Off The New Year
you hear the legendary manager (and artist) Peter Asher say "It's
harder than EVER to break a band" it almost gives you a sense
of relief, doesn't it? (Well, it does for me.)
Why? Because it's not easy out there. For anyone.
Take that from someone who started out as head of A&R for
the Beatles' label, Apple Records.
Asher goes on to say "You can't rely on radio or a label
right now. And as a manager, you have to have an act you can't
Advice for artists? "It's hard right now. You just have to
go out there and win over one fan at a time."
Andy Gould's famous line is "Never work harder than your
act. They should want it more than anyone." He talks about
how he sees young managers busting their butt for a client and
the band just doesn't really care. It also surprised me to discover
that someone like Rob Zombie calls his manager 7-8 times a day
and despite his rather rough image, is incredibly professional
- doesn't drink, take drugs, etc. He is an incredibly driven and
Anyhow, here are some gems of inspiration, and general advice,
that I've come up with to kick off 2006.
1. Believe in yourself
Imogen Heap mortgaged her flat to promote her music. And it paid
So, sometimes you really do have to do it yourself, and REALLY
believe in yourself, to make things happen.
She put her own money behind her. Do you believe in yourself enough
to do that? If not, there probably is something wrong. After all,
if you don't believe in yourself, how can you expect anyone else
(a manager, a label, an agent) to put their time and money and
resources into you if you don't do it for yourself?
Now, please don't run out there and mortgage your house after
reading this. The sentiment is what's important.
After all, every label turned down the Beatles. Yes, the Beatles.
Arguably the most important and influential band of all time.
So, don't EVER feel sorry for yourself. If the Beatles were rejected,
well, in my opinion, that just proves that people (especially
labels) don't know what they're talking about.
2. Make great music
Pretty much self explanatory. Always push the boundaries of your
creativity. Write and rewrite songs. Rewrite lyrics that are trite,
and change words that will make your song better. Co-write with
your band or other songwriters. Challenge yourself and make yourself
I see so many indie rock acts succeeding because they are doing
something different; something fun and original. Break out of
your mold if you've been writing the exact same type of song....i.e.
the same ballad or rock tune. Experiment. Try something new. If
the song sucks, you can always toss it. Try something unique and
original. So many acts have become popular because they did something
refreshing and "out of the box". If I had a nickel for
every time a person asked me for something like the White Stripes....
3. Learn to live with rejection
I also read a great interview with a famous manager who said "If
you can't take rejection, don't get into the music business. Don't
even make music."
Wow, that's pretty harsh.
Or is it?
As an artist, you're going to get turned down time and time again.
Maybe by a club booker. Maybe by a promoter. Maybe by a manager
or agent or label or music supervisor.
The key is to not take it personally.
When Green Day was starting out, Billy Joe Armstrong talks about
how hard it was for them to simply book one show. Just one show.
And I'm betting you're quite past that point. Just remember. Everyone
had to start somewhere and even superstar acts were once in your
To take constructive criticism well is not easy on the ego. So
give yourself a pat on the back. It's not easy to get turned down
time and time again and keep going. But if you believe in yourself,
and believe in your music, it's all worthwhile. And one day, that
"no" will turn into a "yes".
Of course, you should also remind yourself that if someone doesn't
like your music, that doesn't mean you should take it personally.
While your music may be a large part of who you are (or sometimes
feel like ALL of who you are), you must learn to separate the
rejection of your music, with the rejection of you as a person.
They are two completely different things. I reject songs all the
time. Not because I don't like them but because they just don't
fit the needs of the particular project I'm working on.
But, what if you send out 100 CDs and don't get one single response?
Or make a 100 phone calls and don't get any interest? Then, you
have to ask yourself if you're doing something wrong. Maybe your
songs need more work. Maybe you need to take vocal lessons. Maybe
you need to try a different approach. Because if something isn't
working, you need to try something else. But if you're getting
positive feedback - from a manager, a label, a fan, anyone besides
your friends and family, then you're probably on the right track
and just need to keep at it!
4. The time for indies and self releases is now
Spin magazine recently listed their top 40 albums of the year.
