Do you have what it takes to make it in “the biz”?

By Bob Buford, Producer, Summertown Studios

With the popularity of American Idol at an all-time high, a lot of younger (and older) performers are dreaming of reaching for stardom. But what does it really take to make it in the entertainment business. Do you have the talent, the patience, the dedication, and most of all...the money?

Of course this phenomenon is nothing new. When the Beatles arrived on the scene in the early sixties, garage bands began popping up coast-to-coast. If these mop heads could make it maybe some of us could too. At least that’s what a lot of kids thought back then. And a lot of them did it too.

Fame and its associated fortune, good and bad, is something people have aspired to for generations: that one big hit, a great song, a great performance, adoring fans, money to burn. You think you’d like to have it all. But what do you have to offer, and what will you give up to get it? It’s not free, although it often seems to be there for the taking.

Can you sing? Have you written what you think is a great song? Are you the next Eric Clapton on guitar? Can you rap with the best of ‘em? What’s your claim to fame? What it comes down to is “What do you have to offer that people will pay money for?”  Yep. It always comes back to money, doesn’t it? The most important thing to remember about the entertainment business, whether it’s music or acting, is that it’s a BUSINESS. Someone in a suit will usually decide if you’ll get your chance or not, based on whether or not they think you can bring in lots of cash for the company.

 While the internet has made it possible to reach thousands if not millions of people worldwide with your performance, it still takes a lot of money to make the leap from garage band or lounge singer to superstar. What the public often labels as “overnight success” more often than not is actually years of practice, dedication, lessons, and dollars spent in the preparation for that elusive “big break” in the biz.

So where do you start? How do you get from singing in the school choir or in the shower, to singing before a hundred thousand or even a million fans? Well listen up kiddies. Because for the next few articles we’re going to dig down deep into this business of entertainment and see if we can strike gold.  Gold records (platinum these days), gold stars on the Walk of Fame, gold “bling”, gold teeth, and just plain old gold to spend like an Arabian Oil Sheik.

Think Nationally, Act Locally
If you can’t make it big in your home town, where you’re known and hopefully loved, you probably can’t pull it off nationwide. The first thing you need to do is evaluate your assets. What is it you love to do? Sing? Write? Perform? All of it? Once you’ve made that decision, and we’ll take a look at some of those paths later on, you’ll have to focus your entire energy, finances, and existence on developing your skills. And most important of all you’ll need to get out there and DO IT!  Get out in front of the public and do what it is you love to do.  Everyone starts somewhere. So you can’t wait to achieve a certain level of capability or perfection before you “take it to the streets”. You have to start right away developing your “following” or your “fan base.”  More and more, record and entertainment companies have slashed the money they reserve for “new talent”. They want proven performance and earning capability before they invest in you. And the way you achieve that is to build your own fan base that will make dollar signs light up in an entertainment exec’s eyes.

 Are you starting to think this might be a lot of work? Well, you’re right. So roll up your sleeves and let’s get on with it. That gold star with your name on it is waiting for you.

Money for Nothing….
A lyric in one popular Dire Straits tune promised “money for nothing and your chicks for free.”  Don’t believe it. If you succeed at all in the entertainment business you will have spent a small fortune and incalculable hours honing your skills. Guitars, amplifiers, sound systems, and voice lessons all cost money. It’s not unreasonable to expect that investment and those skills to provide income for you.

 So when do you start seeing some dividends from all your hard work?
My rule is:

If they’re asking you to perform, they should be willing to pay you.

No one would think of asking their attorney, accountant, or family physician to donate their services (good luck!) in exchange for a nice testimonial and their undying gratitude. And promising your local grocer some “exposure” for his store if he gives you a few steaks won’t be met with any enthusiasm whatsoever. But when it comes to performers, musicians, and singers, it’s common to encounter people who for some reason or other think you should work for free. Don’t buy into that kind of thinking. One client for whom I’ve produced a number of album projects over the years has a “freebie rule” which basically limits the number of free performances he will do in any given year. Currently he does only five freebies a year, and it’s on a first-come-first-served basis. When those performances are booked he tells freebie seekers to contact him early next year if they want to get in on the free performances. He may do more free performances if he so desires, if the cause is sufficiently justified in his mind. But otherwise freebies are limited.

 You can die of exposure. Not just to the elements, but also by giving away your talents and skills. A lot of fledgling bands will often get asked to play for parties with promises of “free food and drink” and “exposure” for the band. Never mind that the food and drink is free for other partygoers who didn’t have to work for the privilege. More often than not band members wouldn’t have been invited to the party otherwise. Don’t be so hungry for recognition that you give away what you’ve worked so hard to achieve. Be professional. And learn to think of yourself as a professional business person. Remember…this is a business.

If an event or charitable function is something you believe in and want to support then by all means, donate your talent. But do it because YOU want to do it, and because it’s something you believe in, not merely to facilitate someone else’s purported need. One unfortunate downside to giving away your talent is that it often goes unappreciated. For some reason people only value what they pay for. If you want the public to value you, then value yourself first.

 ~Bob Buford



Building On Your Talents and Skills.
Some practical ideas to get you on the fast track to success.




Bob Buford, Instructor
Summertown Music