When I touched base with Stephanie Gunther, the vocalist and bassist from the Garage Rock Band, Desert Sharks, I felt excited to talk with a rock ‘n’ roll band that puts so much vulnerability into their songs. “Tequila Shark” was the track that attracted me to this Brooklyn-based all-women group, with a grimy bass line, and tinny sounding guitar which seems to echo, creating a space within the music for Stephanie’s beautiful alto voice. In the second verse, she sings the lyrics, I had a dream/ we had just met/ you showed me through your hallways/ and asked me would I stay. Fast forward to the chorus she sings It’s all mine/ your love’s in my mind, and then these lyrics repeats one more time.
When I asked her about the lyrics, Stephanie said, “I was exploring how we can go to such depths of dreaming up scenarios in our mind about someone we pine over. You can have all these fantasies of what it would be like to be together, how every detail would go down, where you would go, how you would interact, how much in love you would be.
“You can literally picture it and sometimes start to feel the emotions as if it were real, like you are having this secret mental affair with someone and they have no clue. I wrote, “Tequila Shark” about two dreams I had about two separate people, and that went along with those ideas.”
The most attractive aspect about the lyrics involved the vulnerability and honesty of the storyteller. In addition, there is very little mystery and interpretation of the meaning. Desert Sharks will remind rock enthusiasts that female bands continue to push past the gender stereotypes, and can do so with grace, and create opportunities for themselves independently in hopes to get recognized by a label. All of these are reasons for players in the music industry to pay attention to this group who were also in the Artists on the Verge class of 2014 at the New Music Seminar. It is my pleasure to feature Desert Sharks on Music Historian.
Stephanie says that when the band first started, people immediately doubted Desert Sharks.
“We’d get comments from people who first saw us on stage that they didn’t expect us to be any good, due to being female. Then, they’d say we blew them away. Now, it’s less about gender and more about our set, who we reminded them of and how they felt during our show. We’ve met some really awesome and supportive people at our shows. That’s one of the best parts about playing,” says Stephanie.
While some stereotypes are easy to disprove, including the one that says women can’t play instruments, women still have to work perhaps twice as hard as a man to make it in the business. Luckily, Desert Sharks don’t let challenges slow them down. Instead, they look to create opportunities to help them get closer to their ultimate goals – making a living with music.
“We’d love to work with someone on a full-length. The biggest task is getting heard. Our focus is on writing, playing shows, recording and touring,” explains Stephanie.
At the moment, Desert Sharks have an EP and vinyl they released in early 2013 which was recorded at Converse Rubber Tracks Studio, post-produced by Adam Reich, and pressed through Double Dare Ya Records, titled Sister Cousins. Just a few weeks ago, they released their 2014 EP on Manimal Records, Template Hair – an occasion that was marked with a show at Shea Stadium in late June. The promotion for their latest record will continue with a tour in August. Sister Cousins vinyl and Template Hair cassettes are available for purchase on Desert Sharks’ bandcamp.
In the short time they have been together (since 2011), Desert Sharks have played with bands they look up to, recorded and worked with a few labels, and toured. This four-piece group continuously set their sights on greater projects like working on a full-length with somebody in the future, touring out to the Midwest, where Stephanie is from, and getting signed. In order to reach these benchmarks, the group continues to dedicate their time to as Stephanie would say “making our music better and better.”
“We’re constantly writing new material and are anxious to get it recorded and out there for people to hear,” Stephanie adds.
Like I learned at the New Music Seminar in the panel The A&R Movement: Where is Music Headed? good music rises and makes its way to several listeners and to A&R representatives. I also learned that there is an opportunity for guitar-driven genres to make a comeback as well, which presents an opportunity for Desert Sharks. Songs like “Tequila Shark” can act like one of the Desert Sharks’ strong songs.
