All of our Rock N Roll heroes should read the above article. For those that don’t want to click on the link I will sum up the lessons that all rock n roll and heavy metal super stars or wannabe superstars can take from it.
First the backstory, Rosalia Mera is the co-founder of fashion giant Zara. At the time of her death at 69, she was estimated to be worth around US$6.1 billion thanks to her stake in the Zara chain.
Focus On The Core
The article has the heading “Embrace what you know best.” Back in the 1960s, Mera and her former husband, Armancio Ortega, started a small clothing business producing lingerie and dressing gowns from their home. Mera focused on her core skill of being a seamstress.
Bands start getting traction by focusing on an audience that is similar to their core influences. This becomes the bands core audience. These are the people that will spread the word every chance they get. This is what bands should focus on. Songs that cross genres are songs that exceed the hopes and desires of the hard core audience.
Finding A Niche
By focusing on the core skill to create music which is a sum of their influences, in time this will lead to a niche. For the Zara founders, this didn’t happen overnight. It took about 15 years before it exploded.
The L.A Glam Scene was a sum of its influences. On one hand you had the American Classic Rock influences of Kiss, Journey, Styx, Aerosmith, REO Speedwagon, Boston, Alice Cooper and The New York Dolls. On the other hand you had the British influence in the form of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Sweet, Mott The Hoople, David Bowie, Rolling Stones and Judas Priest. These two worlds collide, with the addition of The Sex Pistols punk attitude and the LA Glam Scene is born.
You need to be prepared to live in your niche until you get lucky. Lucky comes to those who keep at it. The more art you create the more opportunity to succeed. It’s always something that you didn’t want to do that ends up breaking through. Nothing is a waste of time.
Everyone says Metallica’s breakthrough happened with the Black album. I say it happened with Metallica creating a video clip for the song One. Suddenly, you had them on MTV. This was something they didn’t want to participate in originally.
The reason why music exploded in the Seventies and the early Eighties is that record companies didn’t ask the band for a hit single. The bands got the money and the Record Labels hoped that the band delivered. That is why the gatekeeper model was born. The Record Labels needed to select people that they believed in. One thing is clear, the Record Labels steered clear of the creative process.
Get the name right
Zara was going to be called Zorba originally. Can you imagine that, a fashion label with a very masculine name. Can you imagine Queensryche as The Mob or Def Leppard spelt as Deaf Leopard?
What about Van Halen as Mammoth or Night Ranger as Stereo or just Ranger?
What about Bon Jovi as Johnny Electric or Aerosmith as The Hookers or Spike Jones or Led Zeppelin as The New Yardbirds or Lead Balloon?
If Dream Theater came out with the name Majesty on their first release, I would have been dismissive, as that name alone puts a preconceived notion of a Lord Of The Rings style band in the style of Blind Guardian or a Rainbow and Dragons band like Dio and to me, you can’t top Blind Guardian or Dio. However Dream Theater is perfect.
What about The Facebook vs. Facebook?
Getting the name right is crucial. Do your research? Get the spelling correct. Get it unique.
Lars Ulrich took the Metallica name from a friend of his who wanted to start up a metal fanzine. His friend provided Ulrich a list of names he was considering. Metallica is a combination of the words Metal and Britannica. The name stuck out so Ulrich recommended Metal Maniacs as the name of the fanzine and kept Metallica for himself. Motley Crue was going to be spelt to Motley Crew originally and then Motley Cru.
You need to be willing to adapt if the name is already taken. I am sure there are many of other bands out there that have had different names.
Art can last forever, so you need to have the name to last with it. To put it into prospective, does anybody remember who was the richest person in the Seventies. Of course not. Everybody with money has been forgotten after they die. However, ask anyone on the street if they remember John Lennon, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Marc Bolan, The Who, Keith Moon, The Eagles and so on.
Does anyone remember Al Coury? He was a record executive back in the seventies. He recently passed away, almost unknown by the masses. If I ask the question if anyone remembers the soundtrack to “Saturday Night Fever” I am sure everyone will be saying YES. He was the person behind it, the mastermind. Those songs are forever, the artists are forever, however Al Coury is unknown.
In the current era, it will be the tech heads that will be remembered. They are the new artists like Steve Jobs with the iPod, iPhone, iMac and iPad.
Mixing friendship and business can be trouble.
The actual title was mixing love and business can be fraught. In the Zara example, Mera and Ortega created an empire, and had two kids during it. However by 1986, they separated. One stayed on in charge while the other became a board member.
In a band context, transpose the love part for friendships. All bands are a bunch of friends jamming with each other in the beginning. Then they start to get traction. Then they start to make money. Then they get outside influences. Then the arguments start. One person does more than the other, so why should the other person get the same amount of money and so forth. One person is the main songwriter however the other people in the band want to be credited as well.
