The opening remarks by music and media guru Dan Kimpel didn’t offer any significant insights or get-rich-quick schemes. Mr. Kimpel did, however, give a charismatic and sincere commentary on what we as music lovers and creators already know: it’s all about who you know, what you know, and who knows you. It was certainly convenient then that we all happened to be in the same room of some as the industry’s preeminent business minds and influencers as Phantom Musik’s inaugural Noize Entertainment Expo commenced Saturday morning at the Musicians Institute.
“Today is not about closing the deal, but opening the door,” said Kimpel when encouraging cooperative interaction and a positive level of confidence among all attendees. The crowd was anxious to start the day after a few understandable setbacks that come with the launch of a new convention. The introductory speaker gave us all a laugh and an enthusiastic kickoff with his closing line, “Remember to never step on the toes that are connected to the ass you will someday have to kiss.”
Just as Kimpel’s speech employed a healthy mix of humor and expert input, the rest of the day was broken into five panels with each utilizing a blend of professional observation, performance, humor, and networking. This review will not only provide details of each segment, but will also offer a thematic summation of each respective topic. I hope it will both inform those of the LA Music Blog world as well as spark interest in the forthcoming 2013 expo.
Indie vs. Major State of the Industry
With the continuing rise of digital outlets and social networking, artists and writers today are weighed against higher expectations. Furthermore, the resources and technology that have been put in the hands of the everyday musician have increased the traffic towards major labels, making it even harder than ever to stand out. When asked what can be done about this and what major labels are really looking for, Senova Media’s Darryl Swaan stated “something already built.”
“There’s no such thing as a demo anymore; it’s all about production,” added Swaan. In other words, the more you musicians and songwriters can do on your end, the easier it is for a producer or label representative. This translates to impressive professionalism, which will catch the eye of a talent seeker who is busy enough as it is.
Chad Richardson, Creative Director at Ole Music Publishing, offered a similar take, saying “A lot of people say ‘Hey this would sound great if it was mixed properly.’ Get it mixed properly! Overnight success only takes ten years to make.”
Of course, getting noticed and signed by a major label isn’t necessarily the top priority of an artist as we would all come to learn throughout the day. Jessa Gelt of EMI affirmed her belief in good ol’ hustle and bustle. “It helps if you’re on Facebook and Twitter, but it’s all about the music,” said Gelt.
So if you have what it takes musicianship-wise, just keep doing what you do as there are obvious advantages to the independent route as well. Duron Brown of the Kartel Company noted the invaluable privilege of creative control, referencing now-mainstream artists such as Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj being “way different four or five years ago.” When working with major labels, everyone seems to want to dip a hand in the process which leads to understandable frustrations on many ends. If your image and style are bigger priorities than overnight success and stardom, stay true to the indie pathway.
This was the first of many times during the expo that we would hear “You don’t need a label deal!” That wasn’t my impression of this panel’s theme, though. Rather this segment could be summarized by an understanding that today’s industry is at a whole new level, and a more professional, finished product is expected from aspiring artists. So take your time and use the resources that are available to you instead of tapping on the shoulders of label executives with your demo every week.
“Allow yourself to be a failure before you’re a success,” stated Richardson at the conclusion. “It’s the process of many victories that keep you going.”
“Where’s the Money?” The Pros and Cons of Publishing
Keeping in line with the first panel, making money in publishing involves lightening the load on the business end by doing as much as possible on the creative end. This isn’t to say you should take on the creative process entirely on your own, but one must consider who is around them. An artist or band always has a team around them; who that team is comprised of and what each person’s job is can drastically affect one’s art and in turn, how much money that art brings back to the actual creator.
Livio Harris of Notting Hill Music commented on this process: “If you walk in with just a poem and the tech or producer takes over from there, you might only see 5% and won’t get your paper.” In other words, more contribution to the final product equals more money. As a songwriter, you may think that because you penned 100% of the lyrics, you’re going to make the most money, but with all the man hours and labor that goes into production and distribution, merely writing the lyrics won’t make you much.
In response to this, Tavi Shabestari of BMI said, “It’s not as good to just have a poem, so a lot of people shoot to be a top line lyric writer or melody writer. This includes more, so you get more money.”
There are so many technical aspects involved in the creative process, and one’s official job title can dictate more money than you think. The contributions of a singer versus a singer-songwriter warrant different levels of payment. Producers can also be credited as writers, as Mario Prins of SESAC pointed out. All these levels of work correlate to money levels in the end.
The theme of this panel is quite simple. Just as it can help you get noticed by the majors, doing more on your end will also grant you the most money. So then, whether you’re looking to get picked-up or have already built a foundation and are now wondering how to put more money in your pocket, the answer is to do as much as possible in the creative process before the product ever reaches a producer or label representative. Expand your abilities and build a trustworthy, loyal creative team around you. You will not only impress the suits of big-name labels, but in giving them less to do in production, you save yourself more money.
Singer-songwriter Eric Knight concluded this segment appropriately by stating “I’m in the same boat as all of you are as a do-it-yourselfer. It’s very hard.” I could hear all the pens on paper jotting that bullet point down.
