You only get one chance to be a new artist. How did that old school Head and Shoulders commercial go? You only get one chance to make a first impression. Yeah, that's right. Scratch, scratch, flake, flake. Guy loses chance to meet super fine dream girl, goes home, gets the right shampoo and bam! He's got the girl. Well, that's kind of like being a new artist.
You really do only get one chance to make a first impression and you only get one chance to be a new artist. After you finish touring your first record, you are no longer a new artist. After you drop a couple records you'll be considered "maturing" and then the years, the shows, the recordings go by and you're a veteran, a legend or you're out of the game. Where will you be?
When you first hit the scene, drop a record and hit the road is so crucial. This chance to be a new artist is truly a once in a life time opportunity. The successes you may or may not have on down the road will certainly be strongly related to the choices you make, the work ethic you show and the performances you give.
In 1993 I got signed. I was twenty years old and overnight I went from being a street musician with my first few pub gigs to a major label recording artist. Holy shit. I remember I was sitting with my drummer in his loft on Rugg Road in Allston, Massachusetts, when my soon to be manager called and said we had a deal from Epic Records. I cried. It was the dream come true and I knew nothing was going to be the same. It wasn't.
I cared deeply and passionately about the music. I knew I liked to work and hustle. I didn't know shit about the game of the music business and I was probably already in the head space that the labels were the bad guys. The labels are not necessarily bad, but hey, business is business right!? The labels want to make money by selling your music. They do good when you do good. How is that bad? Work with them or go home!
What's bad is the music business itself. It's a shitty business run by shitty businessmen and that's just going to have to be a whole different blog.
Back to us musicians. When you drop you have a lot to think about — namely your whole life changing. Your first record cycle is crucial. You have to deliver an amazing record. You have to deliver amazing shows. Everyone is paying attention to see of you are the real deal or just some chumps who got lucky. Which are you? You have to prove yourself every night. You have to earn your stripes. There will be haters, there will be doubters, you will be criticized and hailed and you must ride the storm and not get too enamored by the beauty of it.
When you drop as a new artist you’re just a catchy song or two. You've got a buzz. You're a new commodity, something new for people to discover someone new for critics to write about. It's like a new love it's fresh and exciting. It's different. And just like new love it only lasts a little while. Then it's either over or it becomes deeper and passes the test of time. Either you have depth or you just had one cathy song.
Over the years I've seen so many new bands rise and fall. I've seen some rise and rise but they are few and far between. I've seen some rise and settle into their place. It starts to become really annoying when you've been in the game for a while. Every time a new artist drops, they're the flavor of the month: Rolling Stone reviews, Spin magazine, MTV (remember that?), Grammies! Then bam onto the next. Let's see where are they now... Eagle Eye Cherry, Len, Limp Bizkit, Marcy Playground, my homies the Fun Lovin' Criminals, MGMT, So many more. They all had hits. What happened?
You've got that year or two to be a new artist so make it count. The list of things to do can be long but here are some things to think about:
- Make a great record
- Play amazing shows
- Say smart things in interviews
- Be kind and real with every one you work with
- Don't burn bridges
- Don't get a big head
- Be humble and work
- Practice your instrument
- Prepare for the long haul
- Put the music first
- Learn to understand the game
- Have a creative vision
In 1994, I was fresh out of the box and I just wanted to play. We hit the studio. Recorded a record. Next thing you know I was on planes, in limos, walking into a record store with a whole rack of CDS’s with my face on it. I was embarrassed. I was freaking out. My life changed. Literally, overnight.
I was young and I had the energy but damn my head was spinning. I could write a book about all the great performances we had and shitty business mistakes I made. There were lots of both. I know the only reason we are still around now was because of the music and the songs. Even though I made mistakes. We have always put on great shows, or at least given everything we had to give. We care about the music and the experience we give to our people night in and night out.
Make your life about the music. Always put the music first. The music will carry you through the hoopla. The music will be there when the hype is gone. The new artists that rise and those that disappear or fall off all happen for a reason. The ones that failed didn't put the music first. Lots of things can break up bands. Egos, drugs, girls, money, the road, bad press, anything. If you focus on the creation of music then who can stop you?
I was a new artist in 1994 so was Beck. Everyone was talking about us. G. Love and Beck, two white boy rappers who played guitar. Everyone wanted to know why? As a new artist people want to know the hows and whys. All of a sudden I went from being a kid who wrote songs and loved to play the blues and rap to a cultural anomaly.
"Why do you rap?"
"How can you be white and play the blues?"
"What gives you the right to rap and play the blues?"
Yes I was dealing with these types of questions from the curious press. It was very annoying and frustrating to say the least. I don't know why I played what I played, it just happened. I rap, I play the blues. What's the big fuss about? I gotta go on stage now.
Looking back on that first year it's such a blur. Everything was moving so fast. We did 250 shows and worked our ass off. I was hard headed and made mistakes but we sweated it out onstage every night and kept it going like we still do. I probably could've played the game better and not had to work so hard now. Maybe I could've made a million bucks, but I don't mind. I made it through the first years, made it through a decade now we almost have 20 years down. I still feel like a kid. It's true, I wish I knew then what I knew now but that's the beauty of youth and being new, sometimes you gotta figure shit out the hard way.
So listen up: I think no matter whether the years are thin or fat, you've got to keep your head down and play your damn guitar. If you're in the buzz bin or the back shelf, keep your head down and play your damn guitar. And when you're a new artist just please milk it for all it's worth. Squeeze the juice out and don't miss a drop because after that year is up you're old news. You've got to deliver and don't lose sight of the reasons you play music in the first place. Don't party too hard and do work your ass off. Be good to your supporters they'll be with you forever if you treat them right.
Alright that's enough of my rambles, go practice that guitar.
G. Love, aka Garrett Dutton, has been the front man and founder of the alternative hip-hop blues group G. Love & Special Sauce since their inception in 1993. Widely known for his upbeat hits "Cold Beverage," "Baby's Got Sauce" and "Hot Cookin'," G. Love returned to his blues and country roots on his latest release, Fixin' To Die (Amazon, iTunes), produced by Scott and Seth Avett. A road dog if one ever existed, G. Love performs roughly 125 shows a year all over the world including Australia, Japan, Brazil, UK, Canada and the U.S. G. Love teamed up with Gretsch to create his own signature model, the Gretsch G. Love Signature Electromatic Corvette, which features a pair of TV Jones® Power'Tron™ pickups, deluxe mini-precision tuners and a cool Phili-green color scheme with competition stripe that would make ANYONE from Philadelphia proud! Check it out here.