Credibility is the only way out of this mess.
Think as an individual, because that’s what you are. You’re on your own, even if you think of yourself as the member of a tribe, you don’t want the tribe speaking for you. But what I’m really saying is there are so many people, so many messages, that you’re not part of a system anymore, and chances are if you are part of a system, you’ve got no credibility.
Fans are looking for something to believe in. All people are.
However, our society, as a result of income inequality, or concurrent with the economic spread, has become all about money. And one thing about money, there’s always someone with more than you. You can’t compete. But on identity, credibility? You can stick out there.
You don’t want to be part of the fabric, but your own individual thread. You can only sustain if you foster belief. Sans belief, you’re a one hit wonder.
So if you employ the same producers as everybody else, the Max Martins, the Jack Antonoffs, you’re screwed. Your record is going to have the same sheen as the rest of their product. The sound might even be different, but the end result won’t be left field and dissimilar, because they can only do what they do. One person can neither know it all or do it all.
Prior to Queen, no one had heard of Roy Thomas Baker. And the Queen albums, from the very first note of the first track on the first album, “Keep Yourself Alive,” sounded different.
And if you know your Queen history, the first album did not break through. The second made some inroads, the third was a success and the fourth, “A Night at the Opera,” was a worldwide smash. And we can talk all day about artist development, the machinations of the business, the growth of the act, but in truth the audience was not ready for Queen. Programmers were not ready for Queen. It wasn’t that the band was completely outside, it’s just that they didn’t fall easily into a niche.
Even Mutt Lange. As many records as he had made, none were huge, none even close. And then “Back in Black” and “Pyromania.” Those backward drums… Nobody had heard them before, and people cotton to new sounds. If you just repeat what everybody else does, you’ve got no individuality, nothing that will hook people long term.
But that’s the music itself, there’s also image.
Image used to be clothing. Looks. But now it’s what you’ve got to say. That’s what social media is all about, your words, your personality. If you just beg people to listen, if you’re impersonal, your words can be discarded. But if it’s you, and you’ve got a unique identity, which the artists of yore had and some from today do, that’s what captures ears and eyes and ultimately fans. Used to be if a track was good enough, it would rise to the top, but no longer. Don’t take shortcuts. We learned in the MTV era if the channel rocketed you into the stratosphere, you fell back to earth just that quickly.
And yes, to use an overused word, you do need a “holistic” approach. As in 360 degrees, as in all-encompassing. Your social media is the publicity of yore. Used to be everything was driven by print, now print is a joke, pure hype. You do your own publicity. You express your own identity. And this is good in that there’s no filter, you can do and be what you want to.
Of course the music is important.
But let’s just say you’ve got the goods.
Let’s even say you don’t have a smash track.
Many acts worked for albums and years before they created “the” track. But still, they were building an audience. Only starting in the MTV era did acts come from nowhere, and like I said above, that’s where they ended up, pretty damn quickly.
You’ve got to adjust your sights. The picture is different. Why do the same damn thing?
As for the workload… If you’re not willing to work 24/7 and sacrifice the rest of your life, relationships, children, money…this business is not for you.
So stop doing what people tell you to. There’s a long history of this in the music business. Acts were newbies in the studio. They were cowed by producers. And suits. And only if they gained traction did they gain control. Today? You don’t even have a deal. And you don’t even want one at first. You want to figure out how to do it, who you are. And all the tools are at your disposal.
And look at the classic acts of yore. Most of the players were in a multitude of bands before they found the one that broke them big. Sure, there are exceptions, but they’re rare. Why do you expect to have success right out of the box, why do you expect to know what to do?
Your relationship is with the fans.
Not with radio, streaming services or even your label. You want to go to the source. You want to create bonds. And to do this, you’ve got to be honest and credible, trustworthy. The system insists on compromise, but that’s death in today’s society. Everybody’s compromised, so those who are not stick out.
If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.
Beware of those in power who get a percentage of your income. They want you to make big bucks, so they can commission the money.
It’s a new world out there, to play by the old rules is a recipe for death.
But, the advantage is you have all the tools, you can create your own fan base. Be innovative, but fewer stunts and more honesty will take you further.
We have a dearth of credibility in all walks of life.
Used to be that artists led. When did musicians become such followers?
You can lead. You just have to walk into the wilderness.
But in today’s wilderness there are a zillion people just waiting for you to save them, give them insight, something to believe in. That’s your mission. Too many ignore it.