Dear aspiring musician,
Thank you for sending a sample of your music even though it was 27 megabyte, 320 kbps MP3 files that plastered the inbox on all of my devices. I appreciate that I’m supposed to hear everything in the highest quality audio – I mean, you put a lot of effort into these recordings, right? In the future, please send links to external sources such as Spotify or SoundCloud so that my data fees don’t go over the top. Thanks in advance.
I wish I could tell you that I will definitely hear your songs, but that would be a lie.
Every week I get around 800 submissions like yours from artists, managers, labels, and publicists, all asking for consideration for radio airplay, a blog feature, or an in-depth review of the material. This is in addition to new music being added daily from my Spotify Release Radar, recommendations from Apple Music, things that pop up on YouTube, new release notes in the plethora of daily newsletters I receive, and CDs that are in the e- Mail will be displayed. (Yes, people are still sending me CDs. Please stop.)
While staying up to date is an important part of my job, the situation is overwhelming. There’s just too much music out there. The pandemic only made things worse when musicians spent their quarantine months writing and recording new material. And because it’s so easy to get your music out to a global audience, everyone seems to be doing it. (We’ll deal with the question of whether they should make music in a moment.)
Keep in mind that Spotify recently announced that 60,000 new tracks would be uploaded to the platform Every day. It won’t be long before a new song is uploaded every second. And to top it all off, an estimated 20 percent of all tracks uploaded to Spotify have never been streamed. If you have the time, check out a website called Forgotify which has a stream of millions of songs that have only been heard by their creators so far.
Now some hard love. Just because you make music doesn’t mean you deserve to be heard. With all the competition, your things can’t just be good. It has to be bigger than it is big. That should be it je ne sais quoi that instantly grabs someone with the same intensity of a song by a superstar act.
And not just current acts. Streaming means anyone can access nearly 75 million songs from the last few decades. They compete for attention with the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Madonna, U2, Whitney Houston and every other music legend – not to mention cat videos on YouTube, Netflix and all the other streaming video channels, social media, video games and all those other entertainment distractions.
Also understand that the rules have changed. People used to go to record stores and pay hard cash for a piece of plastic. They took the plastic home and played it over and over until they liked every song on the CD. If that didn’t work, the disk / CD has been written off as a bad financial investment. Today music flows like water and the jump button always waves with the promise that something better is in the queue. Will your song beat the ADHD of today’s average music fan? Or are you skippable?
I know your dream may be to be heard on the radio, but getting that kind of exposure out of the gate goes a long way. Playlists are finally big, so competition for airtime is fierce. Most radio stations won’t even watch your music because their job is not to play unfamiliar music by an unfamiliar, unsigned artist with no track record or fan base. If that sounds like you, focus your energies on campus radio or blogs that specialize in music discovery.
Yes, there are exceptions to the rule above – in my experience groups like USS and Bedouin Soundclash have managed to defy the chances of being indie artists and land on the radio with their first at-bat – but they have one rainbow colored chocolate flavored unicorns. Don’t expect this to happen to you.
Depressed? If so, stop reading since we’re done here. You are not suited to be a working musician. However, if the above paragraphs provided motivation, move on.
True artists deal with music first. Money – if anything – is secondary. If you eat, sleep, breathe, and listen to live music, keep doing this. You have to play the long game. Focus on the art, not the money. If there is greatness in you, it will come out at some point. And if it does, people will notice. Size organically attracts attention. We will find you. If not, you may have to face the fact that your music is not resonating with enough people.
Too many of today’s young professionals want to be famous. They were like in shows american idol and The voice where a parade of wannabees tries to impress judges by singing other people’s songs. The music is little more than an afterthought. Participants may have a good voice and a little charisma, but these performances are really just a notch above karaoke.
They think, “I know that if I only had the chance to be heard, people would love my songs.” Maybe, but you have to earn this chance. It takes time, commitment, sacrifice, and even suffering for your art.
Do you want some constructive advice? Check out Dave Grohl’s new documentary. What drives us, with a long list of musicians from AC / DC to St. Vincent to Ringo Starr extolling the experience of getting in a van with the rest of the band and taking to the streets. This made them successful: long stretches on the street enduring bad food, destructive behavior, cramped dressing rooms, weird fans, and smelly bandmates. It can be terrifying and demoralizing, but it’s also an adventure where adversity brings a band closer together.
It makes you tough, exposes you to the world, and teaches you what the meaning of the show needs to go on. These confused experiences shape the sound, attitude, art and image of the group. They become better performers. And you learn a lot about yourself. Plus, there’s nothing like a room full of strangers telling you the truth about your music in real time. More than anything, it forces you to get better – and quickly.
Yes, almost everyone in the movie comes from an act that made it great. But without the tour’s endless boot camp in a van, they would never have achieved such success.
When you finally get home after the tour, do some laundry, shower, refuel the van, and head off again. Repeat this as long as necessary – or at least as long as possible. Build a fan base. Gain credibility with the public, even if it’s a fan at a time. Always be authentic. If you feel like you are the best that you can be – and that you are better than everyone else out there – let’s talk, okay? But not a second before.
I am flattered that you want my opinion and I am impressed with the confidence you have in your skills as a songwriter and performer. And by all means keep sending me samples of your paper as I need to know what’s going on out there. It’s my job. But please forgive me if I cannot get back to you in time or at all. Like I said, every day is a fire hose.
Good luck with your music and your career goals. Who knows? We may cross in the future if you manage to go from good to great.
Alan Cross is a broadcaster with Q107 and 102.1 the Edge and a commentator for News Gob.
Subscribe to Alan’s “A Running History of New Music” podcast now on Apple Podcast or Google Play