Saturday, September 19, 2009
To the Idols: A Realistic look at your career prospects
ETA: A lot of people have asked me why I wrote this blog. Honestly, I didn't realize that it was going to get as much interest as it already has by outsiders. I figured my blog readers would read it and I'd try to pass it on to the other top 10 Idols from this year through some of the guys I'd met from this season. The reason I wrote it is because I genuinely want for the Idols to read it, heed it and do well. Not everyone is trying for a career in the fashion I'm pointing out here...if the Idols want to do Broadway or acting or anything other than being a pop (inclusive of rock, r&b, etc) performer, this article/blog entry isn't for them....but if they are, this article has information I know to be invaluable. Some of it is info that I personally have not had to follow: when I moved to Nashville 8 days after tour ended, I had major management (for my genre) and a record deal basically in place (in the final negotiation stages). I also had a publishing deal in place (the company that got my Flatts' cut) and a booking agent picked out (and each of these cogs in the machine brought money to the table). I used my tour time to put all of these pieces in place. So, I haven't lived every single piece of it...and each situation is going to be different. But the basic premise involved with this article is true: if you work hard, you can and should be successful.
Secondly, this post aims at the top 10 members who have not been signed to 19E. We all know that those who have won or come in 2nd have failed, but they did have all the opportunities in the world coming off of Idol. My post is to the unsigned, lower ranking Idols.
On to the article...
So, American Idol Season 8 is officially finished. Last tour date done. People are moving home and for the next several years will try to move on. I believe that this season of Idol was one of the most talented, but if History repeats itself the majority of these Idols will do nothing in music and will be washes within 3 or 4 years. Not trying to be mean, just being real.
From my season of Idol, Jordin Sparks has an actual career. Blake probably should've but doesn't - though he does have a chance to connect in the dance world with his new music. ETA: I've been told that Melinda's first album was quite critically acclaimed and she is currently writing for her next record - sounds good. Lakisha just had a baby, but not much going on on the music front. Chris Richardson is writing a lot, but hasn't released more than a single so far. Phil has a chance to connect in the Christian market, but nothing is guaranteed. Sanjaya is...well, Sanjaya. Haley is in Texas doing something - not exactly sure if it involves music. Gina is putting together some new music, finally, 2 years later. And then there's me.
ETA: Someone brought up Jared Cotter (went home top 16 night my season) who had a big hit with Jay Sean called "Down". Props to him...my post was focusing on the top 10 of each season, but in reality, this success would put him to the top of our season - plus he has the hosting gig...Jared was one of those that was going to be successful no matter what - he got what Idol was and he got who he was.
If you look at Season 7, the odds are about the same. You've got Cook and Archuletta who are doing reasonably well. Then Castro who is signed to a major label. Michael Johns and Brooke have records out and have seen some chart success. Carly is now the frontwoman for Evanescence part 3.0. And the rest are trying to get something going.
So, how is it that the fat, not-so-great-looking guy who came in 10th place is the 2nd or 3rd most successful from his season and top 5 most successful over Season 6 & 7? The difference is pure drive and ambition and work ethic. I haven't had luck on my side. I haven't had a major label behind me yet (though that is about to happen). I haven't had 19E's help AT ALL. I have simply worked my tail off, been pro-active and worked on becoming better at my craft. Not that other people haven't worked...sure they've worked...but not on the right things in my estimation...and they've had an unrealistic view of what Idol can and will do for them.
Idol does not break new artists. It is a marketing machine for 19E to break their artists. They don't care about the ones who get away unless they make really really good (i.e., Jennifer Hudson and...well, that's it). It may sound cold, but the point of this is to rattle your brain and make you realize what is about to happen in your life.
So, my message to Season 8. You're not going to be successful. You're not going to be millionaires (with the exception of MAYBE Kris and Adam). You are going to struggle. No one will care about you. Those fans who've been asking for your autograph all tour long - 98% of them don't give a flying poo about you once next season of Idol starts. They're not going to buy your album when you put it out 2 years late. Chances are you'll never feel the rush of playing in front 10,000 people who care about you again. Your star is waning and remarkably quickly.
In other words, your days of being a star are over. But that's all right - so are mine. And I'm one of the most successful for my season of Idol. I'm not a star. Chances are I never again will be.
But here's what's awesome. I'm not a star. Few people know my name anymore. But I get to do music for a living. And I make a healthy living doing it. It's hard work. The late nights and early mornings sure do suck after a while. At 31 I wish I didn't have to travel in a van any more. But I did 137 shows last year. And that paid my bills and I even had some left over. And this year I'll do a few more shows than that. And that pays my bills with a little left over. And my writing career is helping me put money away. So...for those of us Idols who few care about any longer, there is hope.
Let me explain what needs to happen for you in the next few months.
