"Living The Dream":
The Musical 'Yellow Brick Road'.
Many ambitious (new) musicians set their sights incredibly high- in order to fulfil their dreams. Ultimate self-fulfilment requires a lot of determination, luck and talent: only the most thoughtful need apply.
I am going to start today's outing by mentioning me...
Yep: my least favourite subject. Well, it is with regards to proclaiming personal ambition and intentions- as I am always self-conscious and nervous that I will not be able to fulfil my words. For that reason, I shall make it brief (in this paragraph). I have been compelled to write this blog entry for two reasons. The first is, that (because I normally write over the weekend), I will be incapacitated on Saturday. As I am running a half-marathon, I will be exhausted and potentially dead, so am getting this off my chest- whilst I can! The most important reason I am writing this, is because I have been thinking a lot about new music- just how much it takes to 'make it' in the music world. Quite frankly, the process and obstacles involved (with regards to becoming successful) are hugely intimidating. I have titled this blog as such, as it seems that the key components one needs to achieve musical success is the following: brains, courage and a heart. I will not be as pious or pretentious to say I am taking you on a 'journey' or such- yet I have been keen to examine just what is required for success in the music industry. There have been a great deal of new musicians I have reviewed; each of whom are making big strides towards their goals (I shall mention them later); each time I witness a sapling act thinking big, it makes me smile. It is impressive and commendable when someone breaks away from 'normal life' in the pursuit of grand ambitions and higher plains. I am not down on the 9-5 mentality of those whom participate in it; yet those that have a talent that supersede this, should make every effort to fulfil it. Too many people become 'settled in' and afraid of life: if they make a bold move they fear losing everything. I know people (non-musicians) whom have ambitious plans of working within the arts- acting, photography etc.; each of them have their detractors, cynics and nay-sayers- none of them let them in, and are determined to prove them all wrong. People that do not have that flame; that mind-set and flair in life; the tenacity to ensure that they are not just another boring 'normal person'- often come across those whom do not believe in them. It is a huge shame, but that is the way people are. Very few encourage ambition and a different way of life; if you are perceived as being different and 'out of the norm' then noses are turned up and backs turn; but you know what- who gives a crap about them? Being special and unique in life is something to strive towards and be proud of- those whom do not understand this are not worth the trouble. I am not someone writing just for the sake of ranting, but people are getting on my mind. I shall explain in more depth...
I shall not linger to much at the shores of 'me', but will aptly find myself in a new position. There came a point a while ago where I decided that life alone; the detrimental job; living in an area that I hate and feel imprisoned in; being angry and miserable with life- enough was enough. The first stage of the Living The Dream Coefficient involved ditching my (migraine-inducing) job: done. As I write I am somewhere between Stage 2 and 3: finding a new job and moving to London. Of course, I have to find myself a regular (and liveable) job, in order to sustain the funds to live/make music/everything else. My mind is set to London, and am seeking a flat share or place that I can call home- somewhere modest but in a nice area. Figuring this transition goes smoothly (enough), then the following few phases can take effect. When you are in city like London, not only does it make it easier to find potential band members/recording facilities (it is one of the busiest areas for new music/music in general); your mind and body start to relax. I have always hated when I am because it is just plain noisy. Too many rude people; too much screeching and infantile wailing: no conversation or any sort of restraint. The people are not overly-considerate or polite; everyone is happy to be just like everyone else: there is no ambition or desire to be special or daring in life. Because of this (and some factors I can't censor for the sake of this blog) London seems like a natural home. It gets a bad rap, as people consider it to be too busy and polluted. It is, but the people are that much more relatable; there is ambition and desire here; chances to better yourself- one can alight oneself in a coffee shop and be subjected to conversation and not screeching children. Above all, people get you. No one turns their nose up when you say you want to be a musician (or actor): that is why the city is the place to be. I have been writing songs since I was 18, and consider myself to be pretty good. People whom have read my lyrics and ideas seem impressed, and encouragement has been levied from various corners. I suppose most are familiar with my various writings; yet it is the vocal side of things I am most proud of. When I can obtain recording equipment that doesn't have the quality of a 1980s Dictaphone, I shall record something; but I feel that when getting into London, I will have opportunities to do this. I am a 30-year-old Dorothy; red shoes on, in Kansas. This town smells odd and a hurricane is coming. I have my songbook with 9 tracks; I have the album and band name all figured; all the designs and covers; the song ideas and direction figured out- just need the four other people whom can help me out. It is a scary time- like being back at school- and I am determined yet a little scared. If things do not work out, then I am back to Square One: having to repeat stages of a bad existence. Every time I hear a favourite song or music strikes me, the fear goes away. I get writing, my brain spikes, and I imagine a time where my scribbled words will be fully-realised songs and sketches. Music- like any artistic profession- is a hard bitch to crack. You cannot just interview for something; get the job and have a successful and assured tenure. Luck is required, as well as a great deal of hard work and fight. For anyone reading (that has similar ambitions) or anybody looking for a bit of a kick; then have no fear. The route to satisfaction is one blocked by hostile weather, busy traffic and bumps; yet when you actually start pounding it, it doesn't seem so bad. That said- and as I prepare to charge towards a blinding light- I have been examining what is needed in order to 'live the dream'; to 'make it'- as it were.
