Things Every Songwriter Should Know
  ...from the Pros Who've Done it.

The Keys to Standing Out In a Transforming Music Business

Written By: Kenny Loggins

Key lessons from this post:

  • Why most executives only give most artists one CD to prove themselves
  • The danger of trying to follow a fad
  • Why artists are losing their audience
  • The power of looks and video

When I started in the music business, Clive Davis was the hand’s-down taste-maker, the man who far-and-away, “got it”, and lead the way with an ethos of how to do the music business, a style that completely lead the industry. Among his many gifts, I especially noticed:

1. He trusted his instincts, his “ears”, while watching the trends, and he had/has a damn good set of ears.

2. He knew that artists needed time to mature their craft, and would often invest deeply in an act for quite a while (as he did with Loggins and Messina), in order to shepherd that act’s creative growth. He literally invented the term “Artist development”.

In today’s music business, there are precious few record executives who still believe as Clive did, and are willing to hang with an artist for more than one CD.

There seems to be little or no “artist development” any more.

Why is that? Perhaps because when accountants took over the music business, they had no clue how Clive came to his decisions, had no inkling what was “good or bad”, and so they encouraged their “artists” to follow whatever fad was selling at the time. Thus we were launched into an era of copy-cat trends in music that has led to an all-time record-industry crash.

Artists are losing the audience’s attention.

Artists no longer capture the imagination of the public for very long, because Record Companies (interesting that they still use the term “record” in their own definition…) do not encourage originality and don’t stay with an artist’s development long enough to let them. New acts are signed for one “record”, sometimes even two or three songs only!

I suspect the rule of thumb is, “take one shot. If it doesn’t stick, it’s not worth the investment.” I’ll bet money that’s because they don’t “get it” in the first place. They never really “heard it”. It’s all just “white-man’s magic” to them, the incomprehensible whims of the unpredictable masses. In most cases today, it looks to me as if they just throw it all out there and see what happens. Then, if they smell success, they might spend some promotional money on that act and invest in a second song or CD.

How to be an ‘exception’.

Of course there are a few exceptions to that rule, but I consider those acts either left over from the previous era of the music business, as in the case of a U2, or artists so charismatically powerful, so willing to constantly push themselves into new territory that even the company can’t stop them (Witness John Mayer’s continuous self-empowered evolution). But I believe those artists and their managers have had to fight for every leap they’ve taken, and probably against the “better judgment” of their company’s most fearful leaders.

The difference (and danger) with Video Artists.

Clearly, looks and image have propelled Rock n Roll from the very beginning. Elvis had the look, the hips, the outrageous style that would propel him into the ethers of the Rock Pantheon. He would have made a great Video Star, as indeed he DID with his dynamic performance of Jailhouse Rock!

But many artists now owe their entire careers to Video, and have very little substance to back up their stratospheric rise. In all fairness, Music Video has kept the music business breathing during hard musical/financial times, but it has also hampered careers that might have had a chance in earlier times. So it goes.

But Video has also fueled the “fast food” intellect of the consumer by overexposing a new artist right from the beginning, thus usually quelling the mystique an artist might have developed over time. In many ways, it is the illusion that an artist’s music spins that fuels the longevity of the career. We crave more because we are allowed to simmer in the magic for a while.

Short-term hype causes true fans to be replaced with infatuation.

That, I believe, is why today’s audience rarely falls too deeply in love with an act. What I see today is more akin to the white-hot intensity of an infatuation, a “fantastic first date” if you will, and why today’s acts fall so quickly from grace, their promise never quite achieved.

The public simply got too much too quickly, and the act lost its seeming uniqueness right away. The Video too often strips us of the use of our imaginations. I am hardly the first person to say that. Folks have been saying that about TV since the death of radio.

And where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire…

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25 Responses to “The Keys to Standing Out In a Transforming Music Business”

  1. I just wanted to leave a quick thank-you for the information in this blog. Coming from an industry insider, and with such an honest and informative tone, I have found it to be a real pleasure to read.

    Please don’t stop writing these articles! They are fantastic.


  2. Julien says:

    The older I get the more I realize that EVERY problem in society, both cultural and political can always be traced back to money. The decision makers are either thinking only of money or they are influenced by and lied to by people only interested in money.
    Perhaps things will change, they usually do over time by some unforeseen development. It is one case where the “law of unintended consequenses” might work to make things better and not worse. I hope so and the sooner the better. I think that the “record companies” attempt to control every aspect of artistic endeavor will ultimately backfire and produce the opposite of what they desire and society and the artists will benefit. Our great hope (in this case)… “the law of unintended consequenses”.

