Do you agree with this graph? Experts released data showing the newest profile for a musician who wants to succeed in the music industry. Of course, they left off “being a LAMA grad” which is right up there with Genius and musically gifted 🙂 But you are going to need a lot more than being Mac owner to get into LAMA!
Last time we chatted (The Truth – Music Careers Part 1: Performance), we learned that friends and family don’t often know the truth about what you can do with a music career. We also learned that you could have a very successful career as a performer. A little known fact is that the songwriters behind the songs that performers belt out on stage often make the most money. In this blog, we are first going to give you the basics of songwriting and then examine some of the different career options you have if you want to pursue songwriting after graduating music college.
WHAT IS SONGWRITING?
It might come as a shock to you, and I don’t mean to pull back the curtain, but the majority of songs you hear on the radio or watch on YouTube are NOT written by the artist performing them. Pop and Country music, especially, have had a long history of using professional songwriters to compose the lyrics and melodies that the performing artists sing in the studio, on their records, and in concert. It’s not just flavor of the moment artists like Miley Cyrus or Britney Spears, but everybody from Frank Sinatra to The Supremes to Sheryl Crow to Elton John. Almost ALL country musicians make use of professional songwriters who live in Nashville or “music city” and hope a big star will record one of their songs. Most songwriters are musicians who have a knack for putting music and words together and typically stay behind the scenes. The key perk with songwriting is the fact that you get a percentage of publishing money. If you have been reading Billboard lately, you might have noticed that the only people getting rich in music these days are people with publishing because you can earn money in television and movies and not have to rely on the sale of a CD.
Just because you become a songwriter and you spend your days in a studio recording and composing songs doesn’t mean you can’t have a life performing. Brad Paisley and Bob Dylan started off as songwriters with other people performing their songs before their performing and celebrity eclipsed their songwriting. Many songwriters often perform regularly at clubs, similar to how a stand-up comedian trys out jokes in clubs to see if they work, songwriters test out songs. Other musicians pay the bills by songwriting while they have other performance side-projects and bands. Some performers straddle both sides, like David Bowie who famously wrote “All The Young Dudes” for Mott The Hoople or Elliot Smith who gave Mary Lou Lord “I Figured You Out” both at the height of their respective careers.
JINGLE WRITER RADIO & TV
We all know the story about how the NBA on NBC theme came to John Tesh in his head and he left it on his answering machine. You know that theme right? We all do, even if we don’t watch basketball. Check him out performing the song and telling the story here:
You might think he just came up with a ten-second series of notes, but it’s so much more than that! EVERYTIME NBC airs a basketball game, Tesh gets a very nice royalty, and it has entered our culture. This is the power of being a jingle writer for radio and TV. These are musicians who have a key for coming up with very simple and quick catchy music interludes. This is way harder than it looks! Radio was the original creator of jingles; while most stations don’t sound like this anymore, it’s still the same principle:
This is one of the coolest jobs you can have after graduating from music school. The music supervisor handles and supervises the music for television and movies. Not only does he or she oversee all the composers and musicians that might provide the score, but he or she also oversees the soundtrack. This could include all stages of production from a “temp soundtrack,” as the film or TV show is being developed, to actually doing the negotiations with artist managements and publishing companies to get the “sync licenses” for TV and movies. Another aspect of the job could involve picking a performer to sing a particular song, such as Randy Newman with Pixar or Elton John contributing a performance for “The Lion King”.
This is just a very small sampling of the many opportunities you have if you want a career in songwriting. For a bigger list you might want to check out LAMA’s Careers Page Link. Luckily, if you are a student at LAMA already, you can simply ask some of your teachers because LAMA’s faculty is proud to have many successful songwriters who can give you the inside track on a future career. Fellow musicians, next time those lyrics come into your head, or you start humming a tune, grab for a pencil, chalk, anything and get it down on paper, it could be your big break!
Our staffers visit with a lot of prospective music students at LA Music Academy open houses and on-campus tours. It is amazing how little location factors into students’ decisions on what music school to attend (“consider the location” is the first tip in our recent blog post “How to Choose the Right Music School“). We can imagine how it happens — you get so focused on the intricacies of each school and the great faculty (Tariqh Akoni chairs the guitar dept at LAMA!? cool!) that you often forget that you are going to be living in a city for your entire time at college. Let’s examine why it is important to look into location:
There are music schools located all over the world with a million different climates so you want to make sure that the weather is conducive to your learning. Ask yourself where you grew up and live now, was it a cold climate or a hot climate? Did you like it? Have you ever lived in a different climate? It can be a huge adjustment. Witnessing your first snowstorm can be very scary to anybody! If you want sunshine year round, you might think about a school located in California. If you don’t mind carrying your instruments and books through the rain and snow, the east coast may be more up your alley. Go visit the schools and see if the weather suites you! Don’t get fooled if you visit an east coast school in Summer since the weather, most of the year, will not resemble anything like what you see.
