Sunday, December 16, 2007

Doing It All…Or Not

So for all of those musicians out there who think that they have to do it all (like me), it's not only easier in the long run to get as much help as you can, you may end up with way better results than if you were to do it all alone. Decide on what your strengths are and try and get help on the areas where you know you are weak. I’m guessing that this may be more of an issue with men simply because they have a harder time asking for help but I’ve found women who fit into this category too. Remember that I’m speaking here from years of experience trying to do it all myself. It’s simply more efficient, more satisfying and cheaper (in terms of time and money) to get others involved in whatever you may be working on.

You also end up making some valuable connections along the way. Not only there is the possibility that someone you know may have other valuable connections that you can use but as far as exchange of ideas and knowledge, there’s no better way to get the inside track on what’s happening. If you have a lack of funds like most musicians, remember the tried and true barter system. Whenever I’ve gotten somebody to work on my material I always made sure that there was something in it for them even when they were just happy to take part. This included credits on the CD, a copy of the finished product, and recommendations to other clients and contacts.

So for example all the songwriters out there, you don’t need to do it all. Find some players to play on your demo. Find someone in your area who’s good in the studio as far as recording and mixing. Having this step alone will save you years. Barter the time that they spend on your demo with singing on their demos. Everybody needs a great singer. If you want to learn to do it all, take it one step at a time. Focus on the songwriting first, get your demo done and learn the skills along the way. I know people who had a hard time getting the exact results they wanted so they decided that they were going to do it all themselves. Most of the work never got done because the learning curve on all of the different skills needed to put together a great CD was just too much. It may be some work trying to find the right people get the sound you hear in your head to tape it but in the end you may save yourself a lot of work and time.

Sometimes You Just Have To...

I’ve had tons of singer come through my studio and sing my songs. Sometimes the results where great but a lot of times they weren’t: it’s all part of the process. A few times I had a song and just couldn’t get the singer to get the sound right. Sometimes you have to just make the best of it. Sometimes it’s more important to get it done than to wait for that perfect performance. It all depends on you and the song but the point is that you want to get it done the best you can within a reasonable amount of time. If you have more time and a bigger budget then you can take advantage and get the premium players. If you don’t have all of the resources at your fingertips, get it done anyway and don’t make any excuses. No matter what the situation, first demo or major label release, some concessions are always going to be have to be made. While some of you may argue with this point, I think that it’s better to get it done and out there than to let it sit on a shelf forever because it didn’t live up to your expectations at the time.

If you're not sure it's always a good idea to get an opinion from somebody that you trust and isn't a fan or a family member. It may be hard to hear the truth sometimes but it's an essential part of the process. Try to find somebody who knows what they're talking about. This doesn't have to be a musician, just a person with great ears. One of the best critiques I got was from an industry professional who didn't play an instrument at all. She told me what was wrong with my song and after listening, I realized that everything she said was right. It was at an industry listening session and after hearing the song, a lot of people commented that they really liked the song and didn't agree with what she said. After listening to the song with fresh ears, I knew that she was right. Take criticism with a grain of salt, try to listen with a fresh perspective and see if what was said applies. Even with people who know what they're talking about, music is an opinion and nobody is right 100% of the time. This step alone is worth the effort. It's this type of thinking that will differential you from the pack. So many people are just happy to get something out that they think that every note is necessary and perfect. If you get the same critique from a couple of different source though, take note! People with great ears may be just as hard to find as a good player but very valuable.

