Happy New Year!!

This has been some year.  I wrote my first book. Made my first CD under my own name.  And started this, my first blog, which has been a real blast. I have to say that I haven’t gotten much feedback from you guys, though. While the stats say that there are a decent amount of visitors, there haven’t been too many comments. I’d like this to be a discussion about the state of freelancing, maybe some Q&A, however we can help people who don’t have the resources on tap.  Really, how is it going out there in freelance world? I know how I’m doing, but what about the rest of you?  It would be great to get a range of opinions, and some questions or suggestions for topics to discuss.

I hope that this has been entertaining, but more importantly, I hope it has been useful.  I know how lost I felt the first few years when I was starting out in New York, trying to get some traction in the music biz.  I had absolutely no clue and didn’t know a soul. If this blog is helping anyone out there feel like they are getting a little bit of a handle on things, I would be completely jazzed. I know I’ve gotten a bunch of endorsements on LinkedIn for blogging, so that means some people are reading this thing!

So, drop me a line.  Send a comment.  Become a follower. If you’re flush with holiday cash, visit my site and buy a book or CD.

And now, tonight’s rant. I’m in the process of redoing my website. Actually, Laura Jaeger, my graphic designer and web developer is doing it, but I’m helping, and earlier tonight I was trying to upload a bunch of songs to SoundCloud so they could be linked to the Music page of my site instead of using some wonky player app like we did last time.  So, I upload some stuff, a lot of which comes from records I’ve produced or written.  One of those songs is Pajama Party’s Yo No Se’, which was a pretty big hit, making the Billboard Pop and Dance charts, and which has been included on at least half a dozen compilations and lists of the “Greatest Freestyle Songs in History,” or whatever.  And since I was the producer, songwriter, engineer, and primary musician on the record and it more or less jump-started my career, I thought it would be a good thing to put on my site.

I’d also like to point out that this song has also been “shared” about a billion times in every way shape and form possible, and is even now on eBay on no less than FOUR unlicensed DJ compilations of THE GREATEST FREESTYLE BLAH BLAH whatevers. The funny part?  SOUNDCLOUD WILL NOT LET ME UPLOAD MY OWN SONG FOR MY OWN USE ON MY OWN WEBSITE because I am not the copyright holder.  Now I totally get that.  I am, in fact, NOT the copyright holder.  Atlantic Records is, along with Sony ATV (my publisher) and my ex-partner’s, whoever that is.  But the irony kills me.  For the last 20 years I’ve been getting screwed out of tons of Yo No Se’ royalties as all of the new media have been introduced, yet the one time I want to upload the stinking song for my own use, SoundCloud jumps in and prevents it. And I can’t upload ANY of the major label cuts I’ve written or produced for use on my own website.

As freelance professionals, all any of us have to show is our work.  It would be nice to be able to do so without so much difficulty, especially when so many other people are just stealing the stuff and profiting from it.  I’m not trying to sell anything.  I just want to be able to put it in my portfolio.

Oh well, I guess we’ll have to use some crappy player app after all.

Don’t drink and drive, everybody.  I’ll see you all in 2013.

I forgot to mention this part: make sure you are awesome

Recently, I was reminded of a very old Steve Martin comedy routine.  He starts out in infomercial pitch guy mode: “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to show you how to have a MILLION DOLLARS and NOT PAY ANY TAXES!!  That’s right, you heard me!!  I said I’m going to show you how to have a MILLION DOLLARS and NOT PAY ANY TAXES!! IT’S REALLY QUITE SIMPLE!!”  He lowers his voice and speaks very quickly…..  “First, get a million dollars.  THEN……..”  Of course, everyone cracks up.  Not so easy, the first part.

Here’s the deal. My book and this blog have to do with various aspects of being a successful freelancer in music and audio.  How to handle yourself in certain situations.  How to market yourself.  Dealing with the ups and downs.  All that good stuff.  Believe me, I know what I’m talking about.  It’s all good advice.  But none of it is going to make a difference if you suck at your craft.  In the book and blog, I am operating under the assumption that you have professional level skills and you don’t suck.  The reason I do that is because life and the marketplace act as a filter and naturally remove those who suck from the playing field, no matter what else they do to prevent it.  Now of course, that doesn’t happen 100% of the time, just almost 100%.  There is always a small percentage of talent-free people who become successful because they are related to the right person, are incredibly attractive, have the charisma of Jack Nicholson, or are able to buy their way into a position. By and large, however, the talentless hordes will eventually be removed from contention.  In my book and blog, I’m communicating to the talented bunch who remain, because unless they get their shit together, most of THEM will also be filtered out for a variety of reasons which I write about in WTTJ.

Now, the thing about people who suck is that most of them never figure that out.  That’s why life is so full of crappy music.  Badly written, recorded, performed, and mixed music.  Do you think any of those involved put that stuff out there because they thought it sucked? Most of them think they are awesome. And that’s the rub. In order to be successful, you need two things above all else:  you have to know in your heart that you have what it takes, and you actually have to have what it takes.  Those are two very different things, and many more people have the first than the second.