First off: surround yourself with people who will be real with you. People who will tell you your music sucks, if it sucks. People who will tell you when you're being an idiot. People who will keep you grounded. But these same people also need to be the people whose shoulder you can cry on, who will encourage you when you do well and who will cheer for you. Your mom and dad are going to think everything you do is great, so they don't count. Get a manager who is someone who knows music and will challenge you when it's not quite good enough. Put together a team that loves you, cares for you...but will kick your butt when it needs to be kicked.
Secondly: Leave home and live WAY below your means. Move to a music city. L.A., New York or Nashville. Move there immediately. Don't wait for a record deal, because chances are you'll never have a record deal. Oh and when you move, get a crappy apartment that is cheap, cheap, cheap. You're not a rock star. You're a wanna be who happens to be more famous than most wanna bes are. Get a part time job with flexible hours that will help pay your bills...your tour savings will fly out of your bank account faster than you realize. $200k or whatever looks like a lot of money until you have to spend it. You need to finance your lifestyle and though a few gigs will pay big bucks most won't. So live WAY below your means. $200k now doesn't mean you will make remotely close to that next year.
Thirdly: Start booking yourself. CAA isn't going to book you. They don't care about you. Your deal with them is only because they have a deal with Idol. They care about the $100k gigs that Adam and Kris are getting right now. You're not going to get those. So, don't keep waiting for CAA to book you. They won't. Period. So, this is what you do: within the next 3 months pick 15 towns or cities within 5 hours of where you are and search the internet for their bar/music venues. Once you've found a couple in each town, pick up the phone and call them. Tell them who you are, tell them you're calling for yourself and that you want to play a show there in the next couple of months. Once you've put together a show in each of those 15 cities, you have yourself a tour. You won't make much money, so do it cheap...if you play an instrument go out solo. If you don't play, take out 1 player who can do what you want to do, and get him to work for cheap. Just so you have an idea, most of the time you should be able to get good players that will start with you for $100-150/show. You need merch to sell. You won't have music product yet - at least not new - so you need to have an array of GREAT t-shirts and gear. Cool designs that incorporate who you are as an artist. Don't get your mom to do the designs. Don't get your friends to make the t-shirts for cheap. Spend tour money on this stuff...it will pay back in spades. Cool gear = sales = people wearing your name on their chest = building a fan base. Once you've got shows booked and gear, get in a rental car and rock.
Fourthly: learn the freaking music business. Buy a book. Buy several books. Get Donald Passman's book All You Need to Know About the Music Business. Read it 3 times. Some of the info is dated, but it will genuinely help you understand why record labels are hurting and why you probably don't need a record label. Part of learning the music business is figuring out where you fit. I had mainstream major label deals offered, but studied and thought hard and figured out that the place I fit best in Christian music. For you it might be pop (though it should be understood that few artists - even major label artists - start off by jumping into the pop world...they usually start in smaller genre and work their way over to pop) or r&b...but study and figure out where your place is. If you're a white r&b dude, make sure there's a catch...there's already Robin Thicke... how is what you do different? We don't need another Robin Thicke or Justin Timberlake. If you try to be like them you'll always be considered simply a cheap American Idol rip off of said artists. And honestly that is the worst thing you can be - a cheap Idol take on something else.
Fifthly: once you've moved to a music town, find people to jam and write with. You may not be a writer now, but you have a voice and you need to be able to speak with your voice. What does that mean? find people who are better writers than you, write with them, even if it's a matter of you simply finding a melody that fits your voice...oh, and if they write the majority of the song, offer to give them more credit than just the normal 50%. People who know you'll take care of them will work hard to help you be better. At this point that is what you need more than anything else: people who will work hard to make you better.
Sixthly: Work, work, work, work, work. Period. You have to work. Nothing and I do mean nothing is going to be given to you. 19E is not going to come back around. They're done with you. The music business, for the most part, will treat you like an outsider. And they should. You are just a game show contestant who still needs to prove why you should be here. They don't know you've worked for years in clubs or worked as a songwriter or developed your piano skills amazingly - all they know is that you're a game show contestant who is more famous than them for doing nothing other than making it on a tv show. So, go out and prove to them why you belong by working harder than they do to be better.
Seventhly: Get into a studio and get music down asap. Even if it's just an EP. However, walk the wire of finding the balance between getting music out and shooting yourself in the foot. If you don't have the songs, don't record music just to have it. You will kill your career. But, on the other hand, you need to get music out asap. So...write good songs or find good songs quickly.
Eighthly: Be proactive. I've said it before, but it's important to get: nothing is going to be given to you. If you get a record deal now, you deserve it. Why? Because you will have had to work for it. You will have gotten it because you worked not because Idol worked. this is about you, now. You have the power to be successful. You are talented. You have a skill set that should be shared with the world. But you have to seize the reins of your career and do something with your skills.
ETA: I saw this somewhere else and knew my post was missing something -
Ninthly (and finally): Freaking love what you do. When you don't love this anymore, when the pain of travel and the hurt from non-success hurts more than the joy you feel when you rock people live, quit. Go get a "real job". Love what you do. Do what you love. Period.