John C.’s Answer
Hi Nicki W,
My name is John Christian Luna. I'm a working Development Producer, Producer and Mastering Engineer here in Los Angeles. Let me clarify where I stand since there are tons of people in LA who claim they're a 'producer'...I dine with Platinum artists and Grammy winners on pretty much a weekly basis. I have people like Pharrell and Snoop in my phone contacts. I'm also sought after as a finalist judge for organizations such as Hard Rock Cafe for their annual Hard Rock Calling musician competition etc... Okay enough vetting, I'm only doing that so you can understand that I'm going to give it to you straight for a real honest perspective on the state of the music business.
Okay so first thing's first. Lots of people have been super successful in the music business and they've come to their respective roles in the business through a bunch of different avenues. For instance i have no degrees specific to music production. I have a degree in media production and audiovisual engineering, business and communications science with a graduate study in rhetoric. I also happen to be a seminary graduate. So as a result I'm published globally in lots of stuff because to have any career in the entertainment business you have to really be willing to do anything it takes to make a project successful.
So i'll give you an example; my buddy Johnnie Truesdale. He's a grammy winner and he started producing music while being a jet mechanic in the US Air Force. He did go to a technical school for both computer engineering and music production. The key for his success is that he already had several years of production work behind him well before he even went to school. Lots, I'd in fact say most, in music have similar stories. Success in the industry is about doing, not just studying for the sake of a degree.
Now as I understand it, you're a performer...an artist. If you have the talent innately in you to create then you're already halfway to success. Remember though that even millionaire Grammy winning artists are always looking for mentors and teachers who can help them stay fresh and do new and better things. This is what I do as a Development Producer. I help artists get to a place where they have a unique sound and elements that set them apart from the crowd. Remember no one who was trying to be someone else has ever gotten the top awards in the industry. It's good to know the tricks of the business to grab fans, but without being a copycat. Copying is for machines, not artists!
Okay, all that said...I need you to understand that the odds say you'll never go much beyond a local celebrity or karaoke queen at best. The music business for an artist with no established brand is very hard. For example I have a buddy who is a hip hop artist with 7 albums. His work is very good and has shown lots of growth over many years. The biggest show he's ever had was at a festival called South by Southwest (SXSW). He's been mentioned on MTV and had songs on the radio in his local area, but that's it. Lots of major professional effort but nothing really to show for it.
It's a good thing he's a school Principal for his day job. No kidding, can you imagine your Principal as a hip hop star? : ))
The sad truth is the record business is in terrible shape financially. Because of piracy and shifting business models, there's no money to pay A&R people to find new great artist like you. There's also no incentive for a record company to pay you to make music. Especially someone new with no brand or global fan base. Did you know that 77% of all music in now listened to through some free format streaming service? Remember my buddy Pharrell...his song Happy was listened to through those free streams over a million times one month and all he was paid was $4,500. So you can see the problem there...that's the future income you're going to get even when you have an awesome song everybody is grooving to.
So my whole point with this is simple. Being an artist and producing music is great, fun and personally very fulfilling if you've been bitten by the music bug. You can take my word for it, I'd still do this job for free because it's just so awesome! If that's your passion then you should do it with your whole heart, but not only that. Start thinking about a career that will give you a very stable income in entertainment so you can afford to be the artist you want to be.
The business always needs these functions to simply exist: lawyers, finance people, IT systems engineers, MBAs, and accounting. If you get a terminal professional degree in any of these areas, you can and will find a job in music,TV and/or film. Example: Jonah Hill...his dad was the finance manager that kept the band Guns and Roses functional for many years. He made enough money to pay for opportunities so his talentless bad actor of a son could get into the movie business. So you can see that having a fundamentally important job in the business can actually open doors that would otherwise never be opened to you.
So as for education. First go get books on the recording process from the library. My buddy Bobby Owsinski has written a bunch of very good easy to read books about producing, engineering, touring etc... He also writes blogs about various topics in the industry. Go sign up on Brent Baxter's website to learn about the process of songwriting. Brent is a very good writer and very successful. He has seminars you can pay to watch online, but honestly his free PDF books and regular blog are huge resources for learning how to write good songs that become hits. He works mostly in country music but the information is applicable to every genre of music.
Now while you do all that, you also need to simultaneously start producing your music. I'll be honest with you, you'll need to develop on average three complete albums of 10 records or so to even start producing music that's commercially viable. Great music doesn't grow on trees and once you start really doing it, you'll say, 'holy cow... this is hard work!'
So how do we start producing music? First you've got to get at least some gear. A midi keyboard controller and some kind of simple audio interface for your computer so you can plug in a good microphone. I recommend gear by PreSonus. I also recommend the PreSonus DAW (digital audio workstation) software. Go google Studio One 3 Prime, it is the simple easy to use version of the big professional DAW I use in my studio. I don't recommend Pro Tools, it's free version is a big loser and the full pro version of that is stupid expensive and not even as good as my pro Studio One DAW. You can actually get the full Pro version, yes the very same one I use, for only $400. Don't worry about that now though, stick with the totally free version until you really begin knowing what you're doing. Every tool you'll ever need to make a hit record...pretty sweet don't you think?! Pair this with the AudioBox 22VSL and you can literally start producing legitimate big studio sounding music.