So, if at all possible, try to develop what I think is the single most important quality a creative freelancer can have: the ability to evaluate one’s own work critically, accurately, and dispassionately. On the one hand, if you automatically think everything you do is great, you’ll inevitably allow all kinds of crap to pass from your hands into the marketplace where it will be judged for the garbage that it is, and your reputation will suffer. So clearly, you need to be able to edit your own work and have some sense of where “the bar” is, and what you are striving for.  On the other hand, if you have no confidence in yourself or your work and think everything you do is crap, that’s no good either.  As a developing professional, you will be doing a lot of work that you may not want to be out there in competition, but at some point you need to decide whether or not you are in the game, and if you are, then you have to have some self confidence and put yourself and your work out there and just feel okay about it. It’s not easy, but if it was, everyone would be successful.

Intern Like A Rockstar……Really!

I teach in the Music Industry program at Drexel University in Philadelphia.  There are a number of good music industry programs around the country, and I happen to think that Drexel has one of the best.  Like a few of the other programs, we require our students to do an internship (we call it a co-op).  Actually, we require two co-ops, one the summer after sophomore year, and the other after junior year.  Doing an internship can be a great experience.  You have a chance to spend some time doing real work in the real world with people who really know what they’re doing, and that’s something that can’t be downplayed.  The more you know about how things really work out there, the more prepared you’re going to be when you graduate.

One of our graduates from a few years ago, Katie Reilly, started a great website, Intern Like A Rockstar.  It’s a great place to visit, full of articles, blog posts, links to current internship opportunities, and more.  For those of you who are still in school, I couldn’t recommend it more highly. Check it out, and tell them I said “hi.”

Songwriting Day

Just a quick note to let you know that I’ll be one of the panelist/presenters at Songwriting Day 2012, an event organized by my old friend Tony Conniff.  It’s happening this Saturday, December 15th in New York City.  Check it out, and I hope to see some of you there.

“Made it, Ma! Top of the World!”

You probably don’t recognize that quote. It’s from an old movie called White Heat with badass gangster James Cagney yelling it as he goes out in a literal blaze of glory. Why is that relevant to this post?  I’ll get to that in a minute.

It’s so hard to pursue this life with its ups and downs. We’ve all had issues with friends and family about “settling down,” “getting a real job,” and the like. My dad came up in an era in which there came a time for all men to lay down the foolish dreams of youth and support their families.  It’s what he did, and it’s what he expected me to do.  We had a huge blowout one year about it when my wife was pregnant. Not just a little pregnant either.  BIG pregnant.  Dad sat me down and started in about how the time had come for me to take on the responsibilities of manhood, yada yada yada.  Lucky for me I wasn’t getting it on both sides from him AND the wife.  Because I very politely told him that I had it covered, it wasn’t his business, and if he still felt he needed to butt in, to kiss my ass.  Okay, maybe not so politely.

The thing is, unless you have the most touchy-feely ultra supportive super-wonderful parents and family who never worry about how you are going to support yourself (or unless you are rich), you are probably going to have to deal with these kinds of pressures.  If you want to get married, your potential in-laws are going to put pressure on you regarding your lack of reliable income and your unconventional, unpredictable professional lifestyle.  How will you (help) support your partner (their child) and build a life together? How will you raise a family and save for the future? You’ll even get it from your own mother: “Look at your sister.  She went to law school and now she’s making a good living, settled down in her own condo.  Why can’t you do something more like that?”  You may not have satisfactory answers to those questions, other than being able to share your goals and plans for the future.  You should have some concrete goals and plans for the next two, five, and ten years, something I talk about in the book and in this blog.  Beyond that, though, you will just need to be confident that with a lot of hard work, a lot of talent, and some luck, you will persevere and achieve some of the success you desire.

So, where I’m going with this is that sometimes, quite often actually, you just can’t claim victory over the doubters. I have a friend who is in audio post for TV, has a double handful of Emmy nominations, has won four or five, lives in a million dollar house in L.A., and every time his mother sees him, she asks him why he can’t go into something like accounting.  This guy is married, has four kids, and is in his 40’s.  In my late 30’s, I had a lovely home, several hit records under my belt, regularly scored shows and commercials that were on network television, made a very nice living (albeit with all of the issues every freelancer goes through), and my mother would send me local newspaper clippings from Florida about things like this guy who would write a song about your dog for twenty five bucks with a note saying “Maybe you could do something like this?”

And people don’t really understand what we do anyway.  For the last ten years, I’ve been a professor of Music Industry at Drexel University, and my mom just couldn’t get that into her head.  Granted, she’s now in her 80’s, but no matter how many times I explained it, she somehow thought I did something with “industrial music,” and not the Nine Inch Nails variety.  I think in her head it had something to do with factories.  She thinks I teach people how to write music that inspires other people to screw in mop handles faster on assembly lines or something.  I can deal with that. So unless you get to perform on TV where your family can see you or read about you in People magazine, or win a Grammy, Emmy, or Oscar, your family may never really “get it.”  You may not ever get validated.  There may not be a big shining moment where you get to stick your finger in their faces and say “SEE?  I DID IT, SO SCREW YOU!!” For some people, those conventional careers like doctor, lawyer, banker, accountant are the pinnacle of success, and nothing you achieve in your “wake up at noon, wearing a tee shirt behind a console” life will ever measure up to that. You are going to have to be satisfied with the knowledge that you set your own goals, walked your own path, and did what YOU wanted to do with your life.

And that, my friends, is the definition of success, in my book.  Your family is just going to have to deal with that.  Top of the world, Ma.