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.


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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Top 10 Cover Songs

Cover Songs Feature image

By Johnny Dwinell

Kelly and I are so busy with the marketing and record production duties of Daredevil Production, we don’t get that much of a chance to listen to cool new music.  Enter my cool brother-in-law Randy Ahrens.  Randy is an unusual music consumer, in fact, he is what I have referred to in previous posts as a “Local Tastemaker” and statistically he represents a VERY miniscule part of the music marketplace with regards to purchasing and behavior, but he is extremely influential.  He goes looking specifically for new music on a regular basis via all those crazy algorithm widgets the different music sites use to “market” new music i.e. the “rabbit hole” and “if you like this then you’ll like this” etc..  He’s the guy you grew up with who had all the cool new records and turned you on to all the music that shapes your life.  Randy is to his friends and family what Thom Doucette was to Gregg and Duane Allman; Thom always had the cool records and to some degree shaped the Allman Brothers Band sound by exposing the brothers to the artists that would become their primary influences.

Cover Songs

Whenever our family gets together, Randy and I try to find a little “geek out” time where we turn each other on to the music we have; he shows me new bands and tracks, I show him what Kelly and I have been producing.  Cover Songs Tastemaker lips imageThis last week, up in WI, Randy and I got into a discussion about lame cover song recordings (you may remember my post “How to Record a Cover”)  In it I encouraged artists to be creative and to avoid the lame artistic act of “re-recording” of a cover song copping the exact same licks, tracks, BGV;s, feel, vibe, etc.  Well Randy turned me on to some covers that were not necessarily released in 2013 but I was certainly turned on to them last week.  So here is a list of the top 10 cover songs (that I was turned on to by Randy this year, LOL).  Check these bands out, very interesting and CERTAINLY artistic!


Top 10 Cover Songs

  1. Ring of Fire – Social Distortion – When you record a cover, especially a well known cover/mega hit song you better bring something different to the table.  Listen to this track and you can definitely hear the stylistic influence of the band.  Yes it’s a heavier version, but it’s so “Social Distortion” and cool it works.
  2. Sweet Child ‘O’ Mine – Luna – Cover Songs Luna Sweet Child imageThis track rocks.  The vibe is totally different.  The feel is different.  The vocal is an octave lower and clearly the singer took some artistic license with regards to melody and phrasing and decidedly DIDN’T try to cop any of W. Axl Rose’s vocal licks which is refreshing.  Also note that the band eliminated the break down “Where Do We Go Now” portion of the song, it’s these kinds of structural and sometimes melodic artistic licenses that make a cover special
  3. All Mixed Up – Red House Painters – Cover Songs Red House Painters imageWow, this version really spotlights the desperation in the lyrics…it’s almost hard to believe it was a pop song.  I dug this band so much, I listened to more and the Red House Painters CRUSHED it with this next cover.
  4. Long Distance Runaround – Red House Painters – Once again, the Red House Painters bring a very different perspective to a very popular song.  So creative and cool.
  5. Little Wing – Stevie Ray Vaughn – ok so I definitely knew about this cover, but it came up in my conversation with Randy this last week.  This was just such a good idea and so well done, I had to include it.Cover Songs R U A Tastemaker image
  6. Stairway to Heaven – Stanley Jordan – While we’re on the subject of instrumental versions of popular songs, here is a great one with Stanley Jordan.  Enjoy it.
  7. Solitary Man – Crooked Fingers – This is an interesting interpretation, completely different!  Mostly Banjo and a horn section…crazy.  Great song by Neil Diamond.
  8. Miss You – Mirwais – Cover Songs Mirwais imageThis is a killer version of this classic.  TOTALLY Different!  I enjoyed this immensely!  Have fun!
  9. Raspberry Beret – Hindu Love Gods – This track features Warren Zevon on vocals and the members of R.E.M. in the band.  Here is where you can get away with almost any instrumental arrangements if your vocalist is stylistic enough to make people forget about the original track!
  10. Any William Shatner Cover – You either like this or hate this, but this is a very strong example of someone bringing their very stylistic approach to some killer songs and making an effort to create a vastly different perspective.

With any cover song, the most important part of the equation is YOU as an artist!!  Not how well you can cop the original tracks man!  Happy New Year and I hope you enjoy these as much as I did!  May you all get closer to your dream in 2014!

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What’s Your Frame Of Reference?

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By Johnny Dwinell

What’s your frame of reference?

What’s your frame of reference? Your frame of reference dictates your experiences, perceptions and, subsequently, will dictate your decisions and strategic planning. If you want to be successful in any business (especially the music business) you need to ensure that you have an accurate frame of reference. As human beings (especially in the music business), we develop feelings towards certain viewpoints and perceived situations that are certainly strong but often based on inaccurate information. Once you have an accurate frame of reference, it’s quite amazing how much your thinking process will change, which changes your decision-making process, which changes how people respond to you, which changes your experiences, which determines your level of success.

So let’s demonstrate how MUCH a change in your frame of reference can completely reverse your mood, perception, outlook, and the ensuing action you take to deal with a situation. I have a phenomenal story that will exhibit my point precisely. You should know this never happened to me directly, rather I heard it at a seminar and to make the story work, it must be told in the first person, so allow me to do so now.

Frame of Reference

When I first started my new sales job I put up a vision board to remind me and motivate me towards my long and short term goals. One of the pictures on my awesome vision board was a photo of my dream car, the holy grail on the whole board, a new model cherry red Corvette Z06. For 3 years I tirelessly worked, looking at that vision board every day and day-dreaming about the day I would get my prize, that amazing driving machine. Well, that day came. HOLY CRAP, was I excited!! This was the ultimate trophy of my hard work. Purchasing this car meant that I was a success and I executed my business affairs with precision. I worked hard every day and saved every week to afford this reward. I EARNED THIS CAR! So there I am at the dealership, finalizing the deal, my heart pumping harder and harder in anticipation of getting behind that wheel. Then it happens and I proudly drive off the lot.

My first thought was to take it up to Mulholland Drive on the very top of the Hollywood Hills. The weather was lamborghiniperfect, my windows were down, there was absolutely no traffic, I was CRANKING my premium sound system. You couldn’t possibly knock the smile off my face. I was savoring every second of my victory and the incredible views of the L.A. basin and the San Fernando Valley that Mulholland provides. Then I came around a bend and saw a kid ahead in the distance. It looked like he was holding an object of some sort and he was definitely staring at me. As I drove closer, I could see the object was actually a huge rock. This kid was maybe 15 years old. I was wondering why he had a rock and why was he staring at me? As I drove closer, a minor panic attack set in as I witnessed this punk cock the arm that was holding the huge rock. I was in such a good mood, it just didn’t occur to me that this kid had any bad intentions. I didn’t want to believe it. Yes, his eyes never left my brand new vehicle. What the hell was he doing? Playing with his friends? Trying to toy with me? Trying to scare me? He didn’t look thuggish at all so I still couldn’t connect the dots.

