Are You Smart Enough?

Are You Smart Enough

Are You Smart Enough To Know That You Don’t Know

how to make records?
Just because you own a Pro-Tools rig and can record music to present to the world doesn’t mean you should; it doesn’t mean it’s good for your brand. OMG, these are GREAT tools for endless exploration. I was, and continue to be fascinated with my rig. I used to fly Kelly out to L.A. and pay him an hourly (bro rate) to help me mix my projects so I could LEARN how to make records! But there is a difference between doodling in your home studio and making records. The sooner you realize that the sooner you will gain some real momentum.

 

Are You Smart Enough To Know That You Don’t Know

how to orchestrate proper arrangements?

I hear the home projects that you put out there for the world. Most of you create arrangements (like we all do when we are beginning) that are WAY too busy with God knows what recorded right over the vocal. They typically don’t work which makes you sound amateur.

 

Are You Smart Enough To Know That You Don’t Know

that while art is subjective but it can be objective too?

Some songs just suck.file4671348049272

Some bands just suck.

Some singers just suck.

Some songs say absolutely nothing.

Most songs are overloaded with cliches.

Some recordings are sonically shitateous

Some recordings have terrible performances

Can you really hear the difference?

Do you have the communication skill set to get the most out of your band in a recording situation?

Most of you can hear some of the difference but not all of the difference so stop being so sensitive.

Smart Educatin vs Experience imageIt takes EXPERIENCE to hear if the bass player is locking up with the drummer.

It takes EXPERIENCE to hear when it doesn’t happen and make a performance call on the record.

It takes EXPERIENCE to get to a frame of mind as a songwriter that allows you to judge your own “A” songs from the “B” and “C” songs objectively.

After all, if you put the finger-painting up on the world’s refrigerator, the world is going to judge. The world is not your mother so the world doesn’t care about your feelings, and they will vote by not voting; by not buying. They WILL make a decision about your art based on what they hear.

How are your sales going btw?

 

Are You Smart Enough To Know That You Don’t Know

how to manage your brand?

Putting your home recorded demos, live band rehearsals, partial recordings, home studio recordings, work tapes, song ideas, etc up on Soundcloud and Reverbnation is a HORRIBLE move for your brand and reputation. Imagine if your art were an unfinished prototype car you were presenting to consumers for the purposes of commerce. Now imagine it only had a chasse, 4 tires, 1 seat, a dashboard, a steering wheel, and all the necessary pedals.

Don’t be pissed that consumers will make a judgment because they can’t see your body design.kf174

They can’t see the color it will come in.

They can’t see the rest of the seats to comprehend the functionality of your interior design to their lives.

They are scared because it doesn’t look SAFE without the body around it.

They can’t FEEL, COMPREHEND, UNDERSTAND, and therefore CONSUME your works in progress because it’s still in progress, so WTF are you putting it out there? People will JUDGE based on what they see and hear, not what is in your head!

You can only create a reputation for what you have done, not what you are going to do. Save the works in progress for your band mates and other artist friends who understand the process, they’ll get it; consumers won’t. Hell, I hate bringing A&R reps in until the mix is finished and they’re in the damn business!

 

Are You Smart Enough To Know That You Don’t Know

how to mix properly?

Smart Mix imageA killer mix is an art form and incredibly important to your dream. A killer mix requires thousands of hours of practice and an expensive rig.

Did you know that mix specialists like Tom Lord-Algeand Chris Lord-Alge sometimes get $5,000 per song and crank out 3 mixes per day? Why could they possibly command this kind of money if what they were offering wasn’t so important?

Did you know that Guns & Roses went through several different mix engineers before settling on Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero? Yes, all of the mix engineers had a pedigree but Thompson and Barbiero got it right. So why are you mixing your project?

MIX for the love of God!! Explore!! Learn!! But learn from people with experience and certainly don’t release your own mixes just yet! Most of you have 1,000 to do before you are going to get any good at it.

 

Are You Smart Enough To Know That You Don’t Know

How badly you need a producer?

Just because you or your friend went to recording school doesn’t mean you know how to make records! Producing is its own art form as well! Kelly got a degree sound engineering too, but the only reason he got his first internship was because he outworked all the other interns and had a better attitude. His degree had little to do with it and he didn’t know how to make records right out of school. Besides, why is it that most of the iconic bands you love STILL use producers?

 

Are You Smart Enough To Know That You Don’t Know

What producing is exactly?

 

Are You Smart Enough To Know That You Don’t Know

the difference between a great live player and a great studio musician?

You may be a killer live band, but some of your members aren’t good enough to be on the record. Live is here and (SNAP) gone, but the record is forever. Stop fighting for the whack_the_bagbrotherhood/sisterhood to stand tall in the face of the ugly music business and start fighting for making the best record possible; it’ll sell better. Don’t worry, if the weak links are dedicated, they will grow into the role over time. Don’t hold your potential momentum hostage over someone’s feelings. You would be astounded at how many of your favorite band’s records didn’t include all the members of your favorite bands.

 

Are You Smart Enough To Know That You Don’t Know

how much work will be required to make ANY dream like this a reality? (Better stop judging)

Think of YOUR story,

YOUR past,

YOUR history,

Now think of how you would feel about anyone judging your struggle, making statements about what you feel, how easy it was for you, etc. Pissed off yet? How could they possibly know? They weren’t there every day. Guess what, you weren’t in anybody else’s struggle but your own, man, so don’t make the mistake of assuming how “easy” it was for some artists who appeared on your RADAR overnight. It took them forever to get there, and whether you like them or not, they worked harder at it than you are right now, so shut up and get to work!

 

Are You Smart Enough To Know That You Don’t Know

success requires a team?Smart Team A-Team

Nobody can do it alone.

Who is your current team?

Who is your dream team?

 

Are You Smart Enough To Know That You Don’t Know

about the value of a mentor? Everybody needs mentorship in everything.

You have to learn to tie your shoes.

You have to learn to count to 10.

Hardcore drug addicts have to learn to do drugs the proper way to avoid infection or death.

You have to learn how to be a master carpenter.

You have to learn how to be a master plumber.

You have to learn how to do your job on the first day, first week, the first month, etc.

Why would you kid yourself that you know enough to put out acompetitive record that you, engineered, produced, wrote, sang, and played all by yourself?

