Saturday, November 30, 2013


Of all the things that have been most enlightening but also annoying in the journey of music in my lifetime, it's the delicate issue of judging talent. What truly makes an artist "talented"?

We watched the movie "Moneyball" with Brad Pitt playing ex-baseball player Billy Beane who was the General Manager of the Oakland A's. In one scene of the movie, college recruiters and pro-baseball talent scouts visited his home when he was just a teenager. During that scene, the talent scouts shared some realities about their job of finding potential players for the MLB. What struck me in particular was their explanation of the obvious versus the intangibles that make up the best players in the game. As memory serves, there were 5 characteristics they used to judge pro potential. Their statement to Beane's family was that "MOST" players in the pros possess several of the 5 to some degree, but rarely do they find one single player who possesses all of them at a high level (as they were referring to Billy).

The same can be said about the music industry as I've come to learn. We've all watched reality singing shows and heard the various comments from celebrity judges about the X-Factor or IT factor. There will always be something more than pure vocal skill that an artist and parents must consider.

Sadly, many artists and parents of young artists are convinced that if they sound like an existing artist or have vocal skills that are advanced, they just need to wait for the MONEY TRAIN to come through so they can jump aboard. Well, these same artists and parents need to spend some time outside their local community and travel a while to see what "talent" exists in the market already. They should visit Nashville for a week and see the thousands of out of work artists that are amazingly talented and have a live show that is simply amazing. Or they should spend some time touring from show to show and watch artists find the energy to put on another show after getting very little sleep and still trying to use phone and laptops to maintain some sort of home life.

There is FAR more to becoming a professional artist than skill alone.

One of the most intriguing "reality checks" we have learned from our talks with veteran industry music professionals and executives, it's the stuff that most eager artists and parents don't focus upon when preparing them for a life in music or even being SIGNED.

Although every label executive has their personal "wish list" for talent they would back, there are other industry people who have their own check lists as well. In fact, the media itself has their check list. But I'll just touch on a few key comments I've been given about what former A&R's from Sony have considered to be more important than just vocal skill alone.

    • This one is quite tough for younger artists who find it difficult to find family friendly venues in their geographic region. As a resort, attendance numbers are hard to gauge.
    • This is important to venue owners who want to know what kind of income they can generate from an artist. It's also important to a label who wants to understand the REAL fans of an artist versus the CYBER FOLLOWERS of an artist.
    • The ability to get bookings is a HUGE indicator on an artists true value. Again, what an artist does online versus offline is a distinction of the commercial viability for that artist.
    • Like it or not, doing cover songs is just not going to make a career (unless you're Michael Bolton). Having the ability to create music is very important to determining the authenticity of an artist.
    • Most labels we have spoken to are keenly interested in knowing that the artist is the driver of the career and not the stereotype stage parent. This, of course, is the same in athletics with young people.
    • Because under 18 artists need a parent or guardian involved, it makes it difficult to sort through the blurred lines of motivation.
    • Spencer had a talent producer in L.A. speak to him about his auditioning for X-Factor and America's Got Talent. One of the intriguing comments from this 50 year old veteran TV casting director was how the music industry has dramatically changed because of REALITY TV. Her comment was basically this. "I see and audition hundreds of highly talented artists every season I'm casting a new show. One of the most frustrating things I encounter is their inability to simply answer a question or talk like a regular human. It's like they have spent all their time focused on the music and forgot that being in the public life is more about what they do off the stage."  What this told me is that having an artist that understands how to deal with media and public speaking is highly important. She went on to explain that it used to be that a musician could be amazing on stage and who cared what they did off stage. Now, with social media, media coverage being so widespread, an artist needs to handle their public life with as much professionalism as they try to do the music.
    • Sadly, labels don't have the budgets to invest in developing new artists like they used to. One of the areas would have been media training. Many labels are interested in picking up artists that aren't gun shy in front of a camera and actually have intelligent and thoughtful things to say. A label is putting money into them and what they have to say in public can effect sales... so it is extremely important that the artist have that aspect of their career well developed.
    • Working with iShine and Spencer, we've had first hand exposure to what it's like dealing with young artists and their families. Some are amazingly humble and well-balanced. Some are extremely arrogant and carry themselves that way.
    • The character of an artist (especially young ones who have not proven anything to industry people yet) is important. We've already come across venues, producers, labels, management companies and a whole myriad of other industry related people who have shared their opinions of working with certain artists and their families. Trust me, humility goes a long way.
    • Because the door to get into the industry may be small, having an artist with other skills in their belt is quite handy. Maybe they aren't keen to become an actor, but having some acting experience helps them become more marketable when an opportunity arises. Maybe it isn't acting, but it's dancing. Maybe it's playing an instrument. In addition, maybe it's being able to perform different genre's of music.
    • One thing we've learned quickly is that what Spencer likes to sing and listen to isn't what his managers in Nashville are necessarily pushing to promote him as an artist. Having the ability to lay down your preference of something artistically and consider an alternative in order to get exposure is important. Even if it's a matter of experimenting to find a niche in the crowded market of sound-alikes.
    • This seems obvious, but a lot of younger artists are more interested in looking like their hero in music than developing their own style and image.
    • Imaging mostly involves what the artist does off the stage as well. Do they volunteer in their community? Are they a spokesperson for a cause that matters to them? Are they dressed appropriately for their age? Are they connected with people or organizations that will reflect positively on their image.
    • Imaging may also have everything to do with whom they hang out with in the artist community. Projects they may collab on has a lot to do with their imaging. I recall several times when we have been contacted by talented artists who have their own loyal fan base, but the topics of the songs they sing are not something that blends well with Spencer's image. One in particular was a rap artist who sang mostly about partying and getting physical with girls. They had a great following, but it was simply not in the best interest of Spencer to be affiliated with that.
    • Honestly, having a professional support team surrounding an artist is a great sign that they are able to handle the industry. No professional artist does everything alone. They usually have a team of people that handle various aspects of their career for them. When you're young and just starting out, those support mechanisms are difficult to find or finance. However, being mentored is critical if the artist is going to handle the growth of their career with the best possible advice.
    • When you're talking to various industry execs or people, you are much better positioned to demonstrate that you're "teachable" and being taught by those that have proven experience. Additionally, having parents willing to let their child be taught without being de-programmed later by the parent is a big area needing addressed. Frankly, most managers, label execs, and other key industry people prefer and sometimes insist on waiting until a child turns 18 before they will extend any sort of offer for a professional opportunity. Conversely, a young artist with a good supportive family that is not intrusive and provides a strong balanced lifestyle for the young artists is something that a label may consider to be attractive.
    • Does the artist seem authentic or do they look like a puppet or trained monkey?
      • It's a harsh statement, but one that I have repeatedly heard among the industry people I've talked with over the past 3 years. The phrase "authentic" is just so common to my vocabulary now it seems like an obvious measuring stick I watch for in Spencer and artists we come across. Some may call it "originality" but even if you're covering someone else's song, does the artist seem to do it from a sincere place of artistic expression or does it just seem rehearsed?
    • Touching on the word ORIGINAL is appropriate, because the market is already full of acts that seem similar. An authentic artist can become original if the material they perform is believable coming from them. Having a 13 year old sing about a serious relationship heartbreak is just not authentic. That's where skill disappears behind authenticity.
    • A lot of seriously talented artists can perform well online in a video they've filmed a few dozen times til it is just right. However, there's no substituting a live performance in front of stone faced audience members who can quickly scare any talented audience into a shell. What's more, beyond the performance of the song, what kind of "talking" does the artist do between songs? This is equally important to making the live show more entertaining.
    • Messaging is simply what an artist has studied and thought through about what they want to say before or after the songs they perform. The revealing of the "real" person between songs is as important (if not more) to a highly discerning audience than the singing itself. This is a critical aspect we work on with Spencer on a regular basis. It is what an audience will use to relate to the artist and engage them into becoming more loyal fans.
    • One of the things we hadn't thought about when starting this journey is just that... it's a journey, not a sprint. Things like how well an artist adjusts to being away from their home and friends in order to be committed to their profession. How well they adjust to being booed at a performance. How well they adjust to staying in vocal and physical shape so they can sing one more show that day or week. All of that has everything to do with their career. Passion for music only goes so far. Endurance is more about the "annoying" stuff an artist has to do in order to be a professional artist.
    • Labels definitely appreciate knowing an artist they will consider has proven they can handle the rough lifestyle an artist has to take on. Hearing that they've toured for months away from home and have learned how to stay positive and not get burnt out and want to quit from adverse situations and experiences is something that will make a positive impact on their likelihood of being signed.
    • A lot of young artists crumble under peer judgment or negative feedback. That will sink a career quickly if the artist is unable to deal with rejection and turn it into motivation to get better or perfect their craft.
These are some of the more important intangibles that we've learned make a huge difference in sorting through WHO is talented versus who is skilled. The total package isn't always the look (appearance) or (singing ability) skill of an artist. But it is more about their approach to their career and, honestly, their willingness to keep trying hard.

