Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Artist Development. How to create an outstanding image, and develop your "IT" factor.

Before you can market yourself as an artist you must determine who you are and what you represent as an atist.  We have all heard about the illusive “IT” factor. It’s when an artist has the “holy” gift of stage presence, look, feel, personal charisma, and ability to “fit in” no matter the situation. It’s what record labels, managers, and agents look for in artist before signing them to multimillion dollar deals, well, before the collapse of the music industry.... anyway... Some think you are born with the “IT” factor, others think it’s total crap, and then there are those of us who know that the “IT” factor is a combination of natural talent, hard work, and artist development training.

Natural talent is not something you can learn or force an artist to acquire. It is the God given talent we all possess in one form or another. An artist either has talent or they don’t. Too many individuals or record label CEOs believe that a person with a good look, good heart, and strong desire to be in the music industry can be trained to have the talent needed to succeed. It simply is not true. Yes, a singer that really isn’t the best singer can succeed if they have the talent to dance or entertain a crowd. Their talent is in performance not singing. We see this to be true in many pop stars careers, but they at least have the talent to entertain a large crowd. That is there natural talent. People do not go to a Britney Spears show to listen to her sing, they go to see the show, and it sells out every single time! But even Britney has gone through massive artist development to ensure her show is the best in the industry.

Artist development training is not hard, it’s time consuming. It takes time, effort, drive, follow through, and commitment to get it right. It is not something you do one time and think you have it. Artist development coaches spend hours each week working with artists for their entire career. A great example is Beyonce. When she first hit the scene, her vocal performance was, well let’s say less than perfect. She had a heck of a stage show and captivated the audience, but she really was not the best singer out there. Over time, with dedicated artist development, Beyonce can now hold her head high and stand toe to toe with the best singers releasing CDs today. She accomplished this through artist development training.

There is a huge misunderstanding of what artist development really is. Some fear it means changing who they are, what they do, how they talk, or how they appear to their fans. Others think it is a form of “selling out.” Artist development is finding your inner strengths, and weaknesses, as an artist and making sure they are the best they can be. It is not being something you are not. If you have two left feet when trying to dance, there is no amount of training that will allow you to be a professional dancer. However, with the right artist development, you will learn how to at least move on stage with the music in a way that looks much better than standing there stiff!

Artist development is not genre specific. Meaning is does not matter what genre of music you perform. Even the most heavy of thrash metal bands work on stage appearance and show. No, they aren’t going to learn the latest dance steps to work into their show, but they are going to work on a type of choreography that allows the members of the band to move around stage in a manor that looks the best instead of one big cluster.... you know the rest! Artist development has no bounds. It effects every single action an artist or group takes while performing, promoting, or living in the entertainment business. Yes, I said living. Even when an artist or group is away from the stage, away from the fans... so they think, and on their own time they have to be on their “A” game and know how to act or react at any given moment. There is no “off switch” in the music business. Fans do not care if you are on stage, in your car, at 7-11, or trying to grab a bite to eat at McDonalds. They only want to get close to you no matter the situation. Artist development trains you how to act, when to act, what to do, where to do it, what to say, when to say nothing, and beyond. Artist development is all encompassing of your life in the music industry. It teaches you how to have that “IT” factor no matter the situation.

An entire book could be written on artist development tricks, tips, and techniques in itself. This article is meant to get you started with artist development. There will be future articles which dive deeper into specifics, but for now, here are some steps you can take immediately to improve you or your artists “IT” factor.

Interviewing Skills
Have you ever listened to a radio or TV interview and heard “well, uh, you know, I, uh, well, you know, uh work hard at my show.” Unfortunately, this is the norm, not the exception when it comes to new artist interviews. When you hear an interview that sounds like this, you know that there was absolutely no time spent with this artist working on interviewing skills training. The easiest way to avoid sounding like a fool is to work on interviews. Grab a video camera, find someone to interview you or your artist, and do it daily. Start with friends or family members to get used to being interviewed. Then ask your friends to invite their friends over to do the same. This way, you or your artist doesn’t know the interviewer and it’s more of a pressure situation. The more you practice at interviewing the better you will be. In addition, by being interviewed over and over you will start to develop standard answers to common questions. This is very important. You or your artist will be asked the same questions over and over again. Finding the standard answers, and knowing them without thinking makes it appear as if you or your artist has that “IT” factor and always on the “A” game. Tape the interviews so you or your artist can listen or watch them in review. This gives the ability to see what is wrong, correct it, and find the answers needed to always come across professional.

