The music game is so different than when I was signed singer in the 90s to EMI – says Wendy Moten.
Wendy Moten was a major EMI artist in the 90s, and has since become an industry go-to session singer, singing for Faith Hill, Joss Stone, Michael McDonald, Alice Cooper and much more.
During our conversation, we touched upon the rapidly changing music business and how emerging singers can find their footing.
1. Build a fanbase
Back then, labels were a huge machine and you needed a manager and a lawyer to walk you through the doors. They had a system in place where they got you on the radio and MTV. They did the legwork.
Nowadays, they want it already done. They want you to have a fanbase. They look to see how many subscribers you have on YouTube and how many people follow you on Instagram.
You have to do all the building. They won’t talk to you unless you’ve got 50,000 fans online! The record companies look for these numbers rather than listen to demo tapes. It’s all about tapping into that fan base.
Or you can go and do casting calls on these TV talent shows. Even if you are on screen for a couple weeks, you can still get a lot more done off the back of that publicity: “Rebecca, as seen on such-and-such a show”. If you’re lucky enough to do well on one of these shows it can be a great calling card.
2. Stand out through session work
It’s changed a lot because of globalization, particularly YouTube – everyone is a star in their bedroom.
However, in the 21st Century, you can still go to nightclubs, meet session players and ask to sit in with them. In Nashville, they have songwriter circles – there might be things like that in your neighborhood.
Songwriters are usually approachable are interested in what you bring. You could offer to sing one of their songs, even if it’s for free – sometimes we all gotta sing for free to get noticed.
It sometimes takes a little bit of hangin’ out. Face to face really is the best way to introduce yourself. If you impress, people will start talking about you saying, “that singer was amazing the other day…”
It’s better to go old school in your approach to networking because there are so many talented, incredible singers broadcasting from their bedrooms. You must find a way to stand out and be remembered. Face to face is the key.
3. Be a D-I-Y artist like Joe Bonamassa
These days, if you’ve got a good sized fanbase, it’s almost better for you to do it all yourself. You can control so much more and be the artist you want to be. You keep all the cash and chose where to invest it – create your own music, book your own shows and be self-contained.
Take blues man Joe Bonamassa… he’s been playing and touring since he was 12 years old. It was only in 2008 that it started to turn around for him.
He’s 40 now, and for 20 years or more, nobody came to his shows. But he found a great manager who believed in him and people would book him onto gigs. Eventually, people started to show up to his gigs.
He played Memphis a few times, he told me, where there were 20 people in the audience, 10 of which were crew and band. He had to do those gigs to get to where he is now, selling out 3000 seater venues. And it’s all in-house! There is no promoter or anything. Joe proved that you can succeed without major backing.
Getting signed could be a curse!
Back in the day, if you were a creative artist with a good lawyer you could wrangle a bit of freedom. But now, labels are only interested in singles. They don’t care about long-term projects.
By the time you start recouping money for your single, you only receive a tiny cut. Labels take money from everything now – live shows, merchandise…you can’t even sell your own t-shirts!
My advice is: don’t seek to get signed, let it seek you. If you find a great, connected manager, go for it and see if you get lucky. If not, don’t be afraid of some hard work.
My Reaction to This Week's Singing Competition Entry
Natalie Kyriacou - Saving All My Love For You
Whitney Houston can be hard to duplicate, but, Natalie did a beautiful job at it. Her tone was beautiful, but, I missed the “storytelling” part of singing. Not that you didn’t play piano great, but I would be curious to hear you sing the song again without you thinking about multitasking. I think spending a little more time listening to how your voice connects to lyrics will make you an amazing performer.