So what is Artist Development exactly? The origin of this term stems back to a time in the Music Industry when record labels were on the lookout for brand new talent.
“The rise of the internet, downloads and the fall of large record sales, saw the beginnings of great changes in how our industry worked.”
All the major record labels had a department dedicated to signing the newest talent irrespective of their experience, following or body of work. Essentially, you were signed to a long term deal and the label invested in your Musical Development at your rawest stage, mindful that they would reap the rewards when turning your talent into a product, which they could then market. These departments were strong up until the late 80’s.
From the late 80’s through to the end of the 90’s the record business changed. The rise of the internet, downloads and the fall of large record sales saw the beginnings of great changes in how our industry worked. Gone were the large budgets and big financial risks taken by major labels. To this day signing a big record deal is a Hollywood dream status still fed to us in the media like it is the answer to breaking through and making a sensible living from our talents. Don’t believe the media hype or any of your friends and family that support this ideal of getting signed. As a lot of established artists will tell you. It’s great but it’s the start of another chapter with its own challenges, not the start of your career or the end of your struggles.
During the time of these big changes in the 90’s, we also saw the rise of independent artists and record labels. Essentially trying, and in some cases succeeding, in filling the void left behind by the closing development offices. Or more to the point, pushing the bar up for major labels, almost doing the discovering for them.
In addition, the 00’s saw changes in how music was consumed with the rise of the internet, social media platforms and effective entrepreneurship. This gave us as artists the tools to get noticed, build a worldwide following and sell our music online ourselves.
At the same time we saw the Pro Audio sector change its approach from only making exclusive high end audio software for recording studios and people with big pockets, to targeting the home studio engineers, songwriters and producers. This in turn suddenly made music making much more accessible and affordable.
As an example in 2007 I managed to fund my first pro tools rig; at the time the software was still encrypted to only work with certain hardware by a certain company called Digidesign. I was so excited I had saved up enough to purchase a second hand 002 interface and the education license to Protools 7.
I worked many menial jobs over a long period of time throughout my education and saved every penny I could.
I felt like my dreams had come true! I now had the studio rig most people dreamed of. At the time I didn’t do that much midi work but when I did I used Cubase or the basics package of Expand. These were good enough. Protools also worked for me. The main point is I could create work that could be opened by professional engineers in pro studios that were running HD editions of the same software. It’s actually when my journey within artist development and helping others began, but that’s another story for a different day.
Many of these DAW’s (Digital Audio Workstations) and Professional grade plug-ins/VST’s are now even available on subscription, making it even easier to buy what you need when you need rather than having to save up. The tools for making release quality material are now within easy reach, if not already included as free software as standard (i.e. Garageband is included with every Mac computer sold).
The promotional tools for building a following and putting out our latest creations are but a username or password away, with the task of building our own business, product, sound or image. The A&R departments of all labels, not just the majors, are primed to jump on whatever is starting to get hot.
With this great power handed back to us comes greater responsibility. We must remain focused, determined and above all patient. The tools are easily within reach and uploading music online is so instant, we tend to have less patience as a result. Of course we must never be idle the same way someone who starts their business cannot release a product and just sit there waiting for sales to come flying in. There is so much we need to be doing to support our work. There is so much we must stay on top of to increase our chances of breaking through.
There are cons to the responsibilities and control of our development being in our hands. Like all situations, some people will try and take advantage. Reality TV singing shows are a great example. With the labels refusing to take talent really early on, the reality TV model allows them to conduct some of that process they used to do in a quick time span, whilst monetised by TV companies for featuring Saturday night entertainment. It seems like a fast track method but like most things that present themselves as shortcuts, they come at a cost. Most notably without the body of work, training and hard graft the reality TV path is short lived.
Equally our new age, social driven music development has created dodgy characters. Let’s be honest, at certain points within our career development we have been quite vulnerable and frustrated. People have appeared, trying to capitalise on these moments by offering management and record deals to you, investing your own money on a promise that they will break you out of a rut. Don’t buy it, beware of the sharks! People offering exposure with established platforms is one thing. People offering you master classes, coaching and careers advice is also a thing. But people promising you stardom and a fast track, or a “pay me to manage you” is not a thing. It’s deeply unethical.
Essentially the rise of the internet means business skills, self motivation and learning are really important. Our discipline and entrepreneurship is now just as important as our lyrics, musical image and our message.
The ultimate control in the early days of a music producer, songwriter, DJ, session musician or band’s career is firmly back in our hands. There are now more ethical companies offering us help for a direct exchange of time versus money that we can tap into than ever before. Once upon a time music college was the only place you could receive this level of training. We have the tools to learn everything we need to. We have the time to learn and we have the ultimate control on our sound, image and audience. So take control of your desire to do this, put a plan together, surround yourself with like minded people. Look after your mind and your body. Seek coaches and mentors when you need them. Watch out for the sharks, and become a self starter. Be disciplined, focused, build a reputation, a following and learn the art and science of music as a career.
I am positive that if you follow this mindset, you can make anything in music happen.