One of the most striking- and constant- pains when creating and planning music, is the cost. It is perhaps an obvious one, but something that can take many (musicians) by surprise. That is not to say that those whom have a lot of money will be able to make music and gain success in no time; it just means that for every musician starting out, there is a imperious obstacle. For me, it seems to be one of the most alarming and daunting aspects of music. Having words for months in a previous job; saved as much as possible in order to make music, yet I find myself thinking: is it going to be enough? Even a 'basic' song (I tend to not write too many of these) will take a pretty penny to get it recorded and out in the ether- and I feel that I don't have enough to do that. Of course, the likes of YouTube and SoundCloud have meant that there are portals and avenues one can publish music- without having to give it the full studio treatment. I shall go into more depth about this side of things, but if one wants to commit a fully-realised track onto tape, then the considerations are vast. As well as studio time, you have rehearsals; production etc.- it can be quite worrying. I think this puts some musicians off; the feeling that in order to do what they want to do, they will always be in debt; or else have to work endless jobs. It is something that presses on my mind, and am acutely aware that I will have to do a lot of things (work) that I don't want to- in order to make a music career a reality. It is something one has to do, yet there are other avenues. Friends and contacts I have reviewed have always had the determination; money has always been an issue for them- yet they manage to overcome this. Most work a few jobs and save as hard as possible, but sites such as Kickstarter give (new musicians) an alternate choice. Crowd-funding websites such as Kickstarter allow the (music-buying) public an opportunity to provide the necessary funds in order to realise a musician's visions- and get rewards in return. Artists such as Chess used this method (when raising funds for her Tuxedo E.P.) and means that the listener and fan can connect with the artist- as well as be rewarded for it. There are some whom may say it is not an honest way to raise money, but think of it- you know how much it costs to produce an E.P.? Assuming the three or four songs on the collection were 'straight forward' (no orchestration; few other musicians; few sonic proclivities) the cost can be bracing. Artists such as Chess and Elena Ramona have friends whom are producers- meaning they can cut these costs- yet the bar bill is still daunting. The advice I would offer to up-and-coming musicians (as well as myself) is this: use all channels. Having around a few hundred pounds in the bank, costs such as rent and travel are going to suck that up pretty quick- leaving scant little for music. Work a few part-time jobs and ensure that you put a little aside, as often as possible. Use crowd-funding sites too; it means that you can raise the necessary funds, as well as allow the people whom will buy your music, direct access into the recording process. I guess my abiding point is that sacrifices have to be made; for those like me whom have little/no money, a lot of back-breaking will need to take place. As soon as I get the band and ideas ready for recording, I will be using Kickstarter- as well as doing as much part-time work as possible. However you go about getting the money together remember two elemental points: do not scrimp on real-life, and do not stress. You need enough money to be able to eat and pay bills; scrimping on them will cause you a hell of an issue. Also, take time and breathe. You can still play and record music without needing to step into a studio. Playing, honing and rehearsing are all necessary and enriching, so there shouldn't be an instant levitation towards a studio. That said, money and finance is the biggest consideration- as well as stumbling block- you can face. For those with ambitions and a huge hunger for success, it can frustrating indeed.