Are you planning to market it yourself? Do you really know what you’re doing?

Don’t you want to learn?

 

Are You Smart Enough To Know That You Don’t Know

relationships are mission critical to success?

There are a million singer songwriters far better than the ones that are currently making a great living right now that will, unfortunately, never be heard because they either suck at creating relationships or they truly believe the opportunity they need is going to come knocking at their apartment door one day while they are high on the couch watching TV.

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Are You Smart Enough To Know That You Don’t Know

consistency is the key to success in the music business?

Success in your music career, any career, your life, your relationships, etc is all based on what you do consistently every day. Your relationship with your significant other is not based on one event, one amazing evening, one sentence, one moment, one “big break”, etc. it’s based on all the “little things” you do every day to show your commitment.

Why would you feel that your music career would be any different?

 

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WTF Is Long Tail?

Long Tail Feature image 2

Long Tail image 2

 Definition of ‘Long Tail’

 

 

long tail

noun

noun: long tail; plural noun: long tails

  1. 1.  (in retail and marketing) used to refer to the large number of products that sell in small quantities, as contrasted with the small number of best-selling products.

In business, long tail is a phrase coined by Chris Anderson, in 2004. Anderson argued that products that are in low demand or have low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters, but only if the store or distribution channel is large enough

 

Guess what?

 

We are there; it’s called the internet. Most of you seem to understand that concept but still fail to really grasp what it means (crazy dichotomy right?). There is no valuable “shelf space” on the internet. So indie music currently lives and can thrive on the “long tail”.

All the music services like Spotify, Rhapsody, Pandora, Deezer, blah, blah, blah promised us EXPOSURE on the long tail through their services but failed to realize (or care) that a small percentage of consumers would try their “Techie” solution for new music discovery and those that did would be burned by shitateously written, weakly recorded, poorly marketed pieces of crap that came up because the algorithm felt it “sounded like this”. But I digress.”head” is defined as the top 20% of music sales or all the major label, major capital, major tour, major hype, major market, major brand, super popular music all of us aspire to be (those of you that say you don’t are liars, you just want to be a huge act on your terms instead of kissing ass and changing any part of your artistic approach, but you secretly want the big time all the same. I mean what a high class problem, right? Having huge success [meaning throngs of people adore you for your music] without kissing any ass?). Just own it.

 

 

The Head is Shrinking

DSC00059This means that the effectiveness of a mass market, mass media pipeline, and thus mass exposure, is continually decreasing through constantly expanding channels of content; it’s fragmenting. Let me explain in terms of television fragmentation and relate it to mass exposure (from which fame is a byproduct). In 1980 there were 3 TV networks (if you were born during or after the 80’s you’re going to have to trust me on this and try to LEARN from this) they were ABC, NBC, and CBS. This means there were 3 main places for the whole country to consume popular TV shows (a.k.a. content).

 

1980 TV Viewership Statistics

Dallas Long Tail imageIf you look at this 1980 TV ratings chart you will see there was an estimated 79.9 million households with a TV (if you average between 1 and 2 kids per household you’ll get pretty close to the 1980 United States population of around 226 million people meaning just about every household had a TV.) I then average the estimated viewership of the top 10 rated shows to be 20.1 million viewers. If you divide that into the estimated number of households with a TV you get a statistic that says the top 10 shows enjoyed an average of 25% of the total TV viewing audience; essentially 25% of the country!

2013 TV Viewership Statistics

If look at this Nielsen Report you will see there was estimated 115.6 million households with a TV in 2013. I then Best of 2013 Long Tail imageaveraged the viewership from this 2013 TV ratings chart show a statistic that says the top 10 TV shows in 2013 averaged 8.9 million viewers. Divide that number into the 115.6 million estimated households with a TV and you get just 7.7% of the total TV audience.

See how it’s fragmenting?

Can you see how being on a hit TV show means you are being exposed to far less people then you were in 1980?

This is what we mean when we say the head is shrinking.

Can you also understand how any “home run” makes you far less famous nowadays?

 

Terrestrial Radio Application

file0001980941201This very dynamic applies to terrestrial radio as well. With all the new “Deckless” cars and smart-phones acting as mobile internet antennae, the consumers now can choose from terrestrial radio, Satellite radio, HD radio, personal playlists on a smart phone, Spotify, Pandora, Deezer, Slacker, etc.; it’s fragmenting too. Which means the head of music marketing is shrinking too. One could argue that this means the amount of Rockstars is shrinking as well. After all what is the definition of a Rockstar but a music artist that is famous from mass market exposure, right?

 

 

The Long Tail is Growing

And so it goes, the long tail grows making it easier to be exposed but harder to get exposure. Does that make sense? The very market that would LOVE your music is so very reachable, but how do you do it?

 

Conclusions

What exactly does long tail mean for indie music? It means that because the head is shrinking making the mass market less lucrative, and the devaluation of music is making it financially irresponsible for big money to risk developing artists, any plans that rely solely on big money (a.k.a. record labels and big investors) to find you, develop you, and break you are poorly laid. You have a better chance of winning the lottery regardless of your talent. It means that you are now responsible for PROVING your music has value in the marketplace first; it means you are going to have to become a business person and learn to market yourself effectively. Commerce! Ugh…why do we despise that so much? The very term “professional musician”, regardless of the music being high brow or low brow, requires commerce! You better embrace it!

As I mentioned in my previous post, the good news is that it is easier than ever before to define and reach an Digital Rock Star Long Tail imageaudience all over the world. There are 7 billion people on this planet and many of them are connected and reachable! Surely it can’t be that hard to sell 10,000 CDs or downloads if we rethink the approach. Because of this fact, it is easier than ever to make a living as an artist. Hell, just a little business savvy and you could actually create a GROWING Business!

The long tail also means that you can make the music you want to make without interference from meddling record label suits who are trying to direct you to be more “marketable” which means “mass marketable” which means you need to fit into their business model that services only the head. It means your long tail music project could create enough business and momentum to redefine what tomorrow’s “head” will sound like. Just look at acts like The Zac Brown Band who were told by the country music labels they were too “rock & roll” and the rock labels told them they were “too country”. So they took matters into their own hands and became such a huge force to reckon with that they created their own “big break” with probably the best record deal in town. Florida Georgia Line has a similar experience; all the majors DENIED them. They hit the road and worked satellite radio enough to sell 100,000 downloads of “Cruise” which then had all the majors clamoring to sign them. Both of these bands brought their own sound to the mass market and changed the definition amongst the majors as to what the “head” should sound like.

