Tip Jar: Are You Being Realistic About Your Talent?

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Veteran music industry attorney Glenn T. Litwak has plenty of advice to dish about the right ways and the wrongs ways to handle yourself—the concrete things aspiring recording artists, music producers and songwriters can do to make progress in their careers.

1. Find a good mentor: Mentors can be beneficial to an individual in any career. I know I had several mentors when I started out as an entertainment attorney. Mentors can be invaluable to encourage and give you advice as well as introduce you to people who can help you advance your career. And it’s nice knowing you have someone knowledgeable to call when a question arises.

2. Be professional: Being professional means showing up on time, being polite, dressing appropriately, adhering to deadlines, etc. It also means knowing what you should know to do your job and being prepared to do it. People want to work with people who are professional. Not with someone who always has drama going on in their lives, or have obvious drug or alcohol problems. For example, if you are a sound engineer working in the studio and people are drinking, you should not be drinking. You are not there to party. Also, don’t be one of those people who does not have current photos, bio and music to give to someone when the opportunity arises. I have run across people who say for months they are working on their bio. You should be able to do it in a few hours. And some aspiring artists do not even have a website after pursuing a music career for years.

3. Learn how to network: You should attend music industry events such as fundraisers, conferences and festivals. Find out if your family or friends know anyone in the industry and see if you can arrange to meet them. Networking can happen anywhere at anytime. It is not restricted to formal networking events. Remember: that person you struck up a conversation with in the elevator may be someone in the music biz or may know someone who is.

4. Outwork your competition: I hear a lot of people say young people today don’t have a good work ethic. That may be true in some cases but not all. You should outwork your competition. And do whatever it takes including working long days, nights and weekends. This is your career. There is enormous competition in the music biz. How bad do you want it? Are you willing to make the sacrifices? Be determined and relentless.

5. Bring value: This means bringing something to the party, so to speak.  For example, when you approach someone in the music biz rather than just ask them if they can help you, maybe there is something you can do for them (like being a free hard working intern). Try to establish some rapport with the person you want to meet first.

6. Do an internship: An internship (most of them are unpaid positions) can be a great way to break into many industries. For example, I interned for a judge during law school. Puffy started out as an intern while in college and commuted to New York from Washington, D.C. for his internship. He wanted it that bad. Internships often lead to paying jobs and, in any event, offer great networking and educational opportunities.

7. Learn your craft: If you are a songwriter, for instance, study how to write songs from books and classes or from successful songwriters. Be a sponge. Learn everything there is to know about songwriting. If you are a singer, producer or musician, learn as much as you can about music and how the music business works.

8. Be creative/original: Seize the opportunity and make necessary sacrifices. When an opportunity arises, take advantage of it. If there is a great music conference you want to attend in New York but don’t have the money to pay for it, be creative. For instance, maybe you can volunteer to work at the conference and get a free ticket. Or maybe you will need to work overtime at your job to get the money to attend. Make the sacrifices you need to make. There are not many overnight successes. Be creative in your strategy and persevere. Set goals and work harder than anyone else to achieve them. And be true to yourself. Be honest about your experience and talents.

9. Be realistic about your talent: If you want to be a singer, you usually need to have a great voice to begin with. If you don’t, be realistic. Maybe you can do something else in the music business like be a songwriter, producer, manager, or work for a record label or music publisher. If you don’t have the talent, all the hard work and networking will not matter.

10. What not to do: Don’t be lazy, late, rude, unprofessional, disrespectful or unreliable. Or the person you want to do business with may find someone else. Don’t lie, steal or cheat anyone. It will come back to haunt you. Avoid people who will waste your time, or misrepresent their experience or accomplishments.

• Don’t retain dishonest or incompetent representatives, such as a manager or producer.

• Don’t get taken advantage of by, for instance, grossly overpaying for a producer to do a demo for you. But understand you have to pay your dues. So if a famous recording artist wants to take 50% of a song you (a new songwriter with no placements) wrote 100% of, let him or her do it. It will put you on the map as a songwriter and you will hopefully get a better deal next time.

• Don’t sign contracts without reading them completely and having a lawyer review them with you. Don’t jump into working with anyone until you have done your “due diligence,” meaning you have researched their experience, accomplishments and reputation. You can have a great contract, but if it is with a dishonest person with a terrible reputation, they may very well breach it.

GLENN T. LITWAK is a veteran music and entertainment attorney based in Santa Monica, CA. He has represented platinum selling recording artists, successful music producers and hit songwriters as well as management and production companies, music publishers and independent record labels Litwak is also a frequent speaker at music industry conferences around the country. Reach him at glenn@glennlitwak.com, glennlitwak.com.