It is all well having your funds together; your recording schedule set up- everything planned as it were. In order to grab the public and transcend your music from pen and paper to reality; through to admiring sighs you need this: talent. Too many Pop moppets have cut an L.P., filled it with covers (or committee-written tracks) and assumed that would be that. I have reviewed too many bands and acts that are so copy-catting and unoriginal that I cannot see them make it to album number 2. Too many musicians get in such a hurry to record and put their sounds out there, that they assume this: there will be a market for me, no matter what. Possibly true, statistically, yet if you want success and a loyal and large audience, then you need to remember: be original and have the talent to back it up. They may sound like obvious points, yet it is a lot harder than you may imagine. When I write, lyrically I find myself in original and personal territory; same goes for the music- it is the vocals that trip me up. This facet of music is the most culpable when it comes to new musicians and lack of originality. If you grow up listening to particular singers and bands, then there is a natural temptation to emulate them. Most translate this into direct mimicking. If I had a pound for every time I heard a critics say "This guy/girl in the next..." and say it with no hyperbole or exaggeration, then, well... I wouldn't be here writing this now. It is great to have shades of this; fusions of them; smidges of so-and-so: just don't rip someone off. I have surveyed bands whom ape the Arctic Monkeys; solo acts that copycat Thom Yorke and Jeff Buckley; too many whom just replicate their favourite artist. Even though their words and music may be their own; it is only two-thirds of the music. The problem arising (when you copycat someone) is that your future will be limited. The person many aspire to be are the originators; they will never be bettered- at the very least you will be a facsimile, and who the hell wants to hear that? As I say, you do not have to neglect every influence to be original and striking- far from it. The reality show festivities have convinced us that the way to success is to be a third-rate Mariah Carey or Prince: bullshit. Your own voice is the way through. Let me give you me as an example. I am listening to, at the moment, Steely Dan, Tim Buckley, Jeff Buckley; Michael Jackson and Queens of the Stone Age (not all at once). There is diversity and range amongst these artists; huge vocal acrobatics as well as hard-edged Rock directness; Jazz fusions and heart-breaking falsetto. In terms of the music alone there is sonic diversity, yet when you think of the vocals too, hardly any overlap. Extend it further and by incorporating a fraction of these artists' vocals into your own; not only do you have new and different sounds- yet something new comes to the fore. It is about expanding your horizons and being bold; keeping your own voice in tact, yet adding range, emotional colour and difference. Too many people seem beholden to see themselves as the next Led Zeppelin/Michael Jackson or whomever, that they forget the cardinal rule: that is not who you will ever be. If you- like me- seem a little bit too indebted to past masters (and not to your own voice) then have no fear: you can do both and fulfil the point I am making. Of course, you also need the talent to back up the 'vocal originality' or individuality. If you have all the unique vocalisations in place, the accompanying tracks need to be strong. If you are a solo act, then not only does the voice have to be original or unique enough, but your tracks have to be solid. Words and lyrics need to be varied, personal and striking. It is no good employ lazy poetry and verbose bloating- nor do you have to be Bob Dylan. In terms of lyrics; write about personal experience; do not stick to writing about love alone; make sure your palette is varied but captivating. Music-wise, ensure that there is emotion, range and interest throughout, but above all: take your time. Too many rush in and assume that their first instinct is good enough. Talent is not necessarily born-in and natural; sometimes hard work and consideration augment what was there to start with. Being braver; by thinking differently and pushing yourself- that is the way to get peoples attentions; and ensure that you keep them primed towards you.
Social media and luck can count as much towards success and establishment, as much as anything. By 'luck' I do not mean that you need to be in the right place at the right time; just simply that contacts and who you know can be important. I have met many 'online friends' and made connections with musicians by sheer dumb chance. As the music is one of the most overcrowded and vast sectors of the entertainment industry, sometimes talent and intention will not do all of the work. Some great talent has been overlooked because they have been compressed amongst hungry contemporaries; inferior acts have been heralded for no reason. My point is that the best will be overlooked- far from it- simply, that occasionally that is the way things do. For those whom have all the ammunition and are great and ambitious, then they should not worry: their rewards will come. This point dovetails into another important consideration and marketing tool: social media. It is tantamount to suicide, when a new music act simply neglects its power. I hate the way social media has become about personal vanity and shallowness; yet when it comes to music, it is invaluable. The only way I have found my review subjects and sought out some great music, is because of it. I will mention a few examples of the kind of acts that have understood its importance. We have SoundCloud, Twitter, Facebook; YouTube, Reverb Nation and BandCamp: they all out there waiting. Too many just stick with Facebook and SoundCloud, which is all well and good, but social media is compartmentalised and- sadly- balkanised. Twitter peeps do not necessarily check Facebook- you need to go wide and far. A personal website, too, can add followers to your camp. If you have this as a central hub and tie in all the other social media/music-sharing sites to it, then you give yourself the best fighting chance. It is not just about the availability that matters, but also information. Being mysterious is good if you are an M15 spy, but not o good if you are a musician. A detailed biography, some reviews; the music itself; tour dates should all be in there. When I- as well as any music-lover- go to investigate an act, it is always great when this info. is there. It can be time-consuming creating a website, but the importance cannot be underestimated. Before I get onto investigating some acts whom are leading the way; backing up my points, and providing inspiration to the up-and-comers; I want to bring up one more point...
