You want to be successful in this (or pretty much any) scene these days? Here’s some honest answers on how to do it.
(and mind you there’s exceptions to every rule:))
1) Make music that’s interesting and different, but not TOO interesting or different.
People want your personality, your “voice,” and your take on music, but if you want mass appeal you can’t give them TOO much “new”. Fact is, people say they want something different but the dancefloors say otherwise. They want SLIGHTLY different and SLIGHTLY original, otherwise they won’t be able to easily relate to it and dance to it. This is not saying don’t be yourself, but also don’t get pissed if your completely original take on X-genre gets ignored. People are creatures of habit, and when drinking and partying don’t necessarily want some po-mo deconstructed take on their favorite genre.
Then again, Radiohead got huge, so also remember that sticking to your guns can yield nice rewards, but prepare for a massive uphill climb.
2) Work your ass off.
Some of us make getting popular look easy. What you see on stage or released IS generally the easy part– it’s the results. The massive amount of time going in to DO it and what you DON’T see, however, and is a completely different story.
This is easy to say, but this literally means relentless, calculated, strategic planning that involves playing lives shows (at first any gigs you can get, and then eventually bigger gigs you earn by your reputation), putting out great CDs, and marketing them successfully. Don’t be the tree in the woods that nobody hears fall. You want people to hear your music, then bring it to THEM. They don’t like it? Bring another batch later and try again. We’re all a work in progress, after all.
Success in music means not taking no for an answer. This does not mean bash people daily over the heads and be a dick about it if people aren’t drinking your Kool-Aid yet– you’re probably simply not as good as you think you are yet. Patience and perseverance is key. It doesn’t mean you’ll ever get huge, but it does help you open a hell of a lot more doors than sitting on your ass and refreshing your MySpace page and getting bummed there’s no hits. Bring the awesome to them. Hopefully it’ll work.
3) Don’t get into massive debt doing this.
Yes, I know it costs money to make money and that equipment and software costs some major cash at times. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I AM talking about is making sure that when you HAVE a release that you aren’t putting yourself into any extra, unnecessary debt to do it. This means paying for things like expensive mastering, remixes, producers, special packaging that you don’t necessarily need RIGHT NOW. Yes, you want the best representation of your music out there. No, you don’t need to go to Top Masterer/Remixer/Producer of the Moment to get it. Make a budget. STICK TO THAT BUDGET. Why? Because you aren’t going to sell a lot at first most likely. You want to make your money back, get the word out on your awesome music (and hopefully MORE awesome live show), and most importantly DO NOT GET BITTER OR BECOME DEFEATED THAT YOU LOST MONEY. Don’t let your passion die because you blew too much cash and it unfortunately didn’t work. That’s your fault and your fault alone.
REM has always had a rule that they’d never get in debt with their music. Because of this their early videos were abstract and cheaply made but effective and honestly pretty damn interesting– the mysteriousness worked well with Stipe’s weird, cryptic lyrics. As their popularity and wealth grew (thanks to not being in debt) they could do more. Grow with your popularity. Throwing lots of money at something means squat if you don’t do the groundwork for people to hear it, and there are less and less labels out there willing to pony up any start-up cash to get you moving. Push what you have, and put more into it as your fanbase grows.
4) Remix the shit out of everything.
One of the easiest and cheapest ways to promote yourself is to become a decent remixer, if not an awesome one. It allows people to hear “you” but through an artist that is already known to them. There’s a comfort in that. Remix contests and begging artists you like to do a mix for them can allow you cool networking opportunities as well as the chance to hear how artists construct their own music. By the way, you always, ALWAYS do them for free at first. And you ALWAYS let the artist know you don’t care if they release it– if it’s good they’ll want to release it anyway, so don’t get butthurt if they don’t. At least you got more practice in and they know who you are now.
Remixing allows you to hopefully show up on more playlists and in many ways shows you’re “in” with certain artists. It gives credibility, much like getting signed to a label does. It’s inferred, but it does just that, and if people see your name enough they start to think “Hey, who is this artist? Lemme google their name!”
It can also help raise your profile even more if you make An Essential Club Song for DJs.