I would also remind you that bands like Rush and Metallica took this same approach touring their asses off, constantly creating, constantly working, and growing huge followings ONE FAN AT A TIME before the internet and social media, “without the help of top 40 radio play!” If you want it, it’s yours to take!

Let’s use the long tail to DOMINATE!!!

Good News For Indie Artists!

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5 Twitter Marketing Strategies

5 Twitter image

By Johnny Dwinell

Twitter is an awesome surgical marketing tool

Twitter

With over 250 million active users, you have an amazing FREE tool for finding people that are like-minded and connecting with them; like a cocktail party of sorts.  After you have recorded your masterpiece, you need to bring it to the world.  Twitter allows you to find people that are predisposed to liking your kind of music and facilitates a relationship if you have the balls to reach out and the brains to do it intelligently.  Here are 5 Twitter marketing strategies to help you get your music out there and build a tribe

Define And Find Your Audience

Who is your audience?  Is it EDM?  Is it Metal?  Is it Folk?  Is it Country?  Twitter even allows you to find sub genres within a certain genre, like Pop-Country, Country-Rock, Death Metal, Black Metal, etc.  I always tell file0002005996090my artists to think of what artist they would love to open for if they could be on any tour.  Typically this is going to get the artist thinking of the type of audience that would most likely dig their music.  For instance, if you are a Metal band and think that Metallica fans would love your bands music as well, then an opening slot on a Metallica tour would be super beneficial to your band, right?  Well Metallica has about 2 million Twitter followers that you can connect with.  Simply go to the search bar and type in Metallica.  You will then pull up their Twitter account.  Now, click on “Followers” and you have all their followers at your fingertips.

Twitter # Search and @Search

file3371281797656Continuing on with the Metallica example, anybody on Twitter that is talking about Metallica would probably like your music as well, yes?  So if you go to the search bar and type in @Metallica you will bring up many different Twitter accounts that have recently posted a comment about Metallica.  You can also use this same method for #Metallica.  What if you have a song that has the same vibe as a certain song, say like “Margaritaville”.  Simply type in #Margaritaville and you will find a slew of people who just used #Margaritaville in a recent tweet.

FOLLOW THEM!

Now you need to follow these people.  If you have a relatively new account you can start by following 30 people per day for a month and avoid account suspension.  Then Twitter Follow imagebump that number up to 60 people per day for a month then you can safely follow up to 120 people per day and not be suspended.  If your account is older than 1 year and seasoned (meaning you have been tweeting every now and again) then you can start following 60 per day for a month and then bump up to 120 people per day.  This is called the “follow first” method.  Think of it as an introduction and a handshake.  A certain percentage of these people will follow you back.  Then you will want to Unfollow the people who don’t follow you back.  I would only Unfollow as many people as you follow each day.  Tweepi, FriendorFollow, Tweetdeck, Hootesuite, are all different sites that will allow you to easily discover who is following and who isn’t; they all have free account levels for you to try out.

Content, Content, Content

The more you tweet with content that you like the more you will build your Twitter Content imageTwitter tribe.  For instance, live footage from shows, BTS (behind the scenes) footage backstage at a show, videos of music you like, videos or links to your favorite movie scenes, links to other artists you like, inspirational quotes or quotes that resonate with you are really good content that tends to get retweeted often.  Avoid hype for your band.  Hype works when you are using a branding marketing approach because there are tons of eyeballs or ears that are watching or listening to one message at the same time.  Please understand that hype doesn’t work on social media because everyone’s experience is 1 on 1.  If you use hype on any social media platform you will just look like an idiot; total turn off.  This content will begin to foster and deepen relationships with people online.  At Daredevil Production  we blog every week so this provides content that people like to consume.

Expose Your Music

HINT: Start THANKING and stop asking.  I hate it when someone follows me on Twitter or when I follow them and they come right out of the box with “Check out my music”; it’s annoyingTwitter Exposure Hand image.  Even if they ask politely it’s a total turnoff.  It’s REALLY EFFING annoying when they panhandle, like “I really need help PLEASE check out my music”; ugh.  Think of it this way, you meet someone for the first time at a cocktail party and you say “Pull your pants down I want to have sex”.  Oh wait, you ask POLITELY for them to pull their pants down because you want to have sex.  99.99% of the time it’s not gonna work man.  Twitter is the same way.  Think of it as a cocktail party.  I recommend you start THANKING people and give something back.  You are NOT using social media to sell so much as you are using it to create relationships.  GIVING is a great way to start a relationship.  Send a DM or Tweet “Wow!  Thank you so much for the follow.  I want you to have 7 free songs!  Enjoy!”  Watch how many downloads you get!  Now, assuming you are not sending out total crap, you will begin to develop a following.

Are you using Twitter to expose people to your music?

Are you thinking of Twitter as an appreciating asset?

With this method and CONSISTENT cultivation and Twitter activity you can gain at least 1,000 new, targeted followers each and every month.  I can tell you that Daredevil Production gains a solid 1,800 per month so 1,000 per month is easily doable.  Do the math, man, that’s 12,000 followers per year; and it’s constantly growing.

P.S. if you use Tweepi you can find your audience and then sort by location.  Think about that, you can use it to follow every like minded Twitter user in your region to help boost your live following!

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Don’t Sing On Your Song Demo Dummy!

By Johnny Dwinell

Don’t sing your song demo dummy!

If you do, especially if you’re a novice at creating song demos (not necessarily singing), you will inevitably limit your opportunities to file000819242154sell the song; you will end up casting a “smaller net” regardless of your vocal ability.   All too often, I see aspiring songwriters who haven’t really gotten the performing/recording artist bug out of their system spend good money and confuse the intent of a song demo with that of an artist track.  They want to sing, I suppose, to scratch their respective artist “itch” and I TOTALLY get that!  Just make sure you are clear on what you need.  One can’t expect a minivan, which is super effective for hauling groceries and kids, to perform like a Ferrari and take corners at 90 mph.  Conversely, one cannot be upset that a Ferrari will not hold 4 kids and all the groceries.

Huh?

