The Music Business Fairy Tale Ending

Once upon a time an A&R of a record label from a kingdom far, far, away would come down from the sky, tap you on the head, make you famous and shower you with gifts, trips to Neverland and even fairy “dust” for as long as they could pump advertising out to everyone in villages around the magic forest.

Everyone rejoiced. You road white horses who had white horses to carry your gear and Little Red Riding Hood was your biggest fan.

One day you were sitting on a wall and noticed a funny looking egg sitting next to you. “Oh! It’s the president of the record label, Mr. Dumpty.” You were very excited to see him and tell him about your new idea to save the villagers from the giants by giving away your music so they could play it when the giants attacked to put them to sleep. Not all the villagers had enough gold to pay the kings taxes and buy lovely lute stylings and the remix on cassette.

“‘Excuse me… Mr. Dumpty…’ He must not have heard me, maybe he’s asleep, after all he has been running Mother Goose Records since a long, long time ago. I really want to speak with him though. ‘Mr. Dumpty! Mr. Dumpty!! …Oh no!!! I must have startled him, he’s fallen and… Call the Kings horses and text the Kings men.’”

But they can’t put him back together again. It’s too late. The big bad wolf takes over Mother Goose Records, dropping you and almost all the other stars from the label.

You still have the idea and want to share your golden songs with the villagers. You start to make more lovely lute stylings records at home in your ginger bread house. When the record was done you burned them on your granny smith computer and gave them to the villagers for free. Taking care of their fear of giants and in turn they took care of you - giving you their frequent fairy miles to take a tour back to Neverland and sending owl post to relatives and friends far, far away spreading the message of your music. Everyone rejoiced.

Things will never be the way they were in Wonderland ever again.

The Beginning.

You’ve all heard that story before, or maybe a lot of those stories before. Why not compare the ridiculousness of the music business to a fairy tale?

As an artist I would love to find a great team and a fabulous label to handle the work they love doing while I do what I love to do as I said a few blogs ago. But before that comes together I need to sort out what my story and message is and make that work on a smaller scale. There actually is no need for a huge infrastructure till there’s a huge demand.

The latest Seth Godin book I read was All Marketers (Are Liars) Tell Stories. My job with this project from Derek Sivers is to talk about how this applies to artists and musicians and I think so far it’s a toss up between this book and Tribes, which has more hard content to help you grow your career as an artist.

As many of you know I am a street performer. That is a big part of my story. And I don’t just street perform anywhere. I generally street perform in the subway. I used to think it was the perfect way for me to let new people hear my music, promote my shows and that it was the perfect way to release how stir-crazy I get if I haven’t performed in a while.

The truth was though that is was actually one of the central themes of my story. I represent NYC for a lot of tourists that have run into me down there and in a way I have taken that on the road and branded myself with the street art of NYC in my promotional materials…

These are literally hand folded out of recycled Village Voice Newspapers and spray painted with a stencil I hand cut.

It was a ton of work but they were incredibly fun to make and they also work with some of the other messages and story I have: I care about the environment and recycling is one way I do that, I also like for someone to get one of my Cds, cards, t-shirts or anything from me and notice that it’s a little different and that I took the time to make it special for them.

I also took a lot of time branding my booth at a conference last year and got so many compliments that it was the coolest booth at the conference. It had maps of the subway instead of a table cloth and I had markers so people who stopped by could actually graffiti on the table while listening to my music. They also walked over a big yellow line to step into my booth representing a subway station. I even made a fake subway sign! 

I’m telling you all of this because it was a big lesson in branding. The truth is it all happened by accident so I can’t really take credit but I realize it was the most important thing to establish a clear and easy story of who I was for these conferences. I had a new logo that a friend of mine designed and knowing all about my street performing she made a beautiful silhouette of me performing between two trains with my initials. Knowing that would be my banner I kept pulling from that them and came up with some great ideas that I didn’t even get to use (a sewer rug by the entrance and a trash can for another table/listening station).

All of my promo materials either had that logo on them as well or a picture of me performing or in the subway. It was a simple clear message and in my follow up with attendees everyone remembered me as the girl from NYC with the awesome handmade CD’s. I actually booked a bunch of shows because it was different and exciting -and hopefully because my music was good too!

The next year (this year) was the real proof that my branding and story worked. I applied to showcases at the conferences and with only a 6-9% chance of getting them each time I applied I got 5 out of 8 of the showcases I applied for with a video that was branded with my clear street performer from NYC message.

I’m telling my story and why/how I think it worked because I want you to realize how important it is to have something that separates your music and what you do so the people that do give you the time of day remember it even in the worst of situations – a conference where they meet so many other artists, magicians, contortionists you name it.

If you’re not good at realizing what someone thinks of to describe you try asking some other performers and friends, you family and your fans. Don’t take offense to what they might say. You may think you come across as an intellectual renaissance artist and people may just see you as an emo-folky.

I’m talking about this from a point where you already have played some shows and written some songs and decided you wan to make a go at being an artist because I also think there are so few mistakes you can make when you are just starting out. Its more important to get out there at open mics, house parties and wherever you can to try out what you’re doing and see if its working as you go.

One of the most important things Godin said in the book for me was: “You have to believe your own story.” If you aren’t sure that you’re the best emo-folker or the best renaissance troubadour from far, far away how are you going to keep striving to be that and gain your fans trust and love. I think using the power of manifestation through envisioning your perfect story is a great way to get moving in the right direction. If you want to find out more about that check out the movie The Secret or google Vision Boards.

Once again it is very much about authenticity but the story is what sells the song. If you heard Reba and Taylor Swift singing about hard times which one would you believe. I know I would want to hear Reba’s song. But if it was about young love I would listen to Taylor Swift.

The song is your most powerful marketing tool as a singer/songwriter or as a band. People will decide what kind of person they think you are based on the songs you sing. And if you have a hit song about living in the country and being one of the guys that’s what your image is going to be till you have another hit song about being the prom queen and going on to cheer for the Dallas Cowboys.

I’m using a lot of stereotypes here but I think you will agree that we are all really confused about who exactly Miley Cyrus is between putting out the beautiful country ballad Climb and the Popified Hip Hop song Party in the USA.

I think she can get away with that because she’s huge right now and I think as you grow your career you should try to define your sound and image clearly. Keep experimenting but make a definite mission statement and story about who you are and keep that in mind when your writing, taking photos, designing your website and even choosing venues to perform at.

I know I have written an incredibly long blog and if you’re still reading I applaud you but I really do want to stress that if you have no story at all you will reach the comparable amount of people. Sorry to put it pretty harshly but you must realize what it is about you that’s compelling as an artist and start magnifying those things.

That’s step one.

People need to notice you to even decide if what you made or the product your selling deserves any of their time to check it out. If your story is compelling they will. If you have a fabulous Purple Cow and treat your customers incredibly well they will come back to you. And if that story is easy for them to remember and tell they will tell their friends and family too and that will spread faster than any other marketing you could do.

I hope you’re never stuck inside a bad fairy tale but it just might be better than being no where at all.