I was reading my favorite blogger the other day (that would be Bob Lefsetz. If you are into music and where it is going then you need to read his stuff. We have his link over to the right there and if you read him much you will see that most of the time I am just ripping off his ideas — mainly because they agree with mine. But hey, isn’t that what the internet is all about?)
OK, back to my story. I reading Lefsetz and he is talking about the new music paradigm and says this:
It’s easy to write and record a song and distribute it. Everything
that was difficult yesterday is easy today. You just fire up GarageBand,
select some loops, create a track and upload the result to MySpace and
you’re an “artist”!
Man, that is so true. It used to be that you couldn’t make a record without a lot of money and backing. And even if you did make a record there really was no way to get it distributed outside of your own backyard unless you had a record label. Being on a major label was really essential to having any hope of getting your music out there. But not anymore! We can all record cheaply or even for free and with places like iTunes, Amazon, Last FM, etc., etc., I get worldwide distribution in a matter of weeks without the help of any record label.
This is incredible! We can bypass the labels because they are no longer the gatekeepers and even when they are involved they have less and less influence. But there are some serious drawbacks to this new world. Everybody can be an artist but that doesn’t mean that everybody should be an artist. There are thousands of bands out there putting out millions of songs everyday and the reality is that most of the stuff is not that good. And the stuff that is good gets harder to find because there is so much crap in the way. Kind of like being at the $5 shirt table at Old Navy or wherever you shop and digging through a huge mess of shirts trying to find the really good deals. You know there are some in there but after a while you give up looking because the pile is too high.
So all of this really dovetails into my musings about the future of recorded music. Realistically, what are my chances of being discovered in that huge pile of crap on the table? And who knows, maybe I’m one of the crappy shirts. In the past the record labels decided who was crap and who wasn’t by virtue of whom they signed. They had the keys to the kingdom. But those keys have been stolen now and as much as they are trying to get them back; well it is just too late. They are gone, baby.
So if recording and worldwide distribution are easy now what is the hard part? And who are the gatekeepers now?
Well, the hard part is writing music that more than just your circle of friends want to hear. Do you have music that connects with people and creates new fans? That is not so easy. And more importantly: are you willing to get out there, play wherever you can to create new fans and generate excitement about your music? Because now the gatekeepers are the fans. Oh there are the pop acts that will spring up from the big labels but they don’t have much staying power. Can you create fans that love your music and will follow you for years? That is the hard part.
If you really believe in your music then get it out there. See if people really like it. Go out there and find out if you are part of the crap on the ‘sale’ table or if you are that great find we all look for. A lot of us don’t want to risk the possibility that we might just be part of the crap on the table. And maybe not crap, but just not that special shirt you wear for years. We pour our lives into our music and it is a scary prospect to put it out there and risk being shot down. But we need to do it. And the sooner you get started the sooner you are going to know if you have a talent for this or not.
Maybe all you want to be is a weekend warrior playing every once-in-a-while and if so that is cool. There is certainly a different level of commitment and talent that can succeed there. But if you want to try and make a living doing this, then you need to get the stuff out there and see how people react. Are you getting new fans at every show? It doesn’t have to be a lot. Maybe 2 or 3 but are you getting them. Are they going back and telling their friends and bringing them next time? If so, then you are on the right track. The gatekeepers are noticing you and that is good. That is a sign that there is potential there.
However, remember the mere fact that you can make a CD or an EP or whatever, is not the test. Man, that is the easy part these days. I know you are thinking, “Charlie, you don’t know because that was NOT easy.” Well, I do understand because I have been there. But let me tell you, compared to writing and playing music that people really like and building a fan base; well making the cd is easy. Your CD is just a small step on a very long journey. And if you think you want to take that journey then get moving now. The easy part is done.