Teenage Dream: Artists Chase Next Big Break

892px-Katy_Perry_2008By Diana Hereld (@christypaffgen)

We live in a world where someone handing Katy Perry a demo could lead to their next big break. With the plethora of self-marketing strategies available
that include everything from Facebook and YouTube to SoundCloud and ReverbNation, most continue to dream of the moment they run into that one special
producer or A&R person in the elevator. But why is that? Could it be because the popular music elite like Perry or Rihanna, who many artists want to join
at the top of the music industry, aren’t accessible through the Internet?

At this year’s annual ASCAP Expo, over 2,000 songwriters, composers and publishers gathered to take part in three days of lectures, workshops and live
showcases specifically designed to promote knowledge and networking in their craft. Although all levels of accomplishment and success were represented,
hallways and rooms bustled with people seeking to accomplish this particular feat: to physically reach out to members of the elite and hand
them their latest demo.

Throughout the Expo, many had the pleasure of meeting Ali Isabella, one of the events youngest guests — and headline artists. At just seventeen years old,
Isabella has performed in many of the top clubs in New York as well as headlined two pre-Grammy parties — one honoring Quincy Jones and Stevie Wonder. In
2012, she became the youngest musician to ever perform in Wembley Arena in London, opening for country music superstars Reba McIntire and Lonestar.

Isabella was initially discovered as a singer-songwriter by a chance meeting via her father in a New York Starbucks. After Isabella’s father met artist
manager John Velasco, he gave her one of Isabella’s CDs to listen to. At first, Velasco cast it aside in the assumption it was probably just another
teenager with a dream. A couple of months later, her father bumped into Velasco at Starbucks again. He asked what he thought of the music and Velasco felt
bad that he had never actually listened. That night, Velasco went home to listen to the CD. After bring impressed with her music, he asked to meet with
Isabella. Shortly thereafter, she was signed, started recording and building a stage act. Velasco and Isabella have been working together ever since.

In a world where business ventures of all kinds are turning increasingly to D.I.Y. methods for marketing, the “traditional” music business model that
includes that invaluable industry contact (which many of ASCAP’s largest successes have stemmed from) is still one that continues to prevail. With all of
the online resources currently at the musician’s fingertips, it would seem many have seen and witnessed too many stories of the chance encounter to fully
let go of that hope. Michael Brook had Brian Eno. Adele had XL Recordings. Katy Perry had Glen Ballard.

The coveted lot is human, and they have been found everywhere. Whether it a restroom queue, a less-frequented cafe, in the panorama suite of a downtown
hotel or the local gas station, many artists still believe they must creatively and intelligently influence just the right person before being invited back
to the VIP room. It was not long ago that Adele Adkins was not more than the average broken-hearted beauty. But somehow, somewhere, she walked into a room,
and someone saw more than an “outside the mold” figure and a pleasant voice. They saw a superstar.

A while further down the line, Isabella has wisely begun applying D.I.Y. tactics to market her music. Along with an app well designed to keep fans updated
with everything they need in addition to a sponsorship with Casio, she is also learning how to keep an active presence online. Her Internet broadcast
series will soon be released. She states: “We just go around and interview people in the entertainment industry — people that have helped me along the way,
people that I’ve met — I just think it’s a great way to be informed about people behind the scenes because they’re the ones that make everything happen
along the way.”

If the balancing game between existential action and chance was not complex enough for the performers, there’s an even vaster sea of professionals trying
to find their footing among the ASCAP Expo crowd — songwriters. Although it is
possible to create a following as a songwriter or composer, it would seem even more dire for this group to make the professional connection. These are not
the showmen of their songs; they are the quiet ingenuity behind them. It would nearly seem then, that at the end of the day, connection is king, and all the knowledge and networking in the world cannot quite equal that potential big break from a member of the popular music elite. For some, the Expo evens the odds of meeting Katy Perry in an elevator just enough.

Photo Credit: Flickr

Diana Hereld (@christypaffgen) is a Los Angeles based singer-songwriter and neuroscience researcher. She blogs at As The Spirit Wanes The Form Appears.

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  1. Ain’t no mainstream without an upstream. The beauty of the internet is that you can build something from nothing–and build it pretty big–without being connected. But the reality is that you still need those on the inside to take you into the mainstream consciousness (if your dream is to be a pop star). Every internet meme from Friday to Gangnam Style to Harlem Shake had old media, corporations or music insiders attached to blow it up. Almost every Youtube music star signs with a big time manager or major label. When the first internet sensation breaks through to the mainstream without any mainstream/old media connections, then things will truly change.

