Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Feature Story 1: Breaking into the music business

A passion for music/Engl 327/Sarah Bollenbach
The combination of beat and tone forms something that people all around the world passionately love. This ‘something’ is music. With the Grammy Awards still fresh in America’s memory, many young performers and musicians have been inspired by the performances they watched over the airwaves. For other viewers, childhood dreams of musical success have been re-awakened. Thousands of aspiring musicians have goals of becoming famous for their trade but for many, breaking into the music business is but a pipe dream; an aspiration they would love to achieve. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of aspiring musicians have no realistic goals in mind, let alone the tools for how to make any dreams come alive. However, taking the proper steps in the process can help turn the dream into a reality.
Musical influences early in life can have a significant effect on a person’s musical abilities and interests as they grow older. For Connor Patterson, a senior music business and technology major at Millersville University, music became a significant part of his life at a very young age.

(Photo Credit: Sarah Bollenbach)
“I was probably 3 or 4 when I got my first Casio keyboard and started making drum sets out of tissue boxes,” said Patterson. “I would listen to the radio and start playing the tunes by ear. I’d make a drum set out of empty tissue boxes and then tape pieces of paper over it to get the right sound.” These musical abilities were encouraged by his family, as he recalls many fond memories of road trips spent singing harmonies to classics by everyone from Cat Stevens to Michael Jackson, from Billy Joel to Disney show tunes. As his musical talent continued to blossom, Patterson was mentored by Dr. Gene Strayer, president of the American Guild of Organists. Dr. Strayer helped to develop Patterson’s interest in songwriting. “I used to make up music on the piano and he [Dr. Strayer] would show me new techniques to improve and whatnot,” said Patterson. Patterson will be the first to admit that he loves to put his own spin on someone else’s music; “I will always remember Dr. Strayer telling me, ‘Connor, you have to play and sing what is written. You can’t recompose everything.” But this tendency to put his own spin on something already written is one of the many things that is helping push Patterson’s career to the next level. His goal is to get his music career to the point where he can perform for several months out of the year and spend the rest of his time composing new music and collaborating with other artists. Patterson encourages other aspiring musicians to do what he’s doing; “find something that sets you as the performer apart from anyone else. If you sound like Dave Matthews, that’s great, but you have to find a way to make you sound like you, nobody wants to just hear another Dave Matthews, they want to hear something that takes some of what Dave Matthews is good at, like lyrics and incorporate that into what they’re good at as an individual.” Booking and performing gigs in any city he can is something else Patterson is working on doing, and creating new business ventures that will help him get his name out into the musical world. “I’m building websites, a myspace, recording demos of my music, stuff like that. I’m trying to meet as many people as I can and also trying to learn as many styles as I can to improve my marketability,” said Patterson. Over and over, young musicians will say the best way to become established in the music scene, whether it’s local or national, is to take as many opportunities as possible.
Matt Wilson, also a senior music business and technology major at Millersville University says he rarely turns down a gig if he’s asked to perform.

(Photo credit: Cathleen Gemmell)
“I try to play as many gigs as possible. Exposure is worth as much as money,” says Wilson. “I try to make as many connections as possible and I also try to create good relationships with people too- you never know who knows who.” Establishing relationships and making a good impression is key to an artist’s success. A composition major at West Chester University, Danny Lawson is seeking to get his music out into the scene as well.

(Photo Credit: Danny Lawson)
“I take every opportunity I receive to write new music. If someone needs a piece for a recital, I offer. If I know a friend is making a film, I ask if they need a score,” says Lawson. “I also try to create my own ‘name outing’ events. I had an idea to start a collaboration between the composition and the dance departments at WCU. So, I went for it and it was a total success!” Lawra Gudgeon, a scarf wearing, tea drinking, indie-music loving, hippie at heart also has goals of getting into the music business, though she has not made as much of an effort at booking gigs.

