by Marty Dodson
Nov 12, 2017
Over the years, I have made a lot of mistakes that hurt my career chances in the music business. And, I’ve observed a lot of people crashing and burning because of miscalculations in their own music efforts. So, I thought I’d write about 5 of the big ones as a cautionary tale for those of you that would rather learn from other people’s mistakes instead of trying them all out on your own. Here we go. Here are some things NOT to do if you want to succeed in the business:
Dress like you are going to a nightclub or a costume party.
I can’t count the times that I’ve seen artists (usually young ones) come into our publishing office dressed in wildly age-inappropriate clothes. Breasts hanging out, skirts you can’t sit down in – if you know what I mean. That’s a GREAT way to get attention, but not the right kind of attention. You wouldn’t walk into a lawyer’s office dressed that way. So, you shouldn’t walk into any other business dressed that way. Your breasts will be taken seriously, but not your music. Great songwriters and artists don’t have to dress that way to get attention. On the male side, people come in dressed as cowboys or thugs. Wallets chained to their pants, stocking caps on in the summer, it starts to look like a costume party at times. We’ve either got people that look like they stepped out of a western or a halloween party. It’s really very simple. If you want to be taken seriously in the music business, dress like you are ready for business.
Overload people with your music.
You always want to leave people wanting more instead of wishing they could gnaw their arm off and get out of the trap you’ve got them in. Less is more. Playing someone ONE amazing song will do way more for your career than playing them 9 decent songs and one amazing song. Plus, they won’t hide when they see you coming. Take your shots carefully and use the rifle approach, not the shotgun. Take one carefully aimed shot instead of slinging things around until something sticks.
Only show respect to people who can help you.
I knew of a writer who went into a lowly plugger’s office one day and took out his frustration on the poor guy. He threw a CD on the guy’s desk and said “If you can’t get these songs cut, you don’t need to be in the music business” before he stormed out. Several months later, there was a shakeup at the company and the lowly plugger was promoted to Head of Creative. He called the writer in, threw the same CD across the desk and said “If you can’t write better songs than these, you don’t need to be in the music business”. And he dropped the writer. Those stories happen all of the time. Be nice to the receptionist, the new writer who asks you to write, the janitor, the security guard – you just never know – they might be running the show someday. A security guard at one major Nashville label helps me slip CDs to people because I’m kind and speak to him every time I come in the building. Kindness comes back to you. So does rudeness.
Overestimate your worth.
I told a new writer to call ASCAP one time. I saw him several weeks later. He was visibly angry – at me and at ASCAP because it had been two weeks and no one had called him back. He couldn’t believe the “lack of respect” that showed and he went on and on about how horrible they were. I simply asked “Have you made them any money?” “No”, he replied. So I asked him why he thought he should be a priority for a return call. He didn’t really have an answer. You have to remember that the people you are contacting didn’t ask you to call them, in most cases. You are wanting something from them, not the other way around. So, be patient, humble and kind (says Tim McGraw). Unless you are a really hot writer making a publisher or PRO lots of money, they have 1,000 other people like you calling them. Politely try them again if time goes by without a response. But, don’t behave like they owe you. They don’t.
Overestimate your music.
I would be a rich man if I had a dollar for every time someone told me “I have X number of songs that are better than the ones on the radio.” I’d be even richer if I had a dollar for every time the songs were NOT better than the ones on the radio. I’m convinced that this is the single biggest issue holding people back. Believing that your songs are amazing when they are not will stop you dead in your tracks. People who believe that don’t work at getting better. They think they are already there, writing hit songs. That delusion also causes them to appear ignorant and arrogant when they do get a chance with a real professional. If your songs really are better than the ones on the radio, people will know that from listening to your song – you won’t have to tell them.
Don’t do those 5 things and you’ll pass a lot of people trying to get out of the ditches they dug with those bad choices. Remember, if you want to do this as a business, treat it like one.
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