So I just got back from LA, where I was attending the ASCAP I Create Music Expo, and yesterday I went to the second round of the AIMP song pitching event. Between the two, man did I learn some thangs! Here they are:
1. After attending numerous panels with songwriters, artists and producers, I got two take-home messages about how people get successful: you MUST write constantly and as much as possible, and you MUST be in the studio collaborating with others as much as possible. Doing these two things will mean that you’ll know and be working with people who can help you get your music into big projects, and that by the time that happens, you will have written so much that your writing will be good enough to be used on those projects. There’s just no avoiding hard work and networking if you want to get anywhere in this business.
2. Now for the breakdown of what I learned and what was said at each panel:
First Panel, with Natasha Bedingfield, Wyclef Jean, Ryan Tedder and others
-Just get up and make music every day. There is no such thing as writer’s block. Successful writers write through writer’s block. (I’ve definitely found this to be true. Sometime’s I’ll sit and bang my head against the wall before the synth line comes to me, but then, there it is.)
-Ryan Tedder (lead singer/songwriter for OneRepublic and also has written so many smash hits on the radio you would cry if I listed them all here) said he was signed and dropped 3 times from various labels and it took 8 years to get the OneRepublic album out, but all that time he was finding himself as an artist. And now look at him! The guy will be a billionaire in like 5 years if he keeps up the way he’s going now. Unbelievable.
-Inspiration for anything can come from anything else. Wyclef talked about how, one day in the studio, he was smoking weed and listening to Enya, when in one of her songs, he heard the melody line for his hit with the Fugees, “Ready or Not.” Wyclef was hilarious, by the way. He said something like “Isn’t it amazing how a kid from Haiti living in the projects in Brooklyn can be smokin’ weed listening to Enya in a New Jersey basement and take a melody from her and put it on a Fugees record? At that time I wasn’t thinking about getting her approval for it. You know, Enya’s sittin’ up in her castle in Europe somewhere, she ain’t never gon’ hear this.” So funny.
-At the end of the panel I rushed up to the front to ask Natasha Bedingfield how she made it, since that piece of the story is always skipped over in bios. To my shock and slight frustration, even she herself sort of danced around the answer when I asked her directly. I said, “So, how did you make songwriting into a job from being a hobby?” and she was like “I just wrote constantly,” and I was like, “Right, but how did you go from just writing to being signed and having it be your full time job?” and she was like “I just wrote as much as possible and passed it around to friends,” and I was like, “Right, but did you have a manager or something who helped you get a deal?” and she said, “Actually, I had a record deal before I had a manager, ” (at this point my brain almost exploded–why is it so hard to get people to answer how they got a god damn record deal??!?!?!) and I said, “But then how did you get the record deal?” and she said, “I don’t know really, I just wrote as much as possible and passed demos to friends.” I could feel that time was running out and I still wasn’t going to get a clear answer out of her without some nudging, so I said, “Oh, so probably your friends knew some people at labels and passed it on to them and then they contacted you?” and she was like, “Yeah.” Whew. Are you exhausted just reading this? Why can’t people understand how the most important thing that ever happened to them happened to them? It’s not that hard. She obviously wanted to do it as a career, since as she said, she “quit university, worked a temp job that was flexible, and wrote as much as possible.” So she wrote a lot, made demos, gave them to her friends, and her friends knew people at record labels who liked the demos and gave her a deal. Simple as that. Jesus. She was very nice though, I want to make that clear. I just cannot understand why people can’t tell you exactly how they got deals. It’s maddening.
-Going off of that, I was also reminded of the two main ways people get deals: you either work behind the scenes as a songwriter or musician/singer until you know enough people to finagle a deal, or you make demos and get them to people at labels through friends. You’ve got to either be in the scene or use your connections to get your music to the people in the scene.
The Networking Panel
-When networking, remember it’s about the person you’re talking to, not you. Don’t talk at someone about yourself, ask them about them.
-You can’t make things happen in your life, you can only put yourself in the position for things to happen for you. (Not sure I agree with the wording of this, but it’s like the being in the studio part. If you’re not there, someone else is going to get to write for the project.)
-Be present and open; don’t look around the room while the person is talking to you. (Amazing how many douchebags out there don’t understand this. If you just talk at me and name drop and look around like I don’t even exist when I’m answering you or you’re talking to me, I’ll understand that you don’t give a shit about me, you’re an idiot, and I won’t contact you again.)
-Network with people on your level and make it clear how you can help them. (So true. Britney Spears doesn’t have time to talk with you, but she does have time to talk to the superstar producers Stargate, who’ve made many hits for her and others. So don’t waste time trying to get to her if you’re not on her level. But the producer with the home studio down the street has time to talk to you, and if you guys do great work together, in a few years you could be the next Britney Spears and Stargate.)
-Make sure people know why they should listen to your music. (Hint: it’s not because it’s “awesome.” Get specific. Is it because they like artists similar to you? Is it because they review music in your genre? Is it because it will make them dance or laugh?)
-You’ll see the same people over and over again in the music world, so be aware of that when you interact with them. Don’t burn any bridges.
-Before networking in a room, circle the outside edge of the room 3 times so people subconsciously see you and then they will think they know you when you start talking to them. (Funny and fascinating. Can’t wait to try that one!)
