industry only ever helps those who help themselves - it's no use waiting for
a talent scout from CBS or EMI to wave a magic wand and turn you into a pop sensation
overnight - it just doesn't happen. For most of us the only realistic hope is
to set about creating a momentum and excitement of our own quite independently
from the Biz or national media. Take the attitude that you're going to make it
anyway - if someone chooses to pick up on you and help you on your way, fine
- if not, it's their loss. Once you've got a buzz happening around you, the music
industry will beat a path to your door in any case.
It will take time. Whatever happens, you won't suddenly achieve stardom in the
next twelve months, and it might take 12 years - ask Jarvis Cocker. You must
want success enough not to care how long it takes so long as you get there. If
you're in a real hurry, try a different career. Of course, things might happen
very rapidly indeed, but never count on it.
Let's take for granted you've already got ambition and some musical ability -
although an excess of the latter can hinder as much as it helps. By far the most
important factor in a successful artist's career has to do with identity and
focus - in a word, PACKAGING - the one area musicians most often neglect. The
world is full of "nice" songwriters with synths or acoustic guitars scribbling
ditties about their love life or social injustice while they wait for someone
to discover them.
Why should anyone come to your gigs or buy your albums - what's in it for them
? Because you play nice music ? Because you're a nice person ? Forget it. People
choose music like they choose their clothes - to express an identity. For music
fans, wearing an Oasis T-shirt or getting a Libertines tattoo is a public statement
about who they are. Others impress their friends with Pavarotti or Sting CD's
at a dinner party, while Billy Bragg has always carefully packaged himself for
people who loathe packaging...
There are lots of reasons why people become fans & follow a band - sex, rebellion,
snobbery, fashion, loneliness, alienation - sometimes even to show they appreciate
great musicianship, though that comes pretty low on the list. Yes, I know you're
talented, but almost nobody will give a flying fuck about that until you get
this other stuff right first.
The key question to answer honestly about your music is: "Who would want it -
and why ?" Don't rely on praise from friends and family. To make it, you have
to be able to win and nurture an audience of your own from scratch - whether
by making indie singles in a bedroom or gigging round every pub, club and dive
that will have you. The competition is ferocious, and if you don't want to succeed
more than any other single thing in the whole world, there's plenty of others
who do. And to succeed you have to become a cause, an "in thing" that people
passionately want to belong to: who's going to spend their last couple of quid
on something tame or ordinary ?
To stand out from the other hundreds of groups you HAVE to know your target audience
and pitch accordingly, focussing every aspect of what you do. This doesn't involve
abandoning your principles, just defining them.
Most successful artists simply pick an aspect of themselves that's true, simplify
it, amplify it and then make music to match - a total package that hits their
intended audience between the eyes. Name, clothes, image, attitude, style, lyrics,
artwork and music all add up to a clearly defined identity. Be as radical and
daring as you like: in fact be more radical and daring than you think you can
possibly get away with. Take chances, be risky, get remembered. Actual originality
isn't essential - just look at the charts - but conviction is. Whatever you do,
it has to be very, very real.
Finally, a short questionnaire:
What level of success are you aiming for:
The local pub ?
The Carling Academy?
Hammersmith Apollo ?
Earls Court ?
Wembley Stadium ?
What kind of record sales are you aiming for:
Five thousand ?
Five hundred thousand ?
Five hundred ?
Five million ?
Fifty Million ?
Do you see yourself eventually becoming the next:
Talking Heads ?
These questions are vital. Until you get concrete ideas of what you're aiming
for, you can't hope to plan a route. If you loathe compromise and sound like
The Fall there's no point choosing the greedy answers. If you're after Madonna's
crown, sharpen up accordingly.