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.