Then there is still the mindset of the Seventies and Eighties were successful musicians are portrayed as rich, however that is so far from the truth. The musicians were in debt to their label, so they had to work and create to pay it all off, which meant getting even more into debt. So that leads to the current situation were musicians are not satisfied with their incomes. Everyone is always comparing themselves to others that are earning more.
Don’t Give Up Your Rights
Copyright was designed to protect the artist. However, as soon as the Recording Industry started to grow, business people came out from their corporate offices and stuck their claws into Copyright and now you have these same business people defending the copyright monopoly, while they are robbing artists and their fans dry. These same defenders of the copyright monopoly are laughing all the way to the bank while exploiting the system in a legal way.
Artists create not because they can make money off it as individuals, but because of who we are. We have been creative creatures from the start of civilisation.
Be A Voice
The article had the title of “Use your power for good.” The Zara founder was a voice for topics close to her heart. In this case, it was questioning Government policies and trying to raise awareness on the loss of education services. Of course, the more money you have, the better the platform from which you can speak from. However, even a small artist can make a difference.
Piracy is a term that is screamed out by the rich corporations. However where is the voice of the artist on this subject.
The Live Business is overpriced and it needs a reset, however artists are blaming everyone else except themselves. The problem is, no wants to upset anyone.
The frequently heard notion that you don’t create culture if you’re not paid for it comes from those who exploit artists, and never from artists themselves. Artists need to speak up.
Enjoy what you have
Enjoy your life. Socialise, be seen. Life is too short, so enjoy your family. It’s not about the number of digits in the bank account.
Digital Summer to me is a band that enjoys what they have. They are professional musicians who also manage to maintain additional professional careers. Digital Summer is building a career without the support of a record label. When they began back in 2006 (before the explosion of social media), it was all about burning CD’s, passing them out and getting their name out. So when social media became the new marketing platform, the band took the same grassroots self-promotion into the digital realm. They know have established their name and they are still working hard to keep that name afloat.
Read the above interview, it is essential reading for any DIY artist.
I really like the part when the band is talking about being on the road with signed bands. It was an eye opener to see bands with number 1 singles struggling financially. It squashed any perception they had of the rock star lifestyles and it made them realise that they can do all of that and still have the freedom and full control of the band.
The other part of interest is that the band is 100% fan funded. The professional careers the members have outside the band fund their home lives and the band career funds the band. Their latest album Breaking Point was funded via Kickstarter. They had a project goal of $25,000 and by the time the campaign was over, they had raised over $51,000. I have all of their albums, so you can say that I am a fan. The band is basically a machine running itself. Whatever money the band makes goes back into the band.
Another interesting part is the balance between their professional careers and touring. As the band answers, “it’s tough, but we make it work”. That is how it always has been for a musician. It’s a tough gig, how hard do you want to work at it.
One thing that I took out of the interview is the honesty of the band. This alone speaks of the integrity.
They formed a company called Victim Entertainment, that they use to publish anything that is Digital Summer. They have a business model that sets out what the individual roles are of each member. They even had feelers from other signed bands and Grammy winning artists asking if they could sign with Victim Entertainment. They answered NO, because it will take away from Digital Summer. Remember point one in this post, Focus on the CORE. I am sure other artists would have said YES, as the prospect of riches could be too much to ignore.
They have a substantial social media following. They even mentioned that the word of mouth from fans alone has brought them tons of new fans. Their social media presence brings in an income which they use to advertise and promote the band. That’s right kiddies, they are not spending their money on drugs, football team franchises or million dollar penthouses. They are spending it on the band.
Their focus was always the live show. That is why they have been on big tours. The final part of the interview is about what advice would Digital Summer give to other hard rock artists who want to remain independent. This is their answer;
Be ready to work your ass off! The more you put in, the more you will get out. Never settle for promoting your shows on Facebook or text messages only. A lot of people don’t check that shit anyway (especially with Facebook constantly changing). Spend a little bit of cash, get some decent flyers printed, record a decent quality demo, and get your ass out there on the street and physically hand stuff out! You meet a lot of cool and interesting people doing this too. Just remember, not everyone is going to like it, and some may put it down, but at least you’re getting your name out there one step at a time.
Know The Truth
Don’t get caught up in the saga of how artists will be paid. You are an artist so keep on creating. We live in a market economy. Everybody is responsible for finding a way to make money by providing value that somebody else wants to pay for.
Once artists start making some money from their art they will eventually become entrepreneurs. That means that you have to offer something which somebody else wants to buy. Writing a song and releasing it, doesn’t mean that people have to buy it to hear it.
Know the truth that business is business, and there is nothing that entitles an entrepreneur to sales. You need to work hard at it.