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Singer-Songwriter: 5 Ways To Improve Your Chances of Success

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by Larry Butler

Singer-Songwriter

Singer-Songwriter

We’re all familiar with the standard rules given to those who think they want the fame, glory and money that comes from being a successful singer-songwriter––work hard, practice, smile, be nice to people, etc. In the 40 years or so that music industry veteran Larry Butler has worked with some of the most successful artists in the business, he says he’s found a number of pieces of advice that you’re probably not going to find in those well-worn lists. Here are five taken from his new book The Singer-Songwriter Boot Camp Rule Book: 101 Ways To Improve Your Chances Of Success. None of them involve smiling.

 

1. Be a solo artist or a duo, at most. There’s way less overhead and you never have to attend any band meetings.

In addition to being less expensive to mount a career (vis-à-vis a band), at every step along your uphill career path you are going to have to know how to perform and entertain in some kind of solo, acoustic, stripped-down, bare bones situation and sometimes at the drop of a hat.

For instance, to get the attention of radio programmers, music supervisors and ad agencies you’re going to have to set up in a solo acoustic setting and perform in office break rooms and convention/seminar showcases. Your goal is to be better than the singer-songwriter who was performing in their conference room the day before. Is your show way more entertaining? It had better be or you lose out.  And you can’t be just good or even very good––you have to be GREAT!

 

2. Get your own vocal mic. God knows where the club’s mic has been. And stop hiding your mouth behind your mic. Stop it!

Most clubs and sound companies use Shure SM58’s for vocals––they’re the standard of the industry. The trouble is that to get the SM58 to sound good you have to sing directly into it and hold it as close as you can to your mouth. But then your mouth is hidden, isn’t it? And your mouth is one of the three ways of communicating with your audience (the other two being your eyes and your hands).

You can change that! Modern audio science has developed a microphone design that allows the singer to sing above and across the top of the mic by holding it at a 45-degree angle at the chin while preventing feedback and other noises from the stage. In fact, it doesn’t work that well when the singer attempts to eat the mic!

It’s called a hyper-cardioid dynamic mic and it comes in many styles, sizes and price ranges. I prefer the Telefunken M80 for high pitch voices or M81 for lower pitch. Try them both and see which one you prefer.  Sound techs don’t care if you want to use your own mic at a show; in fact, it’s usually a sign of a professional, and they welcome that any night.

 

3. Develop a stage personality with an attitude and a different way of looking at things. Show it off in your between-song patter.

Presenting your musical work in an entertaining manner is the presentation of personality. First, you need to have one––a personality, that is. And the best place to present that personality is in your essential between-song patter. Heretofore, you’ve probably not rehearsed anything to say from the stage and decided to “wing it.” If you’re going to do that, why even bother to rehearse your songs? Why not “wing” those too? Exactly.

I believe that the between-song patter is at least as important as your songs (and perhaps even more entertaining) and needs to be presented with the same amount of thought, preparation and rehearsal as your songs. Entertaining patter leads the audience to a better understanding and appreciation of your song and of you.

The idea here is to not only shed some light on the songs, but also how you FEEL about the songs, and the world, and relationships, and music, and whatever. You need to generate a reaction from the audience and not be afraid to step on a few toes. You need to present a relevant, consistent and personable attitude.

 

4. Lose any appearance of pride on stage, even to the point of looking foolish. Be vulnerable. People love that.

I don’t mean like the pride you take in your musical skills or professional standards. I’m talking about the pride that everyone hides deep in their ego that prevents them from making fools of themselves in front of other people. But there’s nothing wrong with looking foolish on stage––as long as it’s scripted and rehearsed and delivered with a wink. That’s entertaining!

The thing you have to get over is your reticence to doing something foolish on stage. Show your vulnerability by letting that foolish pride go––all successful entertainers have done so. Being vulnerable on stage is the best way to emotionally connect with an audience. If you can’t (or won’t) do that, then you are doomed to keep performing at the level you are now.

 

5. Studies show that creative artists have more emotional problems than the average person. Solution? Seek and accept help.

Creative artists’ lives are, more often than not, ruled by their emotions, which take undue precedence over rationale, reason and reality.

Drugs and alcohol are thought to be the shortcuts to creativity. But they’re also the express lanes to dysfunction. And don’t think you’re immune––you’re not. It’s not about will power or common sense, even if you had either one to begin with.

And addiction goes beyond the poster children of alcohol and drugs. There’s nicotine, caffeine, antibiotics and Afrin, for instance. They’re all good in moderation, but moderation is not a common attribute of singer-songwriters and artists.

There are solutions and there is help. Search out someone who has suffered through many of the same problems as yours and could offer some suggestions. And when help is offered, accept it. It’s the only way out.

[Permission Reprint by Music Connection Magazine]

For more information on the 14th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com

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Advice to musicians who aren’t getting major league results

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Advice to musicians who aren’t getting major league results: Artist Development Workshop: Image Identity Materials (I2M) Formula

by Tom Stein

Cam Nacson, SongwriterFor the most part, in today’s competitive music business, the responsibility for Artist Development has changed hands. Independent labels and entrepreneurial music artists have inherited the responsibility of nurturing new talent by fine-tuning their artistic and business development, and slowly growing their careers over several album releases. Developing a music career for the long haul is all about controlling one’s own destiny.

