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    Dec shows you how to have hit after hit after hit
I am, as you most probably know, an avid reader of all things to do with success in Show Business....this article struck me as being the closest to my way of thinking...tragically I have lost the name of the guy who wrote it....but I am sure he won't mind me sharing this with you....I have made tiny notes on points we disagree on....I bet you like it....aimed really at very young, novice performers...but a lot you can learn from....

      "How to be a Pop Star in 12 'not so easy' lessons!"

  


Do you dream of being the next big thing ? Could you be next year's Spice Girls [R.I.P.], SCLub [R.I.P.] or All Saints [R.I.P.]? OK, let's say Blue, Atomic Kitten, Westlife? Do you fancy being on 'Top of the Pops' and hanging out with the stars at the Brit Awards ? Well, every pop star has to start somewhere, whether it's Britney, Blur or Boyzone.

But how do you get your act together and catch the eye of the movers and shakers in the music biz ?

Here's a few tips on setting out on the road to super stardom. But beware the road to pop success is littered with casualties. Not every starry-eyed teenager goes on to hit the top of the charts or even to get to the lower reaches of the top 40 ! For every Robbie Williams, there's a hundred Bobby Smiths or Jenny Joneses who never quite made it beyond singing a few karaoke tunes in his or her bedroom !

The pop business can be exciting, glamorous and great fun, but it can also be pure hard work, blood, sweat and tears. Get real, don't go in with false expectations and take the occasional reality check. And don't forget to look out for the sharks along the way. Not every manager or label has your best interests at heart. There's plenty of unscrupulous music biz types out there who are out to earn a fast buck. Check out the credentials of whoever you are working with, and don't sign on the dotted line unless you're 100% happy with the small print.

Good luck - you'll certainly need it ! Once you've got off the starting blocks, the hard work really starts. So read on at your own risk !! Your future career starts here......

So you want to be a pop star?

First Steps

So you want to be a pop star ? But have you got what it takes to hit it big in one of the toughest industries in the world ? Your mum thinks you sound like Mel C and your gran says that your rendition of Celine Dion's 'Titanic' hit brings tears to her eyes. But it isn't as simple as that ! Becoming a pop star is going to take much more than singing in the bath or dancing in the back garden with your best mates, joining in with your favourite chart hit. You'll need to be determined and ambitious, and to have a talent for entertaining. If you think you've got the talent and the enthusiasm, why not take things a little further.

You'll also need to think about what you want out of your pop career. What sort of music do you want to make ? Do you want to write your own songs ? Are you hoping to play other people's songs [cover versions of big hits] ? There are several paths you could follow:

    the pop route - writing your own songs is useful but not essential. If you don't do your own songwriting, you'll need a team of writers behind you OR you'll need to team up with someone who writes. Another option is to answer ads in the press.

    the indie / rock route - writing your own songs is important. You'll need to recruit other band members [try school / college or notice boards in music shops] and rehearse your own material. Please remember that this route is becoming increasingly difficult because most major record labels are signing up very few new indie bands.

    the dance route - if you fancy yourself as Fatboy Slim you could try your hand at dance music. The great thing about this is that you can make music in your own bedroom, using samples and the latest in hi-tech wizardry! Or perhaps mixing, scratching and DJ-ing is your thing?

So how do you make the leap from singing in your front room to performing in front of an audience? Here's a few ideas...

School's Out

One of the easiest ways to get involved in music is through school. Most schools have a choir, band or after school clubs where you can fine-tune your musical skills. Ask your music teacher how they can help you. There's likely to be links between your school music department and drama and dance. If you fancy being B*witched, you'll need to be able to dance yourself dizzy as well as belting out a good tune! Enrol for any dance classes if they do modern dance. And drama can be a good way of building your confidence in front of an audience, even if you're just third witch in 'Macbeth' or you take on a small supporting role in the school production of 'Godspell'.
You may find that your music department is putting on a musical or event - put your name down and get stuck in. Even the Spice Girls used to perform in school shows...OK, they are well gone now...but they certainly were trail-blazers.

