The Music Business – Not for the Weak of Heart
Last week we ran an entry featuring the ten most read guest blogs on our website in 2017. It’s somewhat fitting, then, that this week’s blog is the first such contribution of 2018, coming from a veteran of not only the music world but two past episodes of our weekly show (NHTE 19 and NHTE 106). Danny Brooks is a Canadian-born, Texas-living singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist. He draws upon his long career to provide insight to those aspiring to the same vocation.
After spending over 40 years in the music industry, recording, touring, both for major labels and now as an independent artist, I would like to share a few important lessons that could be beneficial to you.
The industry hinges on two things; a hit song and those that can determine what a hit is. The book The Hit Men provides a great read on this. Not everybody can write, but you can learn if you have the desire to. Read voraciously as this will equip you to better turn a phrase and this is what it’s all about – saying something basic but in a unique way. Sometimes you can stumble onto something, but a mind that is well read is more apt to reach the right phrase quicker. Here’s a great example of a unique way of saying something simple in a unique way; the song by Toni Braxton, “Un-Break My Heart.”
I cannot stress enough the importance of travel, especially to places where certain genres seemed to come from: Memphis, Nashville, New York City, Philadelphia, Clarksdale, Chicago, and Austin, to name a few. The venues where greats have performed leave a residue that you can pick up on.
Now we need to establish one thing, and it is everything. Are you wanting a career in the music industry because it seems glamorous (hey nothing wrong being 13 and having the attitude you might meet girls or boys) or are you driven and you just have to play music because its magical and mystical? The latter will determine how far you go. The former will end in utter disappointment. When asked how does he determine who is a star, Quincy Jones replied, “Talent helps, but the one who is driven to the point of it being like, being possessed, this person can become a star.”
It is a long winding road and in today’s market an artist must know and do many things. Being a benevolent dictator will help you establish a good band. You need great material whether you’re a cover band or doing originals. Then you must put together a good press kit with reviews, venues’ comments on your performance, live video footage, good posters and pictures, and mp3s.
Now we’ve just begun. Good luck on finding a booking agent, and unless you are signed to a well-known major or indie label, you need to book yourself and there is a definite art to this! Scheduling/geography is everything! Staying in one place will kill you unless you are one of the fortunate few who have a couple of good residency gigs and are happy to stay in one place. However, this is more advisable for someone who has been around the block many times. It’s best to travel and feed your writing!
You need to be a good publicist too unless you can afford to hire one and this can take as much time as it does to book. Unless you are driven, you will never discipline yourself to self-manage your career. When you are driven to write, to perform, and to travel, you have won half the battle. The other half is never taking rejection personally; never giving up when you are having trouble paying bills, and this is going to be part of your life until you reach a modicum of success to weather the difficult times. I am 66 years young and still am digging deeper all the time to write, to perform better, and to be the absolute best I can be. You need to love your audience as much as you love the gift of music.
Music is a healing agent and words can promote health and well-being as well. When you realize the importance of a song, its power and effect on people, and mix it with the right attitudes in an arena where the industry takes advantage of the vulnerable, caring more for the bottom line than you as an artist, then you can survive and make a difference in the world.
Danny Brooks is currently touring in support of a new book, Miracles For Breakfast: The Journey Continues, and a documentary film on his life/music, “Hard Working Man: The Music & Miracles of Danny Brooks.” The latter is being submitted to the SXSW Film Festival for mid-March in Austin. Visit Danny’s official website and connect with him via the links there for his social media.
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