Monday, October 01, 2007

Nothing Up My Sleeves!

This is from the Sellaband forum posted under the thread, "What's the secret?" Posted by
Lush Progress a new band to Sellaband.

"I've spent a couple days browsing through the site, and it seems that there is a very small, elite group of bands on SAB that do very well. I'd guess maybe 10%.
So, what separates those bands from the other 90%? What is their secret? Maybe the better question would be: What are believers looking for when they invest in a band?"

As any expert in prestidigitation would say, as he rolls up the sleeves of his red brocade tuxedo, "Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat. Nothing up my sleeve!" There is no secret. The harder you work, the luckier you get. And when it comes to making a dent in the wall that is the business of selling music, Lotsa Luck! The 90/10 ratio given in the above post are liberally skewed in favor of success. I'm certain that the actual failure to success ratio across the board is much steeper.

But to address the question, why do some artists succeed and others fail? Let's make a list of some fairly obvious reasons:

1. First and foremost, as my sweet old granny liked to say, "If it's so fucking easy, anybody could do it!" (She was a real inspiration and had a wonderful way with words.)

2. Some artists/music happen to touch a wider audience. This has fuck-all to do with quality. Selling music is a business. Tofu is a higher quality food source than Sir Barf-a-lot Breakfast Krispies, but you don't get a toy so we all know who gets your dollar.

3. And then, there is the issue of quality. Some people are simply better than others. When we pay money to see, movies, sports, we want to see something at a higher level than that which we can do ourselves. To be worth the price of admission, something had better be special. This is a concept that is getting more difficult to grasp in a society that wants to ban any form of reward for excellence. There are school districts that have eliminated competitive activities like "dodge-ball" and "tag" from physical education classes citing that weaker students may develop esteem issues when they lose against more aggressive or athletic students. After twelve years of having their mediocrity rewarded it is no small wonder that an entire generation finds it hard to excel in the real world, which is for all intents and purposes divided into two classes...ass kickers and ass kickees. Now that is not to say that all the ass kickers always win all of the time. But those who find their asses constantly on the end of a foot don't have a chance.

In the early eighties (Aw shit...another one of Pete's dumb-ass stories) I was in a band called Target. Don't even bother googling...we were ass kickers but got our asses soundly kicked by the pros. We had it all going for us. We had at least five songs that were hit material. The main writer had a voice that was unforgettable and a style that had star quality written all over it. Every musician in the band was top notch, sang well and looked the part. We simply had no weak spots.

Wally Holmes, the producer of "Rock the Boat" by the Hughes Corporation was mentoring us in our quest to be the next great thing. He said one thing that has stayed with me through the years. We were having a hot dog at Pink's in Hollywood when he noticed my eyes following a big silver Benz driving past. "Do you want to drive a car like that?" he asked. I nodded, and he said, " All you have to do is work your ass off. There are 24 hours in a day. Most people work for eight and sleep for eight. It's what you do with the remaining eight hours that will make the difference. You can go to the movies, watch sports or just hang out. But just remember that when you go to a movie or see a concert or even watch TV, you'll be paying to see the people who use those eight hours to kick some ass...and they're the ones who drive those big silver cars."

We had spent two years talking our way into enough after-hours studio time to record some impressive demos. It was time to do a showcase for a heavyweight record producer who only wanted to see us in front of an audience before signing us to a lucrative deal. So here we were, the featured band on a Saturday night in a club then called "At My Place" (now the Temple Bar in Santa Monica). And boy did we wow the audience. It was a show not soon to be forgotten. Seems that our songbird suffered from an over-abundant dose of self-prescribed "external courage" reeling drunk on red wine. We kicked off the first tune of the set, he stepped to the mic and promptly puked on his shoes and into the drinks of the first row of tables. After the initial impact of the scene had subsided, I looked up in time to see our recording career walk muttering out the back door and drive off...probably in a big silver Benz. GAME OVER.

The lessons I learned from being in that band were these...If you aren't ready to work hard, forget it. If you don't have a hit song, forget it. If you go to bed at night thinking that you practiced enough, forget it. If you play your music for people and they don't go nuts, forget it. If you have to hand out a pamphlet with your cd explaining why the sitar part zooms across the stereo mix, forget it. If you think that being a recalcitrant asshole makes you "special", forget it. And if you spew your courage all over your shoes at the first sign of pressure...really forget it. None of these things will necessarily prevent you from being a great musician. But any one of these "Ifs" can throw a wrench into the prospect of being commercially successful.

There is one more point I want to make about the last part of the posted question,
"Maybe the better question would be: What are believers looking for when they invest in a band?"

This may not be directly related to the question, but it's an observation nonetheless. I've noticed two distinct approaches in developing artist/believer relationships within the Sellaband community. There is the artist who arrives as a dinner guest with flowers for the lady of the house, a nice bottle of wine or perhaps a special dessert...and asks what else he can do as he clears the dishes from the table. And then there is the artist who arrives late, complains that the broccoli is overcooked, takes a piece of cake to go, then walks off with half the silverware.

To be successful in the business of selling, and in music it is yourself that is for sale, people have to like what they are buying. Nobody purposely pays for something they don't want. The more successful artists on Sellaband are those that bring something to the table...something more than just the music. It is a mistake to come to Sellaband empty-handed and expect financial support from the existing financial base. For the system itself to be viable, artists must bring along a "primer coat" of belief. Otherwise the current believers will be counting the forks and spoons.

So...I guess the secret is out...nothing up my sleeves! Here's wishing Lush Progress all the success that hard work can bring.


Anonymous said...

very simple but true:)

Anonymous said...

Very true, and written very well.