-Always use positive language so people will have a more positive memory of you and experience talking to you. Even when saying little things like “no problem,” say “my pleasure” or “yes!” instead. More positive.
-Tuesday through Thursday before noon is the best time to reach people if you want to get them or get them to call you back.
-Make sure people know you’re always working and making progress.
-Ask open-ended questions like “What kinds of artists do you manage?” not “Will you manage me?”
-Wear things that let people know you’re in music so they can ask you about it. (Like an ASCAP shirt or something like that.)
–Be the person people want to see succeed–relatable, humble, proactive, good sense of humor, doesn’t take self to seriously. I definitely feel like people who know me want me to succeed and that’s been a huge boost and help for me, and I know it’s been what’s made them support me.
–“In music, there’s no one who doesn’t succeed. There are only people who stop trying.” This one was HUGE for me to hear from a dude who’s been around music forever.
-Get people excited about your music by being excited about it yourself, then they’ll ask to hear it. So true!
From the Management Panel
-The music business is global so keep an open mind about where your music can go and what it can be used for.
-The record business is suffering, but the music business is fine.
-The relationship between artist and fan is based on trust and communication, just like all relationships. Fans should trust you’ll make a great product, and you should communicate with them.
-Build a consistent reputation for good value and good product. Make a track record of making all great albums, not one single and nine crappy songs in an album. This is SO TRUE. This is exactly why I used to buy Dave Matthews Band albums as soon as they came out without hearing a single track, and why I never did that with 99% of the other artists who have songs I like. (P.S. DMB is still totally great, it’s just that I associate them with my middle and high school years and I’m more into synthy danceable stuff now. I’m sure they’re still making great albums these days.)
-Make your website a good experience that will keep people on it for a long time.
-When someone asked a question about getting a crappy deal as your first deal and being scared to take it, the managers responded, “All your early deals will be bad anyway,” so just jump in with both feet. Sad but true, but if you make great music with those crappy deals and work your ass off building your fan base, you can negotiate a better deal the next time around.
-Managers have great input into who you’ll be as an artist. (Didn’t know that!)
–“Age doesn’t play a role in success potential, it’s all about what you’re doing as an artist.” I know I’m only 25 but I cannot even tell you what a relief it was to hear this. HALLELUJAH!
From the On The Radio Panel
-Ron Fair noted that Lady Gaga is bringing a dance, four on the floor movement back! Huzzah! Hoping to ride that wave.
-Clubs are still a great way to launch songs because it’s WAY easier than launching something on the radio. Again, HUZZAH! That was one of the main reasons I went in a more danceable direction. You can’t play singer-songwriter guitar stuff at the club for 400 people at 2am on a Saturday night!
-Don’t try to make music a science when it’s not. Just do the best work you can and network and cross your fingers.
-Tricky Stewart (a producer behind many smash hits) has a person who listens to everything that’s sent to him, so send him stuff!
-Many successful songwriters recycle old ideas all the time.
-Send stuff to Stargate’s management if it’s appropriate for what they do, since they said their management listens to stuff.
-Dr. Luke (producer/songwriter for Katy Perry’s hits as well as many other amazing songs) says everyone who’s successful now got taken advantage of early in their career (having songs stolen, not being paid, etc) and it’s just part of paying your dues, so don’t let that stop you from getting started. One thing I heard a lot is if your stuff is worth stealing, it’s pretty great, so take it as a compliment and keep going and eventually people will realize it’s you behind the hits and you’ll get your credit and due and money.
-Make sure your demo consists of 3-5 smash hit songs. In this biz, no one needs filler songs anymore. Everyone needs smash hit songs only.
From the Music Licensing Panel
-Music libraries look for a great hook in a song, songs that can be used for many different types of scenes in movies/tv
-Some libraries are exclusive and you can’t have the same song in more than one library, some are not
-If you submit music to some libraries they will critique it for you
-Personal recommendations are key to getting your music heard
-Do research on music supervisors and reach out to them knowing who they are, what they do, and what they’re working on. No blind submitting.
-Focus on your fans. Grow your fanbase and write music constantly and the industry will follow.
-Blog coverage can lead to licensing. Licensing people are paying attention to what’s on the blogs.
From my One-on-One meeting with Music Lawyer Wofford Denius
-His advice was to just have a great live show and build your fanbase and buzz. The cream always rises to the top. If you make great music and have a lot of fans, the industry will come knocking.
From the Richard Marx Interview
-Richard Marx is an unbelievable songwriter with hits like “Right Here Waiting,” “Hold on to the Nights,” and N*SYNC’s “This I Promise You” to his credit
-His story is that his dad was a hit jingle writer and composer, and had a studio Richard used to record his demos as a teenager. Richard then passed his demo out to friends, one of whom knew someone who was a photographer for the band The Commodores, which included Lionel Ritchie. Lionel heard the demo and invited Richard to come out to LA and be in the studio with him. Richard ended up singing backup on some of Lionel’s songs, and got an opportunity to write for Kenny Rogers from that, and that was the start of his songwriting life. He still had to fight a fair amount for a deal as a solo artist, but then had a hugely successful run as a solo artist, and now is a writer and producer for many artists.
-Just goes to show, it’s all about writing, networking, and passing your demo out to whoever will take it.