Essential Skills For An Aspiring Star
Lately, I have
been studying successful musicians. You know, the BIG stars, like
Madonna, Elton John, Aerosmith, or the Rolling Stones. Or even the
spur-of-the-moment successes like Ricky Martin.
Why does someone
like Sheryl Crow or Jewel make it big, while other equally talented
artists are stuck in the garage? What skills and personality characteristics
does the artist possess in order to thrive in that insane major-label
lifestyle? (You think you're busy NOW trying to make a living with
your music? Imagine if an entire staff of Sony Music Executives
was on your food bill!)
Some of their
success may well be the result of huge marketing dollars spent by
the record companies, I know you're thinking that! But there has
to be a reason the record labels pick the artists they do, why the
public responds to certain artists so stongly, and even why some
people respond to fame better than others.
I think there
is definitely such a thing as "star quality". We've all met people,
in all walks of life, who have it. It is a certain charisma, drama,
or excitement that comes from inside. But star quality alone isn't
enough. If it were, there would be no junkies, criminals, and loser
politicians who also have "star quality".
recognizing and developing a complete set of skills, from social
skills to business skills. It requires you to be active as opposed
to passive. It requires commitments of both time and energy. It
may require compromise.
the world of commercial music is driven by cash flow, like it or
not. If you chose to compete in that arena, you will have to deal
with the business to get to the music you love. (Note that you do
not HAVE to make this choice to be a happy, satisfied musician.
You can choose to focus on the music, and the business be damned.
Just don't expect to get rich if you takes this route.)
It might be
useful to think of the musician-self in two parts: The Artist and
side is the profound, thoughtful part. The part that writes most
of the songs, the part that feels a choked back tear while singing
a sad song. Your Artist side is focused inwards. It believes fiercely,
gets wounded, gets angry. And The Artist couldn't care less about
money, it's PRINCIPLE, baby!
side is your public persona. The part that gets jazzed up about
being in front of people and making them happy. Your Entertainer
side is focused outwards. Entertainment is a business service you
provide to other people. Artists create, and Entertainers make money.
Why are The
Artist and The Entertainer important? Because you need both skills
to succeed in today's music business.
You have to
be able to write incredible songs and produce them flawlessly. You
need to give a heart-felt performance on a moment's notice. You
need to have solid chops and a groove with your band. All tasks
for your Artist side.
But you also
need to call club bookers (over and over), read bad reviews, put
on a great show when you're sick, and tirelessly promote your music.
This is where the Entertainer steps in and handles things smoothly.
The Entertainer is a somewhat detached mindset that doesn't get
depressed, burnt out, or bitter. He just keeps on doing his job...
entertaining the public.
Looking at these
big stars, I think they must all have a healthy Entertainer side.
That's what allows them to succeed in all the social/communication
areas of the business. What keeps them going for the fifth interview
of the day, and all the other crap that has nothing to do with music
and everything to do with marketing.
On the other
hand, when an artist has "made it", the pressure to keep producing
sellable music is huge. So The Artist side has to be healthy and
ready to create on demand. You may be asked to hit the road for
nine straight months, then make a world class album immediately
following the grueling tour.
What it all
boils down to is that these mega stars have to be on top of their
game, both artistically and business-wise. It is essential to create
a balance between music and business. This sounds a lot like the
time honored rule given to indie artists to spend 50% of their time
on music, and 50% on business, just on a larger scale. And it's
sound advice you can apply to your own music career.
First make sure
your psyche is in the right place. You know, screw your head on
right! Be honest with yourself regarding what things you are and
aren't willing to do to be successful with your music.
Then, make a
plan. Map out how you will improve your skills in both business
and art. Put it on paper. Be sure you are following the 50% business
- 50% music rule.
Make sure you
honor your business commtiments and always act professionally. Read
books and research on the internet to learn as much about business
as you can. Don't be afraid to ask for guidance from people you
Just as important,
make sure you keep your artist side healthy and creative. Take days
off, take walks in nature, take time to noodle around that song
idea that just popped into your head. That keeps your Artist in
good shape and increases the creative pool inside you.
Being a famous
musician is not a "normal" life. To survive and thrive requires
a special set of skills. The good news is those skills can be learned
and developed. Every bit you learn now will benefit your career
plan down the road. Believe in yourself, and never stop improving.
Your hard work will pay off.