The other evening I went to a new artist’s showcase, I mean, I’m sure she’s been an artist for a while, playing clubs and bars or whatever else she’s been doing, but this was a kind of debut organized by her management for other record business cognoscenti. She was terrific – a great voice, accompanied herself on piano together with two back-up singers and drums + bass + guitar. All of who were excellent musicians; thanks to the skill of the gentleman staffing the PA system, they blended together in a euphonious harmony. She sounded a little bit like Laura Nyro, I think her aspiration is to be like a Norah Jones or a Diana Krall, but more soulful and not quite as jazzy. Her songs were in the “very good” category, a little bit short of “excellent,” but some co-writing gigs and more concentration on song-writing per se should help even that out. Most of them had a tendency to bridge using 7ths, which became annoying after a while. All in all, I’d give her a solid “A.”
Unfortunately, it’s hard for me to imagine the critical path to her getting a record deal, though. I’m sure if you went to Blue Note or Verve, respectively, they’d tell you they’re not in the market for someone who might, prospectively, compete with their star. Not only would it be confusing, and result in possible diversion of marketing and promotional resources, but it also might tend to alienate the very star, herself. She’s not: alternative, hip-hop, metal, (keep adding genres here). What she actually is, is something that used to be called CHR (for “contemporary hit radio”), or hot AC (for “hot adult contemporary). But it literally would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to mount an effective campaign at those types of places. It would take a major label, with a concomitantly major marketing and promotional push, to make it happen; something beyond the resources of any independent label, if there was one that might be an appropriate home for her, to begin with.
There’s also the problem that she (a) needs to let her hair grow longer, (b) get a nose job, and (c) do something about her chin. She also needs to figure out what to wear, in terms of clothes. I don’t know what it is she was wearing at the showcase, but it was not attractive. I’m not being catty, these just are the facts of life; it’s a truism that in order for a girl singer to gain traction, both (a) girls have gotta want to look like her, and (b) guys have gotta want to fuck her. I would say neither of these criteria was met.
But all of that’s fixable, what remains at the core is she definitely was an artist who people would enjoy hearing, and there are enough elements on the table to envision a scenario where there is both commercial and critical success (or at least some of both). I think it’s unfortunate the record business has gotten to the point today where it will be very difficult for her to proceed. If I was her manager, I basically would tell her to adopt the following program: (a) rent a van; (b) book a tour at appropriate venues across the country, (c) have plenty of CDs to sell at gigs, (d) make absolutely sure your stuff is on iTunes, (e) get a publishing deal, and (f) keep soliciting record companies, not only through management, but also by doing everything possible to get them to turn out at showcase performances.
The reason why it’s critical to get people to go see her, is because I don’t think most artists translate well on demo CDs, no matter how skillfully they’re put together. Rather, you have to see them live, in order to discern what they’re about. If I were an A-and-R rep at a label, I wouldn’t even think about a band unless they could come to my office and play everything they’ve got, acoustically. OK, if there’s a piano, I’d be happy to go to a rehearsal place, and the bass player can have light amplification. But definitely not guitar, and no electric keyboards. Over time, I’ve learned this exercise has a tendency to weed the “wheat from the chaff” pretty quickly. It enables one to discern who are the musicians, and who are the poseurs; who are the songwriters, and who have trouble stringing two musical thoughts together.
There only are a couple of exceptions to this principle; hip-hop producers come to mind, because what they’re doing truly is a studio creation. But the days of some girl thinking she can go out and conquer the world on the strength of a couple of songs she’s put together, or a video, or some television and radio appearances, are long gone.