ca Music Business Insight – ELESVEE

You Can’t Buy Experience, or Can You?

You can’t buy experience, or can you? Look, you wanna work in the music business? You wanna be a star? You can’t get experience unless you get work, but you can’t get work unless you have experience. Vicious cycle. So how do you break in? How do you gain access to your dream?

For as long as I can remember I wanted to sing professionally which means to get paid for it. No one else in my family was in the business, I didn’t study music at college either, so I just had to wing it, find my own way in. I was already 22 and the clock was ticking. It is after all a youth driven business. Lucky me, I had gotten some experience in the studio during college singing with a group called ENSEMBLE 109, directed by Gary Powell. We released an album, and I sang lead on one of the songs. Right there in the dark of the vocal booth, I got hooked. I loved working in the studio, and I was determined to find a way to do it for a living.

Microphone IconThere were no guarantees I’d be successful when I moved to Chicago and went out on that musical limb, but who better to bet on me than myself.

Helen DarlingWhen I graduated from college, I moved to Chicago and broke into the jingle business singing television and radio commercials. Before I could get a single job though, I had to join AFTRA and SAG, unions which were quite pricey for a girl fresh out of college. To do so, I had to take out a loan. Then and only then could I start with small jobs in the studio to gradually gain the experience I needed to become a successful studio vocalist. Each time I went into the studio and had the good fortune to work with talented professional vocalists, I soaked in all the experience I could handle. They were quick. They were seasoned. They were surprisingly generous with their hard-won knowledge and tricks of the trade. In addition, each time I exceeded the producers expectations, I got positive word of mouth which helped to get the next job and the next and the next.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that to gain that experience, it cost me time and lots of it. It also cost me a move across the country, and that eventual experience earned me access to the much-coveted studio jobs. The competition was fierce, but I was finally ready for it. You can’t usually buy experience, you have to find it. And, if you put in the work, the hours and even the money, you will receive access to a dream, the dream of making music.

There were no guarantees I’d be successful when I moved to Chicago and went out on that musical limb, but who better to bet on me than myself. I figured if worse came to worse, I’d have to pay off that loan with a straight job for a while, but I’d have memories of chasing my dream to comfort me.

You wanna work in the music business? You want access to the dream? Nothing worth having is ever free. Get out there and get some experience. Beg for it, work for it, even pay for it you have to. And with that and a little luck, maybe you won’t ever need a straight job either.

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Career Path for the Performer

(and how to outwit the present)

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Gary Powell-Jesus Christ Superstar 1980There is a point in the development of your performing career at which your own vision of self must become disordered. This is a time and place where your prevailing reality is challenged. For me it came at age twenty-seven in Los Angeles.

Let’s say you are a pre-teen who loves to perform. Maybe you are even talented in doing your literal and proverbial tap dance. Even the most jaded audience enjoy watching your youthful energy. You will soon be asked to perform for many talent shows, Rotary Clubs, weddings and funerals. You have sung the National Anthem dozens of times at sporting events. Yes, it feels great to be in such demand. Continuing on to high school and college, your fan club increases. By now, you have already successfully adjusted to having competition for the lead role in the school musical or ballet. You have usually won these auditions and the infrequent loss of a role doesn’t freak you out….BUT the “shift” still hasn’t happened yet.

During college your talent may be discovered by a summer camp director for boys or girls where you become the song leader, art director or dance coach. No doubt, several churches are offering you high praise to bring your talent into the fold. All this feels inspiring and motivating as now you are beginning to win scholarships and stipends. The next year you perform in a summer-stock theater. Yes, you are on a roll and are now chanting the “I’m being paid to do what I love!” mantra.

Microphone IconIn the past, the seemingly harmless career seductions probably did not feel like seductions at all. Now they do!
~ Gary Powell

At this point you’ve come to terms in juggling auditions, competition from other performers, money issues, and holding a job along side your obscenely long rehearsal hours. But now comes the “shift”. At every step of your development you, the performer, thought that each of the opportunities you’ve experienced was about you. Each circumstance was earned by you and you proved your talent again and again, but now as you have matured you have noticed opportunities thinning out. Some opportunities expire expectantly like graduating from college. Other opportunities expire not from just loosing out to the competition, but loosing in a thousand other ways you had never even considered and in other ways that had nothing to do with you whatsoever. Other professional opportunities expire because you yourself have outgrown them. In the past, the seemingly harmless career seductions probably did not feel like seductions at all. Now they do! They were, at most, a major part of your continuing education and each of your performances was a mini-equivalent to your own record deal.

This is the shift. It is a simple yet broader understanding of yourself and your talent within a larger context; a context which can and must be continually negotiated for the rest of your life. Now you finally know that each of your shows and appearances were about what the show needed rather than about what you needed. As a young performer, the negotiations with yourself were processed internally and silently. Later these negotiations will be voiced and leveraged from all sides. Welcome to the magnificent world of the adult artist who learns to live and prosper through and beyond our losses, our betrayals, our self-doubt, our limitations and our competitors. When you arrive at this point, hopefully before age 27, you will stand in the spotlight you mindfully created and the mastery of your earlier professional life will light your way toward a prosperous future.

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Your Big Break

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by Gary Powell

When we take action, initiate; we put into motion all kinds of good things that can happen. Maybe it’s kind of like the “break” on a pool table. You don’t have to be an expert for balls to fall in the pocket. Just don’t quit shooting, even if temporarily blocked from entering the pool hall. Choose to not take the shot at all and the less talented than you will get the break. So, simple. Take the shot.