Working in the music industry for over 30 years now, first as a performer/ singer-songwriter for 10 years, and then as an A&R person who evaluates both vocal and songwriting talent as president of the Artist Development Network, one thing I have observed is what separates the serious artists from those who are just dreamers.
Most of the people who come through our doors are looking for fame and fortune, these are the dreamers. They have stars in their eyes but more often they lack the necessary talent or reality of the business and how much work and sacrifice is needed to even have a chance of breaking into the music scene. Some people think a label is going to hear them and magically make them into a star. Many profess to have the drive and commitment; that they are willing to do whatever it takes to make it. But when push comes to shove, they don’t have the stamina to stay in the game and fight their way to the top. These artists have not sufficiently prepared themselves or worked hard enough to be taken seriously when the right opportunity comes. Sadly, they miss the boat.
So what is it that separates the stars from the dreamers? After many years of working with artists of all ages, genres, ethnic backgrounds, personalities, upbringing, and from all over the world, here’s what I have learned:
The few artists I have seen become successful are those who love music so much that it’s a part of who they are and what they do every day. It’s a labor of love that they develop, improve, study, practice, and perform regularly. These are people who have known from the time they were very young what they wanted to do, and they were already doing it in some form or another. These are the singers who vocalize, learn to play an instrument, write their own songs, critique themselves on tape and video so they can evaluate where they are and get better, and continue to perfect their talents and skills.
Here’s an example: Recently a 19-year-old artist from England stayed at my home in Nashville for seven weeks to work on developing his song writing and to record a project for our company to take pitch to the labels, so we can try to get him a deal. This young man had developed great habits, he was disciplined, he knew what he wanted, what his goals were, and he worked toward that end each day. Every morning he was like an alarm clock as he woke me with his daily vocal exercises that would last for at least 30-45 minutes at a time. For seven weeks he never failed to warm up his voice and go through a variety of different vocal techniques he had learned from voice teachers, tapes and videos to help him strengthen his voice and learn to sing better and improve his pitch and dynamics.
Every day this young artist also picked up his guitar and practiced playing, singing, and performing for our family. He was not a bit shy about randomly breaking out into song. He even got my 13-year-old daughter (who never sings out loud) to sing Taylor Swift songs with him as he played the guitar. I wish I had recorded those moments! This artist clearly loved performing anywhere, anytime, for anyone. It isn’t just a hobby, it is his passion.
Another quality that I think is equally important to becoming a star is personality and attitude. There’s nothing worse than a talented artist who is full of himself and shows no humility or gratitude for the gifts God has given him. Having a bad attitude, being a negative person, and acting like you’re better than everyone else are real turn offs. Who wants to be around someone like that? I enjoyed having this artist stay at my home because he was easy to live with, a genuinely easy going, well mannered young man who listened and took my advice about things to help him improve. He wanted critique so that he could do better. That’s a mature, serious artist.
This particular singer does not waste time sitting around waiting for things to happen or for someone else to make things happen for him… he’s proactive, busy making things happen for himself. He posts blogs on his facebook, twitter and other social sites about his trip to Nashville, his live performances, about the songs he’s written, about his co-writers and their successes, about the studio, the musicians, the producer, people he has met, and anything that will generate a buzz around his name. Self-promotion, that’s the ticket. It takes time, effort, and can be a lot of work, but that’s how you build interest around yourself as an artist and performer. Your fans want to be on the journey with you to experience what you are experiencing, to appreciate who you are and the exciting things you are doing in your music career.
It’s these kinds of dedicated singers and songwriters that rise to the top while all the others keep spinning their wheels. I have no doubt that this 19-year-old artist from the UK will become a big name in the music business both here in the US and abroad, because he’s not letting anything get in his way. He takes care of his body, does not abuse it with drugs or alcohol. He carries himself with confidence like he’s already a famous artist, but not cocky or arrogant, and he continues to learn, study, practice, write, play guitar/piano, and perform, polishing and perfecting his voice and stage presence.
I thought you might like to see a video of this young man I recorded with my little camera as he sang a song he wrote while performing at the Blue Bird Café in Nashville on a Monday writer’s night on August 8th, 2011. Notice his communication with the audience, his smile, his talent as a guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist. He made it fun and inviting, so everyone was comfortable. The audience loved him. Way to go “Junior”! I know we have not seen the last of this talent!