Staying Alive Ain’t What It Used To Be
I know you. You want to make music. You’re good at it. You want people to hear it. You want us to hear, and appreciate, your “work.”
You had a plan. You’d struggle hard enough, for long enough, and, eventually, you’d get “discovered.”
It’s over, padre. Or madre. Anyone that would take you off the streets for their own gain is gone. And rightfully so. They were leeches. Scum. They didn’t deserve you, and, now, you’ll never meet them. And if you’ve already made some headway, had a hit, made a name? Settled into a label-sponsored “career?” Take a look at all those people around you. They’re corpses. They’re done. You might have to fire them yourself. Rehearse that in a mirror. And know that you’re next. The industry never loved you, and, right now, it’s jacking off to your suicide.
And at least you had some fun for a minute. Most musicians never had a glimpse of those heights. Welcome back to earth, pal.
You won’t be spoiled now. You’re no longer an “artist.” No one gives a fuck about your sensitive disposition. You’re now, like every other 21st Century American, a business-person. The courtesy cash is gone, and everyone’s tired of your late-rising bullshit. And you’d better be awake in time for that meeting tomorrow morning. You can starve to death (don’t ignore this option!), get a real job, or learn the fucking business and run your own fucking shop.
If you’ve got a survival instinct, I recommend option three. If you can fathom some humility, you can learn the business. And you can survive. It’s not that hard. I’ll tell you what I know.
First of all: Do the work. Spend you evenings with your sound-canceling headphones plugged into your keyboard, or your freestyling going on at an open-mic, or whatever. Pursue your passion nonstop. It is now your career, or it’s nothing. Figure out what you have to say, and say it loud. If you’ve got nothing, UPS is hiring. And, in that case, you’re lucky. You don’t have to suffer through the rest of this shit.
Next step: Control your rights. If you’ve got a catchy idea, pay the 35 bones and register it with the copyright office. And don’t let anybody else have at it. Own the rights, period. If anyone tries to buy the rights, you win, and the answer is FUCK YOU.
Next step: Run some game. No one ever got into a good idea just because it was a good idea. They all got coaxed into digging it, whatever it was. Build your base. Get a bitchin’ Wordpress-as-CMS site (I’ll run it for you! For a reasonable fee!), get a social-networking presence (as of press time, MySpace is still ugly but still useful for promotion, Twitter and YouTube still make rain on occasion, and Ning might be the unacknowledged next thing), and be willing to answer your people, comment for comment for comment. Sure, a lot of them are assholes. Just feed back.
Because what you’re doing is building a community, however cheesy that sounds. That’s what your doing now, for a living. There is no industry left. There are only your fans. I’m telling you as a pal. If you can’t build a community, I’ll pass around your resume at Ralph’s.
If you’re in this to win this, and you’re awake and alert and anchored, here’s the stuff you gotta watch:
1. Synch fees. TV don’t stop. And you should sell your music to TV at every opportunity. And you should know what you’re doing. If it’s a big show, such as whatever is big this season, go for four figures. If it’s an almost-cancelled would-be classic, settle for a big three, and get DVD rights.
2. Performance royalties: For the most part, they already figured out how to fuck you out of these, domestically, because American lawyers are slick fuckers. If your buddy’s movie gets screened in the EU or in Asia, follow through on this. Otherwise, demand free drinks, without shame. Fair is fair.
3. Print royalties: This goes further than you’ve imagined. You can get pieces of ads, video games (write with Grand Theft Auto in mind, and you won’t fuck up – if you want to be somebody, corner this market, hard) and ESPECIALLY ringtones. Your piece of the ringtone pie will be bigger than your piece of a standard record contract ever would have been. Make it catchy, now! Or personal! I’d imagine there would be a decent market for customized ringtones, especially from name producers.
4. Seriously. Figure out what you’ve got, and put a tag on it. Art and commerce are often mutually destructive, but there’s no reason to be ashamed of doing what you love for a living. And it can still be done, through new channels I’m not nearly cool enough to know about yet.
Sure, it’s harder now, but hard times reward hard people. Let’s get this money. The best art comes from those who work their asses off.
By Emerson Dameron