Half of the albums were released on indie labels and two were
completely self-released - without any label whatsoever!
And, of the remaining 20 "major label acts," at least
half of them were through imprints or divisions of major labels.
I saw very few major label artists and bands on that list.
The music business may have never been in such a crisis before
but then again, there has never been a more amazing time for artists
to make their own careers, on their own terms, without relying
on a major label who will rarely have their best interest at heart.
5. Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better
I recently had a good conversation with a manager friend of mine.
We were both talking about how frustrated we've become with the
inability of major labels to recognize (let alone sign) great
talent. It used to be that major labels weren't developing the
talent they signed. Now they just aren't signing much period.
And we've both licensed a million songs and gotten our bands amazing
airplay on major radio stations around the country. Yet it still
hasn't been enough to "break" a band. So, what do we
do? Give up?
I say, try harder.
CD sales are down. The touring business is going through problems
as well (a lack of future "stadium" acts and rising
ticket prices). And everyone knows that commercial radio sucks.
But, on the bright side, there are great resources out there.
iTunes. Satellite radio. Public radio stations and in Los Angeles,
stations like Indie 103. Then there are podcasts. And blogs. MySpace
and the Internet. Take advantage of all the great inventions that
are out there. People will always love and support music.
The music business is going through some tough times right now.
But yet iPods are selling at record numbers. People are still
thirsty for great music.
The future of making money from CD sales? That I don't know. CD
sales are declining so rapidly that everyone seems to be looking
to get out of the music business these days. Jumping ship as the
Will it all go digital? Will the CD go the way of the 8 track
or cassette or LP? Probably. But no one knows what's going to
Will there one day be T-Mobile or Starbucks or "Banana Republic"
Records? Maybe. Or will the future label share in an artist's
merchandise, touring, publishing and digital music sales? (Or
will everyone give up making music to stay home and play videogames?
Whatever the future may bring, just know that things will eventually
get better. And great music will always find an audience, fans
and support. It just may take a radical new approach. And you
may have to work harder than you ever have before to get out there
and get exposure for your music. No one said this is an "easy"
6. Don't give up
I can't drive this point home enough. Sure, if you rather work
a 9-5 job then do that. I hope you have a job you love. But for
me, this is the only thing I'm good at and the only thing in life
that I enjoy. I have no choice but to be successful. I refuse
to give up. It's just part of my personality - that never ending
drive. And some people have it and some don't.
And if you do have a day job, that's great. There is a lot to
be said for stability and being able to pay your rent or mortgage
each month. Music is not an easy industry to make money in. In
fact, it's probably one of the most difficult, right behind acting
and writing screenplays I'd say. If you want an "easy"
life, it would be far easier (in my opinion) to go to medical
school or become a lawyer. Because after a certain number of years
of education, you have a specific skill and can get a job.
In music, there is no direct correlation between education (or
even work) and results. It's art, and sometimes the music connects
with people, sometimes it doesn't. And when it does, it's still
Just know that music doesn't have to be your full-time gig. You
can still pursue it as a hobby, play shows because you love to,
not because you need the money to survive. And with the pressure
off, sometimes that makes the music even better! No one says you
have to strive to be on MTV.
For others, doing music part-time isn't an option. If you really
want to make it in the business and have your band break through,
you can't do it half ass. You just can't.
Watch VH1's "Behind the Music". I guarantee you, there
is not one single artist or band out there who said, "I don't
care if I make it or not" and went on to become a multi-platinum
Madonna is a perfect example. She'll be the first to admit that
she isn't the best singer, she isn't the best dancer, she isn't
the best anything really. She became successful because she had
an incredible amount of drive and determination. And yes, some
talent factors in there but the drive, the willingness to go the
distance, no matter what obstacles are put before you, that is
what makes someone a winner. "Winners never quit and quitters
never win." Trite but true. And the harder you work, the
more "luck" you create for yourself.
So if you're the type of person who'll venture to a new city with
just spare change in your pocket, well, maybe you picked the right
business after all.
7. Have an image
In PR there is the expression, "There is no such thing as
Along those lines, I would argue that it's better to have some
image, even if it's a bad image, than no image at all.
