DJ Outlaw shares his tips for making it in the music business
Time Out Bahrain staff
DJ Outlaw tells it like it is about making it in the music biz.
Being a Bahraini makes it a thousand times tougher to reach into and make it in the music industry but it’s also a thousand times sweeter to accomplish anything.
After a good ten years or so of strain, I’ve come a very long way since my days of being a just a deejay. Having established myself as a producer/manager, I’ve met a lot of reputable names in the industry; from artists to producers to sound engineers, all the way up to record label executives – all in order to push the Middle East into the growing musical market while simultaneously managing my own artists and lending a hand to other regional artists who want to be heard.
As one of the first Middle Easterners trying accomplishing what most people saw as impossible, I had no stepping-stones, I had to lay them down for myself and for those who will later follow. I had to make all the mistakes to get it right, it’s a constant learning curve for me and I think it’s important to share what I’ve learned with anyone trying to accomplish the same goals.
Young artists often approach me seeking tips on what steps they should take, what to expect and advice about their music in general... basically, they want to know how to become a successful independent artist. So here it is the ‘Independent artist 101 – top 20 tools’.
1 Get serious The first thing you need to do is grasp that the moment you decide that you want to pursue the dream of being an independent artist, you are deciding on a career path which will eventually put food on your table! If there is as much as a one per cent chance of uncertainty - don’t do it and leave it for those who take it seriously. But if you have no doubts then get ready to put in everything it takes. Keep in mind that this is not a regular nine-to-five job. You must set yourself goals, limits and deadlines and hit them. You make a pact with yourself – this is no longer just a hobby.
2 Know your product, know your market You and your music are the product of one another. In other words, you and the way you present yourself go hand in hand with your music. Ask yourself “Who am I selling?” and “How will I present me?” consider what you’re selling and how you wish to present that – then combine the two. Keep in mind that record executives will have to get through YOU before they get to your music. Then you need to be able to specify who your target listeners are. With that established, try to constantly appeal to them through songs and lyrical content they can relate to. However, always try and strive for autonomy - you are called an ‘independent’ artist after all. Find something that separates you from the average, generic artist out there for yourself AND your music.
3 Build your name. Build the buzz around you as much as you can from the get-go. Do as many shows and interviews as possible, drop as many tracks as you can and keep exposing yourself so people know who you are and what you do from the start. Once that happens, slowly start increasing your expectations and decreasing your limitations; drop a mix tape, start collaborating, do bigger interviews and aim for bigger shows. You will then find that the more you achieve, the bigger the hype and the bigger your name will grow.
4 Image is everything. First impressions could become your over-all image and stick with you. Always consider where you are seen, what you do and who you’re seen with. Everything from what you wear, how you talk, what you say and how you carry yourself count - even more so during performances!
5 Act the part to be the part In order to be taken seriously by others, you must start by taking yourself seriously. Always think and act as an established artist and present yourself as the ‘final product’. Once you do that, the transition will be very easy.
6 Be real Is what you stand for believable? Does it make sense? Be honest with yourself and remember that ‘real recognises real’ and it’s true for the opposite too… Real recognises fake! If you aren’t convincing the audience, you definitely won’t convince the industry! Don’t try to be something you’re not. Talking about guns and violence might sound ‘cool’ to you but won’t impress anyone if it isn’t true.
7 Stay true to your ethnicity. Many independent artists have the idea that if they’re not Western, there’s little hope. This pushes some to try and be something they’re not. It’s time to make a change and prove that talent is worldwide - stick to your roots! Try and incorporate elements of your background into your music as the industry nowadays looks for originality and uniqueness.
8 Educate yourself musically Do your research and know as much as possible about the ins and outs of the industry, especially the business and legal side of it. You should know about artists inside and outside of your genre, who the top dogs of the industry are, what they do and how they do it. Read news, articles and interviews and know about the charts as well as the history of past musical accomplishments within your genre.
9 The balance factor Music, education, family and a social life should all be balanced. You should be responsible enough to be consistent with your priorities and never let one or the other slip. Make sure you don’t skip school and you can still balance between music and your friends and family. At the end of the day, they will be the ones to hold you up if you ever happen to trip over. I can’t stress enough how important going to school is - bear in mind it will widen your knowledge in general and can benefit you a lot with your music. Frequently reading different types of books will inevitably broaden your horizons and automatically exercise the creative side of your brain and allow it to stay switched on. An uneducated person will be limited with their lyrical content and musical capabilities in general.
