How do you tell a businessperson that success in the music business…has nothing to do with business?
On Music Think Tank, where I have posted over eighty articles, you’ll find an overwhelming amount of advice on social media practices, fan engagement and conversion strategies, business planning, artist management, music marketing, music technology and enough similar sounding posts to make your head spin. One might even be misled into believing that the equation: decent artist + solid business support = success. However this formula is about as a sound as building a one legged table.
If you are ever thinking about financially backing or supporting an artist, you should know that there are two other legs of the table that are of equal or greater importance. In fact, if these first two legs are solid, the third leg, the business leg, almost organically grows itself.
Songs are the first leg of the table.
On the surface, the first leg of the table seems rather obvious. If your artist doesn’t have fantastic, phenomenal, groundbreaking (non-trite, non-cliche, non-average) songs then the venture is beginning from a place that is already underwater. The challenges here are: one million songs a year are being uploaded to the Internet; to most people, many of these songs sound almost great; the average music fan can’t separate the value of a live performance experience from the value of great songwriting; nobody can consistently pick hits, as record labels repeatedly fail at trying (but they do know what average sounds like); and the process of song adoption and falling in love with songs is a complex journey that often takes far more time than standard market research testing accounts for.
If you really dig your artists and you love his or her songs, then my advice here is to seek out at least ten people that each have ten years of solid music industry / music making experience and then challenge each music industry professional to point out, describe and contrast similar songs. Judgments aside, similar song/artist analysis - produced by people that regularly traffic in music - is going to give you the essential, comparative marketplace information you need to make an informed investment decision.
Fortunately in 2011, music industry professionals are far more accessible than they were even three years ago. You can go to sites like Hello Music, Music 180 and MusicXray (disclaimer: I am a shareholder in MusicXray) and find thoughtful and experienced industry pros that can provide comparative information and written feedback. Like most professions, the quality of music industry professionals runs along a broad spectrum. Do your homework prior to purchasing industry feedback and advice.
Magnetism is the second leg of the table.
The voyage your artist must take to obtain niche popularity is going to take at least three to five years, and your time and money cannot be glue that holds the raft together. If your solo artist or band can’t attract, captivate and inspire fans, dedicated band members, experienced industry pros and a passionate support team without the use of your money, then think twice prior to investing. No amount of money can buy enduring success in the music industry, and signing to a record label does not create an exception. Instead, songs and magnetism are the keys to lasting success.
In my opinion, magnetism is the sum of a dozen or more overlapping qualities. To attract, captivate and inspire fans look for excellent songwriting, an alluring presence, unrivalled musicianship and the ability to deliver an arresting performance. To find magnetism within a band and between band members look for the mutual dedication to excellent musicianship, generosity, genuine friendships, a natural leader and non-conflicting goals. Personally, I prefer to find a notable industry veteran with twenty years of experience already attracted and attached (magnetized) to the project/artist/band; this may indicate songwriting chops, publishing knowhow, the wisdom to navigate within the entertainment industry, but most of all it indicates (to me) that someone that has seen a lot…also sees something that is rare and exceptional. As for attracting a passionate support team - that includes levelheaded business people – this is one indicator that the artist(s) involved are 1) not fucked up, and 2) demonstrate remarkable character.
If your artist is less than magnetic, and if you think you can pave over magnetic deficiencies with money, than I have two words for you…good luck.
Business is the third leg of the table.
If the song and magnetism legs are solid, the third business leg is simply there for balance. All the business bullshit and music technology plumbing are nice-to-haves, mild accelerants, and/or revenue enhancers. However if legs one and two are rock solid, everything else is trivial in comparison. You can make numerous business mistakes and naïve technology decisions, but if your artist can’t write or obtain the best songs in the world, or if he or she is a selfish, lazy, drug abusing dullard then forget about obtaining enduring success. The business leg is the easiest leg to change; the other two legs are often (permanently) carved into the table.