Every successful artist or band has an image. Some are contrived,
some are their own. But they all exist.
Compare photos of U2 to Green Day to Coldplay to Weezer to Carrie
Underwood to Metallica to Jewel to Shania Twain to 50 Cent to
My Chemical Romance.
Anyone can get up there and play a show in jeans and t-shirt.
But that's really the equivalent of eating meatloaf every night
for dinner. It's boring! And who wants that? After all, if you
went to see your favorite artist perform and they were wearing
exactly what you were wearing, wouldn't that be boring?
As a performer, your goal is to connect with your audience. And
tap into something special.
Watch old concert footage of Bowie and wow - what amazing costumes
and hair he had! Not to mention his stage persona.
Tap into something special. That's why Christian groups have such
a huge, devoted following. They've tapped into that one thing
they have in common with their fans - God and religion.
It's why artists like Morrissey, The Cure and Depeche Mode had
so many fans in the 80s - and still have a following today. They
had songs, and an image, that kids could relate to. Feeling isolated
or lonely. Being the outcast. And who hasn't felt that way at
one time or another? There are entire cultures that revolve around
music like this and today's examples are bands like My Chemical
Romance. The goth image works.
And sure, you remember high school when you could almost figure
out which kid in which clique liked which band. In my high school,
for example, the smokers out back who wore all black, leather
and chains liked punk rock like the Clash and Sex Pistols. Surprise
surprise. And the stoners liked the Grateful Dead and Phish. And
the "popular" kids liked U2. (Well, everyone liked U2...)
Whatever it may be, know that record companies hire stylists and
TEAMS of fashion experts to remake and market their artists (hair,
make-up, clothes). Labels are EXPERTS at marketing their artists.
In making the general public believe that stars are born and not
made. My God, I've worked at labels and heard the head of RADIO
PROMOTION (?) lamenting over the artist's shoes. Yes, the radio
promotion guy caring about the artist's SHOES! So, if major labels
are overthinking a band's image, you probably aren't thinking
about it enough.
And if you're not into style and fashion (I certainly am not),
find someone who is. Your wife, sister, next door neighbor or
best friend. Have them take you shopping.
Image, in my opinion, should just be an exaggerated version of
yourself. There is a reason why most artists wear "stage
clothes" and are extremely confident on stage; then off stage,
can be humble and shy.
Have you ever found the perfect jacket or shirt that makes you
feel great? So great that you walk around all day with your head
held high, saying to yourself "I feel good?" Of course
you do. Well, find that item, wear it on stage and project confidence
and an image that your fans can relate to.
Everyone has their signature item. Look at Bono and his sunglasses.
Or the number of artists that use hats as part of their image
- Elton John, Fall Out Boy, Gavin DeGraw, to name just a few.
Don't even get me started on make-up and outfits used by artists
like Marilyn Manson and Kiss.
Eyeliner? Just about every punk rock band. Look at the Killers
and their image.
Suits? Look at the Beatles, The Click Five, The Killers, etc.
I remember having a conversation with someone who worked with
John Mayer when he was starting out. And I said, "but John
Mayer doesn't have an image. He just wears jeans and looks like
your average J Crew / college guy." The reply was "those
are $200 jeans and that image is VERY carefully put together and
thought out." So, if even John flipping Mayer has an IMAGE
that is "put together" or contrived (look at him), then
my God, so should you!
8. Make your live show AMAZING
Here are some tips for great live shows. Watch others bands. Go
to concerts. Huge acts and smaller, indie bands. Take notes. What
worked? What didn't? When did the audience lose interest? How
could those bands have done a better job?
When you are starting out, you don't have the benefit of just
playing through a set list of hit song after hit song after hit
song. You don't have the amazing lights, pyrotechnics, bells and
whistles that accompany an arena show - the way U2 or Green Day
does. So, you better make sure your show is AMAZING.
Engage the crowd. Talk to them. Let your personality and charisma
shine through. Be fun, lively, honest. Tell them an embarrassing
or funny story.
Think of it this way. TV is a passive medium. It can be entertaining
if the show is AMAZING. But video games are interactive. Do you
want your live show to be like a TV sitcom? Sorta entertaining
but lacking any real originality or interactivity? Or do you want
your live show to be like your favorite video game? Where you
interact with the other side?