  2. I would seriously take the advice and meaning of this article with a grain of salt if you are a DIY musician. I spent ten years trying to “meet the right person” to help propel my career and talent to the next level and it never happened. This can be said for the hundreds of other musicians I’ve met along the way. My best advice is to focus and completely invest in yourself. If you’re really serious about your craft you have to bring yourself to the next level. Too many musicians half ass it because they’re holding back waiting to meet that right person that it never comes and they’ve wasted their chance at making something of themselves. Would you really wait around to win the lottery to kick start your career?

  3. Diane, with all due respect, THIS and articles like this, do tremendous damage in our business. First of all, it’s inaccurate. VERY few artists “get discovered” by pressing a demo into the right hand. Even less get discovered by handing music to a superstar like Katie Perry. In fact, the chances of getting struck by lightning or hitting the lottery are far better. Second of all, you’re giving false hope and spreading a lie to artists that their success is based on who they know instead of hard work and building a fan base. Shame on you for your ignorance and shame on you for spreading this ignorance.

  4. This article doesn't say that artists should depend on meeting a special person in a Starbucks or elevator, it reports the fact that this is a mindset that still exists and remains prevalent.
    I think that makes for an interesting story. We — readers of this blog — live in a world where the DIY approach is widely accepted and readily adopted. I think many people — especially those at the ASCAP Expo — believe handing someone influential their demo could lead to their next big break. Although they may grow out of this view, it's still well-represented among a large set.
    It's possible the thesis could be more clearly stated and readily argued but this is an objective piece that tries to capture that perspective. For aspiring artists, who want to become popular music stars, the music industry seems to look like a place where giving that special person your demo is going to break you. This means that there is a huge education opportunity when it comes to people with this mindset.
    As much as we try to educate the masses on the realities of the music business and the opportunities that technology welds, myths and dogma trump do it yourself and direct to fan.

  5. “It would nearly seem then, that at the end of the day, connection is king, and all the knowledge and networking in the world cannot quite equal that potential big break from a member of the popular music elite.”
    Isn’t that contradictory? That member of the popular music elite is a networking connection. A really good one at that.
    I think the moral of this (whether its clearly stated or not) should be that networking and going out and making real human connections is valuable, regardless of if it’s a giant super star or just a sound man at your local venue. Who knows, maybe he’s the one with a connection to that superstar…

  6. If the reading comprehension level is equal to the talent of some of these posts I can understand why success is eluding them. It’s an article about one story of success via connecting, not the golden ticket advice for each individual. At least these posters have the right egos to try to make a career in music.

  7. I would seriously take the advice and meaning of this comment with complete disregard and distrust. Nothing in that article states the artist waited to meet the right person; it states that her father as her agent knocked on doors and opened one by forging a casual relationship with someone of influence. He didnt stalk the coffee shop waiting for important people, he was just able to pitch at that moment.
    please continue your mega success path and sage advice and ignore every type of opportunity that steps in line next to you. We couldnt handle your genius I’m sure.

  8. I’m sorry you feel this way. I write what I see, and will continue to do so. And I don’t think I’ve done any of what you mentioned. Of course much success is based on hard work and building a fan base, but that is not all. I understand the bitterness behind your sentiment, but I have objectively commented on what I’ve seen, and what others have seen.

  9. I think this is a conversation that will continue to evolve as the industry does. There are more ways than ever now to have a “successful” career in music (note the quotes because that level of success is different to everyone).
    Diana simply brings up one person’s route to “success”. Just as there are a hundred different ways to create a career on the business side of music, an artist now has a variety of ways to build up to that level of achievement.
    An artist could certainly take tips from this article about the value of genuine, offline networking, but as many of the artists and executives at the ASCAP Expo said: There is no one right or wrong blueprint to “success”.

  10. Being a free artist is also a valuable choice.Even after spending close to a decade working for Majors like WEA now Ive got mixed feelings about what kinda success i want to my new recordings. Sure I miss that days of full atentions from my A&R paying for anything along my way, but remembering that tremendous pressure against anything outta the exclusivity contract took me close to serious madness.if you are willing to make ONLY hit after hit, then knock on big doors, but if one day you want to try out luck with a outta-mainstream song, go to the open field and sing to the cows (or trolls) meaning the internet.Just be real concern who and how many fans can you target with your best song.

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