Then it happened. BOOM! That punk ass kid hauled off and LAUNCHED that rock at my brand new cherry red Corvette Z06. Life surreally went into slow motion. There was nothing I could file000996461003do! I felt so VIOLATED even before the rock hit. He had been tracking me for at least a few hundred yards waiting for me to get close enough to ensure that the rock was going to hit its intended target: my trophy!! It seemed to take forever as I watched the rock fly towards me with a perfect arc. This kid had a good arm! It first hit on the hood of my beloved ride, chipping the paint and skipping off to CRUSH my windshield.

WTF!!! I STOOD on the brakes and pulled the car over. My face was as red as a chili pepper! As I got out of the car I looked at this kid and noticed he wasn’t running or laughing. I turned to my right to survey the damage from the rock. I went from feeling absolutely dumbfounded to unbelievable hostility. I wanted vengeance! At this moment, I turned to my left, my eyes on fire, sweating, breathing heavily and TOTALLY charged up on adrenaline. I was gonna walk across the street and throttle this kid. I was prepared to chase him FOREVER and beat him within inches of his life. This kid knew this, too, but he still wasn’t scared; he still wasn’t moving. Why wasn’t he scared? I walked towards him with a Sasquatch-like gait, my fists clenched so hard I could have turned coal into diamonds from the pressure! I was staring this kid down, blind from rage, he wasn’t moving. All I could think of was how exactly I was going to kill this kid and why the hell wasn’t he scared?

I got right up in this punk’s face and just started screaming at the top of my lungs. “What the hell is wrong with you? I’m gonna KILL YOU, YOU *$&%@ SON OF A BITCH!!! I just bought that car!!! Do you have ANY IDEA how much I worked to EARN that car??”

He responded, “You don’t understand, I think my friend is dying! He’s definitely injured. He lost control of our car and went over the ledge.” He pointed down the steep hill off the side of Mulholland. He enthusiastically continued, “I tried to flag people down several different times and nobody would stop. Throwing the rock was the only way I felt I could get your attention, PLEASE HELP US!” In those four sentences my frame of reference completely changed from one of rage and violent hostility to absolute compassion as I dialed 911 to help those poor kids.


When I heard that story, it blew my mind. This kid tried and failed several times to bring the necessary attention he required to get someone to perform for him in a fashion that would hopefully save his friend’s life.

Do you have accurate information on how the music business really works?

What’s your frame of reference on your career?

Are you angry and frustrated because you thought it would be easy?

Are you overly confident about your abilities and turning people off?

Are you working hard enough to get the attention you need?

Maybe you need to start throwing rocks.

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12 Steps For Buying Martian Milk

12 Steps For Buying Martian Milk feature

By Johnny Dwinell

My favorite question to ask aspiring artists and songwriters is: “Do You Really Have a Plan?” and what EXACTLY is it? How EXACTLY are you going to make a living as an artist? This question is always good at separating the wheat from the chaff or in this case the real musicians from the people who just want to be famous. I have come to understand that people don’t have enough common sense in this world; however, there seems to be an epic famine of it in the music business. The weight and importance that comes with any individual’s dreams and aspirations of “making in the music biz” seems to be proportionately offset by their most ridiculous and bizarre battle plans/fantasies to achieve this noble goal. I am constantly AMAZED at how most artist’s/songwriter’s success strategies have some component that requires “winning the lottery” as a key action item necessary for success. Winning the lottery!!!


Yes, like 22 planets HAVE to align at a precise time, all the rivers have to turn purple, and monkeys have to fly out of my butt for their plan to actually work. I don’t depend on that for my existence and neither do you! I’m certainly NOT going to depend on that for my future; especially the future of something as important to me as my music/business aspirations and dreams.

I have found that sometimes it is quite beneficial to compare the most complex far-reaching plans of action to the simplest ones that we take for granted every day to maintain a good perspective with regards to process and simple steps. So let me know what y’all think of this one!

12 Steps For Buying Martian Milk

12 Steps For Buying Martian Milk

Some of you are already thinking this is ridiculous, but hear me out. Imagine we meet a Martian, who has a BIG DREAM of buying milk. Regularly purchasing milk is his dream because with continued access to milk our Martian friend can actually build a spaceship to get home where his soul will be saved on Mars. So you need to explain to your Martian the exact process that he would have to take to not only successfully purchase milk, but also make the task repeatable. Remember, as remedial as this sounds, there was a time when you didn’t know exactly how to buy milk, either. Now it is so habitual you don’t even think about it. I stand by the mental exercise because for professional musicians, the methods they use to make a living are so habitual that they don’t even think about it.

I would break it down like this:

