Lesson #1 It’s all about being famous…….

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As I sit here and type this I am listening to Traffic, a sixties, white soul band featuring Stevie Winwood. You may have heard of him. HE IS FAMOUS.  This may sound obvious. You may not have heard of him but I assure you that he is very famous. He played in a bunch of super groups, had numerous hits and even, against all odds, came back after twenty years to make more hits in the eighties. Great voice, brilliant musician. Good looking cat. 

If you wish to toil away in obscurity, maintaining the purity of your music then this blog is not for you. Go away and read something else. Thanks. Now for all of you that remain I will be talking about how to make yourself successful in the music business. Why do I get to do this? How do I know these rare secrets? Well I did it for people for a long, long time. Ever hear of a band called Phish? I thought so. That ends that argument.

Success in the music business is based on being famous. People must talk about what you do. They must pay attention or you will get nowhere. Here’s a story to start us out.

In the late nineties I was producing a band called Bully. They were a run of the mill Alt rock band.  We had cut all the tracks, done the overdubs, mixed the record and were in the studio putting together the sequence so the record could go off to be mastered. I got up that morning and the news from New York (they were a new york band) was all about some little kid that had been hospitalized. It turns out he had been beat up by bullies on the playground.  Eureka! I thought the band had a shot at the top. I immediately cornered the band and told them that they should do the following:

1.Release their record using the title “Your mother’s worst fear!”

2. Rent an expensive, more than they could afford room at a swank NY hotel

3.Send out a notice to every NY beat reporter saying that they were holding an important press conference covering the topic of the bullying of children in the NY schools.

4. Show up at the press conference dressed in the most outlandish fashion they could manage and declare that they were there to defend the bullies!

This idea come solidly from the Malcolm McLaren school of rock management. He managed the Sex Pistols. The Sex Pistols weren’t really a band they were more of a traveling insult performance.

The band was appalled. They talked about how they could never do such a thing. That they didn’t believe in supporting bullies etc. In short they were wimps.  Needless to say they didn’t do it and they missed the boat. Every hear of Bully? Do you think the Sex Pistols would have missed this chance?

Here’s story number two:

In 1994 I was managing a band from upstate NY called the Figgs. They were a great three piece alt rock band, kinda a mix between Elvis Costello and the Beatles. I produced them for a few years waiting for them to grow up and for the bass player to actually graduate from High School. One day I decided they were ready. I signed them to a management deal and set up a single showcase. The showcase was at a rehearsal studio and they rocked so hard that the A & R guy called the label owner on the spot. The next day we had a meeting with the boss Terry Ellis, ex manager of Jethro Tull and Billy Idol, founder of Chrysalis Records.  So we go to NY, enter a skyscraper, take the elevator to the top and are immediately shown into a huge conference room overlooking Central Park.  Terry was drinking espresso off of fine china and eating fresh fruit flown in from god knows where.  We went through the usual niceties, bullshit really, just feeling each other out. Then Terry says to Mike Gent, the leader of the Figgs..”So why should I sign your band?” I held my breathe and hoped he got it right. He was on his own.

Mike smiled looked him in the eye and said ” Well Terry in ten years your daughter will be playing my songs on your piano at Christmas dinner.”

‘Jackpot! ‘ I thought.

“Have your lawyers call me. ” he said and then stood up and stuck out his hand. “Welcome aboard!” he said to the band.

Three weeks later they were on a theater tour with the Cranberries.

So if you walk around and talk about “all you want to do is make a living playing music” then you better think about studying computer programming. The music business is looking for the band that wants to be the next Stones, the next Zepplin. Ambition is key.  If you don’t want to be famous then you don’t want to be a rock star…………………………….

Hey Vote in the current poll

Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010


28 thoughts on “Lesson #1 It’s all about being famous…….

