In my many years in sales and marketing, one factor has always eluded my intellectual reasoning.
The cold call.
My dear friend, who lives 1200 miles away, is one of the most prolific cold-call sales guys I know. He currently sells insurance, but when we first met, he sold $30,000 conversion vans by the dozens, all over a phone call. Over the years, his entrepreneurial drive has helped him find niche products or services to sell. On one occasion, he was selling drywall during a severe U.S. shortage after several massive storms crippled the home construction industry of raw materials. He wasn't a veteran in the drywall business, mind you, but it didn't matter to him. There was a product in shortage, and he had a supply chain, and an incredible set of, let's say chutzpah. I listened in on a call while he charmed his way past the gatekeeper of a large Texas-based home building company. Within two minutes he was on the phone with the senior purchasing agent for the entire corporation. Maybe it was the product that he was selling that pushed him through to the buyer, but I just can't shake the memory of how smooth he was on a cold call.
To my friend, it's a numbers game. Make X number of sales calls and eventually someone will listen.
I, personally, struggle with the lack of call backs after leaving messages or being told the person I wanted to see wasn't in the building. It just seems a counterproductive waste of time when this happens. I'm not looking for a best friend or to share a meal with their family. It's just business to me. It's black and white. Yes or no. Move on to the next opportunity. But real business isn't that simple. It's relational and it's timing.
When meandering the world of the music business for my son, relationships and timing is everything. No matter how talented an artist may be (or not be), it still revolves around relationships and whether the artist's particular flavor of music and/or image is what the market demands at the time.
The term LANE is used in the music industry to describe the various niche within the highway of commercial music sales. If a particular lane is full, there's less chance of a new artist being launched in that lane. So, it usually results in having the right relationships in place so when the time is right (the lane starts emptying or a new one is created), the artist can be launched. For the record, it's very normal for a lane to evolve and change over time so that new artists redefine the sound of that lane. Think Elvis, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Nirvana, etc. All were within the rock genre, but each defined or redefined a specific lane for themselves.
Since relationships are the most important factor in gaining any recognition in the business, it's obviously where the cold call starts. However, relationships in the music business have the added pleasure of ginormous egos. (Sarcasm intended)
Narcissism (having an over-inflated sense of self-importance) is flowing free in artists, managers, label executives, venue owners, tour operators, producers, and about anyone who's had any measure of recognition or success in the business. There is a fine-line between narcissism and self-confidence. This line blurs depending on who is judging it.
At some point in every artist's career, they will be interacting with a lot of these egos. Some of the worst are from fellow artists and their teams of support people, including parents. It sometimes seems like a dose of recognition becomes a license to be rude, overbearing, and have a sense of entitlement. That's human nature I suppose.
Square within the narcissism pool in the music business are the creative types. These are the most interesting relationships to navigate. Many have little sense of time or relationship management.
They just... are.
They just... do.
When you combine narcissism with creative DNA, the results are often highly frustrating to everyday people.
Grammy winning artist Lecrae was interviewed by MTV after his first win for Album of the Year in 2013, and the main response he gave about what had changed since the win was profound to me. He said, "After the Grammy man, the biggest thing is people return your phone calls," as the biggest difference.
This particular example was quite encouraging. Here is a man that has spent over a decade building his resume of credibility in the music industry. He owns a record label, tours, is highly respected by fans, but yet it took winning a Grammy before people returned his calls. This is a true picture of the music business. I truly believe it had less to do with earning respect and more to do with egos preventing people from basic human decency. With the digital age of communication at our fingertips, it's a shame that self-importance trumps basic politeness skills.
Some of the most peaceful emails and phone calls we've received to date have been those who took the time to be polite and simply say they are not interested. It may be a rejection, but at least they were human about it and took the time to say, no thanks. It seems odd that being told no could be peaceful, but we've come to understand that not every opportunity is the right fit for both sides. In these moments, the simple numbers game of X inquiries until someone says yes is easier to deal with. My friend is right.
The amount of unreturned phone calls and emails we've encountered has to be in the several hundreds if not thousands by now. Yet, we still try to find the next potential customer who will find Spencer's music to be something they find of value. In this respect, we're realizing that finding the right relationship takes time.
The struggle of most artists is finding the balance of reading the tea leaves of the commercial market conditions for their music versus the blind addiction of fan adoration. Many artists have toured, put out singles that people buy, but they never find their place among the chosen rosters of the big indie or mainstream music labels. Why is that?
As mentioned before, the LANE must be available and marketable at the time they are hitting their music stride.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the United States, there are nearly 40,000 registered artists who earn their income from being an artist. That number is telling me that many can make money from their lane, but it also tells me that most are not widely known on a national level. When an artist is striving to be discovered, they think in terms of the minority of those 40k artists in the national or international spotlight. Much like a pro sports team, there are players who gain most of the spotlight and then there are role players and bench players that get some attention from time to time.
Timing is often more about supply and demand commercially, than it is uniqueness of an artist's style or image. After all, to launch another artist who wears meat dresses for publicity would not be good timing the past 3-5 years since Lady Gaga seemed to fill that lane quite well.
Another facet of timing is the ability for an artist to go from smaller opportunities to a big scale launch and not implode from the pressure. An artist may do well on a small stage, with a less judgmental audience or fan base, but not be ready to take on a hateful media or seriously competitive roster of artists all vying for the spotlight. Sometimes timing is about maturity and experience in the business.
We've learned that there's no perfect storm or secret recipe to get a call returned other than public acknowledgment of Spencer's craft. Whether it be a local show, national tour event, a new music video on his Youtube channel, all have played a part in getting some responses so far. Every rejection we've received has been a learning experience.
The hidden silver lining in rejection is often the value of the relationships you develop from that experience. How an artist moves forward, how they react to rejection, and the people they've come to know during the opportunity window all will play a huge part in the future success or failure of an artist. We are given wisdom from a council of mentors for Spencer and all have made it very important for him to remain focused and grateful for every opportunity he's been afforded. All have stated that it is very common for the people you meet today, no matter what level of importance they hold at the time, could be the one relationship you need tomorrow to open a door for you. Never burn bridges and never resent rejection at the time. The artists with passion and tenacity will use the experience to learn and it will reflect to the veteran music business echelon that the artist can overcome adversity.
The music business has a way of building a skyscraper of pride in people. It also has a way of melting the wings of those who fly too close to the sun. I'm trying to teach Spencer to not repeat this cycle. Be kind, polite and always respond to inquiries from those seeking advice or help if he can, indeed, help them.
It's fitting that the Golden Rule is a simple one that the music business could definitely use.