Thursday, August 9, 2012

5 Surprising Lessons I Learned About Being An Artist On a Major Label




1. Don't toss your keys to the pros when it comes to mixing your record.

To those of you who don't know how the "making a record" process works, after the song tracks are recorded, they are sent off to be "mixed" and then "mastered" before they are made into physical cd's or uploaded to itunes.  Without too much technical information that will make all of your eyeballs glaze over, mixing involves activities such as adjusting the volume levels, equalizing individual instrument tracks, and panning said instruments, etc… and "mastering" involves making sure all of the songs sound cohesive together as an album. I'm not saying that the very talented mixer dude didn't do a fantastic job on his own on our record. He did. I'm saying that, as an artist, I felt that my part of the job was done once the tracks were recorded. 

My only contribution to the "mixing" of our record was a brief phone conversation with the "mixer", patiently explaining to him that my main concern was to make sure all of MY back up vocals and MY guitar solos were front and center. I mean, come on.

 I listen to records today by bands like "Arcade Fire" and "M83" and am in awe by the "mixes" they have going on. I'm sure they were part of the mixing process from the beginning to the end, which is why their records sound so freakin' awesome! 

The artist is the one who "births" the song, let them make sure that the song's shirt is tucked in and his luggage contains all the essential items like extra underwear and writing utensils before he is sent off to college to fly on his own.

2. Don't be intimidated by the record label people and ask questions!

Now that I've had experience running my own business (Chandler The Robot) for about a year and a half now, I think I finally fully understand the mechanics of running a company efficiently and well. I hate to think of a band and music as a "business", but we should have at least understood the agreement between the record label and us as far as what they needed from us and what we needed from them. 

I think that I was so impressed by their buildings and well-dressed secretaries that all I could manage was dutiful nods of my head to their questioning and a need to keep saying "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for signing us and keeping us here." 

We were right to be thankful, but we should have not been so shy and made sure to ask what we needed to ask, contact who we needed to contact, and make sure that both parties were on the same page. It's really hard showing up to a venue in Iowa with no merch, running around frantically before the show wondering if anything was ever even delivered, pondering if it might be worth it to write out by hand our band name onto blank white Hanes t-shirts with black sharpie, since there was a misunderstanding with the label, and nobody bothered to work out the shipping details.

3. Don't expect that the label will do everything once you are signed and believe you can finally kick back and slow down your efforts.

Woo hoo! We are signed. Now we don't have to do anything, and we will sell a million records and tour forever!!!

Not!

Umm, welcome back to reality. The label did amazing things for us, but that was the time to REALLY push on the gas NOT take it easy. Being on a major label is kind of like surfing. The label is like the huge giant wave you are looking back at as you clumsily putter around on your surfboard. Right as the powerful wave is about to break under you and potentially give you the ride of your life, you don't just sit there like a kid selling lemonade on the side of the street, you paddle, man, paddle like a crazy woman so that the momentum will carry you through!

I'm talking connecting with fans through social media, going out to really meet people and having great conversations after shows. Let fans know how much they mean to you, etc...

4. Don't forget where you came from.

I remember, during "Here, Here, and Here" we had it in our heads that we were supposed be the next Rolling Stones. When we made that record I didn't even know what rock n' roll sounded like. So, the stuff that came out of my head while I was trying to be Jimi Hendrix (when we all know I'm simply not) was just TERRIBLE. Warner Bros. signed us because of the success we had reached on our own by being ourselves and focusing on what we were good at. We had to go through a long loop to figure out that the very best we could be was who we were in the beginning. I'm not saying don't change and improve as an artist, but just don't force yourself to drink delicate wines and wear turtle necks if you really love Pabst Blue Ribbon and your oh-so-soft band tee from high school.

5. Do look back with grattitude OFTEN!

I heard from a friend, who heard from a friend recently, that another girl friend that we both used to hang out with (Have I lost you yet?) just started a punk band and is about to tour in Europe! I didn't even know this girl friend of ours knew the difference between middle C and a fork! I stared, stumped, at the friend who was telling me the news, and said, "That sounds SO awesome! I want to do that?!" And he just looked at me, and shook his head slowly and stated matter-of-factly, "Meg, you already did!" 

And I have. And it was fantastic, one of the most incredible life experiences I have ever had. 

It's so important to remember everything that we've accomplished and all the life we've lived.

Honestly,
Meg

10 comments:

  1. Meg, what a great blog! After supporting so many independent artists and signed artists that get bare minimum promotions... you are right on the money on all points especially with the connecting with your fans! that's what usually connects me more to the artists and their music is their the connection of communication during meet and greets and social networking!

    PS- I'm really glad you're starting to do more new music again.. really love what i'm hearing so far! hope you'll have a show in the DC/VA area sometime in the near future! would love to see you again!

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  2. Really interesting! I thought number 3 was particularly insightful. And I also loved all the metaphors you used :)
    I feel like this is the kind of thing you would like to put in a time machine and send to the "past you" to read.
    All in all. "Here, Here, and Here" is still one of my favorite albums :)

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  3. I'd love to hear a more in-depth explanation on everything that happened with HH&H.

    Honestly, I think the mixing and mastering done on the album as a whole were grade A. I feel it's a very cohesive and well-put album. Severely underrated and with the right push could've been a smash sophomore record. I respect Howard Benson but his tracks tend to be on the louder bordering obnoxious side so that bothered me a bit. To this very day, I love the album to death. Extremely saddened that a show you had in little McAllen, Texas was never rescheduled as I am still dying to hear that album live beginning to end.

    Hope you have been well. Wish you the best. :)

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  4. awesome post! i doubt i'll be getting a record deal anytime soon but awesome post none-the-less!

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    1. Good news is you don't need a record label. We are in the 21st century lady, and the interweb is alive and well!

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    2. Some musicians I am following and supporting have gone the Kickstarter.com and PledgeMusic.com route to crowd-finance their album projects. But even so, they had to build some name recognition and interest first in many possible ways which Meg has already mentioned.

      Previous blog posts by Meg and Dia (I have read them all :)) have made clear just how much hardship and plain hard work was, and still is, involved.

      I never used to think about what it takes for all the touring bands that come through my city to perform. I now have a much greater appreciation and admiration after reading Meg's and Dia's blogs.

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  5. Really interesting to hear about what it was like during "Here, Here, and Here," that was my favourite album :)

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  6. "Here, Here, and Here" was always my least favorite album. I bought it the day it hit stores, and after listening to it, I just thought, 'this doesn't sound like them...' I mean it did, but it didn't, you know? I still listen to it and enjoy it, but you can definitely tell that the band was less involved with it.

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  7. Love it. Ur an amazing writer. Paddle like a crazy woman! :)
    StayBeautifulMeg!

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  8. I'm curious whether you found the stereotypes of record company executives being "Corporate Weasels" (as David Letterman would say) to be true? I've always assumed that they are looking to make the next "Johnny Bravo" (old Brady Bunch reference) and not really interested in taking a chance on something new and different.

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