The hardest thing for musicians to hear — and the reason so many are held back for so long — lies in a simple, nauseating realization: your music doesn’t matter.
Of course I think the music matters. All musicians are passionately, desperately and hopelessly in love with music. It’s why we chose such a difficult career path. But, most people who are music fans and music reviewers, unfortunately, aren’t as obsessed with the music itself.
Yes, high school girls will sport “music is my boyfriend” tumblr themes and music reviewers will claim to have a “love” for music, but they don’t. Not like we do. It is our nourishment, our water, our air, and our lover.
Musicians turn down high paying jobs all the time for the pursuit of our dream and our passion – even if it keeps us in the poor house a lot longer than our non-musician peers.
What am I getting at? If you’re going to manage your music career then you have to understand who you are targeting and what sells. If you want to make a living with music then you must understand that people need a story. Your music isn’t enough. Yes, of course, your music has to be solid and undeniable if you want to reach the level of professionalism that I’m assuming you are striving for, but that’s only the beginning.
You must have a great story!
Everyone has a great story, but most just don’t realize it yet. People love to be in the know and to be able to educate their friends about their favorite new band’s backstory. Radio stations love to be able to give the 10 second explanation of why you stand out. Jay Leno needs a two line introduction that will get people to stick around. And journalists, especially, need a story to write about.
When was the last time you read a review about a band in your local newspaper (or Pitchfork) that discussed the music: the song structure, guitar tones, harmonic and melodic choices, drum tones, the pocket, innovative syncopation, varied time signatures, sonic flourishes, unusual studio techniques that they HEARD in the recording and not told by the press release? The things that musicians get off to, reviewers and average listeners couldn’t give two shits about.
And that, my friends, is the disconnect and the reason publicists and managers exist.
You need to find the most interesting storyline for your project and run with it.
Everywhere. This should be your band bio, listed in your press release, told in interviews, written up everywhere about you. It’s the “he was discovered busking on the streets of LA and now has chart topping radio hits” story. Adele’s breakup album. Taylor Swift’s love life. The White Stripes’ brother/sister/husband/wife/ex-husband/ex-wife confusion. Bruno Mars’ behind the scenes songwriting career. Bon Iver’s northern woods of Wisconsin home recording. Deadmou5′ giant, demented mouse head.
You need something that every newspaper reviewer wants to write about. The story that bumps every other album release off the cover. The story every die hard fan tells their friends when showing them your YouTube video. Some bands decide to go the gimmick route: performing in costume or focusing on their weird instruments. And that’s fine. As long as there is a tangible story that people can talk about.
A great song is one thing, but a great song with an amazing backstory is what will put you above everyone else.
Ari Herstand is the author of How To Make It in the New Music Business, a Los Angeles based singer/songwriter and the creator of the music biz advice blog, Ari’s Take. Follow him on Twitter: @aristake
Photo is a video screenshot of the Minneapolis based rock band the 4onthefloor. They are a great example of a band with an excellent story (and killer music). I profiled the lead singer, Gabriel Douglas, in How 10 Musicians Make Good Livings In Today’s Music Industry.