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Art plays vital role in music business

Stake claim in music business as true artist

By Tim Fenster Music columnist
On May 1, 2012

  • Too many punk bands try to sound like Blink-182 (above) instead of developing an original style.

No artist here. This time I'm the show.
If you haven't stopped reading yet, you're probably wondering, "What story does Tim have to tell?"
Well, I've learned a lot about the music business from writing this column - enough to fill a book, but I'll try to condense it to one long article for you.
Firstoff, I've learned to appreciate all forms of music, even genres and artists that I personally hate. I've also learned that being a rockstar isn't particularly glamorous. It requires a lot of dedication, perseverance, travelling and hard (though fun) work.
I think I've also learned a bit about what it takes to make it big.
I've heard some people say in the music biz, it's all about who you know.
I disagree. In my opinion, a rockstar connection is the last thing you need to become a famous artist.
First you need to have something people want to hear - something people will pay to see. For this, you need to have a solid collection of songs, a good knowledge of musical production, an engaging stage presence and an understanding of your niche audience and how to best appeal to them.
It takes a lot of time, talent, money, practice, mentors and playing for empty rooms to make this happen.
Time is critical. The best rappers out there - Jay-Z, Nas and, arguably, Lil Wayne - all started when they were in elementary school. You've heard it before, but it's true: To succeed at something, you must practice, practice, practice.
However, I think what's most important is talent. Biggie Smalls had only practiced hip-hop for a few years before he hit it big - the dude was a beast. As with all skills, there are the have's and the have-not's. And the sad truth is many of you out there could dedicate every waking second to a music career and not even get on the Water Street stage. Many of us just don't have it.
Another thing I've heard about the music business is that you have to "sell out" to be successful.
I disagree.
Originality is the very thing that makes you choose to tune into one artist over another. If you want people to listen to you or your band, you need to find a way to stand out. I can't tell you how many generic Blink-182 and Goo Goo Dolls sound-alikes I've come across in writing this column.  And they usually don't go anywhere or get featured.
There may be a time and place for "selling out" - the Black Keys made a smart move by shifting toward mainstream rock with El Camino - but if you come out sounding exactly like another band, no one will listen to you. Remember, your idols in Blink-182 (or whatever other band) have been doing this for decades. Odds are they've mastered their respective genre more-so than you.
So, to be successful you have to find a musical style that you can master and make your own. Then you have to practice, write and perform with that original style for years, probably decades. And finally, when you're the best at your game, you might get a shot at fame. Or not.
Such is the cruel nature of pop music. So many times I've interviewed a totally dope artist and thought, "They are going to make it big." Yet a year later, the band has gone nowhere or broken up.
This is another serious hindrance to success. Music, as with all art-forms, is best done when multiple like-minded brains are working on it. When a talented group of musicians work together for a few decades, the s**t they turn out is often incredible.
However, band breakups are inevitable. Art is subjective and as artists, we are extremely passionate and protective of the work we put out. And at the end of the day, all musicians and rappers are artists.
You can't get into music for money or fame because it's simply too hard and too unlikely to hit it big. You have to be passionate about your musical art long before you sign any multi-million dollar contracts.
This brings me to the next thing I want to discuss - art.
I've been writing fiction for quite a few years and therefore, I consider myself an artist. So I feel I can relate to the musicians I feature on some level. I too know the excitement of a striking genius idea and also the pain of grinding out a doomed-to-fail idea.
And being an artist, I encourage everyone to practice some type of art. I know this world is full of different types of people - artists, athletes, brainiacs, brutes and warriors - but I still encourage you to try.
Practicing an art puts meaning into everything around me. Perhaps this might be my brain's constant need for amusement. Yet, I find that life is a little more colorful when every person I meet could inspire a character in my next attempted novel and when every tough experience I have could turn into a published short story.
So, with my last sentences in The Stylus, I'd like to encourage everyone to keep searching.
To the non-artists, I say: Search for new types of art, especially music. Don't limit yourself to only hit songs or one specific genre. Listen to everything, and sooner or later, you'll be able to appreciate the meaning behind every song. I speak from experience.
To the artists, I encourage you to keep practicing - even when your band breaks up or your van breaks down - because some day, we all must die. And when we're dead and gone, the only parts of us that will remain are our kin and our art.

Follow Tim on Twitter @Backstagepass2

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