  1. First, the Martian would have to consistently work a day job so they can afford to purchase milk. Working consistently every day, means he can afford to purchase a gallon of milk. Remember, if he works one week, and gets that gallon of milk, then takes off the next week, he won’t have money to buy milk next week. Consistent work is paramount here. Who we are and who we become will ALWAYS be based on what we do consistently, NOT random events or luck.
  2. Next, the Martian would then have to actually BELIEVE that they could acquire this gallon of milk or he would just go through the motions and quit at every little speed bump. I would have to assure him that the dream is TOTALLY doable as long as he has a solid, intelligent, executable plan to make it happen.
  3. Next the Martian would need to stop talking about buying milk and get off the couch (exert some energy and forward progress) and somehow travel to a place where they actually sell milk.
    1. They don’t sell milk at Tiffany’s
    2. They don’t sell milk at Jiffy Lubes
    3. They don’t sell milk at Levi’s Outlet Stores
    4. They don’t sell milk at Home Depots, etc.
    5. They don’t sell milk at the Wells Fargo Bank
    6. He shouldn’t bother with these places. It IS POSSIBLE that he may find somebody randomly selling milk at these places but HIGHLY unlikely, so why base his return home on such a “low percentage shot.” I would recommend that the Martian stick to the grocery stores even if all his Martian friends are telling him they heard from a friend who heard from a friend who abducted a milk expert back in the 70s who said that you could go to these places. We need to focus on what’s happening NOW and where file9411272063260you find milk TODAY.
  4. I would tell him that you then have to walk into the grocery store and go all the way to the back, because that’s where they always stock the milk. This is a tall order for a Martian.
  5. I would encourage him to hold his head high and persevere through the anxiety and temptation while navigating through the chaos of people with their carts (who are undoubtedly STARING at my Martian friend causing self-esteem issues because he’s noticeably green), the terrorists on the motorized scooters who are out-to-get-you, the super hot honey-babies who could melt all the frozen stuff, the peanut butter, the Oreo cookies, the smelly people. He MUST forge through to physically grab the gallon of milk.
  6. I might have to restore confidence with my Martian if he went to the store during some kind FEMA-grade national disaster and there was no milk on the shelves! He would undoubtedly incur a faith crisis of some sort seeing as how I had PROMISED him that he could find milk at the grocery store!
  7. Then assuming the milk is in stock one day, he would need to also plot a course back through the same gauntlet of people and temptation towards the front where the checkout line is to complete the task of buying his first gallon of milk.
  8. I would explain that the checkout is where his 1st victory will occur, thus, the anticipation and excitement will certainly begin to settle in. I would further counsel him on how to contain himself because he is not done yet (as the milk is NOT quite purchased yet…or as my mother always says “It’s not soup yet”). After all, there may be a line, especially if he shows up on Friday after 5pm. So patience and a will to complete the task will be necessary here.
  9. I would also have to comfort him after getting right up in the line, the 1st one behind the person currently checking out (everybody is still staring at him like he’s a Martian or something), he’s breathing heavily, his excitement is growing only half as much as his nervousness only to get delayed even more. PRICE CHECK!!! (So close, yet so far away…) I would tell my Martian friend that he needs to wait and NOT bail out (when he is so close to purchasing the milk that his dreams depend on) solely because some lady makes him wait FOREVER so she can price check every item in her dangerously overflowing shopping cart by deploying all the store employees on search and rescue missions. I would have to talk him off the ledge again while this crazy woman is still making him wait longer by writing a check in 2014 that takes forever to process, then while she conscientiously enters every digit into her checkbook transaction log, puts her pen carefully back into its proper place, and then puts the checkbook itself back into its appropriate pocket in her purse (which of course she will have trouble finding).

10. Now!! It’s here! HIS TURN IS FINALLY UP! But wait, he would absolutely need to bring something to the cashier in exchange for the milk; his money. “You see, the grocery store is in the business of selling milk,” I would say to my Martian friend. “They don’t care that you’re the REAL Martian that America would surely love if they put one million dollars into marketing him, and they don’t care that you need this milk to get home. It still costs money if you want to purchase the milk, no matter how real or how amazing your circumstances.”

11. I would tell him that if he wants to create lasting relationships with people and companies that are important to his dream he would need to provide some VALUE for them, something more than a back-end performance-based deal. Their company consistently performs in this space and he has yet to prove that he can perform, much less perform consistently; AND he has yet to prove that his performances have value in the marketplace!

12. Next I would tell my Martian friend, after all the work and anxiety that he had to go through to get his milk, that he will have to do that EVERY WEEK if he really wants to get home.

So where do you have to go to buy your milk?

What are YOUR exact steps needed to execute your plan?

What are you doing on a consistent basis to move your agenda forward?

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Percentages and Branding

By Johnny Dwinell

I hate to say it but even though it is easier than ever before to make a living as an artist these days, artists are starving more and more in large part because they suck at business.  The most iconic Percentages and Branding team building imageartists we cherish today are literal business titans as well musical geniuses; they understand percentages and branding.  Artists like Madonna, Bono, Sting, Bon Jovi, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Daft Punk, Deadmau5, etc. truly understand how to operate as a business and what percentage is required to give away in exchange for an opportunity to grow the brand.  They also have a talent for team building which is a requirement to any success story.  Even with a huge record deal, do NOT underestimate the vital business necessity of team building.


Percentages and Branding

Think about Levi Strauss for a second.  Everybody is aware of Levi’s.  Hell, back in the cold war days one could make a fortune selling boat loads of Levi’s to the sheltered, ravenous-for-Western-culture residents of the U.S.S.R.  Levi Strauss & Co Percentages and Branding Levi imagedelivered the first pair of blue jeans in 1873 after Jacob Davis (not from the Levi Strauss family), a tailor who regularly purchased bolts of denim cloth from the Levi’s wholesale house, came up with the idea of using copper rivets to reinforce the main stress points of pants (such as the pocket corners and the base of the buttonfly) after one of his customers constantly came in to reinforce torn pants with the cloth.  Jacob Davis couldn’t afford a patent for his idea so he wrote Levi suggesting that they go into business together and they obviously came up with a plan to split the percentages.  I’ll bet this plan was heavily weighted in favor of Levi Strauss as they were taking all the risk by putting up all the capital to pay for the patent.

Here we have a symbiotic relationship where 2 separate entities work together to create something great and have to somehow split the profits.  Next, we need to remember that there was no internet so how on earth would you expose your brand to the masses across the United States in 1873?



Think about this using your business brain for a second in today’s world.  If you can graph-backgroundpurchase a set of Levi’s from Wal-Mart for $38, and we know that Wal-Mart requires a profit to be made, how much do you think Levi’s sells the jeans to Wal-Mart for?  Back at the beginning of the 1900’s the biggie distributor was Penney’s (A.K.A. J.C. Penney)  Levi’s HAD to sell to J.C. Penny to get their product exposed and out into the market place.  It was much later AFTER the brand was solidly constructed that Levi Strauss began opening “Outlet Stores” where consumers felt they got a discount and Levi’s not only took 100% of the money (saving on distribution percentages) but also ONLY sold Levi’s.

You see, if you get a record deal the major label is going to try to take about 91% of the revenue created from record sales; this was standard back in the glamor days of the music business.  The sad reality is that Kelly and I have many friends who are/were famous stars selling millions of records and they never made a dime selling records, they only made money touring.  So why on earth does everyone always feel they have “made it” once they get the deal?  Why would you want a major label deal when you could make far more revenue selling 50,000 units yourself that you could selling 700,000 with major label??

Worry About What You Are Getting Paid

I was thinking of this after remembering a couple separate business deals that never came to fruition because the artists got hung up on percentages of possible future revenue.  They were laser focused on what they were going to be paying out vs. what they were going to make.  I created these deals to deliver DSC03525-Brevenue only on the back end (mostly because the artists were broke) so anytime the artist was making money, we were making money.  In other words, if we generated $10 of gross revenue, and we each got $5 a piece, then the artist had $5 that he didn’t have before, right?  The common response to this proposal was “I have my heart and soul into this project, I can’t give you 50% to market it, man.  It’s not you; it’s the principle of the matter”.  Currently each of these artist’s principles, along with $2.54 is good for a coffee at Starbucks and nothing else; they have each sold ZERO copies but thankfully retain 100% of absolutely NO pie.  It was funny, one of the artists argued that all his friends, none of whom had ever had a record deal (thus no frame of reference on how that all works), told him the 50% back end percentage was too much (WTF, if I was Warner Bros offering to take 90% they would have all said YOU MADE IT MAN!).  Another artist argued that if he hired me to sell light bulbs he wouldn’t be paying 50% on the back end, which is true.  But then again everyone is familiar with a light bulb and nobody is familiar with this artist.

