUIZ

There are a lot of things we all know (or think we know) about the ins and outs of live performance, since most of us have been dealing with it professionally for years. But do we? Take the Quick Live Performance Quiz and see! We’ll start with some stuff most of us already know:

IT’S FAIRLY COMMON KNOWLEDGE THAT…  

…developing a great live show and building a live show fan base are essential to entice the attention of a manager, agent, record company or investor these days. If you don’t have a great live act to back up your music, the odds are decidedly against you.

…the ability to sing and play your songs at the same time is a craft that can be taught and learned by rote. But to entertain? That is an art, and it can only be realized by taking the learned craft up one level into experimental rehearsal.

…the first two things a performer needs to do in order to win over an audience are the same two things you need to do when meeting people for the first time. Make eye contact and smile – and do so frequently during the entire time you’re on stage.

…when a performer is uncomfortable on stage, the audience is uncomfortable as well.

…most recorded songs should be moved up a key or two for live performances in order to project more emotion.

BUT DID YOU KNOW THAT…

…90% of singer/songwriters make 90% of their income from live performances? The rest generally comes from publishing and merch, particularly if you look at music sales as merch. And you should.

…most members of an audience make up their minds whether they like you or not within the first ten seconds you enter the stage, even before you get to the microphone?

…your “snazzy” outfit, jewelry, hair style and even showing skin can work against the effectiveness of your performance?

…most live performers today are blocking out a third of their visual communication with their audiences by bad mic technique?

a set list needs to be constructed according to feel, beat and tone, with a pattern to attract, entice, hold and excite an audience? And that a set of four songs may be a wholly different list of songs than a set of eight?

WHAT IF I TOLD YOU THAT…

…there are three ways to entertain an audience musically (melody, lyrics and rhythm) and you should aim for at least two of the three with every song?

…in addition to planning a set so that everything goes right, a performing artist should have a secondary plan for when everything goes wrong?

…the logos and wild colors on your wardrobe, instruments, amplifiers, and backdrop can provide unnecessary distractions to the audience?

…a note-for-note duplication of the recorded versions of your songs may not be best suited for live performance?

…a visual representation of your name on stage helps the audience remember you?

AND DID YOU REALIZE THAT…

performing artists need to commit their songs and patter to memory so that they will stop thinking about themselves and start thinking about entertaining the audience?

…when all of the songs in a set are performed from the same place on a stage, they all seem to sound the same to an audience?

…what happens between the last note of one song and the first note of the next is as important as the songs themselves?

practicing is not the same as rehearsing?

…how a performer exits the stage is almost as important as the entrance?

AND FINALLY…

…probably 90% of the audience knows nothing about how music is created, played or performed. Therefore, since the audience doesn’t know a verse from a chorus from a bridge, you as the performing artist have to visually let them know when you’re transitioning from one to another.

…an effective way to get the attention of an audience is to briefly get very soft or really loud.

familiarity should dictate set length. If the audience is completely familiar with you and your songs, you should play for at least an hour; however if they don’t know you or your songs, you should play no more than a half hour TOPS.

…an audience member will be more likely to buy your music after the show if the song that really moved them during the set is available at the merch table.

…a performing artist should do things on stage that the audience could never do or would never think of doing anywhere, let alone in front of other people.

How’d you do?

15 – 20: Come on. You’ve done this before.

10 – 15: A little refresher course might be in order.

5 – 10: You need a good Live Performance Coach.

0 – 5:  You need a great Live Performance Coach.

A Live Performance Coach is aware of all of these things and more. All the more reason for musicians and performing artists to work with one before embarking on a stage career. More next month.

 

WHAT NEW ARTISTS CAN LEARN FROM THE EVERLY BROTHERS

Recently a friend who has the advantage of being an astute student of the music business from the outside – the advantage being that he doesn’t have to rely on the music business to make a living – threw out the trial balloon statement that what we should be looking for is the next Everly Brothers. (Phil (l) and Don (r) are pictured above in a backstage photo at the Ryman with publisher Roy Acuff and “Bye Bye Love” co-writer Boudleaux Bryant circa 1957.)

My friend had recently purchased (!?) a box set retrospective of their career and, in reading through the liner notes, came to realize what a touchstone their sound was to not only nascent rock ‘n’ roll but also to the generation that followed. Lennon and McCartney referred to themselves as the English Everly Brothers early on in their careersSimon and Garfunkel invited them share the stage for their 2003-04 “Old Friends” reunion tour. Neil Young, in his induction speech for the brothers at the very first Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, said that all of the bands he had ever been in had attempted (and failed) at trying to duplicate the Everlys’ harmonious sound.

