Are Many Musicians Wired to Not Do It Themselves?

Todd Murphy The Jazz LawyerThe letter below from Todd Murphy a music lawyer is taken from the November 2, 2011 Bob Lefsetz email newsletter. The same day Bob emailed this out I met with Bob Baker and Jack Conte from Pomplamoose. Interestingly enough, we made almost the exact same comments.

  • So many artists do not want to do it themselves.
  • That it must be wired into their DNA that they want a record deal.
  • And, they really just want to be famous more than anything else.
  • While chatting with Jack Conte from Pomplamoose he mentioned how even now he will go to a party or event and someone from outside the industry will often say, “well I hope someday that you make it.”

I think the ReverbNation survey that revealed 75% of artists still want to be signed speaks to how many artists still see the label deal as the goal.

Nobody is going to do it for you. Nobody is going to give you a big advance. You have to do the work. You have to manage your career. You have to be the boss.

Great letter Todd, I hope all musicians read this.

Subject: Re: Occupy EMI/Sony/Universal/Warner Brothers

Bob, unfortunately, I get called everyday by yet another artist who wants me to shop his or her demo to a label. After asking so many of them the same question you did today – why?  – I have come to realize two things: one, most artists DO NOT want to do it themselves, maybe they just aren’t wired that way, maybe they’re lazy, maybe they think they need big money to make it really happen, maybe they are getting bad advice. Two, they don’t care about making a bad deal, they want to be FAMOUS.  They want fame so fucking badly they will sign anything. I mean anything. They don’t believe guys like you and me when we tell them it’s stupid. They want to be FAMOUS!  Gaga did it an so can they. Katy Perry did it too. So can they.

When you show them Pomplamouse and The Weekend, and others, they just yawn.  How about Julia Nines on Kickstarter? Nah, They want to be in Spin and Rolling Stone and all of the other old media pubs whose time has come and gone. They want to be on NPR and in the NY Tines. They want to say “hey look at me, I made it Mom!”

If they have to be poor to get that, so be it. Maybe some day they can even be on Letterman or SNL. And as far as being poor, they don’t believe us, Gaga looks rich!

Bob, I just don’t know how to get through to these artists. As you have said before, they want to be famous but they want me to do all of the work. Just like they got the soccer trophy without ever scoring a goal. They want me to call in a favor or two and get them a record deal then get the label to do all of the work to make them famous. They aren’t willing to put in the time to build a fanbase, they want the label to do all of that work. Oh, yeah, and they want me to do it on a contingent basis, you know, my typical 5 or 10 percent. I say percent of what?  There won’t be an advance and you’ll never make any money. Let me show you how to do it yourself and we can both make some money and have long careers.

Any takers?

Todd Murphy
Entertainment Lawyer

27 Responses to “Are Many Musicians Wired to Not Do It Themselves?”

  1. Geno Burgess
    November 4, 2011 at 4:33 am #

    Direct hit! You hit the nail on the head with this. I don’t know how many ‘artistes’ I have met who want everyone working to make sure their dream comes to fruition, but when you ask what groundwork they have done, you can hear the crickets! I had wondered about this, and I have to agree with you. They want fame, they don’t understand it and they believe that talent and work really have nothing to do with it. Thanks for the insight!

    • Michael Brandvold
      November 4, 2011 at 10:15 am #

      I think as a few more years separate all of us from the era of the record label this will change. Unfortunately right now too many images and stories are still around to paint a picture of a once great time, lol.

  2. Andre Bowers
    November 4, 2011 at 5:04 am #

    I have to agree with everything you have said. Gone are the days of waiting to be discovered by a label’s A&R guy. Work has to be done and done on a daily basis. It’s very hard work but I do believe with constant effort in the right direction things will begin to fall into place a little piece at a time. We just have to accept that some things will come slower than others and remember why we are doing what we are doing. If you are out seeking to become a star you may find yourself among the masses who never make it. For me, I am happy doing what I do and am always looking for ways to improve what I do and gaining knowledge of the industry to push me one step further. If you have any information to share my ears are wide open.

    Andre Bowers

    • Michael Brandvold
      November 4, 2011 at 10:16 am #

      I always say, if you don’t want to put in the work that is fine…. but I promise there is a band down the street that is and they will have a much greater chance of success.

  3. Dreama
    November 4, 2011 at 6:59 am #

    Thanks for this Michael, it made an interesting read.