Aside from the fact that garage rock – according to Stephanie – can be “sexy, heavy, sweet or dancy,” “Tequila Shark” has an impressive compositional structure of A, B, A, B, C, as opposed to A, A,’ B or A, B. In my opinion, the more varied the sections within the song, the more interesting and exciting the track is to the listener. In addition, the lyrical content, which is straightforward and honest, lingers somewhere between vulnerable and impermeable. I asked Stephanie whether the realistic scenarios behind these lyrics focused on past romantic relationships, friendships, struggles or anything else.
“I’d say yes to all of those things,” begins Stephanie. “A lot of it is from my own life experiences, some of it, like our newest single “crazycrazy” is from someone else’s point of view put into my own words.
“When we start writing a song, I’m never quite sure what I’m going to write. I write at home a lot and put notes in my phone of phrases that pop into my head. Once we put together a song musically, I start to actually feel out the vibe. [I ask] ‘Does this song sound happy to me, does it sound sad?’ The hardest step for me usually is deciding the subject matter. Once I know what I want to write about, I can shape the words to fit the melody.”
While Stephanie loves Garage Rock, and agrees that this style influences Desert Sharks’ music, she admits that describing the group’s style of music is never easy.
“Garage and surf [rock] definitely influence our music, but I’d say we’re also heavily influenced by metal, punk, goth, pop, and more. Describing your style of music is the worst thing ever, especially when every band is a mishmash of influences. You end up [saying something] like, ‘Oh, we’re like The Ramones meets Dolly Parton meets Sabbath meets the Spice Girls.’ People get hung up on trying to label it and it gets hard to navigate. You want to say ‘just listen and see for yourself.’ Choose your own adventure and draw your own conclusions. It’s all rock ‘n’ roll in the end.”
An additional challenge to being in a rock band is making decisions with a group. The ladies within Desert Sharks “all share strong opinions,” says Stephanie.
“It usually takes a long time to come to a decision. Figuring out a [band] name was no easy task. We wrote “Tequila Shark,” and afterwards, some of us said ‘that’s a cool name, should we just call the band that?’ Desert had been a word on a list of words we dug, so we stuck desert and sharks together. It was the first name we came up with that we all didn’t hate.”
Since 2011, this band has built an excellent resume. The greatest strength they have developed as a group is their willingness to be flexible while they maintain strong attitudes. Their talent for writing a lot, and having a wide selection of songs is also beneficial for any A&R representative looking to sign a female Garage Rock group. From starting off with a Craigslist ad and arriving at Shea Stadium, Desert Sharks have made a healthy journey.
“We met through Craigslist,” recalled Stephanie. “The stars were aligned for that one. Rebecca [Rose, the drummer], Sunny [Veniero, the guitarist] and I met up initially with another girl and wrote a song together. We were sort of just jamming and playing around with ideas.
“The other girl had prior commitments to another band, so she left. We put out an ad, and Stefania [Rovera, the additional guitarist] answered. It was the missing puzzle piece. Once she joined we started writing a ton and felt like we wanted to start playing shows.”
There are plenty of rock ‘n’ roll listeners out there who want to hear this type of music and Desert Sharks might be at the right place in time to get recognized. People still line up to see independent Garage Rock bands in the United States. As for guitar-driven music, based on what I listened to at the New Music Seminar and what I saw at the Governors Ball Music Festival, there still exists an audience for The Strokes and Jack White.
Regarding my final question for Stephanie, I wanted to know what she thought of the motto “Rock is Dead.” She explained in two words “rock ‘n’ roll reincarnation.” Based on my interpretation, this means rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well, just in another form.
Female bands continue to make a comeback in rock ‘n’ roll, and like the Desert Sharks, they dedicate their time to writing songs, making records and performing in both small and large venues. These sharks are coming up to the surface with their hook-drenched tunes and ready to enter new territory – the wild music industry. The greatest strength of this group is their ability to carry listeners within the strong currents of their 2-3 minute tracks, a talent which – based on my listening experience – has been difficult to replicate on today’s music scene.
