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So You Want A Record Deal

Photograph of American Idol video games for the PlayStation 2.Image via WikipediaOne of the things that I come across a lot is people who really want to make it in the music industry and think that if they're just standing in the right spot at the right time, then they'll get discovered and all of their dreams will come true. They dream of the day when they turn a corner and there is a music industry bigwig there to make them a star. We all know they story, it's permeated into our brains and then reinforced by the media and shows like 'American Idol'. The premise being that 'we will make you a star'. While this does happen it's rarely the case. Most of the time you hear of people 'getting discovered', they've spent many years working at their craft and were completely prepared when their time came. Part of the success of 'American Idol' is that it feeds this desire may people have to be a star, while taking away the personal responsibility to make your own career. It never ceases to amaze me when I see people with obvious talent subscribing to the thought that a record company will come along one day and make all of their dreams come true. I know because I held these very same viewpoints myself. I used to feel that 'it was going to happen anytime soon'; that this was going to be the year that I finally make a success in the music industry. The problem was that I didn't know exactly how I was going to do that; I didn't have a clue about what I wanted to achieve in the first place. I didn't even know the genre of music I wanted to be successful in because I had spent time touring with rock, country and jazz bands. All I knew was that I wanted to make music for a living and didn't really care in what capacity or exactly how I was going to do that. Is it any surprise to you that I never really had that much success in those years? It wasn't until I sat down and make some concrete goals that I started to see some success. The funny thing was that when I did finally sit down to make plans, the goal to get signed to a record company, something I thought would be the number one item on the list, was about number 20. I realized that if I wanted to become successful in what I wanted to do, I'd have to decide on exactly what it was that I wanted to do and then take responsibility to get it done. Although the thought that I was ultimately responsible for my entire career was scary, it was also very liberating.

The List
Once I had figured out my music career goals, I was surprised to find that getting a recording contract was quite far down the list. Don't get me wrong, it was important to me and it was one of the things that I wanted to accomplish but it was only after I had accomplished a few other things that a recording contract was even a consideration. After I knew what I wanted and had written it down, I got quite a bit done. I set up my own company, starting making money with my studio and put together a great band all within a year and a half. I started writing and producing tracks on a daily basis and made plans to get some gigs for my band. It was hard and a lot of work but it got done. In the end the band disbanded after a couple of years but it was one of the best bands I had ever played with. While I had the studio going I would spend a lot of time working and getting better at producing tracks. You see, to get the attention of the big record companies, I wanted to have a demo done, I wanted to have some shows under my belt and I wanted to have some credits as far as writing and producing. These were all things that I wanted to accomplish before I even contacted the record company. After a while, I wondered if I even wanted a record deal since I had done so many things myself. I had worked as a musician, a producer and a writer and wondered if I would have that kind of freedom if I worked at a record company. I realized that if you go out and make a career of it one your own, record companies will stand in line to sign you. You see, you've done all of the work and they can make money from that. Don't kid yourself, that's the extent of it. If they didn't think that they could make any money, or if they probably couldn't get a return on their investment within a reasonable amount of time, then they simply won't care. I wanted to write and produce, so I had to make sure that I had the chops before I put myself out there. So before you think that you're going to become a star but don't have a clue how you're going to get there, you may want to sit down and reassess where you are and where you want to go. Once you figure that out, you can take steps to make sure that when that music industry bigwig does cross your path one day; that you're good and ready to take on anything.

Paying Dues
There's the adage in the industry of one paying their dues; an artist who has spent time working at their craft through thick and thin. There's the image we have of a talented artist singing to an unsympathetic crowd in some run down club. If you get out there at all, you know exactly what I'm talking about. The truth is that no matter where you are there are always times where you will have to pay your dues. There is going to be a time when things are going badly and it seems everything is going wrong. This may be when you're just starting out, when you've finally had some success and realize that it's not all roses, or if you're just going through a difficult time in your career. The truth is that these things are all part of the music business and a lot of times the mark of a great artist is one that makes it through these times and still continues to make great art. I'm not here to discuss the darker side of the music business. I'm just putting it to you that if you want a lasting career in the music industry that there are a lot of things that you're going to have to deal with that aren't that pleasant. I would like to focus on how to still keep going and not lose focus when those hard times do come around.

