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Your Music: To Share or Not To Share

Your Music: To Share or Not To Share

By Sean Hill on May 30, 2013

Everyone now a days seems to be an “up-and-coming” artist recording and releasing records. 30 years ago, only the best of the best artists/writers had access to record label/publishing support to gain access to producers and studios. Now it seems almost every suburban neighborhood has a producer or two with some collection of recording gear and microphones ready to hit record… myself included.

And, as cognizant companies see the desire for consumers to record their own music, they flood the market with recording gizmos and gadgets that are getting cheaper and cheaper by the day so that everyone can afford to “get in the game”… even devices that help you record on phones and tablets. So now it seems everyone has albums posted on iTunes and Amazon, and they are blasting videos on YouTube, and getting 5 million plays on ReverbNation, and have 60 billion twitter followers, and 700 trillion likes on facebook, and blah blah blah. Noise.

But, did anyone ever hit pause and ask, “Is it in my best interest as an artist or in the best interest of me as a songwriter to get ‘out there’ RIGHT NOW?” Why is there such urgency among us? Is there an invisible clock ticking that I don’t know about? I like what Willie Nelson said, “If a song was ever good, it’s still good.” There is no timestamp on a great song.

I attribute much of our impatience to the American Idol “Insta-fame” mentality where people become a huge success overnight. I think what drives a lot of us to post online more often than we would admit, is the small outside chance of “discovery” (or whatever that really means). But if you haven’t heard it before, here it is… progress in the music industry is slow and it takes a huge amount of patience and perseverance.

This article is going to take a hard look, right into the mirror, at us as artists and songwriters to help us decide, to share or not to share. This read is for the people who are seeking to take their music career to the next level or to a higher level of professionalism.

Some Sean Hill Tough Love

What is “good enough” to be shared online? This is a very tough subject and I pray that this is received in love! The majority of what I see posted online by independent Christian artists actually hurts the artist/writer more than it helps.

Sub-par voice memo recordings of songs, poorly made YouTube videos, smart phone pictures, terribly produced versions of songs, etc. do not belong online… period.

We must begin to realize what we post online is a representation of who we are. The bar has to be raised! Strangers to you and your music won’t fill in the gaps and say, “oh, bless their heart, they have a lot of potential”…instead they’ll say, “I’d rather go spend my time and money listening to Kari Jobe”.

At some point early on in your musical journey your reach to your faithful friends, forgiving family, and a cheering church is at it’s maximum. And let’s be real, most of those folks will support your music because they support you as a person. When you hit that point of maximum personal reach, you have to appeal to a broader audience outside of whom you happen to know. And hear me when I say, appealing to a complete stranger will not be achieved without excellence.  

When you “show up” online, you are showing up to an already established industry that is already full of award-winning excellence that strangers will directly compare you against. You are “on the playing field” with all of the artists and writers you admire and respect. You will stand out in a bad way if you post anything less than awesome.

The Power of the First Impression

You shower, shave (if you’re a man), brush your teeth, comb your hair, put on make-up (if you’re a female), and dress to impress. You’ve done your research on the company and walk into that job interview 100% confident that you can wow that one person and get the job.

You go back home, change into your casual clothes, pull out your smartphone, prop it up with a couple books, hit record, play an out of tune instrument poorly, sing some sour notes, all with about 50% confidence in what you are doing and then post it online with hopes to impress someone. WHY?!?!?

There is an obvious disconnect. At some point we lost touch with the fact that music is a professional career that requires a certain level of excellence. I’m not saying we need to wear suits or anything (because I don’t own any); I’m just making a point!

You have one chance to leave a great impression on someone. Oftentimes that impression happens within the first few seconds of meeting someone… hence the suit and nice hair for a job interview. I’d say on average most people make a decision about who you are in about 30-40 seconds… that’s about all an iTunes preview gives you ironically as well.

What are you saying in that first 30-40 seconds? Are you wearing a metaphorical suit? Or are you still in your pajamas?  Who would you buy your music from? I challenge you to go to your website or social media account, look at your material and take in what you can in 30-40 seconds.

What does that 30-40 seconds say about you? What is the quality like of that first song? What does the profile picture say? What does that status say? I spend far too much time seeing awfully produced videos, weak songs, miserable demos, camera phone pictures, etc. plastered all over the Internet essentially wasting the one chance someone had at making a long lasting first impression. Ultimately, I want us all to ask some questions, “Should I be posting this?” “Is this of good quality?”

The Blinding Effect of Creating Art

Some people just responded to that last question and feel what they have put online is 100% great. They probably stopped reading, and have stopped growing for that matter. Creating music has this amazing ability to cause a blinding effect to the person who created it. The creator tends to believe in it no matter what, and will give it 20 reasons why it’s great while overlooking the 40 reasons it’s not.

Sometimes the only way to truly “see” your music is to hold it right next to something else. Comparing yourself can be a very dangerous game, but comparing with a purpose can be a useful tool if you do it to LEARN. “How am I falling short?” “Where can I improve?” “When I listen to this Tim Hughes song next to mine, what are the differences?”

If we are truly honest with ourselves (which could be a whole separate article), we will start to see the differences… maybe from a songwriting standpoint, maybe from the production side. Our knee jerk reaction is to start reaching for excuses…“Well, Matt Redman had such a huge budget for his record. That’s why mine doesn’t sound like his.” True, to a certain extent, but if we need to over-excuse something about what we are doing, what we are doing may not be ready to share just yet.

Work your craft until you get rid of the excuses, then share! You cannot chase your music around to anyone who comes across it and give him or her your list of excuses. It’s possibly time for you to simply to keep your head down and continue honing your skills, and work on the craft, and NOT share it with the world… yet.

I get worried sometimes that we are more concerned with building a following than building our craft. “If I could just get more fans, people will love my music”.  How about we shake hands right here right now and agree to this, “If I will truly devote myself to my music and working on my craft, then (fill in your blank of whatever your goals may be)”.  We desperately try to reach the goal before we even have a ball to kick for points. And, honestly at the end of the day, why should we care about a following if our motivation is truly to glorify God? A true sign of maturity is when you begin to understand the beauty in how things are presented and the timing necessary to make that presentation effective… not, “Hey, look at my shiny new thing that I made!”

Wrap-Up

This isn’t a feel good article. I get it. I’ve made many of these very mistakes. I’m not pointing any fingers or trying to make anyone feel bad. I am calling us, however, to take a hard look at how we are representing ourselves and ultimately Christ to the world. I think we can all agree we want to represent Christ in the absolute best way possible to the hurting and lost.

I have a deep love for Christian music, Christian artists, and writers alike, and I want to see us all succeed and make a positive impression on this world… not an impression of being a group of amateurs who are 15 years behind pop music. We must raise the bar of excellence and glorify God to the absolute best of our abilities. Love you all.

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Sean Hill

Sean Hill (Guest Writer)

Sean is a full-time producer and songwriter in Lawrenceville, GA. 

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