Whether it is to laugh, cry, or dance, the New York City-based pop-rock-soul band, The Dirty Gems want to make you feel something. One of the keyboardists in the band, Mills claims “Often times, people have a hard time placing us into a specific genre because of how diverse our influences are, but as we continue making music, we have no doubt our own unique style will find its audience.”
The Dirty Gems began as a trio in 2007 with singer Raycee, bassist Ulises, and keyboardist Cam. They were members of a small jazz combo during their attendance at Hofstra University. Later, drummer Jack joined the group and they transitioned into a cover band called Pump Yo Brakes. They began to write original songs after graduating in 2010. The four-piece group furthered their music endeavor, and this led to the addition of songwriter Mills, and guitarist Gary. They returned to Hofstra for a Battle of the Bands in the Fall of 2011, which also happened to be the band’s first public performance.
“The incredible response we got at the Battle of the Bands was definitely a turning point where we thought, “Hey, maybe we have something here!” explained Mills.
The group won the Battle of the Bands, a moment which quickly led The Dirty Gems to open for artists such as Big Boi, rapper from the Hip-Hop duo Outkast, indie rock band from Seattle, Minus the Bear and New York City rock band, London Souls.
While this start-up band had tremendous success, the kind that might prompt an artist to pursue a record deal aggressively, The Dirty Gems choose to stay atop of their first priority – making great music for a growing audience. I am happy to welcome Mills from The Dirty Gems to a full-length feature interview right here on Music Historian.
Although one can argue that a band like The Dirty Gems should first focus on getting signed, Mills emphasizes that a successful group focuses both on their art and entrepreneurship.
“The music industry has changed so much that now, being signed to a label may not necessarily be the end-goal for a band like us, at least at first,” says Mills. “We look to continue growing our audience and making great music, and if that involves being signed to a label, then so be it. The distribution model [though] has changed so much due to the internet. If you have a Bandcamp page, good marketing strategy, and great music, you are already your own record label.”
As I recall a panel I listened to at the New Music Seminar called The A&R Movement: Where is Music Headed? A&R representatives at the panel assert that now, more than ever, musicians need to create a marketing plan and build themselves a fan base. Record labels want to see that the artist has pulled themselves up a lot. In regards to the music, A&R reps will positively affirm that good music rises to the top, and somehow, the labels will find that artist.
That is one “check” from the industry representatives. However, the same industry players who offered the advice above will also have their opinions and criticisms for The Dirty Gems. For example, at another panel I attended, which included some of the same A&R reps from the panel I mentioned above (please reference my review of the New Music Seminar for more information) called Music XRAY Presents: A&R Live – Music Critique and Sound Selector Sessions, one of the panelists commented on the band’s newest track “Insomniac.” The person giving the critique said:
“While the vocals were good and I liked the guitar in the forefront, I don’t see a lot of hit potential. Strengthen the verse a little bit.”
I wondered how Mills handled criticism like this from industry players and his response has been humble.
“The panels have been incredibly insightful and informative,” he says. “We already have meetings set up from the connections we’ve made at the New Music Seminar, which has provided us an excellent experience. We are honored to be one of the Top 100 Artists on the Verge with several artists and we know and respect from the community of up-and-coming musicians around us.”
Additional experiences this band has favored includes representing Queens in the WNYC/WQXR Battle of the Boroughs at The Green Space; the KahBang Music & Arts Festival in Bangor, Maine; The Mountain Jam in Hunter, New York; and opening for Wynonna & The Big Noise at Alive @ Five in Stamford, Connecticut. The best experiences for The Dirty Gems though is really any show where they have been able to move someone with their music.
There must be something great in The Dirty Gems’ music for the fans who travel from their office on a hot night last Tuesday, June 10th to see this band perform in the darkened lounge called The Delancey located on the Lower East Side. It’s incredibly comforting see how people come together as couples or in groups, and they have an age range from 25-44, and 45+ and all of them crowd in a space in front of the stage, a space that is small and tight, and provides room only for standing.
