TRUST YOURSELF… AND GET A GOOD LAWYER (OR NOT) – Pt. 1
Veteran musicians, from Ian Hunter, Exene Cervenka, Lemmy and Chuck D to Patterson Hood, Girl Talk, Oderus and Brian Wilson dispense career advice – and a helluva lot more.
BY JASON GROSS
Imagine that you’re a seasoned artist, approached by an eager young musician pleading “I’m just starting out, what’s the best advice that you could give me?” Over the last two years, we posed this situation to a wide-ranging group of well-known performers (including a few now sadly departed), spanning genres and decades, wondering what they’d have to say.
Often enough, this exact situation happened to them, so many of them came prepared. Plus, their answers said a lot about their own attitude towards their work and their lives. So what did they have to say? Read on and find out.
An edited version of this also appears in the current print edition, issue number 12, of BLURT. And this fall, in issue 13 and online, we’ll have our next installment, featuring the likes of Holger Czukay, Amon Tobin, John Hiatt, Bernie Worrell, Georgia Hubley of Yo La Tengo, Ian MacKaye, Jon Langford, Bert Jansch, and others.
The simplest way to explain success in music is that people as an audience respond to people who are doing something that’s genuine and (something) that they’re almost obsessed about. Every successful musician that I’ve ever encountered has exhibited a kind of mania about what they’re doing, and also an imperviousness to outside criticism or influence. I think both of those things are really important. You should trust your instincts about what is good and what is bad and why you’re doing what you’re doing. And don’t look for validation outside yourself for stuff that only you are going to be ultimately responsible for. I think the search for external validation tends to weaken most artistic impulses and… one thing people respond to is a sort of sincerity and intensity of intent. So if you genuinely want to do something, don’t let anyone dissuade you from doing it precisely the way you want to do it. That would be my first bit of advice.
My second bit of advice would be ‘don’t sign anything.’ There’s nothing that anyone can do for you under contract that they also (can) do for you on a normal human agreement, just on a personal level. And any time there’s a contractual relationship between an individual and a corporation or another individual who has a lot more resources, the contract is really only of use to the party with more power and more money, because the party with more power and money can afford to spend the time and energy to wage war in court to enforce the terms of the contract. But the weaker, less wealthy party can’t. So there’s no advantage to an individual or a band for example signing a contract with anyone who has more money and more resources than you. The contract can only be used as a weapon against you.
The other advice that I would give a young musician is to not to try to force your aesthetics. By that, I mean, you should stick with people that you know and like and trust and whose taste matches up with yours and who are into all the same things as you, because if you try to force yourself to work in styles or idioms that you’re not conversant in, you’re going to make clumsy mistakes. Whereas if you continue to pursue those things that you’re innately drawn toward, then those things are gonna be more completely known to your person as you’re exploring them in art. So, don’t try to be a duck when you’re actually a chicken- just revel in the fact that you’re a chicken. I mean, we’ve all heard horrible reggae versions of songs and things like that. That impulse to try to branch out into areas that are not your natural area of expertise is untreatable in terms of when people are searching for inspiration but generally speaking, things are going to go smoothest and you’re going to be most rewarded by sticking with people and things that you already have some sympathy with and that you already have some commonality with.
FRANK BLACK (Pixies)
I do get asked that question occasionally by a young up and coming musician and I always tell them all the same thing. I just tell them to just go play gigs- whatever gig you can get and play as many of them as you can because it’s really the precursor to recording. I know that modern technology has made it available and easy for everyone to just go and record and make your own opera. And I think it’s great that we have all of these new tools but… (sighs)… It’s all in kind of a vacuum until you go and be in front of people in the ancient way, until you get up around the campfire and tell your own story and sing your own song or do your own dance. You really have to do that. That’s what we’ve been doing for thousands of years. And so if you’re just making music in your bedroom or in a recording studio and then releasing that in the world, I just feel like there’s a disconnect there that… people really need to try to avoid that. And then once you perform in front of people and you have some sort of relationship with those people, I think then you do better when you go and do a studio recording. So I always encourage people to just get out of their bedrooms and go play gigs. And if it’s for just their friends or whatever, just find some bar or nightclub someplace and go play, play, play, play, play. That’s the path. For me, anyway. And I LOVE studio recording. I could do it all day, every day. I love it even more than performing live. But really, performing live in front of people, for me, that’s the path. That’s the truth.
