Subject: The Music Business
This month LT (Linda Taylor) treats us with some thoughts on the differences between “music” and “the music business.” Fair warning – it’s not for the faint of heart!
1) What sort of advice would you give someone trying to get into the music business?
Don’t. Just kidding. Do you want to be in the music business, or do you want to be a musician? They’re two very different things that have nothing to do with each other.
If you want to be in the business, learn everything relevant. Set down your ego, put aside your emotions for a moment, and try to understand the “biz” from the Suits’ point of view. You’ll be one step ahead. Here’s an example:
Let’s talk about the club owner who’s a real scumbag. He hires the organ grinder and the trained chimp instead of hiring your band, which features Jesus Christ on lead vocals and God Himself on guitar. He could hire your band, the best band that has ever been in the history of the world, but instead he hires the Chimp. What an #$%^&!
But look at it from his point of view:
The Club Owner has enormous overhead. He has to pay rent in Los Angeles, the most expensive real estate this side of Manhattan. He has to hire staff, pay insurance, pay for the liquor license, and he has to pay that jerk that won’t listen to your demo. The only way he can make all these payments is if the public not only comes through the doors, but comes through the doors, buys booze and a lot of food, tells their friends, and comes back repeatedly.
What makes them come to the club? The entertainment, of course. It doesn’t really matter if your band is better than The Chimp. What matters is what the audience wants to see is. The Club Owner probably hates the Chimp, because The Chimp is even messier on stage than your drummer. But you only bring out 26 people on a Friday, and The Chimp brings out the entire audience from The Lion King, which is playing next door. Now add in these factors: your band is always late, plays too loud, takes long breaks, has a 326-person guest list, and doesn’t drink. Oh, yeah, and you guys want to charge $20 per person to get in, and you expect to take 75% of the house.
Who gets the gig? If you step back emotionally from this situation and look at it from Mr. Club Owner’s perspective, than you get it, right? Now you know exactly what you need to do to make your band the apple of his eye.
People who are successful in the music business know and understand both sides of the coin, and it shows in their work. If you can separate your music personality from your business personality, you’ll be in a much better place to make things work in your favor.
I’m givin’ you pearls here, givin’ you pearls.
2) So many people seem to think that the only thing to be in the music business is a “top star.” But the reality is that there are many ways for people to make a comfortable living doing what they love. Can you elaborate on different aspects of the music business that people may not be familiar with or give advice on how people can get involved in things like sound engineering and production and even road work?
It really depends on what your strengths are. Are you a versatile musician, capable of playing in most any style, reading music, offering any sound or texture? If so, you’re probably more suited to studio work than a rock band. If you’re someone who has their own mind, style, and sound you’ll probably be happier forging your own path with your own songs and band.
There are people who love to be around the music, but aren’t really musicians. Maybe these people are the organization wunderkinds. They wind up being road managers. If you’re a techno-dweeb who loves to sit in front of his computer all day long programming variations on a sine wave, then maybe sound design is exactly the field for you. You could be a consultant – Peter Gabriel hires you one day, Spielberg the next. That’s cool.
Maybe you’ve never been able to play a really good solo, but you can tell the difference between a 10″ speaker and a 12″ speaker from 150 yards. Even the drummer asks you for help tuning his kit. You may be on the path to Recording Engineer. What’s your strength?
Sometimes these choices are a little easier when you stop thinking about what you’d like to be and start thinking about what you are. I realized a few things about myself, and that’s guided my choices to bring me to where I am now.
But you probably won’t be able to answer that about yourself until you jump in, try everything and get to know yourself a little more. If you had asked me ten years ago, I would have thought that road work is the end-all, be-all musician life. I’ve done it. You know what? I hate touring. If I never see another tour bus, that’s fine with me.
There’s room for everyone, so make a space for yourself.
3) How do you go about finding the players you work with? How have you ended up with a particular group (how did they know where and how to contact you)?
Mostly through local work; meet a guy on a bar gig, like his groove, try him out on a few more gigs, that kind of thing. I’m looking for musicians with a certain energy, and I can’t stand apathy, laziness, or disrespect. I like musos who play every note like it could be their last – passion.
One of my favorite drummers, Darryl Woolfolk (who’s on PULSE), sort of breaks the rules. On one hand, he doesn’t read a note of music. He won’t even look at charts I send him. Most drummers appreciate having a simple chord/form chart, but not Darryl.
