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The Lost Art of Artist Development
by David Polemeni

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It's an all too familiar scenario. I open the mail to find a professional looking, five color printed CD with lyrics and clever artwork. It looks like product from a major label. I peel off the shrink wrap and put it on. The same problems are there over and over again; mediocre songwriting, inconsistent music style, middle of the road musicianship and production. I think about all the money the artist just spent on recording, packaging and mailing their music to an industry that will not spend the time to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses.  

The new A&R does not want to deal with potential. They need to find what is selling elsewhere and grab market share. Okay, if you’re a singer on American Idol with millions of fans already they will take the time to find you great songs and a great producer but that’s because you come to them with a fan base. So much of A&R today is reading soundscans instead of developing talent. A band sells a few thousand records in the southeast states and the A&R man jumps on a plane. This sends the wrong signal to artists and even shuts down artists who just sing and don’t have the ability to create a following.  

In the late 1960’s and 70’s artists were allowed time to experiment and try new things which helped them find their voice! This is what sustains them to this day. Their music spoke truthfully to their generation who still remain loyal decades later. Bruce Springsteen’s first two folk influenced records sold poorly and he was told to make a rock album. His third record was “Born To Run” which launched him. If he was not given the chance to develop he would have never made that masterpiece that connected with a generation. Today the artist has to walk in with the masterpiece and so the importance of development before you present to the industry is even more crucial. 

The launch of MTV put an emphasis on image in the new visual medium. At one point you could have mixed and matched most of the hair bands as they looked and sounded the same. Who survived? Prince. Why? Great songs, sound and his own image! Next came grunge and who survived? Dave Matthews. Why? Same reason as Prince. Dave Matthews developed his sound and audience for years on the road. He is the only new act from his era that sells out arenas.  

Now comes the freedom of music on the internet which is a blessing and a curse. Rushing a website and a CD release is not going to build your career. If anything it will hurt you because so many people can now see and hear you online. The competition is not so much the talent itself, but the amount of music occupying the marketplace. Believe me the labels will listen to your Mp3 and move right on to the next band site. That was your chance and you weren’t the best you could be.  

I worked with a new artist named Damon Castillo. Before we made our presentation demo we recorded dozens of songs inexpensively in a home studio. We narrowed down five songs that fit his image and what he wanted to say lyrically and musically. We selected the right musicians who understood his music and could make it better. It was now time to spend money and make the right records. That demo got him signed to Warner Chappell Music Publishing. He has successfully entered the industry and is being presented to record companies.  

Brothers Aaron and Leon Cormack have a vocal sound that can only be described as a genetic miracle. They can sing almost any style of music and sound great. This is the problem we encountered and have experimented with rock and adult contemporary recordings searching for the true sound. They are co-writing songs and taking chances to see what feels right. In time what you really are shines through and then you recognize it and make it the best it can be. In Cormacks’ case we even recorded hit songs from the past to help us find our way. They recorded the Thunderclap Newman hit “Something in the Air” and that recording is currently playing on HBO in its entirety advertising HBO’s Emmy Awards and new feature films. This is a case of development paying off and getting some exposure for the unknown artist. Now, there is new interest in Cormack but the development continues.  

As an artist, singer or songwriter you must find people who you respect to bounce ideas off. Don’t take your word as the final word. You cannot grow that way. Attend ASCAP, BMI & SESAC seminars. Become aware of the talent pool that is out there that can make you better. Call music publishers! Some won’t send you any songs and some will. Find the best songs or write with people until you write the best songs. Find websites for Music Producers and listen to their productions. Producers are doing most of the development these days. If you like their work, pay them and take your music with you! Study the past!!!! Know everything about the music style you want to make. Listen to the singers and their vocal inflections and how they feel certain words. Pay attention to their phrasing. Roll all of these influences into your new vision. Do you see Jimi Hendrix and Sly & the Family Stone in Prince? How about Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Credence Clearwater Revival in Bruce Springsteen? Learn who your market is. Who do you sing to? This is how you develop yourself. If you understand who you are you will be able to recognize the outside person that can help you co-create.  

Best of luck- David Polemeni


David Polemeni is a music producer and personal manager. He specialize in developing new talent as well as re-recording veteran artists through his company dpmusicproductions.com. He can be reached at 201-261-0407 or email at davidpolemeni@msn.com

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