Parents, especially, should make sure they are observing all these other areas in order to guide their child artist in a way that will serve them well when the opportunity arises for a more high profile career path.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


In the nearly 3 years of managing Spencer's marketing and promotion, I've seen about as many social media tactics used for launching a music career as I've seen Gilligan's Island reruns. Buying follows or views, boosting campaigns where street teams use spamming techniques to find new fans, automated software to sift through demographics to find the right people to consider your music, and a host of variations that all are used to promote new artists.

So, in the jungle full of unknowns in the world of social media, what should you consider and why?  Well, to begin, social media "IS" today's marketing platform for nearly every product or service being offered. Don't forget that an artist and their music is a product that consumers may want, so using social media is a no-brainer. But avoiding the trap of chasing cyber-fans can be difficult. Many artists and their management are sucked into the fantasy world that having a certain amount of followers, likes, views or connections on social media will somehow translate into opportunities, fans or revenue. I won't disagree that you can gain some of each of those, but gauging your progress or success using social media as your primary rubrik is likely the key reason you will experience great frustration.

Social media is an inexpensive method to broadcast who you are with the hopes of gaining attention from fans and industry people. However, popularity and recognition don't always translate into revenues. At some point in the pursuit of a music career, thinking about the revenue streams needed to sustain a livelihood in music, you will need to step back and evaluate time and resources being injected in social media versus the strategy and goal.

I want to breakdown some myths and realities about social media that you should consider when trying to promote an artist.