      • Randy,
        Thanks for sharing your opinion. Could you please define nothing? If by nothing you mean a band that was signed to Imago/BMG by Terry Ellis ( the guy that managed Jethro Tull, Billy Idol, Pat Benatar) , then moved to Capitol Records and were given a recording contract starting at $650,000 per record plus 18 points (not that you would know what that really means) . If by nothing you mean a band that played a featured slot on the Warped tour, toured theaters with The Cranberries, Toured as Graham Parker’s backing band, Tommy Stinson’s backing band, toured Europe and have down THOUSANDS of dates all over the US. If by nothing you mean a band that still sells out clubs twenty five years after they first hit the road and often plays gigs of 750 to 1000 seats. if by nothing you mean a band that won the RIAA award for best rock record in 1998. if by nothings you mean a band with 10 records to their credit, all of which are undeniably cool then your comments are spot on.

        Since you’ve obviously hit a sore spot with me I’ll reply in kind.Randy, please tell us about your success. Please point us to your releases and tours, please explain the finer points of your various recording contracts. Anyone that regularly reads this blog, and I’m guessing there are more on any givin night then have ever seen your band play, will realize that I treat everyone here with respect. I support everyone that is trying to make it big, or just trying to make music. I respect everyone, that is, until they get their kicks trying to feel big by shitting on others. I’m curious what everyone else thinks of Randy’s comment……..

        • I gotta wade in…looked at it a long time, know I’m going to get in trouble but what the hell. Randy is correct to a point but then again every one has bills to pay and if the Figgs are playing music for a living, more power to them. The point is that being in the business, like you are/were is not the same thing as Being the business. Face it. Musicians really play for musicians. The public is gullible. An artist can find a nitch audience and milk it to death for loads of money. That does not mean it has any (oh oh, here we go) artistic merit. Back in the 70’s everyone like myself who listened to the radio and records knew who was on top of their game and who was a wanna be. Clapton ruled with Cream for the virtuoso guitar player. Everyone else, including Hendricks, had to step up their game. (You left those two bands out in your May 27 post).
          Grand Funk was a joke and I know you know that dessite their radio success…(Jerimiah was a bull frog??)..this during the time Dylan was laying tracks for Blond on Blond. The spectrum of music during that time was not one bucket but several with some bleeding into others and some relying on others. Some bands pretended to be “hippies” to sell records. The Monkeys pretended to be the Beatles just like Perry Como and Andy Wiilliams pretended to be as soulful as Sam Cooke and Nat King Cole but hey, if you heard them side by side, no matter who had the “biggest draw” or sold the “most records” most black singers could spank the Laurence Welk crowd any day of the week. Same with the rock scene. The Dead blazed new concepts in song structure, along with Miles Davis. Dylan paid attention to no one except maybe Grossman and that was not always good. The Band had some success but it paled to the underground reverence that outlasted any friggin award. I guess what I’m saying is that you can’t equate raw talent with economic success…I mean you CAN, and the bucks will come maybe, for a while…where is Billy Idol now, anyone covering his material. does it matter, did he save his money and buy his mom a condo…I mean it;s all relative but in the end, a musician is remembered by his artistic merit and not how many naked girls he’s got in his swimming pool…don’t you think…man I also gotta ask you about this white type on the black background for the comment box..it is harsh but just my 2¢…peace.

          • Hi Joe,
            Thanks for the lengthy comment. I’ll comment on your comment on the comments format first. Word press doesn’t give me much choice on comments format. I will look into rewriting the code when I do an update of the site’s look.

            I agree with most of your comments. I will point out that Jeremiah was a bullfrog was three dog night not grand funk. Grand Funk were kinda cheesy but not that cheesy. They were also huge for about a year. Let’s not confuse the general tone of my website. I am trying to clue in the clueless. I am trying to expose many of the tricks and games used in the music business to promote bands and to manage the way bands are perceived. This type of success is not to be confused with artistic success. I have huge respect and admiration for great musicianship, both recognized through stardom and unrecognized. For example I love Nick Drake. He never sold records until he had been dead for twenty years. I love the Band. I love the Beatles. I love the Clash. The list goes on and on. I am not writing a website that explains how to make the greatest music in history. I am running this site to help bands that want to get ahead. Bands start out without a clue. They work their way blindly up the food chain. I am trying to help bands to wake up, open their eyes, look at the way its done and take what they need from the system and use it. I am not suggesting that every band should be a carnival with no artistic integrity. I am just pointing out how the circus gets people into the tent. Please take the website from that viewpoint.