If you're always behind your guitar, put it down for one song
(or a few) and just sing to the audience. Move around the stage.
Better yet, run around the stage. Jump. Jump into the crowd.
If you're in a rock band (especially a guitarist), you better
be jumping up and down, and running around the stage, bouncing
off walls. You should come off stage at the end of every show
dripping with sweat. If not, you're doing something wrong and
you're probably not entertaining your audience.
And if you're a singer/songwriter, you better be the most funny,
engaging and entertaining storyteller out there. Don't just play
song after song. Open up. Let your great personality shine through.
Let your audience get to know you. Then you'll really connect
-- and sell some CDs too!
I know, you want to squeeze in as many of your songs into your
short set time as possible. But believe me, you'd be better off
playing one less song and using that time between every song to
talk to the crowd and engage them.
A friend recently took me to see Jewel. Now, she's not my favorite
performer (although I appreciate her voice and talent) but I went
to the show despite the fact that I'm not a Jewel "fan".
Why? She is the most entertaining performer. She'll launch into
a 20 minute story about how she was in Mexico with the feds and
they were on a drug bust when she wrote "You Were Meant For
Me" and it's just fascinating. Chalk that up to years and
years and years of touring with just her and a guitar. She was
incredibly entertaining and engaging. I almost forgot she had
to sing some songs between her stories!
As a performer, whether you're the singer, drummer, bass player
or lead guitarist, I don't care, your # 1 job is to entertain
the crowd. Remember, people pay money to come to a concert (yours
or anyone else's) to be ENTERTAINED, not just hear you sing your
songs. When you reach stadiums, you can just stand there in front
of the pretty lights and play your guitar or keyboards and not
move around too much (and most huge stars don't just stand there,
now do they?) But you aren't there yet. If you're on stage, you
are a form of entertainment, like it or not. And people can spend
their money SO many different ways now - on iPods, movies, eating
out, video games, at amusement parks, going to other concerts,
museums, watching TV (ok, that's free but I think you get the
point....) If you want people to pay and come see you live (and
keep coming back), you better give them a reason to!
I know of one popular artist who has his whole routine and banter
down. If the show isn't going well, he'll launch into that funny
story about his dog. Every time. Same exact story. Told the same
exact way. And guess what? It works. Every time. Comedians use
the same jokes and routine for YEARS. Why? Because they work.
There is a reason why actors practice in front of a mirror. And
a reason why sometimes you need to rehearse and find out what
stories work and what stories bomb. And use the ones that work.
Videotape every live show you do. Watch every one. It may be uncomfortable
at first, but it's the only way you're going to get any better.
Be objective. Pretend you're in the audience at this show. Would
you be bored? Or blown away?
Every "major label" artist I've ever seen in concert,
especially close up, seems to have the ability to look out into
the audience and make me feel like they are looking directly at
me. (Ok, so maybe not if I'm in the nose-bleed seats at the Staples
Center but I digress.) I'm not sure what the trick to that is
but don't be afraid to look directly into the crowd. If you're
shy, a performer once told me a trick - look at the top of people's
heads in the crowd - it will look like you're looking at them
when you're not! Looking right at your fans at smaller shows might
be intimidating at first, but try it. They won't bite. Don't stare
at people. But don't be afraid to look directly into people's
eyes. Music is more than just the words and music. It's about
emotion and connecting with people. If you can do that, you're
Want to be a great live performer? Watch Queen's Freddie Mercury.
Mercury's command of the stage and confidence is amazing. In fact,
watch any of your favorite artists perform in concert or on DVD.
You should be able to turn off the sound and still be entertained.
Can you say that about your live show? If not, you have work to
I once asked the engineer at a showcasing venue here in LA what
she noticed about bands that came in and got record deals vs.
those that didn't. She replied "confidence". If they
were cocky, if they believed in themselves, so did the label.
And they were signed. If the act was not confident, the label
had doubts and didn't sign them.
Now, this doesn't mean you have to develop a huge ego tomorrow
to get signed or become more successful. "Fake it til you
make it." Just project confidence, even if you have to act
a bit at first.