Listen; whenever you spend money, especially when there is little money to spend (which requires you to make decisions), you need to ensure you are spending wisely.  So the first thing you need to ask yourself is what is the intent of the recording?  What function is the recording supposed to serve?

Let’s break them both down.

 

Artist Tracks

The intent of an artist track is to sell the track and the artist.

A producer’s job is to put the artist in the best possible light sonically & artistically and blow people away so that they will spend money purchasing the product (aka the CD); this is selling the artist.  This takes more time and certainly expertise in the studio.  More time and expertise in the studio cost more money.

As an artist, you intend to sell the track.  Higher union rates will apply if the intent of the recording is to generate revenue; again, more money.

If your band will actually be doing the recording then you will need a combo platter of multiple takes during tracking session to get the recording tight and probably some editing on the back end to help, depending_DSC6357 on the musicianship of the players.  Either of these two actions requires time and expertise in the studio which requires more money.

You want people to say “Wow!  Who the hell is that singing?”  This means your producer better be crafting a KILLER vocal track, man; make no mistake this is an art form.  This art form requires time & expertise and that costs money.

You want people to say, “That unexpected band break is freaking COOL MAN!”  This means your producer is allowing the band the time they need to craft something unique and special.  You guessed it, that extra time costs more money.

20131129_140442As the artist you make choices with regards to arrangement, song structure, song choice, production, genre, key, vibe, etc. that are consonant to you artistically and refined to your lane; which is more subjective than objective by definition.  Ultimately the intent of the recording is to move people with your unique artistic stamp.  If you are a professional artist the track must generate revenue by definition. This activity will hopefully generate additional returns through sales of subsequent merchandise, concert tickets, sponsorships, endorsements, etc.

The juice should be worth the squeeze financially, but you get the picture, right?  An artist track is all about YOU.

 

Song Demos

The intent of a song demo is to sell the song, specifically the lyric, melody, and vibe of the song to a major label producer, a major label A&R exec, a publishing company, or a major label artist.  A song demo is not supposed to Song Demo Melodyspotlight YOU in any way as an artist as they fully intend to re-cut the song with their band and their artist on the mic.  It is naïve to hope that an amazing vocal performance would possibly get a producer interested in working with you (as an artist) seeing as they are focused on finding songs for the project currently at hand. Statistically, this is just a distraction from your mission, which is the song pitch.  Remember, in the new music market the responsibility for artist development falls on the artist there is very little ROI for producers and labels to develop acts anymore as the business model has simply changed; they just aren’t equipped to do it.  So a tactic like this is a high percentage shot, like a full court basketball shot that’s nothing-but-net; possible but highly unlikely.  A better tactic would be to make the most effective song demo you could and increase your chances to get the cut!  That will garner more attention from more people who could help your career than betting the farm on a limited set of ears that you are engaging with because they are focused on entirely different projects.  Simply put, getting a cut gets your talent far more exposure than crossing your fingers that the few people who hear the demo will defocus from their current job to explore a relationship with you as an artist.  Make sense?

 

If you are a GREAT singer

You will have a unique stylistic approach to your song.  Yes the vocal track will be amazing but what if your style doesn’t resonate with the major label artist you are pitching it to?  What if the producer recognizes that phrasing the vocal in a different manner could make the song become viable for multiple genres or lanes within a certain genre; thus creating more opportunities for the song to get cut?  Could you effortlessly change your phrasing?  You want a cut, right?

 

If you are an AVERAGE singer

(Like me) you will have a unique stylistic approach to your song.  You will end up spending more money on the demo on multiple vocal takes during the session and in post production (vocal tuning) time to make it less sucky.  This will needlessly increase the cost of your demo. file0001596147731A song demo shouldn’t result in some epic production with the track because that’s too subjective for the intent.

What if the artist you are pitching too doesn’t like your taste in production, will that color their decision to cut your song?

What if the artist you are pitching too loves your taste in production but their project is going a different way, will that affect their ability to “hear” themselves singing your song for this particular project?

Will the production you create “date” the track making the demo recording less durable over time?

If you have artist tracks that you wish to use a song pitches, you might consider spending a few extra bucks to get a pro singer to cut the vocal and a new mix solely for the song demo.

The song demo is all about the SONG; keep it there.

If you like this post, please SHARE it and/or LEAVE A COMMENT thank you!

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What’s In Your Toolbox?

By Johnny Dwinell

What’s in your toolbox?  What’s in your emotional toolbox, your artistic toolbox, your business toolbox, your marketing toolbox?

Huh?

I used to have a huge fear of commitment.

OMG, what??

Years ago after I got off the road as the lead singer for a hair band I realized I was having challenges creating relationships with file6161313070963women that were deeper than just sex.  I was really worried that I would end up old and alone with a house full of cats (LOL, I’m TOTALLY a dog person, but you get the point).  As you can imagine after a good 7 years as a full time 80’s-rock-band-front-man-on-permanent-tour, I had encountered many women. I also managed to experience some longer, emotionally profound relationships with a few quality women who I found intriguing, smart, and captivating; but still, scared to commit. Yikes!

 

I definitely needed some help so I sought out therapy at the brazen request of a freshly-fired girlfriend who assumed she was leaving Nashville with me to move to California (I still don’t know how the hell she thought that, man, it wasn’t like we were living together or dating that long, but I digress).  She actually handed me a number of a therapist in Pasadena (SO RANDOM) and sternly told me to call him the minute I got out there.

I did call him and I recommend therapy for everyone.  Therapy is like college for your own soul. Therapy is all about finding out who YOU are and feeling comfortable in your own skin; which I desperately needed.  This therapist, Stan, was amazing and is still a great friend and spiritual adviser to me.  During the first session he asked me why I was there and I explained.  As the session ended he said, “Johnny, I’m gonna bet that you don’t have sisters or if you do, they are younger and by at least 4 years.”

I said, “WTF??  How do you know that?” (Not expecting the fortune telling element at all…he was right, I have 2 amazing sisters 4 years and 7 years younger than me)

He replied, “Because you don’t know shit about women.”

I laughed out loud at the silly man!  “Stan, I have forgotten about more women than most men will ever have.”

Stan countered, “Yeah, I’m sure that’s true, man, but you still don’t know shit about women so you’re scared to death of getting too close to them.”

Game! Set! Match!