    • Quite honestly, in talking to several music industry media people and major label executives on our journey so far, youtube is not the discovery zone it once was. I'm not saying there aren't other benefits, but to presume that having a video go viral and grab the attention of a huge slice of consumers isn't possible, but to presume this is the primary method of getting discovered is naive.
    • FACT: Youtube closely monitors uploaded videos for view boosting and purchased views. They ban users and remove videos that are trying to gain popularity outside of natural organic methods. It may impress fans, but industry people are keenly aware of how to spot boosted videos.
    • FACT: This method is a lottery approach which is fun to dream about, but not likely going to yield the results you would hope to have. You may gain fans and subscriptions, but be careful not to be swayed one way or the other about the legitimacy of your career based solely on youtube views or subscribers.
    • FACT: Youtube does offer revenue opportunities for video uploads that yield higher traffic views. However, within the music industry, the competition for views in the "MUSIC" category of Youtube videos is quite difficult to gain viewers. Aside from the well-known artists already using youtube, you have up and coming artists using the same method and the advertising opportunities Google implemented as intros to videos is simply an annoying distraction to the content people want to view. Revenue is not as easy to gain by just having a lot of views on a video with sponsored ads. There are other methods to gain revenues through ads on youtube, but the traditional methods most youtube artists use aren't likely to gain you much results.
    • FACT: If you are interested at all in selling your music as a digital download through iTunes, Amazon MP3 or other related online sites, you should be very aware that youtube is a primary resource for illegal downloads of the AUDIO portion of videos. Thanks to the open source programmers in our world who gladly develop clever plugins for browsers like Firefox and Chrome, a regular computer user can add an AUDIO/VIDEO STRIPPING file plugin which simply shows up as a button that allows them to download your music video and pull out the music track as an MP3. Voila! They have successfully now obtained your hard work for free. Yes, there are laws about theft, but who is going to prosecute millions of worldwide youtube users? We found out early on that when we post Spencer's youtube music videos, we are prepared to know that sales of that song will likely not have much return. In fact, in one email we received, a guy from a Middle East country asked if Spencer would send him the original MP3 file of a particular song since the ripped download he got from Youtube wasn't as high quality as he wanted for his iPod. We were shocked and did some investigation and learned about this high-tech (low-tech) way to steal music. So even though you can gain views or fans, remember that you are also giving away your music.
      • As a side note, I studied how a few major artists handled their youtube and vevo accounts for a period of time as it related to new releases. One interesting pattern I detected was that many released a "coming soon" snippet of the song as a way to entice fans to buy the download. Then, several months later, they would release an original music video for the song that had already been popular on radio and iTunes. Clever strategy.
    • Like anything with technology, improvements and methods are evolving. MySpace proved one thing, that if you don't move with the trends and habits of consumers/users, you will become obsolete. That is the essence of the social media game too. In order to keep your presence in front of fans, you need to go where they are.
    • FACT: Mobile smartphones are close to overtaking computers as the primary viewer for social media. It is already the number one method for young people to view social media. Knowing this, the app markets on Android and iPhone are consistently releasing new social media software that quickly catch fire among users. Programs like Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, Kik and a myriad of other platforms are all significant with users. Going beyond these popular platforms are other lesser known apps used by social media enthusiasts overseas too. So, when considering the game of social media, don't forget that some "FANS" may prefer chasing technology since their peers hop onto new bandwagons as a means to stay popular themselves.
    • FACT: The reality that social media software makers need to actually make money doing what they do requires them to clutter up the viewing pages with ads from sponsors and developers. Many consumers don't like that and stray away to other less cluttered social media platforms to simply accomplish what they are hoping to accomplish... just engage in social connecting and not being fed advertising every time they click something. So apps like Facebook and Twitter (although still highly used) may not be where your primary audience is spending their time (or as much) because a lesser cluttered and more unique app has pulled their attention away.
    • FACT: Many of the initial automation software tools developed for these two giants have been dismantled or banned because of spammer abuse. Users complained enough about automated follows, messages, tweets, or ads being placed on their timelines that the developers closed some doors for the software to work well and automate the process. So what used to be an easy way to rapidly grow a cyber fan base, is not as easy to do now. Organic (natural growth) followers are also looked upon as more legitimate in the eyes of industry people.
    • FACT: One band, in particular, that we have observed has just over 8,000 followers on their Twitter page. They are not verified (blue check) but have had 5 top 10 singles on the radio the past few years and are making serious money touring and through their physical and online music sales. They were not signed to a major label, yet somehow their career has existed without the frantic chasing of cyber fans.
      • I mentioned the VERIFIED status of a twitter account because that DOES impact the credibility of a user in the eyes of new potential fans. It has become a way to sort true artist accounts from faker profiles. It has also separated some emerging artist accounts from those who really do have industry recognition as a professional artist.
    • What many artists fail to realize is that social media like youtube is a brilliant documentation tool to monitor progress of your craft. Watching an artists videos over a time period, you can see what development takes place and hopefully use them as "game film" to improve your skills and public interaction.
      • An amazing site for doing this is called YOUNOW.COM and it is one of the fastest growing social media sites on the web. It is essentially a web-broadcast version of a TV Reality show. If you simply tune in (facebook login required) and watch the various channels of live broadcasts from around the world, you'll see how quickly addictive and amazing this social media can be for someone who uses it to their advantage. The truth is that any artist needs to interact with a live audience in order to learn their stage presence, speaking abilities, and performing skills. This site gives the artist a chance to talk to fans live through the chat box next to their live video stream while allowing the artist to also hone their speaking skills and become a real person to their fans. Reality TV is today's generation of fan to a large extent, and it's no longer about just the music. It's also about the person and fans being able to be connected to the artist on a personal level.
    • Creating a youtube video can be daunting for some artists. Many young artists may like to sing, but they struggle being watched. More importantly, many fear cyber bullying or hate posts and dislikes. The reality is, though, if you expect to make a career out of being in the public eye, haters are a very real part of that. Even fellow artists, media, and industry people will be the biggest critics and haters on top of fans. Learning how to use youtube as a training ground for dealing with hate is one of the most valuable lessons Spencer has had in this journey so far. He has learned how to not take to heart the many negative posts or dislikes. He actually has gone back and watched or listened through their eyes and seen ways to improve himself. So while views and likes may be an initial goal, the dislikes and comments posted are equally as important to developing a music career.
    • Dealing with fans through social media is a massively important method of gaining true fans. When they are able to personally talk to an artist and find a connection, the likelihood of that fan sticking around when new music releases aren't happening as often is greater than if the social media is a sterile advertising only platform.
      • Conversely, many artists use social media as a platform to rant or flirt with fans. This is obviously a personal choice, but when considering industry labels and executives may monitor an artists social media, great caution should be used on what is posted and how personal the posts become. Image is everything and when media use tweets or facebook statuses as fodder for news stories about celebrities, you have to be extra careful to not allow emotion or circumstances to drive the post's content. In fact, if an artist isn't that savvy at using the English language, you may want to let a ghost-writer post instead to ensure the message it conveys isn't misunderstood.
    • Developing a loyalty based on frequency of use of social media is highly important. Make sure to use social media daily in some form or another. Fans use your account as a means of daily connection or involvement with something they care about. It's like reading the newspaper.
I could spend a lot more time talking about this topic as it pertains to music artists and even discuss strategies that work and don't work with each platform, but the general idea is that an artist's success or perceived success should not depend entirely on their social media KLOUT score ( It certainly is a measuring stick for knowing awareness of your artist's brand in the market, but it isn't the golden ticket to a record deal that many think it will create. Trust me, record labels are not as impressed with 150,000 followers and 1 million youtube views as you would think. I'll be writing another post about what does impress them later.

Monday, November 25, 2013


In the past 10 years, the impact of American Idol and similar reality show competitions has affected the mindset of most aspiring artists. The modern era re-invention of 'Star Search' catapulted the attention of music consumers to front and center stage. Pop culture embraced the new "Dick Clark" called Ryan Seacrest and families all across the country started believing it possible for their musically inclined members to be rocketed into popularity if they could just get some love from Simon Cowell and crew. When the numbers of viewers blew up to TV's #1 watched show, sponsors and advertisers took notice. So did the creators and guest judges. Money flowed and suddenly an amazing business model was created.

"Let's take unsigned artists, exploit them, and make money."

Sadly, this is exactly what the show has done to thousands and thousands of singers who believe they have a shot at stardom.

This business model is really nothing new. Since the 1950's, we've had amateur talent being used to entertain us on our livingroom TV's. However, with the advent of the internet, it seems that competitions are being held for unsigned artists on a local, regional, national and worldwide level.

If you've been scouring the web at all, especially Youtube, and you're connected to the music industry in any way, you'll have stumbled across some type of competition where fans are encouraged to vote for their favorite artist for this or that opportunity or prize. If you're like me, you have been sucked into the black-hole of rallying your fan base to just click the link and vote away for your artist.

Enter reality.

Contests and competitions serve many purposes. The advertising and hype usually focus on the competitor and their possible dreams coming true. However, remember, whomever is sponsoring the competition or contest stands to gain some benefit too... and in some cases, they are the real winners.

For an artist, a few things come to mind about why you would want to submit to compete.

  • Exposure to new industry people or fans
  • Reality check on whether you are talented enough to turn heads against other talented artists
  • The grand prize being offered
  • The bragging rights if you did win
  • The potential networking with music industry people that may attend or are involved.
I'm sure there are more finite or possible benefits, but to be fair, let's list the negatives that come along with being involved.
  • You must fleece your fan base to vote for you (which can become very old and annoying depending on the amount of competitions you submit to)
  • You ride a rollercoaster of what if's and can become distracted with the "lottery mindset" that this single event or contest could be your meal ticket
  • You find out quickly that you aren't as talented or desired as you possibly thought
  • You find out that other artists may have more supportive fans (voters) (bummer to the ego)
  • The sponsor behind the competition really has no valuable industry credibility
  • You spend time and resources which could be used to advance your career in some other more proven method
  • You realize that bias and potential rigging of the contest occurs (this has been proven many times due to technology or sponsor bias)
  • The bragging rights really mean nothing in the scheme of music industry professionals. "You won the Next Big Singer To Come From Smalltown, USA".
Sound jaded? Well, facts are facts. The music industry is filled with opportunists who are all looking for ways to exploit young and undiscovered talent.

