Playing Guitar - How Do You Achieve Fame?

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By Tim Gillespie

How Do You Achieve Fame?

I always thought I would be a good band manager. Never mind the fact I have a few degrees, one of which is an MBA. I have watched bands and friends try to "make it" since I was about sixteen. To say it is a difficult road is an understatement. It is almost impossible.

But that seems to stop very few people from trying. Most of the bands I have known have been constructed around having fun or playing out in night clubs and avoiding a day time job. Most of the members don't know how to go about achieving fame. They only know they want it.

Let me say right now, I don't think there is one specific way to get on track but I do know a few things you should avoid and a few you should consider.

These are things I have seen many of my friends do. When I travel back to my old neighborhoods and visit these guys, they are still doing the same thing. They are having a great deal of fun and their abilities have greatly improved, but they are no closer to making it then they were ten years ago.

Looking back I see several things that I think might have made a difference. This kind of thing is difficult to speculate about, because it's all hypothetical. You never get to test it, you never get to measure it either. So here are things I would like to throw out for consideration. I am sure there are other great ideas, and I would love to hear yours and pass them on.

1. Know what you can change and what you can't. Most bands are faced with constant change. They change their songs every few weeks or months. They change their style from time to time. They change their lovers often. Sometimes they even change their clothes.

They need to change. Assuming the commitment of the band is to increase their following and sell more CD's, they need to change because most of them are not doing that right now. If they were, everything would be fine but they are not. So they must flirt with change. However that being said, there are some changes bands will not take on. Change like the type of material they cover, or the way they write songs. Some of these changes are compared to "selling out" and no one wants to do that. So know what you are willing to change and what you have to live with.

I think change has to be managed for bands. Change is good and brings new sparks of creativity with it. It can also bring more money. But before you can manage change you have to know what you are willing to change and what you will never change.

2. Develop a database. I give this advice to everyone (almost). A database of promoters, bands, managers, and agents to name a few is a good start. Then you will not likely forget them, and you will add to them. If for no other reason than networking and finding out how other bands are changing, you can increase your awareness.

Every band should do promotional tapes and actively promote with them. If you have a ready made list of managers and record companies you can send them CD's on a regular schedule and document what you did. You can also get to know different managers and figure out who to know, and who to avoid. I couldn't believe it when friends of mine told me a story about a manager that actually stole their money and left them in the middle of the night. It was hard to believe it could happen. Databases are essential and they will get you thinking about the business end of things when you look at them.

3. Develop a program for promotion and fund it. If you are not aiming to get to the top you are aiming somewhere else. You will go where you aim. This is kind of like "be careful what you wish for because you will probably get it." Playing music of any kind can be consuming if you are lucky. It is so easy to quit thinking about where you are going and it is also very tempting. But if you lose your focus you will stray off course. You will end up going somewhere else and you will start to question your entire mission.

If you stay focused you are constantly trying to manage change and acquire something that you do not currently have. Usually fame, fortune and fun. You may already have the fun thing figured out. A plan will include what you will do, and when you will do it. You do not have to be a slave to it but you should have a plan as to where you are trying to go and what objectives you will employ to get there.

Even your plan will change with time. This is like having a business plan. There are two kinds of business plans I have seen. The first is a plan that is written to get money or launch a business. Often times it is put in a desk and never used again.

The other kind is a plan that is always on your desk, always being used and changing often. It is a work in progress and a guide to figure out what to do. It at least includes an operational, financial and marketing section just as a promotional plan might. It serves to keep the managers focused on where they are going because there are going to be very big distractions.

I like plans that change to actually reflect what you are doing.

4. Remember your priorities. Once you figure out what you want, figure out the quickest path to get there. A plan is designed to show you what to do. You must take the action and be consistent. Much of the work that will happen will yield no tangible result. No one likes that, but without trying you have virtually no chance of success. Besides you only have to have a few of the right things happen to make a difference. Balancing self directed work against playing and practicing being glamorous is difficult. Work is no fun compared to that but it is part of the deal.

Remember there are no sure paths to achieve success with a band. This strategy is based on trying to maximize the possibility you succeed.

5. Consider hiring a manager. This business stuff can be handed by a manager or a promoter although you should still keep your own database. But no one will promote you like yourself, and you must be able to trust your manager. This is something I know about. In the book business, distributors, wholesales and resellers have many titles. No matter how good your book is, it is one of many to them. And they have to promote all of them (or at least most of them). They can only do so much. Hiring the right manager is a field of study all to itself. But the right manager can bring positive change right away, just like a teacher can.

6. Small towns can be hard to overcome. I love small towns. I prefer to live in small towns. But if that is where you play, you are probably constantly fighting to get in front of a big enough audience. When I would come back home to visit, I would see the same talented musicians playing the same small clubs. The same people saw them most nights. They had a following but it was demographically limited to a few neighborhoods. The formula was right and the results were right but the scale was way too small.

This is not to say go out on a circuit and play the big towns. That might be a good answer, especially for experience, but limiting yourself to small venues will yield small results. It's a great place to start but you may want to consider expanding your audience size. It is a way to measure your direction and success. It is a way to increase the size of the group that follows your success.

7. Study the bands that have made it. Nothing is motivating more than examining bands that had the same priorities as your band and figuring out how they made it big. Often times there will be a huge stroke of good fortune that happened to show up at just the right time. This is one of the components that is hard to duplicate. It is a stroke of luck that does not often happen twice in the same place. However there is much to learn and it can increase your awareness. It's exciting!

8. Continue to experiment until you find things that work. The moment before change yields results, you may not notice anything different. That is how change works at times. But when it brings tangible results it can put a whole new spin on the situation. It is change that will bring success. This is like anything else in life, you have to work at it and you have to modify it to adapt to the way you work.

These ideas do not guarantee results, I don't know of any that do. But they can help you to focus and understand how to take charge of your own situation. As you grow into the job, you can shape it with new ideas and specific information concerning your situation. You have to keep pushing. This will stop you from just going out with little or no direction.

Most artists are not business managers, however, we all need a little of it in our jobs. Very few things are unattached from business systems. Making a living with music is no exception. Understand what you can do and what you need help with. If you address the important issues, in a way you are setting your band up for success. Not guaranteed but probably better odds of success.

Send in your ideas and I will share them with the group.

Recap from last month.

Apparently there are more than a few people looking for a good instructor. Most of the email I received and over half of the phone calls, were asking if I still teach or if I know a good teacher.

I do not teach one-on-one anymore. And most of the good teachers I know across America are associated with music stores I know and trust. I am always willing to share this information, but I do not know all the good teachers out there. I do look forward to meeting the rest.