How good do you look in your jeans? – more on the craft of producing “hit records”

by Douglas Romanow, Producer/Engineer

Douglas Romanow
Douglas Romanow

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.

As a side note, you do look great in your jeans.  By this I mean that every artist I’ve ever worked with shines like the sun once they’ve delivered the performance of their lives.  On a basic and profound level, all artists are attractive/sexy/marketable when they do what they’re made to do and do it exceedingly well.   Awesome music sells itself.

9 thoughts on “How good do you look in your jeans? – more on the craft of producing “hit records”

  1. Wow! You nailed it Douglas.
    One can only hope that the access to recording technology for the masses improves things. I have my doubts though and I think everything will just get dragged down to the lowest common denominator. On the plus side, it is becoming increasingly impossible to make a living in the recording business, so many people attracted to the business for the wrong reasons will go elsewhere to make a buck.



  2. Well said Douglas, and certainly matching in terms of my thoughts on the nonsense we are presented with daily in this business. For those of us who truly believe in the craft, the importance of the arrangements, the lyrics, the singing style and the emotions that go with and into it, it is unfortunate that big labels and their so-called reps are simply listening to the sound of their own BS instead. That real talent is pushed aside for one who is under twenty and only “looks good in their jeans,” without thought or ear towards the actual music and artist, is the reason why we are bombarded with “musical” garbage daily. I read of the constant cry from big labels as to the decline of sales, industry slumps and so on, yet their inability to take responsibility for it and change their practices is mind boggling. Despite some major label execs’ interviews to the contrary, the practice and proof shows otherwise. Market this kid’s hairstyle because that will get other kids excited and wanting to look like him/her seems to be in line with their philosophy of music-doesn’t-matter. If we throw millions in marketing dollars at this non-artist the public will have no choice but to see his/her face everywhere and thus will buy his/her music. Live performances where we clearly see these “artists” lip-syncing each song is proof enough of major problems with who is in charge and who is scouting all this. Such garbage. What a shame. Labels have an opportunity with social media access of today to seek out, be on the lookout for, and actually listen to many truly talented individuals and groups, some that may well be over twenty-five years of age, but do they? Just read the demo policies or try finding a way to contact a rep as an artist and you can see where the industry is: Corporate greed and in the hands of suits all looking to make the lion’s share, which in policy will not work with an artist but instead with an individual or group that can be molded from a cookie cutter piece allowing for complete control over their career. Labels are missing this new chance to find artists with actual ability in writing and producing quality work, perhaps even generation crossing songs or albums that just may bring music back to the music industry and provide lasting artist/label relationships of meaning and viable business longevity. Heck it may even result in people wanting to buy music because the music becomes worth it! Will labels eventually get it and get it right? Remains to be seen but so far they continue to drop the ball and lurk in the sewers where they “Yes” themselves and the public into the same old same old. They have become the producers of fast food for the music business, and hopefully only a heart attack away from realizing what the change needed actually is.


    1. Denis Burton

      Well said. I played in a band in the mid 60s in Yorkville Village. That was a time when the music and the people were real and sincere. So real in fact that it still remains as popular as ever. I saw the Beatles play live. There were no gimmicks! It was true and real music. What the hell has happened in the music world today????


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  4. Sarah J

    Damn! Amen. Case I point: Freddy Mercury. Raw, untrained voice and one ugly mug! But in the eyes of many (incl me) he’s one sexy mofo thanks to his amazing gift.


  5. Yep. Great stuff, thanks.

    I need to make sure that this is reinforced in my book and course that goes with it.

    Not convinced about the last sentence, tho. You still need to put some effort into letting people know that the music exists … but far too many musicians devote their lives to selling lemons instead of trying to grow oranges.


  6. Well said Douglas. I totally agree. There’s been way too much cookie-cutter crap music in the market for years and I really don’t see it changing any time soon. Too bad though. Being a songwriter and producer myself, I’ve come into contact and have met or heard some really outstanding artists and singer/songwriters that deserve the chance to have their songs blasted on today’s radio. I, myself, am finding it hard to get my songs to artists/labels because I am an unknown in the majors area. It is hard to get a cut with a major artist unless you know the people that can get it to the artists’ reps. I’ve found out, no matter how great the song you think you have, it’s all about who you know in this business. It’s unfortunate for me and unfortunate for tons of other songwriters or artists that are trying to get their songs heard. For me, it’s all about the song as well. If the song is great, it doesn’t matter to me who’s singing it. I listen for melody and lyrical content and how both work to move me emotionally. I think record labels have forgotten that true formula for success. The artist does need to have great vocals, no doubt, but as a consumer as well, I could care less what they look like. Mmmmmm….I miss the good ole days when it was just all about the music and not about how marketable the artist was. 🙂


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