This article was originally published in early 2010.
I am sitting at the edge of the Grand Canyon with a teaspoon trying to fill it in. That’s what marketing and self-promotion can feel like in the digital age or at least, that’s the way it feels to me.
I walked into a cavernous Barnes and Noble last night. They just opened another location by me on East 86th street in New York. I can’t begin to describe how big it is. I’ve lived in Manhattan my entire adult life so I do a double take when I see wasted space- but this? This place is ridiculous. It completely freaked me out. I felt a primal fear that I haven’t felt since Sylvia Rhone (former CEO of Elektra) used to scream at me but that’s a whole other blog post. I’ve spent considerably more time than I originally thought I would writing and creating content for this website and to realize that this one store contained a million or more books and these were just the books that were deemed the best by major publishers meaning the total volume of writing out there is… staggering.
What could I possibly have to offer that wasn’t already written somewhere?
It made me think about the quality of what I write and the quality of my coaching. You really have to be exceptional to make it these days. It reminded me of a conversation I had with my friend Mark Hermann recently about “just because you can – should you?”
We were talking about music and how there were no more barriers to entry and how on the one hand, what a wonderful freedom! On the other hand, how can we hear any one thing if we are in a stadium full of people screaming and demanding to be heard? Would we know if one of these voices was the next Beatles? Probably not. I love that image and wish I could claim it as my own, but it belongs to Mark and I think he’s right on. One of the larger music management companies in New York has a sign on the door that reads “It’s about the music, stupid.” I think we are very quick to forget that these days.
I have been consulting and coaching artists informally for years but have only really begun Musician Coaching as a business in the last month which is when this site went live. I help people make sure they are in all of the right places online and to make sure that their website accomplishes what it needs to accomplish. I will help people by providing a critique of their audio and video materials and their marketing efforts, their live show and the way they approach the people who sit behind one of the many desks where dreams go to die that stand between them and opportunity.
Sometimes I need to spend more time telling people to continue to develop their product and how best to do that, because it can be worth the wait. The Beatles wrote a hundred songs before you ever heard note one of their first record and had played covers for several years. R.E.M played pizza joints in Athens Georgia in complete obscurity for a long time. Peter Frampton toured non-stop for three years before recording Frampton Comes Alive.
I can wake up tomorrow, write and record a song and have it up on SoundCloud tomorrow but should I? I’m not saying there is anything wrong with doing so but I do think if you are just starting out you should have realistic expectations of your abilities and the level at which you expect people to respond.
Why doesn’t anyone care anymore? It is simply because there is too much mediocrity out there. I say this often: “There is no one in the audience because everyone is on the stage.” Cheap recording gear and low- or no-cost international distribution are now tools that are in everyone’s hands. The music business is no longer an exclusive club; if you’ve got an Internet connection and a mic in jack you can now be considered a member.
“It’s about the music, stupid.” It’s a great reminder. All I am suggesting is write 100 songs and put the best one of those 100 out for people to hear. I am suggesting that if you have to cut your teeth playing live and are struggling making it solo- try to do it as a sideman or a hired gun. 99 percent of the “overnight success” stories you hear involve someone working their ass off behind the scenes for a long long time before they broke. If you want a good read, check out the Hendrix book Room Full of Mirrors. Jimmy played 2nd fiddle to a ton of people before going out on his own.
In America there seems to be this feeling that everyone gets their 15 minutes or worse yet- everyone deserves their 15 minutes. We have been sold this vision that at any moment fame and wealth may strike without working for it. There is something tattooed on the back of our brains that somewhere out there Ed McMahon is looking for each and every one of us with an over-sized check, and that the rest of our lives will be taken care of from that moment on… I’m all for the Lotto slogan “Hey, you never know” but I’m sure as hell not depending on it.
What is my point? My point is, and I don’t exclude myself, we have to spend less time on marketing and more time making sure we have products that are worth marketing. There is more music out there than ever before. Everyone you know is a “musician” or at least a hobbyist and consumers are very jaded. Before shot-gunning your product out there and whipping your fans into a frenzy about your new release, you had better make damn sure that you have a product that is not only competitive but stronger than most of the stuff you see and hear or it’s over before it starts.
Below are some examples that were sent to major label A&R people recently. How much time and effort would have been saved if these people got feedback from anyone, even their friends and family before putting this out into the world? These are extreme examples but if you wonder why music business people are jaded…take a listen.