Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Exposure Myth

The Downtown Fiction

Achieving excellence: The Downtown Fiction

If you want to be a doctor, teacher, lawyer, or salesperson, you’ll hear advice like study hard, go to a good college, and get an internship in your field.

But when you want to be a singer/musician/songwriter you’ll see people throw their hands in the air and say Well, it’s all about who you know. 

Even those who truly believe you are the next All Time Low/Bruno Mars/Taylor Swift/Alicia Keys will encourage you to get the most exposure you can because All you need is for the right person to see you at the right time.

Believing that your success is about networking and exposure sets you up to believe that your life is in someone else’s hands.  It sets you up to waste year after year trying to be seen by some mythical, all-powerful people.

These are the ideas that can make you spend more time promoting your music than making it.
  In an attempt to crack the code for how to break into the business, you won’t crack the code for what makes you special as an artist.  You won’t crack the code for how to write your best song.

I made similar mistakes.  When I had my first band I put more time into getting gigs in New York City than I put into our band’s rehearsals.  I was so driven to get that city exposure that I lost sight of what I was trying to expose.  The city was underwhelmed by us and I still went back to looking for better gigs instead of better material.

Exposure is just you making noise in a crowded place.  It takes years of experience, practice and soul-searching to be so excellent, unique, heartfelt, raw and authentic that everyone in the room notices you and follows you out the door to your next show.  And tweets about your videos.

Showing off unreached potential while waiting for lightning to strike is not the way to success (at anything).  That’s the way to join the list of lackluster performers who wonder why their names are never called.

Instead, take control of your destiny.  Reality TV would like you to believe otherwise, but the path to success in music is one and the same with the path to excellence in music.  And if you love it like you say you do, it’s a fun journey.

* Take lessons.  Develop your craft through coaching, books and videos.  Carefully select coaches who are experienced in the industry and understand both technique and contemporary music.  If you are a singer, understand that your instrument is inside your body and a vocal education enables you to keep it healthy throughout your career.  I believe all singers should know how to play an instrument, collaborate with other musicians and develop songwriting skills.  Put more tools in your toolbox for creating your musical masterpiece.

* Practice every day.  Every day.  You want music to be your career because you feel it is your life’s work.  So wouldn’t you want to start living that way today?

* Learn what you’re great at and learn what you’re not great at.  Don’t hide your weaknesses from yourself or anyone else.  Instead, be inquisitive, open to new ideas, and open to learning from others around you.  This isn’t a talent competition.  This is your life, and you owe it to yourself to embrace the learning process.

* Listen to EVERYTHING.  Old stuff, new stuff, popular stuff, undiscovered stuff.  Add to your musical vocabulary.

* Get involved in a musical community.   Collaborate, jam, go see other bands, interact with them on YouTube and Twitter.  Get involved.  Make friends.  Be genuine and supportive.

* Perform as much as possible for experience, not exposure.  At some point, you will change your performance plan and become more selective.  You’ll know when the time has come because fans will actually be coming to your shows.  Then venues will be calling to offer you gigs rather than dodging your calls!

* Put all the networking questions aside and ask yourself: if Mr. Mythological Music Biz was standing in front of me right now, what do I have to show him?  The truth is, it’s really not hard to get your music out there these days.  What’s difficult is creating something that will wow the people you want to meet.  When you do succeed at writing those songs and finding the voice that is all yours, you will know.  Because fans will find you, and they will share your work, and interest in you will naturally start to grow.

I don’t know what success will look like for you.  I can’t promise you that doing the above will lead to fame or financial freedom.  But if you become truly amazing at what you love you will experience creative fulfillment beyond your wildest dreams, and there will be work for you in your field of choice.

Awesome things occur on the road to excellence!  Do not leave your dreams to chance.

*The photo above links to the web site for The Downtown Fiction, an amazing band I have the pleasure of coaching.  They are perfect examples of talented musicians who continue to pursue excellence in singing, musicianship, songwriting and performance long after being “discovered.”


Showcase Video Poetry

Why We Sing

We sing because we have a song
at the core
of our being
in the center
of our heart
within the truth
of our purpose.

We sing because we have a voice.
We are born
to create
we are here
to connect
we are given
what we must give.