Other than the many stories I've come across of bad experiences from other artists, I'm just going to share a few we've encountered in our journey to being discovered. For the sake of summarizing, I've blended these into easy to read bullet points.
    • This contest requires you to upload your video to's website where they host the video and you direct your fans to vote for you. This site may or may not be technically up to par. They let your fans vote as much as they want every day. Or, they tell fans to limit their votes to once per day. Problem is, clever fans and street teams of artists have figured out how to short circuit technology through browser loopholes that allow you to simply delete your footprint from ever having visited the site, thus allowing votes to be made 100's of times a day without being noticed by the naive site owners.
    • Second, your video is "content" provided to that site for them to generate new traffic. Why do you care? Well, believe it or not, in the world of web development, traffic to a website is gold and can easily be converted to revenue by paid advertisers on that site. Essentially, you gave away your talents to a website to exploit for their personal gain based on your driven desire to win and get noticed.
    • Similar to the submit your video contest, several radio stations, for example, have fan based voting contests which require fleecing your fan base to click votes on a third party website which you may or may not trust to be technically bullet-proof to vote hackers.
    • Not necessarily a contest, but honestly, it may as well be. The web is full of $ based websites where membership dues, one-time submission fees, or hired consulting fees are used as a means to get you in front of industry professionals. Sites like Reverbnation, SonicBids, Music X-Ray, and a host of other sites out there are all portals connecting undiscovered talent to music industry professionals who are looking for undiscovered talent. While the sites are definitely used by professionals for harvesting talent, the massive use by undiscovered talent makes you a needle in a haystack in most cases.
    • One of the most annoying opportunities to come across an inexperienced artist's email or social media inbox is the "washed up" ex-industry pro looking to make your artist into a star. They list their past credentials (note that I state "past") as a calling card to get your attention and trust. The problem is that they use this same pitch to hundreds of naive people in hopes of getting your $$ with  no guarantee of anything really. They promise to empty their brain and "maybe" help you get a meeting with a current industry executive.
These are just a few of the opportunity type exposure methods we have all succumbed to. Then there are the social media based tours and events that typically require you to invest something.

Now, there is definitely a balance of risk reward in all these. The majority of the time, you invest a lot of mental energy into the "what ifs" and end up feeling duped because your best-case scenarios didn't turn out.

So, before you get sucked into participating in EXPOSURE events, ask yourself at least some of these questions first and do your best to vet every sponsor or organization hosting the opportunity/event.
  • If there is a fee to participate, what exactly are you paying for?
    • Entry fee only, or do you get anything in return for that amount?
  • What additional expenses will you have to pay on your own?
    • travel, finding sponsors, selling tickets for guaranteed attendance at the event, etc.
  • Does this organization / person have any "current" projects or accolades that can be found publicly through a web search?
  • Is the event or opportunity person or organization willing to give you current references of other artists they've helped or who have done this before so you can discuss it with them?
  • Who exactly is attending or going to see the event?
    • Make sure you know your demographic audience for your music and don't participate in opportunities that aren't hitting that. For example, if you are a hard rock artist, chances are a contest featuring mainly country acts would not likely yield the best results for you.
  • Is the voting method fool-proof? Can it be hacked?
  • Are you giving them original music or videos that they can post on their site or are they willing to embed your Youtube videos or music stream links?
    • Again, many simply want to use your content to drive traffic to their site without you gaining any benefit. We had a bottled water manufacturer in California want to host a competition for unsigned artists and they launched a new website. The contest required letting them have the original file of the video placed on their site for voting. We lost all the Youtube views because we gave them the video.
  • If an MP3 is required for submission, make sure you know how they are using that file.
    • Many are looking for free music to play on their web radio stations and they do not pay royalties through ASCAP, BMI, etc. They simply use a contest as a means to get your content for free.
  • Before you submit any original content, make sure it is registered with a reporting royalty agency (ASCAP, etc.) and copyrighted so that they can not "steal" your work and later claim you voluntarily gave it to them or signed off your ownership rights of the material.
  • If it's a reality show competition, "HIRE AN ENTERTAINMENT LAWYER".
    • America's Got Talent, X-Factor, American Idol, The Voice all have thick contracts you must sign in order to be on the show and within the contracts are iron-clad ways for them to exploit you for money without you making much in return. They own you.
  • Original music competitions (songwriters, etc.) usually involve you submitting your songs for consideration. Be sure to get them copyrighted before you submit them.
  • If your artist is under 18, make sure you do a thorough investigation of the people you're talking to about it.
    • We, unfortunately, along with about 6 other young male artists, were sucked into a talent scout scheme which promised a recording contract with Universal Records. When the man refused to be shown on SKYPE camera, we became suspicious. Fortunately, we had a few industry friends we asked to help us find out if the guy was legit. Nobody had ever heard of him. After further investigating, we found out that he was having other males around the world do inappropriate video submissions of them exercising in bike shorts and no shirt. We notified the FBI and they stopped him after other families reported too.
  • If you're paying a submission fee for consideration as a performer at an event, make sure you read the fine print of what that fee covers and what the opportunity is about.
    • Sometimes venues use services to find acts to fill their talent needs. Many of the venues get their calendar booked quickly and never take down the advertisement. In the mean time, Johnny Come Lately's keep submitting their fees and the venue doesn't even look at their submission or provides a simple "we're already booked" response without refunding your money.
I know there will always be dishonest people, but the music industry seems to be built around opportunists exploiting dreams of innocent people. Don't get me wrong, you can find integrity filled people in the industry, but when you're first starting the journey and have limited resources and time, it's usually best to have some warning of what to look out for in EXPOSURE events.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Perhaps the most commonly misunderstood part of launching a young artist's career is the notion that unless they are signed by a major record label, or any record label, they haven't arrived or aren't a professional artist. Strictly speaking, if they are being paid to perform or people are buying their music and merchandise, they are professional singers. The fact that so many adult professional singers go through tough financial times in their career doesn't negate they are professionals. Some just have the fortune to have their music selling and getting bookings.

So, back to the point of being signed.

As recent as 5-10 years ago, being signed by a record label usually meant that the tough road of financial investment was being eased by a business partner who saw a way to make money from the artist. However, nowadays, that isn't the same picture.

For the sake of simplifying the analogy, I'm going to speak of an artist like a start-up business. A record label is like a bank. Using this premise, consider the following.

A start-up business usually has a new brand in the market that is just being discovered. Their product/service is probably something that exists in some form, but unique enough to garner a base of customers to patronize them. Most new companies have some sort of financial budget to get started and most use that budget to create their product/service. Very few have a big enough marketing budget to promote themselves to grow rapidly. Very few have a lot of staff to manage the daily business effectively and therefore, they are limited in growth based on the owner's 24 hour a day schedule.  Now imagine that owner talks to a bank and presents their business plan to the bank in anticipation of a loan being given. Most banks who invest in businesses are leery about giving loans for small amounts because their portfolio of investments are usually needing to be bigger returns that a simple interest personal loan. So, for example, when I first started my marketing company, I went to a few banks to discuss loans and they reviewed my business plans and felt I wasn't aggressive enough with my vision to justify their investment. It was a shock that a $50-100k loan wasn't of interest to them. For me, it was a fortune, for them, it was small change. They are more interested in clients (borrowers) who want to borrow BIG money. Big money=Big returns.

