Here’s the thing about the internet. There is a lot of music out there and a lot of it sounds half finished. Promising, but not of the quality and finish we have come to expect of the best artists. So, if you are a debut act that happens to put a wonderful sounding EP together and you get lucky, because a few influential blogs start promoting you fervently, you might have trouble brewing. You might suddenly become flavour of the month and have only four songs to your name.
Elton John said it well on the radio this morning. There are, now, plenty of shortcuts to fame, like reality television shows that look for the new, new thing, the ultimate voice and so on. If you manage to catch the tail of that rocket, you get a lot of exposure, very quickly. But you also have a very short time to convert that initial interest into a viable career. Next year, even next season, there will be another crop of hopefuls vying for the public’s ever more fickle attention. It might be a short cut to fame, but it’s also a short cut to disaster and permanent oblivion. Elton John’s advice is to get into a van with your mates and tour first. That assumes there are still places to play, of course, which are admittedly getting thin on the ground, but the point stands, I think.
Australian pub rock was a phenomenon of the eighties, borne of a vibrant live music scene that ephemerally existed at that time. Bands learned their craft and how to entertain a sceptical audience for two hours, under a hail of empty/full beer bottles and jeers, if they were not cutting it. The ones that survived and prospered were sharp. They were good. Nothing could rattle them.
If you are a debut act on the internet these days, and your second track or first album is in any way half baked or inferior to your breakthrough single, you’re sunk. It’s a hard road back.
When artists are learning to paint, everybody tells them they have to get a portfolio together, before they even think about exhibiting. They have to allow time for their art to develop and to find their own voice. They have to put in the hard work. First you have to get good at being you. I think the same advice applies, like never before, to young musicians. Don’t post everything that you produce and that is halfway decent on Bandcamp, Reverb Nation and Soundcloud. Keep quiet about your music until you have a body of work and some kind of potential back catalogue, first. Develop your distinctive, signature sound, refine it, and then cut it loose. But do not even think of doing so before.
That way, you can develop, perhaps with live audiences, at first, or for select friends and family, finding your own style and uniqueness, building up your portfolio of music the whole time. When you have the good stuff and enough of the good stuff, then and only then you can start to use the internet to build an audience for your recordings. Hopefully, you’ll have a bit of luck, but this time with enough of the good stuff to impress a transient, fickle audience a second, third and subsequent times.
The advantage of having a portfolio is that you can rapidly convert it into a back catalogue or place your other music in other contexts (films, games, etc). The thing all the older artists say is that even though fashions may come and go and their latest album sometimes does well, and at other times doesn’t sell quite as well at all, what keeps them afloat through all of those rising and falling tides of taste is their back catalogue.
So musicians should take a leaf out of the artists’ book. Build up a body of work first. Then bring it to the public. The results are likely to be better for you.