Extending the whole social media theme, contacts and friends can be a much-needed source of connection. On Facebook, for instance, I have made friends whom have not only helped foster my music ambitions, but made a great difference in my personal life. If you are a solo artists or in a band, you should never try to do things alone. You do not have to transfer the full artistic weight onto their shoulders, yet allowing them in and helping them to help you, can mean that there is less stress and anxieties on your mind- ensuring that you can dedicate more time and effort into music itself. I have online friends and contacts whom have provided advice, contacts and insight- all of which have helped me and provided direction. In the same way as friends can provide career advice and personal confidence, there is always going to be (one of your friends at least) whom can assist when it comes to music. In my travels, I have connected with a record company boss; many new musicians as well as writers- each of whom assists when it comes to writing and planning for a music career. Most of my family are not overly interest or believing in my music ambitions, so friends and contacts provide the necessary ear that is needed. When starting out and planning your infant music steps, these friends can assist when helping promote your music; putting you in contact with others- as well as making sure you are not alone. Make sure that this valuable asset is not overlooked; that you ensure you use them (appropriately), as they can give you the additional link(s) needed in order for success.
I will illustrate my utterances with three artists whom have put the effort in; managed to succeed and pioneer in spite of everything. Jen Armstrong is a name I have mentioned before in my blog posts. I bring her up again, as she is every inch the modern-day idol. Her online portfolio is full and insightful. She has a terrific personal website, and ensures that she projects a bubbly and loveable mood. Keen to connect to her fans, she keeps her pages up-to-date and makes sure there is plenty of music available. Recently, she has created a Patreon page; allowing her fans to support her music. Our gorgeous heroine has made sure that she puts her terrific music out as much as possible. I know of a record label that should snap her up- they may have already contacted her- but feel that she is long-overdue (being signed up). That will happen soon, but it is not just the consideration she gives to online representation. In terms of her songs, she has worked hard raising money; recording as many tracks (and covers) as possible; making sure people hear what she has to offer. Her bravery, determination and proliferation impress me hugely, and she tours widely and regularly. Having touched audiences in the U.S.- as well as U.K.- Armstrong is dead-set on making sure she has a huge future audience. The originality and talent are elements that she has also nailed. Her music is witty and varied: ranging from romantic and tender ballads, through to vivid and humorous slice-of-life observations. Her voice is strong and emotive; huge of range and deeply memorable. When it comes to all considerations, Armstrong takes care to ensure that she is her own voice and artist- and does all it takes to get her name and music out there. Shed is giving me the push and inspiration I need to start making moves; the perfect epitome of what a modern-day musicians should be! Issimo and Universal Thee are two names I have featured quite regularly (on my blog). The former, a fellow Yorkshire act (Armstrong is a Yorkshire lass), have enlivened me for many a month. Their music is witty and intelligent; songs filled with nuance and range. Like Armstrong, Abi and Marc are a duo whom work their socks off and make sure that as much as the public listen to their work. Both work hard and long to raise the funds needed to make their songs a reality. I am not sure if the duo are signed yet, but are also long-overdue. Their success has been cemented by their originality and talent. Both are hugely accomplished and mesmeric, making sure that they sound unlike any other- I cannot think of another act that comes close to their sound and flair. Universal Thee are a Scottish outfit whom have just released their debut L.P. Like Armstrong and Issimo, their online pages are filled with information and wonder, and the band are justly reaping the benefits. I know from speaking with the group, how long they have worked to get where they are; how many crappy shifts they have had to pull to fund their ambitions. In terms of bands, they are probably the best example of what I have been saying. Their names are being spread around and recognised, and I hope that they will be making many albums to come. Nina Schofield is another artists whom has the same intuitions and abilities on offer. Her latest E.P., Colours, was as a result of a lot of hard work and determinations. Her website and social media representation is impressive and authoritative, and our stunning heroine has been touring and promoting her material tirelessly; as well as this she ensures that her music and offerings are as intoxicating, original and unforgettable as possible. It is (Colours) one of the best releases I have assessed all year, and she is an artist whom has intoxicated me, completely. Artists like Armstrong are examples of what happens when you put every ounce of heart and effort into music; how you connect with people and grab attentions by being brave, ambitious and smart.