GLENN BRANCA (composer)
My advice tends to go more in the direction of something negative than something positive. My advice would be more along the lines of ‘how bad do you want to do this?’ ‘How much do you need this?’ ‘Is this the thing that dominates your life?’ ‘Are you willing to sacrifice absolutely everything in your life?’ And when I say ‘everything,’ I mean absolutely everything for this one thing that you want to do. And I think that most people don’t. I think that there’s a lot of people that THINK that they want to do something but they don’t realize just what you have to do in order to be able to do it.
I do my work because I love it- I loved it starting when I was very, very young. I decided when I was very young, it was what I wanted to do. And there was never any question whatsoever in my mind about what I wanted to do. And even when it became very hard and I had to say to myself ‘this really isn’t fun anymore, I’m not really enjoying doing this… am I going to keep doing this?’ I had to give it some thought. I was still young enough to decide to do something else. But when I thought about it, I realized this is what I’ve always wanted to do. This is what I still love to do. And just because it’s become very difficult and there are a lot of barriers to get over and I’m totally broke (laughs) and I’m giving up everything I have to do and it’s also such hard work, do I still really want to do it? And I decided ‘yeah, I do. It’s worth it. I want to do this.’ There’s an image in my mind of something I want to create and this is important enough to me to put up with all the crap that you have to put up with.
There’s no way that someone who’s dreaming about going in to music, or any other field, could possibly understand what it’s like when you actually get there. And there’s no way that you can tell somebody something that they haven’t experienced themselves. It’s completely abstract to them.
It’s the way it’s always been for me. I have to experience something before I can understand it. Even in school, I had to figure out something for myself. It required a reason to understand something and to figure it out for myself and then it made sense. If someone’s giving you advice about things that you haven’t experienced and that you don’t understand, it’s entirely abstract. It’s meaningless. It doesn’t connect with your own life and with what you’re thinking about. When I was in school, even all the way back to second grade, the teachers would write on my report card ‘Glenn’s a dreamer.’ I would have to say that at the time, that was considered to be a pejorative. It certainly wasn’t something that my parents wanted to see. It certainly wasn’t something that my teacher thought was a good thing, that I would sit there, looking out the window and not paying attention to what she was saying. But the fact is, I was thinking! And being a dreamer (laughs), having fantasies is an extremely important part of being a creative artist. If you don’t have these fantasies, then what are making? What are you basing your creations on? There are a lot of people who want to be composers but they don’t really know what they want to do, so what they do is they imitate other people. And that can work, to a point, but I can’t imagine that being very satisfying. And I can’t imagine that it, for the most part, produces very interesting work. I think you need to imagine something before you can bring it out of your head, into the world. I’m saying, if you’re not that kind of guy, then you probably shouldn’t be in this at all.
If you’re going to choose to dedicate your life to something, it better be something that you really enjoy. Your motivations shouldn’t be things like fame and money. Yeah, there are a few people that make it with that kind of a motivation. Maybe they’re good hustlers. Maybe they know how to kiss a lot of ass. But that’s not really going to work for most people. You have to actually want to do the thing itself. You actually want to have to make something. You want to bring something to life. That is going to be what’ll give you the drive to get through the really hard times.
And most of it is really hard and it just gets harder. That’s the other part. You talk to anybody and if they tell you the truth and I mean absolutely anybody at all, no matter how successful they are in their careers, they’ll tell you that it doesn’t get easier. And this is a tough thing to swallow if you’re a young person. I mean, one thing that kept me going when I was younger was that I always thought ‘once things to get better and I start to get a little more money, things’ll get easier.’ And that’s not the way it works. It actually gets harder. As far as the work itself is concerned, you find yourself competing with yourself. If you’ve already done a lot of good things, your next thing has to be better or at least as good! That’s hard! (laughs) That’s basically where I’m at, at the moment. If I’m competing with anybody, and I’m not actually a competitive person, it’s with what I’ve already done. And you can’t go back and repeat yourself or at least that’s not the way I think anyway. I always want to move ahead- do something new, do something that’s even more interesting, something that comes even close to what I imagine that I have in my head.