Major labels are like that. They want an artist which has a Big need so they get a Big return. Now the analogy breaks down here a bit because all starting artists need a lot of money to move forward, but the point being that a major label needs to see a comprehensive and proven business model that already exists, not one that "could" exist with investment. This is where most artists and parents fail to understand big labels. Today, they aren't interested in investing in risk. Today they are interested in investing in well established businesses, that may not be national, but have a proven track record of customers and revenues, start up experience, etc. They are looking for small businesses to invest in.

So this is where the INDIE part comes in.

The INDIE artist is a small mom and pop business that has a regular customer base. They have established routines and methods they've developed to keep customers happy and possibly show consistent income.

Most artists I know, including Spencer, have yet to realize a profit from doing music. However, if you can do a live show, make a paycheck, sell some merchandise, sell some downloadable music, you're well on your way of becoming a potential artist for a big label.

What makes this black and white comparison confusing is the world of social media.

Enter the wrench in the machine.

Social media like Twitter and YouTube has made this world of small businesses (artists) seem different than it really is. A parent and young artist can get tripped up into believing if they have X number of followers, or X number of views on YouTube, this means they are a proven small business worthy of being signed by a major label. Essentially, they've proven they can garner attention of consumers, but honestly haven't proven they can "live" the lifestyle of an artist (on the road, giving media interviews, etc. See my earlier post THE CHECKLIST OF ROUTINE) They haven't proven they can "sell" their product for $$$. And reality is, labels are banks needing a return on their investment. If they don't see that artists can make money from the fans they have, then there really isn't a business there. It's just a hobby like playing a pick up game of ball at the local park.

Social media (a topic for another post) is why most young artists are even being recognized today. In the past, an artist never got attention unless they had a platform of a national TV show or were connected to some mechanism to perform live at a lot of venues in a geographic area. Talent scouts (called A&R's) from labels would discover young talent that way. A&R's used to review demo submissions and spend huge budgets to scour the industry for the next big thing.

Now, with social media and wide access to the internet, it is much easier to discover new talent. And because it is easier to discover, the rules of discerning those worthy of consideration also have become easier.

There is no shortage of supply of highly talented artists. This is a fact. Major labels are not suffering from finding highly talented artists. They are suffering from finding artists they can make a return on investment.

This is where INDIE versus SIGNED ARTISTS becomes so interesting.

The question is this. If a major record label only signs artists that they believe have proven ability to make money, then why not just stay independent and keep the money yourself?

Great observation. Short sided justification.

The fact still remains that major labels have the "networked relationships" with all the major retail outlets for music (online and offline) as well as the gatekeepers of major venues and radio. Frankly, major labels still have the highest influence with those necessary public platforms which are needed by artists to succeed.

So, while it's possible to make a nice small business out of being an INDIE artist, national prominence and discovery usually comes from a big label recognizing the "business value" of a successful INDIE.


Become a successful "business model" before assuming getting signed is viable. There are certainly lottery winners in the world of the music business where they shortcut the norm. But wisdom says to plan for the norm... which is a lot of hard work building a business that you hope will be strong enough for a big label to consider a worthwhile investment. Having an artist understand this work ethic and the time it may take is the best advice I could give. It may happen overnight, but it most likely won't. It most likely will happen after working long hours and investing a lot of resources into the business (INDIE ARTIST) before a major label will even consider talking to you.


All too often it seems that artists and those helping them, spend too much time getting asphyxiated on the adrenaline of the creative process or performing and forget about the 90% of the rest of what it takes to build a sustained career.

Why is this?

Most artists are "creative" types who reject order and organization. They just flow with the emotion and soul of being the artist. They hire other people to manage the boring stuff. They just want to create and be appreciated for their creations.

Some of the most successful artists with sustained careers finally figured out that "business" is what sustains your career more than the simple passion of creativity. Don't get me wrong, good music is good music. Bad music will eventually kill a career. So it is very important to manage that part closely. But the statistics are that there are 10's of thousands of artists who can make good or even great music. So something isn't right. Most artists believe that if so-and-so record label will just sign us then... or if I could just get my song on the radio then...

Sadly, it's been proven with fact that a huge majority of amazingly talented artists will never get a lifelong career from music simply because they haven't developed a routine of handling their own career. Artists really need to look at the checklist below to understand how to develop routines that will serve them well in the long-run of their music goals. It will be obvious that some areas aren't within their personal ability to manage, but it doesn't mean they shouldn't find a way to make sure it's being handled at some level of efficiency and accuracy.

I gave this list to one family that had a young artist they were working with and told them to do their best to let it guide their routines each day. Obviously, some things are beyond the intellectual capacity of young people to handle at their age and adults need to be involved. But it's never too early to have them take ownership of understanding the routine and how it will help them become successful.

This may seem very business-like, but it's because the artist is a start-up business just like any other small business trying to get bigger.

    • Liablity
    • Insurance
    • Contract Negotiations
    • Brand/Image Protection
    • Asset Protection
    • Estate Planning
    • Revenue Streams
    • Royalties
    • Merchandising
    • Licensing
    • Live Performances
    • Songwriting
    • Endorsements
    • Travel / Touring
    • Music Creation
    • Marketing / Promotion
    • Wardrobe / Appearance
    • Artist Development
    • Accountant / Financial Planner
    • Financing / Funding
    • Legal Counsel
    • Security Staff
    • Business Manager
    • Publicist / P.R. Firm
    • Artist Management
      • Coordination of Schedule
      • Liaison for Business Affairs
      • Primary Contact for Artist
    • Marketing / P.R.
      • Develop/Maintain Brand
      • Liaison for Media / Interviews
      • Develop/Maintain Promotion
      • Marketing Materials Creation
      • Develop/Maintain Airplay
    • Music Creation
      • Songwriting
      • Musicians / Band Development
      • Studio Work
      • Collaborations
    • Merchandising
      • Develop Brand Merchandise
      • Establish Distribution
      • Live Performances
      • Local Venues
      • Festivals
      • Touring
      • TV/Radio
      • Online Streaming
    • Vocal Coaching
    • Instrument Coaching
    • Vocal/Instrument Practice
    • Dance / Movement Training
    • Diet / Exercise
    • Stage/Performance Training
    • Rehearsals
    • Expanding Music Catalog
    • Acting / Public Speaking Lessons

    • Pro Image
      • Physical Appearance
      • Brand Image
    • Expectations
      • Public Appearances
      • Live Performances
      • Creating More/New Music
      • Training / Practice
      • Industry Networking Events
      • Fan Interaction
      • Maintain Personal Life (free time, family, etc)
      • Working Hours/Time Commitment


    • Family / Friends
    • Media Relations
    • Fan Relations
    • Industry Relations
    • Team Relations (Business, Musicians, Staff, etc.)
    • Core Mentors

    • Family Time
    • Social Friend Time
    • Spiritual Health / Growth
    • Hobbies Outside Music
    • Regular Rest and Separation From Music

    So obviously these "routines" within the life of an artist can seem overwhelming, but it's something that the artist needs to really grasp regarding the entirety of their career. It's a very similar reality athletes go through at the college and professional levels. A lot schools and pro teams spend considerable resources helping the athlete understand life in the career other than on the field. They must grasp the routines expected of them in order to have the most possible success. Without having an understanding of these routines, they will either burn out or have a hard time "loving" what they thought they were getting into.

