by Karen Tyler
Shot gunning. What is it? Well, it has nothing to do with firearms youíll be relieved to know. ďNo shot gunning!Ē is the first rule of the music business. Itís been broken by those who donít subscribe to the NRA and by pacifists, feminists, PTA members, members of all political parties and religions, drivers of SUVís, economy cars, old girls, young girls and yes, just plain girls. Not to leave anyone out, the rules have been broken by plenty a dude as well. Shot gunning is when you send your demo tape or CD and your promotional materials to a record company, agent, artist, radio station or magazine without permission and/or without knowing the policies or much else about the entity that you are sending to.
From the day that a musician can play three chords and warble into a cassette recorder shot gunning is a danger. I donít know how I got on the mailing list of dozens of songwriters, blues artists and yes, even one string band from Pennsylvania, but I did. Rocket Cat Music is my label. It would be considered a vanity label; a label conceived for the releasing of one artistís material. If not for a brief time when I managed an Austin Musicianís Catalog, there would be no reason to think that I might he able to assist a fellow artist in advancing his or her career. Iím a pretty prolific songwriter and as of this writing I have never covered another artists material on any of my CDs. Still, I am sent one or two CDs and press kits per month. I used to listen to them and send a note back to the artist acknowledging their efforts. I now just keep them in a box and rarely listen to them; especially if I donít know the artist personally or have not had some sort of conversation with the artist or writer and consequently agreed to listen to their work.
I know how it feels to create music that you are proud of and want to promote but have little idea of where to send it or how to get industry attention. In order to alleviate my naiveté in this area, I took a music business course called ďMusic Business Seminars; Doing Music and Nothing ElseĒ which taught me how to get my hands on resource materials among other things. Lists of record companies, booking agents, managers; radio stations, venues and journalists are readily available. You can spend good money purchasing these resources or you can find many of them completely free of charge on the Internet. Be warned that the freebie information will not be updated and confirmed like the information you pay for. And, no matter where you got the contact from, it behooves you to research the company you are sending to in order to determine if they deal in your sort of music, are accepting submissions or if they might have a submission maze you must navigate.
A submission maze is often used to find out if you know anything about the company and if you read the submission policies before sending your materials. I know of two magazines, one folk and one blues, that require that you send multiple CDs. One magazine even requires that you send them to two different addresses. If you get lazy and simply send it to the editorial office without reading the submission policies, then you look like an amateur and no matter how good your stuff is, it will probably only see the interior of the circular file.
In the case of GM, the magazine
has undergone some changes in the past several months and clear notices
were posted in almost all areas of the magazine that stated, ďWe are not
currently accepting artist submissions.Ē GMís request was in no way presented
as some sort of maze to weed out the amateurs from the pros. It was simply
a request, plainly and repeatedly posted, and regularly ignored. Donít
worry. If you shot gunned GM you wonít be banned from the spaceship when
we head off to Mars to start a womenís music showcase and musical community.
If you had to make the mistake of shot gunning, itís just as well that
it was us. We understand and hope that we can help you to not only cease
and desist from ever doing it again,
but also help you to get the information you will need to make professional, well targeted contacts.
Your best bet for getting
the contacts that you need is narrowing your genre down to a very sharp
point. The more words you use to describe your music, the harder it will
be to find the perfect contact. Even if you do exist in a multi-genre format
itís probably best that you find the pros that deal in that same multi-genre
format. Make sure to find out all the pertinent information about the company
in order to determine if theyíre really for you and vice versa. Most in
the music industry share a common belief that their time is precious and
that itís in short supply. Specializing in one small corner of the music
world saves time. The pros know that no one person can do it all. Therefore,
receiving a CD of country/folk/pop music from someone from Michigan may
not be all that welcome if what the company deals in is country/folk/pop
music from Texas artists. I know. It sounds like splitting hairs, but believe
me youíll save both time and money by being very specific when you target
contacts. Not only that, youíll make a much better impression. Most people are flattered when they realize that someone not only knows their name and what they do for a living, but also has made themselves familiar with that personís work. Either that or theyíll think youíre a stalker. Just kidding.