(Photo Credit: Lawra Gudgeon)
“I’ve been taking local gigs at conferences, and word-of-Mouth has definitely been the best way for me-- you get better recommendations, better gigs, etc,” says Gudgeon. For Gudgeon, stepping into the music business is slow and steady, but she is ok with that for right now.
For some young artists, even the idea of booking a gig is a daunting and seemingly impossible task. Wilson has a great deal of experience in this field. He excels at playing the piano and singing and has become a regular performer on not only the Lancaster bar scene but in surrounding cities, including a recent performance at Pittsburgh’s Hard Rock CafĂ©. “It’s very important to have a press pack if you want to book a gig,” said Wilson. “You’ll need a photo, biography of yourself or your band and a demo of your music. Once you send them to venues, it’s crucial to be really persistent about calling them to follow up. Most venues have a pile of press packs from a lot of bands, so you need to be the one to get their attention.” Something that is important to realize is that the music business is full of rejections. Every single musician will encounter rejection at some point in their musical career. This is something Danny is well aware of. “Be open to and learn how to take criticism. Be okay with rejection.” Eric Whitacre, the famous contemporary choral composer had three of his most well-known works rejected the first few times he tried to get them published. “Every musician goes through rejection; it refines us,” said Lawson. “Dream huge: it’s over-said, but it’s true. If you don’t try to do anything big, you never will.”
So, booking gigs and playing as many concerts and meeting as many people as possible seems to be the standard advice given by young musicians so far. But Patterson and Wilson still have yet another strategy of marketing their name. Meeting at Millersville University, the two music majors quickly became friends and realized how much they had in common.

(Photo Credit: Cathleen Gemmell)
Now, several years into their school careers, Patterson and Wilson have started their own business called Clover Hill, affectionately named after the street that Wilson grew up on. “Right now, Clover Hill is simply a marketing firm which does viral and multimedia marketing strategies for performing and visual artists,” says Wilson. “The idea came from being approached by an old director of mine looking to market his music. We hope to expand Clover Hill to running a staff, and eventually owning a brewery with a music venue, someday opening five venues worldwide. We also hope to own a management firm as well as a publishing house later down the road.” Wilson and Patterson have big dreams and are doing everything they can to make them happen.
For all four of these artists, music is an integral part of their lives. Without it, they would not be who they are. “Music is something that I’ve always enjoyed doing,” says Wilson. “I play by ear, so it can be like a sonic puzzle that I have to put together. It’s easy to forget what’s going on around me and just focus on the keyboard in front of me. Music can also really take my mind off of life. It’s therapeutic to just sit down, play piano and sing.” For Gudgeon, music communicates something that she often can’t find the words to express; “Music can say what so many can't verbalize for themselves; it plays out their emotions, challenges their thoughts, and (if it's truly great music), can change their lives,” she comments. Who wouldn’t want to be involved in something that could do that? “Just as much as we all can hear that 'soundtrack of our lives' playing in the back of our heads every day (admit it: we all do that), it's so important what songs are being played under the events of our lives,” says Gudgeon. “The music we listen to reflects who we are. At the same time, who we are is really a reflection of our music.” Music is something that can impact both the performer and those around them. Lawson sees music as his life and breath; “I cannot live without it because it cannot live with me. I am the reflector, the crafter. It, or at least its essence, needs to be released. Music needs me, just as I need music.”
The performer has to love the music. Launching a career in today’s competitive music industry is not easy. Every artist testifies that success takes hard work and perseverance. Musicians have to have a tough skin and be willing to take rejection in any form, but when success is found and goals are reached, the feeling is magical. Lawson leaves with one final thought; “Make music because you love it. Make music because you have to in order to live. Any other motivation will turn out to be sour. Make music for you.” With this mindset, and taking the steps to market a name, musicians will be taking quick steps closer to their goals of being an active member of the music industry.

Links for Lancaster, PA music booking venues:
http://www.quipspub.com - This is a pub, always hopping with people, they love good, well-known, feel-good music.
http://www.dispensingco.com - A new band every Saturday night!
http://www.princestreetcafe.com - This venue tends to book more acoustic, jazz, singer-songwriter type musicians, rather than full bands.
http://www.lancasterarts.com/firstfridays - Lots of opportunities for musicians to book both indoor and outdoor gigs.

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