JAIMIE VERNON – HOW TO BE A SUCCESSFUL INDIE ARTIST

Jaimie Vernon_Viletones It’s only taken 8 months but I feel comfortable back in the captain’s chair at my record label after having not done it for the past 5 years. Re-issuing old albums will continue to be my bread and butter but I will always keep supporting and promoting independent music. It’s where I started and will always have a special place in my heart. The spirit of original and new music is what drives creativity forward. Nostalgia is full of sign posts but without new music to build and cultivate new paths the road ends and the sign post will read ‘dead end’.

USD10_cover_lorez I’ve just resurrected Bullseye’s “Unsigned, Sealed & Delivered” compilation series designed as a means to put 18 to 20 new artists into the hands of industry people and save these acts the expense of doing it as a blind study in what-not-to-do in the music business. In other words, they get the benefit of my experience without the frustration from the lack of theirs. I made mistakes so they don’t have to!

But I’ve realized that while I was gone from the music industry many acts still haven’t figured out how to deliver the goods. The music part of it is not lacking at all – in fact, demos now are a million times ahead of the curve than they were back in 1985 when I fired up the label. Songwriting’s improved, execution and style have improved and the production is the best it has ever been since the dawn of recording. So much so that demos are pretty much full-blown commercial productions. A demo is almost redundant given how much can actually be accomplished through ProTools, Logic or any other in-the-box software. The real skill now comes in who has mastered the use of the tools. But I digress…
Soundcloud While artists have made great strides in getting their musical ideas across they’ve taken 10 steps back with the presentation. My theory is that social media has precluded the need for a decent branding initiative. This maybe a response to how badly platforms like MySpace (yeah, I know it’s still a thing but it’s a floating internet derelict that has yet to run aground on a desert island), Reverbnation and Soundcloud have made everything ubiquitous and very, very anonymous…not to mention non-interactive and dull.

Add to that the same ubiquitous, disposable dry heaves of iTunes, Spotify, Pandora and anything resembling a digital jukebox platform. While it’s certainly fantastic news for independent artists that they’ve got upwards of 300 distributors to put their songs in the direct line of sight for music lovers, it’s costing them their identity. And artists have no idea that they’re supposed to do more than hand their songs to Tunecore or CD Baby for propagation. They need to build a brand. Yes, that awful, clichéd, boardroom marketing word.

PresenceArtists are running to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram hoping that people will just sign up and like them out of the goodness of their hearts. Then they complain that no one’s coming to their shows or buying the downloads/physical product. Social media is important. But those operating in that world are missing the connective tissue: PRESENCE. Why should anyone care about you on social media? What have you done? Where did you come from? It’s more than a blurb on Wikipedia. It needs to be a ground swell of public and media infiltration. That takes years. To become a household name takes more than a viral video or opening slot on a 9-act bill during SXSW.

My major concern is that the rudiments of self-promotion aren’t there. The old school techniques are tried and true. They worked then. They work now. Here’s some helpful hints that will get you through a lot more doors and into the faces of important people:

Haileerosemusic1) HAVE A WEBSITE
That’s so, like 2003, right? Right. Guess what was happening in 2003? People were still buying music. People went there to see where the artist was playing, to hear snippets of songs, to read the bio. Better still was that websites are the place where the slow-to-adapt music industry is still going to creep you. WIX.COM has gold plug-and-play site for as little as $250 a year. It’s also the place where the media is going to go first to get your bio and your photo when they write a story about you. Speaking of which….

2) WRITE A BIOGRAPHY (OR HAVE ONE WRITTEN)
You may not be ready for prime time. Maybe you’re about to release your first album or EP. I could go on at length about why you shouldn’t be releasing ANYTHING until someone actually knows your name, but that’s a whole sub-blog I’ll get into another day. Write your story. In your own words and outlining HOW you want people to perceive you.  Then hand it to someone that doesn’t know you and ask them to name three memorable things you’ve done by reading it. If they can’t come up with three then re-write it. Better yet. Go back to the drawing board and actually DO three things that you can write about. Play more shows. Work with other artists. Co-write a song. Roadie for a band. Anything that doesn’t make you look like you’ve just crawled out of a suburban basement. Inexperience is no excuse. There are things you could be doing to build your profile. Those things will inform your story. Go make the story.

3) TAKE A PHOTO
Turds Of MiseryYou’re truly serious about this music thing? Then why is your Facebook page filled with sorry-ass, blurry, over-exposed iPhone photos taken by friends while you were puking during one of your own gigs? Just like potential employers who scroll social media to see if you’re worthy of hiring, your career aspirations can be scuttled just as easily with shitty pictures of you. You’ve spent a lot of money recording. Don’t cheap out now hoping some friend can grab your ‘good side’ in a drive-by selfie. It looks cheap. It plays cheap. Bring in a professional. Contact me. I’ve got two dozen pro photographers that can make you look good….even while you’re puking.