Stage Struck

Another idea is to enrol in a stage school locally. Check out addresses in the Yellow Pages. It's another good way of building your confidence and performing skills. It certainly did no harm to stars such as Michelle Gayle, Damon from Blur and Martine McCutcheon. And how about Phil Collins...he went to Barbara Speake stage school. He was a child film star before he became the Phil Collins we know.

Pop on Campus - College as an option

If you're in your final years at school, you might be thinking about going on to college. There's loads of excellent music and performing arts courses in every College in the World.

Some courses focus on music and vocal skills whilst others concentrate on music technology or the business side of the music industry.

College may not be everyone's idea of fun. For those interested in this route, it does have some advantages. You will always meet 'like minded' people.

The 'up's are:

  - you'll get instrumental and vocal lessons
  - you'll get a chance to try out a studio
  - you may get free use of a studio [useful for making a demo tape]
  - you'll meet loads of like-minded students

Bear in mind:

  - your studies will probably touch on music theory, history and composition;
  - you may have to complete written assignments and projects;
  - you may have to study musical styles you're not keen on, but this can be useful if you're going to become a really good musician.

Music Tuition

If school isn't keen on helping you with your music and you don't fancy going to College, you could try private tuition. Musicians and singers are often surprised how quickly their talents can develop with private lessons. Tutors are listed in the Yellow Pages or Generator can help recommend teachers who can give vocal, guitar, keyboards or drum tuition. Libraries also often have lists of tutors.

Private lessons can cost between 10 and 20. Some tutors will allow a session with a friend which could reduce the costs by half.

Choose your tutor carefully. It's no use going to an opera tutor if you want to sing pop!

Singing teachers in the UK tend to train singers for Broadway or the West End stage...you have been warned. Teachers in the USA mainly come from the Gospel background, so they are much more 'pop' orientated.

A good tutor will tailor lessons to your individual needs. Make sure your tutor knows what you want out of the lessons and that he or she knows your musical tastes.

The Bedroom

One of the biggest musical revolutions of the last decade has been music made in the bedroom. Dance music can be made quite easily in your own room, thanks to new technology. Armed with a computer and a few gadgets, you can make tunes to your heart's content in the comfort of your own bedroom ! You'll need to save up to buy some fancy kit if you have designs on being the next Fatboy Slim or Venga Boys !
Daniel Beddingfield has started a whole new revelution in home produced Number One songs. But are they really made in his bedroom?

'Cover Me' - Cover versions

If you perform Madonna's 'Ray of Light' or Whitney Houston's 'I Will Always Love You', you're singing a 'cover' version of a hit song. This can be a good way of developing your skills but it can be a dead end in the long run, unless you fancy your chances as a club singer. Club singers play 'standards' [or hit songs] from the last few decades of pop, but their careers tend to be restricted to playing live gigs in social clubs, cruise ships and hotels. There is good money to be made by top club singers but they're unlikely to find themselves on 'Top of the Pops' or in 'Smash Hits'. They mainly play live rather than recording their songs, and they tend to appeal to an older audience.

Bands that do succeed with cover versions like Steps, 911 and Boyzone are usually put together by management companies. These are usually termed 'manufactured' bands. Occasionally artists like Madonna [e.g. listen to her version of Don Maclean's 'American Pie'] or George Michael may do a cover song, but they have generally gained a reputation as song writers in their own right first. They may perform a cover version for novelty value, as a homage to a classic artist, or to breathe new life into an old song.

Always be aware that a 'cover' song must have your own stamp of originality on it before it can be a Hit in it's own right [And I should know...Dec]


Record companies tend to want to hear original songs on a demo. One A & R person was recently quoted as saying:

'Why do I want to hear another version of a current pop hit, more than usually sung badly ? It may be easier than writing your own material but it can damage a record company's perception of you as an artist. So many people send in karaoke-style demos of 'Never Ever'' or 'I Will Always Love You'. I already know what Whitney sounds like and you'll have to be pretty good to even be compared to her, Mariah and the other divas'.

Top Tips

   Remember, don't rush things. Take it step by step. Becoming a pop star, takes more than a few weeks work!

   Ambition is important, but be realistic. Overnight success is rare in the music business. Have a goal and work towards it, bit by bit. But remember, even Celine Dion took a long time to fine tune her vocal skills before she hit the big time. Don't push yourself until you're ready. Develop your vocal or instrumental skills, your songwriting and your image. Even your dance routine may need careful choreographing if you fancy yourself as a pop act. Get your act together before you look for a manager or launch yourself on a unsuspecting world.

