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Are We There Yet? - Part 2: Getting Started
By Seth Milliner - 04/23/2006 - 01:31 PM EDT

A Roadmap to Getting Started and Getting Noticed in the Christian Music Industry

Mimes really have it pretty good if you ask me. Pantomime is one of the few forms of entertainment you can perform without the help or aid of a prop, sidekick, and you can perform it anywhere without any permits or permission required. You want coverage? Simply plant yourself in the busiest part of downtown and do your thing. You need a ladder to climb? You need a box to get trapped in? No problem. You donít have to find a retail distributor to sell your product. You donít need a team of cold-callers pounding the pavement to get you shows. Thereís literally no overhead for a mime. There have been times I seriously considered a career change and youíre about to find out why.

Getting started in the Christian music industry isnít an exact science. There are a thousand different paths you can take, but hereís what I recommend. Now make sure you read this carefully, because itís really deep, OK? First, you have to have some music (see, thatís why I get the big bucks). Yes, believe it or not, if you donít have any songs to perform, then you donít have an act. Youíve got nothing to sell, share or give away for that matter. And if your music begs for the accompaniment of a band, youíll of course need to assemble a cast of players that can sufficiently pull off your tunes in a live setting. Assuming that the path youíre pursuing is original music and not re-makes or covers, youíll certainly need some original material with at least some idea of how it should sound when itís polished, such as arrangement, dynamics, etc. I would recommend having no less than ten solid tunes that you feel fairly confident in and can see yourself performing live and recording; because thatís your next two steps. Practice the tunes until youíre comfortable with the arrangement and the execution and then start performing anywhere and everywhere you can. Donít spend too long trying to ďperfectĒ them. Many artists/bands will spend years trying to perfect their songs and never really go anywhere or do anything with them. Iím not saying donít perfect them, Iím saying donít wait until theyíre perfect to start playing them outÖor youíll never start. Perfect them as you go. I wouldnít expect any reimbursement, commission, honorarium or door splits from your first performances either. Youíre simply trying to get used to playing these tunes in front of people. You wonít be a draw for crowds unless you bring your family and I know from experience that only lasts so long and often itís better if you leave them at home anyway. The occasional kind-hearted promoter may throw some dough your way, but donít expect it and frankly, donít ask for it. If he does, great. Buy yourself a cheeseburger on the way home or something. Actually, scratch that. Tithe off of it and put the rest under your mattress because youíre going to need everything you can get soon enough. So much of this industry is ďwho you knowĒ so itís time to get out there and start meeting the right people, making connections, and establishing relationships. Play for churches, sign up at coffee houses, and take advantage of the various amateur musical opportunities that your area provides. Be willing to drive an hour or so away for a good half-hour spot, especially if you can get gas money out of the deal.

And while youíre doing that, shop around for budget-conscious opportunities to record a demo. It doesnít have to be anything elaborate. Try to get away with spending as little as possible to accomplish this. Iíve been in hundreds of towns all across these great United States, and Iíve never seen one, no matter how small, that did not have the proverbial guy with a computer and a mixing board looking to use his new toys on an unsuspecting new artist/band. Take advantage of any offers you get through shows. Some of the nicest and most valuable people connections Iíve made were friends of a friend of a friend. If youíre not thrilled with the quality you get the first time, try another. Just make sure the opportunities to create demos remain cheap or (better yet) free. At this point the only assets your music has are your live shows and your recorded material. Neither will be all that great shakes, but this is how you get started in the industry. Both will improve with time and continuous revamping and improvements. Burn the demos to blank CD-Rís or mini-discs and use the packaging of your choosing, whether thatís full size or slimline jewel cases, paper or cardboard envelopes, or just having them available on a bare spindle with the content written in Sharpie right on the disc. There will come a time when packaging matters, but take advantage of being able to get away with using the cheap stuff while you can. You can try selling these demos at your shows, but be prepared to give them away especially to kids and always to potential promoters and other industry collaborators. Somewhere on the disc, as well as the packaging if you use any, write out in legible print who is on the CD, what is on the CD, and how you can get a hold of whomever to hear more of this blissful preservation of high-fidelity audio ecstasy to book a show or take some more discs off their hands (your hands!). Itís important you write it on the disc itself, not just the packaging as cases are often separated from their music in the chaos of disorganized car floorboards.

Some of you may be reading this and thinking to yourself this is no-brainer kind of stuff. If thatís the case, stick with me because weíre going to get in to some more advanced concepts to getting started and getting noticed in the next few posts. I should note while Iím here, that this phase of your musical endeavor is some of the most fun and memorable times you may have. Few responsibilities, ultimate creative freedom, and with practically nothing to lose so donít be afraid to experiment with your music and your act. Many people never get any closer to ďliving the dreamĒ than putting out a demo and playing half a dozen shows. Others continue down the road and find the challenges of taking the subsequent steps too daunting and not worth the effort. So they decide to either stay here or give it up altogether and thereís no shame in that. Remember, thereís always pantomime.

Look for subsequent follow-up articles to this posting on www.musesmuse.com.

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