So you want to be a Rock and Roll star? Or maybe the next winner of the X Factor? Or the drummer in the next Beatles or Rolling Stones? Or the next Elvis Presley or Dr Dre? Maybe you want to be the next Aretha Franklyn or Amy Winehouse? You won’t become a Superstar by accident, you need a plan. At Mill Hill Music Complex, we have over 1,000 musicians a week passing through the studio complex, many of whom are well known and many of whom have successful careers. We also have many musicians who wan’t to reach that level of success but won’t. What separates those who make it from those who don’t?
The answer is actually quite simple. Those that make it have a plan. There’s two old adages that a bad plan is better than no plan at all and that even the best plan doesn’t survive contact with the enemy. So you are at the start of your career and you want to make it. Where do you start? The first thing you need to do is to decide why anyone would want to buy your tracks and go to see your shows. Most of us think we are great at what we do, but why would anyone prefer your music or your show to any other band? Sometimes the question answers itself. I will never forget the first time I heard Amy Winehouse rehearsing in our studios. Her voice was simply awesome. Another example was the first time I saw Kate Nash perform. I had organised a gig for MacMillan Cancer relief. Kate’s Dad is a friend of mine and she’d just started out. I offered her the chance to support my band “to get a bit of experience performing”. Kate turned up and blew everyone away with the intensity of her performance. In both cases, it was crystal clear to me that the artists in question had oodles of talent. Both also had built up good connections and management who were able to get their music to the ears of the right people. In Amy’s case, she built a reputation as a great singer and got on the Jools Holland show and never looked back. In Kate’s case, she built up a huge profile on Myspace (remember that), then got professional management. Her early recordings had hundreds of thousands of plays, so she had a home made launch pad. Lily Allen had liked her music and her management used this to launch her career.
In both cases, these artist were talented and original. So ask yourself, what is your unique talent? Many bands simply think because they have a couple of numbers that they quite like, they will conquer the world. Sadly this is rarely the case. You will never make it if no one hears your music. So the first thing you need to do is to get some decent recordings of yourself. These days this is not expensive. Get together the musicians you need. Rehearse the songs until they sound good, then do some demos. We always advise people to not spend too long recording their first demo session. As you are unfamiliar with the studio process, it is hard to get the most out of it on the first visit. Use it as a learning experience and don’t be too ambitious. Record 3-4 songs and aim to spend no more than a couple of days on it. That should give you some recordings of decent quality which you can play to people. You will also find out if the band actually sounds as good as you think it does when you are rehearsing.
Once you have a few tracks recorded that you are happy with (don’t play them to anyone if you are not), think about doing a few shows to get experience of appearing live. This can be an extraordinarily stressful situation. When I started, our band had been rehearsing for a year before our first gig. On the day, the singer lost his bottle and failed to show up. That is why it is always worth doing a few low key shows. If you are a singer and it is appropriate given your style of music, try a few karaoke nights. This will get you used to singing in front of people.
Once you have a few decent recordings and a show that you are happy with, then you can start to move to the next stage of your career. For this you will need a media pack. This includes photo’s, contact details and a website with music on it. I’d suggest a biog of the band. You should also list your musical influences and genres on your site. This will mean people searching for music and bands on the internet are more likely to find you. Just as an example, if your band want to be the next Led Zeppelin and you have a guitarist of Jimmy Page like skills and a drummer of Jon Bonham power, then you should build on this and make sure that it is mentioned. If you have a voice like Aretha Franklyn, say so. One mistake bands make is that they list as influences musicians who are in no way like their own sound. This is a big fail on two counts, firstly people will checkout the band on false pretences and so are unlikely to come back. Secondly people who may like your music will be put off. If you say Motorhead are a big influence, but in actual fact you want to be the next Take That, you will just look silly. Always make it easy for people to “get it”.
Perhaps the most common comment I get when I ask people what they are like, is “Oh we don’t sound like anyone else”. I have yet to hear this comment and for it to be true. I understand why people don’t want to pigeonhole themselves, but if people know you fit in well with there musical tastes, they will be more likely to check you out.
To get to the next stage in your career, you need gigs, TV appearances (Jools Holland,X Factor etc depending on your genre), radio plays and press coverage. All of these will help. If you know where you fit in, then target the shows, venues and producers who will help you get on. Perhaps the best way to move your career on is to get professional and competent management. A manager will open doors with contacts and will help you climb the ladder more quickly.
There are two questions I always advise artists to ask. The first is who the manager has worked with before who has been successful and the second is whether you can speak with these artists to verify that they were happy with the management. Clearly if the manager is part of an organisation with a track record, this is unnecessary, but please check out the company. It will save you much grief.
So to summarise then, things you should put together to get your career on the way is this
- A decent recording.
- Great pictures.
- A biog and band info.
- A website.
- A list of venues to check out for gigs.
- A list of radio shows who may play your music.
- A list of contacts in media and press.
- A list of industry contacts (labels, management, producers etc)
- People around you who won’t let you down.
- A plan of when you are going to use all of the above.
So there you go, these are all the things you need! What is stopping you. You won’t become a Superstar by accident, so make sure you get working on that plan !