   Get your friends and family to listen to your music. Ask them for their honest opinions!

   Always be self critical. Look at how you can improve your songs and performance all the time. If you've got a camcorder at home, video yourself and look at how you can make your act or set even better. Compare what you see to how 'superstars' look;

   If you're keen to develop your instrumental skills, music magazines like Guitarist and DJ mags can sometimes provide useful tips. There's also some very good 'teach yourself' audio books which you'll find in your local bookshop.

   Start reading music magazines. It's good to know what's happening in the music biz even if you just skim through 'Smash Hits' or 'Top of the Pops' magazine.

   As your music develops, it's worth reading music biz magazines like Music Week [the music industry's magazine], the Stage [good for checking out auditions nationally] and Making Music [free in music shops and good for info on equipment]. Future Music and Sound on Sound offer good advice and information on the latest technological equipment - ideal for DJ's and dance music wannabees.

   Think about your image - hair, clothes, style and presentation are all important !

   Don't send out demo's to record companies too soon. Don't go anywhere near a label until you're absolutely ready. It's a common mistake to start contacting record labels too early. It can often take several years to get to the right point to be sending out material. It's also best to send out via a well respected manager. Record labels have A & R [Artist and Repertoire] reps who check out new talent. They are looking for the next big thing but they want talent that is well developed. They're likely to sling your demo in the waste bin if you send them a cassette made in your bedroom on a dodgy karaoke machine or if it features off-key, out of tune vocals, badly played guitars and drums, or a weak sounding version of a popular chart hit by Madonna, Emminem or Christina.

   Never send a demo to a record company or music industry person unless you have phoned them first and they say it's OK to send a CD. Even then, you may not get a reply.

Since 9/11 and the Iraq conflict no Industry folk will even touch a jiffy bag...let alone open it...would you?

   Develop industry links. It's good to have a friendly journalists on your side to give you decent write-ups and reviews.

Studios

So you've got the songs, you've impressed your mates, and you may have even played a few gigs. You're itching to get into the studio and make your first proper demo tape. It's a scary prospect ! Scarier than Scary Spice in fact !

What's the best time to go into a studio?

Before you even think about a trip to a studio, make sure that you're 100% happy with your songs. It's tempting to go into the studio far too early, before you're ready. Better to wait and get the songs, and your vocal and instrumental skills 'spot-on'.

Where should you go?

There are studios across any country and they vary in what they can offer you. For instance, in the UK, Generator has a list of studios and a guide to prices. Some community studios offer cheaper rates and some like Northern Recording in Consett and The Studio in Hartlepool offer training courses for young people.

How much will they charge?

Making a studio demo can be an expensive business ! You'll have to start saving up your pocket money or pay from your weekend job OR get your parents to help. Studios charge anything from 70 to 250 a day. The huge Hit making studios are way beyond your dreams...so don't even think about the cost. You'll probably need at least a couple of days to lay down 2 or 3 songs [less if you're doing 'cover versions' to backing tapes].

An alternative to the big, flash professional studio is to build up your own basic home based studio.

A very cheap option for pop performers singing cover versions of songs is to buy a basic karaoke machine / backing tracks, and sing-along to them. It's a useful starting point but it's not very helpful if you have serious ambitions to make a 'knock-out' demo.

What will you need to know about the technical side of the studio?

The studio engineer should be able to work with you to make the most of your songs and your sound. Get them to listen to a rough tape of your songs before you go into the studio so they can hear your style and your material. Talk about what you want to get out of your trip to the studio.

Make sure that the studio has the right equipment for your music.

You write your own lyrics but what if you don't have any music ?

So, you and your mates sing, dance and write your own lyrics but where do you get the music to complete the perfect pop song ? Local recording studios may be able to supply music and musicians [they'll know good 'session' players]. But beware - this could be expensive? A lot of studio owners just see the size your cheque book [or your parents' cheque book]

Another option is to find a programmer who you can pay to come up with some music for your outfit. Before you agree to work with them, ask to hear a selection of their music.

