I have a friend, in his late 20s, who aspires to become a rock star. He sings and writes songs but plays no instruments. He has written at least five double-length albums worth of songs. Most of them are very dark, creepy and/or violent, but that’s intentional. Actually he doesn’t consider his music to be rock, metal, goth, or anything for which a label has yet been invented; and I must agree that it doesn’t sound like any genre with which I am familiar.
Now, the traditional way for him to get started would be to scout out some local musicians, form a band, play some live venues, and try to get noticed by a record label.
But my friend thinks his music is so great and so ground-breaking that he can do it differently: Do studio-track recordings of his songs, submit them to a label, and then let the label pick him out a band from its stable of musicians. Can this work?
I was in a band that was signed and let me tell you they’ll screw you 50 ways till wednesday, but thats not important right now.
First the rules -
Basically the best way to get signed is to know someone. Failing that, you need to play out, and play out a lot. Although there are exceptions, a label usually won’t sign someone who can’t perform live. That means you need a band, (unless solo), equipment, and a place that will let you play. Another huge factor is if you have a following. You need at least some local buzz to even be considered, and if you play to an empty house when they come check you out, it will kill you.
Keep in mind the music industry has little to do with music, your friend better have the looks and body of a model, loads of charisma, and some thick ass skin.
Recommended course of action -
Get a band, and start playing out. Print up shirts and stickers give them out for free. Go to shows of similar types of music (if you sound like Korn go to a Korn show) and give out free CDs to people. Set up a website and have mp3s there. Send music to magazines for them to listen and maybe review. Stand outside Sony records with CDs taped to your body holding a huge placcard that says “SIGN MY BAND I’m HUNGRY!”. Do whatever it takes (legally) to get the name of the band out there and get noticed, it will be your only hope.
Plan for a future unrelated to music, because you have a better chance of winning the lotto, and no matter what you do you will most likely never get anywhere. These people take care of their own, if you ain’t on the inside you’re on the outside.
Trying to tell someone how to get musicians to form a really good band is like telling someone how to get a girlfriend or boyfriend that they can have a good, meaningful relationship with. It’s difficult to do; it takes luck, perseverance, and lots of looking. Some people take out ads in the paper, some people hang out in bars and try to meet people, some people hit up other people at parties. You just have to seek out other people who play, and keep looking when it doesn’t work out, which it probably won’t repeatedly. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your Lennon-McCartney.
Once you do have a band that you’re halfassed comfortable with and vice versa, write music, practice practice practice and play shows. A lot of them. I mean, a lot. You’ll have to play for free at first, mostly at parties and crappy Wednesday night gigs at clubs. When you get a bit more of a following and name and get your style down, you’ll want to record a demo of your songs that you can sell and give to venue owners, and t-shirts, etcetera, and maybe a little DIY press kit that you can send along with the demo. Hitting up club owners and more popular bands for choice opening slots helps a lot too. The rest comes with time and experience, and trail and error…the band may decide it wants to try hitting up minor labels (in an effort to eventually get to the majors), may decide to get a van and tour the country, etc. Shameless self-promotion is an art form that is learned with time.
A final note: if you get a bunch of huge stupid tattoos, be careful where you put them, because you might retire and go into law someday or something stupid like that.
prav, atty at law.
p.s. regarding equipment: When playing shows, no matter where you are, keep an eye on your shit.
You can also have him look for an agent. Most labels refuse unsolicited material, but will deal with material that is referred to them by a reputable agent.
Reputable agents have to be discriminating with what they choose to represent – if they kept approaching record labels and music directors with crap, no one would return their calls any more. So labels, programming directors etc. are more likely to give a listen to something becing recommended by a well-known agent knowing that they’ve already weeded out the bad stuff.
Unlike record labels which will probably toss the recordings out unlistened to, most agents have lackeys that will at least listen to everything to see if there is genuine potential.
Some Entertainment Lawyers will act in this capacity as well (to a degree), and your buddy will definitely need a lawyer sooner rather than later.
Tell him to get All You Need to Know About the Music Business – Written by Donald S. Passman and Confessions of a Record Producer: How to Survive the Scams and Shams of the Music Business – Written by Moses Avalon.
Both of these books are regularly updated to keep them current.
To find musicians, he can put up a flyer in the local music stores, put an ad in the local papers, including local college papers, and whatever arts papers there are. Here’s some from the Village Voice for example. He might even find someone by posting flyers at laundromats and any other place people like him who might be interested in such a thing hang out.
Keep in mind that labels to don’t unsolicited material for legal reasons. They open themselves up to all sorts of lawsuits like if Jay Z has a new song called “I love you”, and I sent a tape 4 years ago with a polka song called “I love you”, they must have stolen it from me. (yes people actually do this)
I doubt they would be able to comb through all the music they would get anyway.
Try an entertainment lawyer, a decent one is about $500 an hour.
No wait, that’s the answer to “How do I get to Carnegie Hall.”
A: Talent won’t do it, but it helps. Hard work won’t do it, but it helps. The advice above (and following I’m sure) is all good–especially the books–but nothing will make it a sure thing. Try everything and when that doesn’t work try it again. Be sure you love what you’re doing, 'cause you aren’t going to make a living at it.
Of course, that was what John Lennon’s aunt (who raised him) told him every day. When he bought her a house, there was a bronze plaque over the fireplace that said: “The guitar’s all very John, but you’ll never make a living by it.”
This is only good until you make some money. If your gear disappears and you make a claim, the first thing they ask is “Do you make money doing this?” It doesn’t matter if you were doing a benefit gig or if the gear was locked in your car in the driveway–if you’ve made money in the last 12 months you’re a professional and homeowners won’t cover your stuff.