Within A Reasonable Amount Of Time

Keep in mind that I talking about making the best effort you can in making it as good as you can at this point in time. This isn’t an excuse to be lazy, simply make sure that you make the best of what you’ve got. This mostly applies to all of those people out there who take forever to get a project done and even then they're not happy with the results. I've been through this a million times and I've seen it in other musicians as well. Tweaking something to death while trying to do it all is counterproductive. I've also met bands who worked on their CD for the better part of a year and the results reflected all of their hard work. Mostly though I've seen a lot of time wasted on working on material that never sees the light of day being bogged down by people try to do it all. It’s also good to get into the habit of working with somebody as soon as you can because odds are it’s going to come up a lot. If you're a bit of a perfectionist and you know somebody who's eager to get things out there, try to work together. A lot of time their eagerness to get it done will rub off on the perfectionist 'it's not quite perfect yet' and the perfectionist's eye for 'quality and detail' will rub off on the eager beaver's 'just rush through it' attitude. I'm being really general here but you get the idea. Whatever you do, get out there and make those connections. In the end, you will save time and effort over trying to do it all yourself and it may lead to some great partnerships and ultimately some great music.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

You’re A Big Biz Now!

We're A Lot Alike...

When it comes to doing business, corporations have certain ways of doing things. From what we’ve seen of the music business in the last decade, this hasn’t always been the best ways of doing things, but from a pure business and project management point of view though, there are a couple of things that we can learn from them. For one thing, businesses always put together a business plan including all of the financials when they first start out. This may be overkill when first starting a band because initially you may just be jamming and seeing if you gel. Once into a situation where you’ve been together for a while and are planning on going to the next level and plan on getting things done, you should get together and discuss some things. You may want to discuss where you are all at as far as the band is concerned, see what you want to do next and see where people’s priorities are.

On the surface you may not realize it but you have the same issues that a big corporation would have when taking on a new venture. You may be trying to figure out your style and the look and feel of the band. You want to get a demo done and start making some money. You want to set up some shows. You have to get a web site set up. At the very least, you need to have a MySpace page. These are the same things that a corporation has to deal with; they just call it different things. Finding your sound would be their developing a product, finding your look is their branding, making your demo is the same as their manufacturing and the MySpace and website is their marketing. If you look at how they get these things done, it will be easier for you to figure out what to do. Since corporations have big pockets, you may feel that you don’t have much in common but if you look at how they do things, you can learn a lot. For example, when the big labels release a new album, there are a whole series of things that they do before it ever sees the light of day. Yet I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a band booking their CD release party before they even have the CD printed. There should be about a 90 day grace period where you can set everything up before making the official release and having a CD release party.

...With One Big Difference

From a music point of view, I’ve heard this analogy for a long time from industry professionals and never really cared for it. Comparing my band to a soulless corporation took all the coolness out of it. It's just a good idea to keep this in mind when sitting down and making decisions. I actually think it’s better to keep the attitude that your band and music is anti-corporate. That what you’re creating is not some lame dispensable product but your voice: your art. The reason why I bring this up is because when making big decisions and trying to keep organized and get things done, it’s better to approach it with the professionalism of a corporation. If you’ve ever put a CD together or a tour for your band, you’re aware of all of the things that go into making these things a success. It’s so easy to start out without any plans and just jump right in. Ask anyone who’s been on tour though, once you do this the first time, you don't do it again. There's nothing like being stuck in the middle of nowhere with no spare tire, no transmission, etc. You can always tell a band that’s been on the road a lot. They seem to have it all down to an art form: organized, stripped to the bare essentials, and prepared for all the million things that can ( and usually) go wrong.

Lessons From The Road

They are the things in the business world called logistics. That’s all the things that are needed to get you (and your product) from one place to another. Most of the guys that I know who’ve spent a lot of time on the road, including myself, learned the hard way. The first time I went on the road I took so much stuff with me, that I spent half of the time just moving this stuff around. The band I was in was also booked for about 6 months so I left my apartment, put my stuff in storage and was going to find a new place when I got back. Bad idea. The tour ended prematurely and I ended up being homeless for a month. The point is that when you undertake any one of these things, it’s better to be prepared than to just do it tempt the Gods. If you can get material on the subject and most of all talk to bands that have been on the road and ask them about their experiences. You'll be amazed how much you learn. Guaranteed one on the first things they'll say is 'Make sure you don't...' and then go on to tell you some horror story.

