August 28, 2011

5 things the record labels are looking for- when you have a sit down

I was very fortunate to learn from the best in the industry while growing up in the business in Nashville. So here are a few musts:  Originality, Appearance, Commitment, and my #1 qualification, Passion! I am going to give you a few very common sense do's and dont's when talking to or visiting either an A&R person or a record executive.

 1. Hygiene.  Dress for success!  They are looking at you!  Their first impression may be the last if you're not dressed for the part.

2. Have a plan.  If you don't know where you're going, how can you expect them to?

3. Know your interviewer and the label roster.  Showing them you're interested in them will go along way.  There's a lot more to your art than the music.  This will show you're a well rounded Pro.

4. Have at least 3 songs ready to perform live as well as multiple CD'S.  If they're interested in you they will ask you to perform for them and will want to have copies of your music to pass around to the A&R department.

5. Have someone with you to represent you.  You need to have a representative with you that understands the business, and can promote you and ask questions that you can't.

As simple and obvious as these may seem, you would be surprised how many people we met with that came to possibly the most important meeting of their life, and blew it.

 If someone came in for review we would probably ask "Who do you sound like?" and if their answer was -(example; Garth Brooks) our response would probably go something like this: "Well that's nice, there's already a Garth Brooks-- NEXT!!"
You must be yourself.  Don't ever try to be someone that's already out there. You must find your own niche.

Here's another question I would always ask.  How long do you plan on pursuing your career?  If a limit was put on this question, that tells us a lot.  The correct answer is as long as it takes.  This is a tough business and it can easily take years to launch a career even after signing a deal.  The Artist I know and respect can't quit even if they want to; it's in their blood.  Enjoy the trip, because you will find out at the end the destination was not what you were after.  Sharing your gift with others is where you find true joy.

A&R on the Web: The Good the Bad and the Ugly

When I was working in Nashville, a group of around 10 to 15 of us would meet for breakfast at Shoney's on Music Row.  We consisted of major label executives, writers, publishers, A&R executives, etc.  At the same time, there was another group meeting in the back.  These were the guys waiting on their prey to get off the bus while greeting you with a big friendly smile.  While promising you stardom, they were all the while hoping to slip their hand in your pocket.  Well, these guys have now switched from the Shoney's breakfast club to the world wide web cafeteria.

Caveat Emptor
There are some reputable web services out there on the web, and AMP can help guide you through the maze of land mines in the hope that you will arrive at your destination safely.  We have learned through many hours of research that seemingly harmless offers often turn out to be cons.  There is no way I could list all of the culprits here. So, what I will attempt to do in this article is point out some of the more glaring types of scams:
  1. The "Song Contest" sites.  While there are some legitimate ones out there, most are scams to get your money.  Be careful, and and speak to a company representative before signing up.
  2. Sites that promise to get your songs cut.
  3. Over-the-web demos.  While there are many great studios that can do this, you really need to be in the studio while your song gets recorded.  Your songs are your baby, your creation, and you want to be there from inception to birth.
  4. Offers of publicity deals, selling your songs, making you a star, tour support, booking, etc.
This list goes on and on and there are many variations of each theme.  Please do your homework and research the sites carefully before forking over your hard-earned cash!

Check with the Better Business Bureau and don't take everything at face value.  Ask questions like, What service am I getting?  Are the sites truly offering valuable services like artist mentoring or artist education?  What's the potential value / return on my investment?  Are the sites endorsed by reputable industry organizations like AMP, the GRAMMYs, SESAC or others?

Always remember, like the predators on Music Row, a lot of sites are geared to prey on your emotions and dreams just to get into your wallet.  Don't base your decisions on your emotions.  Do your homework!

August 18, 2011

Are 360 Deals the Record Labels' Swan Song?

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."
--- Hunter S. Thompson

The record business is quickly dying. Music sales in the United States are less than half of what they were just a decade ago. Worse yet, sales will almost certainly continue to drop as digital distribution becomes more popular.

In response, record labels are completely changing the structure of their contracts with artists. The labels' present direction is to capture revenue streams beyond the sales of recorded music. And, in hopes of returning their corporate earnings to where they once were, the labels are attempting to completely cut out promoters, artist managers, and agents.