In short, there was a great turn out for The Dirty Gems that night, and even the performance organizer for The Delancey, who was also part of the New Music Seminar staff, James Birkenholz, mentioned a handful of customers quickly filled up the performance space for their show.
On The Dirty Gems’ Twitter page, fans have Tweeted “Watching The Dirty Gems kill it at the Delancey for the New Music Seminar showcase, great job.” A few days later, the President of Imagine Music LLC Tweeted, “The Dirty Gems is the best new band I have seen for some time. Look and listen here” and concluded his message with a link to their Bandcamp website.
So, what is it about this band’s music that makes their fans Tweet and comment about their performances and more? Simply put, their music has a personality. Mills explains:
“We call it [our music] pop-rock-soul. Our influences are diverse and we, as individuals, listen to all different kinds of music. We have just 2 EP’s out, our self-titled debut from 2011 and Vuja De released in 2013. With our most recent EP, that sound has started to coalesce into something uniquely our own.”
The popular single from Vuja De “Easy on Me” includes a very lucid and consistent vocal melody, with a slow tempo, sung by Raycee – a melody that is in a major key, and includes accidentals, almost making it sound like she is singing in both major and minor. In addition, the lyrics are simple and beautiful – I would fight all the mighty seas/ just to have you next to me/ cause you make it easy/ I would run across all the most dangerous miles/ Just to feel you smile/ because you make it easy.
Although the above lyrics are just to the verse, this enables Raycee to add many bends and trills in her singing, a style of singing that is very closely associated with the soul genre. The rock in this music is heard within the few tin-like and rough notes by the guitar. The pop lies within the driving rhythm of the drums.
In addition, the modulations and the entire composition of “Easy on Me” suggest the group created the music before the lyrics. I asked Mills about his thoughts, and he said:
“The basis of a great song is always an excellent melody. “Easy on Me” began with the chorus, and the verse melody, with the rest of the song, came from there. The modulations you’re referring to in the bridge came after the rest of the song was written. The constant beat that goes through the song has a lulling effect and we wanted to have an element that was surprising enough to make you really listen to the lyrics.”
In my opinion, The Dirty Gems accomplished this successfully with their Vuja De single. As for the single they presented to the Music Xray panel at the New Music Seminar, “Insomniac,” I felt a minor melody within the song, and the guitar, while still having the tin-like sounds, were now a little cleaner and crisper, and it played like an additional voice in a call-and-response manner with Raycee. Have a listen to the live version of the song here:
In addition the amalgam of musical influences that make their sound too diverse to fit one category; part of The Dirty Gems’ musical personality comes from Raycee’s voice, which right now, I cannot match to that of any singer I have previously heard.
Like many independent artists today, The Dirty Gems play music that is on the fringe of multiple genres. In addition, the band has incorporated their quirky sense of humor into their music videos, enabling them to create a funny and warm brand personality. See the videos for “Easy on Me” and “Your Name Here.”
Music videos, self-distributing music online and performing in the Battle of the Bands, opening for bigger artists and playing live as part of festivals and conferences, help The Dirty Gems spread their music to potential new fans and returning fans. The band just released “Insomniac” as their new single. They also plan to spend the summer in the studio writing and recording their next project – a third EP which will include “Insomniac” as a single. Afterwards, the group hopes to play in CMJ 2014 this fall at then SXSW in 2015.
As I stated in the beginning, The Dirty Gems act as their own entrepreneurs and artists. In today’s music industry, that is very expected. However, being your own artist and manager has its complications, because these are two separate roles played simultaneously by a single person or group. Thankfully, the musicians within this group don’t get lost in the hustle of all the business. Instead, they make it a priority to focus the most on those who matter the most to their business, their listeners.
“Out in the “real world,” your triumphs and failures are on stage for paying customers,” explains Mills. “College was an opportunity to play in the “sandbox” and learn from peers in a closed environment. At this point, we’ve been out of college for long enough to feel more like the “real world” is the sandbox, but that only motivates us more.”