Project Management 101

When it comes to project management though, there’s a whole other list of things that you should take into consideration. Right now I have about 5 different projects going on at once. This is nothing new for me and a lot of times it’s necessary. For example if I have the time, I like to have something I’ve completed sit for a day or two before I come back and make any final decisions. If you leave a piece of music for a while, you come back to it with fresh ears. If there’s anything wrong, it’ll usually jump right out at you. I try not to listen to something I’m working on too many times because you tend to fall in love with something after a while. I listen to it once or twice, then make the changes. If you’ve listened to a track too many times, you lose your objectivity. It's called demoitis, falling in love with the demo simply from listening to it over and over.

Let’s start at the beginning. You have the idea for a new demo, new song or new band. The first thing that you should consider is if this is worth pursuing in the first place. Keep in mind that you already have a couple of things on the go and your time is precious as it is. If there is money involved (I mean money now, not the prospect of some in the future) then that my take the highest priority. If you’re making the final adjustments on another project that’s really important to you, you may want to put it off or not do it at all. It may be something you’ve always wanted to do creatively (like tackling a new genre or new instrument) or work with somebody that you’ve always wanted to work with.

There are no hard and fast rules for making these decisions. For example, the two above (working in a new genre or with somebody new) sounds like a no-brainer. Anybody will tell you that it’s always a good idea to work with somebody new to make connections and hopefully make something better than you alone could create. Musicians generally hate to say no to anything, especially more music! The problem is that there is only so much time in the day. Even if you’re young, there’s only so much you can accomplish in a 24 hour period. You might be thinking that you just want just try anything that comes along and see what works out. This was always my thinking. The problem with this is you don’t have any focus and instead of having more opportunities, you end up limiting yourself because you have no real direction.


I remember the turning point for me. I always figured I would become a session musician; playing one- nighters or whatever came up. I practiced a lot and tried to become well versed in many styles. Not a bad plan, right? The problem is that I had been in a couple of projects that were terrible from the very beginning yet I spent time and money (gas mostly) in them anyway, while still pursuing anything else that came my way. I had spent valuable time in a lot of bands with people with attitudes and a lot of flakes. Keep in mind; I don’t think musicians are any more flakey than the general public, they are trying to put something together that does take a lot of personal time and effort.

One day a friend of mine who I had played with before asked me if I wanted to be in this band that a friend of his was putting together. I said sure without even meeting the other guy because my friend was a good guy and I trusted him. Well, I hated it. I didn’t get along with the guy who ran the whole thing but I stuck with it until the end anyway. The reason why I didn’t like the guy was that even though he had put together this CD which wasn’t bad, I didn’t consider him a very good musician and had trouble ‘taking orders’ from somebody who I felt had less talent than myself. Plus, it wasn’t a true band in my sense of what a band should be. The main guy had put together a CD and was looking for a band to play his material. I wanted to be part of a band that wrote together, he just wanted people to take orders. There are times when the above situation could lead to some work, even a tour with a major artist. But for me, it was a bad situation that surprisingly turned into a great learning experience. I decided that if I was ever going to do anything musical again, it was going to be on my terms. That was the last time I was ever in a band that I didn’t put together myself. I learned a lot from this guy. As far as I was concerned he had minimal talent (it was no secret among the band members that he was the least talented player), and was a bit of a jerk. But, he had put together this CD, got a lot of great players to play on it, and got a band to tour with. Not bad. It was because of two major factors; he was organized and he had focus.

Focus..With A Point

Which brings us back to the point in the very beginning; while it’s great to pursue many avenues while trying to make a living and figure out what it is you want to do, it’s vital that you have some sort of focus. If you do have that focus, you will have to turn down some ‘opportunities’ while pursing your personal vision. If you're not sure what exactly that focus is, as soon as you examine what you really want to do, ideas will pop up. If there a couple of things on your list that you'd love to get done, just pick one and get on with it. Make sure though, that whatever you pick, you stick with and see it to it's final conclusion. This guy only did the one thing; he created the CD. Once that was done, he put the band together, and shopped the CD. He was the least talented of all of the musicians yet he had the most success.

