That’s frequent advice in the music industry. Just look at Lady Gaga. Folks that know her well can tell you about the tipping point when she went from another New York singer/songwriter to a performance artist who acted so crazy and outlandish that audiences couldn’t help but notice her.
How do you know it worked? Apart from being one of the few relatively new artists to achieve old skool sales figures, Lady Gaga’s got people debating about whether she’s acting crazy or whether she’s actually gone crazy. While it wouldn’t be the first time that someone who’s certifiable made a huge impact on the recording business, my money’s on “acting crazy.”
If you’re an aspiring music manager, that doesn’t mean I’m telling you to wear a meat dress to your next pitch meeting. However, it’s instructive to look at some of the big personalities in the history of music management to see how “acting big” paid off.
I often use Brian Epstein as an example of a “novice” music manager who ended up doing a pretty good job for his clients. Over the course of about a year, he launches a record kiosk in his family’s furniture store, tracks down the artist selling the most singles in his shop, and gets them signed to a recording contract. Biographers claim that Epstein wouldn’t even have landed any meetings with record labels if he hadn’t sold himself as the buying manager of a major music retailer. He didn’t bang down the door claiming that a label needed to sign his client because they were good, he used his sales experience to convince George Martin that the Beatles would sell a whole lot of records.
You can’t talk about Elvis Presley without a casual thought about Colonel Tom Parker. The Colonel, by many accounts, could have been the Lady Gaga of his day: his over-the-top persona certainly weirded out his peers enough that they often let him get away with just about anything. But the whole “Colonel Tom” identity was a construct. Biographers can’t even agree on the real story, since the Colonel destroyed most of his own birth records and legal documentation. In most circles, the story goes something like this: Dutch immigrant Andreas van Kuijk gets off the boat and joins a carnival. He learns how to entertain and how to sell. The “Colonel” title wasn’t from military service, but from an honorary proclamation given by Louisiana Governor Jimmie Davis–Parker had worked on the campaign that got him elected. By the time Parker got to Elvis, he had already “faked” his way to legitimacy in the music business.
“Faking it” doesn’t mean snowing an artist with your own delusions of grandeur. If you’re not hyper-connected, don’t pretend you are, just to snag a contract and a commission. “Faking it” really applies to making the connections you need to get your artist noticed.
If you’re staring at your phone, wondering how you’re going to help an artist get booked, get press coverage, or get their music in front of their perfect audience, don’t worry about whether the people on the other end are going to take you seriously. Learn about them and discover who they’re most likely to respond to. Act as if you’re already that person, and if the music’s good enough, they won’t care.
[ Painting of The Beatles by Cassius Cassini, used under Creative Commons license. ]
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