Now as for formal education, I recommend you plan to get one of those professional degrees for your primary career. As you do that though I recommend you also do a certification program in music business. Here's a good one from UCLA. https://www.uclaextension.edu/pages/ProgramDetails.aspx?reg=CF552
Remember a full degree in music business isn't really a wise use of your time or money. There is a USC Thornton Music Industry program which is a BS degree, however that program and others like it are super hard to get into and very competitive just to remain in the program. Yes, they'll boot you out in the middle if they don't think you have what it takes to succeed. Pretty harsh, but a reality of the entertainment business at large. DO NOT go to some random recording college like Full Sail or SAE Institute. The only thing you get from places like that is exposure to large format sound consoles. How do you get that experience then? I thought you'd never ask...you're so smart! You need to start recording some records to build a portfolio. Then you need to go get an internship in a the biggest studio you can find in your area. Then you need to be super nice to the engineers and beg them to teach you how to use the gear. Once they train you and trust you, they'll probably let you mix your own records on their systems after hours. No big recording studio...no problem! Go to your local news stations and beg them for an internship. They often use the same big consoles for mixing both the live programming and the post/edit process. News stations didn't work...go to radio stations. No, then find places around you that edit film or TV or commercials. Then... TADA! You have experience and it didn't cost you a dime! Heck they may even decide to start paying you eventually.
I know it seems daunting, but I wouldn't give you bad advice. I hosted a night time show on a tiny AM jazz radio station during my senior year of high school. Was it cool, kinda but not really I was more into metal than jazz then. Was it valuable....you have no idea! I got to do real work in a real station and that got me noticed immediately by people looking to record. I was a real industry dude at age 18 with a show on the air. Heck yea people chose to work with me over a lot of people. I had over 800 hours of real broadcasting experience before any of my peers took freshman english in college. I also had my first 12 cut album done on a simple four track recording rig.
You're seeing the big picture here by now...WORK, hard work, smart work, real doing and no day dreaming or time wasting. I still had school and other work to keep my family's business running and elderly relatives who needed a ride to the market etc... If you have any lazy in you, don't even start trying to be in entertainment. Just stick to getting a CPA or JD or finance degree and go that route and enjoy making a song now and then. Doing the hard work to really achieve anything is what we call the 8 to 5 wrap and the 9 to 5 hustle. It's about as much work as having a baby including the crying and drooling and that's just you working hard on a project. Remember Pharrell, no pay for a million listens...that's what you're fight for through all of this. Do you have the bug nibbling on you to do it all? Yes, it's exciting but it also demands a lot of sacrifice and at times punishing self reflection and total honesty.
Okay, so if you're still going to do it, I'm with you. I'll work with you for free through your first three recordings and I'll even master them for free for you. Any artist should have a three song EP that really matters as soon as they jump into the market. Normally my time to legit stars is $200 an hour so I'm committing to a pretty big thing here. I'll help you learn about song craft and you'll do all the self study I gave you. You're going to go get that free DAW and you may have to beg for and borrow gear at first. Maybe your school system has a media lab?
Katy Perry did it this way too by the way. My buddy Kevin Lyman who owns Van's Warped Tour discovered her as a songwriter at first. Then he heard her perform a song via skype so he could show the band he bought her song for how to perform it. Then he said, forget it, Katy come do the song and the band will just be your backline. Katy Perry international superstar was born. She never wanted to be a performer at all, but she was so well practiced and disciplined in her craft there was only one obvious course for her life then. Remember to get to that point though, she had years of songwriting experience and would perform a little for her church etc...
I digress. Think on it really hard. Talk to your parentals, teachers and mentors. Are they ready to help support you toward both your professional degree and your music career? Can they help you stay focused on success? There will be no cake and icecream and no birthdays or christmas for regular stuff. Presents will become software, better microphones, cables and stands, seminars et al. Then it'll be special classes to ace your entry exams so you can get into those major schools for law or finance and your everyday school work can't slip either. In fact, if you want me to work with you...while your project is being developed, I insist on a minimum 3.0 average. That's a B, if you can't get a B in everything you'll never get into a real law school anyway. Trust me, my girlfriend is a US federal prosecutor you'll need scholarships. A good school for a JD is easily $200K and that doesn't account for undergrad. For perspective, my girlfriend's sister is also a lawyer and just bought a $1.8 million house on Huntington Beach. Yes, it is a large marble palace. She does legal work for TV and film companies. Ever heard of the show Survivor? Just one of her clients.
Okay Nicki W., you've been given a healthy dose of reality. You've been given a game plan and a roadmap. You've even been given an opportunity I've never given any other budding artist...caught me on a good day : ) You have stuff to do, like right now! No fooling around! You can hang it up and go live your life and be normal or your can start living the 8 to 5 wrap and the 9 to 5 hustle.
If not you may just say why would I fight for a career as an artist just to work stupid hard for basically no money on top of needing a second complete professional career? There's no shame in just walking away or just doing music around town with friends or at church or something. Heck, I've been doing something in entertainment since age 5 when I started out singing radio jingles. I had the music bug real bad. Today, even I'm not opposed to hanging up my headphones since the business has been destroyed by theft. I'm fine just strumming my guitar for friends and my local kid's hospital and oldfolks home. Just give it a few days of really honest contemplation and seek the wisdom of others. You need to do this with your eyes wide open. Luckily for you, you knew enough to ask those who really live the life. That's all about working smart, not blindly based on false assumptions.
Be good to yourself,
John Christian Luna