Making it in music

1. Melody

I know, I know, we live in an era of beats. But the public wants something they can sing along with. The biggest act in the business is Adele, and although she faltered with “25,” her previous album, “21,” outsold its competition by a factor of ten. You could sing along with the tracks, and there’s rarely something more satisfying. Hell, you can sing along with most Max Martin productions, think about that. So write songs. He or she who writes the songs rules. Sure, we’ve returned to a pre-Beatle era, where songs are written by guns-for-hire, but the truth is you’re not really in control of your career unless you write, even though there are exceptions. Your first songs will suck, I guarantee it. But if you work at it you will get better. And if you can’t sing and play your songs on an acoustic guitar or piano, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Never follow trends. Once they break, they’re time-stamped. It’s your job to do something new. And that new thing is a return to the garden. Study the hits of yore, with not only their melodies, but their changes. Maybe put the chorus first. Never underestimate the power of a bridge. and if you can’t say it in three minutes or less, chances are you can’t say it at all. We’re ripe for a new sound, and one thing’s for sure, we know it’s going to be pop, Active Rock and Triple A are backwaters and hip-hop will survive but it’s looking to be superseded. You can sing along with the country tunes, which in too many cases are retreads of seventies rock, a paradigm Christian music originated, but we’re looking for something a bit more modern. And your goal is to appeal to everybody. The music business is mostly run by old men worried about money, they don’t want to take a chance. They abhor risk. They’re happy with today’s niche product because it makes them money. And they have their publicity teams get stories in the press to make it look like people care about what they’re selling but few do. We are looking for a great new hope, whether black, white, brown or red. It’s a big tent, you’re not gonna be excluded based on your ethnicity, hits are undeniable and everybody wants a piece of them. 

2. Reaction

If no one cares, you’re on the wrong track. You want people to demand the song from you, so they can play it and spread the word. If you’re forcing it upon people chances are it won’t succeed. We live in a pull economy, despite the usual suspects pushing. If push worked, the tracks off Bruno Mars’s new album would be topping the Spotify chart, but they’re not. Sure, Mars made it because of previous great work and endless exposure but the truth is today’s cycles are faster than ever before, we’re hungry for new blood, it’s hard for the old to sustain. It’s nearly impossible to break through but some people do, we want you.

3. Playlists

Radio comes last. You want to be on Spotify playlists. Apple Music is a walled garden, there’s little virality and Spotify dominates. If you can get on a Spotify playlist and your music reacts, the company will work with you, they’ll spread the word by putting you on more playlists, helping to break your record. It’s a data-driven game, fakery is a thing of the past and radio is the icing on the cake. You live and die by the numbers.

4. Team

You have to be aligned with someone who has relationships, who knows people, you cannot do it by yourself, no way. Oh, you can play in Poughkeepsie and try to spread it from there, town to town, your live rep preceding you, but the truth is that takes too much time and you’re probably gonna burn out and give up before you make it to the middle. Then again, if you’ve got anything going on the labels and agents will find you. They’re combing the data constantly. If you’re an unknown with big grosses or big streams they’ll find you, even if you don’t have an address, they’re just that interested. But they’re not interested in much. Your goal is to get aligned with the person with the most relationships who cares about you. Not the biggest person who’s cutting you a break nor the amateur who is passionate. And careers are brief with few shots so the truth is you’re gonna get in some nasty disputes, you’re gonna fire your original manager, you’re gonna have to pay him off, sounds ugly but this is what it takes to make it, you’ve got to be monomaniacal in service to your career. Nice guys don’t finish at all in the music business, they barely get started.

5. No bitching.

Unless it’s over an artistic issue. Fight to protect your vision, your music. But don’t complain about streaming payouts and getting ripped-off and missing out on opportunities, no one cares. And be ready to work ’round the clock, that’s how you know you’re tied up with the right team, you no longer have free time, they’ve got you promoting and interfacing all the damn time. But the truth is you say yes before you say no. You have to take all opportunities until you become a star, then you can say no.

6. Don’t second-guess yourself.

Do it your way, you’re the only person on your team. The manager and label can get new acts, if you don’t make it you’re done. So, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. And don’t be influenced by the naysayers, there are professional sour-grapers who don’t want anybody to succeed unless it’s them and or someone they approve of. Ignore the hatred, no one’s got time to hear it but you.