There is a difference between branding and simple sales, exposure and distribution.  Most artists don’t get this.

Do you?

My advice to y’all is that if you can hook up with anyone willing to work at exposing and selling your CD’s for a percentage on the back-end; that makes your deal “performance based”.  This means that everyone makes money together or you don’t make money together.  Performance based contracts ensure that the entity providing the service is “putting their money where their mouth is” by basing their compensation on their ability to create revenue as very few people will put the time and energy into a project without realizing some kind of compensation.

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How Do You Want To Be Perceived?

how do you want to be perceived feature

By Johnny Dwinell


How do you want to be perceived?


IMG_1672Do you want people to see you as a great artist?  A great writer?  Innovative?  Intelligent?  On the way up?  A survivor?  A maverick?  An icon?  Maybe an outlaw?  We artists always think about how we want to be perceived in the very best way; with huge dreams and aspirations.  We imagine ourselves at the top with all the trappings that come with huge success, like money, influence, adoration, etc.



How ARE you actually being perceived?  What do people think of you right now?  Do they perceive you as you want to be perceived or are you experiencing frustration, friction, doubt, condescension, how do you want to be perceived Bang Head Here Poster imagealienation, and overall lackluster and underwhelming feedback?  Wow, those are heavy thoughts, man, but as artists we are always hardest on ourselves and react to the negative inner voices which are a constant hurdle.  Ugh, it’s a daily battle for me at least, I promise you!

You see it’s the thoughts we focus on consistently and the work we do consistently that determines what exactly we achieve, which in turn dictates how people REALLY perceive us.  We can’t get a reputation based on future possibilities; on what we want to be.  We can only get a reputation based on the work we have accomplished; which is where we are right now.

To accomplish any artistic work we have to be courageous enough to be imperfect and anal (crazy?) enough to constantly search for perfection; quite the dichotomy, no?  We all have to take that first step of faith even though we can’t see the whole staircase; because I 20hISzX7promise you that you will NEVER see the whole staircase!  Think about this, the reality of your existence is never what you planned it would be; any well thought out, intensely prepared effort towards some goal never goes according to the plan.  David Lee Roth accurately described the “Law of Rock & Roll” by saying Murphy completely underestimated the problem!  To be effective at managing the constant change in life (especially the online music business which is a constantly moving target) you have to be smart enough to know that you don’t know (or at least smart enough to know that you did know yesterday, but today the game has completely changed).  You have to be secure enough to admit that you don’t know (to yourself as well as others).  Finally, you have to be smart enough and secure enough to seek and accept help where a change is required to get one step closer to greatness.  Those that don’t, simply get lost in the din and never really rise to a level where they can make a living at the art they enjoy so much.

That’s really sad, but totally preventable!

You have to work harder than anyone else, and truly understand that while creating great art is paramount to your highest dreams, ensuring people are exposed to it is also mission critical too.  After all, it is only after people are exposed to your art that they will develop a perception of you and your art, right?

Re-evaluate your process for creating great art; constantly tweak this.  Then, realize that exposure is the next MISSION CRITICAL step to influencing perceptions.

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10 Music Marketing Facts

Music Marketing feature

By Johnny Dwinell

Here are 10 facts for your consideration with regards to the music business, marketing your music, and overall perspective on what some of your favorite stars had to go through to “make it.” Even back in the heyday of the record business, it still required hard work, y’all. You would also be surprised to learn how many of your favorite history-changing iconic records wouldn’t, and almost didn’t, happen because of marketing snafus. Bottom line is that you need more than just an epic record to make it.