    Record labels, for example, often interview potential roster artists and ask questions about life outside their music performances or the studio. A record label is more interested in knowing if they are investing in a hard-working and smart artist that has routines and works them than they are about a certain sound they may have at the time. Consumers tend to like flavors and then get bored. A label is interested in the long-term picture of an artist they invest in. And that long-term has a lot to do with whether the artist is "living" the artist lifestyle.

    In future posts, I'll be taking each of these ROUTINES under a microscope and hopefully help you understand strategies to achieve them.


    As a lifelong sales and marketing professional, my job has always been to present a product or service to the targeted customer and then get them to buy it. That's essentially the underlying goal of any artist. They are selling a product to a buyer (the fan).

    Like any product or service in the market, you have to really analyze the marketplace and understand the opportunity.  Too often, young artists and parents are looking at things through emotion more than logic. Hearing your child's voice melt your and other people's hearts is very emotional. It's very easy to get sucked into believing they are a prodigy or the next big thing to hit the music scene. This is often why American Idol showed auditions of people who said their friends and family really believe in their ability. To us, it was laughable, but to that singer, it was their entire foundation of belief in their voice. Mom and grandma love it, so should you.

    I manage all of Spencer's social media. I have the opportunity to read hundreds of messages and emails each month from other artists aspiring to become popular or have a career in music. The one common theme I have noticed is the extreme need for them to have Spencer's approval of their music, lyrics, or youtube videos. They candidly say they are very shy and nervous when they perform and want to know "the secret" to overcoming that. Many are waiting to be plucked mysteriously out of their insecurities and into stardom. The sad truth is that most artists can sing in the shower or in front of a small setting, but freak out about auditioning for their school choir solo or putting up a video online because they are afraid of haters.

    I mentioned this in an earlier post about how important it is for an emerging artist to look at themselves like a politician. Every single setting you're in is an opportunity to "sell" your product to the customer. This means whether you're singing/performing or simply going to the store in your home town. This concept is probably the most difficult to learn as a young artist. It isn't about the music and performing as much as it is the other 90% of your time. Being on stage and performing is the result of what you do after learning how to be a good salesman off the stage. Sure, seeing an artist perform great on stage will sell them to a potential buyer, but keeping that buyer returning for more is the long-term goal.

    I won't go into specific marketing strategies in this post, but I want to more address having the artist understand that they need to think of themselves as a salesman or politician. They need to adjust their performance or presentation of themselves to every setting and demographic in the room at the time. That means if it's a room of adults and older people, they need to talk, perform, and be what the adults and older people will be willing to buy. Sadly, this is perceived as 'sellling out' or compromising true artistry. But let's take a moment to assess the goals here.

    If the artist wants to be a one-hit wonder, then by all means, focus all your energy on what's popular now and what your buyers will consume today. But the career minded artist will consider that they have to adjust who they are as an artist depending on the timing, setting and opportunity.

    For example, suppose a sports team asked you to sing the national anthem at the opening of their game. An artist should be able to disconnect that the national anthem isn't their genre or style, but the upside of "selling" themselves to a captive audience is a "career" minded decision. They shouldn't be so picky to disregard an opportunity or audience of potential buyers simply because it isn't what they prefer most. Conversely, some opportunities and settings may not be the best for your long-term career. This is where it is very important for the artist to have experienced advice provided for them (a manager) who understands the road they are on and the best way to manage their political career (so to speak).

    Take Spencer for example. He is a pop singer who sings positive music. Simple enough, right?

    Now take the public school system he sings in at times. He goes to elementary schools, middle schools and sometimes has high school ages in the audience. When performing a live concert, you don't just sing back to back without stopping in between to talk. You have breaks between each song. In his case, to catch his breath sometimes cause he dances. But in those breaks, he will usually talk about something. Whether it be the song he just sang or the one he is about to sing or even about a platform he represents (bullying, food for the hungry, etc.) Being able to cater that message to the audience at hand is being a politician. Being able to connect with the audience at their level and within their culture or way of thinking is extremely important if you are to make them buyers (fans).  So, Spencer has to spend considerable time before each performance making sure he understands "who" will be watching.

    He does this same thing for media interviews. Who is the reader, listener or viewer of the interview? What do they care about? What topics should he avoid and which ones should he talk about? What does he want to "sell" in that 10 minute interview?  It seems clinical and very strategic, but when you're trying to build a career, you have to think this way if you want to succeed. It's no different than if Spencer were playing basketball. He would make sure he understood the opposing team's guards since he will be defending against them. He needs to know what approach he will take to execute his game plan when he's in the spotlight. His background in sports has really helped us in preparing him for bigger venues and being in the limelight at times. We go through the playbook. We study game film (watch past concert footage) and really make sure he is politically ready to face the customers he will face.

    So, again, without getting into specifics, the biggest point here is that beyond the skill of singing or performing, there is an underlying objective that the artist needs to keep working toward, and that is being able to "sell" themselves (the product) to their customers (the fan). Having a marketing and P.R. team only goes so far to sell an artist. I can create a great campaign, music video, or even photo shoot. But the artist's own mouth and public appearance will say more about who they are then the created media we can develop to "sell" them.


    There will always be a singer who, when listening to them, gives you an emotional jolt or goose bumps. Everyone seems to have their favorite vocal artist they can find in this category.

    For an artist trying to carve their own path, it can be very tricky to be an original. Sadly, the radio is full of sound-alikes. The business side of the music industry requires a certain quota of cookie-cutter music that consumers just seem to ravage and, well, consume. Because of that, it can be very easy for an artist to emulate what's already on the radio and pin a badge of pride on themselves since they can pull off sounding like Whitney Houston or Justin Bieber. It's a very, very tough balance.

    Imitation is the highest form of flattery.

    Hearing an emerging artist do a cover of another song often reveals that the artist aspires to have the vocal abilities of the original artist. That's a compliment to the original artist. It's like watching a player study the moves of their sports hero and try to execute them during a game.

