Not Ready for Prime Time...maybe

One of the more frustrating—or liberating, depending on your perspective—aspects of the music business is the lack of absolutes. Many people will give you their theories, artists will retell the story of how they established themselves, and plenty of folks out there will sell you allegedly sure fire methods and techniques that practically guarantee success—we wrote about those scam artists here a while back—but the truth is, there is no sure way to get to the musical promised land. And then there are the precursors to 'American Idol': industry professionals who will bluntly analyze the commercial prospects of your music. For a fee, of course.

Mike McCready—not the Pearl Jam guitarist of the same name, btw—heads up one of these services. Music Xray, purports to go a step further than similar services and function as a ground zero for artists wanting to be heard, industry pros looking for the next big thing, and fans searching for “music and talent targeted to their taste”. Sounds pretty cool, huh? Sure, but inevitably there will be gripes. And McCready recently addressed one of these in a blog post. He started off by quoting music artists in the abstract.

“For generations musicians have been saying, ‘If only I could get heard by the right people… I know they would love my music. I know they would see my talent'.” 

 McCready then went on to state that sometimes when given access to a level playing field, which his service ostensibly offers, artists often discover they’re not good enough for the big time. He then goess into an e-mail exchange with a dissatisfied Music Xray user who believes she’s wasted her money on the service. McCready responds in a respectful, professional manner that while she’s got “talent and a fantastic voice”, she’s not exactly ready for prime time. He wraps up his response by informing the artist in question that the couple of hundred bucks she spent on Music Xray was of “tremendous value” since for that measly amount she has learned her “music currently is not appropriate for the music industry.” McCready adds that it’s rough out there and that “if you want to be signed to Atlantic Records you’d better be in the same league as Bruno Mars.”

 Just like we were probably the only one on Earth who did not dislike Simon Cowell as a harsh 'American Idol' judge—they’re looking for the next Mariah Carey over there; if that’s not you, then you best skip 'AI' and its brethren, no matter what your friends tell you on Karaoke Night—I don’t really have a beef with McCready’s views. Furthermore, I understand the type of service that McCready’s company offers and I’m sure it can be a valuable one. After all, it is quite possible that this artist has little commercial viability and that Mr. McCready’s assessment and that of his colleagues is correct.

But, lest we forget, it was industry professionals who said guitar music was on its way out and rejected The Beatles; and industry professionals would surely reject, say, Robert Smith of The Cure if he were to appear as a contestant on one of today’s talent shows. (The number of artists who were rejected multiple times but were later signed on the strength of the same demo is legendary.) Music Xray and its ilk thrive on artists' misapplied approach behind his initial quote above. Yes, artists hoping and trying to be discovered have all believed that reaching the right people is the first step to their success.

However, “the right people” should be potential fans of your music not “suits”. Especially now that record companies want even more of their fingers in the artist's revenue pie and reaching potential fans on your own is easier than ever before. Anyone who speaks the truth or has any common sense knows there is no silver bullet to achieve success and/or establish yourself in the music business. But perhaps the disgruntled Music Xray customer McCready quotes was better off spending her money trying to reach potential fans and not the approval of middlemen. (Hire a PR person; buy some online ads; hell, bribe an unscrupulous but popular music blogger...Malcolm X that shit.) At least that way she’d know for sure if the public likes her music or not.

And whatever qualms Atlantic Records may have now, if people flock to her on her own in significant numbers, they’ll come calling. Even if she’s not as polished as Bruno Mars.