The Sharks Circling in the Water

Slowly but surely, the industry is starting to pay serious attention to independent musicians.  Spotify and Amazon have made it incredibly easy for indie artists to make their work available, regional radio stations are inserting local talent into rotation and music festivals featuring unsigned artists are popping up all over the place and playing to large crowds.  It may not look like the golden years of the ’70s and ’80s, but opportunities are starting to open up.  As a result, many people have taken notice.  A good thing and a bad thing at the same time.

People are crawling out of the woodwork, promising the world to artists.  World class promotion, top-notch management, instant fame and fortune.  It’s easy to find somebody promising some (or all) of the above.  Websites are popping up daily touting their ability to take artists to the top of the mountain.  Much like the industry itself, where anybody with a computer and guitar can record and release music, the support backbone musicians have relied on for years has become diluted.  This makes it difficult for the emerging artist to find those that can really help.

I have no personal delusions of grandeur.  While I am a professionally trained musician, I have no right to release anything due to my many years of inactivity.  I may have spent significant time in recording studios many years ago, but I have no place thinking of myself as a producer, again due to my time away.  What I can rely on is my ear, which has not taken a break over all those years.  I can also rely on my close contact with the music business, which again has been almost constant throughout my entire life.  I am relatively new to the radio personality world and continue to learn every day, having some limited success and working hard to have more.

Knowing all of this, I know my own limitations.  The music business, as a form of art, requires a level of expertise that cannot be learned by reading books or attending webinars.  The experience gained in Corporate America does not equip somebody to handle the nuances of the industry.  I’ll never claim to be a producer, manager or promoter because I don’t have the experience necessary to do any of those effectively.  If only others would recognize their own limitations and just stay on the sidelines.

How is an artist supposed to find the right help as they work to break in (or break out)?  Here are a few tips:

Look for meaningful experience in the industry.  This means they should already have a portfolio of work that demonstrates their previous success in the business.  Don’t be shy.  Ask for references.  Ask for the specific results that benefitted the artists they have ‘worked’ with.  Get the numbers and don’t be shy about it.  After all, you are placing your career in their hands.  You deserve nothing but the best.  If the portfolio doesn’t exist, are you willing to be the guinea pig?

Make sure they know the language.  If they can’t talk like a musician, they probably don’t understand the art well enough to be successful.  No matter what level of service they are offering an artist, it is essential that they understand what you do at a pretty granular level.  They don’t have to be able to do what you do, but they should be able to explain what you do to anybody that will listen.  That includes other musicians.

Make sure they are in the game for you.  A little research will help you determine this.  If they are in the game for you, they will be almost invisible to the listening public.  I hide behind a stage name because I want all the focus to be on those I choose to support.  Things must be posted and written by Cozmic Debris because there must be a name of some kind attached.  If their own name is attached to everything to do with your music, are they in it for you or for themselves?

Don’t get me wrong.  Many of you have the talent to self-produce and self-promote.  However, if you are looking for help, there are many, many people in the industry that have the credentials to provide you with excellent support.  You may have to wade through an ocean of ‘wannabes’ to find them, but they are out there.  You have spent years perfecting your craft.  The people representing and supporting your work should be the best you can find.  They should have spent years perfecting their craft as well.  When your experience blends with their experience, great things will happen.  As I said at the beginning of this article, the industry is finally taking notice of the independent musician.  Use that to your advantage and you’ll never have to look back.

A Christmas Story

I know, I know- Christmas was a few weeks ago.  I had planned on writing an end of the year article, but the rebel in me decided to wait a little longer.  The time has come.

Many of us had the opportunity to witness the music version of a Christmas miracle this past holiday season.  From the ashes of a ruined music industry rose one of the most talked about indie cover songs in recent memory.  I typically don’t pay any attention to covers, primarily because I am always looking for new music to hit my ears.  But even I got caught up in the frenzy of this incredible story.  Of course, I’m talking about Small Town Titans.

One evening over the Thanksgiving weekend, I received one of those annoying group Messenger posts on Facebook.  You know the ones- typically a share of something someone found amusing that they feel the need to share with the entire world.  Quite honestly, I ignore most of them, save for a few that come from trusted musicians.  The post in question came from a family member.  I was just about to dismiss it when I noticed the title of the song, “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”  I grew up with the animated version of The Grinch being a Christmas staple (even to this day) and I always had a fondness of the grumpy bass vocals in the song.  So, I clicked on the link, took a listen and watched history unfold before my very eyes.

Small Town Titans, for those that are not familiar with them, are an indie band from Harrisburg, PA.  Prior to Thanksgiving, they probably had a small local following and made a habit out of self-producing their own songs and covers, releasing a video every week of something new.  Most had probably not garnered much attention.  That is, not until they covered The Grinch.

The last time I looked, they had garnered over 220,000 followers on Spotify, received tens of millions of views on YouTube, watched digital downloads of their music explode exponentially and were in constant reorder mode for copies of their CD’s.  It went deeper than their cover songs- people started taking interest in their original music as well (which is some really good shit).  This band, one that had been working on their craft for years, had finally become relevant.

I tell this story because it represents a glimmer of hope for independent artists everywhere.  Despite the best efforts of the major labels to convince the world that the only good contemporary music consists of autotuned and oversampled trash, good music can rise above the noise.  There was no huge production budget involved here, and no corporate machine driving the release of the song.  What Small Town Titans were able to accomplish was done through the magic of viral social media.  It was only after it started becoming a hit with its fans that traditional news media started taking note, and when they did, it only added to the momentum the band was experiencing.

So, to all of my independent friends and heroes, I say this- stay steady and committed to what you do.  Put your music out there for the world to hear.  Maybe, just maybe, you can enjoy the same kind of ride one day.  We now have proof positive that big money is not required to have a cultural hit.  My personal view of the landscape changed dramatically over the holiday season, as I am starting to see new possibilities for those that deserved to be noticed.  There is still a long way to go to come to true equity in the industry, but it seems to get a little closer every day.

To all of you, best wishes for a healthy, safe and prosperous New Year.  Let’s make 2019 our year!