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« Independent Artist, Jaway, speaks to MusicWithoutLabels about the Industry. | Main | Do all new music ventures have to be digital now? »

It's about the music, Stupid.

I am sitting at the edge of the Grand Canyon with a teaspoon trying to fill it in. That’s what marketing and self-promotion can feel like in the digital age or at least, that’s the way it feels to me.

I walked into a cavernous Barnes and Noble last night. They just opened another location by me on East 86th street in New York. I can’t begin to describe how big it is. I’ve lived in Manhattan my entire adult life so I do a double take when I see wasted space- but this? This place is ridiculous. It completely freaked me out. I felt a primal fear that I haven’t felt since Sylvia Rhone (former CEO of Elektra) used to scream at me but that’s a whole other blog post.

I’ve spent considerably more time than I originally thought I would writing and creating content for my website and to realize that this one store contained a million or more books and these were just the books that were deemed the best by major publishers meaning the total volume of writing out there is… staggering.


What could I possibly have to offer that wasn’t already written somewhere? It made me think about the quality of what I write and the quality of my coaching. You really have to be exceptional to make it in entertainment these days. It reminded me of a conversation I had with my friend Mark Hermann recently about “just because you can – should you?”

We were talking about music and how there were no more barriers to entry and how on the one hand – what a wonderful freedom! On the other hand – how can we hear any one thing if we are in a stadium full of people screaming and demanding to be heard? Would we know if one of these voices was the next Beatles? Probably not. I love that image and wish I could claim it as my own but it belongs to Mark and I think he’s right on. One of the larger music management companies in New York has a sign on the door that reads “It’s about the music, stupid.” I think we are very quick to forget that these days.

I have been consulting and coaching artists informally for years but have only really begun Musician Coaching as a business in the last month which is when my site went live. I help people make sure they are in all of the right places online and to make sure that their website accomplishes what it needs to accomplish. I help people by providing a critique of their audio and video materials and their marketing efforts, their live show and the way they approach the people who sit behind one of the many desks where dreams go to die that stand between them and opportunity.

Sometimes I need to spend more time telling people to continue to develop their product and how best to do that because it can be worth the wait. The Beatles wrote a hundred songs before you ever heard note one of their first record and had played covers for several years. R.E.M played pizza joints in Athens Georgia in complete obscurity for a long time. Peter Frampton toured non-stop for three years before recording Frampton comes alive.

I can wake up tomorrow, write and record a song and have it up on MySpace tomorrow but should I? I’m not saying there is anything wrong with doing so but I do think more people should have realistic expectations of their abilities and the level at which they expect people to respond. Why doesn’t anyone care anymore? It is simply because there is too much mediocrity out there. I say this often “There is no one in the audience because everyone is on the stage.” Cheap recording gear and low or no cost international distribution are now tools that are in everyone’s hands. The music business is no longer an exclusive club – if you’ve got an Internet connection and a mic in jack you can now be considered a member.

“It’s about the music, stupid.” It’s a great reminder. All I am suggesting is write 100 songs and put the best one of those 100 out for people to hear. I am suggesting that if you have to cut your teeth playing live and are struggling making it solo- try to do it as a sideman or a hired gun. 99% of the “overnight success” stories you hear involve someone working their ass off behind the scenes for a long long time before they broke. If you want a good read- check out the Hendrix book “Room Full of mirrors” – Jimmy played 2nd fiddle to a ton of people before going out on his own.

In America there seems to be this feeling that everyone gets their 15 minutes or worse yet- everyone deserves their 15 minutes. We have been sold this vision that at any moment fame and wealth may strike without working for it. There is something tattooed on the back of our brains that somewhere out there Ed McMahon is looking for each and every one of us with an over-sized check and that the rest of our lives will be taken care of from that moment on… I’m all for the Lotto slogan “Hey, you never know” but I’m sure as hell not depending on it.


What is my point? My point is, and I don’t exclude myself, we have to spend less time on marketing and more time making sure we have products that are worth marketing. There is more music out there than ever before- everyone you know is a “musician” or at least a hobbyist and consumers are very jaded. Before shotgunning your product out there and whipping your fans into a frenzy about your new release you had better make damn sure that you have a product that is not only competitive but stronger than most of the stuff you see and hear or it’s over before it starts.

Below are some examples that were sent to major label A&R people recently. How much time and effort would have been saved if these people got feedback from anyone, even their friends and family before putting this out into the world? These are extreme examples but if you wonder why music business people are jaded…take a listen.





Musician Coaching

Reader Comments (6)


September 9 | Unregistered CommenterMason Taylor

hahahaha. love the examples.

September 9 | Registered CommenterChris Bracco

thanks for posting this. I wish I didn't have to market so it could be 100% about the music! But this gave me focus after a very frustrating morning.

September 10 | Unregistered CommenterHelen Austin

>>I can wake up tomorrow, write and record a song and have it up on MySpace tomorrow but should I?<< YES you should because YOU CAN - whether it's deemed a quality song or not is another matter. Some artists/songwriters/musicians need to just produce and get it out there and it can mean something to be able to post it so that someone, somewhere at some time will listen to what was created. Will they like it? Who knows?

September 10 | Unregistered CommenterDarryl Gregory

To Darryl's point - I see too many people throwing half baked ideas around and hinging extensive marketing campaigns on ideas that were, at best, only half realized and expecting the world to change for them because they have made this material available

If you have a body of work and want to release something in development to an existing fan base - great!

If you are trying to get noticed / make a living / procure a strategic partner... that's a different story in my opinion. I'm not saying that great scratch recordings don't happen on the spur of the moment and can wind up better than expensive studio versions. I'm just saying people should put their best foot forward and hone their craft as much as possible if they are trying to make a living making music or if they are expecting anyone to care...


September 10 | Unregistered CommenterRick Goetz

Hi Rick, love your post and completely agree!
Coincidently yesterday I wrote a post for my blog on the same subject, about the importance of focusing on the music before trying to market it, and I was even afraid that my thoughts would be a bit off, so I’m glad to know you have the same opinion as mine on this issue.
And, I’m really glad to know that there are people like you out there to help musicians understand what this is all about and work harder on what matters the most – the music.
Your posts are absolutely fantastic!

September 10 | Unregistered CommenterJuliana Guinsani

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