Your name is your currency

I came across this interview recently with Patti Smith – – She’s a very wise woman and has been around making interesting music for nigh on 4 decades now. Patti Smith. Fairly bog standard name yeah? But she’s managed to turn her name into a lasting brand that has currency due to the quality of music she’s been putting out and the sheer longevity of her career. From listening to this interview I think I’d like to expand on this and pass on some advice to young artists.

I’ve noticed a trend amongst many musicians of late. The re-brand. Changing your band name. Changing your style of music to fit into what is currently going on in the NME or the Chart. Sacking the bass player that has a bad haircut or is slightly overweight. On one hand, there’s a lot to be said for it. Your previous band may have had all the industry backing that they ever needed but didn’t quite hit the mark. Couldn’t get that *all important* deal. Didn’t get enough press, etc, etc. So you re-brand and start again. Now, there are cases of this working out… and there are also cases of it not going so well. There’s a point in a musician’s life where they must say… “Do I stick or twist?” – maybe it’s when you get to 30… or 35… I don’t know? – If you believe in what you do and you know that being a musician is something in your blood and something that you will always do regardless of how much money you make or whether you become popular or not, you should stick. If you’re in it JUST to make money or JUST to snort cocaine from hookers tits, please give up now and stop taking up all the space for the real artists out there…

…so, the next question is… If I don’t get the record deal, the high powered management, the booking agent or the press… but I want to carry on making music, should I? And can I build my brand on my own? The good news is, yes. You can. In the current climate, all the resources are there open to you. You just have to work very hard and have a massive amount of drive. Recording can be done on a shoestring. Everybody has a friend that is good at doing artwork. You can phone or email promoters and book your own shows. You can get your music on iTunes without the help of a record label. You can get CDs and merch printed for a fair price. You can run and build your own social network sites and find an audience, providing that A) Your music is good; B) You are not as ignorant as major label artists and put the effort in to reply to anybody interested in your music; and C)  You have an interesting enough image or a personality that people would want to buy into.

I know all this because I’ve been through it myself. With the music I’m involved with I’m getting much better results without the industry. As a new artist you will always find that even if you do get taken on by a massive booking agency (done that, check) you’ll be pushed to the bottom of the priority list. If you do get taken on by one of the biggest management companies in the uk (done that, check) you’re sometimes only there so that other companies don’t get hold of you and if you do get serious record label interest or indeed a record deal (done them, check) – you won’t necessarily be home and dry.

Now, I’m not denouncing the industry here – there’s a lot to be said for a hard-working and effective booking agent that can get you well paid shows and onto the important festival slots. The independent record label that knows the right “pluggers” and press people to get your music into the right places. The obsessive manager that never gives up on his act. All I’m saying is, if you don’t get all this, providing that you have the drive & the passion there is always a way… x

Patti Smith: Advice to Young Artists

Patti Smith‘Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful. Be concerned about doing good work. Life is like a roller coaster ride, it is never going to be perfect. It is going to have perfect moments and rough spots, but it’s all worth it.’