Why not hook up with your local college ? A student[s] could make a project out of making music for you. There would be minimal cost to you and you may even be able to get free recording time in the studio.

Some studios also make use of their less busy times ['downtime'] by offering projects. Singers and bands can get the use of studio facilities at little or no cost, if the studio can see the potential of a commercial success. You need to be very wary about signing contracts in this respect because, if you hit the big time, this studio may want some kind of financial 'pay off'.

Demos

   Put your best track first.

   Catch the listeners attention within the first 20 seconds. Make them want to listen to more.

   Use only 2 to 3 songs on a demo.

   Keep songs fairly short and punchy.

   Make sure that the sound quality is OK and not too fuzzy or quiet / loud.

   Always put your name and phone number and every conceivable contact detail on the CD.

   Don't send out lyric sheets. [Hmmmmmmm! Can't say i agree with that...Dec]

First Gigs

   Don't gig before you're ready. Better to practice until you're confident you can perform in front of an audience.

   Try for small gigs at school, college or in your local church or community hall.

   Use your first gigs to try out various songs, sets and running orders. Perfect your performance and decide on a set that you're comfortable with.

   Make sure that you're well rehearsed.

   Make every gig a special event. Create a buzz. Think about sound, lighting, presentation and the order of the songs in your set. Look and sound professional even if there's only ten people watching, Always do your best - you never know who might be in the audience !

   Play a couple of try-out gigs before launching yourselves at a bigger venue.

   Turn up early and be well prepared.

   [If you are young] Get your family or an adult to help with transport and equipment. Make sure the stage set up is safe and the electrics have been checked by an expert.

   Get the audience involved. Talk to them, [but only if you have something of relevance to say...rehearse the talking!] 'work them', get them excited! If you're a pop act, you might use choreographed dance routines. If you're an indie or rock band, build up the excitement. Save the best till last and go out with a bang!

   Keep your set short and sweet. Don't bore the audience by playing too long. Make them want more. A 20-30 minute show is ideal.

   Be prepared for a few failures. Not everyone gets it right every time. Learn from things that go wrong.

   Once you've started playing gigs, don't forget to tell your friends and fans. Posters, leaflets and fliers are good ways of publicising your gigs, and these can be produced cheaply and run off on a photocopier.

   Don't do too many gigs in one area.

Keeping it Live - Next Gigs

   Once you've built up a good crowd at your gigs, think about playing in larger venues. Build things up over time.

   Start thinking about doing gigs outside your immediate town or city. Build up useful contacts in other areas.

   If you're at school, think about putting a schools tour together. You'll need to get your music teacher or head to speak with other schools.

   Once you've built up a following, think about starting a fan club, fanzine or mailing list. [Perhaps the most important part...database/fanbase...your Email list has to be 30,000+...Dec]

You can start your own mailing list by collecting the names and addresses of fans who come to your gigs. Then you can send them information about future gigs, merchandise and band gossip. But remember keeping a mailing list going costs money [in stamps and envelopes / notepaper]. [But Emailing costs practically nothing...except your time...Dec]

Producing a fanzine can be a cheap and easy way of publicising your band. If you have access to a photocopier and word processor, it couldn't be easier. [Again - a weekly or monthly Ezine with audience pics. in costs nothing!...Dec]

Band Biogs

   If you are planning on getting gigs, you may be asked for a band biography. A band biog is a one page description of who you are, what sort of music you make and any highpoints in your musical career so far.

   Your artist / band biog should be typed and not hand written. Make it look attractive to the reader.

   Keep the biog short and simple - no more than one page.

   Include any good quotes from reviews in the press if you have these.

   Try to give the reader an idea of what sort of music you make.

   Biogs are also useful for sending to journalists and record labels if you are mailing out demos.

Hot Shots

   Include photos with your biog if you have good ones.

   Photographs should be simple and eye catching. No dodgy snaps.

   Make yourself look striking and interesting. Simple but striking is best.

   Always put your name and phone number on the back of a photo. [Write ALL your contact details - plus the title of the pic. on a label and then stick it on the back of the picture...work out for yourself why...Dec]


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http://www.makehits.co.uk/art015.htm -- Revised: 19 aug 2006
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