Since the dawn of the industry, the role of a record label was limited to producing, distributing, marketing, and selling recorded music. Under the new model, labels receive income from other sources of artists' earnings, including live performances, merchandise sales, publishing, and commercial endorsements. The new contracts are known as “360 deals" or “multiple rights deals". They enable record labels to earn income that was never before available to them, making the labels less reliant on recording income.

The 360 model is only sustainable if it benefits both artists and labels, while providing a desirable product to music consumers, and efficiency to the industry as a whole. And, herein lies the problem with the 360 paradigm. While the new model may work for artists with superstar personas, it will not be acceptable, long-term, for most artists. Not to mention promoters, managers and fans alike.

Despite the growth of the 360 model, the structure is objectively harmful to the industry. For starters, most labels are proving themselves inept – or at best, inexperienced – at managing the other elements of an artist's career from which labels stand to profit under the 360 model.

360 Deals also seem to be leading to an ominous new trend. The model's focus on exploiting as many revenue streams as possible has brought about a trend known as “band branding" which removes the emphasis from musicians' music and redirects it towards artists as “brands” that can be sold in a variety of forms. As media theorist Douglas Rushkoff noted, “Recording artists are finding the only way to achieve any financial safety is to become a lapdog of the great corporations.”

Despite the negative aspects of 360 Deals, artists will continue to form these contracts over the short term simply because labels remain the primary source of venture capital for artists. Eventually, however, the majority of artists may forego traditional record labels altogether.

Instead, they may seek 360-style arrangements with more adept and efficient industry players like managers and booking agents. In fact, a handful of savvy artists have already begun to steer their careers themselves by taking advantage of digital distribution, leveraging internet marketing tools, and actively networking to promote their own music. Eventually, this may spell the end of the major labels altogether.

So what do you think? Are 360 deals bad for the industry as a whole? Will the major record labels eventually fade away? Will artists eventually manage their careers themselves? We want to hear from you!

August 16, 2011

SONG WRITING - How Do I Get The Lyrics To The Page?

I can't tell you how many people I have had say to me, "I wish I could write a song, but it just doesn't work for me."  Well, it won't work for everyone, but it will work for a lot more potential writers than you think.  Another question is, "Do you have to be inspired to write?"  If you're writing professionally, the answer is no. If you're writing for inspiration, it depends on if you want to write professionally or for a hobby.  Hopefully you will find a passion for writing and want to take it all the way.
I'm going to share with you the most important secret to getting your song on paper, whether you're inspired or not:  Writing "to the hook" is a trick the pros use. When you're a staff writer with a quota you must have new ideas weekly. You may ask how do I do that, and what is a hook?

  1. A hook is a lyrical phrase that your listener will remember even if they don't remember the lyric to the rest of the song. Such as "Momma don't dance and Daddy don't rock in roll", "Stairway to heaven", "Girls just want to have fun", etc... You must learn to write to the hook to be a successful song-writer!
  2. Start a hook book.  This is a place you store catchy phrases that your listener can latch on to.
  3. Write to the hook. This means all your lyrics must point and lead to the hook.
  4. Get feedback from others.

Of course, this advice just scratches the surface.  However, I hope this will give you some tools to get you started writing your first hit single!

August 1, 2011

What makes a good song?

There are a lot of opinions on this topic and no one knows all the answers.  It is subject to many variables. I can give you some of the things I learned as a staff writer for many years.  This won't be an exhaustive list but it will help you get started.

1) Remember you're writing to 5th graders.
2) You must have a good memorable lyrical hook.
3) It also needs to have a musical hook that doesn't sound like everything else on the radio.
4) Be original!
5) Try to keep the song as close to three minutes as possible.
6) Get rid of throw away words like buts and I's etc...
7) The topic needs to be relatable to your audience.
8) Keep it interesting.

All of these sound simple to do but there is a lot more to song-writing. This is a good place to start. At AMP our goal is to take you as for as you want to go as a writer. Come join us and let us walk you the art of song-writing.