    Finding your voice and sound is as difficult as predicting the future. This is especially true with the young voice. No amount of practice, skill, or intention can prepare you for what the voice will eventually become. There are simply too many physical characteristics evolving that nature itself must deal with before knowing what a voice can become. For that matter, it is a high financial risk to invest in a young artist but also has a high return if you're in it for the long-haul.

    Just watching Spencer from an up-close and personal perspective, it's easy to realize how much a male voice changes over a few short months. Notes and range vary as do the ability to pull off skilled maneuvers with notes and range. Girl singers face the same challenge. The oftentimes airy head voice they use to sing at a young age becomes awkward sounding as they grow older if they don't find their chest voice.

    That being said, dealing with the balance of technique and method versus performance quality is tough. Hitting the high note or finding the low note in the midst of also enunciating lyrics is something that can be truly difficult to pull off. That is where practice and experience can create the authentic voice.

    Another issue is that what is popular on the radio and among peers can heavily influence what a young voice tries to emulate. If R&B is a genre that seems to be hitting a lot of youth at the time, singers will switch their vocal performance to sound like that. If it's country, then "Open up them doors and let the light shine in".

    Working with Diane Sheets in Nashville (vocal coach to some of country and Christian music's most known artists), we have learned a lot about understanding Spencer's voice.  She was very passionate about making sure we did NOT get him formal training. She said the biggest turn off is to hear a vocalist who sounds trained. They just are too rigid and too mechanical about their singing. You can just hear it. They don't flow. She said that Spencer has a natural singing method that she wants to preserve and not mess with. The challenge, however, is that he had some bad habits that could damage his vocal chords in the long run. To that, she was very particular about fixing. She didn't want to address his ability to sing runs or hit glass-breaking notes. She wanted more to ensure that his voice was conditioned to handle doing 5 concerts in a week without going hoarse.

    So the first few meetings we had with her, it was very enlightening to understand things from her perspective. She is a professional vocal coach who deals with professional singers who are earning their living using their voice. She looks at it from a non-creative standpoint (to some extent) and more from a "This is your tool that will earn your living, and you need to know how it works and how to make sure you don't break it." standpoint. She was not concerned about whether he sounded like so-and-so or could hit notes in the rafters. She was more concerned that he learn how to use the tool for a lifetime of use.

    I have to take an aside here, because I grew up with the belief that unless I sounded like the best singers I knew, I wasn't a good singer. So I spent years doing my best to sound like certain singers and never really thought much about what it may be doing to my vocal chords. So I had a bias of being concerned that Spencer learn the technique to pull off sounding like so-and-so.

    Diane quickly picked up on this perspective and asked Spencer to name the artists he admired most in music. One artist he mentioned was Adam Levine, of Maroon 5. Diane was quick to point out that Adam's voice was unique because he didn't have to do the vocal acrobatics that Christina Agiulera does to perform a song or Mariah Carey does to scrape the ceiling of high notes and runs. Adam is a "straight" singer which hits each note and just performs (interprets them) with rhythmic excellence. He doesn't have to do all the gymnastics and contorted maneuvers to sound good.

    When she explained it that way, it removed a huge weight that society placed on Spencer to have mad skills as a singer.

    Further to this, when we had intimate conversations about Spencer's career with the Grammy and Dove nominated and winning producer that has been the executive producer of Spencer's music so far, he explained another reality about the world of music.

    He told me that if you lined up 100 of the top selling artists in the world of music, about 5 of them may be insanely talented with vocal abilities. The other 95 having figured out how to write amazing lyrics and melodies, or are just amazing performers. This reality made sense to me. Look at Bob Dylan, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen. All of them are highly successful artists, but none have the vocal prowess that creates a standard to achieve. All of them have used other skills to engage an audience and the fans they have. Bob wrote amazing music, Madonna reinvents herself every 7 years to remain intriguing and Bruce puts on 4 hour concerts that blow your mind because of his energy.

    So, when considering a young person's VOCAL PERFORMANCE, there needs to be some reality injected. Don't get too carried away with excellence or sounding like so-and-so. It's more about making sure the bases are covered (tone, pitch, dynamics, etc.) and that their confidence when singing is authentic. They sing in the range they are technically able to sing within without damaging or hurting themselves in the process of eeking out the note. Then, let nature do it's part of the physical development of the tool. Puberty is cruel, especially when it comes to the male voice.

    I'd rather listen to a singer who is comfortable and confident performing a song in their natural voice, than to hear them try to pull off sounding like someone they are not.


    Reality TV shows like American Idol, America's Got Talent, The Voice or X-Factor have built their entire audience and contestant list from featuring cover songs every episode. It is a glorified karaoke contest with millions of fans at home singing along. It's a clever way to judge skill and ability while having a baseline to compare against the original artist. The only problem is, we see contestants trying to improve upon a known product that consumers have already had sometimes years to ingest.

    While I don't approve of the gratuitous sexual aspects of the tv show Nashville, I do appreciate the realistic storylines and characters which are smack-dab in the midst of various stages of a career. In one episode, a song-writer was crooning a new song in his livingroom with his guitar while another artist watched him "create" on the spot. The artist shook his head and said that he finally understands what kind of artist he is. He told the song-writer, "You are a true artist, because you can create amazing music from nothing. I am a true performer, because I can take someone else's creation and perform it well."

    That statement stuck with me. It occurs to me that some artists are not truly innovators of music, but just performers. They are able to take someone else's creation and make it sound authentic. This is the essence of the COVER SONG.

    Many artists are passionate about singing "covers" of other artists because they are able to "sound similar" to those famous artists. Many fans hear those cover songs and become interested in that artist. Youtube is full of artists that sound like someone else, but in the business side of being an artist, a few things will happen when you build your hopes on using cover songs to start a career. You will either become a well-known cover artist or band, or people will move on to the next cover artist who creates a fan base doing what you've done. Singers like Tori Kelly and Joseph Somo, for example, have huge fan bases from their covers, but they've taken the approach of NOT sounding like the original artist and making their own version of the same song. This is a very useful method of growing beyond the karaoke track method most artists are content doing.

    However, there will come a time in a career when creating original music must happen, and that introduces a whole different set of challenges and hills to climb.

    My son, Spencer Kane, has gone through some frustrating live concerts where he is annoyed by fans not reacting and just staring at him when he thinks he's pouring out everything he has on stage. I've taken him aside a few times to remind him that he is not a "cover" artist and most fans are seeing him perform his original music for the first time, so they don't know words, can't get excited about what's coming next, etc. They are more evaluating whether he is a true artist or not. There is no relatability for them. For that reason, he started putting a few covers in his live set and that added some relatability that fans could connect with and sing along. It actually helped them relax and have fun. I told him until he has a radio hit that fans come to the concert to see him perform, it will always be a "cold call" sales job to a degree. At least they are a captive audience saying, "I'm here, now entertain me."

