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.

ALBUM: To do things right as far as creating a well-produced album of 12 songs (assuming the songs are ready to be recorded at all): $25K. Yes, you can do it cheaper, but if you’re not going to do it well, why do it at all? Then there is the matter of the sales, marketing, promotion, advertising, publicity, etc. (which can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars). But for the sake of argument, we’ll go low budget here: $25K.

So there’s $50K right there. The track record for professional marketing, promotion, sales and publicity people working a new artist with no fan base and only $25K is spotty at best. So since you have no fan base, the album goes nowhere. Money down a rat hole.

VIDEO: Pretty much the same deal. You can do it cheaply, but why? Do it professionally and correctly or else it’s a total waste of time and money. One relatively inexpensive professional video: $25K. I know because I recently was asked to keep track of budding artist’s video costs for her parents. Since there was no fan base, nothing happened.

TOURING: Given that the young artist has no fan base in his or her hometown, let alone regionally or nationally, the only hope is a buyout as third/fourth/fifth on a bill with some friends headlining. The cost of that buyout, once you include travel and lodging at any level, food, gear, band, crew, whatever – let’s call it another $25K. Don’t think so? Have you budgeted any tours recently at the level we’re talking about here? I have. That’s a fair number to do a four-week tour as a buyout with no income. And at then end of the day, you’re an unfamiliar artist performing your unfamiliar songs to an unfamiliar audience. How do you think that’s going to work out?

So there’s your $100K. Now it must be pretty obvious that there’s no sense in spending all that money when you’re just starting out. What’s the potential ROI? Easy answer: None. Here’s why.

YOU’RE NOT READY. The precursor to making an album and a video and going out on tour isn’t the fact that you have written your own songs and that you have some modicum of experience of singing and playing from a open-mic night stage for your family and friends. The mandatory thing you need to accomplish first is to learn how to not just perform for an audience, but to ENTERTAIN an audience. Just standing center stage behind a stationary mic stand and singing your mid-tempo songs, one at a time, is NOT ENTERTAINING.

If, instead, the artist were to spend the time (and a lot less money) to learn the craft and art of entertaining an audience from a stage on a regular basis, many things would/could/should happen. First of all, gradually the singer/songwriter would learn which songs work and which ones don’t just from audience response. That would make it way easier to decide which songs to record.

Then the subsequent lessons taught and learned about how to enter a stage, how to move around, and how to use visuals and your physical presence to convey emotion in the delivery of your songs will all go a long way toward deciding how to look, act and behave when it comes time to invest in the making of a video of the song that gets the best response.

But mostly, the knowledge and experience of being able to genuinely entertain an audience of complete strangers will prepare you for the proper time when you leave your comfortable hometown crowd and be called upon to do so on a nightly basis for people who couldn’t care less about you or your hometown crowd.

In fact, if you’re successful in the pursuit of knowing how to entertain an audience and draw ever-increasing numbers of ticket buyers to your shows, perhaps the parents won’t have to shell out the $100K after all. There are plenty of record companies, managers, agents, attorneys, promoters, publicists, and all other forms of artist support out there looking for promising successful singer/songwriters. But they aren’t just looking for talent – there’s talent everywhere. They’re looking for ENTERTAINMENT and for artists who have worked hard to attain those goals. Those are the attributes you need to have to attract the attention of the industry.

Oh, did I mention that none of this can be accomplished in a weekend or a month and maybe not even a year? It takes consistent, concentrated effort to achieve all of this. And just as you probably had instruction in learning how to play guitar and piano and to sing properly and write songs, you’re going to need instruction from a live performance coach in order to get up to the next level – that of an ENTERTAINER! Be sure to find a coach who’s going to save you $100K right off the bat. Go to my website – www.diditmusic.com – to learn more.

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.

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.

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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

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.

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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 SUCCESSFUL MUSIC INDUSTRY PANEL DISCUSSION – SERIOUSLY!

Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the music industry has been subjected to (or participated in) an inordinate number of pointless panel discussions. A lot of my jaundiced view stems from the experience that the people who populate panels are doing so more for the prestige and notoriety of proselytizing to the converted than actually saying anything meaningful. Let’s get real: anyone who knows anything about how to get ahead in this business is not about to reveal it to a room full of competitors. Actually, while the panels are going on, the real business is being carried out in the adjacent hallways, or at lunch, or in the hotel lobby bar. Enough said about that.

But after all these years of spending time on both sides of the dais, I recently witnessed a panel situation that actually worked! In reality, I was more than a witness; I was one of the panelists, although that certainly wasn’t the reason it worked. Never in my experience have I been involved in anything so well planned, so well produced, so well done. It was put together by the organizers of the House of Blues Music Forward Foundation’s Bringing Down The House program. It was held earlier last month, not just here in LA at the Live Nation studios in Hollywood, but also Skyped to House of Blues clubs in seven other US cities where similar events were being held. Bringing Down The House is a national program sponsored by the HOB Foundation where local high school-aged artists and bands compete for the chance to perform on stage at their local House of Blues in a special evening performance. This year, they decided to take it one giant step further and incorporate a series of Saturday morning educational panel discussions covering virtually every aspect of pursuing music as a career.

My panel’s subject matter covered everything from songwriting to home studios to label A&R to performing rights organizations, for which real experts had been invited. Then there were the “kitchen sink” topics, which had apparently been left for me to address. The questions came fast and furious from a panel moderator, but the best stuff came from the high schoolers themselves, not only in the LA studio but also from kids in each of the participating cities in a kind of Face Time, real-time, large-screen situation. How refreshing to find a crowd of young, talented musicians and performers who seemed to be soaking up everything we had to say. A rare audience indeed. Read on!

HOB post panel shot

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WHAT STEPS ARTISTS NEED TO TAKE BEFORE THEY GO TO RADIO

“Hey, Mister, That’s Me Up On The Jukebox!” – James Taylor

 OK, so, you’ve raised enough money from your friends, family and (let’s hope) fans to record that set of songs in the way you’ve always wanted them to sound and now it’s time to share your creative output with the world. And what better way to do that than through the time-tested path of radio. And, indeed, there is no better way for your music to become one with the masses than through the repeated plays of radio. And it’s free!

No, actually radio is not free. But even if it were, there are numerous steps that you first need to take along the yellow brick road to reach the radio stations of Oz. You’d better sit down.

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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…

TO EVERY THING, THERE IS A SEASON, AND A TIME FOR EVERY MUSICAL PURPOSE

“When it’s your time, it’s your time.” – Bruno Mars

So what is the best time of the year to release your music on to an unsuspecting public? The following is what I’ve always believed to be the general consensus of a music release schedule/calendar, although I’ve never actually seen it spelled out. I mostly heard it repeated by sales people at weekly marketing meetings during my 20-year stint at Warner Bros. Records, generally used as a reason (or an excuse) as to why this or that record wasn’t selling. You can easily see how you could use these observations to your advantage were you in a similar spot. I’ve taken liberties and expounded on these theorems, although most of them are pretty self-evident, if you buy into any of this rationale to begin with. Of course these seasonal reasons are more psychological than rational. But so is music. And it all starts with the music. But then there’s the problem of when it it the appropriate season?

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