10 Music Marketing Facts For Your Consideration


  1. Guns & Roses Appetite For Destruction – was released and available to the public in 1987; the firstMusic Marketing American single was Welcome to the Jungle released in October, 1987. The record didn’t “break” until 1 full year later. After 1 year of hard work, the Geffen Records marketing machine wasn’t getting the traction that it wanted partly because MTV refused to play the 1st single video Welcome to the Jungle. This record was just about to be considered “Dead on Arrival” when A&R executive Tom Zutaut pled with label owner David Geffen to throw some weight around and somehow get MTV to play Welcome to the Jungle. David finally acquiesced and got MTV to add the video to their after-hours rotation. It was played once on a Sunday morning at 3am; the phones LIT UP at MTV and the rest is history. If it hadn’t been for the one phone call David Geffen made, that record never would have broken through. This is proof positive that it takes far more than simply recording one of the best records ever made to reach an audience. If you build it you have to TELL THEM ABOUT it before they will come!
  2. Van Halen – recorded a demo that was passed on by every record label –  TWICE!!! Gene Simmons from Music MarketingKiss produced and shopped a demo (with On Fire and Runnin with the Devil from the first record on it) and then bowed out after Kiss’s management told Simmons that they had “No Chance” of making it. Then Warner Bros. label head Mo Ostin and Ted Templeman (who would become their producer) saw them live and decided to take the risk and sign the band. Proof that relationships are just as important as good music when it comes to creating momentum (this would have been the third time Warner Bros. took a serious “look” at Van Halen). This proves that Van Halen’s lane was not in the studio as much as it was a “live” phenomenon. Once they were able to get some execs to see them live, they got it.
  3. KISS – was signed to Neil Bogart’s Casablanca Records in 1973 and released their first effort Kiss in 1974. Music MarketingWhen that record failed to gain traction in the marketplace, they quickly came off the road to record Hotter than Hell also released in 1974. When that record failed to sell well, Kiss was pulled off the road immediately to record their third release Dressed to Kill which contained Rock and Roll All Night and fared a bit better than Hotter Than Hell but still didn’t sell well. At this point Kiss and Casablanca Records were almost bankrupt. The band’s records sold poorly but they were definitely developing a reputation as an amazing live show. So, in a “Hail Mary” fashion the band released Alive! (their pseudo live record) with the intent of capturing the live show on tape. It did just that and not only saved the band but also saved Casablanca Records. Proof that hard work, perseverance, and grit was mission critical to Kiss’ success.
  4. George Michael George was a HUGE multi-platinum (25 million records) international star with the early 80s duo called WHAM! before he shot to superstardom as a solo act with his amazing first solo effort called Faith which sold 25 million copies worldwide. In between George’s first record, Faith, and his second solo record Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, CBS records was purchased by Sony. As a result, his trusted friend and artist, beloved label executive, Walter Yetnikoff, was let go. George had a “Key-man Clause” in his contract with CBS stating that if Walter left for any reason, George’s contract was null and void. Also during this time, George wanted his audience to focus on the artistic quality of this latest effort as opposed to his ass in a pair of jeans. He refused to appear in any videos to promote the record. The new label head, Tommy Mattola, was miffed not only that George wouldn’t appear in any videos to promote the record but also because he felt slighted that George had no interest in even giving Tommy and Sony a chance to work with him. As far as George was concerned, the Japanese and specifically Sony had no clue about “art” and he didn’t want to participate in any business arrangement with them. The result was arguably George’s masterpiece. Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 sold half as much as the predecessor Faith simply because Sony sat on it and refused to market it. HE WAS FAMOUS ALREADY AND FANS LIKE ME DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THE NEW RECORD WAS RELEASED. Again, the lesson is that you need to create great art, and then someone has to tell people about it; which means…it has to be marketed! Gasp!!!
  5. Winger If you listened to our podcast interview with Paul Taylor, you would know that Paul met Kip Winger when they toured together in Alice Cooper’s band. Their demos were passed on by every record label multiple times before Alice’s producer, Beau Hill, agreed to produce the band. BOOM! Atlantic signed them. Proof that it takes more than good music to get that elusive record deal! Work on your relationships!
  6. Bruce Springsteen Bruce recorded Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., his first major label release, for Columbia in 1973. After he slaved over that record and handed in the masters, Clive Davis told Bruce that he didn’t hear any singles they could use on the radio to promote the record and told Bruce to write some more before he would release the record. Consequently, Bruce quickly wrote Blinded by the Light and Spirit in the Night both of which were released as singles (and didn’t do that well, FYI). Manfred Mann’s Earth Band covered Blinded by the Light and it went to #1 in 1977. This proves to me that Bruce, who was young and real smart, knew enough that he didn’t know and went back to the drawing board to give the label what they requested to promote the first record. While it didn’t do much to help the first record, it certainly paid off in the end. You can never go wrong doing a little more work. Ultimately Billboard Magazine named Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. #398 of the top 500 records ever recorded in large part due to the last songs he wrote and recorded for that record.
  7. Sony Purchase of Columbia Pictures Entertainment and CBS Records Wanna know why Sony purchased these 2 hugely expensive assets back in the late 80s? The Betamax video tape format. Sony ignored the first of the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, The Law of Leadership; it’s better to be first than to be better. Sony believed that because their Betamax format was (arguably) better than VHS, consumers would naturally pick Betamax over Phillips’ VHS format. Subsequently Sony was not so quick to license and release uncut movies in their original format on the Betamax platform, and Phillips was. For the first time, people could own their own copies of movies but mostly on VHS, so consumers chose the VHS. Sony spent $1 billion dollars developing the Betamax and lost. Buy purchasing CPE and CBS Records, they ensured that whatever new “widget” they come up with next would have plenty of entertainment titles to flood the market and ensure that time-to-market was expedient.
  8. In 1991 Columbia Re-Signs Aerosmith to a $30 Million Dollar Deal ($8 Million Signing Bonus) While the Band Still Owed Geffen Records 3 Releases Wha? That’s right, why would a label exec with common sense make a deal like that? Who knew if Aerosmith would be relevant or even alive after 3 more releases and tours? Answer: the Aerosmith Catalog. Remember Aerosmith’s Truckville commercials for Dodge with Just Push Play? The band received $1.8 million + 1 car for each of the band members in exchange for 1 year of licensing. I don’t even want to know what they got for this Nissan Commercial with Dream On. Cha-CHING!! These are the publishing cash registers. Are you taking advantage of this on YouTube?
  9. Def Leppard’s Hysteria Def Leppard got their deal and released On Through the Night then got some Music Marketingtraction with High & Dry which sold about 250,000 copies on the strength of Bringing on the Heartbreak. Deeply in debt to their record label, they went into the studio to record Pyromania which was a history maker and history changer. They made enough money to satisfy the debt to the label for all three records and make a nice profit. Wanting to move away from Mutt Lange’s lengthy and arduous production methods and Mutt citing exhaustion, the band signed Bat Out of Hell co-writer, Jim Steinman, to produce Hysteria. Then, they changed their mind when they realized that Steinman’s different production methods would alienate their audience and went back to Mutt Lange. Def Leppard still had to PAY Steinman AND Mutt Lange. All this on top of the fact that the drummer lost his arm when he lost control of his Corvette. Bottom line; the band was so in debt just for Hysteria that they needed to sell 5 million copies to break even. Talk about GRIT!!! Hysteria went on to sell more than 20 million copies worldwide and is still their best-selling record to date. BTW, Pour Some Sugar On Me was a last minute addition; it almost didn’t make it on the record. I submit this is as proof that you need to get off the couch and get to work. Even after you get the deal, the “dice are still tumbling”. Could you handle adversity in your artistic career like that?
  10. Zac Brown Band Did you know that Zac Brown had been playing more than 200 dates a year since 2002Music Marketing LONG before he was ever signed? He opened a music club/restaurant with his father called Zac’s Place in 2004 (Zac was the chef so enter 90 hour work weeks plus the band duties). A developer purchased the restaurant; and the band used the profits to purchase a tour bus and get back on the road. The band couldn’t get any attention from the labels who told Zac that he was “too county for pop” or “too pop for country” until they sold a TRUCKLOAD of self-released CDs on their own. Consequently, when the majors started to pay attention, Zac Brown came to the negotiating table with a HEAVY HAMMER and has one of the best record deals in town which includes his own label imprint called Southern Ground. This is how you need to do it today people. HARD WORK is required to make yourself a success. Nobody is going to press the “EZ Button” and do it for you!


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How To Deal With Rejection

Rejection Feature

By Johnny Dwinell



We all fear rejection, we all could learn better ways on how to deal with rejection.  Men especially fear not only rejection but also commitment.  As the buyer, a man is reluctant to purchase anything out of fear of commitment.  As the seller, a man is afraid to ask for the sale because he’s afraid of rejection.  If you think about this for a second, it’s amazing that men ever get any business done at all!!  How in the hell did we ever evolve to this level of society with these common social traits?!?!

Rejection LogoTruth is we all have to deal with rejection every day with every aspect of our lives.  I thought I would share a couple (hopefully) helpful ideas, strategies, and anecdotes that you may use as “social tools”, for lack of a better word, to aid you in dealing with rejection.  Once put in the appropriate light, once put in the proper frame of reference, rejection really isn’t so bad and actually becomes quite easy to deal with.  It is truly freeing to your soul.


