Making People Take Their Shirts Off For You

IIt’s a little ironic that as a musician, you are writing an intensely personal work whose success will be judged by how other people feel about it. You’re writing music that you can only hope will be taken up by a large enough number of people to enable you to get a record deal and turn this gig into a full-time job, or make this job into something that provides a few more perks, like thousands of screaming fans or a million-dollar bonus. Whether you’re making someone dance, breaking their heart with the sweetest ballad ever written, or melting their face with an awesome solo, these feelings aren’t solely dependent on the quality of the music that you’ve written. The music industry makes a living exploiting these non-musical factors. So how can you take care of these things beyond the music? The answer comes down to image control and sincerity.

Image control is something that seems antithetical to rock and roll. Rock is all about showing that you don’t care about society, that you’re just gonna go against the grain, right? Well, not really. Think about it. You’re going to dress in black and go watch some metal band surrounded by people dressed like you. You’re projecting an image that most people in society won’t agree with, but it’s an image nonetheless. Understanding that is a core part of succeeding as an artist. That’s why crappy-yet-hot pop singers are able to churn out hit after faceless hit, because something about their image provokes sympathy or envy from consumers.

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So knowing your fans is a huge part of scratching and clawing your way to the top. You’ve got to be able to produce music that’s consistent with your image. But this isn’t a trap, because images are things that change over time—you’ve just got to be able to bring your fans along slowly. Do it too quickly and you’ll lose a good number. You’ve just got to remember to keep your fans updated as you go about your route, because these fans have to put up with a lot to support you in your trek through the music industry.

The music industry is one of the most corrupt, vile industries on the planet. Bands sue their fans, the record companies join in, the ticket-providers to venues extort you with overpriced tickets, and it doesn’t end there. There have been entire albums written about how horrible the music industry is, and this isn’t changing anytime soon. The IFPI, the international association of record companies, recently sent spies into a couple bars across America, and is suing them for playing music that they didn’t have the rights for. This amounts to something like a couple dollars a bar. Situations like this are absolutely ludicrous, to the point where the common consumer doesn’t care to support the record industry at all.

This is something that you’ve got to live with. You’re a part of this industry that nobody likes and your job is to be so good to your fans that they can overcome their dislike of the record industry and lay out some cash to buy your album. Your fans are everything to you. You’ve got to make sure that you’re giving back to them whenever you go on stage or record an album because they will give you success, and they can also take it away.

Part of giving back ultimately comes back to image control. You can’t give away something that’s fake, that’s an act. In order for people to identify with you, you’ve got to do away with everything that isn’t true to your group. If you don’t identify with the songs you’re playing, your audience will know and stop supporting you.

Most of this may seem like common sense, and it really is, but unfortunately most bands don’t necessarily take it. They either ignore it, or take it to the extreme, reasoning that writing a pop song is equivalent to killing a baby. I doubt there is anyone that has never liked a single pop song. If pop is part of your identity, let it out in music. The world could use a few more quality pop musicians.

That doesn’t mean that honesty solves horrible musicianship—it just means that the best bands are those that combine integrity and musical ability. It’s up to you to come up with some good songs, but being true to yourself is the part of the equation that will ultimately put you into rock nirvana. Just don’t shoot yourself in the head when you get there.