Lot’s of Good Biz and Artistic Advice: Hard-Headed Reality Check

GLENN BRANCA (composer)

‘how bad do you want to do this?’  ‘How much do you need this?’  ‘Is this the thing that dominates your life?’  ‘Are you willing to sacrifice absolutely everything in your life?’  And when I say ‘everything,’ I mean absolutely everything for this one thing that you want to do.  And I think that most people don’t.  I think that there’s a lot of people that THINK that they want to do something but they don’t realize just what you have to do in order to be able to do it.

I do my work because I love it- I loved it starting when I was very, very young.  I decided when I was very young, it was what I wanted to do.  And there was never any question whatsoever in my mind about what I wanted to do.  And even when it became very hard and I had to say to myself ‘this really isn’t fun anymore, I’m not really enjoying doing this… am I going to keep doing this?’  I had to give it some thought.  I was still young enough to decide to do something else.  But when I thought about it, I realized this is what I’ve always wanted to do.  This is what I still love to do.  And just because it’s become very difficult and there are a lot of barriers to get over and I’m totally broke (laughs) and I’m giving up everything I have to do and it’s also such hard work, do I still really want to do it?  And I decided ‘yeah, I do.  It’s worth it.  I want to do this.’ There’s an image in my mind of something I want to create and this is important enough to me to put up with all the crap that you have to put up with.

There’s no way that someone who’s dreaming about going in to music, or any other field, could possibly understand what it’s like when you actually get there.  And there’s no way that you can tell somebody something that they haven’t experienced themselves.  It’s completely abstract to them.

I have to experience something before I can understand it.  Even in school, I had to figure out something for myself.  It required a reason to understand something and to figure it out for myself and then it made sense.  If someone’s giving you advice about things that you haven’t experienced and that you don’t understand, it’s entirely abstract.  It’s meaningless.  It doesn’t connect with your own life and with what you’re thinking about.

being a dreamer (laughs), having fantasies is an extremely important part of being a creative artist.  If you don’t have these fantasies, then what are making?  What are you basing your creations on?  …. I think you need to imagine something before you can bring it out of your head, into the world.  I’m saying, if you’re not that kind of guy, then you probably shouldn’t be in this at all.

If you’re going to choose to dedicate your life to something, it better be something that you really enjoy.  Your motivations shouldn’t be things like fame and money. ….You have to actually want to do the thing itself.  You actually want to have to make something.  You want to bring something to life.  That is going to be what’ll give you the drive to get through the really hard times.

And most of it is really hard and it just gets harder.  That’s the other part.  You talk to anybody and if they tell you the truth and I mean absolutely anybody at all, no matter how successful they are in their careers, they’ll tell you that it doesn’t get easier.  And this is a tough thing to swallow if you’re a young person.

one thing that kept me going when I was younger was that I always thought ‘once things to get better and I start to get a little more money, things’ll get easier.’  And that’s not the way it works.  It actually gets harder.  As far as the work itself is concerned, you find yourself competing with yourself.

If you’ve already done a lot of good things, your next thing has to be better or at least as good!  That’s hard! (laughs)  That’s basically where I’m at, at the moment.  If I’m competing with anybody, and I’m not actually a competitive person, it’s with what I’ve already done.  And you can’t go back and repeat yourself or at least that’s not the way I think anyway.  I always want to move ahead- do something new, do something that’s even more interesting, something that comes even close to what I imagine that I have in my head.

It gets that much harder, but every other aspect of your life gets that much harder.  It’s harder than when you are 40 than when you were 30 and it’s harder than when you’re 50 than when you were 40.

That’s just the way it works. I don’t know how that’s going to help someone who’s young and has wild dreams about how wonderful their life is going to be.  Sorry, it ain’t gonna work out like that. (laughs)  Is that what you wanna tell people?  But on the other hand, you don’t want to lie to them.

