Like any other global industry, the music industry is essentially its own functioning micro economy. Affected by supply, demand, costs, laws and regulation, the music industry changes its face constantly, based on cultural, financial and societal trends. In recent decades the proliferation of the Internet and mass access to technologies like virtual instruments, sound libraries, and budget recording gear has enabled a much larger number of musically minded people to participate in the music industry.
There is split opinion as to whether this easy access is a positive or negative development, but regardless of this debate, numerically speaking the industry is now hugely saturated. So in a situation like this how do we, not as artists, but as producers go about marketing ourselves in a meaningful and memorable fashion? Here are a few important points to consider:
Music is a business.
The first step to creating a unique image and a viable career in the music business is to accept firstly that it IS a business. Just like any other element of the modern global economy, nothing is truly gained without the expenditure of time, effort and resources, and if time truly is money, then we can already see how commercial knowledge and awareness is going to be critical to attaining a measurable level of success. Many producers and engineers have an inherent difficulty in recognising the relevance of commerce to the music industry structure. This is no fault of anyone in particular, but rather because the administrative and calculated nature of management, branding and marketing is often very much at odds with the typical nature of the type of person who creates music.
The trick is to view commercialisation simply as another school of thought within the world of record making. Every school of thought has its own merits and drawbacks, and the most successful practitioners are those who successfully combine the positive elements of all approaches without sacrificing musical integrity to do so. Besides, it is a lot easier to be musically creative when you are also financially sound!
Producers can benefit massively from understanding the perceived opinions of the consumers their productions target. The pre-emptive consideration of outside opinion when creating or producing a work is what I simply call ‘Outsiders Eyes’. Many producers and writers struggle with the moral decision of writing to please an audience to earn a living and writing to stay true to the music as artists with integrity. Rather than falling either side of the fence in regards to your creative focus, the trick is to recognise the greater aggregate benefits of combining commercial sensibilities with creative musical exploration. It is a complete and highly valued skill in itself to write or produce a record that has large appeal while holding on to the original essence of an artist, and this specific skill is highly sought after.
Rather than actively trying to write something you think people will like, it is more efficient to write true to your own style, while keeping in mind how people ‘might’ perceive the record i.e. commercial sensibilities or Outsiders Eyes. Both trains of thought have the capacity to balance each other out. Writing without focus, for example, is a recipe for disaster, as there is no point of reference or goal to the exercise. We enter the realm of trial and error at this point and in the commercial world there isn’t really time for that, hence the value placed on efficient and accurate song writers / producers. Bench marking your styles against similar artists and trying to find something they haven’t covered in their music is perhaps a good place to start with your own writing. In the end, commerce is about filling gaps in the market, whether it’s a product or a record.
Conversely, every single record made is different in some way and everyone will have a different opinion on each one, so staying true at some level to your own musical style of writing and production decisions is integral to following through and finishing a work. Ultimately you want to be able to stand by the decisions you make musically, even if people don’t always agree with them. Producers are often valued most for their ability to simply make decisive decisions.
If you have a particular market you are aiming for, then market research is integral to making your record go as far as possible. Gauging market trends is critical for identifying the niche for your records. If you start firing content into the pop industry for example, be prepared to be scrutinised heavily on your mixes and production sensibilities and to be pitted against current top production standards. Production decisions should be market specific to be effective. This is critical if there is any hope for a producer to make a living from their hard work, especially in the popular music segment of the industry.
Part 2 coming soon.
Denis Kilty is an Irish songwriter, music producer and mixing engineer based in Dublin. – www.deniskilty.com