Don’t confuse your core audience with the public at large.
If you’re happy speaking to a small cadre of folks, by all means make an album every two or three years which will speak to your tiny audience. But if you want to be ubiquitous, if you want to be rich, if you want to be known…
An album has nothing to do with it.
Most people are casual listeners who go deep on an occasional act. Do they need to go deep via an album? When every streaming service lists the most popular tracks you’ve cut? Of course not.
You’re hanging with other musicians. You grew up at the record store. You reminisce about the days of yore, spinning “After The Gold Rush” or “Thriller” incessantly. But that was back when music was scarce and the album was all you could afford. When we all tuned into the same radio stations and MTV and were banged over the head with the same stuff. To say things are different now is an understatement, in the pre-Internet era the only way I could reach you with this missive was via snail mail, which was expensive, and I couldn’t even find you.
First and foremost you’re an artist, hewing to your own vision.
But then you survive on your audience.
If anybody tells you they’re satisfied with a small audience, ignore them. They’re afraid. Of the Internet feedback, of the hate, of the rejection. That’s what comes with success, your old friends get jealous and abandon you and your initial fans reject you and you feel lonely and…
But that’s what music stardom is, that’s what you should sign up for.
So think of your career through the public’s eye. People are overloaded with information, they’ve only got time for great, and they salivate for more and more on a regular basis.
Imagine if you could only speak with your girlfriend once a year. Via twelve letters written over the course of twelve months. With no feedback in between. Would that be satisfying? OF COURSE NOT!
But you want to text all day and Skype all night.
Why should art be any different?
You want to ride right alongside your listeners. You want to be in their consciousness 24/7. Most albums don’t sustain, just look at the sales chart for edification, they enter high and go right down. But a few sustain, not because the tracks are put in album form, but people want more.
Labels want albums, it’s easier to charge a lot with the bundle.
Artists want albums, because they grew up on them and they want to emulate their heroes and make a statement.
But the album is meaningless to the listener who’s been brought up on the iPod which was just killed and replaced with flash memory in a phone. The fan wants access. Everything you think is relevant may not be. Like that inane Apple leak about a new album format. People don’t want to own, they want access.
But fans are insatiable. Connect and they want more and more. Not only the studio takes, but the alternative takes, the live takes, the covers. Don’t think of albums as a profit center so much as the glue that holds your career together. You’ll get paid by a streaming service, quite handsomely eventually. But the goal is to utilize your recordings and the bond they engender to create and execute in other arenas and platforms.
He who hews to the past is destined for the scrapheap.
YOU WANT A HIT
It anchors your career. There are hitmakers and everybody else. A hit just means something ubiquitous that everybody listens to, chart numbers are unnecessary. Hits can come in a flash via inspiration, but oftentimes they require a huge amount of effort and craft. Are you repeating the verses? Is the chorus singable, is there a bridge? Strive for excellence in your own chosen genre, reaching the brass ring is what it’s all about.
DON’T LISTEN TO YOUR PEERS
They don’t want you to be successful, that would mean they are losers. They want to keep you down in the hole they’re in. Follow your dream, which is individual to you.
Without it, you’re toast. Today’s society is all about being a member of the group. Winners in art are singular. They stand alone, they endure the bows and arrows as well as reap the adulation. If you’re not dreaming big in today’s world, you’re not dreaming at all.
PUT OLDSTER ADVICE IN PERSPECTIVE
Wisdom comes with age and experience. But don’t forget the pre and post Internet eras are as different as the pre and post telephone eras. Not everything remains the same.
There’s no such thing as a cycle in today’s world. Art is like life. Keep making, errors are tolerated as long as you follow them up with more work of quality. Today the key is to be remembered, because almost everything is forgotten. Don’t overthink and overlabor your efforts. Raw and honest works today, and it forges a connection between you and your audience.
DON’T GET LOST MAKING A LIVING
Don’t sacrifice your art to get paid, whether it be a day job or going on the road to fulfill your financial desires. Art is about sacrifice. You live on a subsistence level until you break through or you give up.
WORK WITH THOSE WHO’VE HAD SUCCESS
Cred in a producer is secondary to track record. Work with someone who’s been to the mountaintop and continues to journey there. They can give you a perspective no one else can.
Do it to learn, not to write a hit song. Those Nashville cats are the best in the business. Their songs might be saccharine or predictable, but they know the system. Once again, it’s all about learning.
THE WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY IS SMALL
You can only be the critics’ darling for a brief period. People will only check you out once or twice, then they’re done. Strike when the iron is hot.
People will listen to two new substandard works and then abandon you.
BODY OF WORK
It exists on Spotify. If you connect with a track, people will go deeper.
Forget them. Unless you’re making a concept one, a statement. They don’t fit with today’s world. You drop one every other year when nothing in the news lasts longer than a week, in most cases barely a day? If you have a stiff album, it’ll take years to recover. Better to keep in the public eye by continuing to produce. You want to create a body of work, but it doesn’t have to be in album form, after all, the term “album” initially denoted a cardboard container for 78s.
YOU’RE ONLY YOUNG ONCE
You get worn down with age, you know too much. Test the limits. Follow your exuberance. Live and create to the limit.
SCREW THE SYSTEM
Unless you’re creating Top Forty hits, feel free to stand up to the powers that be. Too many businessmen, label people, agents and managers, are stuck in the old system. You can be dragged down by them, or stand up to them. This doesn’t mean you’ve got license to be a jerk, but standing your artistic ground is an asset. But it’s got to feel right to you, don’t be afraid to change or take input because you abhor criticism and believe everything you do is phenomenal, no one’s got that great a track record.