May 2, 2009
The rat race is the ruthless, competitive struggle for success in the music business. Let me start off by saying that this blog entry isn't to discourage aspiring songwriters and producers, but more so to motivate you to write and produce to your highest potential. This blog is intended to paint a vivid picture so you understand what you're up against. I'm not happy with the creativity and sound of music right now so instead of complaining about it, I'd rather share my knowledge in hopes that it will reach the right people. I want the people on the outside trying to get in to understand how great their music will have to be to play a part in this industry.
I remember one day, my varsity basketball coach had a guy come speak to us at practice. He passed out a piece of paper with statistics on how many high school basketball players in the United States that actually make it to the NBA. To sum the sheet up, there were hundreds of thousands high school and college basketball players and only about 60 actually get drafted into the NBA per year. The percentage rate was .00042%. Now I could have taken that information and given up on chasing my dreams to join the NBA that day, but instead I chose to work harder because I knew what I was going against.
Music is no different. There are a lot of songwriters and producers working on the same projects. The reality of it all is that a very small percentage of them will ever actually become successful. I think a lot of aspiring writers and producers are misinformed and forget the history of music. This concept of "song shopping" is all new. There wasn't a "Who's Looking List" back in the day. There was one producer and an artist or group who collectively created an album. It wasn't about let's go get a beat from Quincy or Berry. It was, let's give Quincy this project. In rap there was the DJ and the rapper. DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, DJ Premier and Guru (Gangstarr), and Eric B and Rakim. So this " song shopping "concept is something new that executives are starting to impose and unfortunately its not working anymore. There is a reason why Justin Timberlake and Alicia Keys outsell their peers everytime. They have a consistent sound as well as one MAIN producer over their project. Miley Cyrus isn't running around saying "I need a single, who has one?". Her father, Billy Ray Cyrus has EXECUTIVE PRODUCED every single project.
I'm playing both sides now. I'm still shopping records for the producers and writers signed to Jermaine Dupris' publishing company (Dieniahmar/EMI) and I'm also doing some A&R consulting at Atlantic Records. As an A&R, I seem to be encountering the same problems with producers and writers. They are submitting material based on what the artist has done already rather than where the artist is trying to go with his/her upcoming album. This is called submitting records BLINDLY. They don't have a clue of the direction of the album, they are just assuming rather than finding out. So they'll purchase a "Who's Looking" List and it'll say something like "Looking for an Uptempo." I'm sorry guys but that is not enough information. You guys have to find out the direction/sound of the album and then build a track/song that fits the sound and storyline of the album. It's easier said than done. You have hundreds of people calling the labels everyday because they bought the A&R Registry and it lists every label and A&Rs contact information. Do you think an A&R wants to sit there and take calls from strangers all day long and tell them the directions of the project he is involved in??
The solution is "Get your alliances right". First, get to know who's who in the business. I attended every music conference there was in order to learn the execs' faces and positions. Find a manager who has a good reputation of doing good business. Perfect your craft!!!! Remember that you are competing against industry vets like Rodney Jerkins, Bryan Michael Cox, Jermaine Dupri, Timberland, Neptunes, Polow Da Don, No ID, Johnta Austin, Ne-yo, Tricky and Dream, Sean Garrett, etc., as well as new and hungry aspiring producers and writers like yourself. So if your material isn't up to par, why are you getting frustrated that the A&R didn't accept a record you wrote for Toni Braxton??? Ne-yo probably wrote a bigger/better ballad than you did!!!!
I'll write a part 2 to this because it's gets deeper than that. I'll get into song deals and relationships next.
IF YOU TAKE THIS INFORMATION AND GET DISCOURAGED THEN YOU'RE A "CUP IS HALF EMPTY" TYPE OF PERSON AND THIS BUSINESS ISN'T FOR YOU. THIS IS A CUT-THROAT COMPETITIVE BUSINESS AND IF YOU DON'T HAVE THICK SKIN AND PATIENCE, YOU DON'T STAND A CHANCE.