As an artist development consultant, aspiring musicians and artists regularly approach me with the question: what are the next steps I should take to develop my career as a recording/performing musician? I’d like to offer a few friendly pointers with this post to answer this common question.

Not knowing where to start can certainly feel overwhelming, because there are indeed many stages to developing an artist career, and many areas that need to be addressed. Over time, I came to see a pattern of perceived helplessness. I would need a much larger space to address all the aspects of artist development, so for now I am going to focus on the creation of your image identity materials, which I call I2M (pronounce: “I squared M”).

Bring Order From The Chaos

As with any complex endeavor, one must organize the work into sections, and devise strategies for dealing sequentially with each area. It is wise to take the perspective of music as a business, as a way of understanding the patterns of success and adopting the techniques that will lead you in that direction. I always recommend that artists study successful business role models and adopt an entrepreneurial mindset. Information and inspiration are your weapons.

Most musicians sense that marketing is a key to “breaking in to the business” but again, don’t know how to begin. You can learn much from how others successfully promote themselves. Considering marketing strategies from the very beginning of your artist business development is one way to bring order to what seems like a plethora of tasks. Focusing on marketing your music will help you to organize all the other aspects of artist development in alignment with your goals.

A Magic Formula

I like to build and test models for everything I do in my own career. A potential formula for this early stage of artist development would be expressed as:

I2M(B + R) = Ma

Or: (Image Identity Materials) times (Branding plus Resonance) equals Market access. I could express this in several other ways that are considerably more complex, taking into account the demographic of the target market, viral marketing techniques, and social media, etc. but this simple equation will serve our purposes for now. I like this kind of simple equation because it helps us to focus on what we can do right now, and why we need to do it. Let me explain each part of the equation.

What Is I2M?

I abbreviated Image Identity Materials this way to highlight that your image and identity are intertwined, and each supports the other in a synergistic way. Image identity materials include, but are not limited to:

  • Artist/band name
  • Professional video
  • Photos
  • Color schemes, artwork
  • Special fonts
  • Websites
  • Social media pages
  • Recordings
  • Artist Bio
  • Attire
  • Press Clippings
  • One Page”
  • Logo
  • Posters, flyers
  • Merchandise
  • Stage set design

Your visual materials are super important because people decide in a nanosecond whether they like you based on visual impact, whereas it takes a bit longer for them to process the music aurally. In the digital era, if you don’t have compelling visual images people won’t likely ever make the decision to click a link to listen to your music, or go see you live. Images are key in defining who you are (your identity) to a potential listener and fan, and they do it quickly.

Your image materials should immediately convey the alluring aspects of your identity, forcing people to listen to your music. Importantly, your I2M needs to make sense to the viewer and match up with your music in a clever way.

*(B + R)** is Branding and Resonance*
*Branding* used in this context refers to the execution of your image identity strategy. It can refer to the crafting of the messages, the professional quality of your materials, the memorability of your name, your logo, color scheme, fonts, plus any other unifying elements that create superior impact. Successful branding is certainly crucial to the success of any marketing campaign. There is an overlap between I2M and your branding execution.

*Resonance *I use to describe how well your materials are received by your target demographic. In social media marketing circles, resonance is a measure of how many people access and share curated content. When a YouTube video is released and quickly gets millions of views, this is because many people like it and want to share it. Highly resonant memes and videos are viewed and shared millions of times over a very short period. Most people are quite familiar with this phenomenon by now.

*Adding It All Up*
To summarize: when you add high potential *Resonance *and effective*Branding* together, and multiply it by your *Image Identity Materials*, (with a little luck) it should give you *Market Access. *This last term is obvious, and dependent on your actual goals. The instant accessibility of image identity materials via the increasingly interconnectedness of the web is a powerful tool for gaining traction as an artist. The next step is to devise a monetization strategy, but that topic will have to wait for another post.

*A Few Final Tips*
Now that you are organized in your thinking, make a plan around my formula. Look at it as a project, and apply tried and true project management techniques to getting things done (read up on project management techniques if you don’t understand them fully). That means making a list of milestones, and creating a timeline for completion for each milestone on the list. Figure out what you can get done on your own, and what you need help with. Write out a brief description of each milestone, and collect reference materials. If you need a budget, figure out how to get it, and conserve your resources where possible.

These are the things that most serious-minded artists do when starting out. Not every part of the process is equally fun; sometimes it feels like work, because it is. It’s important to seek out inspiration, and make sure to enjoy your time in the sun, when it comes as a result of your planning, hard work, and dedication.

I welcome your comments and ideas.

 
About Tom Stein:

Tom Stein is a visionary musical entrepreneur, music producer, artist development consultant, arranger, bandleader and performer on electric bass, voice and guitar. He is also a professional educator; he teaches at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts and is the founder of Music Connectivity, a cultural diplomacy firm. www.tomstein.com

For more information on the IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), please go to: http://www.inacoustic.com

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