How to “Cut” It In the Music Industry

I found myself at a Bryan Adams acoustic concert this past week.

I know what you’re thinking. Robin Hood Prince of Thieves Bryan Adams?

That’s the one.  Summer of ’69 Bryan Adams?

Yes. The Bryan Adams that Cuts Like a Knife?

Yep – all one in the same and an enjoyable Sunday night. Throughout the hour and a half concert, I found myself saying several times “Oh yea, he wrote that song too.” I enjoyed the reminder of how many cinematic melodies he pinned over the years. There is no doubt that he is a talented songwriter; however, he lacks the movie star good looks of people like Justin Timberlake or a Jonas brother. As I sat there thinking about his gift at pinning songs with a great hook, I could not help but wonder if a Bryan Adams would ever cut like a knife in this new media world? And, with the consolidation of the radio world, what now serves as THE place where an artist can find a platform to promote his or her music? As I turned this question over in my mind I found Bryan Adams having the answer all along.

At one point in the show he mentioned how he owed a great deal of credit to the early bands he opened for early in his career. He also mentioned the amount of gratitude he felt towards the local radio station program directors in those towns that would meet him and put his music into rotation. Those stations would tell program directors at other stations who would then add the songs to the rotation at their station then tell others and so on and so forth. His career bloomed.

Keep in mind that when Adams was meeting with station programmers this was in the early to mid 1980s during a time where a large radio station company was a couple of dozen. This was during a time when, legally, there were limits to how many stations any one entity could own and finding a group that owned several was more a rarity than the current norm. Radio station programmer directors, while having some accountability to their general manager, did not operate like they do now.

While terrestrial radio broadcast still certainly plays a role in helping music careers and bringing new music to communities, the consolidation of radio stations gives the few station groups a great deal of power to influence what music and which artists are played. It is now the norm to find one program director serving several geographic markets, making music decisions for those same markets and for a corporate group of stations to be several hundred as opposed to a few dozen. Said another way, the funnel for new music to emerge has been narrowed.

A great deal of Bryan’s hits and acclaim came from pinning great songs that found their way into films. The songs that experienced success that were not tied to films were almost driven by the success earned by the film songs. It created a cycle of success that still has him in demand to write songs, his songs being re-recorded by new artists and earning him a tour that in Jackson, Mississippi was nearly sold out on a Sunday night. Not a bad way to put some pennies together.

For the up and coming singer songwriter, my advice is to take a cue from Bryan’s career – find the most innovative independent filmmaker in your geographic area and offer to provide music for their next project. With the ease of making films, the amount of film festivals across the country and social media, the independent film is the platform to put your music in front of people outside of your immediate reach. Video synchronization licensing is one of the biggest line items in a film budget. Independent filmmakers with shoestring budgets are always looking for ways to lower this cost. I dare say most would welcome the idea of music with little to no fees attached.

Certainly ask to be paid, but do not expect to be paid a lot. Insist that you receive credit with your contact information prominently displayed. To my longtime readers, you know I am also going to recommend that you have a contract drawn up outlining all of these terms too.  If this filmmaker has a plan for distribution or a plan to enter the completed project into film festivals, even better. The panel participants that are selecting the films will hear your music and will maybe take steps to seek you out. Finally, find an entertainment attorney who has contacts in both the film and music world. This person will become invaluable in helping you to make those connections that will mutually benefit both careers.

The funnel for radio may have become smaller, but other vehicles have emerged. I urge you to seek out independent filmmakers and independent films as that new vehicle.

How have you gotten exposure for your music? How do you think social media has helped or hurt the music industry? Take part in the comments section below.

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