“Artistic Evolution on Screen” This Side of TV
Just as the availability of technology and resources in today’s world has drastically changed the makeup of major label operations, the rise of YouTube has certainly affected the television industry. The Mac alone allows basically anyone to produce high-quality videos now, making the jobs of many in the visual arts almost obsolete.
As noted by Jeff Porter of Ostro and Company, viral series are the future and so an online presence is mandatory. While the role of television networks in the entertainment industry may be shifting, they certainly aren’t disappearing. In fact, now more than ever networks are looking for new and promising material to challenge that of the Internet market. So in today’s environment, how can one get noticed?
“Assistants are the gatekeepers,” said Chris Lakey of Kobalt Music Publishing. “They will be the ones who decide to put you in contact with those above them. People are always really nice to my assistant.”
Latanya Newt from BET responded with the suggestion that if you call a representative or director and get an assistant, stay on the line and give a quick pitch. “Assistants are always looking to move up,” Newt said, “If you have something that intrigues them, they can definitely help.”
Every network is different, obviously. Jeff Porter’s advice included “harassing” network affiliates until you eventually get noticed. I’m not an expert, but I’m pretty certain that won’t work every time.
The theme here would be, yet again, there are more opportunities than ever for you to take control of your craft. Having a strong online presence via YouTube or whatever Mac ProTools you cherish will definitely get the wheels turning. From there, focus on building a relationship with network representatives through an agent, someone you know on the inside, borderline harassment, or simply conversing with assistants.
Chris Lakey gave a great conclusive remark: “You literally have to eat, sleep, and breath promoting yourself. Leave no stone unturned. I’ve discovered artists through Instagram because I like their pictures.”
“Creative Minds Think Alike” Musicians and the A&Rs: Building a Winning Team
This segment was where the “you don’t need a label deal” really began to expand. If it hasn’t been straightforward enough in the previous panels, I’ll say it again: you can do anything you want to yourself these days given how far technology has come. However, even though you don’t necessarily need a label deal, you should still have a qualified team around you.
Ron Sobel of Winogradsky and Sobel legal services humorously pointed out that the “geeks and nerds” of the old days are now driving the industry via social networks and other various digital media. “It’s more about one’s team and not just the individual’s good looks these days,” said Sobel.
However, just having a team isn’t enough. You need to make sure that you have an appropriate give-and-take with that team and, of course, that the members of said team are reliable.
Crimson Group and Def Jam Universal’s Jason Green acknowledged this by noting that “you can have a team around you, but if you don’t know your work, or someone on your team knows it better than you, it won’t work out.”
Just because the “geeks” are driving the talent, doesn’t mean the talent is dormant either. The old-fashioned approach of playing out and getting noticed on skill alone still exists.
“No matter who you are, you have to play out,” said Bobby Reed of Bobby Reed Productions. “It’s the same now as it was back then: you have to go out, you can’t stop singing your songs. So it’s always on you.”
The overall theme of this panel was – you guessed it – you don’t need a label deal! You shouldn’t want a label deal really. There’s “too many other options out there” as many many panelist said throughout the day, even the ones affiliated with big label corporations.
Don Grierson offered an inspiring closing remark to the panel by promoting resilience, saying, “Don’t have a plan B so that you have to do what you wanted to do. There is no other choice. Now you have to go out and do it.”
MySpace Music: Marketing and Packaging Your Project
Who said MySpace was irrelevant? This panel claimed the complete opposite, saying that MySpace is still the go-to source for new and rising talent.
MySpace may not stack-up compared to the YouTubes of the world as far as entertainment, but regarding recruitment it is still the best outlet according to Kevin Hershey of MySpace Label Relations.
You might be saying, “Well yeah, that guy works for MySpace. Of course he said that.” But it was for good reason when he broke out the statistics. “MySpace is home for creators. That’s why it’s still relevant and used,” said Hershey. “It’s working on developing technology similar to Pandora now. It has significantly more songs than Pandora, though, at approximately 42 million and only 5 million of that are considered major label artists. It’s created by you guys.”
There were opposing views, such as with Syco’s Tom Morgan who stated he looks to YouTube for new talent. “We’re looking for songs and production value – someone who can be developed,” said Morgan. “But there’s no science to discovery.”
The theme I took away from this segment was that the Internet is taking away from older methods such as major labels and production companies because it is so vast and mysterious. The rise of new websites and outlets doesn’t necessarily mean those that came before have no use. MySpace is certainly still around and valuable. You shouldn’t follow all the latest trends and delete the has-beens. Use both!
I left the first-ever Noize Entertainment Expo feeling…empowered. Even though I was attending as part of the media, and furthermore have nothing even remotely close to musical talent, I felt as though my professional career was entirely in my hands. Now more than ever the power of creation is in the hands of the artist, whether you are a singer, musician, producer, songwriter, whatever…the power has shifted from big business to the individual.
This shift has been so significant in recent years that making it big doesn’t even involve signing a record deal with a major label anymore. These days, being a successful artist is as simple as earning a living doing what you love to do. As each inspiring conclusive remark promised hard work and trials ahead for the aspiring musician, it also promised the payoff to those who stayed the course, stuck with plan A, used their resources, and just went and did it.
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