Last week I had the opportunity to cover the 3-day music summit as part of Canadian Music Week (CMW), a fantastic conference bringing together the music industry for a meeting of minds. Seminars centered around topics like festivals, A&R, agents, music rights, streaming - basically almost every aspect of the music business. Even though there were business people present, I was struck by the sheer number of new artists who attended. Some of them even traveled from oversees to attend.
If you are an artist then read on because this article is for you. From all of the hours listening to some of the best business people in the industry, here are the 6 most important things I learned from the 3-day music summit.
1. Crawl, Walk, Run
One of the major takeaways of the conference is there are no shortcuts. Focus on your music, build a fan base, start playing local gigs. You start with 10 fans, build it to 20, get it to 40, and so on. Many panelists have said that some of the best artists have cut their teeth by getting gigs in bathrooms and playing infront of only 2 people. That's how you get good and develop a truly memorable show. You have to start somewhere and you need to embrace the grind.
Once you start selling out clubs like Velvet Nightclub, Horseshoe Tavern, word will spread and that's when A&R and agents will start to notice. In panel after panel, agents and A&R people said it over and over: if you're good, they will find you.
One major trap is to seek the attention of agents, A&R people too soon. Never pay out of your own pocket for management services: if you're good, people will back you. Wendy Goldstein, Executive Vice-President of Republic Records, told the audience that she discovered The Roots performing on a street corner. Zedd was a classically trained musician before creating his first tracks, Dillon Francis and REZZ both locked themselves in their bedroom before they properly learned how to produce. Hone your craft, nurture your talent, and if you're good, someone will take notice. There has never been a better time to get discovered thanks to services like Soundcloud and Spotify.
2. When starting out, go for the experience, and not the money
Want to get into the music business? Don't be afraid to start at the bottom and build your resume one experience at a time. Wendy Goldstein of Republic Records started on a $11,000 a year job to get started in the industry and is now managing some of the biggest acts in the world. Michael Rapino of Live Nation once decided to accept a position in Sault Ste. Marie even though he had grand ambitions in Toronto/L.A. because he knew that position would provide him the necessary experience to qualify for a better position down the road.
During his keynote interview, Michael Rapino stated that he had 5 and 10 year plans written down. He would dissect the job roles that he wanted, break down the skills needed, and learn them. He is a big advocate of writing down his goals and be held accountable to them. He is a perfect example at how an outsider from Thunder Bay can rise through the ranks to eventually run a $6.4 billion company like Live Nation.
3. Nightclubs and music venues are in serious danger in Toronto
Clubs and music venues are getting pushed further and further away from the city centre due to the condo craze and ever rising real estate prices.
One panelist mentioned a music venue in Toronto currently on a multi-year lease that the owner is convinced won't be renewed once it's up to make room for new real estate development. This is a serious and present danger to the club scene that we know and love today.
Activists that are on the other side of this issue are taking the time to appear at council meetings to complain about the noise while music lovers stay away. The main message: if you want to avoid more music venues and nightclub closures in Toronto, we all need to do a better job at getting organized as a group and get our voices heard.
The city of Toronto is taking important steps at trying to address the issue with new zoning initiatives and potentially appointing a nighttime Mayor, but more can be done. Consider getting involved with the Toronto Music Advisory Council (TMAC) .
4. Work HARD
One of the big takeaways of CMW from a lot of the panelists is that artists drastically under estimate how much work it actually takes to make it. You have to master your craft, and once you start making waves you'll sometimes have to start waking up at 5 am and attend TV and radio promos, go for rehearsal, meet and greets, and then perform the actual show. Doing this on a nightly basis for weeks at a time is a real grind, and should not be taken lightly.
5. Have an artistic vision
Be yourself, don't waste your time trying to make a country, pop, and EDM track at the same time. If you are lucky and an A&R rep will take a precious few minutes out of their day to check out your SoundCloud, make sure it's coherent and shows a vision of what you want to be as an artist. They will immediately turn off if you try to do a little bit of everything. Labels want to back an artist with a clear vision, and want to stay away from scatterbrains.
6. Approach an A&R professional with humility
One of the biggest turn offs for A&R is when a random musician approaches them to listen to their track and describe it as the best track ever, or that you think you're the next Kanye. Instead, be humble, approach them with a sense of humility and tell them about your track and be open to criticism. Keep your ego to yourself.
A&R get bombarded with tracks all the time. Sometimes they don't have time to listen to your track or they are seeking a certain sound and maybe your vibe isn't on their radar. On occasion they will reach out to the artist to send their track again in a month's time and shockingly none of them ever do. Don't take rejection personally, and if one of these A&R reps asks you to send a track at a certain time, set it in your calendar and do it.
If you ever get the chance to attend the 2018 edition of Canadian Music Week, go for it. You won't find another gathering of top music industry professionals anywhere else in Canada.