University of Iowa senior Brian Korey reads “War and Peace” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” by day, hitting the books in class as he advances toward an English degree.
But a few nights every month, he trades classroom literature for a 1974 Rickenbacker 4001 Bass and takes center stage at Gabe’s Oasis, a downtown Iowa City bar known for its bustling music scene. On those nights, the band often launches into its popular song, “Upon Deaf Ears,” and the crowd soaks up the sound.
“The group’s chemistry really shows when we’re playing,” says 21-year-old Korey, whose band, Faultlines, recently signed with a small label in Chicago. “You’ve got to play wherever you can to get your name out there. It’s all about making yourself known.”
Strong promotion, coupled with the drive to practice and a well-thought attack plan comprise the key ingredients necessary to succeed in the music world, experts say.
That Korey and his band have signed with a label to produce as many as three albums shows they have already beaten the odds in the music business. Faultlines’ ability to tour while promoting a record — Korey predicts the deal will allow them to do so for the next four or five years — makes them only one band out of 50 who will unsuccessfully try, says Bill Carlton, a representative for the New York-based BookingEntertainment.com.
And of those who can tour, “only one in 50 will ever appear on MTV,” says Carlton, a 30-year industry veteran who has worked with performers such as Eminem and Sister Hazel.
The odds may seem challenging, to say the least, but “don’t buy into the Big Brother system about the industry,” he says. “The underdog [in music] has won.”
Bands that have already toured and released albums often need a strong business team, typically consisting of a public relations representative, attorney, business manager, and manager who oversees them all, Carlton says.
“If you were going into a business selling construction tools, you’d need a business plan with set goals,” he says. “It’s just the same with a band, except in this case the variable is a human as opposed to a widget.”
So where do musicians start?
In the beginning, “it is just a matter of becoming as good as you possibly can at your craft” with intense practice and work, says Elizabeth Neff, spokeswoman for Trans Continental Talent — the company that helped groups such as the Backstreet Boys rise to fame.
“Only time and dedication can separate the true aspiring musician from the average ‘garage band,'” Neff says. “To achieve success, the artist not only has to possess an unusual amount of talent, but also the willingness to endure many personal sacrifices over a long period of time to develop his or her career.”
That means starting small and honing a style with practice, she says. Musicians can — and should — find audiences at school concerts, churches, community events, and retail store openings, she says.
Don’t try special images or gimmicks if you can’t back them with a good performance, the company warns.
“The best way to stand out is to comport oneself in an extremely professional and dedicated manner at all times,” Neff says. “Life has a way of sorting the wheat from the chaff very quickly and efficiently.”
Aspiring young musicians should also remain aware of potential scams from false advertisers who prey on dreams and ambitions, Carlton says: “If anybody wants anything up front money-wise, run the other way as fast as you can.”
Such scams are more common to modeling and acting, but musicians should also remain vigilant and not hesitate to ask questions, says John Sorensen, spokesman for the New York State Consumer Protection Board. “It does happen,” he says.
The time commitment to become a major band varies too drastically to measure, but a “pretty fast track” would span 18 months, from a group’s inception to its release, Carlton says.
Faultlines began two years ago in the living room of a friend’s house, known as the “Theta Beta Potata.” The four-man group now practices roughly once a week — “we’d like to do it more often, but our schedules sometimes get in the way” — and is set to release its first album through Action Heights Records in early 2004.
“School and the band is definitely a tough balance,” Korey says. “I’d love to dedicate to something I want, the band, but at the same time I need to focus on what I need.”
One hardship came on a weekend tour through Wisconsin and Minnesota, when he tried studying between appearances and ended up returning to Iowa City at 7:30 a.m. without sleep, four hours before a major exam.
“When I grow up, I know I want to be an English teacher or a rock star,” Korey says. “But no more weekend tours before midterms.”
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