Mills might be expressing that the real world of the music business is more experimental and less-structured than we are lead to believe. School offers a lot of structure and direction. In the business world though, whether it is in music or any other field, only you can give yourself the right type of structure that will work for you and all you must accomplish.
The Dirty Gems have found and secured a structure of doing business that works for them, a roadmap for their own songwriting, and the support of fans who positively receive their music. Whether or not this will provide sufficient reason for their right producer to connect with The Dirty Gems is tough to tell. Nevertheless, the group has an excellent foundation, and great discipline and practices. Like every band looking to make money with their music, these gems might just need a little refining. Aside from that, all the essential pieces for a successful business are in place.
If you currently work in the music industry, or aspire to, the New Music Seminar deserves your attention. I had the privilege of being invited by the Workman Group to attend and cover the three-day conference which brought together music and entertainment leaders committed to exploring ways to expand and grow the business.
The New Music Seminar started with a bang with a red carpet and performance at Webster Hall on Sunday, with a line-up which included ASTR, Cardiknox, Mayaeni, Born Cages, and Meg Myers. On Tuesday night, at 11:15 pm at Tammany Hall with a performance by the winner of the Artist on the Verge Awards 2014, VanLadyLove.
The three-day conference took place at the New Yorker Hotel in Midtown and occupied two floors with booths that for the following companies, Buzz Angle, GCA Entertainment, Showpitch, Music Times, Corbin Hillman Communications, ASCAP, Noise 4 Good, Steven Hero Productions and more. These firms offer services in royalties, publishing, digital distribution, data mining of online music consumption, music journalism, artistic representation, and artist and repertoire. In addition, the conference rooms on these two floors served as meeting places for panelists and discussions, and mini acoustic showcases with some of the artists selected for the Artists on the Verge Project 2014.
The New Music Seminar conference helps industry leaders and players better understand how consumerism and music is evolving and how they can continue to innovate. In addition, this same conference brings the New Music Seminar Music Festival. Musicians have the chance to perform for a large audience and industry players, and develop valuable partnerships with producers and managers.
While I have five full-length interview articles in the making with these five bands that were invited to the NMS Artists on the Verge Project – Juicebox, The Dirty Gems, Desert Sharks, Kim Logan and the Blackfoot Gypsies – I first want dive into what I learned from A&R representatives, music publishers and the staff of Pitchfork in some of the panels in the past three days. More specifically, I will take you through what label representatives look for in an artist before they invite them onboard, the types of criticisms new singer songwriters typically receive, and the dos and don’ts for publicists who work with musicians.
The A&R Movement: Where music is headed
Let me start backwards. On Tuesday, the last day of the seminar, David Massey, President of Island Records conducted a conversation between nine A&R representatives: Tayla Elitzer (Capitol Records); Alyssa Castiglia (Island Records); Brandon Davis (Atlantic Records); Jon Coombs, General Manager at Secretly Canadian Publishing; Jenna Rubenstein, Creative at Insieme Music Publishing within Glassnote Entertainment; Austin Rice (Columbia Records); Jessica Strassman (Startime International); Patch Culbertson (Republic Records); and Dylan Chenfeld (Razor & Tie). Here are the essentials that musicians and A&R representatives alike should know about music today.
Trends in Music
Panelists emphasized which particular styles currently excite label reps. Electronic, rhythm and blues, and emerging trend of world music, deep house music from the UK are among these genres. In addition, there is a cool cross between electronic and indie, better known as Indietronica. Avicii is one artist who accomplishes this by mixing electronic dance music with bluegrass. Another artist who combines guitar driven music with electronic dance beats is The Chain Gang of 1974, who recently performed at the Governors Ball Music Festival.
On the topic of guitar music, another speaker claimed there has been a significant void in guitar-driven alternative music, providing musicians within this genre to re-emerge. He added that bands like this who entered the scene more than 10 years ago, including The Strokes and Jack White, still drive large performance crowds. The way I see it, there is no reason why someone now cannot come out and do the same. An audience for this music still thankfully exists.