I was cornered with logic. He went on to explain that a boy with older sisters or sisters who are closer to his age (close enough that they are in his social/peer groups growing up) offer a front row seat to the trials and tribulations of romantic relationships from the female perspective that said boy is more inclined to respect, internalize and learn from.  When the sisters are younger and out of your peer group they are just a nuisance.assorted_tools

True story again!

I was essentially lacking a tool in my emotional toolbox and I had just defined exactly what tool was missing.  You see, that was half the battle.  Now I could move forward with a clear plan to improve my life.  Identifying the missing tool actually got me excited to learn about the ever fearful unknown.  I was totally stoked to explore, which lessened the fear of the unknown.  This internal encouragement couldn’t have happened had I not understood that I was lacking somewhere.  Get it?

You Have To Find the Missing Tools In Your Toolbox

As humans and especially artists we are (hopefully) inclined to constantly improve.  We want, need, and search for new steps in the staircase of development that lead us to higher plateaus of emotional and artistic impeccability.  However, this requires change to occur.  As humans and especially artists, we are quite resistant to change; this results in pain and suffering.  This pain and suffering causes stagnation, idle artistry, and (gasp) mediocrity!

The thing is, our lives and our art can be constantly improving if we understand one simple concept; you’re human so you never have all the tools you need.  I find this to be a common roadblock with the talent we work with as they have a naive understanding of (or simply ignore) the process of artistic development; it IS A PROCESS and it takes time.

The main part of the process is to be open to the process.

Part of the process is to understand your strengths and capitalize on them.Toolbox process image

Part of the process is to recognize your weaknesses and improve upon them.

Part of the process is unfettered exploration; the constant search for tools you don’t have and the curiosity to discover how they will benefit your journey.

Part of the process is to identify mentors.

Part of the process is to allow yourself to be mentored artistically, businesswise, relationship-wise, marketwise, communication-wise, etc.

Part of the process is humility.

Part of the process is acceptance.

You are born with some great tools. Maybe you have incredible talent, maybe you have incredible drive, maybe you’re an expert politician, maybe you’re a good leader, maybe you’re good at creating relationships, and maybe you understand business.

But you don’t have all the tools.

What are you missing?

Do you need:

  • Business acumen?
  • Marketing expertise?
  • Vocal lessons?
  • Recording experience?
  • Better people-skills?
  • Communication skills?
  • Songwriting proficiency? (It’s not magic it’s a CRAFT!)
  • Stage presence?
  • Attitude adjustments?
  • Ego check?
  • More practice?
  • More knowledge?
  • Focus?
  • Clarity?

So which ones are you missing?

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Are You A Rip-Off Artist?

Rip-Off Artist Feature image

By Johnny Dwinell

Rip-Off Artist alert image

Are you a rip-off artist?

Huh?

Yeah, man, John Lennon wasn’t the first to say, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”

Beethoven took from:

  • Mozart (they arguably met and Mozart arguably gave Beethoven lessons)

Tom Petty took from:

  • Bob Dylan – this one’s obvious, right??Rip-Off Artist Tom petty image
  • The Continentals (feat. Don Felder [Eagles])
  • The Beatles

Bob Dylan took from:

David Lee Roth took from:

The Beatles took from:

  • Little Richard
  • Elvis
  • Chuck Berry

Elvis took from (his live show was so based on this vibe):

Chuck Berry took from:

  • T-Bone Walker
  • The Fiddlin’ Powers Family –  Maybellene (his 1st #1 circa 1955) was inspired by “Ida Red” circa 1924 (this was covered and used quite often with many artists btw.)

Rip-Off Artist Willie Dixon image

Led Zeppelin literally PLAGIARIZED (and settled out of court…we DON’T recommend this BTW):

Willie Dixon took from:

Little Brother Montgomery took from:

Rip-Off Artist Little Brother Montgomery image

 

Eric Clapton took from:

 

Muddy Waters took from:

 

Robert Johnson took from:

 

Joan Baez took from:

Rip-Off Artist Pete Seeger image

Pete Seeger took from:

 

 

You get it?

Anyone who is talking about how another artist “ripped off” this artist or that artist … is right. Something had to inspire the artist. Most artists try to emulate something that resonates with them. As a result, they end up with their own style.

So what? Shut up and own up to it!

Make good music. Grow from your influences! USE your influences as a muse!

I submit to all you writers and artists that you are unique. So aside from actually plagiarizing (again, we DON’T condone this behavior), setting out to write your favorite artist’s song will lead you to your own twisted version that is quite exceptional and distinctive. Not for nothing, but it’s a pretty good writing exercise!

Rick Rubin loves to hand out writing assignments to his artists, typically right before they are about toRip-Off Artist Pour some sugar image begin recording, so the pressure is really on. Rick told Rivers Cuomo from Weezer to write a song with the beat from Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar On Me and that assignment ended up being the inspiration for Beverly Hills. Rick also told Tom Petty to do the same exact thing and that was the inspiration for It’s Good To Be King.

 

 

Now go play pretty for the world.

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10 Superstars Who’d Fail On American Idol

American Idol Feature image

By Johnny Dwinell

What is your lane?

Do you really know?

Should it change? Are you sure?

Keith Urban on American Idol

I was inspired by Keith Urban after hearing his comment on American Idol last week. He said something to the effect of (and I’m paraphrasing), “If these people would just listen to our suggestions American Idol imageinstead of simply reacting to the failure they might learn something.” Wow, I see struggling writers and artists deal with failure like this all the time. They focus on how they feel about a particular rejection rather than HEARING the feedback. I know a lot of you reading this post are suffering and struggling simply because you are focusing on the wrong lane. Once you are in the lane you are supposed to be in, rejection feels like a matter of taste which is not a judgment on you personally, rather than a catastrophic bomb that ruins your self-esteem. A rejection feels like you made a ham sandwich and someone doesn’t like ham as opposed to that person not liking YOU. Then I got to thinking how much of a specific lane American Idol is. There are amazing singers and then there are amazing vocalists; there is a definite difference and AI requires amazing vocalists.

Just because you’re not an amazing vocalist doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your artistic dreams. Setting appropriate goals, defining YOUR lane, and staying in YOUR lane are the keys to achieving your dreams and avoiding the heartache of unnecessary rejections. Let me explain.