Before I conclude, I want to mention something I have alluded to much: human elements. I have compared musical success to being in the Wizard of Oz; perhaps alluded to the importance of having a brain; being savvy and intelligent. Courage is something that perhaps most important of all. Disappointment, oppression and failed-expectations are all realities every musician will have to face. You not only need the courage to be able to get through this (and not give in), but also the ability to be able to be bold; take leaps and risks. It may involve moving to a new location; opening up to someone or being brave. I have connected with Cuckoo Records; the splendid artists in offer here and reviewed many of them. I feel that by taking a gamble and getting in contact, I have helped myself as a writer, and (I hope) helped the artists I have reviewed. Being brave and taking leaps is fraught and quite nerve-wracking, yet once done, can lead to some truly awesome realisations and results. Not only can you further your individual music desires, but connect with possible fellow musicians, band members; label bosses and venues. Sometimes, moving to a new life and taking a gamble puts a lot of musicians off, but if you want to succeed and making your way- it needs to be done. This ties in with the necessity to possess, as well as seek out a heart and brain. Being emotionally-open is one thing, but sharing others work can lead to great things. I don't buy any New Age-y crap like karma, but fellow and artists are always going to be in a position to promote your work and mandates; provided you take time to proffer their work. I take as much time and effort to share great new songs; acts; albums etc.- and I find those respective talent give something back to me. If you are a new talent, you can have all the intent and ready-made firepower there- yet will still need support. By assisting your contemporaries and giving them a helping hand, you find that benevolence becomes infectious (or it should); consequently, receptive arms and hearts are more-than-happy to give an assist and shout-out- when you unveil a new song or idea. You also have to be smart from start-to-finish. Not only with regards to your business plan (and the points I have raised) but throughout your career. When you climb the first rungs, you cannot settle in and go to auto-pilot. Gig opportunities may arise; chances may come, and it is up to you to decide if they are going to be beneficial for your career. Saying 'yes' or 'no' to everything cause their own issues; the modern artist has to have a shrewd business mind (as well as a natural intelligence), if they are to ensure that the choice they make, are the correct ones. It may seem like a lot to think about and quite a tall order, but most of these facets are extrapolated and deployed in any 'normal' job. Music is pernicious in the sense that if you get cut loose or lose your audience, you cannot apply for a job and move on: the chances or reasserting yourself are slim-none. If you take time to think of other (musicians), makes smart choice as well as become brave and filled with fortitude- it sets you ahead of most and means that patronage and career development are much more likely.
You may ask me: what is the purpose of this blog? Well, the words I have put forward are all verisimilitudinous; they are pertain succinctly to all music: yet there are other considerations as well when it comes to musical success. My inspiration for penning this was to rebel against the reality T.V. show chancer and wasters, and to investigate how much effort and work goes into forging a music career: not as a deterrent, but to show what can come when you put the miles in. I have mentioned a few musical examples; people whom are capable of seductive chef-d'oeuvre; tantalising song and pure charm. Personality and an innate intuition accounts for a lot of their success, but they understand the importance of promotion; social media and thoughtfulness; originality and talent as well as bravery and courage. Many may already be where they want to be in their (music) careers; others getting there- some may be starting out. I hope my words are transferrable to life, love and work in general; yet for we musical folk (those whom do not want to be in an office for our entire lives), there is a lot to think about. Being a crowded and bustling market, many will fall at various hurdles or succumb to entropy- those whom want to jostle for attention need to put the graft in. I just feel that too many do not do enough and skate by somewhat; others whom are deserving of celebration neglect some key fundamental considerations- it is a shame, but that is the way things are. The likes of Universal Thee, Jen Armstrong and Issimo are in various stages of their music life, yet I feel each will be rocking huge festivals; making many an-album- essentially becoming bona fide legends. This whole business of "living the dream" scares the crap out of me; yet I am confident enough that I have enough weaponry and intelligence to be able to at least make some interesting in-roads. I know that there are many new musicians and acts that are considering their opening moments; on the precipice of a new and wonderful career path- they should prepare themselves for some hard work and sweat. It will be good, as it is easier now (as ever) to get your music heard and commit notes to tape. That is it from me; I am preparing a new track now and looking ahead, and will continue to exhaustively support some lovely musicians I feel are worthy of long-term consideration. I wish them the best of luck; and those whom are striving for a particular goal- have no fear, you'll get there. For anyone else that may be thinking of projecting themselves into the musical ether (and not scared to death by what I have said), I ask you this:
WHAT are you waiting for?!