4) EMAIL. EMAIL. EMAIL

youve-got-mail

That’s so, like, 1998 Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, right? Right. And how the fuck do you think anyone in the industry is going to get a hold of you? By Facebook I.M.’s? By Tweeting? Serious and legal music business is still done by correspondence. It builds a paper trail. It sets expectations and precedents. It’s your safety net in the event something goes terribly wrong with your career. Get it in writing. Get it in near-permanent writing. Keep an address book through your email service. And answer the fucking things DAILY. As I said in item #1 the music industry is a slow adapter to tech. They’ve ditched the idea of mailing letters through the postal service but still cling to this service. And they will for a long time. It’s slow, it’s clunky, it’ll make you rich and famous.

5) ESTABLISH A TRAJECTORY

Empty asphalt road towards cloud and signs symbolizing success a

Have an idea of what you want in your career. Don’t want to play cover tunes? Check. Want to be a songwriter and not a performer? Check. Want to join a band and collaborate? Check. There’s nothing worse than the wishy-washiness of musicians. Those who’ve gone to great heights in their music careers have one thing in common: a GOAL. Being able to play and be great at your musicality is wonderful. Congrats, your diploma is in the mail. That puts everyone coming to the table equals. For you to excel beyond that basic talent is applying yourself to a series of goals. Check ‘em off the list as you go. Collect the whole set. Then set new ones. Before you know it, you’ve established what you do and don’t want. Oh, and you can add those things to your biography.

6) DON’T ACCEPT THE WORD ‘NO’.
You may have to approach your career buffet style, but keep the goal line in sight at all times. Otherwise, you’ll be very unhappy because you’re going to meet a lot of other music people who are floundering too. And they’re going to harsh your mellow – deliberately or out of necessity. Friends and family are going to shit on your parade. Many will try and get you to quit; If it’s a significant other you need to have a long chat with them to find out why they want you to stop doing the thing you love. Don’t be side-tracked by disappointment and don’t be turned off by rejection. They are speed-bumps to overcome and will ultimately separate the infirm from the determined individuals.

7) DON’T BE LURED BY THE WORD “YES”.
There’s a lot of con artists out there. When every word coming out of someone’s mouths is “great”, “amazing”, “you’re fantastic” it might very well be true. If they’re coming from your significant other or a family member no harm done as they want you to succeed. However, they have absolutely no experience in determining whether you really do or don’t have talent. Others will say it too. Those are industry weasels and you can read about them in #8. What you need is an unbiased team. A team of trusted individuals who have experience, who will tell you when you’ve shit yourself on stage and will be at your side when you fall down. And you will. Those are the people who you want to be there when everything goes well (note: can also be used for relationships!).

8) BEWARE THE DIVIDE & CONQUER
After you’ve had your team working with you for awhile and things start to roll (and they will) the ‘yes’ men will begin to appear (see #7 above). These people want something from you. You’ll know immediately because they will offer to attach their personal interest to you. Stay away from those people. That don’t want you. They want your success and all the things that come with it – most notably money. They will begin a game to divide your team and plant seeds of doubt. Make an agreement with your team members that ALL conversations go through you. No side deals. No favours. No future considerations. And stick to your career path.

9) GET A LAWYER

David Komie Billboard

This comes down the road when you start receiving offers of publishing or record deals or from people that would like to manage you (sidebar: you don’t need a manager until there’s something to actually manage like money or contracts). Entertainment lawyers specifically. Yeah, I know, your uncle Frank runs a traffic ticket-fighting legal firm and he’s willing to give you free advice. Ask him if he knows what cross collateralization is or master use rights or the difference between a sync license and a mechanical license. He won’t know. He’s of no use to your career.

10) INCORPORATE
Sounds IncorporatedIf making music is your career goal, then you are branding yourself as a professional. Professional musicians run businesses. You are the business. You are the asset. You have expenses and revenue. You need to keep track of those things and you’ll need to pay taxes. That means getting an accountant. Just like lawyers, you need an accountant familiar with entertainment accounting because royalties fall into this weird area in the profit margin side of declaring income. It’s a pain. It’s a headache and it’ll be the thing that will put you on good footing to continue making a living at your music. It also makes it easier to get paid when you’re dealing with large sums of cash and you’ll be surprised how soon banks will start offering you financing.

I consult as part of my day gig as a record label president. Contact me if you need advice or want to pursue any of the points above. I’m reasonably priced. Oh, and check out our latest independent compilation coming in September. We’re still looking for artists who want to get on board. http://www.bullseyecanada.com/#!blank/zguzq

Send your CDs for review to this NEW address: Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 CANADA

=JV=

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

dbawis-button7Jaimie “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 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released 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’ is now available at Amazon.com http://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon

One Response to “JAIMIE VERNON – HOW TO BE A SUCCESSFUL INDIE ARTIST”

  1. Good advice Jaimie.

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