We all want to be loved; ESPECIALLY artists!  We all need acceptance; ESPECIALLY artists!  It’s such a primal human need that it is literally the cornerstone to all social media companies and all social media marketing; create a tribe.  So I definitely get that what I’m about to describe to you may feel quite difficult to execute on a daily basis; maybe downright incomprehensible.  Good News; it’s literally a muscle and the more you use it, the stronger it gets.  Before you know it, you are behaving subconsciously at a higher level than most and you feel far better about yourself; you will have more clarity.

I submit to you that while I am quite sure there are thousands of studies, published papers, and blah, blah, blah, I am writing strictly about my own experiences in life on this one.  I LIVE by these ideas every day.  I believe that in some instances they keep me from climbing a tower with a gun!  They have always been SUPER effective for me in that I don’t lose sleep over someone rejecting or being aggressive towards me and I have become quite adept at diffusing such situations which just makes for a happier existence.


NO ONE can make you feel like an A-hole without your permission

When I first heard this idea articulated to me in thisdevon 012 language, it clicked.  Confucius says “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear” so maybe I was ready to receive this information.  It’s quite amazing (and in some cases entertaining) to watch people’s reaction when you DON’T react to their attacks.  When someone comes at you verbally and you say nothing while simply staring at them with a “What-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you” look on your face, they will inevitably spin out even more; especially if it’s the first time you have behaved in such a way to a particular person.  Listen, when you are being belittled or attacked, simply remind yourself, while the panic starts to set in, that YOU are giving them permission to make you feel bad.

Ask yourself, “Am I coming from a good, honest place?”

Ask yourself, “Do I owe this person some kind of apology?”

If you answer “yes” to the first question, and “no” to the second question, your attacker is trying to get over on you.  This is how attackers get people to perform for them; intimidation.  It will continue to go on throughout mankind as long as it continues to be effective.  It’s only effective when people allow themselves to be manipulated.  Don’t grant the permission and watch them perform for YOU.


The whole world is made up of essentially 2 kinds of people:

Rejection 2 Kinds of PeopleSome people get their energy organically; from the Earth, Sun, moon and water.

Some people get their energy from other people

Sadly, this truth while not fair, is real and you have to understand it to survive; especially as an artist.  We feel better, we thrive, and enjoy being around people who add to our lives, our creativity, our energy.  We deal with, suffer through, and find ways to tolerate and spend even more energy justifying the people who take our energy.  I have always been naturally protective of my energy.  I won’t just give it away; it’s mine and I only have so much of it.


Right now all of you have begun to categorize some people that you interact with on a regular basis!  You see, recognizing this kind of person is half the battle.  Once we can identify those who exist to consistently take from us we simply know them for who they are.  Dealing with a sack full of Pit Vipers is totally doable once you have identified them as Pit Vipers.  When you stick your hand in the bag and you’re surprised they bit you, it’s confusing, hurtful, scary, and difficult to process.  This totally helps when it comes to rising above any kind of rejection.  Once you have learned who and what they are you can adjust your approach and the amount of stock you put in their opinion.  That’s KEY to your sanity, because someone who takes your energy will NEVER have a supportive opinion for you, it would be detrimental to their livelihood and their energy.  Think about that.

Knowing how to identify these people helps when it comes to denying permission for them to make you feel crappy.

They Have an agenda, what is it?

Everybody has an agenda.  YOU have an agenda as well.  Often times we are being rejected because our agenda isn’t harmonious with someone else’s.  Once we can determine WHY exactly the agendas aren’t similar, it turns the sting of rejection into the peacefulness of understanding.  How nice would that be for you?

I have an example.  I used to work in the electronics manufacturing industry and my clients were the top Aerospace and cutting edge electronic companies.  I worked for a small company who’s founder, David Jacks, was a GENIUS; before he started his company Zephyrtronics, he was the Director of Engineering for Rubbermaid (a 7 billion dollar conglomerate) at the age of 27.  He was the one who taught me this lesson about agendas.  David and his partner had invented a super smart machine that would remove and replace these new processor chip packages called the Ball Grid ArrayRejection BGA Package imageAll our competition’s machines were complicated to operate (requiring 1 week of training even!) due to the cameras and X-ray technology on board: these behemoth machines cost around $150,000 each.  David’s machine was so smartly engineered I could get any receptionist with ZERO assembly skills to operate it successfully the first time and it only cost $14,000.

Easy sell right?

Well my first day of demonstrating this machine I had 3 appointments; I also had 3 HATERS.  WTF?  These guys were ruthless!  I would have a room full of assembly techs who were fascinated by how easy and smart this machine was and 1 guy constantly throwing me under the bus every chance he could get.  When my day was over, I was so confused I called David and vented on the phone.

David picked up the phone eager to hear my first report on his new baby, “How did it go?”

I replied, “Freaking TERRIBLE!!”

David quipped, “Let me guess, you had haters.”

I said, “WOW, how did you know?  These guys were terrible to me! I don’t know if I can sell this thing!  I feel like I wanna drive off a cliff right now!”

David responded, “Calm down, calm down!  Johnny, I need you to think, what was their agenda?”

I said, “F**K their agenda I wanna KILL those A-holes!!  I do not understand how we have a process that is smarter, FAR less expensive, easy to operate, SO MUCH better for the company and these guys not only don’t get it, they are aggressively undermining my attempts to demonstrate it and screwing their company in the process!!”

David said, “Look man, THOSE are the guys who just got their companies to purchase the $150,000 machine!  You get it?  They HATE you because even though you are coming from a good place and trying to help them you are also embarrassing them in front of their colleagues; maybe in a career ending way.  FYI, you are going to have one of those at every stop.  Even if we are coming from a good place, we can inadvertently push people’s buttons and they get wound up.  So one must think when one is coming from such a good, helpful place, what is it, exactly, that would get this person so insane with hostility?”


That changed the whole game and my life.  Once I knew who they were and what their agenda was, they just didn’t upset me anymore.  I was prepared for them!  Extrapolate that to your situation right now.  I’ll bet you have haters because you still believe you can be an artist and the haters gave up; so they really aren’t mad at you even though they are venting on you, they are upset with themselves.  The words coming out of their mouths are for them, not you.  Try pointing that out to one of them mid rant…whoa, be prepared for an explosion!

Rejection From Different Agendas:  Don’t Take it Personally

The other kind of rejection is simply where the agendas are different.  As artists we tend to deal with this one often when we are trying to get a record deal or submitting songs to artists or publishing companies.  Simply put, the label or pub company is looking for “blue solo cups” and you are a “red solo cup”.  Artists tend to get mortally wounded upon rejection and we begin spin out and think “why wasn’t my music good enough” when it had nothing to do with quality and everything to do with the fact that you or your song just wasn’t appropriate for what they wanted.  Think of it like buying a guitar.  If you go to Guitar Center and you prefer Gibson over Fender, it’s not because Fenders suck it’s because you are looking for a Gibson.  I think this concept is important when approaching the post mortem analysis after any rejection.

