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It isn't just about paying your dues

PostPosted: Wed May 07, 2008 11:19 am
by Charlie
In the years when I used to get demo tapes sent to Oval Music on a daily basis, I was quite conscientious in sending them back with written notes explaining what was wrong with them.

After a while, as I began to lose patience, I became more cryptic, and one of my responses was along the lines of:

'I play football every Sunday on Clapham Common, but don't expect to get spotted by a Tottenham Hotspur scout, so why do you think that just because you can play guitar, somebody should sign you up? You are not making music than anybody would buy, and would probably hate it if you had to change to playing what a record company would want you to do. Stick to your day job and enjoy playing in a band at weekends.'

Some weeks after sending one such note, I got a phone call from a woman in Nottingham, asking me if I was proud that I had left her son in tears?

The latest Bob Lefsetz email pursues this line of thinking further:

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I just don't understand the mentality. Wherein people believe they DESERVE THEIR DESIRE!

You can play basketball your whole life and never play for the Lakers. And you aren't even gonna make the college team unless you're tall enough and work hard enough.

Why does everybody believe you can be a music star instantly? Why does everybody believe if you do the work, you'll succeed?

Maybe it's reality TV. Maybe it's Perez and TMZ. If other no-talents make it, you think you should too.

Or maybe it's Clive Davis. Saying don't bother to write. Or the prevalence of auto-tune.

I just don't get it.

In the sixties we all wanted to BE the Beatles, but we never truly dreamed this could be a reality. We weren't talented enough. We weren't good-looking enough. Our voices weren't good enough. Hell, we'd rather go out and play baseball and talk to girls than stay home every night and practice our instrument...with no guarantee of success!

Even the Beatles slugged it out. For years in Hamburg. If the Beatles had to pay their dues, if Capitol initially passed on selling their music in the States, what in hell makes you think YOU should make it??

You've got to be talented. If certain athletes are genetically built to climb mountains, to accomplish the almost unimaginable, what makes you think Jimi Hendrix or Eddie Van Halen don't have something you'll NEVER have. And Bob Dylan made it with a unique voice, but he's the best lyricist of all time. Do you have a voice as good as Paul McCartney's? As rich as John Lennon's? That melts hearts when you're singing the phone book? If not, chances are YOU CAN'T MAKE IT!

Can you write "Walk Away Renee"? Or "Satisfaction"? Or "Smells Like Teen Spirit"? Do people hear your music once and become fans, or do you have to pester them, foist demos upon them, beg them to be your MySpace friend?

Sure, you've got to be Net-savvy... But you've also got to be good. No, great. And sometimes even THAT ain't enough.

So there's a Guitar Center in your neighborhood. You learned to play your instrument via the tabs online. Your college or city has an open mic night. SO FUCKING WHAT! Just because I can sail a boat doesn't mean I can be an America's Cup skipper.

Just because I read the "New York Times" doesn't mean I can truly debate Paul Krugman regarding economics. The guy's a fucking Ph.D. for god's sake. How many years did he go to college? Eight? Ten? How many years have you been out on the road? Two? And you think you deserve success? You're frustrated that your unique gifts, which aren't so unique, haven't been recognized?

Do you know how badly Madonna wanted it? Come on. Do you have that pure desire? Are you willing to give up marriage, kids, a pension all in the HOPE of making it?

Are you willing to tour for years, not only honing your chops, but building a fan base?

Are you willing to work on your career instead of watching TV and drinking beer?

Shit, there's room for a zillion lawyers. That's seven years past high school, but at least there are a bunch of openings. But how many openings for music star ARE THERE? Why do you think YOU'RE ENTITLED?

Fire up that famous track from the second AC/DC album, "It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock 'N' Roll)". That was released FIVE YEARS before "Back In Black". And, that track is as good as anything ON "Back In Black". Shit, the American record company didn't even bother releasing "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" in America... Or the band's very first record. They figured there was no DEMAND!

