[Originally posted on Bandzoogle’s BLOG page Feb 14, 2011 and was one of their most successful and highest commented postings of 2011 with almost 1500 views by artists and musicians in a matter of weeks.]
From Bandzoogle CEO, David Dufresne: "I’m writing this sitting at the gate for the Montreal – Los Angeles flight, on my way to the New Music Seminar (where we are speaking and where we’ll have a Bandzoogle meetup. See this post!). The New Music Seminar will be packed full of aspiring artists, looking for advice, hoping for their big break, or just for ways to further their career and leave the day job. This is perfectly timed with the guest post we have today from Bandzoogle member Rizzo (aka Michael Nelson Rizzo), who is an award-winning writer/producer with over 20 years’ experience writing “sellable music” for the world’s best corporations, TV and cable networks, film companies, musicians, record labels and publishers. Able to stylistically navigate from hip hop to country, orchestral to techno, his diverse body of work has been heard by hundreds of millions of people since 1988, when at age 17 he wrote his first nationally syndicated TV theme song. His eclectic mix of abilities in entertainment, technology, law and business–coupled with his passion for people–has allowed him to thrive in such distinct creative communities like Minneapolis, Virginia Beach, Nashville and now Portland, Oregon. See his Bandzoogle powered site at www.EpicSoul.com. Rizzo’s advice is fantastic, and we hope to have him back often as a guest blogger. Let us know in the comments what you think."
The Art Of Making Sellable Music
by Michael Nelson Rizzo
Recently, I was talking with a band about “sellable music.” “We want to make money but we don’t want to be commercial,” they said. “We make music our way in our bassist’s home studio. It really lets us take our time to make music that expresses who we are.” “So are you getting any attention or making enough money?” I asked. “No,” they chuckled. “We all have day jobs but gig when we can and we know that hard work pays off.” They were amazed at how I had made a living in music for 20 years and wanted me to hear their music. So they gave me a CD, a link to their MySpace and went on their way. I checked it out later. Their music was good, they had creativity and drive, maybe even the potential to be great. But it was not “sellable music”.
As I work with musicians, songwriters, budding composers, artists and bands, I find that most aren’t making music that strangers pay any sustained attention to. Instead of sellable music, it’s forgettable music that lacks lingering qualities and ultimately doesn’t matter to the world.
Don’t Let the Good Be the Enemy of the Best
Sellable music is about being great — not good. Regardless of genre, style, units sold or the decade you were born into, it’s about the subtleties of mastering your musical craft, as well as your professional image and relationships. I’ve observed that musicians of every age often don’t pay attention to those significant subtleties. And when an opportunity comes their way, they aren’t ready for it or they didn’t even notice they had one.
Which Path Are You On?
The true path to sellable music means following through on the subtleties. Evidence of that path looks like spending endless hours of practicing an instrument in solitude, showing up on time for a 9am meeting because you said you would, writing out a few dozen drafts of a new song, staying up all night alone working out your tone and effects while your bandmates only choose presets, taking a third job so you can save up to hire a great producer, gladly shaking the hands of all the fans who come to see your show, and reading books about the music business (all the way through).
Take the counterfeit path to sellable music and you’re working hard but not smart. I’m talking about playing your instrument but not practicing, shaking hands with fans but not showing genuine interest, not knowing even basic music-business practices, calling someone a day later than you said you would, relying on presets because you don’t want to read the manual, playing the same guitar patterns song to song — and the bombshell — recording in your home studio. Yes, I really just said that.
The Home Studio: A Cancer to the Music Industry?
Could it be that the home studio, instead of being a creative benefit, is a “creative cancer?” Not only to your career, but to the entire music industry?
You probably assembled your home studio with the hopeful intention of gaining endless “studio hours” in the leisure of your home to create music non-stop. But you quickly became overwhelmed with software updates, manuals, electrical ground loops and airplanes flying overhead. I’m not saying home studios are evil in and of themselves. But the home studio “investment” — in inexperienced hands at the wrong time — may kill your passion. And maybe your career.
Recording studios used to be “temples of musical leadership” and were filled with master craftsmen in song creation, production and performance. There were systems of creative and personal expertise where seasoned producers, arrangers, engineers, songwriters and musicians interacted with and mentored fellow artists — passing on the art of making sellable music.
You Just Need One Great Song
You might be thinking, “OK. That makes sense but I just can’t afford to hire that level of talent for an album.” Good point. But why do you even need an album? It’s 2011. The single is back and matters more than ever. Why produce a bunch of good songs when only one great song is enough to change your life?
My advice to today’s artists is to take your ten-song-album budget (or your home-studio budget) and sink it into your three best songs, and your branding. Hire a real producer whose music you like and actually sells. This is important because there are a lot of dudes calling themselves producers simply because they own some looping software and vintage gear. That is NOT a producer! The producer must know music, be able to navigate in the studio environment and have solid connections to other great musical craftsmen.
Make friends with all of these experts. Pay them on time. Praise them for their talents. Be kind, respectful and grateful!
Get Yourself Out There
Then develop your image and brand. Create an amazing website using great pictures and carefully written content. Shoot one music video (even one of those photo-videos that are all over YouTube can be pretty cool). When you launch your online presence, nurture your fan base and update your content weekly. Then every 30 to 60 days, release another great song that is perfectly produced. This is all very strategic in that it will bring in revenue, involve you with professionals, win you necessary industry relationships and keep you in front of your fans. As a show’s worth of material is created, it will be easier to learn and remember your parts, your fans will know all of your songs, and you can then release an album and even offer some alt mixes.
Great songs build relationships. Great songs get passed around. Great songs make you unforgettable. And remember: unforgettable sells.
[Special thanks to David Dufresne and Bandzoogle.com, Carly Moss, Matt Voth, Renee Lertzman and Claire Sykes for their support.] Copyright 2011 by Michael Nelson Rizzo. ARR.