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   Inside Out - West: Monday October 30, 2006

Insider's guide to the music biz

James Blunt c/o PA Images
Sweet sound of success - James Blunt. Photo c/o PA Images

It's every musician's dream - to get signed to an elusive record deal and make it on the international stage.

But how do you put yourself in pole position to make the big time?

The music business is notoriously competitive and unforgiving.

For every James Blunt and Jamelia, there's dozens of wannabes vying for the attention of industry executives.

Here's a few tips on how you can set out on the path to stardom and perhaps even become the next Robbie Williams, Radiohead or Roni Size.

But be warned, it's not as easy as you might think!

Top tips

Do - Form a band and write some songs. Start gigging, develop a list of your top songs and record them in a studio or at home on a good computer package.

Do - put yourself in the picture. Use websites like myspace and other online promotional tools to get your name out there.

Do watch out for sharks and rip-off merchants. Check the credentials of whoever you're working with.

Do make friends and influence people e.g. music journalists, management companies and A&R scouts.

Don't rush things - take it step by step. Have a goal and work towards it. Don't start gigging until you're really tight and well rehearsed.

Don't go in with false expectations - be realistic.

Source: BPI 'When Will I Be Famous'

Choosing the right path

So you've got a dream...

Perhaps you've written a few songs and played some gigs, but making the leap from singing in your bedroom to the big time needs a little bit more than just good luck and raw talent.

First of all, be prepared for a huge amount of hard work and dedication.

You'll also need a game plan - an idea of the sort of music you want to make.

The good news is that the are several different paths you might follow to fulfill your dream:

The pop path - style and professionalism is everything!

Writing your own songs is less important than in rock, but if you are going to play cover versions, choose interesting songs that suit your style.

Alternatively find someone else to write the songs for you - and also look for a good producer.

Another route is to answer adverts for auditions in the music press - The Stage is a good place to look.

Plus... there are plenty of reality TV shows such as Pop Idol, if you want to go down that route. But be very well prepared and learn from any knockbacks.

The rock route - this involves writing your own songs, forming a band, rehearsing, and gigging to build a fan base.

Recruit like-minded individuals via school, college, ads in music shops and classifieds, or via Internet sites such as myspace.

The dance route - fancy yourself as a devil on the decks? Start making music in your own bedroom, using samples, and then start your own club night to build up a following.

The school path - one of the easiest ways for under 18s to get involved with music is through school - most schools have a choir, band or after school club where you can fine-tune your musical skills.

Franz Ferdinand
Whip up some energy - Franz Ferdinand. Photo c/o PA Images

Alternatively, ask your music teacher for advice, and take singing or musical instrument lessons.

Find out about special rock summer schools that take place locally.

Advertise for like-minded pupils to form a band or duo on the school notice board.

When you're well rehearsed, promote your gigs in schools or community centres.

College courses - there are many excellent music and performing arts courses at colleges and Universities, but be prepared to learn some music theory.

There's also courses in event management, music technology and the business side of the industry if you want to work behind the scenes.

Stage school - enrol in a stage school locally if you're interested in pop and performance. Check out the Yellow Pages or the BPI's music education guide.

Up and running

Once you're ready to launch yourself on the world, take a reality check - getting to the top can be a long process so don't jump the gun if you're inexperienced.

Pete Tong
DJs - think about the tunes that will really work the dance floor

Patience, tenacity, hard work and determination are important - keep on building your skills and song writing.

Be critical of your own performance, be original and get advice from people who know what they're talking about.

There's no magic formula but here are some basic tips:

Songwriting - make your lyrics paint a thousand pictures, don't be afraid to experiment and don't bore the listener - use a Dictaphone or computer kit to record basic ideas.

Gigging - don't gig before you're ready. Make every gig a special event - create a buzz. Be well rehearsed and well prepared. Plan a great introduction. Keep your set short and sweet (20-30 minutes) - make people want more. Get the audience involved - make them excited.

Publicity - publicise your gigs, new songs and music. Develop your own website, fanzine or online community (via myspace or others). Produce your own posters, flyers and promo. Use word of moth - build up a mailing list.

Press - once you're more experienced, turn heads with headlines in the local and national media. Send CDs, press releases and biogs to music papers and radio shows who specialise in breaking new artists and bands e.g. Radio One and NME for rock bands. Local papers can be useful too as can regional TV as long as you have a news 'hook'.

Image - take a long, hard look at your overall 'look' or style. Do you look like a pop or rock star or DJ? Do you look cool? Develop a strong image - try something fresh and different to stand out from the crowd. Consult an image stylist or students on a fashion course.

Creating a buzz

So what's next? You've got a decent live set, you've impressed a couple of hundred fans, and you've fine-tuned your songwriting skills?

Talk business - once you've created a vibe, start contacting record labels and managers but get some good gigs and reviews in the press under your belt first.

Remember to do your homework - check that you're sending out the right type of music to the correct label. It's no use sending a new metal CD to a R'n'B label!

Girls Aloud
The power of the audition - Girls Aloud. Photo c/o PA Images

Find out the names of A&R people - invite them to gigs, and arrange meetings if they're interested.

CD heaven - when sending out CDs, keep it simple with three tracks not two hours of material. Include a biog and contact details.

Many scouts don't get past the first song so put your strongest first.

Follow up with a phone call to get feedback.

Never send out dodgy quality recordings - make the package look and sound as professional as possible.

Go online - the Internet provides a great opportunity to publish and distribute your own music - sites such as myspace are hugely valuable.

Get a manager - a good manager with excellent links to the music industry can be worth their weight in gold, but remember that most charge a commission of around 20%.

A final word of advice...

* Beware of rip-off merchants and poor deals - not every manager or record label will have your best interests at heart. Read the small print on anything you sign!

* Join the Musicians' Union, consult a music lawyer before you sign a deal and always check the credentials of whoever you're working with.

* Be focused - keep your feet on the ground. Read serious music magazines to keep up with the business.

Once you've built up a massive fan base, made friends with the music industry and signed that deal, you're ready to crack the world.

But remember there's no substitute for talent... and with a little luck, you might just get noticed!

See also ...

Inside Out: West
Bristol Music


BBC One Music - Unsigned

BBC Music

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