I, for one, have never been fond of getting up in front of large
crowds. But, I once had a job that forced me to do that. And after
a few times, I got better and better at it. And sure, I may still
get nervous in front of crowds. But the more times you do it,
the easier it becomes and the better you'll get.
Another successful record producer once told me the great performers
he knew had the ability to separate their stage persona from their
real self. Hence, the stage clothes. The minute you step on that
stage, you might need to become a different person. The way an
actor steps into a role when they are on a movie set.
After all, you wouldn't go audition for the part of John Lennon
in your street clothes, would you? You'd dress the part! Then
"pretending" or acting the part of Lennon would be a
hell of a lot easier, wouldn't it?
9. Have fun...but remember that it's the MUSIC BUSINESS and
Nothing makes for a better show or better music than a relaxed
atmosphere. And while I may say "work work work" harder
than you ever have before, it's also important to have fun. On
stage. In the studio. When you're writing songs.
After all, that's why you got into the business, right? To play
shows, to be creative. Maybe even to have groupies and have a
So, take it all seriously. It is the music BUSINESS after all.
But if it ever stops being fun, you should stop immediately. Life
is too short to do something you don't enjoy.
Just remember, to succeed, it's going to take A LOT of hard work.
More work than you ever put into high school, college or any job
you've ever had. Why? Because everyone wants to make their living
making music. It's the best job in the world. And you have to
work harder than everyone else out there doing this and hard enough
to get better than everyone else. And become the shrewdest business
person as well as the most talented songwriter and most engaging
performer. It may not always be easy...but it beats working at
the Gap, doesn't it?
10. Be nice to everyone / karma
This is a very small community. It amazes me that the same A&R
executives I was calling and inviting out to shows a few years
ago are now asking me to pitch their bands or client's music or
are now looking for a job.
It reminds me of a story I read in the Los Angeles Times. This
man found a mouse in his house and promptly decided to "teach
it a lesson" and threw it into a pile of burning leaves.
Animal rights activists notwithstanding, the mouse (now on fire),
promptly ran back into the house and burned it down. A sad story
but if that isn't the most perfect example of karma and "what
goes around, comes around" I don't know what is.
I always return every phone call and try to respond to every email
I'm sent. Because, you never know. My first intern is now working
at a successful indie label. One day he may be running Universal
Music Group and may hire ME to work for HIM. And that happens
all the time. In the music business, and life in general.
So, ALWAYS be professional, always be nice, never screw anyone
over. Never burn bridges. Believe me, it will come back to haunt
you tenfold if you do.
An artist once did a number on me. I ran into one of his bandmates
years later and asked him "Hey, what's Kevin up to?"
His reply was "er, nothing". He had given up on music
and was doing something else entirely. Maybe if he'd been a little
11. Know that there is no "short cut" or formula
for being successful
It there was, everyone would be a millionaire and on MTV.
Believe me, I've read hundreds of music magazines and books, and
have talked with some of the greatest managers and biggest music
attorneys out there. No one KNOWS how to make someone a star.
Even the major labels. Because it's different every time. And
labels are wrong about 95% of the time as most of their acts do
not become the next U2 or the Beatles. So, if you're ever frustrated,
know that you're not alone. Don't become jaded! Channel that frustration
into energy and make yourself get out there and work harder.
Jennifer Yeko has placed her clients' material
in over 50 film and television projects, including hit television
shows such as "Sex and the City," "The OC,"
"Laguna Beach," "Ghost Whisperer," "Reunion,"
"Wildfire," "Boston Public," "North
Shore," Comedy Central, "One Tree Hill," "Summerland,"
"Dawson's Creek," "Party of Five," "Roswell"
and MTV/The Real World. She has promoted a wide range of artists
and music genres, everything from Top 40 and pop to modern
rock and classical. She has produced and managed major events,
such as "ShowBiz Expo" for which she secured over
200 speakers, including former Vice President Al Gore. She
has recently been featured in Billboard magazine, The Hollywood
Reporter, Music Connection and RowFax. Visit Jennifer on the
web at: www.truetalentmgmt.com
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