The simplest way to explain success in music is that people as an audience respond to people who are doing something that’s genuine and (something) that they’re almost obsessed about.  Every successful musician that I’ve ever encountered has exhibited a kind of mania about what they’re doing, and also an imperviousness to outside criticism or influence.  I think both of those things are really important.  You should trust your instincts about what is good and what is bad and why you’re doing what you’re doing.  And don’t look for validation outside yourself for stuff that only you are going to be ultimately responsible for.

the search for external validation tends to weaken most artistic impulses and… one thing people respond to is a sort of sincerity and intensity of intent.  So if you genuinely want to do something, don’t let anyone dissuade you from doing it precisely the way you want to do it.  That would be my first bit of advice.

My second bit of advice would be ‘don’t sign anything.’  There’s nothing that anyone can do for you under contract that they also (can) do for you on a normal human agreement, just on a personal level.  And any time there’s a contractual relationship between an individual and a corporation or another individual who has a lot more resources, the contract is really only of use to the party with more power and more money, because the party with more power and money can afford to spend the time and energy to wage war in court to enforce the terms of the contract.  But the weaker, less wealthy party can’t.  So there’s no advantage to an individual or a band for example signing a contract with anyone who has more money and more resources than you.  The contract can only be used as a weapon against you.

The other advice that I would give a young musician is to not to try to force your aesthetics.  By that, I mean, you should stick with people that you know and like and trust and whose taste matches up with yours and who are into all the same things as you, because if you try to force yourself to work in styles or idioms that you’re not conversant in, you’re going to make clumsy mistakes.  Whereas if you continue to pursue those things that you’re innately drawn toward, then those things are gonna be more completely known to your person as you’re exploring them in art.

That impulse to try to branch out into areas that are not your natural area of expertise is untreatable in terms of when people are searching for inspiration but generally speaking, things are going to go smoothest and you’re going to be most rewarded by sticking with people and things that you already have some sympathy with and that you already have some commonality with.

just go play gigs- whatever gig you can get and play as many of them as you can because it’s really the precursor to recording.

It’s really difficult on your own.  You gotta have somebody ‘tooting your horn.’   You’re workin’ on your music and trying to write songs and be creative and all that.  You gotta have a guy that’s willin’ to go meet up, to call on the phone, to put your name out there, to try to set up situations either with record companies or management firms or clubs or whatever it is.  You really need somebody who can help do that for you.  It’s very difficult to do both, I would think.

music is really selling energy

CHUCK D (Public Enemy) [My experience is that the hip hop artists are the best entertainment business people.  They are very loyal to their audiences, not hide bound, opportunistic and just – get it! kk]

the word is digital.  Learn everything you can about the music business.  They’re 47 or 48 different categories but it’s all reachable using a smart phone. And when you actually get into the recording business, there’s areas out there that you can engage yourself in that doesn’t really take more than you leaving your personal space to be involved.  Maybe that’s the beginning of a long process of somebody comprehending the difference between the recording business and the music business.  It’s two different things.

For an artist, I would give them various levels of advice, depending on what they do and who they are.  For example, if a rapper comes out and they say ‘I’m making beats,’ I would say ‘try to transcend that into making music.’  And if they say ‘I’m making songs,’ then I’d say ‘you record your songs, why don’t you also have use visual, audio aides so it would behoove you to probably shoot a video for every song because people in the last 25 years, they’ve been accustomed to seeing music first before they hear it.’  SO when you have a person who says ‘I’m going to make a recording,’ I say ‘well, you’re going to have to make an audio recording and you’re going to have to do your best to master the art of visual recording because they’re both the recording.’ This is how we perceive music in the last 25 years- video-audio, not audio-visual.  I try to make a clear distinction and understanding that if you want to get into the music business, it’s one thing.  The recording business means that you have to be really adept to the process of recording sight and sound.

right now a record company…doesn’t exist.  It’s just banking on a promotional system that everything you hear and see with a record or video, they’re nothing more or less than infomercials.

start as your label.  And you learn and start to understand the process and you talk to people who have evolved into the act of recording and also the key areas and then, be able to refine musicianship of some sort, then you’ll find out that the record label is you.  And then you try to actually relate to people with like interests.  And this is a good way for somebody to start.

Now for an artist, being your own label is like a person having a suit on or a set of clothes.  Being an artist out there in the digital world is like being naked- you got to dress yourself for your surroundings in a way that make sense.

