Music, verse, song and sound are the manifestation of an emotional experience captured and expressed by the writer, singer or musician. “Three chords and the truth ” as Willie Nelson famously said describing country music. So, as an aspiring artist how do you find a commercial platform that can connect your emotional expression with people without becoming yet another victim of the voracious music business?
Well, one of the solutions is to treat the business like a business. Consider yourself a unique investment opportunity in which your fans choose to invest. Adapt the mindset and build a structure around it. One Irish musician with a substantial history of success and sustainability who has done this is Nick Kelly, well known front man from 90’s indie band The Fat Lady Sings.
He published a list called ” 10 Steps To Self Possession” back in 1997. His enduring wisdom proves that despite technology and the ever evolving music industry model these ten steps still apply. His record company Self Possessed Records was set up as a vehicle to release his debut solo album “Between Trapezes”. These ten steps represent Nick’s philosophy.
1. DON’T WAIT TO BE DISCOVERED:
Making demos to send to record companies is a waste of time: if you’re good enough to be signed, you’re good enough to make records yourself. Understand that you are always completely responsible for your own success, and take that responsibility on.
2. COMMUNICATE DIRECTLY WITH YOUR FANS:
If somebody enjoys one of your shows, but doesn’t leave you an address or some other way of contacting them, you lose a valuable asset.
3. PLAN FOR THE LONG HAUL:
Set yourself long-term artistic goals, rather than short-term commercial ones, and you’ll be happier – and probably more commercially successful in the end, too.
4. EMOTION BEATS TECHNIQUE EVERY TIME:
Technical perfection is impossible to achieve, expensive to attempt, and ultimately pointless. It doesn’t matter how rough the recording is if you manage to squeeze magic into it. And no amount of polish can turn an uninspired recording into an inspired one.
5. BE FOCUSED:
The music industry is one of the most wasteful, short-sighted and poorly-organised businesses there is. You’re unlikely to have the financial resources of a major record label, but you can more than compensate by being smarter, sharper and more flexible. Successful careers are built upon imagination, planning and timing, not big bucks.
6. UNDERSTAND MARKETING:
Music journalists and radio producers receive hundreds of CDs and press releases every week, most of which never get played or read. So learn to differentiate yourself from the competition. Target your communications. Be clear. Be brief. Be timely. Be polite. Don’t be boastful or desperate. Above all, be intriguing.
You’d be amazed how helpful and generous people can be. By the same token, if you can do somebody a good turn, do it. Karma works.
8. DEFINE YOUR OWN SUCCESS:
Do you really want to be an MTV icon as well as a serious artist? Find a way of selling just 5-10,000 albums a year – a laughable pittance by major label standards – and you’ll still be making the music you want to make when you’re 70, earning a very comfortable living and completely independent of the insecurities and vagaries of the music industry.
9. DON’T WASTE MONEY INDULGING YOUR EGO:
Don’t hire musicians, managers, road crew, etc. unless you’re convinced that (a) you really need them, and (b) they’re able to do the job better than you can yourself. Don’t make videos, release promotional singles or plan expensive tours just because other bands do…
10. BE PROFESSIONAL:
Just because you’re small is no reason for you not be efficient, punctual, honest, reliable and courteous in all your dealings. Leave power games and posturing to the insecure.
Nick has crowd and self funded three albums, the latest one is “Loads”, released under the name of Nick’s band “Alien Envoy.” Two hundred and fifty generous souls all pre-ordered the albums at a cost of €25 each “Loads” has been welcomed onto the radio waves with significant airplay and has received massive critical acclaim.
Here’s “Break America”, a beauty of a song about the journey of The Fat Lady Sings across the states, written ironically just before they broke up:
Nick’s 1997 album “Between Trapezes ” won Nick accolade of “Irish Solo Artist of the Year” at the Irish Music Critics Awards for 1998/1999. The critics said “this one has to be a contender for the accolade of album of the decade, let alone the year…(12/12)” – Hot Press. “Faint Heart, Starving Seed, and Crawl invest everyday emotional battlegrounds with powerful dramatic backdrops, as sharp and moving lyrics are shackled to booming melodies…this is a record which deserves to be heard…(4/5)” – Q Magazine.
“Running Dog ” was released in 2005, it was nominated as “Irish Album Of The Year” at the inaugural Choice Music Prize. “This is a strong, surprising and intelligently written record, one of the best this year. ” – Americana UK. “A poet’s soulful challenge to the fates…tidily precise and perfect” – Evening Herald.
Between musical projects Nick has taken his creativity into other areas. He is well known for his work in the advertising industry. He won a Clio award for that Guinness Tom Crean add, which almost became a national treasure. His third short film “Shoe” was long listed for an Academy Award in 2011.
He has just received funding to shoot first feature “The Drummer And The Goalkeeper” from the Irish Film Board. Nick has demonstrated the cross over in music, film and art. He has sustained himself from the initial platform of The Fat Lady Sings, through to advertising, writing and directing and again back to his band “Alien Envoy.” His mindset and crowd funding model has served him well. His talent has ultimately endured. At the end of the day, there’s no arguing with talent. It’s just a question of how you manage it. If it doesn’t work out first time round learn from it and move on. Do it better the next time, cos one thing’s for sure. It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.
Check out Self Possessed Records to find out more about Nick. Alien Envoy are playing in Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre on Nov.6th. Definitely worth sixteen little euros to experience this sage of songwriting. Tickets from www.entertainment.ie or www.smockalley.com
Post by Ciara Sheahan. I’m a self confessed indie rock n’roller. Live music addict, writer, blogger, festival veteran. Native to Dublin, my degree in Journalism is from The University of Sheffield. With a proven track record in business and a creative side that refuses to recede I’m firmly focused on my future in the music/creative industry.