7. Try to save the world.

One person can do it. With one song. That’s the power of art, that’s the power of the individual. Shoot high! And know that if success comes, it’ll be long after you’ve almost given up two, three or more times. Show business is not fair and despite the internet you need middlemen to make it, and to convince them, to move them, is a very slow process at best, and never forget they’re risk averse. But someone will break through, why not you?

By. Bob Lefsetz


It's a Singles World

Heard Frank Ocean’s name recently?

“Blonde” is absent from the Spotify “United States Top 50.” Talk of the town for two weeks, his album is already in the rearview mirror. Which is why exclusives are bad for artists, you’ve got to get them while it’s hot, hit ’em with the Hein, otherwise they’re on to something new.

And that’s the issue, more than albums or exclusives, it’s about mindshare, noise in the channel… You drop your album on one day, and what are you going to do for the rest of the three hundred and sixty four? You’ve shot your wad, it’s done, it’s over, you’re lost in an old paradigm, if you’re about hits, and the business is solely about hits, that’s what you’ve got to deliver, over and over and over again.

Better to release a track every other month. As long as you have the attendant publicity. Forget moribund radio, which moves so slowly, playing the same songs after they took the better part of a year to get added. On streaming services, the game is very fast. Your track goes on the chart and it’s your responsibility to keep it there. Publicity will get you attention, quality will gain you staying power.

Now if you’re building it on the road, which is nearly impossible, because no one will come see you if you don’t have a hit, sure, drop an entire album, work it for a couple of years, try to get inside people’s heads.

But if you’ve already made it…

That album will be scooped up by a small cadre of fans, assuming they’re aware of it, but everybody else will ignore it. They’re inundated with music.

Not that you don’t need a body of work. Assuming someone discovers you, they need to be able to go deeper. So, best to build a presence, a trove of tracks online, but when it comes to new material…

If you’ve got something to say that’s gonna take forty minutes, and it really shouldn’t be longer, only country acts seem to know this, by all means give it a go, record an LP. But if you’re just woodshedding and assembling tracks, don’t. Or just post them on streaming services when they’re ready, with little fanfare, save all the hoopla for the potential hits.

The sales charts don’t fit the modern paradigm. Purchase is nearly irrelevant, listenership is everything. Imagine, for years we judged success by whether you could get newbies to buy your album. That’s insane. What we want to know is whether people are listening to it! That’s the only relevant metric.

And that’s what the streaming charts are based upon. You might be able to influence getting added to a playlist, but you can’t work the top list, no way.

So, change your way of thinking.

Don’t try to come up with twelve tracks, try to come up with one track, which might require twelve attempts, but…

You’re a songwriter, a musician, that’s what you do, keep doing it.

But know we only want the cream of the crop. There’s no use advertising anything but.

Forget the media married to the old ways. Reviewing long players, reprinting the SoundScan chart. That’s for old people inured to old ways. So, you get a review, who cares if no one streams it! And we’ve already determined sales are a bad indicator.

It’s the 1960s all over again. Tracks last a month or two. And then we’re on to something new. The jammed up and jellied tight radio charts have been superseded. It’s a more fluid market, and this is good for you.

And one track streamed a hundred million times is better than twelve tracks streamed one million times each. That’s right, there’s more money in one track, this is the opposite of the CD paradigm, where you get them to overpay for one good track so everybody can make money. Now, the money’s only in the hit that breaks through.

And Frank Ocean’s “Blonde” is not a complete stiff. Three tracks have about ten million streams. A couple are around seven. A bunch are at two or three…

But the Chainsmokers/Halsey cut at number one is getting 1,467, 471 streams A DAY! This cut “Closer” has been streamed on Spotify 388,511,078 times in its history, far in excess of “Blonde” in the aggregate.

Number two, the Weeknd’s “Starboy,” gets 1,327,357 streams a day and has 82,366,575 cumulative streams, and it was only released September 21st!

Then there’s DJ Snake’s album, “Encore,” containing the big hit with Justin Bieber, “Let Me Love You,” which has 797,743 daily streams and is sitting at number four on the chart and has a cume of 280,272,323 streams. Most of the other tracks, other than the single hits on “Encore,” have a few million streams. Proving that most people don’t want to hear the rest of the album, only the hits. So, why not just put out hits?

It’s not easy to record a hit. But today, the great thing is if you fail, you can step right back up to bat. Your core is listening, if you achieve greatness they’ll give you a push, get you going.

As for the rest of you…

The bar has just been raised. Now that everybody can play, most people go unheard, at least in any quantity. You can play by the new rules or bitch about the change, it’s your choice.

But the public has spoken.

By: Bob Lefsetz