            If I skipped Cream, sorry. I am a big cream fan. I was playing Badge on the guitar the other day. Great band. Now as for the Figgs. I use examples from that band because I was deeply involved in their early career. As a result I have tons of great examples from their career to draw from. They are a great band and have their own small measure of success. I could write a series of blogs explaining why they didn’t end up being Green Day. Perhaps I will do that one day but for the moment I pull stories from their career when I feel they fit my message. As for them being “losers” I would like to see Randy’s resume. They have a career and I’m guessin he doesn’t.

            One last comment Dylan’s career has been a mess from a commercial standpoint. He has won through since he is one of the best songwriters of the late twentieth century. Maybe he’ll convert to Islam next week to prove once again that he nuts and deeply talented……………….

      • I think Randy is upset because someone in the figgs took his lady from him.

        Please check out the new Graham Parker & The Figgs live DVD out 12/07/10.

        Randy, you are nothing and a nobody and I hope all of the band fucked your girlfriend (while you watched).

        • Ah… See what happens Randy? Sometime in the distant future you may realize that your life’s high point was when one of the Figgs when out of his way to insult you……. Life’s funny like that…………..

  1. hi,
    im very interested in signing to this label called Lure records and we were emailing back and forth and i knew they would ask me this question sometime or another they wanted me to send them a MP3 of my music. so heres my problem i have no idea how to make a mp3 of my music i really need help!!!

    Thank you for all you do,

    • Ray,
      There are applications that convert various types of computer files to MP3. Why don’t you tell everyone what format your tunes are in and someone will offer some help…….

  2. When I read the line about wanting to be the next Stones or Zeppelin I couldn’t help but smile. I only tell all of my friends that play instruments that I want to put together this generation’s version of Zeppelin maybe every weekend… The music scene today is mostly garbage. There is no excuse for this when we’ve got the last 60 plus years of rock evolution to draw upon for reference. Nobody has been as diverse and overall talented on their instruments as zeppelin since zeppelin. I began writing and recording my own music to put together a demo so the right people will bite on what I am going for. Keep on lookout for me when this lineup finally occurs, which is soon, for that is when rock will be restored.

    • I appreciate the ego. Ego is certainly one of the key components of being a rockstar. I will disagree, however, with your comment that no one has come up to the level of Zeppelin. Those of you, I’m guessin’ all of my readership, that didn’t live through the 70’s don’t realize that Zeppelin was just another band. During their career they were one of the top bands but no one, at the time, realized that they would have staying power. During the early seventies each band defined its own style of rock. This is a common trend in the maturation of any musical style, in this case rock. Later bands building on the long history of rock have hybridized varikous styles. Now we are entering the period of blending of styles and movements. This signals the beginning of the end of the style of rock. Will your band be the “Beethoven” of rock. Beethoven took everything that had come before him, blended elements of it together and created a perfected form of the harmonious whole. When he died the classical period was over. Who will do this for rock?

  3. Very true… I wasn’t born till 87, so unfortunately the knowledge I have of previous generations’ bands is all second hand… Maybe I was a little close minded when I said that “Nobody has been as diverse and overall talented on their instruments as zeppelin since zeppelin.” Many bands have been in some fashion diverse and had quality players too. Deep purple- crazy talent, outstanding vocalist and players and they are big but not Zeppelin big… maybe due to a slightly less listener friendly sound (smoke on the water aside) but I don’t really know. The Beatles had the look, the sound and the diversity but not so much difficulty. I don’t want to keep kissing Zeppelin’s ass because lets face it, the 70s overall had some of the craziest most memorable rock music… 60’s also. Grunge in the 90’s was some sort of crazy twist coming off hair metal and electro-pop in the 80’s and was also reminiscent of the diverse quality present in classic rock. This is just the basic stuff I’m sure you’re well aware of but it’s everything I take into consideration when I’m writing and so far so good. The material that I have done is definitely something that will impact the listener community on many levels as was my goal. My music in short draws from all sorts of elements from pop,metal, classic rock and underground sounds.I feel like at this point in music history when popular music of any kind is so genre specific (a few bands aside) It is the perfect time for a band such as the one in the works by myself and select individuals to emerge. When this project finally gets off the ground, please keep an eye out because I think you will really enjoy what you hear. Well, I don’t want to cover everything I want to talk about in this post. There are many other of your lessons I have yet to read through. Very blunt honesty… refreshingly helpful and much appreciated.