A&R, Musicians and Social Data – What works, and what does not
One of the most important pieces of information an A&R rep must keep in mind is the difference between data and buzz. When researching an artist, data is crucial. One must put their personal taste aside and understand the consumers’ tastes. While start-ups like Buzz Angle, who are currently in their beta-testing phase, record data of online music streaming and purchases; the other type of public data most A&R reps use is Twitter. Retweets of videos, hashtags of performances, and robust discussion about the artist serve as valuable data. Additional social metrics includes plays and followers on Spotify, and views on Youtube.
If you are an artist, please note that an A&R person wants to know you are going to sell records. One of the panelists signed the New York City-based Indie Rock band, Born Cages based on how many times the band’s songs and videos were retweeted. Although he had not seen the band play a single show before signing them, he believed in them. In addition, after speaking to the band in person at the red carpet event, this group claims performing is their favorite part of their career.
In short, social media and staying relevant on the music scene is essential. A&R reps will also tell you that now, more than ever, musicians must create a marketing plan and build a fan base by themselves.
On the other hand, some social media presents a negative. The panelists mentioned a habit of some A&R reps adopt involves aimlessly following buzz about an artist on blogs. The problem with unsigned bands made ‘hot’ within the blogosphere is that these articles don’t help the A&R rep determine whether that band will be promising to sign. I agree with this claim. Unlike twitter, which marketers across the advertising industry have utilized to research the purchase intent of customers, blogging platforms do not provide this data or information about the consumer.
Key Performance Indicators – Play Live and Good Songs
Data has not entirely replaced a good ear for talent. Some of the reps on this panel claimed that a strong instinct about the artist must come before research. This might include the bands that one’s friends talk about. Most importantly, musical ability can be used to judge how well an artist performs live. As a rule of thumb, A&R reps do not think highly of a band that does not often perform.
If you love to play live but perhaps are not them strongest performer, there are ways A&R reps can find you help in establishing an excellent stage presence. In this case, the A&R rep might not sign you right away, but they might start developing a relationship with you, hopefully as partner on your journey. However, several panelists did agree that most of the time, the longer it takes a sign a deal with the artist, the better. There are A&R reps who have attended a musician’s performance 14 times and they regularly keep in touch.
What if you are an artist who loves playing live and plays well, but do not currently have any original music? A&R representatives will tell you, songs lead the way. Good songs have a way of rising to the top. If you don’t have any original songs, they do not feel compelled to bring you on board. Finally, selling singles and full albums still serve as an artist’s main source of revenue. This is one trend that has not changed.
So what has changed in A&R? The availability of information about the artist and their potential as an economically successful artist is now more public than it was 10 years ago. In addition, the competition on the musical landscape today escalates rapidly.
The Take Away
The most valuable advice this panel had to offer to the artist looking to make money with their music is this, always remember the music should be about your fans. Deliver the music your fans love. Thanks to social media, artists now have an excellent way to interact with fans and secure that base that is going to help the musician get attention from an A&R rep, and hopefully get signed.
Now, if you have always been musically inclined, enjoyed performing, but are just starting out as a songwriter, and might be looking to work with a label or music publishing group, keep reading this post. I am going to give you an idea of how it feels to have your music critiqued by A&R people and music publishers in the overview of this next panel.
Music XRAY Presents: A&R Live – Music Critique and Sound Selector Sessions
This panel was conducted by Mike McCready, Co-Founder and CEO of Music Xray. The players included Tayla Elitzer, Jenna Rubenstein, Alyssa Castiglia, Stephanie Karten, A&R from Robbins Entertainment, and Chloe Weise, A&R from RCA Records.
I arrived late to this discussion, but luckily, the guitarist from the Boston-based band The Venetia Fair, Mike Abiuso – who I had met at the opening night at Webster Hall on Sunday night – was able to fill me in on what I missed. He said that earlier in the program, “The critics assumed nobody would want to listen to a demo of a song because it is an unfinished product. When they [the critics] asked the audience however; many listeners said ‘yes,’ they would listen to a demo.”
