I just turned 32: That means I’ve been doing music for exactly 22 years since I first picked up an instrument (the drums, in case you were wondering).
By 20th century Pop music industry standards, I’d be totally old and unmarketable, not that I’d still be making “teen-relevant” music anyway since then-major labels would be pushing new acts. But it’s 2015, and I’m not writing music for radio or charts, so I’d like to think that 32 isn’t too old to still be writing music and working in the industry!
To celebrate, I’d love to get into a time machine, zap myself back to 2001, and dish out these 7 music myths to my 18-year-old, unjaded self:
1. Recording is the most difficult part of the album process
It’s not. If you think recording your debut album is the toughest bit when it comes to releasing your first album, think again: Selling it is the most challenging, particularly if you don’t have a plan like what I did before!
Selling your album is the next most important part of the process after recording it. If it goes unheard, sitting in cardboard boxes under your bed, you’ve just all the time and resources you spent putting it together in the first place. You don’t even need a totally in-depth business plan-like plan, you just need a solid plan on how to sell your album/EP, who to sell it to, where it’ll go on sale, and how you’re going to promote it.
You don’t even have to “sell” it at all: If your plan is to give it away for free, then that’s it.
Bottomline: Have a plan, period.
2. Make music that sounds great to you, and everyone’s gonna “get” it
It’s cool to make music that you really like, and especially satisfying if it’s totally leftfield and like nothing you’ve heard on the radio or on Spotify. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t expect people to listen to it, and don’t throw a fit because no one wants to take time out to listen to what you’ve made. Don’t blame mainstream media, radio, or even YouTube because no one goes to your shows. Your music is your responsibility: If no one’s listening to you, there’s a 99% chance that it’s your fault.
Whenever I feel like writing ultra-challenging music and have grandiose dreams of thousands of people listening to it and cheering wildly, I put it to the “Thom Yorke Test™” to make my expectations a little bit more realistic:
Thom Yorke recently put out a song that lasts 18 days. You can do the same, but don’t expect it to make headlines or for people to care: You’re not Thom Yorke.
3. Make music now, build your fan base later
Hole up in your bedroom, record a 5 song EP, put it up on iTunes ($25/year with Tunecore), and watch the dollars roll in right? Wrong.
Anyone with 25 bucks can put their music on Spotify and iTunes these days, and that’s not including everyone else who has their songs streaming for free on YouTube. Do yourself a favor: Write your songs, but instead of spending 100% of your time on them, devote a percentage to connecting with would-be listeners and engaging with folks who are already listening to your tunes. In other words: Get out of your bedroom, meet people and get gigging! Again, you can put this to the Thom Yorke Test:
Thom Yorke has released two solo albums. He doesn’t need to gig at all because he’s Thom Yorke. You can also release two albums before building a fan base, and there’s a really big chance no one’s going to buy or listen to it because: You’re not Thom Yorke.
4. Make trendy music = get famous
If you’re a band who decides to write music that’s all over the radio to get a slice of the action, there’s a bigger chance of you getting gigs and enjoying some popularity, but it will be brief: Radio and trends are married to each other, and by the time you get enough momentum to ride on that trend, it’ll be over and you’ll have to chase another new sound. Create music that you really like and because you really want to, not because you’re after fame, money, or power because there’s a huge chance you won’t get any of those, so you’d better like music A LOT.
This is the nature of Pop music, and is the reason why some of the world’s greatest and most enduring Pop music producers don’t put out their own albums, they’d rather make music for other artists who are OK with having a shelf life.
5. A CD legitimises you
This is totally untrue in 2015. Aside from the fact that anyone with enough demos in his hard drive can fill a 65-minute CD, it’s never been easier to send your songs to an online mixing and mastering service, have it duplicated and sent to your house ready to be sold. If you have $500 and a lot of time on your hands, you can do this.
While the album is itself an art form, and a lot of bands use it as a format for their music, don’t think that having your debut album alone will get you shows abroad, land you a headlining slot at a festival, or make your YouTube video a viral phenomenon. Your CD is a small (though important) piece of a very large puzzle that includes constant gigging, authentic fan engagement, merchandising, music videos, and a whole lot more. Let me say that again: Just because you have a CD doesn’t mean you’ve “made it”, so don’t think that it’s the end. If anything, you’re going to work a lot harder as a band after you’ve released it.
6. Gig less and focus on spending months in the studio
You’re a new band, and you’re still pretty new in the local circuit. The worst thing you can do is to stay out of sight, especially if it’s for an indefinite amount of time.
If you need time to write music, don’t trade all your gigs for studio time or songwriting time: Make separate sessions dedicated to songwriting and rehearsals. In my opinion, it’s always better to have 2 gigs and 2 songwriting sessions than 4 songwriting sessions and a month out of the public eye for your band.
I’ve also been in bands that have been on hiatus to “reenergise”. Coming back after months of being away from those bands never reinvigorated anything at all. In truth, it just slowed us down, led to new musical interests that eventually became new bands, and eventually breakups coming from interests lost. Followers and fans of the band moved on to new music and other bands, and all the music we put out ended up as audio nostalgia, which is fine, but certainly not what you want yet if you’re still a new band.
If you need time out, make it as short as possible and keep your online presence active through new videos, live sessions, and other stuff that your fans want to see.
7. Facebook is forever
We’re in 2015, and the only thing constant since the 90s on the internet has been e-mail. Don’t make the classic MySpace mistake of creating an entire network of fans in a social network without buiding an e-mail list, because when that network goes bust (as they’re bound to do at one point), you’ll have lost a large database of contacts that you’ll never be able to engage with in the future.
Instead of using Facebook or Twitter as a base of all your promotions and contacts, use an e-mail list too, and build it as the years go by. Remember when Facebook Event Invites were king? E-mail lists are as future proof as the internet gets.
Hope you found these useful, as I had to learn a lot of them through trial and error and by fucking up a lot over the course of two decades!
If you’ve got some other music myths to share, I’d love to hear them! Add it in as a comment below.