One of my favorite things about the music business is the thought of WHAT COULD BE. I’m often listening to little iPhone voice memos from young artists I’m working with and all I hear is gold records in the making. The prospect of the “maybe” is so completely tantalizing to me that I immediately forget about all of the stress and sacrifice it takes to bring it to life. But isn’t that kinda the point?! Isn’t that why we do it?! It’s like a mental vacation with every new song idea. It’s like medicine for your soul. Ahhhh………
Still, as a producer and visionary of artists and their art, there is a really long list of things that must happen.
- Finding the artist who has genuine intrinsic motivation and will work hard with no pay and no prospects except the fact that they are working hard to not have to work at that desk job they hate anymore.
- Finding an artist who knows who they are and is willing to grow and change.
- Finding an artist who knows how to write what they know, knows how to communicate it in a unique that way, and what they know and how they say it is worth listening to.
- Finding the right song for that artist.
- Finding the right sound for the artist.
- The Look.
- The business team around them.
- The short and long term vision.
- No money… and the list goes on.
But, of course, there must first be a genuine burst of inspiration. Without that, it’s dead in the water. But, let’s assume the artist is all these things and more – just for fun. Well, here’s what I know from my years on the road, making records and living the ever changing and ever interesting life of an artist. This is what I teach my students at Judson University, Chicago, where I built and and help run the Recording Arts Program. In general you need to be…
FAITHFUL – Be on time. Be prepared. Don’t quit. It’s the law of attrition: he who stays the longest wins. Make goals. Meet them. Repeat. Whether it’s a calling or just a hobby this is the first ingredient and it always works in whatever you do.
AVAILABLE – When I built the recording studios at Judson, there were a few students who were always around when we were working on new projects. They were there to do whatever I needed. Coffee runs. Food. Plug that ol’ amp in. Whatever it was they did it, and they did it with a smile. The really good ones did it without me needing to ask, they just knew. Eager and available. You know that ol’ saying “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”? It’s true. Many of those students ended up showing me their music in the in-between times of other artists and… now they are artists, with records on iTunes, and doing quite well for themselves I might add.
TEACHABLE – If you think you already know everything, then you’ll find yourself alone a lot. I usually spot those artists quickly and run for the hills. Be humble. Be teachable. You might just learn something. It works. Many great artists have this trait.
TALENTED – If you do have the “it” factor, don’t just rest on your laurels, work hard at it. Be the best. Study the best in your field of interest and learn everything about everything that they do. Repeat that process with other artists in your field and elsewhere. Be a great student of the great people surrounding you. Learn from those who aren’t as talented – you’d be surprised at what you find. There is no substitute for amazing. Be amazing. No one pays for tickets to see mediocre. If only your grandma thinks you’re amazing… get a second opinion before you buy all that gear on ebay to become the next icon.
TENACIOUS – If you can’t sleep at night because you’re head and heart is restless while writing songs and looking for ways to record them and play them live… You’re probably an artist. Get out of bed and record that song on whatever device you have so that you can go back to sleep and wake up with energy to make it happen. Artists are frustrated when they’re not making art. So make art. Just start somewhere. With that in mind, take the words of Winston Churchill when London was being raised to the ground by the Nazi war machine. Never. Never. Never Give up. Ever.
At the end of the day. Being an artist is a lifestyle that you choose. You don’t have to be rich first. You don’t have to be educated. You don’t even have to be that good. You just have to love it and find a way to let people into your world and love it with you. Lift people up in the process, they tend to take you with them. Enjoy the journey and have fun – it’s more fun, and it shows up in your music. And that’s worth listening to.