Haters Don’t Really Hate You

So now, when I encounter a hater, the first thought that goes through my head is that I am not going to Rejection FACT Hater imagereact and immediately give this person permission to make me feel bad unless they can demonstrate some way I inadvertently hurt them or did them wrong, in which case I will rectify the situation and apologize.  The next question I ask myself is what kind of person are they?  Are they rattling my chain to try and steal my energy?  If yes, I blow them off, they can’t have it; it’s not their energy to take!  If the answer is no, then I ask myself what is their agenda?  What am I missing that’s so profound this person feels hostile enough to hate on me or be aggressive?  I almost always can ascertain a reason after a few quick questions (which are always effective when someone is hostile at you) and while it almost always diffuses the argumentative situation and saves me from suffering emotionally, it sometimes even helps the aggressor realize why they are behaving so poorly.

I was thinking about this as I walked my dogs this morning.  I hope it helps you.

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5 Ways To Find Artistic Courage

Artistic Courage feature

By Johnny Dwinell



[kur-ij, kuhr-] Show IPA


1.   the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.

I wholeheartedly disagree with this definition of courage that I pulled from Dictionary.com.  I know I am quite courageous; however I have never been without fear.  I have never taken a huge risk in any aspect of my life, whether it be business-wise or artistically, without some level of fear.  What I chose to rely on was my gut instinct, some intelligence on the risk factor (aka a plan of some sort), and my ability to execute job requirements needed to move forward; but never fearlessness.  I also know for a fact that every brave act, if articulated honestly by the doer, was not without fear, there was some greater cause or duty that had to be done that overrode the “Fight or Flight” mechanism of the Reptilian part of our brain.  Therefore, I would redefine courage (and artistic courage) as the bravery or ability to move forward and experience difficulty, danger, pain, etc., in the face of fear.

Artistic Courage

Courage is simply mission-critical for any artist; I just don’t see how any art can be created and ultimately shared without some level of artistic courage.  The first sign of artistic courage presents itself when we first get onstage in front of people; we are absolutely vulnerable at that moment.  We are courageous when we let anyone listen to our songs as they are our thoughts, feelings, secrets, our TRUTH; again we are vulnerable.  We are quite vulnerable in the face of some kind of perceived judgment on our songs and/or lyrics by critics, or industry professionals.  Some artists deal with this necessity for courage well, and some suffer incredibly every time they need to be courageous, but they still show up.  The artists we know and admire must be courageous otherwise we simply wouldn’t know about them, right?

I think, to a degree, we are all capable of artistic courage but some of us need a little support and momentum to begin really believing; in ourselves, which will ultimately be interpreted in our art.  I truly believe that winners, to be successful, MUST read because knowledge is power; so empower yourself.

Here are 5 ways to jump-start your artistic journey and build up a little more courage, by reading them and then considering some different perspectives on life, work, and the huge undertaking of our artistic efforts.  If you ask around your inner circles, you will probably be able to get your hands on most of these.  If you can’t, I have included links to Amazon so you can get started right away.


“The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Guide To Higher Creativity” by Julia Cameron–

Artistic Courage Artists way imageThis is a book, actually a program of sorts, and when you purchase it you must also get a blank journal; all total about a $25 investment.  When it was presented to me, I was told, “Don’t start this until you can commit to the whole program of 12-weeks”.  It was one of the most amazing journeys of my life.  It requires about 1 hour a day where you write your “morning pages”.  This exercise of writing 3 pages per day essentially teaches you to “get out of your own way” artistically and shut off the censorship component that we all have inside of us.  I LOVE this book and require every one of our artists to read/participate in it.  Every writer here in town has gone through this program and they all speak highly of the experience.  You can purchase this book in any big retailer like Barnes & Noble as they usually have them in stock; it’s pretty popular.  I have provided a link HERE to get it online.  Remember, get the blank journal too!


“The Craft of Lyric Writing” by Sheila Davis –

This book was recommended to me by a Artistic Courage The craft of lyric writing imagefriend back in 1995 who is now a serious hit songwriter.  Again, this book is revered by so many top writers it should be issued to any aspiring songwriter/artist; and YES Kelly and I require all our artists to read it.  I remember finishing this book and completing about 20 or so songs that had been “on the shelf” so-to-speak.  I had been shoving “10 pounds of sand into 5 pound bags” because I was trying to add sections to these songs where the structure didn’t require these sections.  Once I learned about all the different kinds of song structures, it was like an epiphany of sorts.  BOOM!  They all got finished.  I hope you have a similar experience.  This book isn’t as popular as The Artist’s Way so it typically isn’t stocked in the bookstores.  I recommend purchasing it online.  You can get it HERE total investment is about $18.00


“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change” by Steven R. Covey –

This book has been a best seller for decades.  It was published originally in 1989 and has sold over 15 million copies; because it will change your life!  Think of this book as a tool box for learning how to take care of business and stop procrastinating; then apply these lessons to your artistic endeavors.  HERE is the Amazon.com link.  Investment ranging from $3-$7.  Book retailers will almost always have a copy in stock as well.


“Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill –

This is NOT a book about getting “rich” per se.  Artistic Courage Think and Grow Rich imageNapoleon Hill was commissioned to write this book by steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie back in 1908; it was subsequently published in 1937; that was a 29-year research and writing project.  Andrew Carnegie granted Napoleon Hill access to hugely successful business men like himself, Henry Ford, J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, etc. to find out if there were similar traits that made these people more successful than others; and as it turns out there were.  This book is about eliminating negative energy, honoring your imagination, positive thinking, persistence, and several other common traits that contribute to success no matter what your line of work is.  This was an amazing read that is just as relevant today as it was when it was originally published 76 years ago.  You should probably be able to pick this up just about anywhere.  HERE is the Amazon.com link.  Total investment $9.67


“The Power of Positive Thinking” – by Norman Vincent Peale

Best quote: “Action is a great restorer and builder of confidence. Inaction is not only the result, but the cause, of fear. Artistic Courage The Power of Positive Thinking imagePerhaps the action you take will be successful; perhaps different action or adjustments will have to follow. But any action is better than no action at all.”  I think that about sums this book up, don’t you?  My translation you may recognize, creativity is like cooking pasta, throw the spaghetti against the wall, if it don’t stick, KEEP COOKING!  HERE is the Amazon.com link brand new paperback for $7.47


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10 Worst Song Demo Mistakes

Song Demo Mistakes feature

This week I got the call to produce new record for an artist on a NY label.  It was a rush project as they wanted it “in the can” by 1st week of December in time to ship for Christmas.  Mostly the songs were already chosen, however, at the last minute, the label decided they wanted to add 2 more songs to the project.