It gets that much harder, but every other aspect of your life gets that much harder. It’s harder than when you are 40 than when you were 30 and it’s harder than when you’re 50 than when you were 40. That’s just the way it works. I don’t know how that’s going to help someone who’s young and has wild dreams about how wonderful their life is going to be. Sorry, it ain’t gonna work out like that. (laughs) Is that what you wanna tell people? But on the other hand, you don’t want to lie to them.
EXENE CERVENKA (X)
I think that I want to speak to young girls and women on this, because enough information is directly towards young men.
I would seek out Girls Rock Camp. It started in Portland about seven years ago. It’s all over the world. It’s all over the country. It’s spreading like crazy. It’s women working together with young women and girls to teach them how to play, for them to teach each other how to play, to start bands, to learn that it isn’t just where you go to shows and watch the band. You’re not just a girlfriend to a guitar player anymore. You are the director. You are the producer. You are the editor. You are the writer. You can mix a record, you can write a song. And I think the most important thing is to do that because I think that makes it normal to play music. When you’re 16, 17, 18 years old and go out and see bands, it’s all guys, guys, guys, guys, guys… and right away, you think your role is as a spectator. So I think it’s very important for young girls to get involved in playing this music early. And the Girls Rock Camp is an excellent organization to get involved with.
Q: You’ve worked with them before, right?
I am working with them now, right. They’re just opening in L.A. They’re all over- they’re (in) Austin, Tennessee, Portland, Denver, Sweden, London, you name it. Brazil, Canada, all over.
Q: They’re doing it here in New York too.
Yeah, in Brooklyn I think. Well, here’s the thing… I thought about (this) because people DO ask me this stuff all the time and they always ask me for advice. And I always say “don’t compromise.” But you gotta compromise, you know? I can’t tell someone how to be an artist. There’s no one piece of advice. But what you’re doing is great because there will be many pieces of advice for people and that’s great. And that’s why I want to focus on girls. Thank you!
STEVE CROPPER (Booker T. and the MG’s)
Don’t ever give up on your dream if that’s your dream, if that’s what you want to do. Basically, don’t give up on it. It wasn’t easy when I came up and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and was very lucky. But I can IMAGINE how much harder it might be today. Knowing what musicians have had to go through, not being able to find a manager, not being able to find a record company that would even listen to ’em (laughs).
And there’s what we call in the last 10 or 12 years ‘garage bands’ and they wind up developing or creating their own fan base strictly on the Internet by releasing stuff… and just really relying on live gigs basically, because I guess some of ’em have figured out a way to get paid for some of their music, and of course, the same thing happens with record companies. But a lot of young musicians have been able to build an enormous fan base just on the Internet, so I admire those guys. I was fortunate enough to not really have to do that (laughs). But I wouldn’t be able to tell them how to do that, but I’ve heard stories and so forth.
If somebody asks you just a question, that’s different, but if you were auditioning somebody and you didn’t think they were very good based on what you know and your past or whatever, you still don’t want to discourage people. I mean, you can tell if somebody (laughs) doesn’t have much of a shot at it. And that happens. And it’s funny, I have older people come up and say ‘oh, I played with this group and I played with that group and I know your music and man, I would really like to sit in with you tonight.’ And you go ‘well… OK.’ And then (laughs), you realize that they might as well be beating on a box or something! They don’t know the music.
I had that happen to me recently. Without naming any names or even what the function was, it was a very important fundraiser and I had rehearsed the day before with a band. The bass player came up to me and said ‘so-and-so is gonna play with you tonight because he really knows your music.’ Well, I was already pretty happy with the guy I already had ’cause I taught him what I needed him to do, right? ‘Well, this guy really knows your music!’ And so we go on live on stage and we’re up there and da-da da-da da-da and I keep hearing this and that. And I look over and the piano player is lookin’ at me, going ‘what happened?’ And I’m going ‘I don’t know- this guy came back in the trailer and he said he knew my music and the bass player said he knew my music.’ He didn’t know it at all! (laughs) You know, it’s like… he wasn’t really old enough to know my music. He probably just heard it or something. But those things happen. You try to help young musicians.
