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October 24, 2020
Industry Insider: 10 Suggestions for Success in the Music Biz - Part 1 PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 29 October 2007 16:42
Image By John McGlasson - GJD Contributor
I spend a lot of my time explaining to artists who send me CDs for consideration why most of them probably don't need a label, and I believe it so firmly now that I'm going to lay out my ten pointers for artists to achieve success, or at least get on the road to it, without help from a label or distributor.

1) Personal Assessment- Look in the mirror and ask yourself; "Am I really good enough to do what I'm trying to do? What sets me apart? Am I unique somehow, or am I a hack?" To answer these questions honestly is the first step to professionalism. Deep down every musician knows the answer to these questions; few are honest with themselves. Try hard to see yourself as the world sees you, as if for the first time. Are you trying to sound like someone else? Is your material pro-level? Are you a strong live performer? Would you buy your own stuff? This is what a label would be asking about you, it's valuable to be able to do this for yourself. It's also important to ask yourself if the life you live is going to allow you to do what it takes to be a pro. I had an amazing player send me a CD who's married with 3 kids, a full-time job, mortgage, the whole bit. There was no chance to ever tour or make the sacrifices necessary, so he had to face that his life choices had pretty much counted him out.

2) Pick Apart Your Playing- Part of this process is self-assessment of your style, performance, and material before you take it to the public on a large scale. The more honestly you can analyze yourself and find flaws in your technique, the more polished your style when be when you record and take it to the public. I can tell you from my experience in listening to hundreds of CDs that I get in the mail from around the world that the things that turn me off right away are weak points in a player's style like bad tone, bad vibrato, ugly bends, bad rhythm playing, overuse of effects, and most of all, outright hackery. As soon as I hear shades of Vai, Malmsteen, or Satriani the CD comes out and goes in the pile, and I can assure you I give people's CD submissions more time than most labels, but at the first sign of obvious imitation, it's over.

3) You Need a Band- There are too many great guitarists out there that seem to use hired guns for touring and recording, and it shows. It's usually very obvious when a drummer and bassist are there to back up a guitarists' masturbatory ramblings, but the truth is, it's boring as hell to watch. People, regardless of style, format, or event, want to see a great band with a strong, solid vibe. Nobody but the guitarist in that band wants to see a drummer and bassist hold back so as not to outshine the guitarist. The guitarists that have the guts to surround themselves with the best musicians they can find, and not restrict them, are the guys who people want to see live. In my opinion, it should never be obvious to the audience that it's a guitarist's band. I also highly recommend that guitarists not just put their name on the cover of the CD, band names are where it's at, and after over 2 decades of constant releases of instrumental guitar albums, there's a stigma attached to it, people for the most part just don't want to hear instrumental guitar albums, outside of the legendary artists of varying genres who made instrumental guitar music great. Even guitarists have shown distaste for new artists in the genre, and sales show it. Look at the greats like Page and Van Halen, it was always the band vibe and the songs that made them legendary. There's enormous value in being an unselfish band member.

4) Don't Believe the Hype- Especially your own. No matter how good your are, you can be sure there's a 300 pound 13 year old kid somewhere who's scared to play outside his room because he doesn't fit the rockstar profile who smokes your ass. So don't have someone write a bio for you that describe you as a virtuoso, the second coming of Vai, or the next Django, even if it's true. I've read a couple bios that came with CD submissions that were so over the top that I must confess I never even listened to the CD, there's just no way some people can live up to their own hype. Humility is huge, and actually draws people in. Let the press describe you. If you're great, it will be known. You can't fake a solid press kit, you have to get great reviews of your album and live shows. People can see right through phoniness in the music biz these days, they can look at a Myspace page and they know if there are 100,000 page views and song plays for a band from Des Moines that nobody in Des Moines has ever heard of that something's artificial, you can buy all that, but you can't buy great reviews no matter what you've heard. Take it from me; the guys at the big guitar mags are tough, they won't risk their credibility on a flash in the pan, though of course there are some exceptions.

5) Make The Album- "Demo" is a word that means nothing in the modern music biz. It used to be common to record short, low-to-mid-quality recordings of an artist's material for submission to labels, then once the band was signed, the label would pay buckets of money to record the album. Now it's on you to make the finished product, and it's gotten a lot cheaper to do so. But I can't stress this point enough; spend all you can and then some on the production. Go to a real studio with a real producer who knows how to do more than just record your songs and mix them. Production is everything. I get way too many CDs from good players who have good material, but there's one drum sound through the entire CD, one bass sound, one guitar sound, and the whole thing sounds like one long song. A good producer knows what instrument, mic, preamp, amp, room, and more to make each part unique. Release control to a good producer and you'll make a much better album. Also, please see #3, don't just hire a good band and tell them what to play, form a band that contributes to the whole package. My favorite album is Jean Luc Ponty's Enigmatic Ocean, an album he made with unbelievable musicians, including Allan Holdsworth. JLP is a violinist, but you'd never know it's a violinist's album. It's so unselfish the way each member is such an obvious contributor, each member gives the performance of their lives, and we're still talking about this album 30 years later. Make an album that's a complete listening experience for musicians and the general public alike, not a guitar seminar.

(6-10 next time!)

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