I made a living for the better part of 10 years in an 80’s hair-band called Kidd Gypsy. I remember American Idol Kidd Gypsy IMagealways wanting to be a guitar shredder but I never had the right-hand skills (no matter how hard I practiced) to pull it off; this left me incredibly frustrated; for years this pissed me off. Once I realized that tasty guitar solos was my lane instead of shredding guitar solos, I eliminated a huge amount stress that was completely pointless and preventable; I was trying to be in the wrong lane. I was NEVER going to win any vocal competitions either, man, but it sure didn’t stop me from being a great front man and a decent enough singer not to drive people out of the club, LOL. This, in turn, allowed me to make a living doing what I loved to do instead of being depressed all the time. Kelly is a vocal GOD; it’s true. If you go to our Artist Tracks page on the DDP site and listen, 99% of the BGVs are Kelly; he’s like a machine in the studio. I could NEVER pull that off. I KNEW my lane was never going to be in the vocal God category; I had to entertain, I had to find a different way to be an artist.

Get it?

Find your strong suit and work on that. Constantly improve your weaknesses to be more well-rounded, but make sure that you are not trying to make a career out of your weaknesses. All this will do is leave you discouraged.

This got me thinking about how many SUPERSTAR artists are not great vocalists. Here is a list of 10 Superstars who’d fail on American Idol. All these artists are famous, some of them are considered more artistically important than others, some of them are amazing business people, some of them are amazing entertainers, some of them are good singers, but not one of them is an amazing vocalist.

10 Superstars Who’d Fail On American Idol

  1. Mick Jagger – The Rolling Stones are certainly one of the longest lasting iconic bands in history (if not the most). Mick is a great front man, songwriter, business man (he kept the Stones rolling for the 20 years that Keith Richards checked out on heroin), and a sex symbol for sure. However, Mick wouldn’t be your first call to cut BGVs on a pop record.
  2. Bob Dylan – I think all would agree that Bob Dylan is one of the most important and influential songwriters of the 20th century. Listening to him talk can be as difficult as listening to him sing, LOL. Don’t get me wrong. I am a Dylan fan, but let’s face it, it was always about what he was saying not how he was singing. His lane was the writing. We are all drawn in by the message.
  3. David Lee Roth – Van Halen (not Van Hagar) is one of my very favorite bands. DLR is American Idol DLR Flying imagearguably the best front man on the planet. He really took the definition of “Rock Star” to a whole new level. I saw them live on the 1984 tour and he hardly sang! I didn’t care. I couldn’t take my eyes off him! He is a true star, extremely stylistic, and very compelling on and off the stage. However, we would never hire him to sing any demos, LOL
  4. Kenny Chesney – Kenny Chesney is currently one of the biggest stars on the planet; he has very cleverly carved a niche as the new “Jimmy Buffet” somehow. He will out work ALL of you put together and really understands how to be a star. (Just look at his old pictures when he first got signed. He was chubby, and now he’s extremely fit…do you have any idea how much work is required to maintain that?) If you really listen to all his songs, they focus on a very limited amount of notes because big melodies are NOT in his lane.
  5. Tim McGraw – I have several very close friends that work in the McGraw camp and I can tell you for certain Tim is extremely intelligent and a great businessman. They run a tight ship and the crew enjoys working for him. Tim has an uncanny understanding of his brand, of when and how to push that envelope. Tim is one of the few artists who will give all the songwriting credit to the songwriters as opposed to taking some credit and subsequent publishing revenue. If you really listen to the songs he chooses, they astonish with the lyrical content instead of big tricky melodies; they’re simple, honest, and good.
  6. Jennifer Lopez – J.Lo is a dancer, an actress, a television personality, perfumer, American Idol JLo Imagephilanthropist, fashion designer, producer, recording artist, and an incredible businesswoman, but singing is her weak suit to be sure. She was definitely fearless as she became the first Latina actress to make over 1 million dollars on a movie with Out of Sight. After she filmed Selena, she ventured into the music industry despite people close to her expressing their fears that she would ruin her growing reputation with an album. She didn’t let her mediocre vocal prowess get in the way of her 300 million dollar fortune. Ironically she would never get on American Idol as a contestant.
  7. Madonna – In 2013 Madonna’s net worth exceeded $650 million. She is a master at reinventing her music and her image. She is an amazing entertainer; in fact, her last tour grossed over $300 million dollars. I had a friend who engineered many of the Madonna records, I remember him saying that as amazing as she is, Madonna is the poster child for vocal mediocrity. I guess it didn’t stop her at all, huh?
  8. Taylor Swift – is an incredible songwriter, performer, and an extremely hard worker. She GETS IT! Taylor has amassed an incredible following largely due to the songs she co-wrote. She represented a lane that simply was not occupied in the country music market. Think about it, who was writing about, and singing to, teenagers in country music before her? NOBODY! Taylor, Scott Borchetta, and her team created a new lane that was unoccupied – genius! She is quickly becoming a master of the game with regards to television exposure; I think they bring one extra camera to every freaking award show just to ensure they get a million Taylor Swift reaction shots. Taylor accomplished all this, yet she simply isn’t going to win any awards for her vocal prowess. Here’s an example of a particularly bad Grammy performance with Stevie Nicks in 2010. Skip to 2:00 to see what I mean.
  9. Miley Cyrus – Miley got incredible exposure from the Disney show Hannah Montana. She started as an actress and turned that into a singer/songwriter career. Miley’s hard work has built up a $150 million net worth, but again, vocals are not her strong suit.
  10. Paula Abdul – I love Paula Abdul. She’s still just so sexy to me. She also started as a dancer American Idol Paula Abdul imageand choreographer. Then she turned that into a recording career. Paula can’t really sing, either, but she can follow well. In fact that is how they recorded Paula’s 1988 hit record Forever Your Girl. The producers brought in a pro singer named Yvette Marine who sang all the lead vocal parts as guide tracks. Then Paula came in and sang over Yvette’s vocals and they ditched the guide tracks. In fact Marine sued and lost to Abdul’s label, Virgin Records, claiming they left her vocal in the mix on a few parts.

 

 

So there it is. I’m sure you like some of these artists and I’m sure you detest some of them, but no one can deny that massive amounts of people find them absolutely fascinating. None of these artists let a lack of stellar vocal ability get in the way of their artistic endeavors. When I see contestants on American Idol melt down in the face of a “no” or, even worse, constructive criticism, I think they need to focus on singing better but also focus on being mesmerizing.