We sing because we are present.
We have a life
that is worth touching
we see dreams
dance in the darkness
we know joy
is in this moment.

~ Melissa Mulligan
March 14, 2013

Yesterday and today I had my private review of the Winter Showcase videos… I had to sit in silence and just take it all in!  The transformation that I get to witness within each of you is an honor that kind of knocks me sideways.

I remember the show in beautiful fragments, like pieces of stained glass removed from a frame. 

When you watch your performance, will it be as you remember it?  Were you able to be present – to feel truly alive – or did some doubts mingle in your brain, keeping you a bit distant from the experience?   When you see it now, can you feel the why in the center of your choice to sing?

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song. ~ Maya Angelou

Our Excellent Radio Adventure

Seven artists from my vocal studio made their radio debut yesterday.  They were on the show Connecticut Rocks on WPKN for an hour, taking turns singing, talking, joking around, being all sorts of charming and making me all sorts of proud.

Not to be overly dramatic, but it really warms my heart to see a group of students bond through these experiences, even if they crack jokes at my expense half the time.

Thanks so much to Bobby D, Steve and all of our friends at WPKN for supporting independent music, creativity and community.

Mini Mel’s Cassette (circa 1984)

I can’t believe I’m sharing this.  Ok, this is me, age nine, singing about how great it is to be “Differeeeent from everyone I know-ho!”  It’s silly and funny (I even threw a key change in there), but I’ve got to admire this little girl, Miss Mini Mel.  Mini Mel was often lost in thought and seldom lived up to her potential in school.  She was always blowing off her homework to write songs in her little blank book and sing them into her little tape recorder.  Thankfully, a couple of those old cassettes survived, so I can hear her voice from time to time.  And… (argh OMG OMG why am I doing this)… if you’d like to, you can too.

The first time I shared this song was when a teacher gave us one of those long-term projects to do throughout the marking period.  Can we all agree that this never works?   Science fair projects?  Rock collections?  Leaf collections?  Please. They are going to be done the day before, with all of our moms fighting for the last Ginko leaf in town (it’s behind the Prospect Library).

I think our options included doing a paper or a diorama or a robot, or something that made hot lava.  Seriously.  Research was supposedly involved, then an outline, definitely 3 X 5 cards, and then we’d hand in a finished something-or-other.  But most importantly, we were going to learn important lessons about organization, creativity, and hard work.

Obviously, I ignored this until the night before it was due.  And I was definitely screwed because we were out of 3 X 5 cards.

I decided to cheat.  I got out my song book and my little tape recorder and sang.  I made a jacket for the cassette with track listings and times.   I wrote out the lyrics.  The next day I handed in my first full-length album.

I got an A+ that I felt I did not earn because I did not do any work.

Isn’t it fascinating that as children we can already start to feel that the space we make for our own creative play isn’t valuable to the world around us?  As though our private, authentic moments are a waste of time?

Hadn’t I done the work?  Hadn’t I spent three months brainstorming, writing and creating?Hadn’t I catalogued my work in an organized fashion?   And didn’t I have something to show for it at the end of the marking period?

It just didn’t feel like work.

We think of “work” as a commodity that may have value for someone else, but not for the person doing it.  It is what someone tells you to do.  It is what you do to get your parents and teachers off your back so you can hang out with your friends later.  When you get older “work” is what someone else pays you to do so you can put food on the table, put the kids through college, pay for your next vacation.

The time I spent writing songs felt like self-indulgent play time.  It felt like I was just wandering around inside my heart every day when I should’ve been doing chores and homework.  I was goofing off, wasting time, daydreaming.  I hadn’t even reached the age where I would need music and writing for cathartic therapy.  It was just blissful, playful self-expression.

I couldn’t feel it then, but now I know that spending time on the gifts we’ve been given isn’t selfish or frivolous.  It is the best way for us to stay connected with ourselves and add value to the world.   I mean, just showing up a more fulfilled person makes the world a better place, right?

It is quite possible that the things we are drawn to the most hold clues to a deeper purpose: a project, a job, a calling, or a Friday afternoon that feels just right.  

Because I’m different from everyone I know
Yes I’m different and I hope it clearly shows
No one talks a lot like me, no one looks at all like me.
~Mini Mel