It’s been a busy time lately in the music scene with quite a few local releases. New artists and ones we’ve known all out there doing their thing. As release dates approach, I’m often contacted by folks trying to get a game plan in place. Musicians ask me for advice or help with things and I’m always glad to do what I can, if I can. Beyond writing my column here, I’ve been seriously involved in music for about 30 years now. I’ve always been open to talking with musicians about what to do, how to do it, where to do it, when to do it, etc. I offer suggestions based on my experiences and belief in the music world.
Before a note is played, however, every musician, singer or songwriter should ask themselves Why am I doing this? What do I want from music? The reason is your own. Whatever it is — to be a big music star, to make great records, to jam with friends, to explore, to play shows, to take over the world, to change the world, to ignore the world, to release something personal — as complicated or as simple a reason, you should think about why you do it.
For folks that don’t know me beyond my writing or my years at WCYY, I’ve been close to music since I can remember. A passionate fan, follower, and collector since I was a young kid, I eventually got more involved in the music world by high school. Since then, I’ve worked at four record stores, managed bands, was VP of National Marketing and Promotions for an indie record label in New Jersey, started a record label of my own, promoted shows, hosted concerts, hosted a music video show in Boston, written reviews and articles, given lectures, been on commercial radio for 13 years, helped run my college radio station and even dabbled as an artist many moons ago. I’m proud of my involvement in music over the years. I got to see and be a part of so much. I’ve been lucky enough to do more than most get to do in the industry over the past three decades. With those experiences, I grew to understand the business, the trends, the artists, the industry, the media, the drama, the success, the struggle and all the things that keep the record spinning.
Then, everything changed. All of that understanding and know-how and ways of doing things were put in a blender, thrown into a washing machine and tossed on a tilt-a-whirl full speed. Oh, and someone broke off the handle.
Good luck figuring out the music industry today. You can’t. No one can. Folks at big record labels wearing suits that cost more than your car haven’t a clue. They think they do and act like they do. They don’t. The truth is the industry was on cruise control for so long. The biggest change I can think of in the music industry from the '80s through most of the '90s was the arrival of the CD. Other than that, it was smooth sailing. Music sold well and people supported their favorite bands faithfully. We knew how to get our music. Musicians knew how to succeed. It didn’t mean they would or could, but they knew the paths to getting a shot. You had to work at it, like with anything, and have something special.
Cue technology! That’s what really messed up the works, folks. For good and bad. Mostly bad. One day the weather's nice and the next day we have websites, iTunes, Napster, digital music and the beginning of the collapse of music retail. The biggest problem with change in the music world over the past 20 years hasn’t necessarily been the technology itself, but the pace of which we’ve had to adapt with it. Once you do learn a bit and think, “Ok, phew, let’s figure this out now...” BAM, seconds later, here comes the new thing we have to learn.
We haven’t had time to process these gifts and inventions and decide how to use them best. When I say we, I mean your band and Paul McCartney too. Everyone. We all haven’t been able to take a minute to lock into the newness. Change has followed change in music and it isn’t easing up.
Aside from technology, radio, print, TV and live venues have changed a lot. That doesn’t help. You need a team player here and there who believes in your music. Many are hard pressed to find those people. When you do find good people in music, hold them, treat them right and never let them go! Trust me. I can say that from being on both sides of that situation.
As local musicians reach out to me lately they seem more lost and confused than ever. That’s a shame because under their arm they carry their life. Their music. Their passion. They have this thing and what are they supposed to do with it, what can they do with it, who will help? This thing could change our lives.
So, how does one “make it today?" What is, “making it today”? Is it worth trying to “make it”?
Friends in music, I’ve said this a lot of people and I share it with you now as the best suggestion I can offer; make the music you want to make and make it the best you can for you. Unload what's inside you onto that recording and later on stage. Sleep at night knowing you’ve made the music you wanted to. In 20 or 30 years when you look back at listen, acknowledge your legacy. That music happened and you should have no regrets. If you can “make it” that way, then you’ve made it overall I’d say. At the end of the day, all that matters is the music and that’s something technology can never change.