Basically, you could say what this album (‘Dedicated‘) really is about… it’s not honestly not about Steve Cropper. I was very lucky, Jon Tiven and I were very fortunate that when we reached out to friends of ours, they just jumped on board and said ‘man, that’d be fun. That’ll be great. Let’s do that. Can I sing live with the band? Can I do this, can I do that?’ So basically, this album is about bringing attention an old group from the ’50’s, the Five Royales, but really it’s really about educating the young generation, to give them one more shot at listening to stuff where roots came from and why they’re here and why their parents listen to music and maybe why they were born. You never know.
There’s always a new generation and we’ve been saying it for years… When we played behind Eddie Floyd, the original “Knock on Wood,” Eddie Floyd who’s 73, 74, I always said ‘we’re doing this for the new generation!’ And he wants to keep that song, “Knock On Wood,” just as fresh today as it was whenever we did it because he wants to educate the new generation, whether they do it or not. But there’s a song that’s been covered god knows how many times and it’s been fairly successful. So if this album helps at all to get some young attention… ’cause all my friends say ‘oh my God, I love it’ ’cause it reminds them of when they grew up in their college days or whatever, hearing that kind of music.
(Business advice): (laughs) It’s interesting… When I say ‘don’t give up,’ you gotta keep batting at it and hopefully… It’s really difficult on your own. You gotta have somebody ‘tooting your horn.’ You’re workin’ on your music and trying to write songs and be creative and all that. You gotta have a guy that’s willin’ to go meet up, to call on the phone, to put your name out there, to try to set up situations either with record companies or management firms or clubs or whatever it is. You really need somebody who can help do that for you. It’s very difficult to do both, I would think.
If you’re good, if you’re really good, you’re gonna get noticed somewhere. And then sometimes, there’s guys that are TOO good. You know? They’re too good for their own good. In other words, they’re so technically correct that they overshoot the system and they’re not as creative commercially as they could be. Even jazz has to have some sort of commercial soul to it or people just won’t pick up on it.
I’ve always though music is really selling energy. There’s only so many notes on a piano and there’s so many notes in the system that I think many, many years ago, somebody said ‘you could not write another eight note melody that hadn’t been done before somewhere.’ The computers at least said that. So, I think it’s about selling energy. That’s what makes people get up and remember and wanna sing along and have fun. I’ve always been a feel-good music kind of a guy. That doesn’t mean that there’s not room for all kinds of music but it has to have some sort of deep meaning and feeling to it. It’s gotta be more than just the notes.
CHUCK D (Public Enemy)
I would say that the word is digital. Learn everything you can about the music business. They’re 47 or 48 different categories but it’s all reachable using a smart phone. And when you actually get into the recording business, there’s areas out there that you can engage yourself in that doesn’t really take more than you leaving your personal space to be involved. Maybe that’s the beginning of a long process of somebody comprehending the difference between the recording business and the music business. It’s two different things.
For an artist, I would give them various levels of advice, depending on what they do and who they are. For example, if a rapper comes out and they say ‘I’m making beats,’ I would say ‘try to transcend that into making music.’ And if they say ‘I’m making songs,’ then I’d say ‘you record your songs, why don’t you also have use visual, audio aides so it would behoove you to probably shoot a video for every song because people in the last 25 years, they’ve been accustomed to seeing music first before they hear it.’ SO when you have a person who says ‘I’m going to make a recording,’ I say ‘well, you’re going to have to make an audio recording and you’re going to have to do your best to master the art of visual recording because they’re both the recording.’ This is how we perceive music in the last 25 years- video-audio, not audio-visual. I try to make a clear distinction and understanding that if you want to get into the music business, it’s one thing. The recording business means that you have to be really adept to the process of recording sight and sound.
If you’re really aware and you study the history of the recording business, you would know that right now a record company is like a hologram- it really doesn’t exist. It’s just banking on a promotional system that everything you hear and see with a record or video, they’re nothing more or less than infomercials. So I tell people, you start as your label. And you learn and start to understand the process and you talk to people who have evolved into the act of recording and also the key areas and then, be able to refine musicianship of some sort, then you’ll find out that the record label is you. And then you try to actually relate to people with like interests. And this is a good way for somebody to start.