Of course, not only would any attempt to duplicate the Everly Brothers sound be difficult, for reasons I’ll explain, but when you know their story, you realize just how much perseverance and timing played in their success. And since you can’t predict timing in the music business, let’s call it by its real name – luck.

What I’m getting at is that there’s no sense in trying to emulate the Everly’s path (or that of any successful musical artist) as all those same stars are not going to align for you in the same way as they did for them. But there are some overlying lessons we can take away from their story that were signposts on their journey for us to look out for in the careers of budding new artists.

In fact, I can come up with ten things to shoot for if you want to be the next Everly Brothers. Just hit the Continue Reading button below, if you would.

Continue reading…

YOUR NAME IS YOUR LIFE BUT HOW DO YOU SPELL THAT?

FAME. FAME. FAME. FAME. FAME. FAME. FAME. FAME. FAME. WHAT’S YOUR NAME?” – David (Jones) Bowie

This year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee ended in a tie for the second year in a row. Vanya Shivashankar and Gokul Venkatachalam both correctly spelled through the list of 11 championship words, which included such everyday terms as boquetiere (an assortment of fresh vegetables) and hippocrepiform (shaped like a horseshoe), to share in the trophy. I would suggest that there could have been an obvious tiebreaker to establish a true winner of the spelling bee – each of the finalists should have been asked to spell each other’s last name.

But I really feel badly for them. They’re both going to be spending a good portion of the rest of their lives spelling their names for school administrators, government workers and, dare I say it, their fans!

And what’s worse, sociologists tell us that your name is your life. It shapes who you are during your formative years and changing it after you go out into the world will have little to no effect on who you really are. All your personality traits are instilled by that age and whatever name you carried around up to that point, that’s who you are.

So Marilyn Manson is still Ohio-born Brian Warner, Lil Wayne can’t shake being Dwayne Carter, Jr. and Queen Latifah is Dana Owens underneath all that talent. Calling herself St. Vincent doesn’t cover up the real Annie Clark and recent RnR Hall of Fame inductees Richard Starkey and Joan Larkin only pretend to be Ringo Starr and Joan Jett, respectively.

Regardless, everyone who wants to become an entertainer should at some point early on decide if their given name is indeed befitting star status. Or, more objectively, can it be pronounced and spelled by the general public? I would have to assume that that would be the underlying reason why Farrokh Bulsara came to be known as Freddie Mercury. And why Calvin Broadus, Jr. decided that perhaps his fans might find Snoop Dogg easier to spell. And obviously who would want to be Chiam Witz when Gene Simmons was available? 

Of course, there are many reasons other than spelling and pronunciation to change your name to get into show biz. Is your current name unattractive, dull or unintentionally amusing? Is the new name more memorable or attention getting? Will it automatically depict you as an entertainer? Does your original name brand you as someone other than what you’d like your admiring public to think of you? You’ll find some surprising examples when you hit the Continue reading button below.

Continue reading…

A TRIBUTE TO THE ARTIST BIO WRITER

Is there no greater work of fiction in the English language than the artist bio? You know, the three-page laudatory pronouncement of some new musical genius suddenly discovered and spotlighted. Or how about the one that signals the mid-career change of musical direction? Or the end-of-career, where-have-they-been, and what-now variety?

The first is largely platitudes of the “most astounding debut of this or any previous musical season” variety, ultimately based on nothing but wishful hoping. The follow up bio usually has more meat to it, especially if the artist had made some kind of mark in the musical world in the interim; although it can become fairly evident by the third paragraph that the creative juices have dried up and they’re going to try something else now, in hopes of maintaining the already waning attention of a fickle audience.

But it is the final level of hubris that is the saddest of the three and generally the easiest to see through. The early promises and successes have been worn out and the second act didn’t prove nearly as fruitful. Worse, all of the previous character flaws that had gone overlooked or unnoticed now glare through. Then it becomes the job of the harried bio writer to take the facts of the matter as they lie and put that famous spin on them in hopes that this last gasp may catch the wave.

If you’re not sure what I’m getting at, read on. Even if you are sure what I’m getting at, what have you got to lose but maybe another few minutes? Like you have something WAY more important to do? Oh, come on.

