HOW SINGER/SONGWRITERS CAN SAVE $100K RIGHT NOW – TODAY!

$100 K. I thought that would get everyone’s attention. And it’s the first thing I say when I meet with young singer/songwriters and their parents as we start the educational process of moving up from the basic performance skills of singing their own songs and playing guitar or piano to the rarefied air of the art of entertaining. That’s what I do these days as a live music performance coach.

Usually, the teenager has spent a few years mastering those skills and his or her parents are dutifully impressed enough to begin to support (and finance) the next steps in their aspiring offspring’s musical career. But I almost always find that once the passable performance plateau is reached, the student assumes (and somehow has convinced the parents) that the next goals are to record and release and album, make a video or two, and then go on tour.

That’s where I step in and save them the $100K (for now) and the time spent doing all of those things too soon. First, we need to discover IF the son or daughter is ready for those things or not. My experience is not.

Let’s start by doing the math behind the $100K figure.

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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…

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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

Last 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.

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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.

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A TRIBUTE TO THE ROAD MANAGER – PRAISE AND A PRAYER

“I have no use for bodyguards; I use two highly trained certified public accountants instead.” – Elvis Presley

When Elvis Presley’s fiancée Ginger Alden found him unconscious in the Graceland upstairs bathroom at 2:00 pm on August 16, 1977, she called to Joe Esposito, Elvis’s longtime road manager. Joe immediately ran upstairs, surveyed the situation, and went right to work. He called for an ambulance from the bathroom phone and he attempted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and heart massage, but to no avail. However, by the time the paramedics arrived, the bathroom and the adjacent sitting room had been cleaned up, as well as the vomit from the shag carpet in the bathroom. Anyone who has ever done the road manager gig for any length of time knows exactly what to do in these kinds of circumstances.

This month’s dictum is a shout out, a testimonial, some observations, a couple of pratfalls and a warning to the unsung hero of the touring business – the road manager. These men and women are also known as tour managers, the distinction being that on larger tours, the tour manager oversees everything and the road manager takes care of the artist(s). On mid-level to small tours, the road manager does everything. Everything.

At first glance, this road manager gig would seem to be the best job in the music business. It’s a total power trip for a control freak. Everything must be done the way you want it to be done. If you say the show is off, it’s off. If you say everyone must be in the van by 8am, that’s what everyone does. One does not question the road manager. He or she rules. Except that’s not always how it works. There’s also a downside.

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THE SIGHT VS. SOUND PERFORMANCE THEORY – WHAT YOU SEE IS NOT NECESSARILY WHAT YOU GET

“Believe half of what you see, son, and none of what you hear.” – “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong

In the course of the last 40 years or so, I’ve attended perhaps 5,000 musical performances of every genre and circumstance imaginable; from audiences of six to those of 60,000; from solo performers to large orchestras. In almost every one of them, I’ve been somewhat appalled by the reactions and impressions taken away by many of the audience members as to the relative value of the performances. Far too many times, I’ve found, the general public has little to no idea as to the quality of the songs or musicianship, but are way more impressed by their visual acumen. I’m not talking about staging or lights or smoke machines, but rather how the confidence exuded by the performers, their appearance and stage presence, trumped even the most obvious less-than-stellar renditions of the artists’ material.

My consternation led me to formulate my Sight/Sound Performance Ratio to which I’ve assigned a somewhat arbitrary 90%/10% (if only for the shock value of the statement), which means I believe that an audience rates a performance based on 90% of what they see vs. 10% of what they hear, whether they realize it or not. This is not meant as an assault on the intelligence of the concert-going public. It is a well-documented natural tendency of humans to evaluate (and believe) what they see long before surmising what they hear, as evidenced by the Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong lyric above.

Until recently, I have not seriously avowed my audio/visual theory, as I’ve had no real backup for my statistic; it’s based on nothing but my own experience. But then I came upon two published studies which supported it, if only obliquely. The first is from Malcolm Gladwell’s widely read 2005 book Blink, and the second from a Harvard doctoral thesis on classical piano competitions, neither of which is nearly as boring as it sounds. Read on; you’ll be glad you did. Continue reading…