The Successful Musicians Guide To Greatness
Like many bands we decided to take a Christmas break, and upon returning were surprised that a rather promising chain of events led to a meeting with a touring musician who shall remain unnamed. If you follow us, I’m sure you’ll guess who this is! He said he enjoyed our music, what we did, and wanted to speak more. Naturally our minds were racing. This was it! That elusive big opportunity. A fast track to recognition on a wider scale. Maybe even outside of Manchester!
What he had for us was another matter entirely.
A reality check was offered up with a side dish of good old-fashioned solid advice. He did, however, finish up with a lovely dessert of compliments, so it’s far from a sad story. We listened in slight awe to the tales of his bands’ origin and took mental notes for the ‘journey’ he was hoping we would take. Has it influenced us? Massively, of course. In fact, we value the advice so much that we thought we’d pass it on. So here it is: The Successful Musicians’ Guide to Greatness.
1. Understanding the Industry
There is no fast track. No overnight sensation. Even Psy had been a star for years in South Korea before Gangnam Style went viral. To a label, bands are disposable. You’ll see for yourself that if you turn down a gig, someone else will quickly jump in instead. Labels don’t invest in artists for the long term anymore; they’re only interested what’s hot right now. To even get their attention you need to be shifting 3-5k units ON YOUR OWN! So let’s say you manage it, get the deal, and record an album. It’s still no guarantee that you’ll have a long-standing career. Your album floats around in the top 30 for a while and you’re really proud, full of ideas for next one and are itching to get in the studio. The label on the other hand, has found the next ‘saviours of guitar music’ and invested their money elsewhere.
At this point, unnamed musician told us we had to decide what it was we wanted from music – fame and fortune, or greatness? If its’ the former, well we wish you luck, but I wouldn’t bother reading anymore! We’re aiming for quality and longevity, and this advice is designed to help achieve this. Obviously, we were given specifics, but here are the bits that work for everyone.
2. Throw away your Degree!
Formal training is fine if you want to be a teacher but the only way to achieve greatness as a band is to live it. Hang out with the best musicians in the city and go to loads of unsigned gigs. Don’t just support your local scene, be your local scene! Learn from each other. Everyone will have found a way of doing something that you might not have heard of and want to try. That breathing technique your singer mentioned might just help someone else out too. You’ll soon make some friends for life. Maybe even collaborate on a song or two and go on tour together. Immerse yourself in your local scene until you breathe music. Sounds cheesy I know, but the more you get involved, the more naturally it’ll come to you.
3. Rent a Space.
We’ve all been there. You’ve got the making of a hit in your head but the rehearsal rooms are fully booked all week and you can’t get the band together to write. By the time the space is free, its’ lost its’ magic and you can’t make the arrangement come together the way it did in your head. Frustrated? Find a small studio in a mill, add some soundproofing, and you have your own personal rehearsal room! You can leave all your gear set up (behind a decent padlock) and come and go as you please. Seem like a lot of money? See it as a long-term investment. Make it somewhere that you love to spend time, somewhere inspirational. If you put in the effort to make it a place that you truly feel comfortable in, the positive environment will lead to increased creativity. There are loads of articles and websites giving advice on how to create a relaxed and inspirational space as a starting point but I’m not going to tell you how to go about this as I think one man’s serenity is another’s chaos. We’re currently looking for a place near to us and it seems like its’ going to work out cheaper than hiring a room once a week anyway! I’d call that a win-win, wouldn’t you?
4. Rome wasn’t built in a day …
… and neither is greatness. You have your own space so you aren’t restricted by booking systems and opening hours anymore. Don’t be afraid to take your time. Two years is great; three even better. The more time spent on developing your sound and honing your skills, the greater the end result. Look over your favourite artists’ back catalogue and I’m confident you’ll find they explored a variety of styles and looked to a plethora of influences before stumbling upon the key to what makes them great. Working a full time job limits the amount of time you can dedicate to simply being creative so it can literally take years.
Just don’t rush.
5. Ready, Set, Go!
Hopefully you’ve been so inspired to develop your artistic direction that you are coming back to this blog two years later to find out what the next step is! Well its’ simple. Only when you truly believe you are at the absolute best that you can be, (apparently you will know) it’s time to start banging down doors. Be pro-active. One thing the unnamed musician loved is that we chased him down because bands don’t do that anymore. This musician went with his singer in the 80s and burst into every office they could find, playing to whoever would listen until someone said yes. Bear in mind that by ‘being ready’ you will have already spent years gaining experience and working on your material. In the process you’ll have done hundreds of gigs, written thousands of songs, and be shifting decent numbers of your own self-funded EPs thanks to your small but loyal fan base. You’ll be offering a label something with some proven success and hopefully, something that fills a gap in the market for them to invest in. You have to make them listen, or they won’t.
All this advice is brilliant. If you work through points 1 – 4, you’ll comfortably arrive at point 5 when the time is right.
For now we’re going to concentrate on learning what really makes us tick, on what sound we find comes naturally, and on embracing the Manchester music scene. Hopefully we’ll create our perfect little corner of the world to write music in along the way. There’s one thing we’re pretty sure about though, and that’s that greatness comes from having a whole lot of passion and absolutely no fear.
Written by Leanne Scaletta & Luciano Molina-Batchelor of Sister Ray
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