Let’s be honest: You’re just not that good
Music industry columnist Bob Lefsetz penned an interesting installment of his Letter the other day. Titled, Obscurity is Your Friend, I found it to be his usual strange brew of “WTF” mixed with lots of thought-provoking views. But it was this particular section of his post that truly caught my eye:
It’s no different in music. You may think you’re ready, but you’re not. You think if you just tell enough people, send e-mail blasts, fill up inboxes with unsolicited MP3s, you’ll make it. But this just turns us off, we’re immune to marketing. We only want to find out about products from friends.
But worse, when we finally check you out, we find out you’re just not that good.
I don’t know how it works in the greater music industry, but I can’t think of a truer commentary on music (and music promotion specifically) with regard to the dance music realm.
As an established mixshow DJ, working “regular” DJ, and program director for iDanceRadio.fm, I suppose I’m fortunate in many ways to be the recipient of a fairly huge volume of promotional music, sent to me by artists, producers, record labels, promoters and others, and I am a regular user of zipDJ, a fantastic promotional service for working DJs, not to mention a member of one of the oldest record pools in the country, DDK.
The bottom line is this:
- I hear a lot of new music. I’m hammered with it practically 24×7 from all sides. I’m buried with CDs; my in-boxes are clogged with MP3s and download links.
- Most of it—the vast majority of it, in fact—just isn’t that good.
It’s gotten to the point that I delete the vast majority of unsolicited music promotion e-mail. I judge books (well, CDs) by their covers, and discard unplayed any CDs that clearly lack any professionalism whatever in terms of labeling or packaging. And I speed through zipDJ every Tuesday night as quickly as I can, skipping any track that doesn’t wow me in the first 5 to 10 seconds of listening to its preview sample.
It’s not that I don’t have time for music—I just don’t have time for bad music, and most of it is bad music.
What I truly pay attention to is exactly what Lefsetz said:
We only want to find out about products from friends.
Even then, “friends” are not always who they appear to be; I count many music promoters as friends, and they have a vested interest in what they’re excited about. But even there, some have demonstrated with time that the odds favor their recommendations, biased or not, so I tend to listen to what they have on offer.
Lefsetz has been preaching an awful lot lately about quality (speaking largely to conventional musicians, but it’s applicable to electronic musicians and DJs too for that matter)… About putting-in your time. Paying your dues. Really investing yourself, practicing, and being willing to then just throw it all away—knowing you’re really only then at the starting line.
He’s got a point. One driven home to me recently in a very personal way.
The last three remix projects I’ve undertaken, two of which were for my very good friend (and talented artist) Carol Hahn, have ended in failure. One could argue that perhaps I wasn’t inspired by her recent release Do Your Best, a song she recorded in the 80s that she decided to remake for the 2010s. But the most recent project, a new track from Carol titled Your Love, is a great song. Carol provided some terrific vocals, with her typical attention to detail, and myriad options to work with. And yet, somehow, some way, despite investing dozens of hours of effort, I just couldn’t get a song to come out the other side. A couple of weekends ago, Carol and I decided to call it quits on this one.
I’m hopeful that (I don’t believe in God, but I’m still praying, actually) that when (or if) Carol chooses to approach me again with a project, I’m able to produce a usable track.
But if you listen to Lefsetz, the fact I’ve produced and remixed perhaps a couple dozen dance tracks at this point (not all of which were released) only qualifies me for a lottery to get a ticket to come to the party, so to speak. It doesn’t reserve for me a seat at the table. It does not qualify me to be the guest of honor. And I might not even end-up getting in the door.
I’m actually pretty proud of most of my work. A couple of them (notably the unreleased remix of Vincent Medugno’s Magnetic and my remix of A Little Respect for Nivek Tek and Carol Hahn) I could point to and say with confidence that the quality is on-par with anything any of the “big name” dance producers have done. Maybe I just got lucky.
Failure doesn’t feel good. Maybe in time, I’ll look back and be able to point to something from the failures and say, “I learned such-and-such from that.” For today, it just feels like failure feels, and I’m questioning whether the studio I’ve constructed in my basement will ever be the source of another listenable release again.
What I do know is this: I’ll keep trying. And I’m not going to bother putting out anything that, like so much of what I hear, just isn’t that good. Will everything be the best of which I’m ultimately capable? Probably not. But it’ll be quality—even if that means I might not (as it feels today) release another remix or song until 2014 or so.