Dave Carlock: Practice is important, too

Published 2:21 pm Wednesday, March 13, 2013

In the past two months, I’ve been approached by artists/bands looking for a producer from differing genres, be it traditional country, alt rock, alt pop or AAA. From that group, I believe six of them have a shot at a music career based on ability. But ability is never enough. Ability gets you in the running, but immediately, other criterion come into play.
The next step is determining which ones can go the distance if they were properly funded to make an independent record and videos and have touring support to confidently leave on the road and then cover any shortfall in the show guarantees and merch sales? Can they follow through with the deliberate, slow motion plans necessary to put themselves on the map? Are they committed, organized and driven enough to capture not only the imaginations of the audiences but also all of their contact info necessary to contact and energize a fanbase in the future? How strong are all the individuals of the band? Does the artist come without a band and will that be a complication?
The cost of producing a professional record is really only half the costs of the activities necessary to sell the recoup pressing. Who are the artists’ lifelines that will finance all the startup activity? Are these musical dreamers independent enough to be artists while still being enough of a team player to insure the necessary support from everyone else that they need around them to succeed?
Who are the artists’ “true believers?” Who is going to sell T-shirts, CDs and other presence-building swag at the merch table at every show on tour? And by sell, I don’t mean “sit and smile silently as potential customers walk on by,” I mean SELL. Doc McGhee, famed rock manager for KISS and others was notorious for timing people working the merch table. If they couldn’t move a certain number of customers through the line in a given time, they were fired. That’s how important having the right merch people is to the success of a tour.
Case in point: If an artist needs to sell 4,500 CDs to recoup investors for the costs involved with having a retail-ready full-length album, that could be accomplished in 90 shows if 50 CDs are sold per show. But if the individuals manning the merch tables only sell 40 CDs per show instead of the projected 50, the band will have to play 113 shows instead of 90, all other factors being equal. The cost of 23 extra shows will increase tour costs and length by 25 percent. I think you can quickly see why anyone working the merch tables should be energy-filled, sales-driven, extroverted individuals.
This picture I’m painting ain’t “American Idol.” folks. This is real music from real musicians who conquer fears to sail the uneven seas of indifference in their musical pirate ship known as a tour van, which takes them from city to city to bear their souls, have an impact on strangers and connect with those strangers in a meaningful way in hopes they’ll, too, become a true believer and tell 10 friends, growing the fanbase. After regular exercises in this type of evangelism, eventually they hope to build a business around their music. In 2013, the ones that keep in touch with their audience have the best chance. Amanda Palmer understands this, perhaps better than anyone.
Every day ,these musicians fight against a ticking clock that chips away at their chance at international success. But why? Unlike a biological clock where the body stops allowing creation of human life, age actually makes the musicians better that keep at it. Yet, the masses that discover new music through media seem to stop paying attention due to an image bias. Time isn’t on any artist’s side when it comes to big market success. Time to get moving if you want it.
Choosing to be an artist is a trip to the real casino, where the shot every day is putting your whole life on black. When the house settles against you, you don’t go home. You wake up the next morning and do it again, hopefully a little smarter, maybe a little harder on the outside but you have to stay soft on the inside, you still have to feel because that’s what people actually connect with. You’re a little more cautious cuz you know just showing up again is, in itself, a little riskier. And if you’re a lifer, you’ll do it over and over again. If you aren’t, you hit the ground running scared. Perhaps that’s one true mercy in the melee of it all: Poseurs switch aspirations pretty fast.
And, on top of all that, you still have to practice, too.


Dave Carlock is a 26-year veteran of the entertainment business whose work as a recording engineer and producer, touring musician, and songwriter made him Googleable.
Currently, he brings national and international artists to make records and music videos at his production studio in the Benton Harbor Arts District.