Now for an artist, being your own label is like a person having a suit on or a set of clothes. Being an artist out there in the digital world is like being naked- you got to dress yourself for your surroundings in a way that make sense. Anybody that comes into the music and recording business and thinks that they’re going to come for money, I tell young people all the time, never chase the money. Make yourself valuable and the money might chase you. But you gotta have a passion and a love to be actually really efficient at something and that’s what’s going to place value on you. Value doesn’t come from you yourself- value is going to have to come from everything that you learn, that you have to adapt to putting into your craft. Everybody comes in with some talent- the job is actually turning that talent into a skill, which will work for you whether you’re awake or asleep or dead even!
GIRL TALK (aka Greg Gillis, mash-up DJ)
First, a big thing is understanding what you want to do. There’s many different angles you can push music and I think they’re all valid, whether you wanna be a studio musician or a pop star making a bunch of money or be in a punk rock band and tour basements and make no money or whatever. You just need to understand what you’re into before you get into it. From my angle, I grew up doing a lot of music where money was never a goal or really hasn’t been an option. So I think when you’re working within that world, you just learn to have fun with it. The whole point is just to get together with your friends, to put on these performances and just engage a crowd and challenge people. I think if you’re really trying to make an impact on the musical landscape, and you look at any band doing that these days, you have to have to risks with it. If you’re just going to mimic your heroes, no one will probably pay that much attention to you. You really have to take your own specific angle with it. So I would say, don’t be afraid to alienate people and don’t be afraid to be different. And if people are hating on what you’re doing, that’s probably a good sign that you’re on the right track of doing something interesting. I think a lot of bands start off with aggressive stance against something if they’re gonna go on to do something special.
(Business advice): I’d say now with young musicians, you hear a lot of stuff about the music industry dying and it being a tough time for the musician industry, which is true from a certain perspective. I think that’s more of a major label perspective. I think on the flip side, on the more underground level, actually the music market is very saturated and it’s difficult to get out there. But at the same time, the potential IS there and you pretty much see it every month, with a new band coming along and getting noticed. The big thing is just getting your music out there. Most bands generate buzz now by giving away their music for free, at least initially. You can eventually go on to sell a CD or make money with shows or selling T-shirts. But I think right now, the big thing is getting the buzz going. I think any new band you’ve heard about in the past five years has done it that way. It’s rarely the situation anymore where people tour and get a good reputation and then all of a sudden, they eventually break through. It’s really that word of mouth on the Internet. It’s important for a lot of people to understand how that works and where their music could fit in on the Internet and where the fanbase could be and who they wanna push it on and really get it out there. When people start talking, that’s when things happen.
GWAR (Dave Brockie aka Oderus Urungus)
Dave: I would say ‘get involved in something other than music immediately!’ (laughs) I mean, with music and especially musicians being digitalized and inter-webbed and sampled… it’s pretty terrifying for a young musician, especially somebody who’s really good at playing music and then you listen to music that’s out there and it’s just this big electronic, sampled jumble of styles. It’s almost impossible to know what to even work on to be part of what music is going to be tomorrow.
But nevertheless, the same things will always hold true- work your ass off, practice all the fucking time. And most importantly, make sure your drummer is not an asshole. Very important! You will waste YEARS of your life fucking around with drummers that are assholes. Because they set the beat for the band, they tend to think that they run everything, even when they’re actually one of the most cut-off members of the band because they sit there behind all these fucking drums- you can’t even see ’em anyway.
The super, most important thing about a young musician coming up, besides practicing and having a true love of music, is working with people that you ENJOY playing with. (There’s) so many bands that are so great and don’t last but a couple years because the people in ’em basically hate each other. Sometimes that dynamic can work really well- just ask Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey. But more often than not, it’s just gonna make you miserable. So find some friends of yours that you love to jam with and jam with ’em every goddamn day. And that is the best way to have success in rock and roll.
Oderus: The only reason that I got involved in rock and roll is so I can do drugs and have sex with legless midgets. I don’t know anything about music and I’ve never been accused of being a musician! I don’t really know anything about that stuff. I just rely on the rest of the band to make me look good!