Michael also explained the process of how this panel would critique music. They would read off the names of some of the Artists on the Verge, class of 2014, and then ask for a CD of their single and play it for the entire room to hear, and then publicly share their criticism. This type of workshop will help singer songwriters and performers in the early stages of their career in the following ways: 1) It will help aspiring musicians build a thick skin towards criticism; 2) This is a great opportunity to receive constructive criticism; and 3) They will learn what record labels search for in an artist who is looking to get signed.
Some of the Songs up for Critique
The first song I took notes on was “Insomniac” by The Dirty Gems. Upon listening to this track, the panelists said, “While the vocals were good and I liked the guitar in the forefront, I don’t see a lot of hit potential. Strengthen the verse a little bit.”
Afterwards, the panelists chose “Call on Me,” a Hip-Hop track by rapper Just So Smooth. The speakers pointed out, “No dynamics, the melody is static. The hook needs to be cleverer, along with lyrics. Also, the phrase “call on me” has been used before.”
The last song review I listened to was about the dance tune “Problem Boy” by Toni Atari. “The production is not great, and the vocals are a little bit muddled,” remarked the panelist. She also suggested the artist develop her lyrical content and the context in this song.
A Critique of the Artists on the Verge Awards 2014 Finalists
Fast forwarding to the final panel of the day The A&R Movement, I thought it was only fair to include the A&R rep’s point of view about the AoV Awards 2014 finalists – Garage Rock group from Philadelphia, June Divided; R&B singer from New York City, Kiah Victoria; and Pop Rock group from Provo, VanLadyLove. Although everyone now knows the winner is VanLadyLove, I wondered who the A&R reps thought would win.
One of the panelists gave Kiah their vote. Another panelist said, “Kiah commands a stage, but she would do well if she focused more on carrying her pre-choruses a little further.”
An A&R rep stated they would sign VanLadyLove. One of the reps then stated this band “has a cool sound and great stage presence.”
As for June Divided, one of the reps claimed he would put this band in the “to be watched” folder. Another panelist positively commented on the band’s energy, but claimed “Their style is a little dated,” and emphasized the group needs to focus on their audience.
The Take Away
All artist starting out on the music scene must listen to criticism in order to improve their chances of getting representation. Luckily, these critics do bring up a few valid points. For example, ask yourself, “Am I trying to be a writer or artist?” This question is important in dance music, a genre for which they suggest the following – “Focus more on sophisticated lyrics. In dance music, the lyrics are not very deep.
“The music also has to deliver the same magnitude as the vocals. This comes along with more songwriting practice.”
Additional advice they provide is this, “Think really well about where your song fits in this time period. A sound from six years ago will not fly now.”
They then offered this last piece of advice, which I found interesting, “There is a lot of risks these days, so you have a better chance with a radio-ready song.” While three of these panelists, Tayla, Jenna and Alyssa, would also agree with those A&R reps from The A&R Movement panel who claim that an artist does not need to be on the radio to be successful; they suggest a radio-ready song just so that a single has the best quality possible. A poor quality recording could turn off the A&R person and prevent them from giving a well-written song a chance.
So far, I have talked about the types of criticisms new artists on the independent music scene will likely receive from industry players. Now, I want to take you to the last segment of this review – advice for publicists working with musicians; the dos and don’ts they should apply to their practices.
Online Media Music Discovery
Jay Frank, Founder and CEO of DigSin served as conductor of this panel, which took place on Monday. The players included Mark Richardson, Editor-in-Chief of Pitchfork; Andrew Flanagan, Writer and Editor of Billboard; Joe Carozza, Senior Vice President of Publicity of Republic Records; and Andy Cohn, President and Publisher of The FADER. The discussions between panelists provide me with advice for what a publicist should do in order to increase coverage about their artist, and what to avoid.