PROXIMITY TO THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY
If you wanted to go to a music school, wouldn’t you want to be, well, you know, sort of close to the entertainment industry? People often don’t take this into consideration. Why waste time in a state that has NO music industry? The great thing about going to a school like LAMA next to Los Angeles is you get to use your time in music college to network and meet all the people IN the industry who will help you get your first job after you graduate. Not to mention, sometimes you need to be close to all the action and get inspired by seeing other people who have made it and living the music dream. Trust me it helps!
COST OF LIVING
There is no doubt that certain cities are more expensive than others to live in. Weigh the options. Would you rather live in a city with cheaper rent or live in a city with a slightly higher premium but with the benefits of being closer to the music industry? Also, just because the music school you are looking at is in an expensive city, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be smart about spending your money and turn it into a cheap city. Make sure to check out our blog on “Living On The Cheap In LA” to get some ideas.
Rumor has it that Axl Rose’s lyrics to “Welcome To The Jungle” are about getting off the bus in Los Angeles for the first time. It can be scary heading to a big city if you haven’t before, so make sure you feel comfortable. If you don’t mind living in an urban environment with higher crime rates, you can look into schools right in the heart of a big city. However, if safety is a concern, you might like LAMA, which is located right outside LA, so you get the perks of safety and less traffic, but still just a short car or bus ride away to being in all the action.
These are just a few of the many reasons why checking out the location of the school should rank high when you are looking at different schools. Don’t forget as well, that each one of us is built differently, so you may or may not adapt well to certain environments and cities. You will know which city feels right to you. Trust your gut more than anything else!
We could probably do an entire blog post defining what it means for a musician to be “discovered” but generally, use these tips to increase your visibility in an age where competition is fierce and everyone has a voice (and Twitter account):
1) Update Your Status: All right, so now that Myspace has become as useful as a wet blanket, how do we get viral with your tunes? Well, focus on Facebook page “Likes” and YouTube subscribers. Most labels have put more value in the above mentioned than your Twitter following! According to some nameless record execs, Facebook is exponentially more interactive then Twitter with a return on “calls to action”. So update your status and tell your parents Facebook is now part of your career.
2) Give It Away: That’s right. Stop charging for music. Instead, use a friend sharing service that requires a call to action in order to download. For example, search for a service that requires fans to tweet the free download link to 5 friends before they’re allowed to download your tunes for free (there‘s a ton out there, so find the best fit for your project). Even though you’re giving your music away for free, you’re growing your fan base while exposing them to your music. Many bands have done this and made up their money when newly exposed fans by merchandise, or the full albums (or prior albums) form your catalog.
3) Great Things Come in Small Packages: The days of walking a CD into any label and getting signed off of the music alone have long gone. They want an image – a brand to market. So give it to them, all wrapped up in a neat package. Include photos, press hits, any small merch pieces you have, press releases and of course, three (3) copies of your CD with only 3 songs to demo. We know you have a full album but give the A&R department only enough to want to ask for more.
4) Coffee Anyone?: Hit the coffee shop circuit. There is probably one down the street from you now that is begging for someone like you to take up a residency. What’s a residency you ask? Well, consider it like a scheduled TV program. Every week at a certain time, you allow fans to “tune in” to watch you perform. They’ll know where and when to find you, listen and hopefully bring friends as well. Ask your local coffee shop for a 4-week residency trial. If you’ve got the chops, they’ll love you for it.
5) Don’t Worry About It: Look, if you get discovered and sign a deal, it still doesn’t promise you an album release. So be creative and support yourself. Release EPs. Commit to new photo shoot every 6 months. Don’t rely on being “discovered” to save your career because 9 times out of 10 it will actually destroy it if you haven’t put in the pre-game time to develop yourself. Remember the saying “If you build it, they will come”? Well this holds true to your music and style – build it up and someone will come chasing after you with a record deal. Nothing like artistic control to put a smile on any artist’s face.
What other tips do you have to help fellow musicians get “discovered”?