PATTERSON HOOD (Drive-By Truckers)
Do as much of it yourself as possible. Be absolutely as self-contained as possible. I actually HAVE given that advice a lot. I’ve even been asked to speak in classrooms at a business program here in Athens. They get me to come in there about once a year and speak to the class. That’s pretty much my mantra with them. Before you hire a booking agent, book your band as long as you can stand to, and even longer. I hated that, more than any job I’ve probably ever done in music. But I booked us… You’re still playing door deals in dive bars, you can do that yourself. You don’t need an agent to do that. Book yourself ’til you outgrow the places that you can book yourself. And then, and only then, will you be able to attract a booking agent that’s actually worthy giving over ten percent of everything you make. Otherwise, this is ten percent of that door deal- that’s the difference between gas money and getting home at night. And so until you can get a booking agent that can put you at somewhere like the Fillmore or somewhere like that, do it yourself.
Don’t sign a record deal until you’ve put out records yourself and sold as many of them out of the back of your van as you can possibly sell. (laughs) Because you’re not gonna get a deal worth a shit unless you just got teen-idol good looks. And if you wanna be packaged that way, go for it. That’s a different career and I don’t know anything about that. But if you play in some band and you write your own songs, do it yourself. Manage yourself. Book and learn how to do it. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll fuck up. At least, you’re not playing someone 15 percent to make those mistakes and fuck up.
And don’t get a manager that’s your buddy. If you have a buddy that’ll help you for free, for beer money, that’s one thing… And I’ve made all those mistakes at one time or another. Fortunately, I made a lot of them (mistakes) before I started the Drive-By Truckers. I had this other life before this life! (laughs) And I made every mistake in the book during that one. This band has kind of benefited from all the kinds of mistakes I’ve made in my tweens. So this band hasn’t made as many mistakes- we’ve made some new ones. And we’re still making mistakes but at least they’re new mistakes and not the same old ones.
Q: Any aesthetic advice for someone who’s a songwriter?
Be very self-critical. Be brutally honest with yourself because somebody down the line will be. And they may not know shit but they’re still gonna be brutally honest with you. If you’ve already asked yourself those questions and it’s passed muster, then you’re gonna be better equipped to deal with it when somebody else asks those questions. If a line you write might sound like it’s a bit of a cliché, mark it out and write a new line. Replace that line. I’ve learned that one the hard way at times and I’m sure I will again. Sometime even being brutal, you’re still gonna fuck up there. It’s a hard job but the less fuck-ups, the better.
Likewise if you’re playing in a club, there’s a lot to be said for being entertaining. (laughs) I don’t know how to teach that. I don’t know the tangible rules of that. When we first started this band, it was sort of the opposite of all the bands in the mid 90’s and the big trends. It was, I guess you could refer to it as ‘the shoegazers’ (I kinda like that term). And we weren’t. We were very unique when we started. There wasn’t a lot of bands… maybe Guided By Voices was kind of taking the same approach, though their music might be a long way from our genre or musical level. As far as their stage show (though), there’s a lot of common ground between what we were doing and what they were doing at that time. I didn’t even realize that until I saw ’em. They really put on a fun show but I think we really put on a fun show (too) and I think we still do. Some people might be critical of that aspect of what we do. I think overall, the fun aspect of our shows always works as a nice counterpoint to how dark our songs are. A lot of times, our subject matter can be pretty dark. I write what I’m interested in and a lot of the things I’m interested in are the more noir aspect of things (laughs) and I like a good twisted, dark story. Or sometimes I’m interested in that aspect of human behavior- why somebody tries to be a good guy and does something so terrible. That aspect always interested me so that’s where a lot of our material comes from. But it’s always kind of tempered by the fact that you can go see us in a bar or nowadays in a theatre, even in an arena… it’s a celebration. It’s a very fun show. I think that has served us very well.
I can sum it up in one word: desire. It beats everything else.
I would say, make your own mistakes. There’s no advice that I could give them that would be relevant to their career ’cause my career is different. The things that I experienced, they will not experience. Half the things that were problems for me no longer exist. The things that they will come up with, I have no knowledge of. The future will. So you just have to wing it and do the best you can. You have to try to be your own best friend and your own lawyer. The only advice I could give them is to get an independent accountant. (laughs)
CHARLES LOUVIN (R.I.P.; The Louvin Brothers)
I guess the first thing to say is ‘good luck!’ Then I’d ask ‘what do you do? Are you a songwriter, musician, singer?’
