Since May of this year, I've been in residency in Harlem every Wednesday at Minton's -- the place where be-bop was born -- with JC Hopkins' Biggish Band. Thanks to businessman Richard Parsons and noted chef/restauranteur Alexander Smalls, this legendary establishment has been revitalized and is now the epicenter of what many consider to be a resurgence of new jazz in the city.
It has been an absolute privilege to sing and perform in a space where so many revered musicians and vocalists have shined so brightly. I am humbled to share the stage with so many gifted musicians that compel me to go further than I ever thought I would vocally. All of that soloing from so many horns for so long has bent my ears in all the right ways. There's no going back now.
In the meantime, here's a slice of all of us, in action: J. Walter Hawkes the trombonist, accompanying me on ukulele with this timeless classic I Cover The Waterfront.
As I give serious thought and planning to my next release and how I intend to market it, I see blurbs like this that instinctively make me push pause and give my situation the once over. Those once overs are a reflex at this point. That sounds paranoid but it's probably a good thing.
Interesting to note that according to this infographic, indie musicians make most of their income by touring and selling cds at shows. I'll co-sign that. I think its strange that this doesn't mention songwriting contests like ISC or Unsigned Only that offer money, gear and press to unsigned artists -- or well-established, well-respected behemoths like the Independent Music Awards that have lots of categories (like best album art) and offer a megaton of exposure if you win. Nothing gets your music heard -- by industry hotshots and fans alike -- like winning contests.
What's missing -- for me, anyway -- is the musician with his own studio that not only makes his own albums but writes, arranges and composes for theater/musical theater/cabaret/TV/film. The position of producer is mentioned but what about music supervisor? There's music licensing to consider, if you own your publishing. (If you don't own your publishing as a songwriter, you're giving it all away.) And what about musicians who are also teachers? I know a lot of musicians who teach (privately and in university) when they aren't gigging or doing session work and they make a great living at it. With insurance!
I'm not so sure that anyone that's actually paying attention to what's happening in the music industry right now is working towards actively submitting their music to a label. Macklemore sums it up best in this interview with Chris Hardwicke on the Nerdist podcast (if you haven't heard the whole thing, you really should):
Chris: I'm sure you've been approached a million times at this point, but you still don't want the infrastructure of a label?
Macklemore: Yeah, there's no reason to do it. With the power of the internet and with the real personal relationship that you can have via social media with your fans... I mean everyone talks about MTV and the music industry, and how MTV doesn't play videos any more -- YouTube has obviously completely replaced that. It doesn't matter that MTV doesn't play videos. It matters that we have YouTube and that has been our greatest resource in terms of connecting, having our identity, creating a brand, showing the world who we are via YouTube. That has been our label. Labels will go in and spend a million dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars and try to "brand" these artists and they have no idea how to do it. There's no authenticity. They're trying to follow a formula that's dead. And Ryan and I, out of anything, that we're good at making music, but we're great at branding. We're great at figuring out what our target audience is. How we're going to reach them and how we're going to do that in a way that's real and true to who we are as people. Because that's where the substance is. That's where the people actually feel the real connection.
And labels don't have that.
So you sign up for a label. There's not some magic button they're now going to push and it means that people are going to like who you are. Or that they're identify with your vision or your songs. It actually comes from sitting down, staring at a piece of paper for months or years on end, trying to figure out who you are as a person, and hoping that it comes through in the end. But a label's not going to do that for you.
Everybody has their idea of what it takes to "make it" in the entertainment industry. If you're the kind of person that thinks making it means you have to be as rich and famous as Beyonce or Kanye to be successful in this business, you're not just missing the boat -- you're nowhere near the water. When you understand this business of music on a basic level, you know that you can make a great living at it if your hustle is strong. Especially if you don't live in an expensive place like New York City.
And by the way -- if you want to understand this business of music, the book This Business of Music (considered the bible of the music industry) is a great place to start.
*MICHAEL ARENELLA and His Sextet, your devoted host and beloved bandleader
*NICOLE RENAUD, the luminous accordionist and chanteuse
*Jazz royalty, QUEEN ESTHER and trio
*Tap-dance darlings THE MINSKY SISTERS