We put out the word amongst the writing community here that we needed songs quickly as we were planning on cutting in under a week.  Usually this song request process manifests itself in the form of a “Pitch Sheet” of some sort.  The tip sheet will dictate the kind of songs styles and lyrics styles that are needed for any particular project like “Up-tempo party songs” or “Mid-tempo island country grooves” or “ballads” or lately we have seen a lot of “AC/DC songs with country lyrics”.  The tip sheet will also tell the reader who the artist is along with a few other dos and don’ts about song submissions for that particular artist, etc.  Since we didn’t have time for a tip sheet we personally called or texted every writer we knew with specifics on the artist, kind of songs, melodic ranges, and lyric content needed.

After roughly 48 hours, we received just over 250 songs. I sat down this past Saturday to dig into the task of listening. After hearing the first 2 songs, I knew what my next blog was going to be about. I want to share the experience that I had going through all these songs to give you a perspective from the producer side as we try to do our job. I thought this might help you on your future pitches! The intent here is to reveal what goes through a producer’s mind as we have to trudge through so many songs to cut the list from 250 to 15 or so that we present to the artist who then chooses the final list of songs that will be cut on the record. FYI, this is not the most fun part of our job, this part is busy work that we would just as soon get out of the way as quickly as possible. Every job has this component in some fashion or another.


As a producer, I am very familiar with the artist brand and voice. We’d better be, right? We understand the vocal range and we understand the kind of songs the artist gravitates towards. Matter of fact, I was so clued in that I predicted the very two songs we thought would make the record out of the 18 that I presented.

10 Worst Song Demo Mistakes

  1. Long Intros SUCK – all we are thinking about during the vetting process is the DSC_2314melody, lyric, and vibe of the song; and isn’t that what you are selling?  For the life of me, I cannot understand why ANYONE would have a song demo with a 45 second intro; it seems like a lifetime when you have 250 to listen to. If they all had 45 second intros, that would be 187 MINUTES (just over 3 hours) of time we wasted waiting for the damn songs to start! Think about it! What’s the purpose of a long intro on a SONG DEMO? You are trying to sell the SONG, not blow people away with your producing skills. Why make us wait? This is such an annoyance; we had probably 8 songs like this. Every single one of them pissed us off immediately (because we could tell it would be a long one). To some extent, we rendered a poor judgment on the song before we even heard the first verse. Fair or not, this is what happens; foretold is forewarned.
  2. Crappy/Cheap Production – We did come across a (very) few songs with horrible production, cheap demos. We just laughed and ripped on them. They provided a welcome comic relief from the work load we had to complete. How does that make you feel? I will tell you honestly, that you have to compete and compete intelligently in your marketplace. From the first note of crappy production, we are ripping on the demo before we even get to the song. Poor production certainly colors our opinion. Food For Thought.
  3. Wrong Song – READ the tip sheet or LISTEN to the instructions on what the project is requiring. If the producer asks for up-tempo party songs, don’t send ballads. If the tip sheet has an artist with a limited vocal range, don’t send huge songs no matter how good they are. Who’s gonna sing them? Don’t use an opportunity to pitch a certain song as a vehicle to send the producers every song you have. We don’t care (not right now, anyway). We are only looking for the songs we need for THIS project so we can get on with producing it.
  4. Vague/Missing Email Subject Lines – As you might imagine, in about 48 hours I added 250 emails toSong Demo Mistakes my regular daily allotment. As a sender you definitely want to put the name of the artist pitch into the subject line so your song doesn’t get lost in all the traffic. The subject line is how the receiver will find a song among so many emails. That’s called common sense.
  5. You Didn’t Research The Artist Before Sending Songs – In the case of this particular artist, his songs have a very positive message; they are on the bright side as opposed to darker themes. We came across a couple songs about heavy drinking, sex, and adultery that just wouldn’t be right for his brand. Clearly, the writers that sent those have no clue about the artist and simply wasted our time. This doesn’t make a good impression on us about your songwriting no matter how good the song is. In fact, it makes a bad impression on us that you didn’t listen to what we really needed.
  6. You Chose The Wrong Singer – Choose a pro singer for your demo, NOT someone who is your friend or who is half-price. Unless you’re an artist, don’t sing it yourself to save money. FYI, suitable vocal ranges to the intended pitch are very important. It is really hard to hear a big, high, soaring melody an octave lower. We try, but it really is difficult, especially in the face of a 250-song listening session. Those demos with poor singers or inappropriate singers (with respect to the artist) are ignored immediately. Sorry. I strongly suggest that if your song would work down in a low octave as well as a high soaring vocal performance, demo it twice, or at least cut a second vocal so you have something that clearly represents both vocal ranges.
  7. Your Lyrics Aren’t Strong Enough We listened to some GOOD songs with average lyrics up throughSong Demo Mistakes the first chorus. However, the GREAT songs with KILLER lyrics kept our attention through the second chorus…because we just couldn’t wait to hear what the writer was going to say next. Simple artistic curiosity kept us inside that song.
  8. You Don’t Honor The Purpose Of The Recording – What is a song demo supposed to do for the writer, EXACTLY? It is supposed to sell the SONG – specifically the lyric, melody, and vibe of the song. Anything more than that production-wise and you are doing yourself a disservice and frankly wasting money on your demo.
  9. You Over Produced Your Demo I understand the impulse for any writer or artist to do this. It’s really almost a rite of passage. I guess we ALL have to learn “less is more” by doing it. For writers with very little studio experience, you tend to get caught artistically somewhere between a song demo and an epic album track. Stick to the song demo side. DO NOT OVERPRODUCE your song demo! Put BGVs only where they are obvious to lift the chorus. DO NOT put Oohs and Ahhs and fill in some holes with BGVs. Your taste may not be the taste of the person you are pitching to. Don’t add too many guitar tracks or color instruments; keep it as clean and sparse is possible. You really want to leave room for the producer to do their job and take the song to another level. Remember, this should be a solid blue print for a song, not a production idea for a record. Another good reason not to overproduce is that tastes and trends change constantly. We definitely heard a few older demos (like more than 10 or 15 years) with production that was cool and in style 10 or 15 years ago but not cool now. In those cases, the production choices personally took me out of the song for a second or two. If the dated production values were not present, the demo will certainly be more “durable” over time.
  10. Bad Vocal Tuning – Holy cow we had a demo where the damn vocal tuning was borderline Cher! It’s unbelievably distracting! Hire a pro singer, y’all, it really is the way to go if you are trying to compete with the big boys.

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