Continue reading…

HOW TO GET ALL THE CRED OF SXSW WITHOUT THE TIME AND EXPENSE

“Music is spiritual. The music business is not. – Van Morrison

It’s almost that time again – that time of year when every band and singer worth their salt makes that annual pilgrimage to Mecca (Austin) for the week-long SXSW festival. A week of no sleep, watered-down drinks, bad food, unrewarding performances and the heartbreak of the ultimate realization that it wasn’t really worth it. Never have so many spent so much time and money for so little notoriety and reward. 

So, here you are, another year goes by and, once again, you still can’t afford to go and you can’t afford to not go. What the hell are you going to do? Simple: Don’t go….and just say you did.

“WHAT?” you’re probably asking yourself right now. “What kind of fool would give out this sort of advice and what kind of fool would take it?” Hear me out.

Now I’m sure that you think that you might be missing out on something and that you were at least hoping to network and snare some sort of deal. After all, this could be the year! This could be your big break! This could be your time! Or not.

But you CAN still get the promised SXSW payoff even if you don’t actually go! It’s really quite simple. Just follow these six steps:
Step 1)   Two weeks before SXSW: Announce to all your friends and post to all your fans that you’ll be playing multiple cool, hip private parties every night at SXSW. Let them know that most of the parties haven’t been announced yet and you can only get in by special invitation but that you’re going to work on getting a guest list for your friends and fans. Whenever anyone calls or texts or emails, don’t respond right away. Then later apologize, but remind them how busy you are setting up your shows at SXSW.

Step 2)   One week before SXSW: Remind everyone of your trip but that you don’t know where you’ll be staying yet because everything is booked up, but that you’ll try to keep in touch with them on FB or Twitter but to not expect you to be able to answer calls, emails or texts, because everybody knows that since all 20,000 people (maybe it’s 200,000, I don’t know) will be sucking up all the bandwidth in town, it’s going to be hard to get messages back and forth. So tell them to just keep checking the SXSW website, or some such silliness.

Step 3)   Three days before SXSW: Announce that you’re leaving for Austin and that you’re hoping to take advantage of some pickup gigs along the way, hard to say where or when.

Step 4)   Then: You pack up your gear and head out of town to some place where no one knows you. Check into a cheap motel and shut off your phone and your laptop/tablet. Relax. Read. Write a new song or two. Catch up on your sleep. Occasionally you should send out a tweet or FB post about what a wonderful time you’re having and how great you sound, blah, blah, blah. Tip: shut off your GPS location tracking, just in case.

Step 5)   The day after SXSW is over: Turn on your phone again and let everyone know you’re heading home after a very successful trip to Austin. You played to full houses, got drunk with all your idols and made a lot of contacts with some very important people. You even wrote some songs in someone’s van.

Step 6)   Once you get home: Send emails or texts or call every important person that you know was at SXSW and tell them it was so cool to meet them and how much you appreciated the nice things they said about your music and you’re following up on their offer to get together for some lunch to discuss how you guys might work together in the future and that this time, you’ll buy!

Whoever gets your message will have little to no memory of SXSW anyway, since it’s really just an excuse for the industry dweebs to get away from their miserable existences and drink and get high for a week. And since there are over 2,000 performances (I really don’t know how many; maybe it’s 20,000), there’s no way in hell that they can say that they never met you there. They may be a little embarrassed and apologize but you assure them that you meant everything you said and that you’re a person of your word and your word is your bond, etc. – whatever it is you need to say to make sure that they meet with you anyway.

Unless they, too, have read this post and never went at all. But then, they couldn’t admit that, could they?

BTW: This same routine works well for CMJ but not so much for the more limited single-venue events such as Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza – too easy to get caught and, besides, those are way more fun. You should actually go. Have fun.

(Editors note: You may be thinking that this plan is not foolproof (and I agree) and that only a fool would try this stunt. Foolish? Or just foolhardy?  The former implies not noticing risk; the latter, continuing despite it.  Admittedly, it would take someone with a lot of swagger and confidence, plus the ability and desire to pull one over on unsuspecting industry-types. Not only pushing the envelope, but breaking out of it altogether. Do it.)

BTW – I’ve seen it done and it can work.

“I think that the rock ‘n’ roll myth of living on the edge is just a pile of crap.” – Robert Smith