It takes SACRIFICE! If you're making a house payment... Shit, if you've got HEALTH insurance and you're bitching you haven't made it yet, you're not playing for real. True wannabe stars will forgo ANYTHING! They'll eat ramen FOR YEARS, all in the HOPE of making it. That's right, there's no guarantee.

I guess it was better one way in the old days. These losers didn't have a voice. There was no Net for them to complain on. They couldn't afford to make a record and they got a day job and gave up their fantasy. But now, everybody's bitching he didn't get his turn. Shit, just because you got a trophy for being on the soccer team, which came in last place, THAT DOESN'T MEAN YOU'RE ENTITLED TO BE A MUSIC STAR!

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PostPosted: Wed May 07, 2008 11:50 am
by garth cartwright
it's an entertaining enough rant Charlie but the writer misses out on the one thing that really counts in making pop/rock stars (in the UK at least), the thing that's more important than talent or work ethic - LUCK. I've been following music since the early 70s and writing on it since the early 80s and what strikes me as being important in the UK is luck - if you are lucky enough to be what someone in the industry decides is "now" then you can be plucked from obscurity to possible fame instantly. Look at Arctic Monkeys; known to a few people in Sheffield and then selling 300,000 copies of their debut album in its first week. No work ethic and no Teen Spirit/Satisfaction; just the right place/right time for what the NME wanted to champion and as MY SPACE was just taking off at the time they ended up riding a tidal wave of hype.

Passing judgement over others creative efforts is often difficult - i had a friend who played bass in a band, they were doing upstairs at the Garage and he insisted I come see them. Me and another friend paid £5 each and saw a band with no real potential; competent but dull and unfocused. At the end of the gig my bassist buddy came up to see what we made of it. We suggested a few things that we thought could be improved upon. He didn't talk to me for years! Of course, the band split without ever achieving anything.

PostPosted: Wed May 07, 2008 1:21 pm
by kevin
Garth, I think you do the Arctic Monkeys a disservice. Do you think they would have sold 300,000 copies of their debut album and won a Mercury prize and a Brit for it if the music had been crap? They built a massive fan base by making their demos freely available at gigs and on the net in much the same way that established artists release videos weeks and months ahead of the release of an album or single and they encouraged their fans to share them.

Their second album is not bad either and Alex Turner's side project "The Last Shadow Puppets" is a very impressive record.

PostPosted: Wed May 07, 2008 1:39 pm
by Charlie
kevin wrote:Garth, I think you do the Arctic Monkeys a disservice. Do you think they would have sold 300,000 copies of their debut album and won a Mercury prize and a Brit for it if the music had been crap?

I agree. I was bewildered that Garth chose one of the few 'real' groups of the past few years to demonstrate his argument - the Monkeys' lyrics are as good as the best of any British rock group, ever. The group just went out and played live until somebody noticed. And when they were offered the choice of signing to any of the majors (who all wanted them) or to an indie, they chose Domino, who offered less advances and lower royalties. I don't think the group has put a foot wrong.

Luck does play a part, but you have to put yourself in a position where it can be effective. And you have to be able to recognise the choices being offered, and take the right one. I've watched countless bands being given lucky chances which they have squandered.

PostPosted: Wed May 07, 2008 1:59 pm
by Ian A.
Charlie wrote:I've watched countless bands being given lucky chances which they have squandered.

And solo artists . . .

PostPosted: Wed May 07, 2008 8:02 pm
by c hristian
I read the wiki on Bob. Doesn't really sound like he's well qualified to back up what is purely his opinion. Maybe he is, but I don't see it.

It's about being in the right place at the right time, prepared, and then someone on the other side looking for the next "thing" whether that is a new TALENT, gimmick, personality, or sound; choosing "you", and then helping to expose you to a larger audience in a positive light.

If you asked, literally, each and every citizen of my town about their opinions of Paul and John's singing voice, I guarantee you that well over 51% of the citizens of Chocolate City would give their singing voices a thumbs down. Same story on a lot of other artists, in a lot of other capacities. That's why when I DJ, I may play beatles songs, but never the beatles themselves. Their sound would never translate into moving hips, unless I play Bethesda Country Club. Wasn't always that way of course, as DC was their town back in the day, but times and tastes change of course, and their formula, such as it was then, wouldn't work for DC today.