    I’m an emerging/aspiring musician myself and I don’t have the “please do it for me” attitude.

    Us people on the ‘come-up’ are always in need of the odd “in” to keep us going & there are many of us willing to put the work in to get there. I understand how the allure of heavy promotion and big budget advances is so forcefully thrown at consumers making stardom look easy & I guess the result is that people trying to get there start wanting to just “make it” at the snap of fingers.

    All support is important though, and any worthwhile advice someone can offer me, I value highly! That said – I’d love if you could check me out herehere – enjoy the music! 😉

    • Michael Brandvold
      November 4, 2011 at 10:20 am #

      As I replied in another comment, there are bands willing to do the work where some bands won’t. Those doing the work and putting in the hours will have greater odds of reaching their definition of success. One thing that I think stills exists in music is… right place, right time, right person. But not in reference to instant success, rather the right door being opened and you having the opportunity to walk through.

  4. Dave Sonner
    November 4, 2011 at 7:54 am #

    What about those of us who have put in the time and the money….. a lot of it….. and still cant even get a manager? We still have to eventually live life. I went to college and got a degree in audio engineering, and after eight years of working my way up the ladder in the industry finally found myself in an amazing recording studio. I was given free studio time in exchange for my work there, and so not only was I managing the studio, I was doing all the work on my own record. On top of that, I was building a band and learning how to get all my online marketing together. I did it all myself, and it took two years and a lot of hard work. Then when the album finally dropped, we did two sold out shows, five songs made the local radio stations, we sold a few albums and a few singles online, built our press kit and one sheets, and still no one seems to even be interested in us. Its like there is so much music out there now, its work for listeners to go find bands, so people are just gravitating back to what they hear on the radio. There are so many good bands out there that managers don’t have to hunt for good bands to represent, they are sought out! So maybe the labels are rising back to the top who knows. I can say that I am now coming up on the three year marker with this project, and I know that many other bands struggled much longer than that before they made a penny at this, but I can do it by myself anymore. I need help or I have to move on.

    • Michael Brandvold
      November 4, 2011 at 10:25 am #

      Why do you want a manager? What do you feel a manager would do for you? Sounds like you built a great base with the first release. Do it again… rinse and repeat. But don’t look to album sales as being your measure of success. Maybe you use new music to promote more shows. If you are releasing great music, have a great show that sells out… managers will find you.

  5. Scott
    November 5, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    I think there’s two major points that we’re all overlooking:

    1) Artists are creative, not analytical

    2) DIY as a musician is no different from entrepreneurship.

    Artists have the ability to write, create, and imagine. This is where their passion lies; they care very little about attention to business, or more likely the case, they are REALLY bad at it. To be the best musician you can be requires 100% focus and attention to honing your skill. Refering to Malcom Gladwell in his book “Outliers” who brings the 10,000 hr rule to our attention – it takes 10,000 hrs of practice to become a professional in any industry. Thus a musician needs to log 10 hours/week for 20 years to be as good as the Beatles.

    If a musician is dedicating their attention to the music, where does that leave time to manage a business on top of it? (I say just let your drummer take care of it). Opperating a band is a full time business – no different from running a start up service co. It requires investing (monetary and time, the former being something very few musicians have), marketing, promotion, negotiations, bookkeeping etc.

    In summary, a successful DIY musician is a super hero – he/she is extremely talented and also very business savvy; somewhat of a paradox? Musicians looking to get signed aren’t always looking for quick fame, they’re outsourcing the necessary business elements that they can’t accomplish themselves. Can we blame them?

    • Michael Brandvold
      November 5, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

      I think what they don’t realize is that getting signed doesn’t mean your work is outsourced. Label staffs are getting smaller and smaller, budgets smaller and smaller, length of time they will work a release shorter and shorter. When you are no longer a priority nobody will work you… and you are back to DIY.

    • Niki
      November 7, 2011 at 3:34 am #

      Being a musician myself, and seeing, talking & sharing already with so many musicians friends, I have to agree with what Scott said here..
      It’s not that simple..often it also got to do with an artist/musician’s Personality and thought-process, something that -sadly- this article & many others “DIY – Just Do It business-savvy” kind of articles often *failed* to consider its aspect/factor.