You don’t have to be the best singer to blow people’s minds.

What is your lane?

Do you really know?

Should it change? Are you sure?

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You Learn To Be An Artist

Learn To Be an Artist Feature image

By Johnny Dwinell

You learn to be an artist

like you learn to be an expert plumber, like you learn to play poker, or like you become a master craftsman working with fine wood furniture.  First you tackle the broad strokes and Learn To Be an Artist Learn button imagethen increasingly you focus on details until you become a student of the game.  Every iconic artist you admire started out as a novice and was so fascinated with the learning and the search for the truth they couldn’t help but continue to improve.  There’s the rub; you first have to be open to the fact that you learn to be an artist and then you must work to continue improving.  Often times that means getting rid of people who are holding you back, however they manifest themselves in your life.  It always means you need to maintain a sense of humility around people who are better than you; be a sponge.  It means you have to always keep working; period.

 

First there are the broad strokes:

  • You learn to play some chordsLearn To Be an Artist Chord Chart image
  • You start singing
  • You start writing songs
  • You play your first gigs
  • You practice for hours to learn songs you like so you can emulate your heroes
  • You get laid
  • You make a lot of mistakes

FYI, you’re not an artist yet, you’re just beginning to mess with music.  For every artist looking back from a professional viewpoint these days are always a disaster.  Hell, John and Paul admitted the first 50-150 songs they wrote were crap!  This is accurate and it’s ok.  We continued to improve because we LOVED the process; we LOVED the journey.

 

Then you start in on some detail:

  • You strive to play chords better, more cleanly, like they do on the records you love
  • You strive to play with the drums
  • You strive to play the covers a bit more accurately with regards to proper voicing and arrangements rather than just playing the chords
  • It’s no longer about making noise that is close, you are after making music
  • You start focusing on trying to sing in pitch more
  • You continue to write and maybe begin to realize that any words put to music do not necessarily make a song.
  • Members of your band are in the band due to pragmatism; they have a van, a P.A. system, the coolest drum kit, or a place to rehearse, etc.
  • You learn from your previous mistakes and grow
  • You make a bunch of new mistakes

You’re not an artist yet; you’re in a band at this point.  If you’re the leader, the creative _DSC2610focal point, the driving force of the band you’re mostly a babysitter to the other members; a politician if you will.  Undoubtedly you begin to lose a few band members at this stage of the game, they get more interested in significant others than music.  This is called “natural selection” or as we called it “The Yoko Factor”, it’s painful but necessary to let them go; so recognize it and let them go. (Read this and think about the melody from Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”.  Buh-bye.

 

 

Then you really start to dig in:

  • You start to play more gigs
  • The idea of making a living gets serious within you as you start to get some opportunities
  • These opportunities reveal the musical and spiritual weak links in your band; band members continue to change making way for more like-minded mates
  • You begin to experiment with recording (trust me we all suck at recording during this stage but we are FASCINATED so we press on)
  • The recording process reveals that you really aren’t playing with the drums and the drummer thinks time is a magazine
  • This brings up conversations that file000819242154will certainly manifest as confrontations between band members as the cracks in the musicianship are becoming glaringly obvious, it’s a mess.  Some of the cracks are your fault; you hate this but it’s true.  You wonder, “Is it like this on stage?”  Answer:  YES, how could it not be?
  • The strengths in your writing are steadily improving; the weaknesses are typically being ignored.  For instance, you sing like an angel and everyone is always kissing your ass so you really don’t feel the pressing need to improve your lyrics because you could sing the phone book and make people cry; they love you!  Your friends and family naturally choose to focus on delivering positive feedback to you.  So it’s up to you to see past the local and familial adoration and focus on your weak suit to become a more well-rounded writer (Most people don’t)
  • You learn from your previous mistakes and grow.
  • You make a bunch of new mistakes.

At this point you are not an artist.  You are in a band and beginning to tighten the screws; scratching the surface of being a musician.  The work you continue to do is creating small opportunities and the momentum is validation to press on.

 

Now you’re getting serious about living your life making music:

  • You do your first tour (aka a decent string of consecutive dates).  You are now presented with the chance to play a gig, revel in the moment, stew over that night’s performance mistakes in your head, and then fix what you didn’t like the very next day.  (It’s like skiing, you really need to put several days back to back to improve)
  • You find out that after 20 shows in a row, you are a completely different band; you are exposed to the need for professionalism (like how to sound check as efficiently as possible, politicking with band members, schmoozing the club owner/booker) and you begin to understand it; you begin to embrace it.
  • Learn To Be an Artist Drunk singer imageYou also find out the singer can’t party like the rest of the band and keep his voice.  The question is does the singer know this?
  • You finally understand the truth in David Lee Roth’s quote, “There’s Murphy’s Law and then there is the Law of Rock & Roll which states that Murphy completely underestimated the problem” as you run into countless surprise road-blocks with gear, routing, money, band members, production, logistics, weigh station delays, border crossings, transportation breakdowns, emotional breakdowns, local police, State Troopers, disruptions, alcohol, drugs, groupies, STD’s, creepy people, hangers on, etc.
  • You find out that the clubs don’t give a damn about your music, they only care about how many drinks they sell, because they are in the bar business.  You discover this truth after getting fired.  This is your first experience with the “Business” part of show business.
  • Your band is tightening up.  There is some definite attention being paid by the members to the pocket, phrasing, and the feel of the music as opposed to just playing chords.
  • You begin to create slightly better recordings as you slowly begin to digest the truth in the “less is more” approach.  Less Reverb, less effects, less notes, more space.
  • You focus on better performances on your recordings
  • You begin to explore decent sonic quality as you search for different ways to achieve improvement with amp settings, mic placement, sound control, mic chain, EQ’s, compression,  and LESS REVERB (did I say that already?)
  • Your writing continues to improve as you become more comfortable in your own skin, more willing to dig down and relay real feelings instead of stringing cool vowel, consonant, and rhyming sounds together.
  • You learn that mixing your tracks is an art form; one you don’t possess.
  • You learn from your previous mistakes and grow
  • You make a bunch of new mistakes

At this point you are not an artist but you are beginning to be enlightened on the fact that writing is a craft, recording is a craft, playing is a craft.  You are improving!  You are probably getting a little cocky in your head.  Maybe your progress affords you some opportunities for access to real artists where you get schooled once again.  For me, I had well over a year of touring under my belt (probably 500+ shows or more) and I knew everything, all you had to do was ask me, I would be happy to tell you, LOL.  Then I saw the Allman Brothers in the studio for the first time and realized I didn’t know shit about anything.  Bah!  It felt like I was back to square one, I had the wind sucked right out of my sails; like the feeling you get when you go from being king of the hill in 8th grade to the bottom of the barrel as a freshman in high school.  But I was even MORE FASCINATED so I pressed on.