I’m going to give what I consider The 100% Perfect Example on this. Modulate. Modulate had the enviable/frightening position of coming out of the gates with a huge hit song: Skullfucker. Everyone has heard that song time and time again, and for good reason– it’s danceable as all hell, uses a familiar and awesome sample, and both the ladies AND guys can dance to it because it’s tough but not TOO tough. And while that was massive he followed it up with something equally massive (and, in my mind, equally hard to do), by remixing Faderhead’s also ubiquitous Dirtygrrls/Dirtybois into something even MORE clubby and accessible (IMHO). This one-two punch showed that Modulate a) Could make a huge mofo of a club song, and b) Beat the hell out of someone ELSE’s song. Mostly though, it meant more people heard his name and that he wasn’t JUST “That Skullfucker Guy”.
Result: I saw one (or both) of those songs on every DJ playlist for months. Modulate got even bigger.
And I know some people are going to say “Well how could you fuck up remixing a song that’s already so popular?” Believe me, you can. Don’t diminish the power of a solid remix. If they were so easy to do the good ones wouldn’t be so important.
5) Write for the women.
What gets women on the dancefloor? A song that appeals to them and makes them want to dance. What gets men on the dancefloor? Women.
Does this mean every song has to be about…I don’t fucking know, make-up and Twilight? (kidding, kidding…) No, it means it has to be catchy, easy to dance to (meaning within a certain BPM range: 115-135 or so for U.S., and apparently slightly faster overseas) and make them feel sexy and badass because feeling sexy and badass is nice when you’re dancing.
Make the ladies love it, and the guys will inevitably follow suit. Even the gay guys, because they probably came to the club with the women anyway…and they love to dance. Because they’re gay. And other stereotypes.
(And, to clarify, I’m not saying women are “soft” and don’t beat equal ass on the dancefloor to hard shit. I’m saying if you can get the ladies dancing the men will follow suit.)
6) Network. Goddammit NETWORK!!!!!
Knowing people gets you things. Opportunities. Label referrals. Remixes. Being some anti-social goon gets you nothing. Sucking up to artists also gets you nothing, so be cool, be humble, and hope that some artists you like or know will toss you a bone. Maybe a remix opportunity or passing your name to a DJ or promoter to book you. Being friendly and a cool, down-to-earth person will open more doors for you than being a selfish dick. Believe me, most people’s music doesn’t EVER give justification for them to get away with being a douchebag. It’ll sink you, or at least slow you down a lot. Give people a reason to want to check out your music– people will always give someone nice, fun, and cool a chance. People will rarely give a douchebag a chance, and they probably won’t be telling a lot of friends even if they do like it.
Yup, it’s a popularity contest. Get used to it. But remember the music always comes first anyway.
7) Have a web presence.
Caustic would not have succeeded if I just made the music. Caustic succeeds because I also do things like this: Give you a reason to check out my pages by writing blogs and helping you. I don’t do it exclusively for getting pagehits as I truly enjoy sharing knowledge and think that giving tips can only improve the overall music and “scene” we have, but I also know it’s something that sets me apart from most other artists.
I have a big mouth, and I’ve learned how to use it.
I (and pretty much any artist I know “succeeding” these days, whatever that means) also have a web presence. They’ve also most likely put in hundreds, if not thousands, of hours when they started out emailing people, posting on websites, and pimping their stuff relentlessly for YEARS to get where they are today. It’s obsessive. It’s hard. It works, but only to the degree that it gets people checking out your music. If the music sucks the relationship ends there.
So be on sites, let people know when you’ve got new stuff out or have something going on, and remember that a light touch is EXTREMELY helpful in getting people interested in what you’re doing. I’ve always used humor, generally self-deprecating stuff, to get people interested. I still do because that’s my personality, but it was also done because I think it’s stupid when people pretend their new track or CD is God’s Gift to Industrial (or whatever genre). It became a hook for me to use– a way to stand out. Find your voice and what works best for you to speak to your fans and use it. Be human. CONNECT with people, as in this era of blind downloading and taketaketake it’s really helpful that people actually know YOU a bit. I’m not saying let them know when you go get a physical or get a weird rash, but just be yourself…or at least a slightly modified, cooler version of yourself that people can relate to.
So there’s a few tips. Get to work.