So you want to be a superstar…

Musical Balls

…so did I!  Sort of.  I guess I did.  Did I?  I forget…that was before I learned the b in ‘debt’ stood for ‘balls.’

Superstar is relative. I wanted to be a superstar, but my imagination was a touch more…batshit crazy?…than the traditional “I want to be on MTV, sell a million CDs, and hear myself on the radio” thing.  I wanted that whole ‘respect-unique-different’ superstardom.  I now realize that isn’t really superstardom at all.  And with my behind the scenes experience, I realize isn’t really ‘real’ either!

So much depends on marketing, and the second you start picturing your career as something ‘marketable’ it changes…especially if the person picturing the marketing for you is paid to do so by a label.  This applies to all arts, and probably to all careers though I’m too lazy to come up with a good allegory.  The second you change from ‘doing it for the love’ to ‘doing it for the bucks’ and actually expecting the bucks to show up, something’s gotta give.

Let’s take ‘getting your music on the radio’ for instance.  Ignoring campus and community and internet radio, you first have to find a way to get your song into a music meeting (typically on a Tuesday) which requires getting in good with someone at the station…good enough that people will be willing to spend thirty seconds listening to your song.

Oh yah…and your song better have something worthwhile in the first thirty seconds.  Hell, you’d better hope they actually give you thirty seconds!  If you can’t catch the ear of the ‘gatekeepers’ in that amount of time, they will assume you won’t catch the ear of the listener, and if you don’t catch the listener’s ear they will change to another station…and then why would an advertiser care to pay for advertising…which is the only reason the radio station is on to begin with!

And there’s the rub!  You are writing music because you love it.  And it’s likely aside from die hard fans and that lucky show you played where you sold out of your self-made CDs, you’re making about enough money to cover gas and guitar strings.  Radio stations aren’t playing music because they love it, and although that would make for an amazing station, they are a business.  In the end they make money because they play songs that will keep people listening so ads can be heard.

So…to get on the radio…you change your song based on suggestions you get back…again, if you’re lucky enough to pique interest and get a review.  You remove your second verse, jump into the chorus earlier, maybe drop your buddy’s backing vocals that you loved and he was so proud of.

BOOM!  Your song is different now!  But it might get played!  …on that station… If there’s a reason to play it.  Maybe you’re playing a show with a big local act!  Maybe your YouTube video got a bit of buzz.  Why should they play the song?!  Do you have a story?  Or do you just have a good song…

You’ll note…I just cited the process of trying to get your song on ‘one’ radio station.  Repeat that for every station in your city, your province or state.  It’s a lot of work.  And it goes beyond the song.  And that’s the sad thing…it always comes down to the song, but just to ‘get’ to the song there needs to be a story…

This goes for mainstream…but also for indie acts, for singer-songwriters, for  DJs (though they kinda get their own culture of fame), for everyone.  A good song…a good story…and hard work…

Do I still think I could be a superstar?  I’m too humble to actually believe that, but I do believe the industry is changing and a clever mind can find ways to get their music out there.  Look at OK Go and their clever videos, or artists who UStream or vlog their songwriting and recording process.

…but that was all a part of a good story…and in support of a good song.  And that’s where every musician should start when they want to step out of the basement and try to get on the stage.

I’m on Twitter @Potoroo!  I’m not an expert (…I went to school for music businessy stuff…) but I figure I have something to say so if you have questions or just want to shoot the sheet, drop a line through the blog or throw me a hellow in the TweetTweet world!

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4 Responses to “So you want to be a superstar…”

  1. Rob Says:

    Very cool!
    It seems to me to be almost impossible to break into/on to most stations now (especially rock).
    I can’t imagine the guys at, lets say, the edge, give 2 shits anymore about Joe Blow off the street and his new song.
    The edge, sadly, have gotten to the point that unless you are Metric, Nickelback, or some other over played act (I hate to say Arcade Fire, since I love them so….but…if the shoe fits…) you won’t likely see much of an opportunity.

    • Roo Says:

      I’ve always thought it would be cool to have a radio station that draws from the era when DJs decided what went on the air based on their tastes (I’m sure some palm grease was there as well, but I mean if a band you like takes you to dinner why say no!!) and genre wasn’t so rigid.

      Think about 1950s and 60s rock and the whole Motown sound. You could hear Little Richard, some folk/borderline country artist, and some detroit soul back to back and it didn’t matter. It was about good music, with good entertaining DJs to form a bridge between tracks. THAT could break a new artist and maybe help expand some musical minds as well.

      With the internet, you don’t even need to necessarily have a broadcast tower to do it…the problem is getting the word out, and finding the right talent.

      …which reminds me…I miss radio 😉

  2. Rob Says:

    I think I would love a station that was a Rock station…but let the definition of Rock be up to the DJ’s…
    Play some Elvis, followed by Pearl jam, then some Otis Redding, maybe a little Duran Duran, ending with Arcade Fire.
    The biggest problem with this idea is that it is simply my IPOD, and Id rather just listen to it, then put up with most DJs.

    • Roo Says:

      Totally, and that makes sense. The only difference between an iPod and a DJ is that it’s more likely a DJ will surprise you with something you didn’t know 😉 The only time an iPod does that is if you drunk-download and find an album months later 😉

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