Re: It isn't just about paying your dues

PostPosted: Wed May 07, 2008 9:33 pm
by judith
Bob Lefsetz wrote: Why does everybody believe if you do the work, you'll succeed?.............

.....You've got to be talented.


My my. Shinichi Suzuki would beg to disagree ("Nurtured By Love: A New Approac To Talent Education", 1968). I remember when the book came out that many members of the music world (particularly, educational/classical) were horrified and disgusted, outraged even, by the very idea that someone who was "tone deaf" (please pardon my use of the expression, I'm quoting the outraged, not Suzuki) could learn to hear. To base assumptions on someone's abilities and their present or future output on talent (or intelligence or physical capabilities) is arbitrary, relative to mood, cultural preferences, social attitudes, personal bias, whatever. Or, as in Charlie's case, saturation point (the weary music teacher at their wit's end also comes to mind).

PostPosted: Wed May 07, 2008 9:49 pm
by Eduards_Ozolins
Wait,wait... It isn't big secret that most of people like crap. It's called "mass syndrome". I mean,let's face it. Biggest part of the society on planet Earth at the moment aren't intelligent enough to like Mahmud Ahmed, Tibetian ragas or even nice and non-comercial indie or experimental unsigned music.
Look at Radio1 Top40 - top3 are showing "mass" thoughts about music.
Of course, Arctic Monkeys aren't crap. But I personally don't think that they are very good either. It's just mass media hype (it's called "NME.COM" :) ) about them that are doing 50% of the job...
So for me even classical (example) music amateur who can play only simple sonat is better than GIRLS ALOUD or Justin Timberlake (haha).
...

A bit of fairy dust - the Trogg tapes

PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2008 11:52 am
by nikki akinjinmi
What contributes to success? A bit of fairy dust and dubba dubba dubba cha? That's according to the Troggs. Apologies for lowering the tone.

Edit: I withdrew the youtube link

PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2008 5:53 pm
by will vine
Brings to mind that great song "Rock'n'Roll, I Gave You The Best Years of My Life" by Kevin Johnson.

Ah Yes...."I was always just one step behind you..."

I think I had a version of it by Doug Kershaw once.

Re: A bit of fairy dust - the Trogg tapes

PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2008 7:16 pm
by judith
nikki akinjinmi wrote: Edit: I withdrew the youtube link


Why, Nikki, why?

Re: A bit of fairy dust - the Trogg tapes

PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2008 10:38 pm
by nikki akinjinmi
judith wrote:
nikki akinjinmi wrote: Edit: I withdrew the youtube link


Why, Nikki, why?


Hi Judith, I thought the language in the infamous Trogg tapes might offend some people. And I didn't want to offend anyone on the forum.

Also, I don't know that I would have been contributing, anything of note, to the discussion, by providing a link to a band, trying to re-capture former glories - by trying to find that magic ingredient - fairy dust, or otherwise - while going through an apparent meltdown.

PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2008 11:31 pm
by Adam Blake
The art of "puttin' a bit of fairy dust over the baaaarstud" is all a record producer really needs to know. That, and the great recording engineer's dictum: You can't polish a turd, but you can lacquer it...

PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2008 11:38 pm
by nikki akinjinmi
Adam, I'm almost tempted to re-post the youtube link.

Re: A bit of fairy dust - the Trogg tapes

PostPosted: Fri May 09, 2008 12:58 am
by judith
nikki akinjinmi wrote:
Hi Judith, I thought the language in the infamous Trogg tapes might offend some people. And I didn't want to offend anyone on the forum.


I'm having hysterics over here. I thought you were talking about "Wild Thing" or something. I have since been clued in to the Trogg tapes. What I've heard has had me laughing out loud. (the f word doesn't offend me).