Make yourself valuable and the money might chase you.  But you gotta have a passion and a love to be actually really efficient at something and that’s what’s going to place value on you.

Value doesn’t come from you yourself – value is going to have to come from everything that you learn, that you have to adapt to putting into your craft.  Everybody comes in with some talent – the job is actually turning that talent into a skill, which will work for you whether you’re awake or asleep or dead even!

The whole point is…put on these performances and just engage a crowd and challenge people.

don’t be afraid to alienate people and don’t be afraid to be different.  And if people are hating on what you’re doing, that’s probably a good sign that you’re on the right track of doing something interesting.

Gotta get people TALKING!! —  It’s really that word of mouth on the Internet.  It’s important for a lot of people to understand how that works and where their music could fit in on the Internet and where the fanbase could be and who they wanna push it on and really get it out there.  When people start talking, that’s when things happen.

But nevertheless, the same things will always hold true- work your ass off, practice all the fucking time.

PATTERSON HOOD (Drive-By Truckers)

Do as much of it yourself as possible.  Be absolutely as self-contained as possible.  I actually HAVE given that advice a lot.

Before you hire a booking agent, book your band as long as you can stand to, and even longer.  I hated that, more than any job I’ve probably ever done in musicplay door deals in dive barsBook yourself ’til you outgrow the places that you can book yourselfAnd then, and only then, will you be able to attract a booking agent that’s actually worthy giving over ten percent of everything you make.

Don’t sign a record deal until you’ve put out records yourself and sold as many of them out of the back of your van as you can possibly sell. Manage yourself.

Q: Any aesthetic advice for someone who’s a songwriter?

Be very self-critical.  Be brutally honest with yourself because somebody down the line will be.  And they may not know shit but they’re still gonna be brutally honest with you.  If you’ve already asked yourself those questions and it’s passed muster, then you’re gonna be better equipped to deal with it when somebody else asks those questions.  If a line you write might sound like it’s a bit of a cliché, mark it out and write a new line.  Replace that line.

Likewise if you’re playing in a club, there’s a lot to be said for being entertaining.

CHARLES LOUVIN (R.I.P.; The Louvin Brothers)

For a songwriter,

you’d want to know that Sony Music is the biggest publisher in the worldSo if you’re a writer and you want to get your songs heard by other artists so that they might record your songs or make you some money, then you would want a big companyThere’s a lot of fly-by-night companies that don’t have offices, and don’t have secretaries or song pluggers, so you don’t need to be with themYou need to be with a company that has all that and they’ve been doing this for a long time and it looks like they’ll be in business for more than your lifetime.

For a singer,

I’d want to know if you listen to the radio today and you hear what’s on the radioIf you feel like you can be that good or better, then I would recommend that you continueBut there’s not much country music out there because everybody’s doing rock and roll and calling it ‘country.’

But there’s so many different ways to get into this business.  One of them is money and you’ll need a quite a bit of money to sustain you while you get your songs recorded and the money starts coming, which would be a year and a half after you started publishing songs and you started getting any royalties.  Record companies stay a year behind and publishing companies stay six months behind so that’s my best advice I could give you, is to take your songs to a large company and see if they’d sign you on as a writer.  And if they did, then you would write songs and turn them into that company and they would try to get them recorded for you.  And of course, you could try also too.  You could go to artists with your songs but you have to have a publisher if you’re going to make any money on ’em.

if you write your own songs, you stand a 75 percent better chance to get a recording deal than if you don’t write your own songs.

For performing, you can’t just get up on a stage and sing, sing, sing.  A lot of people would just as soon hear you talk and tell little stories as you would if you just sing.  They like the singing but a joke now and then kind of breaks the monotony of the singing.  It’s just good to do.

So, my advice would be (to) go home and think really hard about what it is that you would like to see different in the world.  If there’s something you could feel so strongly about, that you’re prepared to suffer and sweat and sleep on floors and live in little vans, cramped and drive for 28 hours to play to 100 people in Croatia or something.   And if you’ve got a message and a belief in that message, then do it.  But otherwise, do something else!

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