I know what you’re thinking. “There’s no such thing.” That’s what I thought too. Until I started to piece together the stories and advice I heard after going to several music industry events. It all came together for me when I attended the recent ASCAP NY Sessions. The light came on. I saw a common denominator - an overarching theme in all of their stories and thoughts. There it was. Could it be? The silver bullet for music business success? Except it wasn’t the shiny silver bullet I expected to see. If you’ve watched Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, you know about the ending when Indy had to pick which cup was actually the one with the power of life (the cup that Jesus drank out of at the Last Supper). The bad guy drank out of the gilded cup encrusted with jewels and died immediately. Indiana Jones got a worn, undesirable looking cup that would’ve belonged to a humble carpenter. That cup was the cup that miraculously healed and saved his dad’s life, who had been shot.
So, I’m sitting on the balcony because the main floor was too crowded. I’m listening to the panelists, who had great things to say. These are accomplished film/tv music people, hit producers and songwriters, and execs. And as usual, the audience members get the opportunity to ask questions at the end. And one by one, the questions were asked. And the gist of just about all of them was “how do I get to be where you are?”
I’m thinking to myself, “Did they listen to anything those guys just rattled off over the course of the event?” I could understand if the questions were about the technicalities of the business, but they weren’t (besides, you can learn technicalities from books). They were looking for the finite steps to success. “Tell me exactly how. Who do I call? What do I say? Where do I go? What time should I go there? What are the exact sound patches and software you’re using to make that hit sound?” It was as though everyone was looking to be “rescued” from obscurity by some certain means/formula or a mighty industry big shot (if only they could be told how to get to that person, whoever it is). Needless to say, they all missed it. And I did too for a while.
So, what is that silver bullet I think I spotted? I gotta warn you again. It doesn’t shine or sparkle. In fact, it’s worn, but still effective. It wont excite you. But, it’s the real deal. Are you ready? Here’s what I saw. The silver bullet: Collaboration with emerging/aspiring industry people. “Emerging” being the key word. Stop lusting after the “somebodies” and pay some attention to the “nobodies” around you.
The truth is this: Just about everyone on these panels became successful because of their collaboration with virtual unknowns at the time when they started out. Time and time again, they told us that the people they work with now are people they started working with years and years ago when those people too were nobodies. Stargate (the production duo behind an onslaught of hits last year) shared about how they started working with Neyo when no one knew who Neyo was and no one knew who they were. And how that helped them excel in the U.S. with their career.
One film music supervisor started helping Spike Lee about 15 years ago. He kept telling people to go find film students and offer to do music for them. (I don’t think too many people heard that because it wasn’t what they wanted to hear.)
Kerry “Krucial” Brothers (the hit producer behind the breakout success of Alicia Keys) told us about how he and some people used to go and jam out in Union Square (NYC). They were nobodies and they’d get in trouble for being too loud at times. At that time, Alicia would come by and jam with them. Nobody knew who she was. She too was a nobody. (Take that with a grain of salt please.) She started hanging out and Kerry would produce stuff with her (stuff that didn’t really go anywhere). He was mainly into hip hop. They just had fun together making music. Alicia ended up getting signed to a label through Jeff Robinson, who was not really that known then neither. That deal didn’t work out because the label kept trying to pair her with producers that weren’t a good match. That deal fell through and she ended up on J Records, who gave her liberty. And so she went to Kerry because she loved it when they were doing stuff together. Kerry didn’t know how to produce R&B, but gave it a shot. Together, they ended up creating a new sound that became a major success.
The silver bullet? Collaboration with emerging industry people. Add to that hard work and fearless creativity and you’ll have music business success. Why? Because opportunities inevitably come and the emerging always emerge.This applies not only to creatives, but also business type people like managers, lawyers, publicists, radio/media people, etc.
It is so important that you realize that, as a virtual unknown, you are a part of the emerging music community, which will one day occupy the seats of those you’re looking to now. The people on your level right now are the people that will also with you sit on top one day. Start working with them. Help one another. The stories I mentioned above are not the only ones. In fact, I’d venture to say that just about everyone’s story is the same. I think, the major “players” in the industry right now can attest to what I’m saying. This business is a business of relationships. And it is a business of relationships because it’s always been a business of collaboration.
So then, there’s only one question remaining, “How do I know who to collaborate with?” First of all, your gauge is no longer whether or not that person is already powerful/successful. I think it’s also given that what they’re attempting to accomplish has to be a match with what you’re trying to accomplish. What you are now looking for is:
1. Is this person talented and always challenging his/her creativity?
2. Is this person determined, hard-working, and in it for the long haul?
You find someone like that and you’ve found someone who is going to succeed no matter what happens and YOU will succeed with them if you too are in it for the long haul. Just a thought for consideration.
Minh is an artist, producer, and entrepreneur based in the DC area. His official site is www.reachminh.com.