Now You’re Making Money

  • Now you’re getting the hang of it, and certain people are noticing
  • You are beginning to develop a style
  • You spend some money to make a CD to sell at your shows because it’s time to expand your business and you feel you’re ready to make a record.
  • You’re smart and hungry for knowledge so you carefully choose a production team that can advance your sound and your knowledge instead of “studio shopping” and thinking you can produce yourself
  • You get regular access to professional recording experiences.
  • Your production team stumps you with certain questions like “what is your lane?”  “Before we begin what kind of record do you want to make?”  “Who do you feel your audience is?”  “What are we going to do differently to help you stand out from the herd that occupies the same lane?”
  • You learn that your drummer rocks live but under the microscope in the studio he doesn’t cut it Learn To Be an Artist Time Mag imagebecause he is inconsistent with velocities and meter.
  • You learn that singing live is way easier than working a microphone in the studio and you struggle to step up and render the vocal that you believe you can do…but you do it.
  • You learn that your guitar tone leaves a lot to be desired when a mic is put on it and half your pedals make an UNGODLY amount of preventable noise.
  • You learn from your producer who cares that half the songs you wanted on the record are nowhere near as cool as the other half and you have to keep writing
  • You learn through new relationships with pro writers that you are on the right track but you still have a long way to go; you still have a weak suit that needs attention
  • You begin to see the difference between recording music and making records
  • You learn from a misbehaving band member that negative, unstable energy in the recording studio is really bad; he or she goes the way of Pete Willis from Def Leppard.
  • You learn that your bass player plays ahead or “on top” of the kick drum and your engineer will be moving it back.  Your bass player is pissed and secretly embarrassed but you are secretly grateful the engineer will fix it because it sounds better
  • You learn “behind the scenes” stories that break your heart about your favorite bands and how they didn’t play on their own records because recordings are forever and playing live is here and gone.
  • You learn from past mistakes
  • You make a bunch of new mistakes

Congrats, you’re beginning to become an artist.  The next step is up to you.  If you just want to make art for the sake of making art, then so it shall be; a glorious, expensive hobby.  If you want to be a professional artist, than you will have to make some money at this which means a whole new journey learning how to move product.

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A Dead Fish Can Float Downstream

By Johnny Dwinell

“Remember, a dead fish can float downstream, but it takes a live one to swim upstream” – W.C. Fields

Are you a dead fish? 5FdkhUkT

I love this quote.  If you think that money and the right connections equates to “easy street” for your career or that you need these things before you can begin seriously working on your career, you’re a dead fish.  If you are working your backside off every day to write, record, play, making mistakes and learning this business, then you are a live fish swimming upstream; I’m quite sure you feel the pressure of the current as you constantly swim against it.  I was reminded of this quote when I had a conversation yesterday with an artist friend.  We went on a long walk with Scooter McGhee (My Great Dane) and my artist friend was venting some frustrations he was having with the business (I get that a lot), and I feel like he is finally beginning to turn from a dead fish into a live one.

During our walk in the course of his listening and venting he asked me a question.  He asked what I thought about a strategy where he would finish the video he just shot and then pay to have a “showcase” of sorts where he would play the video followed by a live show.  He asked me if I thought we could get him “in front of some people”.

“In front of some people” is a phrase he has used quite often throughout our friendship.

“Johnny, I’ve never really gotten in front of some people before” he would say, “I just need to get in front of some people”.  You see I believe that in his mind, and probably many of yours (which is why I am writing this post today), he feels like if he just got “in front of” the right person everything would be puppy dogs and ice cream; he would have his break and it would be downhill from there.  He is super talented by the way and I believe that if he keeps fighting, he will begin to make a solid living singing and writing songs, but he has to stay in the game (which I’m proud to say he has ramped up his game plan as of late)

I answered his question, “What if we get everyone that is important in this town to your showcase?”

“What if we get you ‘in front of’ all the necessary people and they like you?  What do you think happens next?”

Knowing me well, he wisely avoided an answer and replaced it with a question, “Johnny, what happens next?”

Florida Georgia Line Story

Dead Fish FL GA imageI went into describing the broad strokes on the story of how Florida Georgia Line got their deal.  These 2 guys got “in front of the right people” and somehow landed a production deal with Craig Wiseman who is one of Nashville’s most successful writers and businessmen with his publishing company Big Loud Shirt.  Craig and the producer he chose named Joey Moi (Joey produced the Canadian rock group Nickelback) recorded an EP with Florida Georgia Line and went around town with their massive influence and connections to get a record deal for the duo; everyone passed.

Wha?

How can that be?  ALL the record labels passed?

YES!  Even with a proven hit songwriter and proven producer behind the group, the labels didn’t get it.  There was no social proof to ensure that the duo’s music and sound had any value in the market place, so they passed.

So Wiseman, Moi, and the group hunkered down and launched an incredibly effective marketing campaign/tour of sorts that resulted in 100,000 downloads of “Cruise”.  Boom!  Now, all the record labels that passed on the pair were clamoring to sign them.  Here is where I quote my friend Rick Barker, “Only 1 thing changed.”

  • The songs didn’t change
  • The melodies didn’t change
  • The lyrics didn’t change
  • The production didn’t change
  • The producer didn’t change
  • The record didn’t change

 

The ONLY thing that changed was the perception!

Listen guys, even with all the right people behind you, the work still has to be done.  In the new music business record labels DO NOT DEVELOP TALENT, they buy small businesses.  You are going to have to prove you are marketable with numbers, not dreams.  So if you’re “waiting” to begin working until you “get in front of some people” or if you’re waiting to begin working until you get “discovered” you’re a dead fish floating downstream.

Don’t be a dead fish, they’re boring and they stink.

Attack this new music market and make a place for yourself because it’s never been easier!

Swim upstream and watch the world come to you!

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