    A good friend and multi-Grammy and Dove nominated and winning producer told me some great advice about Spencer's career. He shared that it is very important for Spencer to understand that every performance is like a politician speech. Every business meeting is a politician fundraising event. Every press interview is like a politicians interview. The audience (fans) are like constituents that need to believe in the politician. They need to be convinced that politician cares about them and their ideals, passions, and goals. In that sense, doing cover music makes the artist more likeable to a lot of fans. But it's a delicate balance when people finally get to know the artist and keep hearing the same stuff over and over. They get bored and want something new. So in that sense, the cover song can be a great door opener, but as soon as you have "sold" yourself to the customer (fans) then you need to show that you are more than just a door opener type act. I want to get back to that politician metaphor in later blogs. So remember that.

    Covers can be a curse too.

    Some artists will simply never have a performance that is strong enough to exceed the original artist's version. Simon Cowell said it often on American Idol about contestants that would take on songs from divas. Unless you are able to exceed the original artists version, it can be a mess, or in a more kind way, just "ok".

    When dealing with young people (kids and teens) who are trying to make it, cover songs are the most logical step, but even then, song choice and lyric content are critical to having authenticity. This is probably the most critical part of dealing with young people in the industry, song choice and authenticity.

    One thing that we've learned is that "industry" people (labels, managers, venue owners, etc.) are quick to spot authenticity. Does the artist come across as authentic or as a puppet?  This was perhaps the hardest lesson to learn when developing Spencer so far. Does he come across as authentic?

    Authenticity in cover songs is tough to pull off. Matching the emotion, interpretation of lyrics, the energy or lack of energy in the music are all part of being authentic. A lot of young kids have skill in their voice. They can do "runs" or "adlibs" that seem authentic. Compared to sports, it's like they are able to do the spin move on the court before making a layup. You can tell they've practiced the moves (vocally). Or in some cases, you can spot voices that are "trained" with coaches, because they hit each note, they visually take their breathing cues on time and their mouth moves properly. This isn't bad, but it can come across as being a "trained puppet" who lacks authenticity. It doesn't mean you shouldn't practice or get training, it simply means that how you perform after having those can make a huge difference on authenticity. Sometimes kids who are voice trained with certain techniques are unable to come across as authentic because of song choice of covers.

    For example, it seems that most kids feel that if they can pull off R&B like vocals (runs, adlibs, grunts and groans) they are supposed to be gifted artists. They choose R&B cover songs that have amazing melodies and require serious skill to sing, but they forget that some of those songs are about adult themes that just do not ring true when a kid sings it. So regardless of the skills shown, they can seem "inauthentic" because the lyrics just don't work.

    I filmed a music video for a 16 year old female singer once. She was a trained gospel singer (church singer) who obviously had church choir solo vocal quality, but she was singing a song about going to a club and getting into it with another girl about a guy. It was everything I could do to film that video without wanting to grab her parents and say, "Why is she singing about a club when she's not even old enough to get into one?" I just didn't believe her performance or the song. It featured her vocals nicely, but it just didn't work. Unfortunately, the parents spent thousands of dollars on her album, which was full of "inauthentic" songs, and she never continued pursuing singing after her album never sold much and her concerts dwindled to nothing because the "cute" factor went away when she was trying to be Beyonce.

    The fact is, choosing a cover song is hard. It should be. Most kids choose songs they know their fans listen to or a song where they can feature their skills. That's a short-sided view with short-sided result potential. It's not going to build long-term success, but it may create short term hype.

    Looking back at some covers Spencer has done over the years we realized that he simply did them to show skill and neglected to realize that he wasn't authentic. Now, when he chooses a cover, he tries to find topics in music that the listener would believe he could sing about and be genuine. Simply, age appropriate.

    So, what's the bottom line here? In order of importance:

    1. Lyrics are believable for the age of the singer
    2. Vocals are sung in an original way without trying too hard to sound like the original artist. Make the vocals your own.
    3. Choose songs that the primary audience (fans) know the words to and can sing along.
    4. If possible, find an arrangement or create an arrangement that differs from the original so that it presents the artist as innovative more than trying to be a sound-alike.
    It's not easy to find songs that meet all 4 criteria, but when you can, it will make the artist stand out above the thousands of other artists doing the same song. Even then, sometimes there are factors that will not cause the song to be so amazing that fans jump on board as much as you'd like.

    Friday, November 22, 2013


    Well, for most of my childhood and adult life, I've always been involved in music in some form or another. Whether it was school choir, family night at home using a comb to sing Michael Jackson's song "Ben" for my parents and siblings, performing on stage in musicals as an adult, earning an invite to the school of music at IU, or simply crooning at karaoke, I've just been a music junky. Mom used to play albums on the console stereo as she cleaned house and introduced us to some oldies like Andy Williams, Perry Como or the amazing Lou Rawls. With older siblings, I had my indoctrination of top 40 hits from Casey Casum every week and learned the edgy and scary sounding hard rock from my older brother when he blared it loud in his hidden cave of a bedroom in the basement.

    But when I was introduced to Jesus in my early teens during a rough period of family matters, music took on a different role at an inner heart level. I understood the amazing emotion that connects me to God through music and to other people. Most people call it "soul", but whatever it is labeled, there is an aspect of music that transcends daily life and reality. Some artists and melodies just hit us the right way and connect us to times, events, people, or emotions that we may bury or tuck away because they are hard to handle. That first kiss, the song from our wedding, that hard break up, that experience in church where we sensed God's presence like never before, that song played at a funeral of a loved one, the TV theme song we rattle in our head from time to time, or even the period music from centuries ago that still grips on to our imagination and carries us to another time and place. All music has some intellectual and emotional connection for us that somehow causes us all to find a common ground.

    For the past 10 decades in America, it has become a commercial industry that many of us have tried to navigate personally or through someone we know. In my case, it has been both personal and through my own son that I've become part of an industry that is ever evolving and, because of technology, rapidly changing the way consumers obtain the creative products of artists all around the world.

    There. I've laid a pretty basic foundation of where I've been in this universe of sound and hopefully given you a basis for why this blog is important for me to write. So, let me set some objectives of what I hope this blog accomplishes for me and anyone who reads it.

    FOR ME

    • I get overwhelmed daily with the amount of information I come upon in managing my son's career and just feel it is a great way for me to journal my discoveries along the way and hopefully keep record of what to do and not to do going forward.
    • I find writing to be cathartic and hope to be published one day.
    • I know so many people trying to make a career of music for themselves or their kids that I find it important to share the realities we have faced and see others facing along the way.
    • Hopefully continue to build a good network of friends doing the same as me with their child.
    • Provide some truth to the muddy waters of this industry and all the things you can be sucked into believing about the journey.
    • Provide some resources you can go to for helping along the way.
    • Provide some insight into the cold reality of the "machine" we call the music industry.
    • Give some advice from a marketing perspective, since that's what I have done professionally for 25 years.
    • Make you smile at least once while reading a blog.
    • Be a personal resource to answer questions you may have that I haven't covered yet in blogs.
    If these goals can be achieved, I'll feel like this effort is worthwhile and keep posting.

    Please feel free to give me feedback if you want. My email is So send me a message if you want :)