72971_10151385368241355_2050420389_nIn recent weeks I’ve been contacted by various music artists through various social medias (funny how the telephone is no longer one of them) to pick my brain for the millionth time on how to sell their wares/songs/nubile posteriors up the music industry food chain in the guise of a record deal or publishing deal or both.

It’s always in the form of sickly whining and the fetid scent of desperation wafts across the social media chasm with every single key stroke. “Why won’t anyone notice me?”

“How do I get them to pay attention to me.”;  “I’m the greatest thing since Flakes of Ham – don’t they realize what they’re missing?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pw4vHMXqEt4

A fleeting blog by someone this past week pointed out the issue quite succinctly: Everytime you contact music industry people what do you talk about? You talk about yourself. It’s always “Me. Me. Me!!” You know who cares more about you? No one. Get over yourself and start thinking like a businessman. You mistakenly believe that you and your music are one and the same. If a label rejects your songs, they’re rejecting you. Am I right? As strange as it may sound, the music you make is not the product. If you don’t believe me, read on.

resume99% of new artists fail to realize that landing a record deal is like trying to land a job. You need a resume. You need a rap sheet of accomplishments in terms of performing, experience, goals, drive, talent (with or without songwriting) and the crux of a successful career: FANS.

Anyone can write songs. Few can write great songs. Labels hope you can write great songs too. But they don’t count on johnny-bravoit. So, they’ve created a mechanism by which they can prop you up with other people’s songs. In which case, why would they sign you at all? Because, as that famous episode of The Brady Bunch pointed out…all you have to do is “fit the suit”. By which they mean do what they tell you, smile, wave, put on a show and wear the wardrobe they’ve created for a fictitious Johnny Bravo. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6wR7ACcMRk

beatlesThis formula has worked since Brian Epstein told The Beatles to stop wearing leather and had collarless jackets and stove pipe tight trousers made for them. Epstein was gay and realized that both boys, girls and their repressed Mums would enjoy the show. That’s not to detract from the fact that the Beatles were musical geniuses – but that too was filtered through the watchful eye of a paid employee of their record label, EMI, by the name of George Martin. Eventually, the band grew tired of being manipulated as puppets – making an album, touring, making a movie, touring, making a new single, touring ad nauseam – and decided they’d had enough. Not  long after becoming strictly a recording act in the patriarchal hands of Mr. Martin, Brian Epstein’s use as a promotional and marketing figurehead became painfully redundant (something that ultimately led to his death from a prescription drug overdose).

monkeesMeanwhile, The Monkees were created by television executives who picked the fictional band members through open casting calls in Los Angeles. Music impresario Don Kirshner was responsible for picking the make-believe band’s repertoire. That is until the make-believe band – that was filled with REAL musicians – decided they too had had enough of being manipulated and overlooked for their innate talents and decided to puncture a hole in the manufactured machine (see the band’s movie ‘Head’ where they lampoon their own pre-fabricated existence).

Learning quickly from that publicity fiasco, the people holding the money and the manufactured brands wanted a little more control. At first it seemed that the answer jackson5was egomaniacal fathers living vicariously through their children. They would prove to be of value in capturing the will and the drive for success in family based groups – The Beach Boys being the progenitors of the template, followed later (and simultaneously) by The Osmonds, The Jackson 5 , and later, The Sylvers.  But the fathers themselves were almost always the undoing. [In the case of the unsuccessful cult act The Shaggs, it was Dad that mentally imprisoned and abused his daughters https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d71b7P3SxyM ].

And so came a new breed of hucksters, charlatans and grifters all throwing their Sven
Gali-esque muscle behind creating made-to-order accessible pop acts. At first they tried bcrto manipulate existing bands. The UK was quite adept at it with acts like The Sweet, The Rubettes and probably the most famous of them all: The Bay City Rollers who suffered a similar fate to The Monkees but at the hands of their own record label, Arista, and manager Colonel Tom Parker II aka Tam Paton. BCR was a Scottish band that was formed in the late 1960s by brothers Derek and Alan Longmuir and after several line-up changes – which included at one time members of the band Pilot https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iiryJwvDtc – were signed to the label based on good looks, great live performances and what would turn out to be the biggest rock and roll fashion statement since Astrid Kirchherr made it okay for guys to wear long hair: Tartan. They were given songs to perform in lieu of their strongly road tested originals. The media was suitably bemused and insisted the band was manufactured – right down to claiming that studio musicians played their parts for them.

bcr_crowdBut the little girls didn’t care and Rollermania ensued worldwide. The band would release 9 studio albums (or 10 depending on what territory you lived in) and never made a dime. They were swindled out of a reported $8 million in unpaid album sales and merchandise royalties. A lawsuit by the original members against Arista is currently pending. Tam Paton conveniently escaped financial auditing scrutiny by dying in 2009. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aw_pHcKSUVI

The Rollers became a blueprint for what we now know as  ‘The Boy Band’ – though, unlike The Rollers, the new breed have been ‘assembled’ with questionable talent one-directionother than good looks, dance moves, and passable singing voices. The latest inductees into the Hair Club For Almost Men are One Direction. There’s even been female versions of this – the most recognizable assemblage in modern times was the globe-dominating Spice Girls. [SIDEBAR: When the Spice Girls reunited for select cities several years ago they held a poll online where fans could pick an additional city to add to the tour – the world, however, ganged up on the former teen queens and voted to send them to Baghdad in a unanimous vote.]

