Monday, November 9, 2009

Sobering Truth wrap-up

Here's another sobering (but paradoxical) truth for you to chew on: Many of the world's best creative artists have only a tenuous relationship with reality.

There's a point to the weekly Sobering Truths feature: We want you to avoid widespread misconceptions so you don't waste a lot of effort going in the wrong direction.

But if we keep going down this reality-based road, we will soon pass into a neighborhood that is simply depressing and not helpful in any way. Burned-out wrecks of former nightclubs and recording studios will lurk oppressively and taunt us with revelations such as these:

Music will inevitably be free. Basic economics: Cost of production is zero. Cost of distribution is zero. Talent is plentiful, and competition is fierce. Media companies' ability to control the public conversation is rapidly slipping away. Trying to hold the line on music prices is like trying to stop rising floodwaters with sandbags -- except we're running out of sand, and these waters will never subside. And the question that musicians have been asking for ten years still has no answer: How will we make money? (Well, there is an answer, but we don't like it: Day job.)

People won't hear the words you write. In ordinary listening situations, you can't count on people hearing even half of the words. Sometimes people mis-hear the main hook of a song, even though you repeat it over and over. It's good to care about every word you write, but, face it, the words won't all be heard. Even if the singer enunciates like a fiend and you mix the vocal way out front, there are still background noises and distractions in the listener's environment. So stick to a simple main message, repeat and reinforce all your key points, and make sure the song will make a coherent impression even if many of the words get lost.

You aren't breaking through on radio. But people will have a chance to hear your songs online, on your CDs, or in concert. Decades of songwriting habits and expert advice have been based on making songs stick out on the radio. It's time to shed those habits and concentrate on how to make a good impression on the person who visits your MySpace page and clicks the Play button, or who takes a tip from a friend and launches your YouTube video. It's a new world with different challenges. (Note: if you are getting on the radio, then, by all means, follow that old advice and make sure you have three radio-friendly songs ready to go.)

Hit songs are made by record companies and radio promotion people, not by songwriters. There's an art to making a hit song. It involves skills such as advertising, promoting, schmoozing, and paying the right people at the right time. You can write a catchy song, but it's not a hit song until it gets into the hands of people with hit-making skills.

To run for president you must first be nominated. It seems unfair, but careers pass through stages, and you have to successfully handle each one in order to get to the next one—even if you feel you're ready for the next stage already.

When music industry people are friendly and helpful, it's because they smell money. It's a good thing if you smell like money! But take it for what it is. Don't be one of those naive shark victims who complains, "I thought I had lots of friends, but then they betrayed me and ate me."

There! I think that takes care of the Sobering Truth backlog. Can you see that S.T. was starting to head down a cynical and depressing path? Now it's time to give this feature a rest for a while. Artists need to be spiritual acrobats: sober and reality-based today, inebriated and lost in fantasy tomorrow.

Paradoxically, artists who are unrealistically optimistic are more likely to be productive, and artists who produce more are more likely to be successful. This means that being unrealistic might be a rational success strategy. To put it more bluntly, being too realistic will sabotage your chances of success as an artist.

It's still wise to stop by Reality Street now and then to check in and see what's going on, but, as an artist, you don't want to live here every day.

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