Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Best Advice I Can Offer

I recently spoke at a panel conference about how an artist self-destructs; covering points to focus on when promoting a single and/or an album. There are a lot of things artists should do such as network and build relationships with DJs, PR firms, Magazine/Website owners & editors, fans, etc. I discussed the importance of building a core group of people not just within the industry but also fans who will willingly offer help with promotions and request line blitzes. I discussed how you should never burn your bridges and how the artist must understand that people within the industry talk amongst ourselves as to which artists we support and even those we do not. AS a DJ I consider myself part of a tightly knit fraternity. For instance, if an artist disrespects a DJ many more DJs will rally around that DJ simply for the fact that we are a brotherhood by craft. If you diss one DJ I will undoubtedly think “who’s next?” The one thing I did not discuss nor did I hear discussed was all of the work that precedes the release of a single and/or album. Tonight I witnessed how an artist can destroy any hopes of a career in the music industry before ever getting to the point of pushing their first single, much less an entire album. So let me offer the best advice I can when beginning your album:

• Be VERY selective with the production you choose. Don’t listen to a beat for 30 seconds waiting to see if it will eventually flip and grab your attention. A&R’s won’t do that, DJs won’t do that, and listeners (radio/club/mixtapes) won’t do that. If the production doesn’t stand out as unique and immediately grab your attention within the first 8 bars – move on. You could even trim that down to the first 4 bars, but I’ll give ‘em 8 bars.

• NEVER select a beat with the mindset that this beat is not great but could be good filler material. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS GOOD FILLER MATERIAL! An artist should never even consider wasting time with any filler material. Every song on your album should be dope and have the ability to stand on its own as the best single from the album. Never waste track space with filler material - EVER. DJs won’t play it, radio stations won’t add it to rotation, clubs don’t want to hear it, and most fans/listeners will simply press “next” and move right by it. If every song on your album does not have hit potential then you are not done working and need to either fix that or eliminate any ‘filler’ material.

• This brings me to my next point. When you are creating a song both from a producer and an artist’s perspective you need to think ahead and consider where this song has value or potential. There are basically 4 targets for a song: radio, clubs, streets, and bedrooms. When you create a song, where do you hope that song will land and are you reaching for the ultimate difficulty of straddling all four? When you are evaluating production you should already be considering where it will be successful.

• For an independent artist this next point I feel is the most important: think bigger than your zip code! If you are making music with the mindset “this will be hot on my block” then you have just narrowed your potential to the 4 corners of your block. No touring and no radio play and DEFINITELY no support beyond your block which all translates to no earning potential beyond your block. You should never thumb your nose up at any region. Doing that will simply lock your potential to the narrow demographic that everyone else in your city is targeting. If you make an entire album repping New Jersey, then you have already guaranteed no spins in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Dallas, LA, Miami, St Louis, Kansas City, etc. Majors can get away with this to some point (i.e. Jay-z and Alicia Keys hit “New York”), but an independent artist needs their music to reach way beyond their own zip code and well beyond the 200 mile radius of just their city. Think of it this way: you need radio stations to spin your music in Dallas and clubs to spin your music in Dallas so that you have enough buzz to eventually make a successful tour stop in Dallas. You can plug any other city in place of Dallas. The point is; you need to reach the widest audience possible to drive record sales, merchandise sales, touring opportunities, sponsorship/endorsement potential, and exposure/branding.

• Now for those who are not the actual artist, it is your responsibility to give honest and constructive reviews of music. If you truly support an artist and honestly want to see them succeed, then be completely honest with your feedback. Don’t bite your tongue, don’t blow smoke up their ass and tell them how great the song is, and don’t follow the pack of people with their own agenda and hopes of getting on the album with placement as a producer or a feature. If the beat is wack – tell them. Fuck the producer’s feelings. That producer should take it as a sign that they need to step their game up. If the lyrical delivery and rhyme patterns and cadence and wordplay is wack – tell the artist. Fuck his ego. He needs to go back and get a pen and a fresh writing pad and start fresh. This is where the thin line between ‘hater’ and ‘true support’ comes in. Take the time to be specific about what it is you like and/or don’t like. Saying “its wack” isn’t very helpful, but explaining that you don’t like the snare or the synths looped over an entire track is helpful and could possibly allow the producer to make changes to fine-tune the track. Telling an artist that his delivery is not unique and he needs to develop his own signature flow is helpful. I always tell artists to think of Ludacris or Busta Rhymes or Jay-Z or Rakim or Lil Wayne. These artists are immediately recognizable because o their unique styles, whether its their lyrical patterns or cadence or simply voice inflections.

So that’s the LONG somewhat detailed advice, but in a nutshell the best advice I can offer: find 10 DJs with actual credentials (radio/clubs/touring/mixtapes) from 10 different cities and hold a listening session with those 10 DJs. No one has more experience as to what is hot or not than the DJs who’s number one responsibility is to keep listeners tuned in to their radio shows, people dancing at their clubs, and hits/downloads of their mixtapes.

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