10 Network, network, network! Try to always be where you need to be and next to who you need to meet - especially at the start! Introduce yourself every chance you get. Remember to present yourself as an artist before you present yourself as a fan and bear in mind you won’t get anywhere being shy or scared. If that’s the case, this business is definitely not for you!
The most efficient and quickest way to get yourself heard is through the Internet. This will be your test market – if they like it, it works. Get yourself a MySpace, twitter, YouTube and Facebook account/fanpage and if possible, your own website. Push your music as far as you can take it and make connections with other musicians and people from the industry. It is very important to have an updated bio at all times! Networking will ultimately ensure you have followers and that you build a fan-base from inside and outside your own market.
11 Your team Surround yourself with the right kind of people. You should have a team who will come to your aid when you need it – and even when you don’t. These people should all have the same passions and goals, be as serious as you are and should each have a role to fulfill so that all the work aside from music can be evenly spread – get them as involved as possible. Remember that these are not your sidekicks! Your team will help you build a movement- the bigger, the better! However, always make sure you stay humble with them as well as the people who surround you. Never let the experience make you get ahead of yourself and stay true to your family, friends, supporters and those who stood by you from the start – they too, are part of your movement after all.
12 Invest in your music. You are your biggest asset and therefore you must believe that you are worth the investment. No record executive/label will believe it if you don’t! Doing what it takes means spending money on your music. Things need to be paid for, particularly when you first start out and need to take the first steps. Beats, collaborations, equipment and whatever else you need to develop will cost you - never think twice about it. Soon, the costs will definitely decrease. Just keep reminding yourself that you’ll get more back in the long run.
13 Always be prepared Never stop practicing! Whether it’s writing, jamming or recording, there should never be a day that goes by without you working on something. The objective is to improve constantly. Always have a demo and a CD at hand to ensure you’re never caught off-guard. Developing yourself and your music will take time and could take years! The outcomes will be worth it. Just put 110 per cent of yourself into it and something is bound to happen. If you don’t land on the moon, you’re bound to land somewhere amongst the stars.
14 Use hate to motivate Now that you have the public’s attention, be prepared for negativity, it’s all part of the package. Not all that’s said about you will be positive, so develop a thick skin and learn how to love your haters. Under no circumstances should you feel the need to step down and try responding, retaliating and justifying yourself to them. At the end of the day, haters are just like cheerleaders- they will drive you towards even more success. Carefully analyze what they say - at times they may even teach you a thing or two! Remember: there is a big difference between constructive criticism and pure ‘hate’. Regardless, never take either to heart.
15 Time is money. Don’t waste your own time or others’. Be prompt and disciplined with routines. Get yourself used to having a specific, structured routine to your day. Have an organised schedule for show dates, meetings, interviews and other commitments. NEVER show up late to meetings! This is enough to end your chances. Bear in mind that this is a phenomenally fast-paced industry…so once your train is gone, it may never come back again. NEVER be lazy and expect things to happen for you... take the initiative to go out and do it yourself.
16 Sacrifice now, gain later There will be times when you may have a dilemma. Take this scenario for instance: Presume you are broke during a dry season and a show springs up where a promoter offers to pay you far less than your going rate. What do you do? Firstly, weigh your pros and cons. Allowing yourself to do it solely for the ‘small’ money will definitely decrease your artist value on that specific occasion and thus within the entire market. Stick to your principles, be patient and the real strike will come.
17 Fame isn’t everything Fame, money and riches should not be your ultimate goal. Think about the music. You are an artist - so make art and put it out there. Often, independent artists have the wrong motives in mind and their eyes on the wrong kind of prize - these things can blur the prime vision. You’ll find that when this happens, the quality of your music will start to slip. Always keep in mind: this is about music. Fame is just a bonus.
18 NEVER mix business with pleasure. Always separate work and play. We all know that it’s a fun experience but there is still a job to be done. Separate your work and social life and draw the line. I know how it feels when your friends are at a party and you are stuck in the studio. Know your outcomes will be worth it and far bigger than a party. Work now and celebrate big later.
19 Collaborate Collaborate, connect and make music with artists who, like you, are in the music scene, shooting for bigger dreams…but not necessarily doing the exact same thing. Expand your fan-base by reaching into theirs too. This will also contribute to unique, fresh material for your demo. Don’t be afraid to try new things!
20 Your demo Never rush when recording and always put quality before quantity. Never record if you aren’t ready or for the sake of just recording. Not all your songs will be heard by the public so it is alright to have un-released material - you never know when it will come in handy! Your demo should have a combination of sub-styles within your genre. Never put together material that all sounds the same. Be creative and have a good combination and range of production and topics. Choose wisely and compile the best ones into one demo. Remember who may end up getting their hands on it!