Stage Show
What does your current stage show and presence look like? Do you really know? Have you ever video taped a performance? When you are rehearsing for a show start video taping the rehearsal. Do not just work on your songs and playing or singing them correctly. Start working on what it is you and or your group is going to do during each song. Another words, start working on choreography. Oh, no, not choreography! Yes, again, even hard core rap groups work out what they will do on stage. Choreography does not mean dance routines. It means working out what you or each member of the group will do during each song. If you are a rock band it can mean the singer starts the song from on top of the drum riser while the guitar player and bass player stand at the front of the stage with one foot on the monitor. Then, during the chorus of the song the singer jumps off the riser and the guitar player and bass player cross behind and go to opposite sides of the stage. No body danced, but they did move as a unit making it look like they had put time and effort into their performance. It doesn’t matter how good a singer or group you are, fans go to live performances to see a show. If they wanted to hear a good version of the music they would pop in a CD. This does not mean your music can suck, but it does mean your fans paid good money to see what you have to offer on stage. This is the “IT” factor fans are looking for at live shows. Work on your show, video tape it, and figure out a way to make your show look as big as it can possibly be. Oh, and by the way, perform your rehearsed show no matter if you have a crowd of 1500 or 15. National acts got to be national because they had the stage show and presence to win over any sized crowd! They only got this by working on the show portion of artist development.

Daily Life
Just because you are not on stage, signing autographs, or being interviewed on TV does not mean you can let your guard down. What if you are at Starbucks one morning after a wild night, looking all ragged out, and a reporter recognizes you and asks for an interview? Do you tell them not now? That would be stupid. Why let a good opportunity for press coverage be lost because you weren’t ready? An artist that has worked on artist development would know to be honest and say, “Hey, it was a long night last night. I just hoped out of bed to get some coffee and need a minute to get it together. Can I buy you another cup of coffee while I go home, get cleaned up, and I will be back in thirty minutes to answer any questions you have, I would love to do the interview.” What about partying at a club? What if that same reporter shows up at your favorite spot while you are letting loose and you are acting a fool? It wouldn’t be good. The follow up interview would present you in a bad way. Your daily life as an artist or group has got to present itself as someone who has the “IT” factor at all times. Knowing what to say, when to say it, and where to let loose only comes from practice. Sit down, write out a list of questions and/or situations you think may come up in your daily life as an artist or group. Now, ask your friends and family to do the same thing. Once you have your lists you need to take the time to determine how, what, when, or where you would handle the questions or situation. Then, make a cheat sheet and have someone drill you over and over everyday until you have the list memorized. This is artist development at it’s finest. This will prepare you for any question or situation that may arise in your career as a music industry entertainer. But wait, there’s more... Don’t stop looking for questions or situations, ever. Always be on the look out what you don’t know. Sounds crazy, yes, but so true. As you are watching or listening to your favorite artists on TV or radio listen to the questions or see the situations they get into and how they handle them. Let this be a guide for you to create your own list. How would you handle the question or situation? This type of artist development is never ending. The more prepared you are for the unknown the more you will seem to have the “IT” factor.

Conclusion
We have briefly covered the three major areas of an artists career. There are many, many more areas of artist development that will be covered in the future. This article is a starting point more to get you thinking than to give you all the answers. Look at your favorite artists or groups and try to find what you think gives them the “IT” factor that has drawn you in as a fan. Don’t be lazy and say “it’s the music.” There are far too many artists and groups in the world that are just as good as your favorite but you are not drawn to them for a reason. Find the reason in your favorite artist. This is the illusive “IT” factor you are after. You do not want to copy another artist or group, but you can model yourself after them. What is it they do that makes you want to learn more about them? Is it the show, how they carry themselves, their background as revealed during interviews and press coverage, or is it something totally different? Your job as an artist with life long career goals is to develop yourself into something fans will want to know more about. The only way you can do this is by looking at yourself, looking at artists you respect, and figuring out what is different. Once you take this step, all that is left is to develop yourself through concentrated artist development training!

a la I am Music Network

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