Part of the Program
The sad part of the paradigm of paying your dues is that somehow we've come to think that this is a necessary part of the process. We've come to believe that being a poor, unappreciated musician is part of the program. This simply isn't true. Having to pay the bills and deal with everyday problems is part of life. There is the notion that great artists shouldn't have to deal with the everyday mundane things; that somehow, they're beyond this. I've held the notion that I didn't deserve to be waiting on tables; that I was a great artist and deserved to be treated so. The truth is that until you've gone out and made the way for yourself, you deserve to be treated like everybody else. Most musicians I knew never seemed to have any money; including myself. But then there were always those guys who seemed to have it together. These were the guys who were working hard at getting things going with the band but still kept their finances in order. A lot of musicians act irresponsible, like its part of being creative. The truth is that not paying your bills has nothing to do with creativity. Once you're a star and making millions, then you can be as much of a big diva as you like. You can be irresponsible and a pain, not because you're a great artist, but because you can afford to. It's a simply as that; it has nothing to do with who deserves what. You'll also find that if you're out there getting things done, some people will appreciate what you're trying to do and even show some support. You'll also find a lot of resistance, and I'll talk about this more in another article.

Walking the Path
A lot of what I've talked about in this blog actually deals with the 'paying your dues' part of the process. I put it to you that it's not so much paying dues as simply walking the path. And that's what this blog is about, helping you walk the path. If you've sat down and figured out what it is that you want to accomplish, and how you're going to go about doing that, it makes it a lot easier when hard times come around. If you've made a plan and are getting things done and something goes badly, you can deal with things better because having the plans there allows you to look at the bigger picture and see how everything fits in. It also makes you take stock of where you are and figure out if there's a better way to do things, or if you have to take a different approach. Most of all, when things go bad, you know that this is just a temporary situation and that you'll find some solution. A couple of times when things started to go badly and I had to take a different course or had to drop my current plans to deal with the emergency at hand, since I had sat down and made some concrete plans, I knew that this way just a temporary situation. This helped me deal with things in so many ways. If I had to take a part time job to pay some bills, I knew why I was doing it and that it was just something that had to be done for me to reach my goal. I wasn't any happier about it, but I knew why I was doing it.

The Choice
The thing I came to realize was that since there was so much I wanted to accomplish with my career, I simply had to work twice as hard as 'normal' people. I had the part time job to pay my bills, and I had my music. I came to view my music as my main job; simply to make it the most important thing that I spent my time on. For people who aren't musicians, they can have their job and then come home and have that free time. For artists, that free time is time to work on their craft. I never viewed this as a bad thing; I always loved what I do. There were times when I wasn't motivated of course, and I talk about this in other articles in this blog. If you have to have another job or you have to jump through a lot of hoops to get where you want to go, that's simply something that you have to do. Some people don't go through as much to get there, most go through a lot. Whether you're one or the other doesn't matter as long as you stick to the program. When it comes to finances you really have only two choices; have a full time job and carefully budget your time or have a part time job and carefully budget your money. Remember that in the initial stages, becoming an artist can be a costly affair. So even if you're making enough to pay your bills, you'll need extra to pay for gear, gas, web space etc.

No Time
Another misconception I find people have is that they have all the time in the world. When you're twenty years old you may feel like you have tons of time to get things done and try things out. Well, yes and no. This is the perfect time to try things and see what works for you. You probably won't have that many responsibilities and your cost of living may be lower than older folks. The problem is though, that you really don't have that much time. If you're playing in a pop or rock band, or are looking to become the next Gwen Stefani, these are the years were you want to take advantage of your time. Most recording acts these days are signed while relatively young and they're getting younger all the time. It's not unusual to see a teenager getting signed to a multi-million dollar deal. If you show promise at a young age, you're more likely to look appealing to a major label. A lot of the biggest acts we know today started out at a very young age and kept at it; usually with the guidance of an older person. So if you're in your twenties and think that you have tons of time to waste, you don't. I don't want to scare you or put older musicians out, I just want to put it to you that time, no matter how old you are, is always a consideration. If you've already decided on what you want to do and are getting it done, you are more likely to find yourself in the right spot at the right time.

It Can Be Tough…But
Sometimes when things aren't going well, it's easy to get down and feel sorry for yourself. The goal to become an artist can become incredibly hard at times. It's so easy to feel helpless and lose sight of your goal or give up. If you've done some of the things that I've written about in this blog and written down exactly what it is that you want to accomplish, it'll be easier to deal with and keep track of where you are. Don't let old tired misconceptions like the ones I've talked about here get you down or get in your way. Whether it takes you 5 months or 5 years to get there isn't important; just get it done. Once you start you'll find that even with all of the downs, it's all worth it in the end. I love making music. Nothing else gives me the same satisfaction that I get when I'm writing a song or playing my guitar. If you've ever done a great show in front of an appreciative audience, or just written your latest masterpiece, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.
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