Do Tell a Story to the Industry Player
As a publicist, when you pitch an artist to someone else in the industry, ask yourself what makes the artist different and why that industry player should care about them? The type of story you tell keep the reader interested. Although some artists might want to hold back on the story, encourage them to speak and share.
Don’t Blame Publications for not Creating Enough Attention
The publications tell the artist’s story behind their music. An artist must convince listeners to care about them through music. While I attest the writer has to care first about the artist and the music they create in order to tell a great story; the publicist must be a mover and shaker, the one who helps start a relationship between the writer and musician.
On this note, the writer’s job is to help present a face to a record label, one that shows the artist has potential to stay with a label on a long-term basis.
Do Use Social Media to Create Attention
Publicists should push this, especially since artists today are on the forefront of their social media, and this can be curtailed to create new stories. Focus on how to get people to pay attention to the artist’s social media.
Don’t Rely on a Viral Music Video to Create Attention
Joe says “Many artists come in my office and say, ‘I want to make a video [for my artist] and I want to know how to make it viral.’ This is the wrong mentality. You have to spot an elephant in the room and see how it is different from everything else that is out there.”
In other words, Joe means that publicists must not put so much faith in a music video that will tug at the heart strings of Youtube, Hulu or Google Play users. One of the reasons might be that the music video, like the written article, is a promotional tool; it does not define to the listeners why they should care about that artist. If the music does not stick, neither will the video.
Do look at the writers’ past work before pitching them
Any public relations expert will tell you to research the media outlets that will have the most chance of showing interest in the person, service or product you represented. Would you send a press release of an album launch by an independent hip-hop musician to a magazine that covers strictly classical music? Probably not. On the other hand though, journalists sift through hundreds of press releases every day simply because they don’t feel the story fits with the publication’s brand identity.
Luckily, the agent will not need to examine each media outlet front-to-back and split hairs in order to decide whether or not to pitch the artist to this publication. Instead, they must judge whether the writer really thinks about music based on previous articles they have written. Can the writer generate new ideas about how to present a musician to a producer or record label? The publicist should ask this question.
Don’t think nobody will cover your artist because they are not big
Publications like Pitchfork will not solely cover bands that everyone knows. They recognize there is good music out there, but the artist might have a small audience. If you are publicizing an artist who writes memorable music and writes it well, then chances are someone will want to cover that musician.
The panels that I spoke of are the ones I attended. So many more took place at The New Music Seminar, I just couldn’t be present for all of those discussions. During the seminar, I also split my time between scheduling interviews with bands, researching their work for questions, having conversations with them, and traveling to their shows all over the Lower East Side. Indeed, the three-day conference kept me busy, and the experience is worth the effort.
Many believe investigating secondary resources like books, websites, television, newspapers, magazines and additional publications that talk about the evolving music industry is the most convenient way to learn about this business landscape. It is only convenient if you sit down and conduct all of the research. Based on personal experience, studying the most accurate information will take weeks. You can save time to learn about the best practices by attending a conference. The greatest benefit one can gain from the New Music Seminar includes the opportunity to network and mingle with additional industry experts, music entrepreneurs, and build new business relationships within one stop.
Tom Silverman, the Executive Director of the New Music Seminar writes, “It is surprising that something so essential to human happiness can be so undervalued. The purpose of the New Music Seminar is to bring people together to discuss new ways to increase the value of music.”
He adds, “The opportunity for music revenue growth is even bigger on a global scale. The largest growth potential exists in parts of the world that never had a meaningful music business. Now, billions of mobile phones can deliver music to music-loving people.
“As we change our paradigm from one of selling music to one of selling the attention that music drives, we will experience a doubling of the value of music within ten years – and another doubling in the following decade (New Music Seminar Guide Book, p. 84-86, 2014).”
New Music Seminar. The New Music Business: Guidebook NMS 2014. June 2014, New York, NY, USA. Unpublished Conference Paper, 2014. 84-86. Print.