      • Michael Brandvold
        November 7, 2011 at 8:07 am #

        Niki, I am not saying all musicians are like this but I am speaking from experience (as are many other people) when we all say that we consistently hear from artists who want “it” done for them… get me a manager, get me a agent, get me a deal, get me fans. But there are artists who do tackle it on their own. I just published a article today about a past client of mine Aoede who did it on her own, with guidance. You are right it is about the artist’s personality. Those who are not afraid to DIY I will always stand a better chance than those who want it done by someone else. A recent podcast I did talked about how DIY is really BYOB…. Be Your Own Boss. Assemble a team that works for you, when you need them.

  6. Janet Hansen
    November 5, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    This letter absolutely tells it like it is. There are many musicians out there who still want to sign with labels, and who am I to argue with them? People hear what they want to hear; and read what they want to read. They believe what they like regardless of the actually details that underlie certain situations in this business.

    The fans/ listeners are really no different. People don’t know what kind of music they like, they like what they know.

    Being in this business nearly 28 years working with some of the most legendary and maverick artists around, the situation is the same for everyone. The truth is some were able to break through during an era when the business permitted a modicum of success.

  7. Alberto
    November 6, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    Hi, I’m Alberto and I own a Blog for Italian indie bands.
    I total agree with your writing.
    Any time I publish an indie bands , I receive the same questions “Can you send the article/mp3 to a Label? Can you promote us? “.
    When I answer asking what about their fun base, what they do for promoting the band ecc… no reply.
    Young bands believe that to be Famous is an easy way… so wrong!

  8. Kendra
    November 8, 2011 at 10:38 am #

    I think a big reason that bands still yearn to get a “deal” even though it may not be in their best interest is because they crave the signifigance it also brings. The, “Look Mom I did it!” moment, or the ability to say, “See I told you I could do it,” especially when so many people doubt them and their dreams along the way…which also supports their craving for fame at the risk of diluting their artistic visions along the way. I do agree with so much of this article, many musicians (not all, but many) just don’t want to do the work, but it’s also interesting to think about what motivates musicians to still yearn for a record contract when clearly that often isn’t the best route these days.

    Also, there are some great comments here about theories in WHY musicians often don’t do the work. I particularly thought this was a gem from Scott,

    “Artists have the ability to write, create, and imagine. This is where their passion lies; they care very little about attention to business, or more likely the case, they are REALLY bad at it. To be the best musician you can be requires 100% focus and attention to honing your skill.”

    To be a wildly talented dreamer, creator, imagineer AND business person…is like striking gold… No wonder so many artists are bad with business but great at art :)

    • Terry Summerbell
      November 17, 2012 at 3:41 am #

      Great comment. I like that you also highlighted Scott’s excellent views that very articulately counter the arguments written in the article.

      I think we have to acknowledge that when an artist concentrates more or equal effort to running an independent music business as they do creating art, the artistic merit can often suffer.

      But that said, I do agree with the original article in that most musicians I’ve ever come across put only a fraction of the real effort they need to put in. But then I think a lot of that’s down to a distorted or incomplete view of how the music business actually works, and often young artists need to be shown what to do, rather than have it done for them

  9. Mike @ MikeVeny.Com
    November 10, 2011 at 6:51 am #

    You just might have defined the “problem” with the music business. Great article!

  10. mary cigarettes
    December 28, 2012 at 12:51 am #

    once you get over a few things,it’s actually not that difficult having a life as a DIY artist…first thing to understand is fame,and enjoy not being so,cause it would sure be a draaaaag and irreversible ….the next thing is realising that those REAL stars are exceptional …. that vocal on david bowie’s ‘life on mars’ is a first take at the microphone with no editing…elton john’s rocket man was written in ten minutes after breakfast….have you ever studied those chords for life on mars?..key changes all over the place…….on top that they’re actually original interesting people…they were never going “yo! check me out”..but probably the greatest thing is to expect nothing,cause once you wire yourself for that,stealth sets in,and you can take on the years,enjoy yourself,and maybe eventually become great at what you do.

  11. Piotr Moes
    December 28, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    On Episode 8 of my show I interviewed local Portland band Crown Point about their most recent tour and record. I think anyone interested in seeing how a working band functions would do well to listen to their half hour feature.

  12. Joe Solo
    December 28, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

    Todd. You nailed it.
    But also, many of these musician’s just plain don’t have any other roadmap to follow. They don’t know any better. That’s where my Music Success Workshop comes in ( I teach aspiring artists how to be successful by being proactively in charge of their careers. Because that is what it takes: Dedication.

    Again – great writing, Todd!


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