So, what does this have to do with hipster acoustic guitar players and gloomy, tattooed Emo bands trying to land a record deal based on their caterwauling and ego bleating? Sell ability.

As I mentioned earlier: Your songs are not the product. You are. It’s a closely guarded secret that the Country music industry has been coveting for decades.  Put a guy in a Stetson and hand him an acoustic guitar or put a girl in tight jeans or a summer dress plus a microphone, add Nashville’s top session players and songwriters, stir vigorously and you’ve got sell ability (though, admittedly, the formula has been tweaked in recent years to add a little more Rock edge to the production a la Big & Rich to bring in a younger audience – but the formula remains unchanged at its core).

There’s also the divergent pop diva vs. chanteuse approach. Depending on your taste you can follow the serious musical course set by Celine, Shania, Adele, Alannah, Alanis, Amanda Marshall, Carole Pope, Amy Winehouse, Beyonce, Pink or Christine Aguilera. Or, you can be a sugar coated flavour of the month like Katy Perry, Gwen Stefani, Nicki Minaj, Britney, or [insert today’s forgotten pop starlet here]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVCzdpagXOQ

selena-gomezThere’s even a path designed by the new corporate manipulators that can lead to short-lived teen success via The Disney Corporation (Jesse McCartney, Hilary Duff, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Lindsay Lohan) or Fame Via Simon Cowell (American Idol, The Voice, X-Factor, et al).

And, let’s face it, Justin Beiber is in a league unto himself. He was not a cookie cutter creation but he does have astute handlers and business people bublesurrounding him. As does Michael Bublé in attracting a previously untapped post-teenybopper audience with MILFs and even your Granny who believe, as I do, that Bublé is cloned from the hair grease of Paul Anka. Oh, I can hear the hipsters and Emos screaming right now (well, maybe not screaming…maybe passively aggressively sulking/texting): “But we don’t want to be corporate shills. We want to be ARTISTES!!” Well, fucktards, why did you ask me why labels/publishers won’t pay attention to you? Just like the lottery, if you don’t buy a ticket you can’t win the prize. They don’t want artistes. I repeat: they want you to fit that suit.

sexsmithThe real issue at hand is that you keep asking the wrong questions. What you should be asking is: “Why do I want a record deal?”; “What is my ultimate goal?”; “Do I want to be rich? Famous? Both?”; “Do I want to die in obscurity with Ron Sexsmith-like respectability tenure?”

Let me make this as direct as I can: a record deal will destroy your life and ruin you as an ‘artiste’ at least in the configuration that record labels now operate because that “ticket” I mentioned before is based  on submissiveness and indentured servitude.

Once upon a time you had a shot at turning a few good albums into a career, for instance, Meatloaf has been touring ‘Bat Out of Hell’ for 38 years, and he didn’t even write the songs!

BowieBowie and others from the 1960s had the luxury of making many failed records until something took off for them – Bowie had nearly a dozen failed singles before “Space Oddity” caught fire and The Guess Who released 22 singles (WTF?) with various chart successes before they finally blew up the airwaves with “These Eyes” in 1969. The labels had invested and were waiting for that investment to mature.


No such luxury exists at the labels in modern times unless you’re with an indie label being distributed through a major. You’ve got one shot to prove yourself out of the IMG_8373gate. Would it not behoove you to find an alternate means by which that pressure doesn’t affect what could be your only kick at the can ever?

The Barenaked Ladies changed the playing field for independents forever in the early 1990s. Play. Play. Play. Ingratiate yourself to thousands of fans. Record a short demo. Then shop the hell out of it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tOXS-FTV0xw

Or don’t.

nobody-loves-me1But please, people. Stop whining that nobody loves you. There’s no bigger turn-off than when a musician begs to have someone pay attention to them for no other reason than they think they’re entitled. No one owes you anything except in the case of an audience who should have the courtesy of being attentive.

Do your thing live. Make noise. Write songs. Educate yourself. And if you can tolerate it, wear the Johnny Bravo suit.  Then you can at least say you tried it and didn’t like it. But until then stop fucking whining…

Send your CDs to: Jaimie Vernon, 180 Station Street, Suite 53, Ajax, ON L1S 1R9 CANADA


Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday.
Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 35 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 of those years. He is also the author of the Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ both of which are available at Amazon.com


  1. Excellent dose of reality. As always

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