Imagine walking into your regular supermarket
and heading straight to the laundry detergent isle. Let's assume
that you have never done your own laundry up until now and for
the first time you have to figure out what soap powder is right
for you. You start scratching your head because there are 19 brands
in front of you. You decide to go with your gut feeling; "Wash
'em good" is the one that leaps out at you. It has a nice
design, big letters, bright colors and well, it's not too pricey!
Now let's head over to the sardine
isle. Let's assume you are a big fan of sardines. You know exactly
what you want. "Kipper Joe's" are your favourite. Why?
Because they taste like no other sardines, there's something
about them that is just mouth-watering. Truly amazing. All other
sardines just seem dull by comparison.
Ok, this may all seem a tad
cheesy but I have a point here that is often overlooked. A&R
executives at record companies want 2 things.
2) Hit songs.
All very simple in analysis.
But what makes up a star, and what makes up a hit song? Here's
my take on it…. -
- Unique familiarity!
What? I hear you say! Contradiction?
The most frustrating thing about
the music business is that record labels seem to want stars,
artists that truly stand out from the rest in order to have
longevity. However, radio, the biggest marketing device available
to artists, clearly states that it wants CD's that fit into
its rigid format. How can an artist or group then be totally
unique if it is constrained by corporate advertising execs not
wanting to rock their proven demographics?
The radio business is such an
established, corporate entity that we artists cannot expect
to change the way it works. We therefore have to work within
its framework. Once you can accept that, we can then go back
to our shopping isle.
Artists (once in CD format)
are nothing more than sardines and laundry detergent. Ask yourself
why a customer would go into Tower records and buy your CD instead
of another? Familiarity? Not yet. So I guess Faith Hill, Sade,
Britney Spears, and Elton John (to name one or two) will have
that edge over you. Uniqueness? Possibly, but then are you on
the radio? Oops, better get back to that familiarity thing.
People love familiarity. That
is why a venue on a Friday night will pay a top 40 cover band
a bunch of dough and an original group wanting stardom absolutely
nothing! We HAVE to be unique in order to get the record companies
attention. We HAVE to appear somewhat familiar for the marketplace.
This is a tough call. Let me give you one or two examples.
Matchbox 20. When they come
on the radio you go "Oh - Matchbox 20".
Dave Mathews Band. When they come on the radio you go "Oh
- Dave Mathews Band!"
Prince…and so on… You can make up your own list.
These artists are clearly definable
in the marketplace. Radio loves them (well Prince may have seen
his day…ok the artist formerly known as something or other!)
They have a familarity about their music when you first hear
them, yet extremely unique. Whether it is the vocalist's voice
or production or song. Something about the sum of the parts
is familiar to us, something that makes us smile, and yet we
know it is that particular artist when we hear them.
Is this luck or sound business
sense? I think it is firstly the artist's talent, secondly the
savvy producer's skill, knowing the radio marketplace and thirdly
(and absolutely not lastly) the song itself.
So the question becomes, how
can a new artist stand out from the herd in order to get record
company attention? I think by recognizing that it is more about
"envelope pushing" than going completely off the wall in order
to grab some attention. Tap, into that thing that makes you
sound unique. It could be a lead vocal sound, specific instrumentation
that makes up your band or a unique blend of harmony on a chorus.
Run with it, whatever it is.
Just remember, we are sardines.
We have to taste good. But we also have to be remembered for
tasting a little different….