by Douglas Romanow, Producer/Engineer
I first started shopping master recordings to labels when I was about twenty-four years old, and admittedly, I was entirely new to the game. I was so green, in fact, that I was surprised by the consistent question, “How old is the artist?” I thought, “Pardon me Mr. A&R Man, but is it possible that, perhaps you’ve missed the point?! Can you not hear how great this artist is? Can’t you hear the quality of the performances, the arrangements, the [ahem] respectful and adventurous record production? And even if you didn’t ‘get the music,’ your question seems somehow irrelevant, given that I just asked, ‘What do you think of the music?”
I felt that focusing on the age of the artist was a tad crass in light of the high art being presented. It surely can’t be any great secret that artists and producers spend many months [in some cases, years] detailing every aspect of their recordings, from song lyrics to arrangements, from the mix to the song sequence. It is also common knowledge, that music was/is one of life’s highest callings. That we are here not simply to entertain or titillate, but to contribute to the betterment of the human experience, to move people to a greater sense of fun/joy/truth/catharthis.
What possible relevance could the artist’s age be? Of course, what the label representatives are really asking is, are the artists attractive and young enough so that they can work the projects for a number of years and make enough money? They need to make videos with great shots of their asses. Sign them at 16, work them for a few years, and then drop them at 22 if the numbers don’t crunch for that fiscal quarter. Nothing new, and no one should be surprised.
I know that the record business is struggling to sell music and ‘move units.’ And I have a solution. Do you want to be a star? Do you want tangible success in the music business? Yes, you’ll need a good photo shoot and a Facebook page and a Twitter account. Some old school print ads or posters can help. A clean, professional EPK is important. A great label/distributor/publicist/tracker team is invaluable. But here’s the real solution: Make the best damn music you can make. And certainly, make it better than the glossy-packaged dance/pop that is being rammed down the FM stations every day. I call it Placeholder Music – bullshit, low-budget programmed tracks without imagination or thematic variation that is churned out quickly and cheaply to maintain control over the airspace until such time as a real artist shows up. We have a dearth of real artists. Become a real artist.