ACCORDING to a famous story that has been told in different accents in different cities, a tourist in Harlem asked a stranger, "How do I get to the Apollo?" The stranger responded: "Practice, man, practice."
There's a lot of truth in this famous joke--you've got to work hard if you want to make it big in the music industry. But the good news is that, unlike pro sports, there is no cap on the number of unknowns who can become overnight successes. Almost every month some young rapper in the Bronx or some unknown singer in Georgia of Chicago records a new tune that almost overnight makes him or her the new Ja Rule of the new Jill Scott or Ashanti. And you can do it, too, if you make up your mind to press ahead in the face of adversity, stiff competition and ego-bruising bouts of rejection, and if you play by the rules of the game.
Rule 1 "Practice, Practice, Practice!"
THE FIRST RULE, as the man said, is practice, and the best example is Alicia Keys, who sang backup in almost every group on the East Coast until she made her breakthrough with her hit song "Fallin'."
"Music came before everything, everything, everything," she said. "It just meant more than anything ever meant. I would risk everything for it,"
Practicing your craft goes well beyond singing your favorite song in the shower, says Carolyn Albritton, who teaches a course on how to break into the recording industry at Chicago's Columbia College. Albritton, who also heads an artist development, booking, and management firm, says artists must work hard and develop a hook--a new style to lure recording executives and fans.
"Motown," she says, "used to develop their artists. They would bring them in, train them, teach them how to dance, how to dress, and how to talk. Berry Gordy developed his artists into entertainers, and no one is doing that anymore. It's trial and error now and it's difficult. Now the artist has to go around and practice or get family and friends or even a manager to help them perform on stage. If you're a vocalist, you've got to find somebody to do your hair, wardrobe, and help you develop the style of music that you're into. If you don't have that training, it's harder you to open the show for a major artist."
Rule 2 Get A Professional Demo
IF YOU WANT TO LAND A RECORD DEAL, you've got to show the record companies what you can do. The best way to do that is with a professional demo (demonstration) CD (the CD is the preferred format).
And this fabulous, phat CD is going to cost some money. You've got to pay for the studio time and perhaps a producer's time as well, to make certain that you have a good product. You may have to get a second gig, and/or bit your mother, father, cousins, aunt, or that long-lost godmother for some money.
Warning: Your demo may be your one and only ticket to fame. If you're serious about making it in the industry, you must make certain that your demo is one of professional quality. The demo should be short (four songs are more than enough), and your best song should be the first one listed. Your goal is to whet the appetite of record executives and leave them panting for more.
Once you've produced your demo, don't send it out blindly, advises entertainment Attorney John P. Kellogg, author of Take Care of Your Music Business: The Legal and Business Aspects You Need to Know to Grow in the Music Industry. He says many recording labels routinely avoid unsolicited demos.
"Many companies use screeners to protect themselves against copyright infringement cases," Kellogg explains. "Companies want an A&R (Artists and Repertoire) person to hand them your demo. You can locate an A&R representative by reading the industry trade magazines and networking with radio stations and record promoters in your local area."
An alternative approach, singer Ann Nesby says, is to make your own demo. …