Donít expect to grasp everything
in your small corner of the music world in the first year or even two.
Even with plenty of research itís almost impossible to grasp the peculiarities
and biases of some industry types. I know a journalist that only likes
people from low-income backgrounds. I know others that only deal with artists
that made their mark on the music world pre-1985 or others that only deal
with people that wear short cut boots. You think Iím kidding? Hey, welcome
to the music business. Itís sometimes necessary to dabble in music industry
politics for a number of years to know exactly how a record company, agent
or even a journalist works and exactly why they sign or write about the
artists that they do. The truth be known, 90% of music business is done
between people that know each other, not only in the world of music business,
but socially as well. No matter how hokey pokey the web site or mailer
advertising a particular stable of artists, donít assume that
they are an unsophisticated or unbiased bunch of folks. The best bet is to simply call, email, fax or write. Describe your music as briefly and thoroughly as possible. Donít try to skew it to their tastes. That almost always backfires. Merely ask if itís alright to send your music. The first hundred or so times that you hear a ďnoĒ answer it may sting a bit. But, in time and, after youíve experienced postal rates go up, and up, and up; youíll begin to appreciate the ďnoĒ answer as saving you time and money and allowing you to move on to greener pastures.
Another lesson is; start
from the beginning. Thanks to the way music business is conducted these
days a great many people still believe that it is possible and in fact
a common occurrence for artists to be ďdiscovered.Ē We think all we have
to do is send our good music to a record companyís A&R division and
thereís a chance weíll be signed. Adding to the illusion are parents, loved
ones and friends that share that belief. Ask any kid on the schoolyard
and theyíll tell you thatís how itís done. Unfortunately, for the past
decade thatís not how itís being done. The record companies, agents and
even the press arenít taking any chances and they arenít wasting any energy
tracking down new talent. They simply watch the scene for breakout acts.
No, they arenít only looking for kids with acne. A breakout act is one
that has made music that appeals to a larger and larger regional audience.
Itís an act that has kept up an active mailing list and work that list
fiercely, emailing, calling and
cajoling people out to their shows. When word gets around that a particular act is packing clubs and causing a buzz, the press often times will get in on the action.
The agents, managers and record companies will make mental notes and wait for someone to get involved in your career. That someone might be an investor whoíll foot the bill or a trusted acquaintance that will walk you into the office and vouch for you personally. That someone might be the music industry big wigís golf partner, babysitter, interior designer or a trusted and respected producer. Thatís the bad news. But buck up! Community, public and college radio stations often play an unknown artists music. Get that CD in the hands of the Music Directors or DJs and if they like it and itís a decent recording they just may play it before one of your gigs. You can pick up a good local fan base just from airplay. Also, send press releases, photos and recordings to local papers and small music industry magazines. Send to Internet magazines. It doesnít matter where the press comes from at first. As long as you or your mother didnít write it, you have a quote.
So, in the meantime, while you wait to meet the dry cleaner that can introduce you to the head of Arista Records and while you do your research and observe and make notes of the bigwigís individual biases what do you do? Well, you go to work for yourself. You donít let not being written about bother you. You put out your own newsletter and send it to the folks on your mailing list. Put out your own CD and sell it from the stage. Try to be seen by as many people as possible and you develop that buzz that will get the attention of the music industry types. Join national songwriting organizations and music societies. Make use of the resources that they have to offer. These organizations are the very best source for resource books and contacts and often host contests and showcases that you can be involved in. Research the record companies web sites. Get familiar with their artistís work. Find artists that you share a style with and artists whose audience share the same demographic as yours. Check out their web sites. You may find you have more than music in common. You may find these artists to be your best resource and through their pages you can perhaps discover new venues, CD distributors and even other artists that might be willing to share a bill with you or link to your web site. There will never be a shortage of things for the up and coming artist to busy herself with.
Bottom line; donít worry.
Have fun and donít feel the need to make a big impression on everyone in
the industry whoĎs contact information you come across. Excel in your music
and your fans will notice. Pretty soon the industry will notice too. Who
knows? Maybe theyíre already watching. So, put that demo tape down and
back away with your hands up in the air.