    • Jess,
      Thanks for the lengthy reply. I believe the point I was making about Zeppelin was that, in the terms of their time, they weren’t that big. There were tons of other bands that were quite a bit bigger than Zep. At the time, and I remember it well, Zep was just another band. Grand Funk, The Stones, The Beatles, Yes, ELP, Jethro Tull, The Eagles, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Neil Young, Crosby Stills Nash, The Grateful Dead, were all much bigger and more famous and had larger draws than Led Zeppelin. The legend of Zeppelin was created in the late eighties. Coincidentally it happened after they sold their catalog to Atlantic. Hmmm… odd coincidence huh? The viewpoint that the ability to shred on guitar was what counted was another thing that didn’t exist during the 1970’s. Now, looking back everyone sees the 70’s and sees Led Zeppelin as the dominant band. Sorry but it just wasn’t true at the time. They were a great band but I liked other bands more at the time.

      I saw Led Zeppelin twice at Madison Square Garden, NY during the song remains the same tour. I had third row center tickets for the 1st and 3rd night. The tickets cost either $9.50 or $12.50 I can’t remember which. I remember lovin Bonham and John Paul Jones and I thought Plant was a hack and that Page was a little to high for his own good. For some added perspective the year you were born I played over a hundred dates, toured with Miracle Legion in Europe and produced five albums. I also met my first wife. I guess that’s why I write the blog and you read it……………

  4. Let me be clear that this is just a prediction and not an affirmation.

    I would guess that when we ’80’s children (I’m ’87 too Jess, good year… a lot of good albums: Ex, Peter Gabriel: Shaking the Tree) go back and reminisce about music, I won’t be surprised if Pearl Jam is the closest thing that comes to Zeppelin. My reasoning being their adequate level of commercial success requisite to warrant such a comparison, as well as their lasting staying power. It seems right when you almost forgot about them, they are back, matured, and in ways better. They also tour their asses off, and record raw, unapologetic rock and roll. look for that to be the Zeppelin of the future.

    IMHO of course…

    And Brad, great blog. A lot of your stories parallel my own as my bands guitarist and manager, don’t let these fools tell you you don’t know what you’re doing: you do.

    And guys, he’s 100% right, if you get a ML offer, turn it the F down!

    • A new Sabbath? Hmmm… interesting idea. I have to ask you what, exactly do you mean? Not a band called Black Sabbath 2? Do you mean a strong, hard rock band with black magic as its totem and early metal kinda sound? If that’s the idea then my answer would be “great idea!” It may have been tried but if so I am unaware of it. Certainly many bands have lovingly ripped off bits and pieces of Sabbath. That is to be expected.
      I think you have hit on a good solid idea who’s time has come. When Rock exploded in the early seventies each band was essentially their own style. There weren’t 20 metal bands and 50 hardcore bands and 100 acid rock bands etc…Each band was inventing their own style and they were it. They were the whole musical trend. Now, as we are reaching the end of Rock I believe that there will be two basic trends in bands that will succeed better than all the other bands. There will still be successful bands involved in movements like Alt country bands or speed metal bands but they won’t be the dominant bands. Instead two other kinds of bands are about to emerge.
      The first is the hybrid band. This is an artist/writer/band that takes everything we have heard so far, like jazz, blues, hard rock, soul, metal, rap, and blends it. This will be a summing up of everything that has come before. This hybridization will break new ground and prepare us all for the END OF ROCK. Oh yes, that event is coming soon…mark my words here ladies and gentlemen… What comes along to replace it I do not know..at least yet..
      The second kind of band that will soon come to dominate is the nostalgia band. In some ways these will be like the tribute bands that now actually play stadium shows. (who would have bet that the Australian Floyd would be playing stadiums? weird huh?) In essense there is a great thirst for a band that sounds exactly like the great defining bands of the past. Bands that sound like Pink Floyd, Yes, Jethro Tull, The Grateful Dead, The Clash, The Rolling Stones and, of course The Beatles will soon start to crop up. And yes, one of these bands could very well be a Black Sabbath clone.
      There is nothing dishonest in bands like these. They won’t be tribute bands they will just be bands that use the basic styles that these bands invented to write great albums. I, for one, look forward to a few of them… USing the same crystal ball of the future I will say that I hope that KISS stays buried in the bodies of the real KISS………………

