What is making it?
Used to be a big fat contract with the major label and ubiquity. Is that still the paradigm?
Really, unless you are pretty and make pop music, or mainstream hip-hop, what can the major label do for you? They specialize in carpet-bomb publicity campaigns, getting you featured in every medium they have relationships with, that will have you, in order to achieve, at this point, relatively minimal sales.
Yes, you make a deal. And that deal now includes corporate input, it's not the seventies anymore, and if you're lucky, you can sell a million records. Make that really lucky. Only superstars sell a million anymore.
So maybe your whole fantasy is incorrect.
The idea of being Guns N' Roses, going diamond, with videos on MTV… Last time I checked, MTV didn't play any videos. For that you go to the Web. And when on the Web, you don't watch anything you don't want to. It's positively pull, all the time. Oh, Yahoo might suggest a few acts on its homepage, but you know what you're looking for, and just dive right in, drill right down, until you find it.
This is great for the fan. He gets what he wants all the time.
But you, the act? Used to be music was somewhat scarce and the slots of exhibition were limited. The labels acted as filter. Then radio and MTV winnowed it down even further. They convinced us only the finest music slipped through. Was this true?
Of course not. It was mostly lowest common denominator material, what they believed they could sell. Maybe not what you wanted to hear. Now you can listen to exactly what you want to.
I'm stunned by the plethora of e-mail asking me who T.I. is. The guy with the number one album, with a very impressive debut number. What this tells me is the old ways of getting the message out are ineffective, or broken. Furthermore, people have tuned out the SoundScan/Top Ten chart. Yes, media tells us we're a culture of lists, of information, that we desire this. But it seems most people who listen to music no longer care what's number one. Doesn't bother them at all if they're uninformed. Actually, they tend to believe number one sucks, and what they listen to is great.
So where does this leave you?
In search of an audience. You've got to find your audience. And chances are, if you do, it will be relatively small. Not that you'll end up unsuccessful. That's actually the question, what is success?
Success at this point is making a living making music and being able to continue to make said living. The major label hypes make a living for a year or two, but thereafter most go broke/mean nothing. Take that option if you want instant cash and want to use the fame to branch out into other areas, whether it be movies/TV or clothing or… But, if that game doesn't fit you, because you and your music don't fit, you're on your own.
First make your music. By yourself. Then distribute it, via MySpace, via MP3s, via burned CDs. Get it into the hands of people you know. Sure, it's easier to break if you play live, but there's room for a non-playing Steely Dan-type act on the Web. Then again, Steely Dan was really good. And did tour at the beginning of its career.
Get people excited. At the beginning, it's all free. You're building your career. You charge after you've gotten some traction. The major label feels it's got to charge immediately, because of its large investment, but you're operating on a shoestring, and can invest in your career before you expect a return.
And if and when you do make it, you won't look like a star of old. In your world, everybody will know you, people will sing along with your songs at your shows. But the people walking by outside the building? They'll probably have no idea who you are.
But, in this new world, there's room for all kinds of genres, all kinds of talents, that were closed out in the old system. Because they were too expensive to record and there were few outlets of exposure. So, build your base. But know that it might not get much bigger than that. That ubiquity, for most artists, is a thing of the past.