For a songwriter, you’d want to know that Sony Music is the biggest publisher in the world. So if you’re a writer and you want to get your songs heard by other artists so that they might record your songs or make you some money, then you would want a big company. There’s a lot of fly-by-night companies that don’t have offices, and don’t have secretaries or song pluggers, so you don’t need to be with them. You need to be with a company that has all that and they’ve been doing this for a long time and it looks like they’ll be in business for more than your lifetime. That’s the first thing that you should hunt for.
For a singer, I’d want to know if you listen to the radio today and you hear what’s on the radio. If you feel like you can be that good or better, then I would recommend that you continue. But there’s not much country music out there because everybody’s doing rock and roll and calling it ‘country.’
But there’s so many different ways to get into this business. One of them is money and you’ll need a quite a bit of money to sustain you while you get your songs recorded and the money starts coming, which would be a year and a half after you started publishing songs and you started getting any royalties. Record companies stay a year behind and publishing companies stay six months behind so that’s my best advice I could give you, is to take your songs to a large company and see if they’d sign you on as a writer. And if they did, then you would write songs and turn them into that company and they would try to get them recorded for you. And of course, you could try also too. You could go to artists with your songs but you have to have a publisher if you’re going to make any money on ’em.
Q: So you’re saying that if you’re a singer, you also recommend writing your own material too?
Oh, absolutely. If you don’t write your own material, then if a record company signs you, they’d have to hunt material for you. Most of ’em are loaded up right now and… they say that they are… but if you write your own songs, you stand a 75 percent better chance to get a recording deal than if you don’t write your own songs.
Q: So what if a guitarist asks you for advice, what would you say?
You better be damn good if you’re a guitar player ’cause there’s a bunch of good guitar players out there. And they’ve got all the sessions tied up. If you record in Nashville, any record company will want to get to the A Team. They call it the A Team- that’s the best musicians that there are there and they call a certain person, it would be the top name on the list and say ‘what’s the chance on a certain date that you could record? I’m recording and I’m hunting musicians.’ That’s the way it’s been done.
For performing, you can’t just get up on a stage and sing, sing, sing. A lot of people would just as soon hear you talk and tell little stories as you would if you just sing. They like the singing but a joke now and then kind of breaks the monotony of the singing. It’s just good to do.
GENESIS P-ORRIDGE (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV)
(laughs) I would say “do something else!”
It depends on what they want to do. The whole music scene is in a state of flux, as you know, ’cause of the Internet. There’s a whole generation that’s grown up believe that they have an absolute right to steal the music of anybody they want to steal from and they don’t seem to understand the impact that it’s been having. There’s a lot of mid-range bands, like us, who’ve given up touring because it’s not worthwhile. People don’t go to concerts in the same way. They go to REALLY big ones Lady Gaga or they go to little tiny ones where it’s friends. But in between, there’s not that much and it’s shrinking.
The only place where it’s traditional is really the Lady Gaga, mass-produced, hip hop, sort of neo-dance music charts. And if you want to do that, you have to sell your soul and basically accept that whatever you imagine… I mean, you don’t have to have a message, that would be terrible. You shouldn’t have any moral scruples. You should probably have a business manager before you have music to write. I know I’m cynical but that’s what it is. And really, it’s all fake. So, if that’s what people want, I know nothing about that world… (laughs) except it’s not one we want.
If they actually feel they want to make music because it’s a passion, and they want to take it further than just playing to friends in small clubs, then they have to think really, really hard because… it used to be that by touring ’round and ’round, you could eventually, inevitably build up a loyal following, like Green Day did, and build up so much pressure on the industry that they have to take notice of you. Some people have been lucky doing that on the Internet with downloads, but usually they get swallowed up really fast. It’s usually things like Justin Blieber (sic) or whatever his name is. But if they don’t have a message, then you have to wonder why they want to play music.
So, my advice would be (to) go home and think really hard about what it is that you would like to see different in the world. If there’s something you could feel so strongly about, that you’re prepared to suffer and sweat and sleep on floors and live in little vans, cramped and drive for 28 hours to play to 100 people in Croatia or something. And if you’ve got a message and a belief in that message, then do it. But otherwise, do something else! (laughs)
To be continued. Tomorrow, in Part 2, we get more of the straight dope from those who know. “Take Tesla over Edison,” indeed….