  5. Isn’t it funny how you divulge some crucial wisdom about the industry and most people miss it completely? They focus on The Figgs instead of the importance of what you’re trying to get across – the business is there to make money (sad, but true) and in order to do so, they need a product that’s marketable. Being marketable means that the product has potential to be popular or already is.

    When I was first approached by the owner of my previous label, he walked up to me, unannounced, and says, “Dave, my A&R guy tells me you’re the next Elvis Presley.” I said, “No sir, I’m the next Dave Owens.” We immediately started negotiating…although I decided after awhile to leave that particular label, it was a great learning experience.

    You have to believe in yourself before you can expect anyone else to believe in you. I was recently asked by a fellow “local” artist if I was paying the radio stations to promote my shows…nope. Crazy enough, I just presented myself and ASKED. Amazing concept, right? You’d be amazed at how many people are willing to support independent musicians who believe in themselves.

    • Hi Dave,
      Thanks for the supportive comments. Yes, many people have read the blog and since it isn’t full of inside stories about their favorite band they go out of their way to try and argue that i am a fraud. My basic reply is “OK if that is the way you think it is why read my blog? Why not write your own blog full of your advice. While you’re at it please post your resume so strangers can take shots at you”. I could tell stories about Phish or the Cure, both bands are major parts of my career. Both bands are mega huge. I may very well tell some anecdotes about them at some points but the reason I have choosen to tell the stories so far was to illustrate lessons in how to manage yourself. I pick the stories that show plainly how bands screw it up and how they succeed. If I find the best story is the one explaining how I got fired from producing Phish or the one where I saw Robert Smith of the Cure naked I will tell those particular tales. They are both good stories but I will only open my mouth if it serves to teach the ideas behind a successful career in the music biz.
      Thanks again for your supportive comments. The only thing I ask is that people spread the word. I hope to rehas this blog into a book in a year or two and the more everyone contributes the better the book might be. I haven’t covered all of the topics by far. You, the reader, helps decide what is important. I don’t know of another blog doing this kind of thing so I am taking the time, for free so far, to pass on what i know……………

  6. lol,, I love his blog already.. I hope it’s still updated… yeah why would an asshole come here, read your advice and anecdotes and then have the audacity to instead of saying thank you.. talk shit about one of the bands you managed?… lol.. whats the point haha.. anyways you should write a book or three one day.. keep up the good work..

  7. Link removed

    Ok so I’m a British teenager in a band called ALBION and we’re trying to get signed. The link up there is our new single OF WHAT SHE MEANS please tell me what you think and maybe share my youtube ?! Thank you

    • Ollie,
      Well, your comment is a blatant plug. I don’t do reviews on demand. I would suggest reading most of the blogs I’ve written and you may get some ideas on getting signed. If you are in England the usual system is to set up a London showcase. All of the labels and the press show up. They decide if you are the next big thing ———— for about a week. Music moves fast in England. What city are you from?

    • Ollie,
      Manchester is a cool town. There are a few labels in town. Isn’t factory records from that city? Open up the music papers and any band that you think is really cool, write down their label and then find the label’s info online. After you get a few label addresses send them all an invite to a local gig. tell them it is a “showcase”. You may end up with a record deal. Recording contracts are easier to find in the UK than the USA….. Good luck…………

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