From that point on, I decided that I was going to really sit down and decide exactly what it was I wanted to do and I was going to see it through. The next band that I played in was my own. It was a funk band and it was the best band I ever played in. I got the best players that I could and this time it was me who was the ‘worst’ musician. This sounds bad but it’s really a good thing. If you’ve ever played in a band with musicians who are better than you, it can be intimidating but you learn so much and become a better musician way quicker. The bar is raised that much higher. Plus this band rocked. It lasted a couple of years and ended up disbanding because of lack of gigs. I then started a small project studio and opened my doors to songwriters and musicians who wanted to create a demo without the need for a band. I had learned to play numerous instruments along the way (not something that I planned but was well worth it; you can’t plan everything) and became a one stop shop for songwriters. Most of my clients never even played an instrument and I usually had to fill everything in, including the chords. It was another great learning experience. I stopped playing live for a while to focus wholly on this new business. Financially it kept me going for a while but on its own wasn’t enough so I had to augment this with a couple days of teaching a week. I now just work in the studio, focusing on creating the best music that I can.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Why Things Always Go Wrong: You Can’t Predict the Future

The Ubiquitous To-Do List

The problem lies not with the technology itself but the utilization of the technology. It’s fine to make lists of all the things you want to do and all of the steps needed to get there, but what is it that motivates you to get all of these things done? The problem with any undertaking is that things will invariably go wrong: or at least not according to plans. The reason for this is 'variables'. In life there are just way too many variables to predict what’s going to happen from one moment to the next. So what has this got to do with my plans? Well when you make plans if one way you are predicting what’s going to happen in the future. For example, you decide that you’re going to bring in a guitarist to play on your demo. That one thing could lead into any number of directions. Do you have one in mind? What happens if he can't make it or it doesn't work out? What happens if he suddenly has to leave town? You get the idea.

Once you start trying to get things done on your list, a couple of things are going to happen. You going to have some setbacks, have some troubles staying motivated, get discouraged and sometimes just want to quit and give it all up.

How Do You Work?

So you've decided on a major project and have started to put together a list of all of the things that you have to do to reach your goal. If you’re new to the process, then there’s a huge variable right off the bat. I think we can agree at this point that once you start a new project, there’s going to be a lot of things come up that are unexpected and not on your list. So right from the start, the list is going to be a work in progress that’s going to have to be updated on a regular basis. Using the guitarist example from above, if for some reason he becomes unavailable, you’re going to have to make up a new list to include finding a new guitar player or learning the parts yourself or…you get the idea.

The basic point here is that one of the reasons why projects don’t get done is because of the inevitability that things aren’t going to go as planned. The problem that sometimes when things go smoothly, we naturally assume that that’s the way things are supposed to be and when things go ‘wrong’ then something is off. As we’ve seen from the example above, the chances of things going off course are far more likely than things going exactly as planned. So when you start a project and things go wrong, it takes more energy than you thought that it would and adds extra stress to the project. One of the great things about experience is once you’ve been through a certain process, you’re more likely to know what may go wrong and are equipped to deal with it effectively. When building a house for example, a professional is aware of all of the things that can go wrong where a novice would probably get frustrated and quit before the process is even finished. So not only do you have to deal with all of things that can go wrong, you can’t give up or lose sight of what you’re trying to accomplish in the first place.

Building A Career

This is where the musician comes in. The musician starting out is like the novice trying to build the house from scratch. And like building a house, a lot of projects that you may have to undertake are big and demanding; putting together a band, creating a demo, putting together a tour, etc. There are tons of variables like: all of the people involved (band personnel, agents, friends, club owners, studio people, etc.) and the fact that most of these things can take up to a year to accomplish. No small feat even for an organized person. Not only does this apply to the projects that a musician must take on but it applies to his/her whole career!