Darryl makes the song his own. He listens to every tape I send him, and by the time the rehearsal rolls around, he usually knows the tune better than I do. He can quibble with me all day long over the most minute changes in tempo, and he’s always right, dammit. When we set up, he purposely moves his stuff around so he can make eye contact with every musician on stage. If he still can’t see someone, then he’ll move them. He gets it. He gets a show; he gets a set list, introductions, dynamics, the whole package.
He’ll always work, because he makes the leader feel comfortable. When I hire Darryl, I have more than an employee; I feel that I have a partner in the presentation of my music. If you can find musicians like that, you’ve got it made. If you can be a musician like that, you’ll always work.
4) You’re currently working on music for a film. How does one get hooked up with something like that? Are you enjoying it? How different is it than what you normally do (in terms of writing and arranging and recording)?
You get hooked up the same way; it’s all who you know. It might be easier to start with student films and get noticed by the directors who are trying to get noticed. I’ve spent my whole career being a guitar player for hire. Now I’m trying to get recognized for scoring. It’s like starting all over; you got to be willing to pay dues.
The music is quite different in that it’s a little bit of everything. I just finished a film that had old 70’s style bar rock, jazz, world music, and an alternative song for the closing credits. This was a different approach, in that the score was all songs, as opposed to more traditional “cues.”
It’s very satisfying having your music set to a film – sort of instant gratification. You get to see the exact emotional content of the music. I love writing, and I get as much from writing an oboe line as I do from playing a guitar solo. Maybe even more.
Scoring is different from everything I’ve ever done. You’re kind of a supporting actor in the movie, because the emotional content of a scene can be manipulated by music. That’s a heavy responsibility; you’ve got to have great communication with the director and creators of the film.
That’s my focus now – writing, producing, recording, making the music happen. Putting it together.
5) What are your feelings about the current copyright laws and publication rights?
I assume you’re talking about the labels’ battles with piracy and intellectual property rights?
Well, I’m no expert, but I think the answer does not lie with technology.
As long as the public has no regard for intellectual property, music will be stolen. Technological developments alone are no deterrence. You can slap all the anti-piracy stuff you want on a computer, CD writer, or a CD, and someone (who’s never created anything in his life) is gonna figure out a way around it. And he’ll give it to his friends, and upload it to the Internet. And he’ll make sure everyone knows exactly how to get around the copyright.
Why? Why is that ethical? Would the same person steal my car? Or break into my house? Why would he steal my song?
It’s really scary. I’m seeing all these highly charged debates on user groups about “fair-use.” People bitch that they can’t rip Peter’s new CD for their iPod. Please. You know, “it’s okay if I rip two or three copies of this CD for my car, and my wife’s car, and my home stereo, and my kid’s computer,” etc., etc. Support the arts and the artist – go buy a couple copies of the CD. What, you can’t afford $15? You can afford an iPod, a Mac, and a DVD writer, but not $15 for a CD? Hmm.
But that’s not the point. It doesn’t matter what the CD or the software or any property costs; if you didn’t buy it and you’re using it and claim ownership, you stole it. Period. You’re a thief.
Do you know the worst pirates I know are working musicians? It’s amazing. These same people will spend every waking hour screaming at the top of their lungs about piracy protection laws, yet won’t think twice about all that cracked software on their computer.
You know, we could get into a sociological debate on these issues, debates that could last forever. Is the Internet at fault? Is technology? Are the record labels that charge $20 for a CD of crap, except for that one song, at fault? How about the artists who are releasing this garbage?
There is no excuse for not paying the artist/creator for intellectual property. How many times have you lent a CD out, knowing full well the recipient was rippin’ away? How many times have you used cracked software? How many times did you Xerox that book? How many times have you sent an MP3 to someone? How many times have you stolen? Because that’s what it is. Until we realize that property, intellectual or not, has value and deserves remuneration, we are sealing our own fate as artists. Take a stand. Isn’t that song worth a couple bucks? What else are you gonna buy, a blank CDR?
Have I pissed ya’ll off yet? Good. Go write a pissy song. I hope no one steals it.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed LT’s responses as much as I have. If you want to find out more about her and what she’s up to these days, visit her website at http://www.rubiconmusic.com