    • Charles Hugh Winstead says:

      Right on, Julien! I have recently had a series of epiphanies, not the least of which involves not viewing the “I who goes by the name of Me” as “just” a writer; a musician; a performer; a target in the cross-hairs of my own homeland, for no greater reason than that I’ve noticed the Emperor is butt naked, and I can’t seem to get my mouth (and my mind) to shut the F up, and choose carefully who I play to when my disturbance comes ranting out. Kinda like what Phil Ochs satirized when he wrote “Cops of the World.”

      “We’ve got to protect all our citizens fair
      So we’ll send a battalion for everyone there
      And maybe we’ll leave in a couple of years
      ‘Cause we’re the Cops of the World, boys
      We’re the Cops of the World”

      Anyway, my “Aha” moment I alluded to in line one, is that in order to be authentic as an artist, while maintaining my firmly held retro values of the Noble 8 Fold Path, the brother/sisterhood of all sentient beings, and fair play without privilege or secret agenda, (drum roll please, Maestro) I must also assume the mantel of Entrepreneur in reinventing not only my own bad self, but also the totality of the empire in which I choose to write and make music.

      This involves mastering the skills offered by leveraged technology, such that I cut my songs myself in my home studio; protect them myself by becoming an independent publisher/producer/legal savant; market them myself by using the leverage of social media, a decent website with a secure and reliable storefront/shopping cart, and carefully analyze any other venues I may consider to broaden my market coverage; and anything I’m blessed into producing that goes “viral,” then and only then, sit at the table with the sharks to negotiate my own best deal in exchange for limited license to take advantage of THEIR greed-driven mass market infrastructure.

      I’m still ironing out the kinks (not the group, of course), but the vision feels right and it’s a business model I can move into while maximizing artist (that’s me) royalty (that is rightfully mine); creative control of my own work and its content; and establishing a model for practical activism in the democratization of music and literature (I’m a “full-service” writer–songs, poetry, essays, novels, sundry other forms).

      If any of this “clicks” for you, consider it “freeware”–my only charge for this vision is a request that anyone who runs with it, consider the welfare of the children of the great-grandchildren of our great-grandchildren as a way of evaluating the consequences of their actions, motives, and personal commitment to a healthier happier future down the road.

      By the way, if you do the math, the above covers 7 generations, just like it says in the Great Law of the Iroquois. when I originally flashed on the formula, I must have been having an Indian moment (must be the Cherokee in my Scotch-Irish veins).

      Be Well,
      Charles Hugh Winstead, Writer and Entrepreneur

  3. I was fascinated by Kenny Loggins’ comments on the state of today’s music biz, which I completely agree with. I have just started teaching at a new independent school in Toronto which promises to do precisely what the record companies DON’T do anymore: artist development. It’s too early to tell whether they will succeed in launching any successful careers but it’s comforting to know that one of my favorite songwriters recognizes the need for it. Kenny -if you’re reading this, we would be honored to have you as a guest artist sometime, if you’re ever in Toronto. The school is called iStars and you can find it at I’ll be using Masterwriter in a lyrics-writing class.

  4. Ben Heinze says:

    In this article there lies an important message the world of art needs to be aware of, if ever art becomes ART again.
    Spread the word!

  5. John says:

    I find it strange that that post was posted on august 17 2011. but all the replies are dated months before the month of august.

    • admin says:

      We had a soft launch of the MasterWriter blog in 2010, due to the fact that there were so few participants, we pulled the content and are re-releasing some of the posts.


  6. June McHugh says:

    I am so thankful to be reading Kenny’s words in this blog. Hype and money have taken over true creativity, and I for one, am doing my best to preserve the creative process. I am a music publisher in Nashville, and while having some success in getting “cuts,” the majority of my catalog of songs that I have built remains to be heard. I have always encouraged my writers to “write their hearts.” I have nourished a number of “baby” writers who are doing very well now, and I have never demanded that my writers show up at the office and write me “hits” all day. I allow my writers to be creative and find their voices in this crazy world of the music business.

    Music IS art and I believe that the current shake up in the music business is ultimately good for both the creative people attempting to get their creations heard, and the audience who is craving good music to listen to, it IS coming back to the song, the music.

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  8. Mercury says:

    Artist Development should start with the artist managers and agents.
    This is a business that has always rewarded the few.
    But that’s the economics of radioplay and investment.
    The act has to prove itself to be strong enough to deliver consistently.
    Touring helps and using the internet for exposure.
    That being said, it’s still tough. How do you get above the noise?

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